Successful cities have successful public schools. New Orleans’ economic growth depends on thriving public schools that serve all students: typical children, special needs children, and gifted and talented children. Unfortunately, the latest funding battle over the funds allocated to Orleans Parish students pits student against student and school against school. The proposed changes to the public education funding formula would gut gifted and talented funds and cut funds for the typical child in the name of special education.
Special needs children deserve and require extra funds. Their services are desperately important and sadly deficient in Louisiana. Nontypical children belong in our public classrooms, and their presence increases empathy and compassion in their fellow students, deepening learning for all students. We need a funding formula that aids that process and provides the funds needed to teach and serve all types of special needs students, so that each student can reach his or her full potential.
However, the current proposed funding formula is short-sighted and partial. The working group has chosen to single out Orleans Parish students only with a discriminatory formula that carefully sidesteps BESE chartered schools and every other parish in the state. Jefferson Parish serves a large number of English language learners and other special needs students. Why is Jefferson Parish not included in this new funding formula? Charter schools and traditional schools have to allocate their funds to students based on their designation and report on that allocation. If this proposed funding formula is best for special needs students, and all students, then it should apply to schools in St. Tammany Parish, Ascension Parish and West Carroll Parish.
The rhetoric surrounding the debate over the new formula for Orleans Parish is disturbing. Articles and letters have been written equating gifted and talented with power and privilege. This argument is paternalistic and biased. Poor children and children of all ethnic backgrounds are gifted and talented. They deserve the funds they need to achieve their full potential and support their dreams. New Orleans of all places needs to support our student artists, musicians and dancers. With the funds they need to support their dreams, our gifted and talented students will go on to perform at Carnegie Hall and at music venues across New Orleans.
We should not forget our typical, “average” student. The proposed formula for Orleans Parish substantially cuts into their funds too. The vast majority of our school children fall into this category, and yet their portion of school funds will decrease substantially.
New Orleans’ jobs depend on New Orleans’ schools. Our ability to grow as a city: to recruit new businesses and industries, depends on having public schools that are strong and successful. Stripping funds from these schools will harm our long-term economic prospects. The funding formula should consider what is best for all school children and what is best for New Orleans.
president, Lusher Charter School Parent Teacher Student Association