Heidi Crumrine: Here we go again

  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks in Washington on Jan. 24. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/7/2019 12:25:11 AM

I swear every time Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos or President Donald Trump make an announcement about something related to education, my blood pressure goes up. I have to reach for Tums and do some yoga breathing.

Here we go again: They released their education budget last month and it was, shall we say, disappointing. It proposes $7.1 billion in cuts to the programs and services that benefit our children. It eliminates all funding for Special Olympics – although after public outcry this has apparently been restored – eliminates all funding for 21st Century Learning Centers, ends the loan forgiveness program for public service employees and eliminates subsidized loans for low-income students, among many other services.

This is a 12 percent decrease from last year’s budget. Even more alarming is the fact that each year’s education budget from this administration has proposed the biggest cuts to education funding since the Department of Education was created in 1979. In the words of Rep. Rosa DeLaura of Connecticut, who is also chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee, to DeVos, “Shame on you.”

This deplorable budget is likely not to go anywhere. Last year, when the secretary proposed similar cuts, Congress responded with a rare show of bipartisan support by increasing the education budget. That is not very reassuring, however, because this indicates that the secretary does not care what the reaction was, and worse, that she will continue what feels like a vendetta against public schools, children who receive special education services, who are minorities and who live in poverty. These are the children who will be most affected by these budget cuts. To say otherwise is either a bold-faced lie or a wild misunderstanding of the purpose and value of our public schools.

$7.1 billion is a lot to wrap your head around; it feels intangible. It can be hard to understand how these cuts would impact our students at the local level. Let’s take a deep dive into one part of this budget – the 21st Century Learning Centers grant – and what that means here in Concord.

The 21st Century Learning Centers in Concord are free/low-cost after-school programs that occur at our elementary, middle and high schools. Different schools have been offering programming for different lengths of time, but all have had offerings for between three and seven years. 21C offers homework support and academic enrichment, as well as various activities that include robotics, STEM activities, Krypto and other math games, martial arts and science cafes, to name a few. There are family dinners, grandparent programming, math and literacy nights, and English Language Learner (ELL) nights, among other things. In Concord, the programs partner with various community organizations such as the Concord Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, the N.H. Food Bank Cooking Matters Program, Girls Inc., Girls on the Run, the Concord Police Department and the Friends Program. In short, the programs cater to a wide range of children and families and all have a common mission: To help support and nurture the young people in our community so that they can be successful in school. 21C is the “neighborhood house” with the snacks, the games, the fun, the shoulder to cry on and the adult to ask advice.

What is truly remarkable about the Concord 21C program is how many children and families benefit from it. In 2019, 1,238 students have thus far been served by the program. When students returned from February vacation this year, one asked the coordinator: “When we have break next, can we still have 21C? I’m so bored at home in my apartment.” These programs are making a tangible difference in the lives of the children in our community.

In looking at the overall demographics for Concord School District, we can tell that our traditionally more disadvantaged populations are benefiting from the 21C program at significantly higher rates than our more advantaged populations. Thirty-five percent of Concord students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 7 percent are ELL and 20 percent are non-white. Compare that to 21C students, of whom 55 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch, 18 percent are ELL and 42 percent are non-white.

In other words, 21C is a major contributor to combating the inequities in our society by offering support, opportunities, and access to resources for the children and families who need it most. By eliminating funding for these programs, President Trump and Secretary DeVos are systematically targeting poor and minority children who are statistically more likely to fall through the cracks in our education system. When we talk about systemic racism, this is exactly what we mean.

This is not about partisan politics and this is not about being fiscally conservative. This is about taking resources from the children and families in our communities who are actively benefiting from them right now. No. I’m mad and you should be, too. Toss those Tums across the room and make some noise. Our voices need to be loud and convincing: This is not okay.

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)

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