American education under attack
Budget pressures at the state and federal level have led to slashed education programs and rising tuition at state universities.
Over the long term, the only way we’re going to raise wages, grow the economy, and improve American competitiveness is by investing in our people — especially their educations.Skip to next paragraph
Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
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You’ve probably seen the reports. American students rank low on international standards of educational performance. Too many of ours schools are failing. Too few young people who are qualified for college or post-secondary education have the opportunity.
I’m not one of those who thinks the only way to fix what’s wrong with American education is to throw more money at it. We also need to do it much better. Teacher performance has to be squarely on the table. We should experiment with vouchers whose worth is inversely related to family income. Universities have to tame their budgets, especially for student amenities that have nothing to do with education.
But considering the increases in our population of young people and their educational needs, and the challenges posed by the new global economy, more resources are surely needed.
Here’s another reason why the $858 billion tax bill — including a continuation of the Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans and a dramatic drop in their estate taxes — is so dangerous. By further widening the federal budget deficit, it invites even more budget cuts in education, including early-childhood and post-secondary. Pell Grants that allow young people from poor families to attend college are already on the chopping block.
Less visible are cuts the states are already making in their schools budgets. Because these cuts are at the state level they’ve been under the national radar screen, but viewed as a whole they seriously threaten the nation’s future.
Here’s a summary:
* Arizona has eliminated preschool for 4,328 children, funding for schools to provide additional support to disadvantaged children from preschool to third grade, aid to charter schools, and funding for books, computers, and other classroom supplies. The state also halved funding for kindergarten, leaving school districts and parents to shoulder the cost of keeping their children in school beyond a half-day schedule.
* California has reduced K-12 aid to local school districts by billions of dollars and is cutting a variety of programs, including adult literacy instruction and help for high-needs students.
* Colorado has reduced public school spending in FY 2011 by $260 million, nearly a 5 percent decline from the previous year. The cut amounts to more than $400 per student.
* Georgia has cut state funding for K-12 education for FY 2011 by $403 million or 5.5 percent relative to FY 2010 levels. The cut has led the state’s board of education to exempt local school districts from class size requirements to reduce costs.
* Hawaii shortened the 2009-10 school year by 17 days and furloughed teachers for those days.
* Illinois has cut school education funding by $241 million or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. Cuts include a significant reduction in funding for student transportation and the elimination of a grant program intended to improve the reading and study skills of at-risk students from kindergarten through the 6th grade.
* Maryland has cut professional development for principals and educators, as well as health clinics, gifted and talented summer centers, and math and science initiatives.
* Michigan has cut its FY 2010 school aid budget by $382 million, resulting in a $165 per-pupil spending reduction.