What if the crisis facing Rochester youth was treated with the same urgency as natural disaster response? If childhood poverty and high school graduation rates were considered as damaging to our communal well being as a hurricane or an earthquake? Maybe then we would put some money into it.
There is nothing we need more desperately than a paradigm shift when we talk, think, and strategize about improving the situation for our youth here in Rochester. Without a doubt the dropout rates and literacy rates are abysmal in Rochester and the far-reaching effects are even more catastrophic, but the way that I see it, money is not the issue and it is certainly not the solution. The proposed budget for the 2012-2013 for RCSD is over $700,000,000, with the average cost per student surpassing $21,000 for the year. That number is nearly double the national average(~$11,000) and far above the NYS average (~$17,000). [Aside: New York State spends the most per child on public education in the nation.] Money is not the issue. We spend a lot on our children.
There is an argument that we need to spend more on our children in the city because our children have significantly higher needs than their suburban counterparts. The idea is that because of this need the amount that they require so surpasses the average that the amounts should never be compared. While I agree there is some truth in that, I believe that at this point the financial investment we have made in our kids should be resulting in progress.
But it hasn’t.
We need to start coming to terms with the fact that the situation we have with education, poverty, child development is a crisis as catastrophic as a natural disaster with even further reaching consequences. Yet, we cannot treat it like a natural disaster. With a hurricane, the day begins with business as usual and then unexpectedly and with great force, the hurricane destroys our reality. Within days of the storm’s completion (and the storm does pass), the destruction is done. As heart-wrenching and destructive as a natural disaster can be, it always stops and allows us to start to rebuild. The reconstruction is a powerful time where money and volunteers flood in. While “normalcy” seems so far away from the first day of rebuilding, immediately you can see progress made: a shelter is constructed, food comes in, a foundation is poured, walls go up, streets are repaved.
Yet our situation is not like that. Poverty is a slow decline: the consequences entrenched in all elements of our community, education, health, employment, etc. Poverty does not stop to let us regroup and start to work our way up. We do not know always where to start or what will help. We cannot dump money into our community and expect to see immediate results.
Here in lies the problem: the solution to our problem needs to be aggressive, yet nuanced at the same time. We must change our course if we do not see progress, yet we will never see instant results so we must also know when to wait.
Right now, we have a broken system. Can we afford to continue to make changes without a clear course of action, to make change for change’s sake? Can we afford not to?