The COVID-19 crisis and financial challenges facing the Janesville School District could pressure the school board to scale back the international education program, though such a move would be short-sighted.
Former Superintendent Karen Schulte created the program to generate additional revenue for the school district and counteract some of the effects of declining enrollment. With fewer local students, the district is receiving less aid from the state, and that trend is expected to continue for years.
A program that funds itself and generates a profit shouldn’t be on the chopping block. While COVID-19 could hinder program growth next year, administrators have identified opportunities to expand the program’s reach beyond China, its primary source of students, over the long term.
Board member Kevin Murray is misguided in believing the program somehow detracts from the education of local students.
“Why should I be concerned about Chinese students getting into American colleges?” Murray said recently. “I think we should be more focused on our students getting in colleges and ready for life.”
Murray has never showed how teachers or administrators have lost their focus. Revenue generated by the program pays the salaries of the district officials overseeing the program. Just as important, the program generated a profit for the district during the 2018-19 school year of about $239,000.
Murray is not-so-subtly playing on people’s anxieties about China, which the COVID-19 crisis has magnified. Ongoing trade disputes and concerns about the Chinese acquiring American know-how have also fueled suspicions about the Chinese.
It is possible, perhaps likely, relations between our two nations will deteriorate to the point it’s no longer feasible to recruit Chinese students for the international program. Visas already are more difficult to get for program participants than in the past. For that reason—not for reasons Murray has offered—district officials should look to other nations for prospective students.
Program officials are doing exactly that, reaching out to communities in Columbia and Spain in hopes of bringing some of their students to Janesville.
Many countries have pulled back and disengaged from the global community because of COVID-19, but globalization isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. Janesville students benefit from exposures to other cultures and languages, giving them insight into potential post-secondary learning options and careers.
Far from being a drag on the district, international program remains one of the district’s bright spots.