There are always two sides to every story, and this is especially true of the Sept. 20 Gazette opinion piece regarding how “big schools” are short-changed by the state school funding formula.
First, the author states that the Billings School District had an increase of 335 students this year and that they won’t receive any funding for them until next year. This is true since schools are always funded from the previous year’s enrollment. However, let’s put into perspective what this number represents for the Billings School District.
The author states there are 30 schools in the Billings District and I’ll assume, for simplicity purposes, that there are at least 11 teachers per school (I’m confident there are far more). This means that every teacher had an increase of just one student. Hardly a need for immediate additional funding. What program, class, course, club or activity will be financially impacted by having approximately 13 more students added to each school building in the district?
Second, the author points to the state’s entitlement funding where every school in the state receives the same amount of money regardless of size. This is another true statement in how schools are funded. Schools also receive money based on student enrollment. Therefore, “big schools” receive a lot of money overall compared to “small schools” due to the larger student populations. Therefore, the formula, as complex and hard to understand as it is, must provide ample funding for “big schools” because of the programs and curriculum they offer that “small schools” could never afford to have.
Saco School District gets the same entitlement amount that Billings gets along with our ANB (student count) money. With that money we provide an aggressive curriculum that enables students to be college-, trade- and career-ready. As do all of the small schools I know in this state. We offer the meat and potatoes instruction with few frills or extras.
We send students to post-secondary schools across the state and nation, and our students compete head-to-head with any other student in the country. And, in spite of “all that money” we apparently get, we couldn’t begin to afford the kinds of specialized curriculum, elective courses, and extracurricular activities that “big schools” are able to spend their money on.
I looked at Skyview’s (a “big school”) web page today. It shows that Skyview is able to afford wrestling, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, cross-country and cheerleading as well as the swimming pool, tennis courts, soccer field and softball fields necessary to run them. We couldn’t begin to afford such luxuries.
In addition, they have an art club, color guard, forensics, Japan club, Key club and a few other organizations that we also could never afford to render. Billings Senior has a chess club, clay club, a doughnut club (?), speech and drama, a fly-fishing club, and athletic training. I’m assuming that at least “some” of these require a paid adviser, which is a cost we could never find the resources for.
Finally, Montana’s “big schools”, in spite of the funding formula, still seem to afford a curriculum that we could never find the money for. I looked at just a few of Skyview’s elective offerings. For art alone, they offer 3D Design, Acrylic Painting, Art 1 & 2, Advanced Art, Ceramics, Color & Design, Drawing & Design and a Jewelry class. Currently we don’t even have a single art class due to the lack of art teachers looking to teach in small schools, and our funding limits the amount of staff we can afford.
Skyview’s budget allows them to teach four years of French, four years of German and four years of Spanish to their students. We can only afford to get our foreign language from online resources. Billings Senior’s Consumer Sciences classes (formally known as “home-ec”) includes culinary essentials, culinary arts 1 & 2, family life classes, single survival classes (?), and four years of textiles and apparels. A “small school” is lucky to offer any consumer science courses at all. The budget for Billings Senior also supports the following social science electives: economics, global studies, world issues, psychology, sociology and street law. We could never afford the staff necessary to teach these electives.
The author seems to believe that the state’s funding formula cheats the “big schools." I beg to differ. It appears to cheat the “small schools” since we can’t offer a fraction of the activities and classes “big schools” have. The author wants to complain that they don’t have all the funding they need and wants you to talk to your representatives about that. OK. Perhaps the solution is to have the state fund the required curriculum as spelled out by the Department of Education and OPI. Anything beyond the required curriculum, including all sports and extracurricular activities would be financially supported by the communities that want them.
Why is the current state funding formula adequate for Billings to have a swimming pool, four years of French and a doughnut club, when my budget couldn’t begin to support any of them. My students are just as important as Billings students are. Don’t try to take the funding we squeak by on so “big schools” can have more opportunities that we will ever have.