February 25, 2018

Just Dumb

By Stephen Tuttle | Dec. 2, 2017

Remember when a good education for our children was the top priority of nearly every politician? Not so much these days.

Spending on public K-12 schools and universities has been in decline since the recession approached rock bottom in 2008. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, states spent $5.7 billion less last year than they did in 2008, and that's actually an improvement from more recent years. Thirty-two states have directly cut funding, and another 10 have reconfigured their allocation formulas to reduce funding.

Michigan has been among the cutters, having reduced per-pupil funding by 7.5 percent since 2008 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The argument here, of course, is that states simply did not have the money during the recession, and spending cuts had to be made. Education, as one of the largest single budget items in every state, was a juicy target. Four states both increased revenues and cut their budget, but the rest of the nation only cut. Once sacrosanct, public education suddenly had a bull’s-eye on its back.

Since 46 percent of public education money comes from the state, budget cuts at that  level are felt disproportionately at the local level. Administrators are left with the task of choosing between building repairs or upgrading classroom materials.

It didn't help that federal contributions to public education also decreased and often where it hurts the most. Title 1, the program for disadvantaged students, has been cut by 11 percent, and money for disabled students by 9 percent. Cash-strapped states have not been able to totally make up the difference.  

Some states decided the best solution during the recession was the old supply-side economics canard: reduce taxes, and the revenues will flow. But they didn't, and state revenues, a critical element of public education funding, decreased.

Five of those states that bought the supply-side myth and cut taxes — Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Idaho — have reduced spending on public education the most. Arizona has reduced such funding a whopping 54 percent since 2008.

Money doesn't solve every public education problem, but lack of money solves none and creates many. Shrinking assistance from the state and feds confronted local districts at the same time of rising costs for everything from power to transportation to classroom material. Some were able to pass millages or float bonds to keep up; many weren't so lucky.  

(It should be noted Michigan's funding allocation system, which is supposed to be fair to every district, is not. Rigged by politicians from population centers, the system pays as much as 40 percent more per pupil to some downstate schools than to those here in northern Michigan, nearly all of which receive less than the state average.) 

Though the recession is long over, we now have a different sort of axe being wielded at the federal level. Michigan's own Betsy DeVos, now Secretary of Education, doesn't appear to have ever met a public school she likes and has become part of a conservative bandwagon railing against our college and university system. She thinks more cutting is in order, and she has allies.

They have decided our public university system is a good target. You know, the places with all those inane classes, constant protests, safe spaces, political correctness run amok, liberal indoctrination, radical professors, and the rest. And there is some truth in every accusation — just not much.

Our college and university system is, in fact, the envy of the rest of the world. There is no other country offering the sheer number and variety of advanced learning opportunities. There's a reason students from South Korea, Japan, China, India, and other countries, all with supposedly superior K-12 systems, clamor for student visas to attend college here. 

It seems likely not all the 20 million students now attending our colleges and universities — a number expected to increase 5 percent next year — are radicals, leftists, or protesters. Some probably just attend classes and some parties, get their degrees, and lead productive lives.

And with good reason: There are reams of research on the enormous economic and social advantages of having a college degree. There's even evidence of increased longevity for college graduates. 

Those universities are also where cutting-edge research on virtually everything — from medicine to the environment to physics — is given birth. Of the 892 Nobel Prizes awarded since 1901, nearly 600 have been won by those directly associated with American colleges and universities. 

Yet we now have an administration in Washington that ignores or debases science and defames our public schools and college system. The president doesn't read because a book, he says, “takes too long.” We're being led by people who don't know where they're going.  

We've devalued public education financially, socially, and now we're doing it politically. That's just dumb. 



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