This syn­di­cated edi­to­r­ial in the K.C. Star should be a wake-up call to all who care about the future of edu­ca­tion in this coun­try and in our own back­yard. Budget cuts in school dis­tricts in both Kansas and Missouri reflect national trends and have impli­ca­tions for the American work force in the future.

The stealth attack on edu­ca­tion in America
Tribune Media Services

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.

Yet we’re falling behind. In a recent sur­vey of 34 advanced nations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, our kids came in 25th in math, 17th in sci­ence, and 14th in read­ing. The aver­age 15-year-old American stu­dent can’t answer as many test ques­tions cor­rectly as the aver­age 15-year-old stu­dent in Shanghai.

I’m not one of those who believe 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 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.

President Obama calls this a “Sputnik moment,” refer­ring to the wakeup call to America by the Soviet’s suc­cess­ful launch in the 1950s. That resulted in the National Defense Education Act, which trained a whole gen­er­a­tion of math and sci­ence teachers.

Sadly, we’re head­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion. The tax bill signed by the pres­i­dent in the clos­ing hours of the last Congress was a huge boon to the very wealthy. Yet by fur­ther widen­ing the fed­eral bud­get deficit, it invites even more fed­eral bud­get cuts in pub­lic edu­ca­tion. Pell grants that allow young peo­ple from poor fam­i­lies to attend col­lege are already squeezed.

Less vis­i­ble are cuts the states are already mak­ing in their school bud­gets. That’s no sur­prise. Education is one of the biggest expenses in state bud­gets. But states can’t run deficits, and tax rev­enues dur­ing the pro­longed down­turn haven’t kept up. And Washington is in no mood to help.

State cuts in pub­lic edu­ca­tion have been under the national radar, but viewed as a whole they seri­ously threaten the nation’s future.

Already, 33 states have sliced edu­ca­tion bud­gets for next year, on top of cuts last year. For exam­ple, Arizona has elim­i­nated preschool for 4,328 chil­dren, and cut fund­ing for books, com­put­ers and other class­room sup­plies. 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 and Georgia have reduced public-school spend­ing nearly 5 per­cent from 2010, Illinois and Massachusetts by 3 per­cent. Virginia’s $700 mil­lion in cuts for the com­ing year includes class-size reduc­tion in kinder­garten through third grade. Washington sus­pended a pro­gram to reduce class sizes.

Meanwhile, at least 43 states are cut­ting back on fund­ing for pub­lic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, and increas­ing tuitions and fees. This means many qual­i­fied young peo­ple won’t be able to attend. For exam­ple, the University of California has increased tuition by 32 per­cent and reduced fresh­man enroll­ment by 2,300 stu­dents; the California State University sys­tem cut enroll­ment by 40,000 students.

Arizona’s board of regents has approved in-state under­grad­u­ate tuition increases of between

9 per­cent and 20 per­cent, as well as fee increases at the state’s three pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties. Florida’s pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties have raised tuition 32 per­cent. New York’s state uni­ver­sity sys­tem has increased res­i­dent under­grad­u­ate tuition by 14 per­cent. Texas has cut fund­ing for higher edu­ca­tion by

5 per­cent, or $73 mil­lion. Washington has reduced state fund­ing for the University of Washington by 26 percent.

Why have we allowed this to hap­pen? Our young peo­ple — their capac­i­ties to think, under­stand, inves­ti­gate and inno­vate — are America’s future. In the name of fis­cal pru­dence we’re endan­ger­ing that future.

Maybe the answer is that America’s biggest cor­po­ra­tions don’t espe­cially care. They’re get­ting the tal­ent they need all over the world. Many of the them now have research and devel­op­ment oper­a­tions in Europe and China, for example.

America’s wealthy and upper-middle-class fam­i­lies don’t seem par­tic­u­larly wor­ried, either. They have enough money to send their kids to good pri­vate schools, and to pay high tuitions at pri­vate universities.

I’m not sug­gest­ing that the stealth attack on American edu­ca­tion is inten­tional. It’s hap­pen­ing because pub­lic bud­gets are tight. But when big cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy demand tax cuts, and don’t par­tic­u­larly care about pub­lic edu­ca­tion, the inevitable result is that most of America’s kids are vulnerable.

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