Friday, June 10, 2005

Money - sheer, naked, vulgar money...

Ever since Prop 13 passed in the late ‘70s (this issue just never seems to go away), the actual amount of dollars reaching schools has declined, resulting in the loss of art and music programs and reductions in physical education and other programs not considered “core academic.” This is particularly frustrating, since it is now widely agreed among educators that art and music are crucial to developing the creativity that helps people become truly creative and innovative in math, science, and other core academic areas. And, with obesity becoming a – pardon the pun – massive problem among young people, the absence of physical education in schools is obscene.

The resolution of this problem does not require rocket science, just a willingness to pay for what you get. But, Californians have fallen into the morass of politics over paying for education. Liberals want to raise taxes (for the rich, of course, not for anyone else). Conservatives whine, “it’s a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” which means not raising taxes on anybody (except for use fees, which don't hit the rich too hard). Both sides turn to think tanks to bolster their views that either too little or just enough money is being spent on education. There’s lot’s of room for argument as to whose study’s figures are accurate, but as any educated person knows, lying with statistics is a joyful pastime for pundits (both on the left and the right).

Bottom line is, liberals or progressives (primarily Democrats) are willing to pay more for public education than conservatives (primarily Republicans), who seem to prefer to spend their dollars on private schooling for their children rather than on taxes for public education.

But the education dollar is shrinking, along with the dollars for transportation, infrastructure, and health and welfare (there are more of us, infrastructures are aging and need repair and replacement, and we ask more of government than in earlier years – but that’s another topic). This shrinking public dollar is in large part due to our tax system. The gap between the wealthy and the rest of us widens at warp speed (the average CEO made 42 times the average worker's pay in 1980, 85 times in 1990, and is now over 300 times), and the tax system is skewed so the greatest burden falls on the middle class (which most economists agree is shrinking in numbers).

What we really need folks is tax reform and the political courage to achieve it. No white knights out there, though. Just worn out action heroes and, thanks to term limits, junior politicians. Into a lovely corner we’ve painted ourselves, I’d say.


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