Monday, August 23, 2010

BACK TO SCHOOL THOUGHTS

When my kids started school back in the early '90's, back to school shopping used to mean a binder and pencils,a couple of glue sticks, some markers.  As the years went on the lists got more involved, there were more requests for reams of paper, pens, books. There were more and more fees, not just for sports but for science labs, computer use.  They stopped running buses and needed parents to volunteer to help in the lunch room and playground..

Fund raising events for special items like a new PA system and big screen for the multipurpose room  evolved into paying the salary for a music teacher.  By then the sports cost a lot of money and many of the coaches were no longer on staff, but volunteer parents.  Now that my youngest is a Senior in High School - well, it has all gone to hell, hasn't it?  Now we are not only paying  more and more fees, there are fewer and fewer programs available.  I have sent Kleenex to teachers but now some schools are asking parents to sent in cleaning supplies and even toilet paper!!

This brings up two interesting things I have read today, first:

Nan at All the Good Names Were Taken wrote a very thought provoking post about the way that things have changed around in 150 years from the US being the brains and the Chinese the brawn to build the railroads - to the current plan for the Chinese to be the brains behind the high speed rail here in California and the locals to be the laborers.  She quotes from an essay by Robert Borosage in a July issue of Progressive Populist on the funding crises in public education, with class sizes rocketing, hours of instruction being cut, and teachers being furloughed:

"This surely is how great nations decline. Like Rome and Britain before us, Washington now chooses to police the world, even as it cuts back the education of the nation's most vulnerable children. We fight two wars on the other side of the world, spend more defending South Korea from North Korea than the South Koreans do, increase military spending already nearly as great as the rest of the world combined while saying we can't afford vital investments at home.



In April, an iconic article in the New York Times recorded the cost of this folly. The Times reported from Beijing that the Chinese were preparing to bid to build the bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The director of high-speed rail in China, Zheng Jian, noted that 'We are the most advanced in many fields, and we are willing to share with the US.'



High-speed rail requires financing, very sophisticated technology and advanced engineering - and China is ready to provide the cash, the technology and the high end engineers and skilled technicians. They would hire Americans to assemble the parts and lay the track."
 
And then an article on Salon about what they call the creeping of  backdoor privatization. 
 
Privatization meant transferring responsibility for entire programs or functions to the private sector. But with the drastic budget cuts that states have been forced to make, responsibility for public services and programs is literally being forced into private hands one roll of toilet paper at a time. We've entered the era of backdoor privatization...What is new, though, is the extent to which families are being asked to contribute basic items. This may be too much to ask of parents who are struggling to pay their own bills -- especially since they’ve already paid taxes that are supposed to support the public school system.
 
 And of course we know it isn't only the schools.  It is our police and fire departments.  Some cities are turning off the street lights, reducing services for seniors, closing parks and cutting bus services.  At what point will Americans wake up and realize that their tax dollars are not always "wasted" by politicians?  That a return of the tax on the wealthiest will benefit us all (because the tax cuts sure didn't.) 
 
And look around folks - who is really paying the price of these reduced services?  The wealthiest send their kids to private schools.  Do you think their kids are toting a bag of toilet paper to school with them? They can afford private transportation, security, medicine and whatever they need. 
 
The best-case scenario is that the impact of these cuts will help people understand just what their tax dollars are paying for and spur greater consciousness about the relationship between public spending and public goods.
 
I am terribly afraid that we may be looking at the worst case scenario because we do not, and our politicians do not, have the will to speak the truth and make the hard and unpopular choices.

4 comments:

yogurt said...

An example here in Texas - toll roads. Suddenly the government is no longer providing what it used to.

knittergran said...

You are exactly right. And the right has us too busy fearing a mosque in NYC to pay attention. When the mosque situation is over, they will give us something else to fear so that we don't pay attention to what is really going on. I read that our defense budget is the size of all the other countries' defense budgets.
All the other countries IN THE WORLD!

hokgardner said...

Amen and well said.

michiganme said...

Fabulous post. I remember 40 years ago it started unraveling at my school when so many folks moved to the suburbs or sent their kids to religious schools. I don't blame them, everyone wants the best for their kids. But when you lose all those involved parents as well as property tax $$, it all falls apart. And when your schools fall apart, your community falls apart, jobs leave and the dominoes keep falling...

3 years ago, some wealthy anonymous donors pledged college tuition reimbursement for all graduates of our city's public schools. It's had phenomenal & far reaching impact. People, jobs and pride are coming back. Investing in education has a high rate of return.