Practically all of us live in places with budget conscious governments. How do we take care of the many problems we face, such as crime, poverty, and infrastructure maintenance. There is never enough money to deal fully with all of the problems. And I don’t think there ever will be–as long as we continue to treat only the symptoms.
And that is were I come to the matter of spending on education. I’m going to talk about it as a money problem, because it is a money problem. Yes, there are problems in how our schools are administered. Yes, there are places where there are uninvolved and incompetent teachers and administrators. Certainly there are textbooks that don’t teach the right things or don’t do it all that well.
But the bottom line in this country, I believe, is that we don’t have the educational system we want because we don’t want to pay for it. And when I refer to the educational system, I mean our public schools.
Now before everyone starts trying to point out to me the value of private schools, let me say that I’m coming at this with the enthusiasm of a convert. I was educated without exception in private schools. At one time I believed that we could really do without public schools entirely. But my experience with my own stepson, and with many of my friends’ children has convinced me that we need an excellent public school system, that having such a system will cost us more money than we’re paying for it now, and that the investment would be abundantly worthwhile.
Am I an accountant? Have I budgeted this out? No, I have not. But I do have extensive experience in both the public and private sector, and I do know that what I’m calling for will cost more. I believe strongly that improving education is going to produce a harvest of benefits. What I’m suggesting we do is indicate to our leaders that we’re willing to pay for value, and that if they will produce programs that will provide that value, we’re willing to pay for them.
I know this is out of line with current thinking. But we’re spending increasing amounts of money on prisons, law enforcement, unemployment, homelessness and a host of other problems. We do that because we have to. The problems get too big to be ignored, and finally they get a piece of the governmental money pie. But programs that will prevent such activities are much less urgent. Kids who aren’t yet stealing cars, doing drugs, or killing one another don’t seem to get our attention and our priority like those who do those things. As long as we are so short-sighted as to wait for the problems to become intolerable, we’re going to have intolerable problems to deal with.
I’m going to suggest some approaches to education that we should be prepared to insist on and and pay for.
Some of you are probably wondering how one will keep such teachers and administrators honest. If we pay them more, give them good equipment, and open up the opportunities, what is to prevent them from just taking the money and running? How do we deal with incompetent teachers and administrators.
Let me suggest first that if we are providing compensation for quality, then we have a right to expect quality. In Florida, we pay teachers miserably, and then we ask them to accept high standards. We can applaud the self-sacrificing person who will put up with that, and effectively educate our children no matter what, but it is unrealistic to expect it. Similarly, we give tests of basic standards and then take money away from the schools that fail. Shouldn’t those be the schools we work hardest to improve?
But I know of no political problem anywhere that can be solved without people paying attention. That means that the community has to stay involved. Each element of what the schools need to do is matched by something we need to do.
Again many people will be concerned about the bill. We live in an age in which economies in government are the norm. And I don’t disagree with that tendency. I think many aspects of government can and should be trimmed. But some solutions merely sound good. One example is “across-the-board cuts.” There are some things that are better handled by the government. There are others that are better left privately. Across-the-board cuts don’t deal with those issues properly.
The critical problem, however, with government spending is that it tends to be short-sighted, and that is our fault as voters. We vote for politicians who promise quick solutions to immediate problems. More money spent on punishment, such as prisons, appeals to us as an immediate solution. Education does not, because the results are too far in the future. We would rather enforce laws against drug use and distribution than take actions to reduce the demand for drugs. But reducing the demand is, in fact, the only way we can solve the problem.
We need to learn to spend “smart,” and the only way that is going to happen is if we, as individual Americans, demand forward looking, long-term solutions to problems. We should refuse to pay for solutions that don’t really help; we should demand solutions that work, and then be willing to pay the taxes to support them.