Teaming up to fight school funding cuts
Under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts for education, Carol City Senior High could lose close to $500,000 in funding for after-school programs. So could a dozen other Miami-Dade schools. And Miami teachers could see more than $17 million in cuts for professional development.
That’s the message American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten shared on her visit to South Florida on Monday, part of a national tour to rally teachers to fight for public education funding.
“Yes, we need good jobs. Yes, we need affordable healthcare. Yes, we need good public education. Yes, that requires a democracy that works for all,” Weingarten said at a rally at Miami Dade College’s North Campus, where she started the day. “But the only way we get there is if we have a budget that helps us do what we need to do.”
Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, including slashing funds for teacher training, after-school programs and federal aid for low-income college students.
The neediest kids, the ones who really need a place to go after school, they’ll be affected the most.
Brandon Douglas, the dean of discipline at Lake Stevens Middle School
The budget would also shift $1.4 billion to expand school choice options including charter schools and private-school vouchers — a proposal that critics say would come at the expense of traditional public schools.
Trump’s proposed budget would have a devastating impact on South Florida, Weingarten said. “On top of cuts in schools for after-school programs, for enrichment programs, for guidance counselors, for social workers and for all that to help prepare kids to go to college, then there’s cuts in terms of the student loan programs,” she said. “It’s pulling the ladder out from under people.”
Weingarten visited Carol City Senior High and Lake Stevens Middle School in Miami Gardens, two schools that could each lose approximately $485,000 for after-school programs. In total, Miami-Dade schools could lose more than $21.6 million for after-school programs funded through a federal grant on the chopping block, according to the teachers union.
Teachers and administrators said that’s a prospect that worries them.
“The neediest kids, the ones who really need a place to go after school, they’ll be affected the most,” said Brandon Douglas, the dean of discipline at Lake Stevens. “It’s almost like they’ll be victims of the streets. They’ll be hanging out on the corner.”
Alexandria Martin, a 12th grade English teacher at Carol City High, said the after-school programs keep her students away from gangs. “They allow them to have opportunities to get out of some gang-infested areas that populate this community and give them resources,” she said. “Without the funding, it’s difficult for teachers to supplement the education and it’s difficult for kids to receive a quality education.”
In its budget proposal, the Trump administration said it wanted to eliminate funding for the after-school programs because of a lack of evidence that such programs improve student achievement.
During her tour, Weingarten also took aim at the Florida Legislature. She spoke against a proposal known in Tallahassee as “schools of hope,” which was initially conceived as a $200 million plan to attract charter schools to areas with struggling neighborhood schools. The proposal is the subject of budget negotiations with the Senate, where lawmakers want to use the dollars to also help failing traditional schools with extra wraparound services, such as after-school programs. Details of a proposed compromise have not yet been released.
“Florida, like Michigan, is the wild, wild west of charters already,” Weingarten said. The original proposal would “deplete more and more and more the public dollar so that schools are further and further defunded to give [the money] to new organizations that frankly have not done a good job,” she said.
Weingarten traveled from school to school in Miami-Dade with a United Teachers of Dade mobile billboard that called on Florida lawmakers to increase funding for public education. “Stop eating away at the core of our community,” the billboard read, underneath a giant worm-infested apple. Weingarten also visited Rock Island Elementary in Broward County and held a rally in Fort Lauderdale.
The Florida Legislature’s $15 billion pre-K-12 schools budget includes a small increase for general schools spending — about $25 per student. The Senate had wanted a substantially higher increase, but House leaders dug in to hold the line on additional funding to K-12 schools. They said it would be a “tax increase” to increase funding using extra revenue gleaned from local property taxes. The Legislature is expected to finalize the annual state budget on Tuesday before session ends Friday.
Miami Herald staff writer Kristen Clark contributed to this report