Thursday morning, Congress turned its attention to our country's gaping deficit. The goal: slash $2.5 trillion over the next decade. Conservatives led the charge, outlining steps to reach this lofty objective. Under their current proposal, entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, will likely emerge unscathed. Education, on the other hand, would suffer a major blow.
I know it's taboo to use terms like "very" in quality writing -- but this is very bad.
Schools are already in rough enough shape. Teacher retention rates, crowded classrooms, and a decline in student performance on the international scale are all clear and present indicators of this. Even physical facilities are amiss -- just ask any teacher whose classroom is also home to bedbugs or one of the schools in Staten Island where PCBs were found. Budget be damned, as far as the well-being of our children is concerned, support for education expenditures is a non-negotiable.
Significant cuts to school funding will result in irreparable damage. Schools are, in essence, incubators of human capital. As such, the work force for the next 30 to 50 years is currently sitting in our classrooms. The impact of what they learn, or in some cases, do not learn, goes beyond simply deciding who fills our cubicles, who serves us fast-food, and who lives off public assistance. Their successes and failures also determine how well our industries do and what types of innovations and ideas future generations conceive. Their success also determines how well we are able to compete on global scale.
In its current state, our school system needs more funding than what the status quo allots for. The resources necessary for a good school in 2011 are far more expensive than they were even 20 years ago. Consider the costs of providing students with adequate access to technology: at the bare minimum a school needs one or two computers in every classroom, and ideally, a few class sets of laptops. Now, throw in a couple of Smartboards or, as some innovative programs are attempting, iPads. It adds up.
As technology is at the forefront of the modern world, it has become indispensable to current pedagogical practice. Unfortunately, for many schools, providing these resources means overcoming serious budgetary hurdles. What if the funding disappears and we fail to graduate computer-savvy kids? How will they possibly attain or succeed in a job that, at least in part, is reliant upon computer skills?
Would you pay higher taxes for better schools? I would. But, apparently, that is not the sentiment shared among many of Americans. A recent article in the New York Times found that, with exception of entitlement expenses, most Americans would rather cut government spending than pay higher taxes. This comes as no surprise, given the extension of Bush Era tax cuts. But, we cannot keep talking from both sides of our mouth. If we want better schools, we may need to higher taxes. Hoarding our money will only keep the current problems in education stagnant.
It is naïve to think that a sizable portion of the money accrued from a tax increase would be earmarked for education. And while I would be chagrined to learn that such funds just went to bolster military expenditures, I think it is time that we all step up and pitch in. If we want to see change, we have to make some sacrifices. Getting the priorities driving our policies and policy-makers in the right order is important, but it's also time to ask ourselves, the voters, what we can do to help out.