Who is responsible for funding schools? Students discuss the issue before upcoming midterms


Source: Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS

Thousands of Kentucky school teachers marched Monday, April 2, 2018 from the Kentucky Education Association’s headquarters to the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. to protest legislative changes to their pensions and education cuts. Some students think the biggest problem facing public education is a lack of funding.

Atul Jalan, Reporter

Ahead of the November midterm elections, Daily reporters are speaking to students about issues they’ll take to the polls. In this article, students take on education funding.

Fifty-three years ago, sitting by his childhood teacher in a small classroom in Stonewall, Texas, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, transforming education by significantly increasing federal funding for thousands of schools nationwide.

“By passing this bill, we bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for more than five million educationally deprived children,” Johnson said as he signed the bill.

Since then, however, US students’ academic proficiency has steadily fallen behind that of many of their international peers. With the midterms fast approaching, The Daily spoke with students to get their thoughts on the issue.

One common response: schools are underfunded.

“There are just too many public schools that are completely underfunded and can’t hire qualified teachers,” McCormick freshman Max Chapin said. “We see schools switching to four-day weeks because they can’t pay their utilities for Fridays. We see teachers on strike not being paid enough.”

Teacher pay took the national spotlight earlier this year when thousands took to the streets in states like Oklahoma and Kentucky, where schools struggled with overcrowded classrooms and cuts to education.

Funding may be an issue, but the question of who should pick up the bill, and subsequently exert control over education policy, is a polarizing issue.

Communication sophomore Josh Jacobs said the federal government should mostly be responsible for incentivizing increased funding.

“I think states can do better than the federal government because they’re smaller and more localized,” he said.

Exerting federal control would create a more homogenous system and penalize states with effective school systems while not necessarily helping failing ones, Jacobs said.

But that uniformity is exactly why the federal government needs to take on a bigger role, Chapin said. Even if there was a risk of hurting states with good schools, he said, it would be irresponsible to leave students in bad schools stuck in the same system.

“We see Texas banning certain books … and I just don’t think you can have that,” Chapin said. “It disadvantages students who are born in that state.”

Claire Bugos, a Medill junior and co-president of the Northwestern University College Democrats, said she believes the federal government’s wasteful spending in other areas of the budget makes it uniquely more suited to fund education as opposed to states like Illinois, which have been suffering through a series of budget crises. However, she stressed that states should still contribute.

“If there was a stronger Pell Grant program, if we had more work study funds, if those financial aid programs from the federal level were stronger, I think that would be great,” Bugos said.

But, the question of how much education will factor into students’ decisions at the ballot box still remains. In these politically fraught times, policy can often take a backseat to partisanship.

All three students said the political happenings of the last two years made issues such as healthcare, the economy and scandal more important. But education policy is likely to remain an issue in some capacity in the future even as others appear and fade.

“Public education is really important to me,” Bugos said. “I believe that a lot of our problems, bigger problems, stem from the lack of a strong education for all Americans starting from an early age.”

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