If there's one thing that leaders of both parties agree on, it's that education is the future of America. It underlies our ability to be competitive against China, India and other fast-rising planetary economic stars. It's the key to redressing deep social and economic divisions within the country.
In short, America's entire future depends on educational advances and, particularly, the fate of our inner cities.
Which is why so much attention greeted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's generous one-time $100 million gift to the Newark Public School District.
Which brings us to a hearing scheduled in New Jersey (where I live) before a judge appointed by New Jersey's Supreme Court to consider whether New Jersey is adequately funding its schools. The hearing has been scheduled because of a suit brought before the NJ Supreme Court by student advocacy groups claiming that Gov. Chris Christie's $1 billion dollar cut in annual state aid to schools violates the state's constitutional obligations to provide education.
The way this works out in reality is that inner-city schools will be vitiated. Those in wealthy communities (like where I live in Morris County) generally cope by calling on private contributions and the local tax base. A formula was created for distributing state funds to compensate for the greater local funding capacities of wealthy suburbs like mine. Gov. Christie says the state can't afford to fund that formula.
Oh, did I mention New Jersey's bond rating was just lowered by Standard and Poor's, making it harder (more expensive) for the state to service its debt?
But New Jerseyans shouldn't worry. This is true of the United States as a whole. As David Brooks points out, since all budget-chopping efforts by both Republicans and Democrats are directed at discretionary spending -- no one will touch the irreducible segments -- we can only devour programs directed to education, science, poverty et al.:
Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the debt has now risen to 47 percent of the budget. In nine years, entitlements are estimated to consume 64 percent of the budget... By 2030, they are projected to consume 70 percent of the budget.
So early-education programs across the country are being decimated. Idealistic -- and effective -- education interventions like Teach for America will disappear.
According to Brooks:
"The line in the federal budget that helps pay for their work qualifies as an earmark, so they face an $18 million cut and the loss of 400 teachers."
So you'd think we'll significantly improve education in America in order to counteract the continuing drop in our standing versus other nations in the world?
How's MSNBC's Education Nation, which it promoted heavily last fall, going?