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Robert Reich: Bail Out Our Schools

July 21, 2011

I like to read Robert Reich, let me get that out right up front.  I have read him and watched his numerous altercations with right-wing think tank proponents like Stephen Moore on CNBC for years.  Reich is extremely intelligent, but his real strength, especially when on TV, is his ability to articulate a complex argument within the constraints of a sound-bite media culture.

For those who do not know Reich, he is Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary and he is currently a Professor at UC Berkeley.  In this article found on the HuffingtonPost, Reich is making the case that devastating cuts to public education are not only harming thousands of middle class American teachers, they are creating a “giant future deficit in the education of our people.”

I will post the entire article below but wanted to point out first that Reich is spot-on when he talks about programs being cut.  In the school where I teach, there is no art, there is no music program, history/social studies is taught but it is not taught with the same fervor as reading and math because history and SS are not tested.  Think about that for a moment…we are going to have an entire generation of students lacking basic history knowledge as well as never knowing the joys of painting or creating music.  Why is this?  Because we are all beholden to the almighty “test-scores.”  I had hoped that President Obama would alleviate this insanity, but he has made it worse by tying testing and teacher evaluations to his Race to the Top incentive program.  I and many other teachers that I know are very disappointed by Obama, especially with the appointment of his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, an individual who has never taught a class in his life.  Reich’s article is posted below:

Any day now, the Obama administration will announce $4.35 billion in extra federal funds for under-performing public schools. That’s fine, but relative to the financial squeeze all the nation’s public schools now face it’s a cruel joke.

The recession has ravaged state and local budgets, most of which aren’t allowed to run deficits. That’s meant major cuts in public schools and universities, and a giant future deficit in the education of our people.

Across America, schools are laying off thousands of teachers. Classrooms that had contained 20 to 25 students are now crammed with 30 or more. School years have been shortened. Some school districts are moving to four-day school weeks. After-school programs have been canceled; music and art classes, terminated. Even history is being chucked.

Pre-K programs have been shut down. Community colleges are reducing their course offerings and admitting fewer students. Public universities, like the one I teach at, have raised tuition and fees. That means many qualified students won’t be attending.

Last year the nation committed $700 billion to bail out Wall Street banks, the engines of America’s financial capital, because we were told we’d face economic Armageddon if we didn’t.

We’ve got our priorities backwards. Our schools are the engines of our human capital, and if we don’t bail out public education we face a bigger economic Armageddon years from now.

Yes Robert, we definitely have our priorities backwards.  I have been stunned at the silence of the public in general with regard to the lack of clarity, and lack of prosecution of the criminals who have bankrupted this nation.  While public employees of all stripes are suffering, the individuals and banks who caused this crisis are still sipping champagne in their Hampton estates.

Financial capital moves instantly around the globe to wherever it can earn the best return. Human capital — the skills and insights of our people – is the one resource that’s uniquely American, on which our future living standards uniquely depend.

Starting immediately, the federal government should give states and local governments interest-free loans to make up for all school and university budget shortfalls. The loans can be repaid when the recession is over and local and state tax revenues revive.

I think this is a great idea, but try selling this plan through the bifurcated Congress.  What we have now is a radical right-wing, Tea-Party controlled Republican Party.  This ideologically driven group will NEVER acquiesce to “interest-free” loans…they will instead say that local school districts need to “get their fiscal houses in order” while they continue to cut funding.

Over the longer term we must shift incentives away from financial capital toward human capital. A tiny one half of one percent tax on all financial transactions would generate about $200 billion a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That might put a crimp on Wall Street bonuses but it’s enough to fund early childhood education, smaller K-12 classes, and lower tuition and fees for public higher education.

The Street’s financial capital is important to the American economy, but over the long term the classroom’s human capital is absolutely crucial.

A minuscule tax on financial transactions is a NO-BRAINER!  Trading stocks, bonds, derivatives of all stripes and options could stand a tiny transaction tax…but again, I can hear the Republican cries of “penalizing the successful in society.”  We need to face the facts here: Fact – we will not get any change in the radical agenda which has taken hold in the Republican Party until we trounce them come election time.  Democrats NEED to retake both houses of Congress if we want to get anything decent for the public sector and our country accomplished.

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4 Comments
  1. Grace Valentine permalink

    A conspiracy-nut good friend of mine said that NAFTA was pay back for organizing labor. The schools are being imploded because an educated population is difficult to indenture. Once Americans are taken down to a standard of living that does not offend the corporate masters, once the People are too ignorant and hungry to organize, then the jobs will return. Only they won’t be jobs as we (54 years old, former teacher, forced out by the Bersin machine and it’s adherents) know them. We will no longer be able to own our jobs through our merits, our jobs will own us. More openly than they have for some time now. My friend makes sense, much as I don’t dig conspiracy theories.

    • I don’t know if your friend is right, but what I do know is that schools are being defunded in my opinion because the Republicans would like them to fail so that they can open more Charter schools which would go a long way towards damaging teacher’s unions, which they loathe.

  2. It is sad that the rhetoric is so divided and, like the record-breaking national heat wave continues, so does the heated partisan division. Why does everything boil down to a political party? Both parties got us into this mess. However, the FACT that we add over 3 bil PER DAY to our debt, and that our debt EQUALS/EXCEEDS China’s and Japan’s total federal budgets demonstrate how serious of a problem we have! There will be a downward slide EACH YEAR if we do not protect out nations credit rating and solve this escalating debt.

    With that being said, our priorities need to be set. Education DOES need to be revamped. Teaching to the test is not making us competitive. Crowding classrooms means less instruction time due to classroom management issues (kids nowadays are NOT like they used to be: the traditions of America-past are gone, and disrespect for the “entitlement age” is rampant!). In short, let’s get our financial house in ORDER so we CAN adequately revisit the fund our educational priorities! We are in a crisis people! The America as we know it is gone. The inspiration of “hope and change” is gone: look at the loss of our space program and the massive layoffs at NASA as a demonstration of the fact. Partisan bickering and separation is not the solution! We need to ALL find common ground and AGREE. “Waiting until the next election” is EXACTLY what got us into the mess! Politicians worried about the next elections and donations, instead of the current and long-term plight, is hurting this republic. Look at the popularity ratings as data demonstrating how important it is to change our thinking: TODAY!

    • A couple of points: 1. A Democratic President left this country with a surplus when G. W. Bush took office. GW went on to cut taxes for the wealthy during a time of war, multiple times. He also went on to pass an UNFUNDED Medicare Part D drug benefit, and if that wasn’t enough, he championed the “home-ownership society” which led to millions of people buying homes that they couldn’t afford and loosening regulatory functions so these loans were processed and accepted. This bubble inevitably popped and plunged our country into a deep, deep recession.
      2. Obama and the Dems were spineless when they allowed the Bush tax cuts to continue. They should have been allowed to “sunset” – that alone would have added over 700 billion dollars to our bottom line. 3. If we close the tax loopholes, get out of our wars, allow competition in the procurement of pharmaceuticals and raise taxes on the wealthy back to where they were under Clinton, we could solve our budget problems without skewering teachers, the poor, or the middle class.

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