I've been hearing so much about budget cuts to public education in the news lately. Last week, there were demonstrations all over the Bay Area protesting the massive budget cuts to public colleges, and secondary and elementary schools throughout California. And these protests weren't just on the college campuses of Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Davis, but also at elementary and high schools with kids and parents expressing their outrage. It's particularly unsettling for me because our eldest daughter will be going to kindergarten next year and we've been touring the local schools. The constant drumbeat we hear from administrators, teachers, and parents is how painful it is to have to fire teachers, reduce or eliminate teachers' aides and specialists, scrap arts, language, and physical education programs, and increase class sizes.
Public education used to be the foundation of our country and a model for education all over the world. It was responsible for upward mobility, the establishment of the middle class, and the basis for financial security for the vast majority of our citizens. It was also the springboard to higher education, providing students with the information and skill sets they needed to succeed in college and beyond. In other words, it was the basis for the American Dream.
No longer for much of public education. School facilities are crumbling, dropout rates are soaring, test scores are falling, and, at a fundamental level, more and more young people are leaving public education without the tools necessary to become vital and contributing citizens or the ability to participate, much less survive in, the global economy.
There are many problems with our public education system, including entrenched bureaucracies, powerbrokers invested in maintaining the status quo, outdated curricula, overly powerful teachers' unions, incompetent teachers, and students unprepared by their families to succeed in school. And there are an abundance of proposed solutions coming from both sides of the political aisle that include closing failing schools, charter schools, school vouchers, universal pre-school, student testing, and increased teacher salaries.
But any changes have to begin with money. I'm not saying the dollars are a universal panacea. We need only look back over the last 25 years and see how billions of dollars have been spent with little appreciable return on that investment in the form of improved schools and better educated students. But no improvements will be possible without sufficient funding to enact any changes. And reductions in school funding will only guarantee further declines in the already low quality of much of public education in America.
Now we get to the sticking point. Everyone wants quality public education, but no one seems willing to pay for it. Why? Because the only way to adequately fund public education is to increase taxes. Uh oh, now I'm really skating on thin ice. For those who are fiscally conservative, raising taxes is anathema. And during these tough economic times, who wants to take money out of the pockets of hard-working Americans.
But I actually believe that most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes for something as important as our children's educations. Americans have always been willing to make sacrifices for good of our country and, if called on today, would step up to the plate.
And there is nothing more important to the future of our country than the education of our future generations. Our ability to have a vibrant and flourishing democracy is at stake. Our offer of the American Dream is at stake. Our preeminence on the world stage is at stake.
Because, folks, we either pay now or pay later. Better to pay now because the price later will be unaffordable and it will also be too late; the damage to our children and to our country will be irreparable.