Public Education

Opinion writer Caleb Powell compares his public education experience to others to find a new solution.

When I went to Lubbock High School, 60 percent of the student body lived below the poverty line. But somehow, we had the best education outcomes in West Texas. Sure, Lubbock High School has prestigious AP and IB programs, but our curriculum is only part of the equation. The school sponsored various programs to aid low-income students which helped boost test scores and attendance.

The kids from my high school rank 24 and 38 out of 71 in science and math respectively, according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, 52.3 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunch in 2017. It’s hard for kids to improve their math, science, reading and writing skills when they have limited resources. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of programs schools can adopt to improve their students’ outcomes without touching the curriculum.

Lubbock High School provides free breakfast and lunch to every student, regardless of social class. I never had to eat the school’s meals, but some of my friends did. One of my friends ate the cafeteria food because it eased the financial burden on his parents.

That’s the beauty of free lunch and breakfast: low-income students get to eat two meals without straining their parents’ budgets. When 59 percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, paying for two meals can help low-income families save money they can use later for other expenditures.

Also, studies show that free breakfast and lunch boosts students’ attendance, grades and mental health. While critics may say the government shouldn’t be giving out handouts, feeding children in school is imperative. Try listening to a calculus lecture or a history lesson on an empty stomach. It isn’t easy. Making breakfast and lunch free school-wide also means that low-income students can access meals without anyone knowing who is poor and who is rich. Free meals provide a win-win situation. Students can eat and keep their socioeconomic status private.

One of the most significant advantages to attending Lubbock High School was the ample amount of after-school tutoring, extracurriculars and cultural organizations in which students could participate. All of our programs were free, so students could get extra help in algebra, become an athlete or join Spanish club without paying any dues.

Universal after-school programs are particularly advantageous because they provide a safe and nurturing environment for students to stay while their parents are at work. Additionally, students who participate in after-school activities are typically healthier. Also, they are less likely to skip school or drop out. Finally, they are less likely to engage in illegal activities and tend to have better educational outcomes.

Some skeptics, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, argue that school funding does not correlate with outcomes. But let’s think about this logically. A failing school will not magically improve grades, attendance, test scores and students’ health with less money. Most adults agree that schools are underfunded, so telling schools to use what they have more efficiently is not good enough. The research shows that spending money on after-school programs and free meals improves more than just academic performances.

If we want to invest in the next generation and make a better future for our children, everything starts with education. The leaders in Washington won’t do anything. DeVos’s administration has slashed regulations for higher education, rolled back nutrition standards and is unqualified to oversee public education policy. We cannot trust our politicians to do what is right for students. Therefore, we must protest, call our representatives and use our votes to exert political pressure on our leaders for the good of the students.

Lubbock High School was significant not just for its academics but also for how it helped its students. Our school had comprehensive education, generous meals and extensive after-school programs. But it also helped low-income students in other ways. The school had free washers and dryers so students could do their laundry if they didn’t have access to machines at home. Counselors were more than willing to talk with students who had a difficult home life. Teachers acted as mentors and legitimately cared for how we were doing. And not every school can have an excellent curriculum or high-quality instructors. But, we can give kids meals and after-school programs.

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