Jun 12, 2011

Teaching Budget Cuts to Third Graders

“Read your own reality to write your own history.”

Dale Weiss - As a teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) for the past 16 years, I have grown used to dismal budget cut news arriving each February. Although cuts are always frustrating and their results burdensome, our school has been able to “hang on” reasonably well. This year, however, the budget cuts were extreme.

...Our school’s budget was down more than $150,000 and we were also slated to lose SAGE funding (class size reduction funding for grades K5-3). Besides markedly increased class sizes in the coming school year, we would be losing our art teacher, library media specialist, math teacher leader, six classroom teachers, and an educational assistant.

I took a deep breath and readied myself to share the bad news with my 3rd-grade students. It is never easy to have this kind of conversation, and this year’s budget discussion, I knew, would be especially difficult. I began by briefly explaining how a districtwide budget works

...I drew a T-chart on the board. I told them to think about two things: the effects of the budget cuts on our school, and what they deserve in their education. As students had an idea, they wrote it on a Post-it note and affixed it to the appropriate column. We then grouped our comments into categories:

I explained the roles of the superintendent and the school board, suggesting that since the superintendent was the one who made the budget, perhaps we should address our letters to him. Then Victor piped in: “But you said the boss of the superintendent is the school board. Shouldn’t we write to the superintendent’s boss?” I told Victor that his idea made more sense than mine.

“I want you to each write your own letter to the school board. Think about your own thoughts, questions, and feelings about the budget cuts. Whatever you think, whatever your questions might be, and whatever your feelings are—all of this is important! Look at our T-chart for help.”- Read more at Rethinking Schools