Today’s gift was small – a box of office supplies for the main office of my son’s school. The two school office administrators are always friendly and helpful, despite having to deal with anxious parents, harried teachers and a daily flow of germ-ridden children shuffling into the office hoping to be taken home. When I asked them if they needed anything today, they told me that they could use pencils, pens, erasers and other office supplies. The school is in a relatively well-off neighborhood in Los Angeles, a pretty wealthy city in one of the richest states in the world. Yet, because it’s part of Los Angeles Unified School District and is not a Title 1 school (i.e. a school in neighborhood with a certain percentage of low income families) the annual budget is miniscule. The last I heard, the school of 450 students receives about $30,000 a year for all its supplies. Our amazing parent fundraising group has to raise a whopping $400,000 a year to pay for library and classroom aides, PE and music teachers and the like – hardly luxuries at an elementary school.
It seems insane to me that public schools can be so badly funded in such a wealthy part of the world. In recent decades politics has caused much money to be siphoned away from our schools, resulting in a withdrawal of investment not only in our next generation but in the future of the state. Not surprisingly, our state’s schools are ranked pitifully low on the nation’s academic scoreboard, its students ranking 47th in math and reading in 2013. In a city like Los Angeles, which is as vast as it is multicultural, the problems with education seem particularly insurmountable due to the immensity of its school district and the weighty bureaucracy that its size apparently requires. Like many other other parents in this wonderfully creative city, I am hoping (and almost praying) that one day, ideally while my child is still at school, the schools of Los Angeles will belong to smaller, better-managed districts that spend less money on administrating themselves and more money on teaching. Then perhaps parents will be able to spend less time fundraising for their children’s education and more time being parents. And schools will have enough money to buy as many pencils as they need.