Think creatively on funding for K-12 enrichment programs

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When a fifth-grader cares enough about school curriculum to petition for change, we all should pay attention.

Ben Drzycimski gathered nearly 300 signatures to save foreign language classes in Cedar Rapids elementary schools. The courses, begun in the 2011-12 school year, were cut as part of a $2.3 million budget reduction school officials said was needed due to lackluster overall state K-12 funding.

Eliminating the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools program saves the district $769,565, according to Steve Graham, director of business services.

Our first thought was that this program could benefit from a public-private partnership. We wondered if corporations in the community might step up to keep the language program alive either on a permanent basis or as a temporary measure.

Although the Cedar Rapids Community Schools Foundation tasks itself with bridging the gap where state and federal funding falls short, Board Chairwoman Jen Neumann says the price tag associated with the program is an obstacle.

“That is a very large chunk of money that would need to be raised and sustained,” she said. “That said, now you’ve got me thinking.”

As government belts tighten, enrichment programs often are the first placed on local district’s chopping blocks. We agree that core education programming must be preserved, but also fear that cutting programs intended to give Iowa students a leg up is shortsighted.

Researchers have demonstrated the benefits of second-language learning not only on students’ linguistic abilities, but on their cognitive and creative abilities. It is a 21st-century skill set Iowa’s next generation of workers and leaders needs to thrive in a global society.

Students who are learning a foreign language outscore their non-foreign language learning peers in both the verbal and math sections of standardized tests. As foreign language learning increases, the gap between students who do and don’t widens.

As state officials work to bolster Iowa’s number of skilled workers, supporting foreign language programs for our youngest students should be a natural fit.

At the very least, the elimination of the Cedar Rapids program should sound a sharp warning bell. Short-changing K-12 education now negatively affects our state’s economic future.

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