Summer break has started very early for kids in one Michigan school district.
Buena Vista schools have been closed for five days already, and on Monday, the district's website stated that the school would be closed until further notice. For good reason, this decision has parents, and the community, up in arms.
The problem in Buena Vista is that the school district, educating approximately 450 kids, is out of money. All the teachers have been laid off and a financial emergency has been declared. The district has suffered from declining enrollment, which, in turn, has led to a loss of $3 million in state funding since 2010.
In an effort to keep schools open, teachers said they would work without pay. This is not possible under Michigan law so educators have been left in limbo. To make matters worse, the staff has also lost their health insurance.
The Buena Vista School District website states that they consider it their "highest calling to be entrusted with the care and education of the community’s children."
This sounds nice, but what about the students left hanging with unfinished class work? This lingering question has yet to be answered.
In the midst of the chaos, parents have been trying to transfer their children to other districts. Given the school year is almost over, it's not the most opportune time for kids to switch schools. Some nearby districts are looking at every student on a case-by-case basis.
The Buena Vista School District isn’t the only district in Michigan—or across the country—that is having financial trouble. The public school financial crisis looms in almost every state.
Michigan’s Pontiac School District was nearly in the same position as Buena Vista. On Friday, it couldn’t make payroll. Over the weekend, however, the state accepted a hastened reworked deficit reduction plan created by the Pontiac school board.
In Arkansas, two schools—the Helena-West Helena School District in the impoverished Delta region and Pulaski County School District in the Little Rock area—were told Monday that they would remain under state control due to lack of funds.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest school district, high deficits have caused the district to request cash from the state. Without the money, the schools could be in jeopardy during the 2013-14 school year.
“If these dollars don’t come to the district—and soon—we may face the real prospect of not seeing school doors open in any meaningful way this fall. If that sounds scary, it should,” Anthony Williams, a Pennsylvania state senator, wrote in a column for The Philadelphia Tribune. “No one I know wants Philadelphia to have the distinction of having the largest U.S. school district to declare bankruptcy.”
In Pennsylvania, urban school districts like Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Reading, and York lost 10 times more in state aid than affluent school districts in recent years. About $860 million in school funding cuts will likely result in more distressed school districts.
“In 2011, Gov. Tom Corbett slashed nearly $1 billion from Pennsylvania's public schools, creating a school funding crisis that is getting worse every year these unprecedented cuts are not restored,” the Pennsylvania State Education Association states on its website.
Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, has blamed ideological politics for the funding crisis.
“If the governor was serious about addressing the school funding crisis he created two years ago, he would target sustainable funding to our students rather than use their education as leverage to promote his ideological agenda,” Crossey said in a February news release.
Regardless of politics, in Michigan, state and local education officials met late Monday to try and figure out a plan for Buena Vista students. One possibility? Officials may try to use federal funds to run summer camps to help students make up missed class work.
Regardless of what happens this summer, Buena Vista's website states that, at this time, it's impossible for them "to predict whether the District will be in a position to enroll students next year."
One good piece of news: At least seniors will be able to graduate in June.
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com