Photo by Mike Erdmann
Parents in Milwaukee—as across the nation—know that their children’s futures depend on the quality of public education, and many of them are deeply upset about continuing cuts to public education funding. Parents, teachers, and students in the Milwaukee Public School District are holding “walk-ins” at over 100 schools on Friday, Sept. 18 to “celebrate and protect public education.” These events are a challenge to the plans of Gov. Scott Walker to privatize Milwaukee Public Schools and starve them of funding.
Some 41% of Milwaukee students attend largely unaccountable private voucher and charter schools, many of which have draining away resources needed by the public-schools systems to provide a quality education for all. The public system is thus nearing insolvency.
In Chicago, the school system is being decimated by top-down cuts and school shutdowns that have parents, students, and teachers up in arms over their lack of voice in the school system’s future. At Dyett High School in Chicago, school supporters have staged a dramatic hunger strike, currently over 31 days long, to stop its closing and implement community plans for reinventing the school. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems bent on promoting privatized voucher schools at the expense of the public system he is dismantling.
Along with the drive for privatization, embraced by both right-wingers and neo-liberals, schools across the nation have been victimized by budgetary chainsaws. In the name of cutting taxes, states are sacrificing their public school systems.
No less than 47 states are now spending less than they did in 2007. “Savings have gone to finance tax cuts,” observes financial journalist Tom Saler. A distressing NY Times series by Louise Story details how local governments have handed out over $80 billion a year in corporate tax cuts, plus a wide menu of subsidies. This money is mostly going to the largest corporations and without demanding accountability on actual job creation and wage levels.
And there are long term, serious costs to all this cutting.
While cutting taxes is the Republican brand, the trickle-down strategy has utterly failed to produce high-paying jobs because the lower taxes have come at the cost of better education. And there’s data to show that lower taxes, lower education spending, and lower educational outcomes are correlated with low wages. Noah Berger and Peter Fisher of the Economic Policy Institute carried out a recent study looking at the relationship between education and economic growth between 1979 and 2012.
They found that educational spending, when harnessed with good public educational systems to produce a well-educated workforce, benefits citizens by lifting up skill levels and overall economic development.
Berger and Fisher’s conclusion poses in stark terms the trade-off between tax cuts championed by Walker and dozens of other governors, backed by the most vocal corporate leaders in their states, and genuine long-term economic development.
There are no states with a relatively well-educated workforce and relatively low wages, and virtually no states with low levels of education and relatively high wages.
So the real choice for the states is between immediate tax cuts, low educational attainment, low wages and sluggish growth over the long term, or using public revenues to improve education for a more highly-educated workforce, higher wages, and stronger long-term economic growth.
Unfortunately, for the immediate future, we are seeing a coalition of CEOs and the governors whose campaigns they finance, tightly unified behind a program of short-term, short-sighted cuts to education that will undermine the potential for broad economic uplift and widely-shared prosperity. “In these states, the focus is on luring employers from other states with strategies that do not lead to rising incomes because they do not make the workforce more productive,” noted Berger and Fisher.
"Even worse, the focus drains resources from the most important, proven, path to increasing productivity: investments in education.”
However, the CEOs and public officials like Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Florida’s Rick Scott, and others, who now seek to promote an immediate boost to corporate coffers at the expense of education, may be on the verge of igniting a vast prairie fire of public revolt from parents and the public. Parents want better futures for their children, and they know that reductions in K-12 offerings and higher tuitions and sharply-cut university availabilities to vital classes mean shrunken opportunities for their kids.