Brian Williams introduced a report on NBC Nightly News (4/21/10) with this declaration: “Public schools from coast to coast in this country are looking at tens of thousands of layoffs, a lot of them teachers, because the money is not there.” Correspondent Ron Allen went on to report:
In Springfield, Illinois, thousands of teachers turned out to try to save their jobs and programs; music, art and sports activities all being threatened with elimination. Many school districts are hoping for federal stimulus help, but in the meantime are locked into longer teacher contracts and higher salaries for tenured teachers. Some experts predict that American education must adjust to a new reality.
This was followed by a quote from Michael Petrilli (who is identified as representing the Thomas Fordham Institute, which is not identified as a conservative education group): “Not only do our schools have to go on a diet, they need to adapt to a whole new way of life because I–this money is gone, and it’s not coming back anytime soon.”
Concludes Allen: “A crucial test now facing the nation, how to educate more than 50 million public school students with less.”
“Less”–that’s the key message here, that teachers, parents and children need to accept that “the money is not there” and “adapt to a whole new way of life”–one in which teachers get paid less and children get less education. Only, if the “money is gone,” where did it go?
Here are some facts from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis: Between 1971, when I was entering my school-age years, and 2009, the U.S. per capita GDP doubled, from roughly $21,000 to $42,000 a year (in constant dollars). Since 1984, a couple of years after I graduated from high school, it’s risen by 50 percent–from about $28,000. Just since 1996, the nation’s income per person has increased by something like 20 percent.
Assuming that educating our children is at least as important as our other national priorities, we ought to be able to fund education twice as well as we did 40 years ago, and half again as well as we did 25 years ago. Why is it, instead, that NBC is telling us that schools are going to have to get by with less? Because while the country as a whole has a lot more money, most of it has gone to making the rich richer–and they have no intention of getting by with less.