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Communities Are Known by the Schools They Keep

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Who Is for Kids? Who Is Just Kidding?

By Rich Bagin, APR, Executive Director of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)

Here's a notion that is difficult to dispute: Communities are known by the schools they keep.

Are your local or county governing boards, your local, state and federal elected officials, your real estate officials, your local business leaders, and your local faith community paying attention to the impact of funding on their schools and their communities?

Probably not.

And if they are, they often just know about tax rates and how they play out for them individually and politically. No one seems to be thinking and talking about the big picture of just what the schools mean to the development and well-being of our local communities.

It's time to wake up our communities to this fact: After years of attempting to do more with less, it now means our schools in many communities will be providing less. And that will also damage the well-being our communities in many ways.

As our schools begin to decline because of inadequate state and local funding, we may be on the cusp of seeing that negative phrase come to life: There goes the neighborhood.

If schools begin to slip in achievement, facility upkeep, and overall characteristics that make schools effective, enrollment will decline, parents will seek alternatives, real estate values will sink, businesses will not move into or will even move out of your community. You will be left with a community that it is just a shadow of itself.

Telling Our Story That Stings and Sticks with Community Leaders

Now I am not necessarily advocating the "sky-is-falling" approach, but we all need to become more proactive in telling our story that stings and sticks with our community leaders. And we need to find ways to get our government officials — those with education funding responsibilities — to know that making the commitment to education is making the critical choice to maintain and develop a prosperous community in a negative time. Standing up for what's right for our communities should make them a candidate for the next local edition of a "profiles-in-courage" piece in their media outlets. And it will also get them re-elected.

We should heed the counsel of Superintendent C.J. Huff of the Joplin, Missouri Schools, who offered this advice in a keynote at our NSPRA Seminar in Chicago last month:

Strategic, ongoing communication is a key factor in winning back the support. Public policy won't change until we change public perception. Public perception won't change until we change how we tell our story.

For many educators, we are at a turning point for local and state education funding. We need to know what will actually motivate our funding decisionmakers to provide adequate funds for their schools and the growth of their communities. Wielding a significant voting block is a key motivator for most politicians.

Who Is for Kids? Who Is Just Kidding?

It's time to turn our rhetoric into votes for those who understand the impact of our schools on our communities. Years ago a campaign slogan asked, Who's for Kids? and Who's Just Kidding? Now is the time to vote for those who are for kids because they will strengthen your schools and your communities at a time when political courage is needed most.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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