Is the Cost of Education too High?

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Ethan Farber
March 21, 2011
Filed under Opinions

Let’s face it—we’re in a recession.  It is a recovering recession, but a recession nonetheless.  Since the stock market crash of 2008, prices have been down, companies have filed for bankruptcy, loans have been scarce, and unemployment has been high.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, we finished out February of 2011 with an 8.9% unemployment rate.  In other words, nearly one out of every eleven people in the United States is unemployed.

Over the past few years, education has been hit hard.  Because of state budget cuts to funding for public education, schools have been slashing their staffs down to minimal sizes in an attempt to stay afloat.  Normandy school district let go 34 teachers two years ago, and Lindbergh cut nearly 50 positions before the start of this school year.  Most recently, Francis Howell school district announced that they are laying off no less than 94 teaching positions for the upcoming school year.

Similar circumstances can be found right here in our own school district.  In an attempt to keep us in the black, the administration has begun using what is called zero-based budgeting, according to a district spokesperson.  What this means is that all expenditures, not just increases, made by the district must be approved.

The number of retirements and resignations over the past few years has offset the district’s need to cut teaching positions.  Using the zero-based budgeting system, “… [the administration] decides whether or not [a] position can be filled or if duties could be assigned to other staff.”

Wait a minute.  This sounds like a fancy way of saying that in order to keep the district afloat, teaching positions are being slashed, which is very important to this district, its taxpayers, and students.  In order for us to have a productive learning, we have to jettison some of the people responsible for helping us to learn, like superfluous garbage that isn’t contributing enough to the whole.

It’s not going to get better, either.  Although the economy is recovering, state budgets lag behind by a year or more, since tax revenues are what replenish public funds every year.  According to a member of the district administration, the state budget won’t show any signs of recovery for the next year or two.  In fact, there is a good chance that funding will be even more restricted next year.

The arts are being hit particularly hard by these cuts and already stretched budget dollars.  For some reason, the district targeted music, drawing, and dancing as less important than other electives.  How can the district be proud of its band if our musicians don’t even have quality instruments?  How can the band use an electric keyboard or a bass guitar if the amplifiers needed to produce music are in disrepair?  The publications team has to make do with woefully out-of-date software programs, such as Adobe InDesign CS2, created in 2005, while the newest edition, CS5, was released in 2010.

Next year the district can expect even less teachers, which corresponds to larger class sizes and less classes to choose from.  I myself want the best education possible, which won’t happen if the band teacher is forced to split his time between each school in the district.  The district of University City is committed to excellence in education, but this is not the way to achieve it.

It isn’t fair to say that the district is completely at fault here.  This problem stems from a lack of public funding, which, as I stated earlier, is collected through tax revenues.  Now, I am no expert in economics, but it seems to me that in order to raise public funding, we need to raise taxes.  Obviously, many people out there are unable to afford higher taxes.  Solution: tax the wealthy.  The wealthy are able to afford higher taxes, and I believe they have the responsibility to use their money to help people out, rather than sitting on it out of greed.

If a tax on the wealthy is too controversial, maybe public education needs a massive overhaul on the federal level.  In fact, something is in the works right now.  The current federal program for funding public schools, No Child Left Behind, was instituted by the Bush administration and funds schools based on their performance in certain areas including state testing, attendance, ACT scores, and graduation rates.

President Obama has been looking at possible reforms to No Child Left Behind, and many politicians from both the left and right agree that the program must be either altered or thrown out in favor of a new program.  This bipartisan effort on education reform could be the answer to many of our problems.

We are thus presented with two choices.  Option A is to levy a tax on those who can afford it as a way to raise revenue.  If not, then massive education reform on the federal level is Option B.  Frankly, waiting around is not an option, as the more stringent budget cuts next year could very well be the death knell for many Missouri schools.  Should we tax, reform, or both?

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