Guest piece from Des Moines School Board Member Dionna Langford.
Students and families are under huge pressure today, in Des Moines and across the country.
Wages are not keeping up with the costs of basic everyday needs — housing, childcare, he
For those of us who work in education, or with youth in any capacity, the devastating impacts of income inequality in our school systems are glaring. Many of our students come to school hungry. Student mobility is high as families move to find affordable housing. Working families need help transporting students to and from school. In the Des Moines Public School system we have hundreds of students who don’t have access to a quality pre-school program.
These issues do not even begin to scratch the surface. Parents and caretakers are doing the best they can, yet are being forced to make significant sacrifices and difficult decisions to provide for their loved ones. The problem is growing and school districts are working to meet the needs of our students and level the playing field.
I am a proud graduate of the Des Moines Public School system, and over the past four years I’ve had the honor to serve on the Des Moines Public Schools Board of Directors. In 2009, my senior year of high school, I was a part of the nearly 63% of students who qualified for free and reduced lunch. Today, 10 years later, that number has risen to 76%.
That is not the only thing that has changed over the past 10 years.
In 2009, the Iowa Legislature approved a 4% increase in Supplemental State Aid provided to school districts. In 2018, the Legislature passed an education funding package with a 2.6% increase. While it was an increase over the last few years, it still does not keep up with the rising costs of inflation.
As a district, last year we were forced to make $14 million in cuts to stay within budget. We will have to cut an additional $58 million over the next two years.
What do continued cuts of this nature mean for our district? It meant we had to halt plans to build a new school in one of the fastest growing areas in our community, which would have expanded access to public Montessori education to many students typically shut out from these programs. It means reductions in staff and programs that benefit our students. In this scenario, we clearly lose.
Our funding issues go beyond the state level. Our school district has been impacted by cuts to federal Title 1 funding, negatively impacting the level of support we can provide to our schools most in need, and decreasing our flexibility to use those funds to provide the best educational outcomes for our students.
Bernie Sanders understands these issues, in Iowa and around the country. And he has the best plan for doing something about them. It’s called the Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education, and it is a big part of why I’m supporting Bernie for president.
The proposal boosts federal funding to public schools by billions and distributes that money with an eye toward social and racial equity. It would set a nationwide pay floor of $60,000 for teachers. It would make free school meals universal, ending the grotesque modern spectacle of students getting “lunch shamed” and enhancing learning for every kid.
It’s a great plan and a bold vision. But plans and policies are only part of why I’m for Bernie.
From our climate crisis to our health care system, we are facing some critical problems as a country. We need leaders who remind us of our power, and inspire us to roll up our sleeves and tackle our challenges together. I believe Bernie is the best candidate to do that.
When this work gets hard I am continually inspired and uplifted by our students. They are leading the way now. They are not overcome with pessimism. They are mobilizing and organizing to create this world as it should be.
Bernie’s campaign is all about that same energy, optimism, and hard work. There’s a movement building here, by and for working class people. Bernie’s 2020 campaign is not about him, but about us. WE have the power to select a candidate who will not only defeat Donald Trump, but lead the effort to rebuild our institutions to work for all of us, not just a select few.
I hope you will join me in my support of Bernie at your local caucus on Feb. 3.
By Dionna Langford, Des Moines School Board member
Photo by Julie Fleming