Monday, October 26, 2009

Why a lack of school funding will bring down the American Empire

Hawaii schools to move to four-day week in state cost-cutting measure | World news |

So there are a few problems with this strategy, long term and short term. And several implications in terms of race, class and gender. But basically, we're shooting ourselves in the collective foot. I mean, I can foresee nothing but the END OF THE DAMN UNIVERSE if we continue down this path. Seriously, there'll be horsemen and zombies and WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE.

At the very least we're looking at the end of any claim to American Exceptionalism. Which is an end I endorse; I mean, yes, America is all shades of fancy-pants, and did all sorts of great things, but frankly, it's beginning to require kind of a selective and quite long memory. We have to bring something new to the table. And our infant mortality rate isn't going to cut it.

So, short-term costs. Right, so, we're defunding education because the states are going broke. I'm sympathetic, I'm from Michigan fer crissakes, we haven't had money since the Eisenhower administration. The states are going broke because they have no income, that is no tax base. See, state politicians have to get elected. And the best way to get elected is to promise tax cuts, tax breaks, tax holidays. Now one of the nice ways to get tax income, in a way that doesn't seem to actively vacuum out the pockets of the citizens is to tax corporations and businesses, especially the big ones that do a lot of business. Frankly, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the tax pains of a corporation, especially not one that's making BILLIONS in profit and probably laying a few people off here and there. But see, the big corporations got smart, and started to demand that municipalities wave their taxes for x amount of time or else the Corporation was going to take its big box store and move it to a municipality that DID offer a tax break. And suddenly, big business isn't paying taxes to communities and states, which may make them more flexible in pricing, at least enough to harm the (smaller) competitors. Of course, where the corporations go when the tax breaks are up . . . well. You know. Maybe the love just wasn't meant to last. So now the tax burden falls disproportionately on the individual citizen and small business. Now see, the individual citizen doesn't like being taxed, that's all socialist and shit. The citizen doesn't think of the state or local government as being an extension of the people, I mean, first of all, what, 20% of the population actually could be stirred to vote (and weren't stricken from the rolls through voter caging, or felon disenfranchisement laws) secondably, what does the government provide anyway . . . I mean . . . NOTHING . . . unless you count sanitation, roads, utility infrastructure, hospitals, Medicaid/are, libraries, police and fire protection . . . schools.

That's right, I was talking about schools. So, to sum up - states are broke. States provide services. Services cost money. States don't have money. Thusly, states can't provide services. I could put that in logical notation for you, but I think you see the picture. Now there are some services that states can't NOT provide. You can't really tell your citizens that they can only flush their toilets on an alternate day basis. You can cut funding to police and fire only so far. You can let your roads and infrastructure decay only so far. As an eminent philosopher once said to me, you can only cut so much fat before you're cutting into bone. Unfortunately, the bone you cut tends to be the poor bone. We already have a tiered school system, because we have racist/classist school funding that contains the wealth in already wealthy school districts and leaves the poor districts to rot. So cutting state funds to school budgets is going to disproportionately affect already poor school districts, and probably send a few middle-ground districts into the poor category. Once you've reached the point in cutting the school "fat" that you're carving away whole limbs, such as in the case of Hawaii, there is still going to be greater repercussions for poorer districts. And in the case of Hawaii closing school, repercussions for poorer women.

See, school functions as two things. First, obviously, it ostensibly offers education, knowledge, life skills, all of those feel-good happy things. However, in addition, it also functions as a form of daycare. In fact there are frequently HeadStart programs that function nearly explicitly as a form of daycare. The nice thing about school is that it provides structured activity and supervision for your children, while you go do something else. Like, say, hold a job. See, the funny thing about school weeks and work weeks is that they pretty much overlap. This is a fact chain-restaurants and department stores use to their advantage when looking for workers, they advertise the "mom's shift," you know, 10-2, maybe as late as 3. Mom can work while her darlings are at school. The nice thing about school is, it's free! (Once you've paid your local property tax). The not-nice thing about daycare is, it's NOT free! See, we never got the Equal Rights Amendment. In fact, states UN-ratified it. Cause it was going to be all Plato's Republic all over the place, what with subsidized daycare and, uh, unisex bathrooms. Apparently, Americans are TERRIFIED of unisex bathrooms. And subsidized daycare. Anyway, daycare costs money. Particularly good daycare, daycare that doesn't look like one of those overseas orphanages that 20/20's always doing shows about. Now, paying money for daycare is GREAT, if you HAVE money. Reorganizing your schedule so you can work four days instead of five is GREAT, if you have a salaried position. Working 6-8 fewer hours less a week is GREAT, if you can afford that budgetary hit, and if you have the kind of job security that will allow you to reduce your hours without making yourself look redundant. Working 6-8 fewer hours less a week is also great, provided that doesn't make you ineligible for health insurance. Because, damn, if health insurance isn't nice to have when you have . . . you know . . . children.

So, in the short term, who's going to be hurt? Besides, obviously the kids who are missing out on however many hours of education (and those hours will not be deducted from the teaching-to-the-test portions of the syllabus, be assured). Well, working mothers. Who will suddenly find themselves with less disposable income. Which means a. less revenue for the state in terms of sales tax, business income tax, personal income tax; and b. a potentially larger drain on the state's resources as more families turn to state-funded programs to make up the lack, such as Medicaid, WIC, food stamps, housing subsidies (and let's not mislead ourselves with what sort of programs get cut first in a hard economic situation, we HATE helping out those who need a little hand when times get tough); and c. less economic activity overall, further hurting the economic situation and prolonging the recession. In capitalism, those who are already hurting are hurt more in times of need. This is what our system does.

So, there's one half of the Apocalypse.

The long-term horsemen ride in on horses that look an awful lot like what our current abject neglect of the importance of education will do to our country. Like, you know, how we like to get all excited about research and development in the States, our science, technology, medicine and math standings in terms of the rest of the world. And while we're probably overstating our fancy-pantsdom, it sure as fuck isn't going to get any better if we continue to pull funding from schools. The Republicans started this meme about the American economy moving to a service-based economy (read: a fuck you peon economy) and we can accept that, or not. Underfunding education is not just accepting that, it's fucking encouraging that. Which, eh, whatevs. I rocked a food-service job for 5 years. I mean, I wanted to kill myself and everyone around me, but, what the hell. I ate, sparingly to be sure, but I ate. But the problem with those types of jobs is that they just don't pay as well as being an engineer or a doctor or some mysterious office worker. Which, in the long term might be kind of a problem for people my age. See, social security is kind of paid for by the current workforce. That's (one of the reasons) why the baby-boomers are such a big threat for S.S. and Medicare. Hot damn, there are MILLIONS of them. Getting old at the same time, living maddeningly long. (love you, Mom and Dad!) And there just aren't the same kinds of numbers in my generation, paying payroll taxes, and Medicare taxes and S.S. taxes. Now, 8 years of abstinence-only sex-"education" might prop up the old birth numbers a little, but we're still going to have a smallish workforce when we get old. Which means less money for US! And of course, with poverty having a color (disproportionately not white) and a sex (disproportionately not male) and the reality of generational poverty, the erasure of the middle-class, and the entrenchment of the wealthy few with access to the vast majority of wealth and resources in this country, well, that's pretty much it for the American Empire.

All because Hawaii closed school one day a week.

[disclaimer: you may notice a lack of links in the body of this, that's cause I'm ranting. I could troll the internet and back up probably 90% of my claims, but I'm tired. And a little lazy. Maybe I'm wrong. But I doubt it.]
[Hat tip to Brad for posting this story in the first place on the ol' Facebook.]

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