I just spent the last 10 days on a college road trip with my daughter, two nieces and my step-mom. We visited six colleges and universities in 10 days, and I learned a lot about our education system. There are two hard truths I have to share with you; first, our education system is more unfair than I thought. And second, every student has a chance to go to one of the finest schools our nation can offer. How is that possible? How can those two things both be true? First, we have to remember how our school system works. How does it operate, how do we pay for it, and why does it matter?
Most people aren't absolutely sure how a school district works, how it is funded or how it runs. In most districts, if you own property, you pay real estate, or school taxes. Those taxes are then used to fund the school district budget. From buildings to ball fields, teachers to transportation, our tax dollars are paying for it all. Districts elect representatives to manage and direct the activities of the district, this is your school board. The board members are responsible for creating policies, hiring staff and faculty, selecting classes and text books, in essence, they are responsible for spending our money.
In some districts, they have a very high tax base due to a higher income base which leads to bigger homes in a district, higher assessed values and therefore higher taxes, meaning bigger district budgets. These districts have large schools, some with pools, planetariums and a pedagogy that rivals the most exclusive private schools. Other districts struggle to provide texts and teachers, they have crumbling buildings and disintegrating neighborhoods. Many of these school districts are in our urban centers and serve a mostly poor and minority constituency.
So what is the difference and why should we care? We should care because intelligence and ingenuity do not understand city limits or socio-economic differences. We should care because innovation and brilliance are not limited to those who live in McMansions. We should care because the next great idea that will change our world might be in the mind of the kid who can't do her homework because she has to get a job to help support her family. We should care because that boy down the street, the one with his skittles and wearing a hoodie, he might just have an idea that will change our world forever, and for the better.
And every child deserves the chance to an equal education. And it might shock you to learn that some of the elite education institutions in this country agree with that statement. Some of our most expensive schools are now guaranteeing tuition for those who are accepted regardless of ability to pay the tuition. But getting in is still an issue. Acceptance rates are typically about 10% or less, and the classes you take matter. Schools that offer advanced classes still have an edge. And that still skews the system for students from wealthy schools. But at least it opens the door for more diversity in our universities.
And it matters. Diversity matters. Differences matter. Inclusion matters. We have allowed our system to become so skewed many people have decided it is totally broken and want nothing to do with it. We have put the wealthy almost exclusively in positions of power. We have allowed them to think they are more important or better than those with less money. We have gone so far as to allow our highest Court to decree that a legal fiction is a person, and that "person" has the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money as "free speech," even though actual persons do not. Actual people are seeing their free speech limited. We see police forces using excessive force on citizens. We see peaceful protests being called illegal. And we see our country divided by ideology and our airwaves dotted with idiots making millions to keep us distracted from the truth.
We spend our days pretending we see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil, all the while we are being bombarded with evil. These corporate "persons," the ones we have created out of a legal fiction, well, some of them sure seem like the evil step-mother or troll in a fairy tale, intent on killing the innocent girl or boy, just because they hate goodness and innocence. Take Halliburton for example. We know they have injured our troops. We know they are responsible in part for the death of 11 people at the Deepwater Horizon. And yet, we allow them to skirt our safety regulations and circumvent our tax policy. If corporations are "people," why aren't we arresting and "executing" them? I mean really, isn't it time we gave them the full benefits of personhood? No doubt a figurative blast of pepper spray and a shot from a Taser would get their attention.
It is time for us to stop pretending we don't see, hear or speak evil. It is time for each of us to stand up and speak out.
For me, I have an easy place to start. I want to start by making education more affordable and accessible for everyone. How can we do that? How can we revitalize our schools and provide them with needed revenue? The answer is going to shock you.
We can turn off the lights. Yes, you heard me right. I want to turn off the lights at our schools. I want us to start thinking about our schools and energy consumption in a new way. It is time to stop burying our head in the sand. It is time to stop complaining about taxes and budgets and start doing something constructive.
We can cut costs and spending at our schools, reduce deficits, balance budgets, create jobs AND create a revenue stream. Yes, you heard me, we can create revenue for our public schools. And we can do it now.
First we turn off the lights, then we take that savings and we invest in renewable energy. We install solar and wind, we invest in geothermal. We remove fossil fuels. We convert our buses from dirty diesel to cheap electric. We stop seeing our schools as a money pit and start seeing them as the money generators they can be. And this will give poor schools the funds they need to provide the classes that will place their students on the same track as students from wealthy districts.
Imagine communities sharing power generated by our schools. And then expand the vision. Convert our municipal buildings. Share power. Schools providing energy to Hospitals. Borough Halls powering street lights. Police cars and school buses powered by the sun and wind and not by fossil fuels.
Can you envision this? Can you see the potential for our future powered not by dirty, dangerous fossil fuels but by cheap, clean and absolutely American renewable energy? Can you see the potential for our children, to all have the opportunity for the best education we can provide?
And I am not advocating for huge solar and wind farms. I want to see us scale our energy generation to our communities and reduce our consumption. We have to be realistic, reduction of consumption has to be a key element to our energy policy. We cannot keep sticking our head in the sand, pretending not to see or hear reality. We cannot continue to speak about moratoriums and the "evils" of fossil fuels without speaking of the need to reduce our consumption.
I do not believe that converting from Big Oil and Gas to Big Solar and Wind is the answer. It is just another way of ignoring reality and moving our money from one group of off-shore foreign corporations to a new group of corporate "persons." We have to stop seeing, speaking and hearing no evil. We have to stop pretending our lives are out of our control. It is time to stop blaming someone else. It is time to stop acting like victims. It is time to recognize, we are the hero in this story.
It is time to see, speak and hear reality.