The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Why aren't they talking about community support?

Looking back over the past year or so of my blog posts (infrequent as they may have been), I'm struck by the fact that so much of my writing has focused on finance and school funding, much more so than on partnerships or on education.

There are two reasons for this. The first is practical: much of what I'm writing on partnerships is now earmarked for publication in the K-12 Partnership Report, so not as much ends up here. (Though I do need to post more - there's a lot to be said and discussed.) The second is that economics is a fundamental driver of education policy and practice, and we have to understand changes in the economic environment - particularly those that directly affect school funding - if we want to understand the potential for advancing community/school engagement.

Note that I use the word "potential": despite what one might expect, there doesn't seem to be an automatic link between reduced funding and an interest in soliciting community support. While ARRA funding has partially blunted the likelihood of financial pain for the time being, the real issue seems to be that substantive public engagement is so far off the radar of many administrators that it just doesn't even come up as an option.

To that point: I participated in EdWeek's Powering through the Recession conference in Jersey City a few weeks ago, sitting on a panel at the end of the day to discuss finding new sources of support for schools. As I listened to other speakers and talked with audience members throughout the day, I was struck by the fact that no one was talking about how to respond to the recession.

No one discussed layoffs, operational efficiencies, or alternate sources of support: instead, they were all focused on how they could spend the stimulus money so that they could make a case for ongoing funding. (The two leading contenders, by the way, were teacher training and new data systems.) To be clear, I haven't heard anyone outside that event suggest even a possibility of continued funding; the USDOE has been pretty clear that it's a one-time event. But the people in that room were convinced that it would keep flowing, so long as they could show some kind of progress.

My impression was that the administrators in that room were so used to receiving all their support from the government that it framed their entire thought process. No one broke out of the box to consider other sources of support; the entire discussion was on where is the government money, what do I need to do to get it, and how can I keep it coming.

Thanks to the stimulus funds, administrators have two years to change their mindset before government funding truly does fall off a cliff. If the ARRA is truly a one-time source of funds, then its absence will expose schools and districts to a funding environment that will have eroded substantially even from the bleak landscape we see today. And at that point, they'll either look to their communities (though the smart ones will start now, to build the needed groundwork) or face some very hard decisions.


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