I teach in a Title 1 middle school. Those in education know the lingo. Others likely have little understanding of the label and its ramifications. Certain subjects hog the spotlight. Poverty, especially in a region of growing affluence, is not one of them.
Title 1 provides additional funding for schools with significant populations of students from low-income households. Title 1 was first enacted as part of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The program provides funds to the school district which are then distributed to the schools. Greenville County School District is the largest school district in the state of South Carolina and the 44th largest school district in the nation. Out of the 21 middle schools in the district, three receive Title 1 funding: Berea Middle, Lakeview Middle and Tanglewood Middle. All three of these schools are located in the area generally known as West Greenville, home to some of the highest poverty neighborhoods in one of the more affluent counties in the state.
Why does all of this matter?
This funding provides critical resources that benefit the students tremendously on many fronts: academic, social and physical. These funds provide for the salaries of additional teachers to lower the student to teacher ratio. It provides funds for afterschool tutoring sessions and summer programs to help bridge the summer brain drain. These funds enable the schools to host health clinics and vision screening so students can get glasses and see the board in the classroom. These resources, when properly administered, help bridge the gap that poverty creates.
This year, as I stated in the title, the funding has, euphemistically, faltered. Certain upsides and downsides come with living and working in such a large school district. The size of the district means that the schools within its purview have access to a wealth of resources that smaller districts lack. However, a huge downside comes from an ostensibly wonderful thing. Over the past few years, one would have to hide under a rock to miss all the buzz about Greenville’s revitalized downtown and impressive economic growth. What has been largely overlooked is the inequitable distribution of that growth. Gentrification has begun around downtown Greenville which has pushed and continues to push low-income households into areas they can afford, mainly the west side of Greenville. I suspect that this movement also spills into surrounding, lower-income counties. This economic growth means that Greenville’s median income has risen. When that number gets put into the Title 1 funding calculator, out comes a number $3 million less than last school year.
The funding faltered. Who pays the price?
The median household income of our student body did not increase in a commensurate amount to the six figure additional Title 1 funding our school and the other twenty Title 1 elementary and middle schools would have received. Our Title 1 facilitator now has the unenviable responsibility of trimming everything she possibly can without causing harm. It’s like she’s forced to play a game of giant Jenga with the blocks already placed in positions with just enough support to remain upright on a windless day. So far, we know that our afterschool program had to be cut. The summer programs will also likely face the ax. Few, if any, teachers and administrators will be able to attend professional conferences which enhance their skills in the classroom. I’m sure much more that I am not privy to, has also been nixed.
Lakeview, however, is immensely blessed to enter its second year of partnership with a local charity startup, the CURA Foundation. These wonderful people have stepped up in a major way to provide so much like extra uniform clothing for needy students, winter coats, local field trips and even prize giveaways for teachers during teacher appreciation week. They also provide intangibles like mentorships and this year a partnership with Greenville Tech to open the door to advanced manufacturing. Students will learn about the profession, training and scholarships for Greenville Tech. I ams o excited for my former students to be given this opportunity.
As absolutely amazing as this is, these wonderful people cannot plug the gaping hole of a six figure funding cut. Few single individuals or charities have the ability to do so. That is one big reason that I have a huge problem with the Libertarian small government ideal but that is a topic for another post.
I have painted a rather bleak picture. Reality lacks rose-colored Instagram filters. I am not discouraged. If anything, I am energized, nearly overflowing with ideas of ways we could bridge that gap. Like I mentioned in my post on homelessness, the whole problem is not something I can tackle and solve as if I am Wonder Woman. I can, however, make the difference in at least one child’s life. I will, this year and all future years fight like Wonder Woman for these kids. I will not give in to pessimism and defeatism. I will set high expectations for them and do whatever I can to push them higher despite the faltering funding.
For example, towards the end of the year last year, my principal asked the English and math teachers to pick one of the bubble kids, kids so close to meeting state standards, to work extra with, motivate them to peak performance on the upcoming state tests. I chose a student in my lowest class, a student that several of us saw performing well at the beginning of the year but had subsequently struggled with attendance and self-esteem issues. I’ll call him Barry. So many times Barry told me that he know he was going to fail this test or that. He immediately dismissed any comment of mine to the contrary. I don’t know how many people, if any, ever told him that they believed in him.
As soon as I saw Barry’s name on that list of bubble kids, I knew he was the one I would target. I started by pulling him aside one day and telling him that I believed in him. No matter much he tried to deny it, I believed he could and would succeed. I kept reminding him, even when he decided to act all embarrassed or try to shush me before I could say it.
We got the state test scores back a couple weeks ago, the day I originally wrote this post. Barry popped that bubble. He met state standards. My heart about burst when I saw that. I cannot wait to find him once school starts and tell him, with a smile, “I told you so!”
This is why I continue to teach, why I am so passionate about education. This is why I will fight for my students and pay out of pocket for things when the funding falters.
This budget cut will not spell failure for our students. Why? I am just one member of a team full of people with the same or similar drive and passion for these amazing kids. Each of us will fight like Wonder Woman or Superman for them.