Our preoccupation with the immediate crisis of financial capital is causing us to overlook the bigger crisis in America's human capital. While we commit hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street, we're slashing our outlays for public education.
Education is largely funded by state and local governments whose revenues are plummeting. As consumers cut back, state sales and income taxes are shrinking; three quarters of the states are already facing budget crises. State revenues account for about half of public school budgets and most funding of public colleges and universities. In addition, as home values drop, local property taxes take a hit. Local property taxes account for 40 percent of local school budgets, on average.
The result, across the nation: Teachers are being laid off and new hiring frozen, after-school programs cut, so called "noncritical" subjects like history eliminated, schools closed, and tuitions hiked at state colleges and universities.
It's absurd. We¹re bailing out every major bank to get financial capital flowing again. But we¹re squeezing the main sources of our nation's human capital. Yet America's future competitiveness and the standard of living of our people depend largely our peoples' skills, and our capacities to communicate and solve problems and innovate not on our ability to borrow money.
What¹s more, our human capital is rooted here while financial capital moves around the globe at the speed of an electronic blip. Right now global capital markets are frozen, but the big money -- mostly in Asia and the Middle East -- is coming here, bailout or no bailout. At this point it's coming here in the form of purchases of dollars and of T-bills that are financing the Wall Street bailout. Eventually American assets will become so cheap that the money will come here to buy up the bargains.
It¹s our human capital that¹s in short supply. And without adequate public funding, the supply will shrink further. Don't get me wrong: I¹m not saying funding is everything when it comes to education. Obviously, accountability is critical. But without adequate funding we can¹t attract talented people into teaching, or keep class sizes small enough to give kids a real chance to learn, or provide them with a well-rounded curriculum, and ensure that every qualified young person can go to college.
So why are we bailing out Wall Street and not our nation¹s public schools and colleges? Partly because the crisis in financial capital is immediate while our human capital crisis is unfolding gradually. Headlines scream what's happening to our money but not to our kids.
Maybe it's also because we don¹t have a central banker for America¹s human capital someone who warns us as loudly as Ben Bernanke did a few months ago when he was talking about Wall Street's meltdown, of the dire consequences that will follow if we don¹t come up with the dough.
"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
No Bailout For Public Education
From TPM, Robert Reich: