Foundation puts its money where its mouth is

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Commentary by Arthur Ogden

A few decades ago when I was writing profusely to compose my dissertation, my research inevitably drove me to some reasons why Americans have become disenchanted with public education.

One of the most prominent, and yet depressing, facts about American public education is the lip service we pay to educational commitments.

This lip service is betrayed in the fashion we fund public education, and each year states across the nation which espouses free and mandatory education in its quest to evolve “an informed electorate” necessary for a properly functioning democracy give smaller and smaller pieces of the public treasury to education funding.

In some states this fact is so perverse and prevalent, my home state of Florida for example, that more money is spent on prisons than on education!

Hence, we are satisfied with spending more money on the symptoms of social discord than on prevention of that discord.

Still, there is not one politician who does not claim to be the “education candidate” and whose rhetoric convinces us that this politician is the one who will lead us out of the bleak morass of educational mediocrity which has become the benchmark of most of American publication education.

In sum, we just don’t want to spend the money we have on our schools.

The answer is a vicious circular argument which goes something like this:

“I don’t want to spend money on an institution which does such a lousy job of educating our youth.”

But unless money is spent, the levels of expectation and competencies crucial for the insurance of an informed electorate will not be met, let alone be raised.

The sad fact is that we choose to spend our money on entertainment rather than on education.

Think about the fact that we will pay a man $9 million a year to throw a piece of leather down a grassy field on Sunday afternoons, but we pay his third grade teacher less than one-half of one percent of that amount to teach.

We even pay movie stars more than we pay professional athletes!

Being the conservative Libertarian that I am, I do not suggest that throwing money at a problem will solve it.

But the fact that some students must share books, buy their own supplies, bring in extra supplies for other students who cannot afford them, and go to schools which either have been or should be condemned edifices, does not go unnoticed by our youth.

They know that their educational welfare is not that high a priority on our value scale.

We show that to them every time a bond issue is voted down or a mil levy increase is proposed!

In plain language, we don’t put our money where our mouth is when it comes to financial commitments to public education – and our children know it and see it!

And then, there is the Demopolis City Schools Foundation.

Now, I know much has been written about this ambitious organization and its pledge to enhance public education in our small, but progressive community.

Nevertheless, when I arrived here a scant four months ago, I was blown away that such an effort was proving fruitful and was supported by such a large segment of the population.

I know of no other similar foundations, although I would surmise that efforts have been attempted elsewhere.

The closest genre of private support for public schools is Winchester, Virginia, which has a foundation created immediately after the Civil War by a Pennsylvania military officer to help rebuild the South.

They have an endowment which is in the neighborhood of $1 million for the Winchester High School.

Demopolis, however, has a smaller population than Winchester.

Accolades and kudos for the founders of the Demopolis City Schools Foundation could pour forth endlessly, and continued accolades should grace our Executive Director, Jan McDonald.

This past September we were able to disburse $55,000 to our schools for enhanced learning. That, in and of itself, is not just an accolade, it is a proven testimony to the commitment the people of Demopolis make in their own quiet ways for the education of their children.

Currently, the Foundation is in its Boston Butt fund drive.

A mere $20 buys the ticket-holder a tasty morsel of meat to be ready for pick-up at the Demopolis Baseball Field on the day of the Iron Bowl, November 20.

Now, what could be more tantalizing than a ready-made tail-gate centerpiece for the most rivaled game in the history of sport!

And at the same time give support to the education of our children in Dempolis!

What all this says in a very simple fashion is the People of Demopolis through its City Schools Foundation puts its money where its mouth is for education!

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is campus director for Alabama Southern College’s Demopolis campus. E-mail comments to him at news@demopolistimes.com .