If education is truly a priority for elected officials, will funding for schools and students continue to be reduced? The Guam Department of Education has a budget request of $343 million this fiscal year. This budget request takes into account promises made by the Adequate Education Act and is crafted through a process that involves input from all schools and principals.
Yet, GDOE typically receives appropriations that are $100 million less than requested. In other words, we have learned to live with far less than it takes to fulfill the mandates of the Adequate Education Act. In the past year alone, the GDOE budget has been cut by roughly $20 million. GDOE has absorbed this significant reduction by delaying the prekindergarten expansion, redirecting funds that would otherwise be used for textbooks, substitute teachers and teacher reclassification, freezing hiring at the GDOE central office and now, due to local law, freezing increments for all employees.
While the department is not a revenue-generating agency, we have put forth revenue-generating recommendations we believe would offset this shortfall. We look to the Legislature and community for additional support in pursuing these opportunities.
Although GDOE does not produce government revenue, we do produce the next generation of leaders. We fill the gaps in our community. We provide students with the skills they need to become productive members of our society.
Education is an investment. If that investment falls short, then the mission of supporting future generations, ensuring the future of our island is prosperous and meeting the demands of an evolving workforce also falls short.
What does a $343 million budget really mean for the department, and for the island? It means greater support for schools, teachers and students. It means adequate furniture and modern facilities. It means a new textbook for every child. It means air conditioners in good working condition. It means being able to efficiently address facility and maintenance issues. If you want the best education system, you have to invest not only in maintaining the school system, but improving it.
As we go through this budget, we know that senators and members of the public may have questions about the details and the effectiveness of our spending, and we are happy to engage them in that discussion. Our Guam Education Board meetings are always open to the public, and we also livestream these meetings as we work to engage directly with our elected leaders and stakeholders.
Education is a community issue and, at the end of the day, it will take a community to improve our public schools. How much do our elected leaders value education? Will they continue to reduce funding for our schools? We hope that our senators will protect and increase the investment that we are making in our public school children. Listen in to the discussion at the Legislature to hear the line of questioning from senators and to see who, in their comments and actions, truly supports public education.
Mark Mendiola is chairman of the Guam Education Board.