Education

'Critical' TA funding hangs in balance as budget writers haggle

Posted August 20, 2015

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— Hundreds of thousands of public school children head back to class Monday with a big question: Will the youngest students have teacher assistants?

As state lawmakers continue to haggle over the budget, the jobs of thousands of teacher assistants in kindergarten and first grade classrooms hang in the balance.

At Willow Springs Elementary School, a year-round school, Principal Camille Miller says anyone who think those TAs are expendable should visit her classrooms.

Without teacher assistants, Miller said, "My kids would be in a significant amount of trouble."

TAs help ease the growing pressure on teachers to produce.

"The standards go higher and our resources are diminished," Miller said. "What does that mean for students and parents? It means we're all working harder, and I think the question is at what cost?"

Senate leaders have questioned whether funding teacher assistants truly pays off, but first grade teacher Megan Lewis says her assistant, Lilia Potter, is indispensable.

"I cannot imagine not having her in here," Lewis said.

On Thursday while Lewis kicked off a lesson on reading, Potter provided one-on-one attention.

In Becky Killough's kindergarten class of 23, students arrive with all different levels of preparedness. Some are ready to learn, others, TA Paige Adams said, "don't know how to stand in a line. They don't know how to hold a crayon, let alone what color it is."

It's hard to distinguish between teacher and assistant in Killough's classroom. She and Adams work at a team.

"I couldn't do that by myself," Killough said. "It just really takes two people to meet all of those needs."

"To expect one person to be able to start out with a classroom of 23 kids at all varying levels, to be able to meet each need is really kind of unrealistic," Adams echoed. "I really feel like my job is critical here."

Yet she doesn't know if it will exist next week.

Lawmakers hope to finish work on a $21.7 billion budget by Aug. 31, when a temporary spending measure runs out. Top leaders told their budget negotiators Thursday to be prepared to work Friday and over the weekend in an effort to have a spending plan to vote on sometime next week. However, it’s still possible a final deal could be more than a week away.

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  • Ryan Kurtz Aug 21, 2015
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    "Invest in the children of this state!"? We dump over 60% of the entire budget into education, and give more each year that goes by. Obviously money is not the issue here, how about liberals in this state start demanding answers from college boards about the sharp increase in tuition year over year for bachelor degree students? And then, when you get them to stop increasing the debt these people come out with, how about you do some fact checking on how counties wastefully spend money on brick and mortar for new schools every single year. Seems to me transitioning at least 25% of the K-8 schools to year-round would save a substantial amount of money that could then be passed on to teachers. But no, parents and teachers don't want that, I mean, gosh, they NEED their summer break! Point is, when it comes to tough decisions, nobody is willing to do anything about it, it's easier to yell at the hand that feeds you boat loads of money

  • Clif Bardwell Aug 21, 2015
    user avatar

    Here's a thought...

    Instead of paying someone to be a TA, how about if we utilize the student teachers with an intern program? These kids are in college working toward their teaching degree, why not award them college credits toward that degree for a year's worth of TA volunteering?

  • Terry Lightfoot Aug 20, 2015
    user avatar

    More p^oper scooper politics from Stam, Dollar, Berger and Moore. Shame on them, invest in the children of this State! All these names above deserve the BOOT next election

  • Anne Havisham Aug 20, 2015
    user avatar

    I am trying really hard to imagine this happening in a historically male-dominated profession. My imagination is mighty powerful, but it's not up to imagining that.