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Funding & Accountability On A Collision Course

State by state the dominoes are falling. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott is proposing a $1.75 billion cut in the education budget. In Texas, bills proposing anywhere between $2 billion and $10 billion have been suggested. Earlier this week in California thousands of students turned out to protest teacher layoffs and furloughs, rises in higher education tuition, and decrease in class offerings resulting from a $1.4 billion decrease in the state’s higher education system. And the list goes on.

At the same time there has been much talk and fanfare around greater accountability for schools, particularly for teachers. “Pay for performance” bills connecting teacher salaries to evaluations are being proposed in many states. This is absolutely the right direction, but too often the rhetoric is about justifying lay-offs and education cuts and lacks any commitment to support teachers to improve.

Missing from the headlines is the connection between these two trends in education, which are inevitably headed on a collision course. It’s laudable to push for raising the standards for education, but it’s irresponsible to meanwhile take away the support for teachers and students to succeed in this endeavor. As budgets decrease, teacher to student ratios increase, funding per pupil decreases, wrap around support systems are scrapped, and ultimately student achievement goes down.

While teachers have a demonstrated profound impact on student achievement, one could argue that policymakers making decisions to not raise taxes, not cut programs that are ineffective, or not entertain a number of other options to responsibly fund our youth’s education also have a profound impact on student achievement.

On a national level, the dialogue is headed in the right direction. In Wednesday’s speech given at TechBoston Academy in Boston, President Obama acknowledged the need for increased fiscal austerity but firmly refuted the idea that cutting education is a responsible means to this end, saying “we cannot cut back on job-creating investments like education.” He also drew the link between needing to invest in supporting teachers while building towards a system of greater accountability.

Everyone wants greater accountability, but not everyone is owning up to the responsibility they have in the results produced if we decide to underfund education.