Red Apple Mom

January 20, 2011

Political Plays With Kindergarteners & Turnips

No school district would dare deny 30 percent of its students the right to play sports simply based on their wealth right?   So why is it ok for a school district to deny 30% of the Fairfax County kindergarten population access to full-day kindergarten simply because these schools are in wealthy areas of the county?  All kids benefit from full-day kindergarten – not just poor kids!

Of the 126 elementary schools in Fairfax County, 37 are still without full-day kindergarten.  To compound the problem, the Fairfax County school district has a shortened day on Mondays.  So the kindergarteners at those 37 schools with half-day kindergarten are in class for a whopping 2 hours and 5 minutes.  That’s not the “world-class” education many people bought into when they moved their families to Fairfax County for the public schools.

Several FCPS school board members have publicly seized on this issue in the past couple months.  And I would applaud them for their efforts if it weren’t for the fact that this appears to be a self-indulgent political play for their re-election campaigns this November.   Ultimately, this is about young children and it’s also about providing equal services to the entire county when it comes to public education.  A noble cause indeed but one that definitely has politics written all over it and here’s why:

These very same school board members who are suddenly showing deep public concern about this issue now, had ample opportunity in the past few years to bring FDK to at least some of these 37 schools.  They claim the money wasn’t there in the budget.  But gosh, that didn’t stop them when they proposed buying themselves a new $130 million administrative building in 2008.  And it didn’t stop them when they decided to expand a once-a-week, 45 minute foreign language program in the elementary schools a few years back.  And it hasn’t stopped them from continuing to buy expensive new technology and computer upgrades for the school district either.

This isn’t about budget constraints.  If they really wanted full-day kindergarten by now, this School Board could have had it.  But they haven’t been willing to make the necessary spending cuts that would free up funds to make it happen.  The fact is, seizing on this issue now is an election year political play.

At a meeting of local officials with FDK supporters Tuesday night, Board of Supervisor member John Foust stated, ” “Full-day kindergarten in all schools costs $8 million?  I think we have room in a $2.2 billion budget to go forward.” What many in the applauding crowd failed to grasp, however, is that Foust was NOT referring to the Board of Supervisor’s budget.  Foust was referring to the School Board’s $2.2 BILLION budget.  Without embarrassing the attending school board members, he was basically telling the crowd that the Board of Supervisors feels FCPS already has the money in their school budget to fund FDK and they aren’t likely to receive additional funds from the Board of Supervisors.  How could they?  The Board of Supervisors is facing a $50 million budget shortfall this year!

Need more proof that politics is at play?  At a community budget meeting Wednesday night in McLean, School Board member Janie Strauss of the Fairfax County Dranesville district repeatedly said the School Board is directing the Superintendent to “squeeze the turnip” and “with hope” they can find the funds to implement FDK.

Hmmmm…that’s funny.  Up to that point, her comments about the budget focused on how FCPS has  already cut themselves to the bone, so what’s left to” squeeze in that turnip” Mrs. Strauss?  And if there was anything left to “squeeze”, why did the School Board run to the Board of Supervisors last summer for an emergency $2 million request to fund the Priority Schools Initiative for at-risk schools?

Once again, where our school district has failed to take action on important policies, it has fallen to the wonderful parents in this county to raise the sound of alarm.  And in doing so, is requiring countless hours on their part to  jump-start a debate that should have taken place years ago.  And, by the way, these same parents are devoting all these hours of advocacy while holding down jobs, raising their young children and entertaining their kindergartener for half of the day when they are not in school.

But keep the hope alive School Board because in times of budget constraints, hope costs nothing right?  Unfortunately, “hope” requires a lot of work in Fairfax County Public Schools.   Parents shouldn’t have to go to these lengths to effect change.  And if it turns out that “squeezing the turnip” yields nothing, parents still have one final card they can play.  Come November, elect new people to the School Board who are focused on results rather than “hope” and turnips!

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