America’s Thanksgiving message has special resonance here in Miami-Dade, where people of different cultures come together in a spirit of common good. That shared spirit includes education, a pragmatic value that transcends politics. Our public schools are common grounds where youth from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds learn the skills to collaborate and to create a better future.
This Thanksgiving holiday our 350,000 students have much to celebrate; yet as the New Year approaches, we must speak out to protect education from a “fiscal cliff” that could substantially impede progress.
The good news begins with a stellar record of academic achievement and school improvement, reaching into every one of our local communities.
Despite a series of recessionary budget cuts, Miami-Dade County Public Schools has focused its resources on the classroom and has continued to raise graduation rates for all students, as well as narrowing performance gaps for poor and minority students. As a result, this October the district was awarded the nation’s highest honor for large urban school districts — the prestigious Broad Prize, a recognition that also brings $550,000 in scholarship aid to our college-bound seniors.
These performance results were capped by overwhelming passage of November’s school bond issue, providing smart capital investments that will enhance our educational capacity for years to come.
Despite the state’s slow pace of economic recovery, over two-thirds of Miami-Dade voters (69 percent) agreed to finance the 21st Century School Bond initiative. These bonds will address a backlog of important school repairs, modernization, and technology infrastructure needs benefitting all of our neighborhoods. Upgrades to the physical school environment have consistently proven to have positive impacts on student academic gains, teacher retention, health and attendance, and local property values.
At the same time, these investments will strengthen the recovery by adding construction jobs as well as permanent job growth resulting from improved educational outcomes.
Yet not all the news is good. Just a few weeks from the 2012 elections, we again find ourselves facing a political crisis as the January federal budget deadline looms.
Targeted federal education funding supporting our neediest students, including economically disadvantaged and disabled students, is only a fraction of Miami-Dade’s operating budget but is critical to our success. Without action by Congress, across-the-board sequestration cuts will hit the nation’s schools with $4 billion in cuts on Jan. 2. The impact of this would hit hard after years of major budget reductions at the state and local level.
Our district has taken extraordinary steps to spare classrooms from the recession. We have reduced all possible expenses without compromising student achievement — even as operating costs such as special education and healthcare have increased. Further cuts, at the federal level to those programs which support our neediest students, will inevitably impact our students directly.
Strong schools are a nonpartisan issue and a necessary foundation for economic growth. I urge you to speak to your representatives in Congress, and ensure that education is exempted from budget cuts in the political turmoil ahead.
On behalf of the School Board and our dedicated teachers, I want to express my sincerest appreciation to the community for supporting our vision for a world class public education system and best wishes for a safe Thanksgiving weekend.
Alberto Carvalho is superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools.