Educators, Parents, and Citizens Urge Marion County Legislators To Fund Public Schools

This past Tuesday, November 17th, educators, parents, and concerned citizens from Marions United for Public Education spoke to the Marion County legislative delegation at the CFCC Klein Center.

Here's who spoke for our group:

    • Nancy Noonan, a retired educator and President of Marions United
    • Lorraine Fuller, proud parent of two, Kindergarten teacher at Wyomina Park Elementary, and Treasurer of Marions United
    • Darlene Hartley, a music teacher at Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary
    • Diana Webster, proud parent of four, and Vice-President of Marions United

Most of our speakers were placed towards the end of the schedule, and were limited to only two minutes to speak! Nonetheless, our team did well. Click "Read More" to read the full prepared remarks for each speaker. Nancy Noonan:

My name is Nancy M. Noonan and I live at 12220 SE 178th Street, Summerfield, FL 34491-8060. I am here to speak on behalf of “Marions United for Public Education”, a non-partisan, grassroots, advocacy organization committed to building stronger and more effective public schools for students in Marion County. Although I am currently retired I have been an advocate for public education all of my adult life. Prior to coming to Florida in October, 2005, I was a public high school chemistry teacher and school counselor in Pennsylvania and also worked for two National Education Association Affiliates, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, respectively, as the Executive Director and Field Director. When I moved to Florida, it didn’t take long to notice our schools weren’t being funded properly. Local school districts, like ours here in Marion County, continue to be burdened with unfunded state mandates and further plagued by serious budget cuts by the Florida State Legislature in 2007 and 2008. These combined events have caused a crisis in education that deserves your immediate attention. It is almost criminal for the State Legislature to ignore its constitutional obligations to properly fund public education. Marion County Public Schools are one of our community’s greatest assets! Since budget cuts to public education in 2007, our public schools have lost $23,061,658. Florida is ranked 50th out of 50 states in per capita funding for K-12 education. The result of having this lack of resources to educate and inspire our young people has led to Florida having the 3rd highest dropout rate in the nation. Florida’s Constitution is clear: “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children within its borders”. “Marions United for Public Education” believes in the spirit of the State Constitution. We urge you to not balance Florida’s budget on the backs of our children, our teachers, and our public schools. If Marion County’s legislative representatives in Tallahassee are truly sincere in their commitment to public education, and if they seek to uphold our constitution, then we urge you to restore funding for Marion County Public Schools to 2007 levels and also look for other reasonable and sustainable sources of revenue. We don’t merely “spend” money on public education, we make an investment in the economic vitality of our community and our future workforce. You must help us ensure that Marion County children have the education they deserve and are equipped for demands of the 21st century.

Lorraine Fuller:

My name is Lorraine Fuller and I live at 5101 SE 4th Street, Ocala, FL 34471. As a parent, teacher and taxpayer in Marion County I have grave concerns about how public education resources are already stretched thin and how budget cuts hurt students, programs, teachers, and our community. I believe that as legislators, you have a constitutional responsibility to protect and support the young people of Florida by providing them with a “quality public educational experience”. Florida wants and needs a World Class Public Education System if our young people have any chance of being competitive in the Global World. When school districts need to make cuts, Music, Physical Education, Art, and Media classes are too often the first on the chopping block. These classes are not merely “extras,” they are enrichments; the arts play a critical role in educating the whole child. Through music, students are enriched with reading and math skills such as patterns, fractions, vocabulary, comprehension, oral language, rhyming, and sequencing in addition to an appreciation of music. Through art, students learn essential math skills such symmetry, geometric spatial sense, patterns, area, and volume. Through Physical Education, students learn essential health, wellness, and exercise skills. And through Media classes, students learn genres of literature, library skills, and the joy and importance of reading. Extra Curricular activities for students are also at risk due to financial cuts. Clubs,(debate team, academic team, science club) and Sports build leadership skills, character, and strengthen athletic abilities providing some students a chance to attend college via scholarships. The economy may recover in a few years, but students will never be able to get back lost opportunities. Additionally, school districts may make cuts to essential support personnel such as teacher’s aides, causing an increase in student-teacher ratios. There’s a big reason why we call these personnel “essential support.” They play a significant role in the daily school lives of our students. If devastating cuts to our public schools continue, Marion County and other communities across Florida will be forced to lay off teachers and staff (only temporarily prevented by the “waiver” Florida received in securing the Federal Stimulus money). Let me be clear: when Marion County public schools, our community’s largest employer, has to lay off staff no one wins: * Class sizes grow larger, and students do not receive the individual attention they deserve. * School resources are diminished * Some schools may consolidate, requiring two schools to share the same principal * Schools often lose students, which means further loss of funds. * Local unemployment increases * Local businesses suffer as good jobs with benefits disappear * Our local population and community tax base decreases as people likely move elsewhere to find jobs This is a vicious cycle that can be prevented from starting in the first place. I am proud to be a teacher in Marion County and equally proud of my two children and what they have accomplished with the help and guidance of great public school teachers! This is a personal issue for me – we cannot allow some of our community’s best public servants to be told their services are no longer needed. I am urging you as a teacher, a parent, and as a citizen and taxpayer to lead on this issue. Stop any more unfunded mandates from being passed along to our district. Find new and sustainable revenue sources so we can make a strong investment in our public schools and our future. Thank you.

Darlene Hartley:

My name is Darlene Hartley. My college-age daughter came through the Marion County Schools, and I have taught music here for 28 years at all levels. I currently teach elementary school music, and I am a member of “Marions United for Public Education”. Like many teachers, I spent a very tense few months last year as we waited to see what Marion County would have to do to deal with budget shortfalls, and I’d like to share some thoughts with you. I’ve often read that well-known writers succeed by writing about what they know. Our county kept over 500 young teachers because of stimulus money, and many of them represent significant educational programs that would have been lost to our county if these cuts had been made. But what I know is music education, so I will keep my comments on that topic alone. I had a reading remediation teacher stop me in the hall last week and ask to borrow a metronome. It seems that she has a student with fluency issues in ready, and she knows that beat awareness can correct that problem. Actually beat awareness is a powerful indicator of a child’s reading skills. Benefits of music education to children’s education have been researched for years and are readily available to anyone with internet access. There are many books on the subject as well. Music students in the upper grades excel in nearly all measurable areas including school attendance, grades, test scores, college success. Of the students that complete college and apply to medical school, music majors lead the pack in acceptance. Children’s brains physically respond to movement, melody, and rhythm. Neurons and connections in the brain develop, and the connection between the right and left brain is actually larger in a person who had musical experiences as a child. These brain benefits are age-specific, and research shows that the frequency of music education is extremely significant as well. Studies commonly reference children that have music two to three times per week. Most of us currently see our students less than once per week with our current staffing and funding. Had we made the proposed cuts to elementary music last year, we would have been reduced by half. Half of our elementary music teachers would have had to try to teach in other areas, and the other half would have taught in two schools each. This is a drastic and disastrous cut in our children’s education, and it gets even worse if you look at more recent information. Right here in Marion County, Naoko Wicklein is completing a masters’ degree in music education. For a graduate statistics class, she did a small study of the effects of additional music education on a group of second graders at her school. On the state level, new research has been done comparing students with three or more years of music in middle and high school with their peers. Not surprisingly, their FCAT scores were higher. But the data was also broken down into high, medium, and low socioeconomic groups. All three groups showed gains in test scores if they were actively involved in music education. Music education is one part of a unified education system, and I urge you to find ways to fully fund education in all areas for Florida’s kids. But please don’t let anyone tell you that we can’t afford to provide quality music education for our kids. We can’t afford not to. Thank you for providing me the opportunity of sharing my professional perspective on the importance of music education in Marion County for our students.

Diana Webster:

My name is Diana Webster and I live at 401 SE 125th Street, Ocala, FL, 34480. I’m a parent of three children, all of whom have attended Marion County public schools. I’m an active parent, getting involved in my children’s schools to ensure they receive the best possible education. It is this involvement in our public schools that has propelled me to get active in Marions United for Public Education, where I’m serving as Vice-President. I’ve been greatly troubled over the years about scant attention paid to the lack of funding that plagues the ability of our teachers to educate our children, and prepare them for the future. Too often our leaders have said, even when times are good and business is booming, that the resources required to fund our schools aren’t there. So I decided to do some digging. We’ve been cutting public education since 2007, and underfunding it long before that. How could we reverse this trend, even in economic times like this, and be one of the few states that decide to increase investment in our public schools, rather than remain stagnant or worse, cut back further? Now, I should again point out I’m a proud parent and working mom…not an economist or budget analyst. Nonetheless, as a taxpayer and citizen, I wanted to present you with some ideas for raising badly needed revenue to make a responsible investment in our public schools, and indeed our community’s future. The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, while perhaps needing a shorter name, has come up with a long list of items that would raise at least $1.4 billion in revenue. You can find this list at FloridaFiscal.org. They include eliminating unnecessary sales tax exemptions like limo rentals and yacht purchases for instance; in addition to closing down big loopholes in our corporate income tax. Of course, those are only suggested items. When you consider there are $12.3 billion in sales tax exemptions and $20.9 billion in exclusions out there , surely our state can find some combination to close next year’s projected deficit of $2.7 billion. And let’s not just plug next year’s hole, let’s start investing now in a stronger and more effective public education system. By restoring funding to our public schools to the point where they were before large cuts were made in 2007, we can bolster our system for the day stimulus funds run out in 2011. We can move our public education system forward, while other states remain stagnant or continue to cut back. Now, I can hear the critics: we spend too much on public education – it’s just too expensive. While I believe this is a minority opinion, it needs to be addressed. Florida is 50th in the nation for spending on education according to Education Week…and public education itself is not expensive. Having almost a third of high schoolers drop out and not graduate is expensive. Graduating into a community where there are little to no jobs in expensive. Increased crime and the construction of more prisons is expensive. A hobbled democracy is expensive. Ignorance is expensive. When you all go back to Tallahassee in March, the temptation you will naturally face is to put our public schools on the chopping block once again, and balance our state’s budget on the backs of students like my kids, their teachers, and hardworking parents like me. Resist that temptation, because more cuts to our schools are absolutely unacceptable to me, my family, and most of this community. We will be watching and expecting you to do the right thing and invest in public education. Put cuts on the table again – and you can expect to hear from not just me, but many Marion County citizens. Thank you for your time and your willingness to listen to the concerns of your constituents.
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commented 2013-12-21 18:36:42 -0500 · Flag
Thank you