Op/Ed By Eamonn Scanlon, Education Policy Analyst, The Children’s Agenda –
Before my current role as an education policy analyst at The Children’s Agenda, I knocked on thousands of doors in Rochester as a community organizer. When it came to the Rochester City School District (RCSD), parents had plenty of suggestions on what the schools needed: more books, better computers, teachers with better training, more after school programs, vocational training, and so on. When the discussion turned to how the district could pay for these things I often heard, “they have the money, they just don’t spend it wisely.”
This same belief is shared by industry leaders and newspaper editors. There is a collective mythology about the district’s spending, and very little of it is based in facts. What we do know is that the community hasn’t always trusted the RSCD, and children are being left behind at alarming rates.
Every year $900 million is spent on public education in Rochester. That is far greater than the city’s budget of $525 million, and nearly as much as the entire county’s budget of $1.2 billion. Meanwhile the RCSD has a four-year graduation rate that barely hovers above 50 percent. Naturally, these types of results invite a lot of skepticism.
Is every dollar being well spent? Probably not. Though would we expect as much with such a large bureaucracy, so many external pressures, constant leadership turnover, and the weight of extreme poverty, wide-spread trauma, learning disabilities, and language barriers? All of this without even mentioning the legacies of institutional and individual racism.
If money is being misspent, then let’s work to redirect it. If there is not enough funding to meet the need, then let’s find the political will to take care of every child.
The Children’s Agenda will release an analysis of the RCSD budget next spring. However, the goal is not just to breakdown how money is spent, but to empower the community to drive the conversation. We need to rebuild faith in the process and promote real transparency. Let’s move away from haggling over spending priorities to a vision of what every child needs to succeed.
The Children’s Agenda wants to hear from you. What questions do you have about the city school budget? What types of spending would you like to know more about? If you have questions or want to be involved in the development process please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s move from myths to actions.