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Public education – attack at your own risk

An example of image versus reality:

  • Image: A TV ad touting California. Shots of California’s natural beauty, celebrities, state landmarks, celebrities, and ending with our celebrity-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger saying that California is a great place for business.
  • Reality: The same governor’s budget cuts billions from education, including $4.8 billion that voters elected to dedicate to education though Proposition 98. School districts across the state are forced to cut millions from their budgets, lay off teachers, cancel educational programs, and even close campuses.

And you would still consider California a great place for business?

Without a well educated populace, California – even with its natural resources and beauty – doesn’t have an engine to run industry. Without education, how do you train workers? How do you stimulate entrepreneurs to come up with ideas for new businesses? How can people invent new technologies? How can people grow in affluence so that they can afford to purchase new products?

California’s success as an economic and creative power has come from its excellent public school system. I am a beneficiary of this system from the Los Angeles Unified School District where I attended from kindergarten to high school, to the UC and CSU systems where I earned my bachelor’s degree.

For the past 30 years, this system has been under attack. First came Proposition 13 that led to major cuts in school funding. (It wasn’t until the LAUSD threatened to cancel high school football that the public got outraged about the cuts. There were no complaints about the deep cuts to academic programs.) School districts then became targets for the social experimenters – from disruptive and poorly developed busing programs to those who used their school board seats to push various religious, social, and political agendas. We also had to contend with those who opposed public education completely, using “vouchers” and “school choice” in an effort to subsidize private and religious schools with taxpayer money.

Public education has been the source of California’s – and America’s – prosperity. It has made America the most socially mobile society in history, enabling poor and middle class children to climb into better paying careers and greater affluence. It has stimulated technical innovation and scientific breakthroughs. It has produced a literate populace that is necessary for a modern democracy. Public education is a valuable tool that we neglect or fiddle with at our peril.

Look at third-world countries without a good public education system to see what would happen without it. Education would only be for the rich to use to further their dominance over the rest of the country, while the rest of the population is mired in illiteracy and poverty. With no hope for social mobility, these countries revert to civil war and social unrest.

Our society needs public education. Our investment in it has paid considerable dividends far beyond what we pay for it. And cutting back on public education has costs far beyond what would appear in a state budget report.

Even though, the state is in a budget crisis, there is plenty of waste in government that can be pruned without affecting our educational system. The state needs to come up with more creative ides to save money without demolishing education.

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