Budget Cuts to Education: What in the World Are We Thinking?

When we look for ways to respond to danger, loss, economic challenge, and threats to the future of the planet itself, why are educators and schools the first target for budget cuts, as if education were a “discretionary” expenditure?

These are the people and institutions to whom we entrust our prized legacy – our children – not only to get them educated, but also, if truth be told, to get them out of our hair at last! Teachers and academic support personnel are the people who teach them, feed them on every level, counsel them, and prepare them for a world we cannot possibly imagine. Often scrimping on their own families’ needs to take care of ours, these are unsung heroes.

Let’s face it: educators are underpaid for their equivalent professional training and credentials. Many of them hold doctorates as well as master’s degrees and many studied just as long as physicians and lawyers at the graduate level. Furthermore, the pace of their workday is exhausting! Have you ever followed a K-12 teacher around all day? Apart from lesson prep, have you witnessed how many twenty- and forty-page papers college faculty read and critique in depth during the course of a semester? Astounding! Yet they all persist on shoestring resources and lack of sleep. I know firsthand. I have been there.

To be fair, legislators are not the only ones at fault. Within our institutions of higher learning education is at the bottom of the caste system of academic disciplines. These students and faculty are underacknowledged and downright stigmatized for their “soft” science and allegedly limited academic rigor. And yet it is they who prepare the future leaders of the world in all sectors, leaders who are found not only in private and charter schools and upper-class neighborhoods, but also in public ones as well and in every zip code.

When celebrities, uncommon heroes, scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs receive public acclaim, it is often a teacher they thank first, sometimes even before a parent. They say it was a teacher who saw their potential early on when no one else did, who believed in them, who challenged them to strive and thrive, who was indeed the wind beneath their wings.

Stop the madness. Stop treating education as an unnecessary appendage, always first in line for any austerity measure due to legitimate budgetary concerns and constraints. These institutions already operate close to the bone, having volunteered or been asked to make bricks without straw time and time again.

Look elsewhere for budget cuts. Floating the possibility of a twenty per cent pay cut for teacher salaries and benefits in Hawaii and elsewhere is absurd. If we cut into our future, we are cutting off our collective nose to spite our face. This strategy has not worked before and it will not work now. After leading for a long time, America’s rankings by sector are declining in the world because we fail to honor the importance of a broad-based liberal arts education, strong math and science, and unbiased research. When the time comes to put our money where our future lies, put and keep that money in education, or there will be no one left to work and adapt and lead when the economy recovers.

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