February 26th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

Do our public schools need a bailout?

Editor's Note: Watch Randi Kaye’s full report tonight on Anderson Cooper 360 at 10 PM.

Randi Kaye | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

How would you feel if your child came home from school with a request he or she return the next day with paper towels and toilet paper? Yes, toilet paper!

Can you imagine? That’s how bad it got for one public school in Detroit. The district, like so many others around the country, is out of money so it’s asking parents to send much needed items like that to school. We looked at schools across the country that are broken and crumbling. In Miami, they are so overcrowded that students are learning in temporary trailers on the playground. In Ohio, just outside Cleveland, a school superintendent sent a letter to then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asking for $100 million to help save his district which has 1200 students crammed into a building that was made to hold 800 students. In that district, maintenance closets have been turned into classrooms. It’s that bad! And did you hear about the teacher in San Diego who started selling “ad space” on his exams to help pay for the paper it cost to print the tests themselves? Parents were buying the ad space to help. He raised about $600.

How did it get so bad? Well schools get money, in part, from taxes and because of this economic slump, property taxes are way down, so the states are facing deficits and the schools aren’t getting the precious tax dollars they need.

But the good news for public schools is the new stimulus package just approved should pump about $100 billion into their budgets. How much each state gets is determined by the population of school-age children but at this point, many districts will take anything they can!

I went to a school in Yonkers, New York today, not far from Manhattan, where scaffolding and plastic has been holding up a crumbling roof for years. The school can’t afford to replace it. That is all they can do to keep the concrete roof from collapsing on the students.

Did things really have to get this bad?

Filed under: 360° Radar • Bailout Turmoil • Education • Randi Kaye
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. G. Martinez

    What is needed is real support for charter and private school funding. These schools produce much better educational results at a fraction of the cost.

    Even home education produces better results then the dismal results being sold at a premium to the fed up American people.

    Government governs best when it governs least.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
  2. G. Martinez

    And when they hire a “NEW” superintendent, they usually hire from the same inept pool or recycled former superintendents. These guys and gals are moved from NY to LA to Miami like they were in the NBA. The only difference is their talent lies in dishing out plan after plan, full of empty promises, and getting away with it and huge early contract termination bonuses.

    Hey, public school superintendents could also work for the banks. They produce nothing and take the tax payers money in the end.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:01 pm |
  3. G. Martinez

    In Chicago the public school system spends 30 million dollars per year in order to translate everything it produces into 12 different languages. In Miami-Dade some schools are even doing their student’s laundry. In NY and LA the unions will not let anyone touch teachers accused of sexually abusing kids and demand that these teachers are given administrative positions instead of being fired. This is your public dollars at work.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:01 pm |
  4. Heather,ca

    In response to the title, I dont think our public schools need a bailout. Its not that simple. In order to provide the public schools with the things they need you would have to understand where the money comes from that they would normally have and use to provide the things that they need. You just cant throw money at everything. You need to go back to the root of the problem. How do schools get the money to pay for things. Who provides the money. Why did that money stop coming? If we can figure that all out then we can find a financially responsible way to do something to ensure our public schools have what they need.

    February 27, 2009 at 11:46 am |
  5. G. Martinez

    The problem with public schools is that they are public. There is little or no incentive for these schools to do their job. In every major public school in the nation only 20 to 25 percent of students are performing at grade level in math or reading. This goes on while the public school monopolies continues to grow are record pace and suck up more and more of our tax dollars.

    February 27, 2009 at 11:42 am |
  6. Diane N.

    I really get tired of my son coming home with fundraising packets(he is not in school to learn to be a salesman at 11) and yes requests for paper towels and other non school supply type essentials. Hearing in other circles that there is no need for more funding for education and that the money is mismanaged doesn't make it any better or solve the problem. When they get a lot of funding for lunches by making some sort of quota then my son comes home saying how the lunches are so bad they are inedible and he ends up eating nothing for lunch, it burns me to the core. We had to pay at the beginning of the year some money to his science class for some sort of supplies. We've gotten no information on those supplies just that it was needed. What is going on??? Is it down right and total mismanagement of the money or do we really really need??? What ever the answer is I'm tired of having to pay out of pocket, if I was able to afford out of pocket for school I'd send him to private school. Maybe there needs to be some serious watch dogging of education funds.

    February 27, 2009 at 11:34 am |
  7. fred j overing

    YES!!! they do need a bailout. Why is it we can send BILLIONS if not TRILLIONS to fund wars that we should have never been in, but we can not fix up our schools here in the United States of America. Years ago immigrants came to America in search of a dream. To make a honest living, and to get a good education. Now I bet immigrants can probably do better in their home country. Well I believe we have the right gentleman in place to do what needs to be done to fix our nations schools. President Obama has been in the schools and has been spending a lot of time with THE PEOPLE. He has a heart and you can see it deep in his eyes, he will fix things. Like he said, "It won't happen overnight!" , but give him time, stand by our guy, and together we can all fix America together.

    February 27, 2009 at 11:24 am |
  8. Dean Schindler

    I agree with many others here and think this is absolutely not a new issue. When I was in elementary school, my mother had to purchase several boxes of tissue, all of my supplies, and throughout each year, little reminder notes would come in by way of being paperclipped to my shirt, listing new needs to complete the year. We all know this is not an ideal situation, but it is a reality and has been for over 30 years. When I was in middle and high school, I had many classes in 'temporary buildings', and it did not change the quality of education that I recevied. I do wish they would think of a new name other than 'temporary buildings' though....I have been out of high school for 20 years and they are still using the same ones.
    We cannot expect the government to foot the bills for everything, plain and simple. Yes, they should keep up with the buildings and the basics, but there will always be a need to supply our children with the additional supplies for proper schooling.

    February 27, 2009 at 9:44 am |
  9. Mrs. Mayes

    Education is the key to everyone's success. All children should be educated in a safe, clean and pleasant environment, It is a disgrace the condition our schools are in. The people and cities in charge of these horrible schools should be ashamed of the way they have neglected their schools. How could you expect anyone to learn in an environment like these terrible school are in. People in charge need to get on their jobs and fix these schools. America the richest country in the world and we can't fix up our schools that educate our future citizens! It seems to me someone just don't care about certain schools.

    February 27, 2009 at 6:52 am |
  10. DJH FRE

    Yes. We need to work in our future by investing in our children and students. If we don't, We may and will fall farther from the fisrt place position in the world.

    I good school environment and good check that great teachers with good pay will brings us to where we want to be in the future.

    February 27, 2009 at 6:45 am |
  11. Lois

    We pay a heavy hunk for our schools in our property taxes here, yet they keep wanting more I personally have seen nothing done that they took money for we have teachers that just don't care how they teach or put so much in home work that the kids have no time for anything else so they drop out, it is insane what are they teaching ? the home work is taking up more time at home than in schools, the teachers want raises new rooms better this and that well show me better educated kids and I might vote yes for a change,
    Lois WA State

    February 27, 2009 at 6:07 am |
  12. Rose Ferdinand

    My hat goes off to those school systems which are making it happen with minimum resources, but still maintain its key objective, the education of America's children. What needs to be examined in school system across this nation are those school systems with more than adequate resources but do not pride themselves in the primary objective of there existence, a quality and competitive education for the thousands of young people they service.


    I desperately need to have this matter examined by Anderson 360 and his team of investigative reporters.

    February 27, 2009 at 6:03 am |
  13. Lois

    Our kids have been doing this here at the Whidbey Island WA schools since 1998, nothing new we see where our taxes go in this small community building more room for the Court house and jail go figure?
    Lois WA State

    February 27, 2009 at 6:00 am |
  14. Pamela

    Yes. People who say no should have to walk in the children's shoes who attend these outdated, horrid schools. Shame on You, Bush administration.

    February 27, 2009 at 5:55 am |
  15. Pat

    Yes, we should do whatever, it take to get the schools up to date. Our schools are our children only change for a good future. Our schools in the city where I live, tax all working people. You don't have to have to child in school, but you pay school tax any way. The new superintender we have has closed schools that we old and falling down with new school and renovation of some of the other ones.
    We need the best for our children and we should be willing to help keep our schools clean and educating our students.

    February 27, 2009 at 3:03 am |
  16. Greg S.

    This story misses the big picture. Most of our schools in Iowa are delivering great educations to their students. They are not in crisis. They are under pressure with peripheral programs, but our K-12 programs are sound, delivering on their promise, and continuing to deliver core and exceptional programs, including AP programs which deliver for our students.

    Let's give the national audience a perspective which is not only dramatic, but which is sensible.

    February 27, 2009 at 2:52 am |
  17. mzauher

    My question is, why if our schools are failing and we are removing programs, unable to fix school property and students are having to learn in closets do we spend 25billion a year in the war on drugs. Why do we spend over 8 billion a year to house the non violent drug addicts in our prisons?

    Why are we not following suit in other states behind California and trying to push for a smart approach to legalization and taxation for adults over 21?

    Why is it we treat alcoholism with a clinic, but a Cannabis smoker with jail? A Meth addict with jail? A Coke addict with jail?

    How about we take that 25billion a year we spend on the drug war, and give it to our school systems, how about we take the 8billion a year we spend on housing non violent drug offenders and put it towards our national debt?

    You want change? Lets talk about real change.

    February 27, 2009 at 2:42 am |
  18. Jason Rader

    Our public schools need more support from government. However, this report failed to consider all of the factors contributing to poor condition of our public school system such as wasteful administrative costs and the burdens associated with union involvement. Any meaningful discussion about the condition our public school system must include a discussion of such factors. Simply allocating more money to our school systems without overhauling the way we administer education will not take us very far.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  19. Cheryl Edelman

    Just a follow up to this subject. It is positively disgraceful that poor students are physically being pulled from the lunch lines because they can not pay for a hot lunch. They are offered a cold cheese sandwich and milk. Some are so disturbed they refuse to go back to school. Even though their parents don't and perhaps can't pay for lunches, it is NO reason to punish these innocent children. What is this county turning into?

    February 26, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  20. Audrey

    I fully support a "bail out" for our schools. It is essential for the future of our country.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:04 pm |
  21. antwan

    im an birmingham Al. native here these needs arent new to our students i myself had several classes in so called portable class rooms its sad but we learned just as well as any other schools students it a test of the skills of our teachers

    February 26, 2009 at 10:53 pm |
  22. D. Martinez

    As a teacher in Arizona, I am experiencing this first hand. We are being faced with a possible 20% reduction of teachers for the upcoming school year and classroom sizes in the 30+ for grades K-5 without any assistance.

    However, my district only received 160,000 from the stimulus because the money was based on 2000 census data. Our district was small then and due to the large growth in Arizona we have increased substantially over the last few years (enrollment of 10,000+).

    Now, I go to bed each night wondering what my future will be.

    February 26, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  23. Kerasan R LaMar

    This is an absolute disgrace! Our elected offficials, in particular Republicans, should hide their faces in shame!!! Republicans invested nothing in our educational system the last 8 yrs..perhaps because they believe that the no.1 threat to the U.S. is some guy living in a cave in Pakistan.

    February 26, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  24. Carol Joan

    The State of Ohio court declared property taxes for the sole funding of public schools unconstitutional years ago, but the Republican legislature refuses to find any other method of funding. There has to be a better funding formula. Also, local voters approve tax levies, and lately have been refusing to vote for increases. It cannot work!

    February 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  25. Juana

    This is so disgusting. And to think that the 3 "moderate" republican senators cut funds from education, and their more extremist fellow party members like the "brilliant" Bobby Jindal called the economic stimulus bill shameful and wasteful.

    When are the Republicans going to put the interest of our children ahead of those of Wall Street and the big oil companies?

    February 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  26. Wanza

    As the President pledged to boost the Pell Grant, the Florida lawmakers are entertaining the notion of raising the in-state tution by 15 %. How can I as a student and others can afford college while the President is trying to help while the state government is sticking to us!!!

    February 26, 2009 at 10:41 pm |
  27. John Salyer

    How many of these schools (with financial trouble) have teacher unions to contend with? Get salaries in line with national averages and you'll have TP in the restrooms!

    February 26, 2009 at 10:38 pm |
  28. Teri Rose

    This is shameful but private schools have had to do this for a long time. My children have attended Catholic schools and evey year we provide kleenex and paper towel as part of our children's supplies. There are many parents sending their children to public school who can afford to help. Those who can't should not be required to pay for these things but those who can should and not complain or ask the government to pay for it. The same is true for sports music etc. I pay for my children's education and pay for those extras. Again, parents who cannot afford to pay should not have to but those who can should.

    February 26, 2009 at 10:16 pm |
  29. Patrice Palmer

    I am certain that requests for supply donations from students' families are going to increase as funding is reduiced or disappears altogether. Nevada State Governor Jim Gibbons, in his state budget, is asking for a 6% reduction in teacher salaries and a freeze on step increases. Teachers in Nevada have to pay for their own continuing education, even though it is required for license renewal and to achieve Highly Qualified status per the Federal No Child Left Behind Act. I can understand why life as a teacher must be frustrating, so much so that many excellent, talented teachers are leaving the profession or simply taking early retirement.

    February 26, 2009 at 10:12 pm |
  30. JQQ -Brea California

    You think that is bad? The schools in Orange County, Ca asked my son to leave because we had no medical insurance for that note when he missed school.
    Wish it was just a matter of TP. I have been giving cups, plates and time to the schools for years. But come on, drop outs are because of the schools.

    February 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm |
  31. Lora Franke

    If we want to put our tax dollars into education, we should eliminate extra curricular activities such as sports, and other unprofitable electives, which yeild little to nothing in our efforts
    to raise great THINKERS !! Why don't we invest these education dollars into paying teachers to focus on strong educational "BASICS" . It should be left up to parents to fund these extra interests. Lora, San Antonio

    February 26, 2009 at 10:06 pm |
  32. Richard(Greenville,SC)

    It makes sense to help public schools; especially in the state my family lives in. In South Carolina, we have a Governor that has removed millions from the public schools for the sake of helping private schools that not too many of us can afford. Many want to know why the state's education level is so low. That's why. It's been overlooked for too long. Without the security and stability of public schooling, the future of America will be put in the hands of people either not qualified, or people who come from rich families; which in turn would not change a single thing. If their parents put them through private school, then they'll do the same thing with their children. Of course, that will leave the majority of the country high and dry as usual. The state as well as the entire country has become too greedy and self-centered. What happened to the saying, " Treat those how you would want to be treated"?

    February 26, 2009 at 10:05 pm |
  33. Lisa

    This is nothing new to me. Schools have always asked for basic supplies, dry erase markers, paper towels, tissue, construction paper, crayons and scissors to share with other kids that can't afford it, the list goes on and on. Reams of paper, basic needs that I think the schools should have already from our tax dollars. I thought that was the norm until I saw this article. Maybe it's just in the news now because it's affecting wealthier neighborhoods now.

    February 26, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  34. Bill Conerly

    I am a retired teacher now, but I had many similar experiences. At one school I had my students sell candy so we could buy chairs to sit in. I am not kidding. I bought green resin lawn chairs from Winn Dixie for $6.00 each. Let's not even get into the textbook situation.

    February 26, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  35. Woody

    In any budget, Funds for education are almost always the first to get cut. It's been that way for many years. This is the end result. Buildings that are falling down, Teachers that can't teach,Uneducated school boards that control what is taught,and some of the lowest paid people in public service.

    If we don't invest in education,it's only going to get worse.

    February 26, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  36. Mike Rodriguez of New York

    When politicians spend good tax dollars on wastefull projects and pork, yes things can get this bad. Do any of us have any idea how much tax revenue we wasted, billions. Defense contractors, billions on some projects alone. We need to check spending and its not to be done by politicians and agency employees.

    Eliminate such things as the mating habits of the rat, some foreign aid packages are nothing more than giving money away. It gets robbed by those in power. Military assistance, arms and systems only, not cash.

    February 26, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  37. Black Bart

    I taught in rural public schools in the Midwest more than ten years ago. Except for selling ad space on exams to pay for the paper, EVERY circumstance described in this story–or virtually identical analogues–were true in those schools in the mid-1990s and earlier. Parents providing toilet paper and tissue paper? Paper shortages? Crumbling buildings? Closets and trailers as classrooms? Been there, done that–over a decade ago.

    ...and I thought this was a current news story... it's sad how much stays the same.

    February 26, 2009 at 9:39 pm |
  38. sharon, sydney, cape breton

    Who allowed the schools to get so bad? They are obviously very underfunded. From the sounds of it, the situation in the schools started eroding long before the economic melt down that is occurring now. When did the governments of these states decide that education wasn't important? that it was ok to rob the kids of these schools of a future? "...schools across the country that are broken and crumbling" ? Is this the strongest, most powerful country on the planet, or a third world country?

    February 26, 2009 at 9:31 pm |
  39. Mike

    It is sad that in most areas of the country, the resources provided to a school district depend primarily on the value of local real estate. Live in a poor district? Voters turn down the last school budget? Well, your kids are likely to go to schools that are in a poor state of repair and where the teaching staff is underpaid, making it difficult to attract quality teachers.

    If it weren't for the stimulus package, Arizona schools were facing massive cuts. Instead of saving for a rainy day, the legislature in previous years had returned the surplus to the voters in substantial tax cuts, resulting in a enormous deficit in the middle of the fiscal year. When they met this past January, the legislature took an axe to both K-12 and college programs.

    Arizona is a good example of conservative state where voters and the legislature have continually short-changed the educational system. Despite the fact that Phoenix experienced a spectacular real estate boom where many people (brokers, banker, speculators) pocketed millions, Arizona remained steadfastly near the bottom on state spending per pupil on education. Money is not the solution to all problems, but the quality of K-12 education is quite low, and as a result, many students who advance to the state university system, need extensive remedial work before they are actually ready to do college level work.

    I was fortunate to grown up in a state in the Northeast where voters valued education and were willing to fund it. I wish my kids had the same advantage.

    February 26, 2009 at 9:20 pm |
  40. Danielle, WIS

    I belive our schools need a bail out. My little girl starts 5-k this fall 2009 . I had seen the list of things needed and I feel like I will be giving to the hole school not just her class. Than to ask for name brand. No off brands is just wrong .(when you need 42 glues or 15 packs of markers) It wont be cheap. But yet I want my kids to have the best education

    February 26, 2009 at 8:55 pm |
  41. Dravon

    The only reason that some schools reach this drastic point is due to the socioeconomic factors and how much a community is willing to invest in their children’s education. Each ethnic group has their own unique perspective on the education system. The schools that are falling apart are more likely in an African or Hispanic decent community. Since I do consider myself as an African American I can attest that the majority of the people in the African American community believe that paying for their children’s education is not reasonable. For instance, the parents in this community believe that instead of paying for their child’s college that their child should go to the college that offers them the most money. Luckily I come from an African American family that values education which is why attend one of the top private colleges in this country that cost about $50,000 a year. Personally I think these schools don’t need a “bailout” however I do believe that these schools need help. What this entails is that these schools be provided with some financial assistance, but have the community meet some of the financial need with their tax dollars.

    February 26, 2009 at 8:55 pm |
  42. Annie Kate


    Evidently they have been that bad for years now. In Tennessee I would get notes home periodically from the school to send in paper towels, kleenex, crayons, and other items to the school plus participate in a fund raiser 3 or 4 times a year. When I moved to Alabama I bought in a section where the schools were top ranked academically, and still I got notes from school asking for about the same items plus twice the number of fundraisers. That was on top of a property tax used to support the school that was 3 times what we paid for a like valued home in Tennessee plus sales tax of almost 9 percent. The school also charged an materials fee of 300 and 400 dollars depending on grade and subjects taken at the first of each year. Augusts are slim months in our house.

    One of my co-workers who was being bedeviled with all the fees like I was finally said – "the school must think that parents shoot out dollar bills when they burp".....it had gotten that bad. And I don't think they get any better an education....when my first 3 children (I had 2 families) were in school there was a registration & materials fee of about 30 dollars for the year and one fundraiser to participate in. And they got a super education. By the time my youngest 2 started school it was to the state of affairs we have now – I felt like I had been transplanted to a different planet.

    February 26, 2009 at 8:38 pm |
  43. margaret Diamond

    If the US spends more on educating it's students than most other countries WHERE is the money going ?

    February 26, 2009 at 8:38 pm |
  44. Lilibeth

    This is precisely why Pres. Obama wanted investment in schools as part of the stimulus package. I don't know why anyone would be opposed to this.

    February 26, 2009 at 8:26 pm |
  45. Samuel Ashby

    It's a travesty that our schools have come to this state. I do agree that public education needs this bailout, we shouldn't stop there. We need to re-evaluate the way we look at public education entirely and mold it to our 21st century priorities, rather than failing this generation by giving them a sub-par 20th century education. It's a shame.

    February 26, 2009 at 8:14 pm |
  46. Lisa M

    It's not just the big city schools. The schools here in the south and all across rural America suffer from some of the same neglect. It's difficult to motivate your employees ( teachers) when you are sending the message that they are not valued enough to provide a safe work place, and it's even harder to motivate students. Read today where children whose parents were behind on lunch payments were being fed cheese sandwiches. Yes, it's lunch but again what message are we sending and doesn't this brand the child as being 'one of those kids' whose parents can't afford lunch. We pay our teachers and law officers like they were are greeters at a big box store and expect that they will mold and shape the minds of our young people.

    Maybe we need to bring our Peace Corp volunteers home from those third world countries who desperately do need our help and have them retrain our communities in fostering education. They have the experience and training. Perhaps we are finally at a point where we need to draw back from teaching others how to lead – educate , and govern and teach ourselves once again.

    Americans are hard working, innovative and for the most part genorous. But for some reason the roof has to cave in us to get us moving.

    February 26, 2009 at 8:08 pm |
  47. Kevin

    Things never had to get this bad. What has happened is taxes (i'm not for large tax increases) did not move in line with how people were earning. We taxed those who couldn't afford to pay it and spend the taxes like it was a credit card with no limit. And we didn't keep pay increases for our teachers and so when new funding did become available we had to give the teachers the raises they deserved and neglect the buildings and supplies.

    February 26, 2009 at 8:07 pm |
  48. Dave

    This is not a new situation for schools. This "economic down turn" is certainly adding insult to injury, but many schools are under funded and have been for a long time. The school where there are 1200 students crammed into a building meant for 800 didn't happen over night. It didn't even happen this year. That's probably been building for several years. There are schools with "temporary" trailers all over the country. Some schools are even using hand me down trailers because the residents don't want a tax increase. Did things get bad? They've been bad for public education for a very long time.

    February 26, 2009 at 8:07 pm |
  49. Jason

    The situation in our public schools is more than a product of a downturned economy. The government of this country for the past 20-30 years has seriously neglected education. We are paying for this already in the fact that high tech work is increasingly leaving our country. Without a massive change in our priorities we will continue this decline indefinitely until our country is irrelevant.

    February 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm |
  50. Enrique Mora

    Our schools are in bad shape because of the very stupid invention of the vouchers. These vouchers give people money to take their children out of the public system to private schools which for the most part add to the obscene wealth of the religious groups. STOP the vouchers and have everyone support our public schools. We need to unite America around our basic institutions, and the school system is one of them.

    February 26, 2009 at 7:41 pm |
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