As the 2010-11 school year begins this week, school districts across the nation are being forced to tighten their belts in the face of major cuts in state and federal aid. Some programs have suffered, but for the most part, local school districts have been able to maintain normal operations thanks to conservative budgeting and ongoing efforts to control expenses.
In the face of tightening budgets, school districts must look to their local communities for support. Research has shown that the best schools in the United States aren't always located in the wealthiest of districts. Instead, a more common denominator among schools offering high quality educations is widespread community support and a high degree of parental involvement.
You might be wondering how a community can support its school district. Let me offer one example of support that was in place this spring but never needed. Back in May when funding for summer school was in question, the members of the First Baptist Church in Cassville were preparing to offer summer school to meet the needs of area students and parents if the school district wasn't able to offer the valuable program. The funding was approved and Cassville had summer school, but the idea that a local church was willing to recruit volunteers and expend the effort and energy needed to put on a summer school program proves the kind of support this community is willing to provide.
In the coming months, there may be other opportunities for community groups to step up and fill in the gaps that could be left if additional state funding is cut and more programs are put on the chopping block. This may involve afterschool tutoring or before-school meals and childcare. No matter what the need, I have confidence our community will be ready and willing to do what is needed to support our local schools and our local students.
Back in 1996 when schools were facing a similar crisis in funding, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley introduced an "America Goes Back to School" campaign that offered several ideas for how people could help improve their schools. That advice is still relevant 14 years later, and I have listed some of these ideas below.
* Parents: volunteer for school activities and stay in touch with your child's teacher. Read to your children and limit time spent watching TV and playing video games.
* Employers: offer flex-time so your employees can volunteer at local schools and participate in their children's school activities. Provide work study opportunities and internships to students.
* Community members: work with schools to help provide extra activities for students, including enrichment programs and homework centers. Become mentors or tutors. Create safe corridors for children going to and coming home from school.
* Educators: keep parents and the community informed about what's happening at school. Create an environment where parents and community volunteers feel welcome and appreciated.
As you watch children return to school this week, think of ways you could personally support the schools and then get involved in making our local districts as strong as they can be.