Greed Is Destroying K-12 Education System

Closeup shot of a young man writing on a note pad
Closeup shot of a young man writing on a note pad

We now know the results of rampant greed among the politicians in those states that are cutting education budgets in their K-12 school systems. They would rather preserve the wealth of the wealthiest one percent than see any value in governments or governing of any kind. The cuts are for the most part in red states, causing their educational systems to crumble, which destroys the seed-corn of our democracy: educated children.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has just published a study on what has happened to our public school systems in many of those states.

"At least 23 states will provide less "general" or "formula" funding--the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools--in the current school year (2017) than when the Great Recession took hold in 2008, our survey of state budget documents finds," said the CBPP. "Eight states have cut general funding per student by about10 percent or more over this period. Five of those eight --Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin enacted income tax rate cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year rather than restore education funding."

And this is when there are 1.1 million more K-12 students to educate. The poster child for this red-state backlash is Governor Scott Walker's Wisconsin, which because of an all-Republican legislature and majority Supreme Court has been able to enact draconian budget-cutting policies, as well as cutting taxes of the wealthiest--that included a ban on public employees collective bargaining (except for police and fire), and cutting the University of Wisconsin's budget in order to turn it into a 'trade school', in his words. The result is projected to be a $2.2 billion state budget deficit over the next 2 years.

A total of 19 states have made new cuts in their public education system, even though the Great Recession is over. This means less educated children, and without adequate educational opportunities there is no functioning democracy, period.

It's a no-brainer. Keeping their constituents less-educated has been a hallmark of conservative policies in the red states. And the results are painful for their future, says the CBPP.

Weakening a key funding source for school districts. Some 47 percent of K-12 spending nationally comes from state funds (the share varies by state).[2] Cuts at the state level force local school districts to scale back educational services, raise more local revenue to cover the gap, or both. And because property values fell sharply after the recession hit, it's been particularly difficult for local school districts to raise significant additional revenue through local property taxes without raising tax rates, a politically challenging task even in good times. (See Figure 1.)

Slowing the economy's recovery from the recession. School districts began cutting teachers and other employees in mid-2008 when the first round of budget cuts took effect, federal employment data show. By mid-2012, local school districts had cut 351,000 jobs.

Impeding reforms widely acknowledged to boost student achievement. Many states and school districts have identified as a priority reforms to prepare children better for the future, such as improving teacher quality, reducing class sizes, and increasing student learning time. Deep funding cuts hamper their ability to implement many of these reforms.

And where have those tax cuts gone? In 2010, the tea-party wave put Sam Brownback into the Kansas governor's mansion and Republican majorities in both houses of its legislature. Together, they implemented the conservative movement's blueprint for Utopia: They passed massive tax breaks for the wealthy and repealed all income taxes on more than 100,000 businesses.

The result has been a $700 million budget deficit that has reduced job growth, and even personal incomes, said New York magazine in a recent column. "Between 2010 and 2012, Kansas saw income growth of 6.1 percent, good for 12th in the nation; from 2013 to 2015, that rate was 3.6 percent, good for 41st."

There can be no other reason for the loss of fiscal probity by conservative Republicans. For most of modern U.S. political history, Republicans in general have cast themselves as the party of fiscally responsible governance, adhering to a simple equation: low government spending plus tax cuts -- the bigger, and broader, the better -- equals all-but-guaranteed economic growth and full government coffers.

But, said a recent U.S. News report:

Five years after the economic recession wreaked havoc on their budgets, at least a dozen red states are awash in red ink, facing nine- and ten-figure deficits heading into the new fiscal year. That's led GOP governors who won office by pledging fiscal responsibility, and bans on new taxes, to slash spending on everything from education to the environment while simultaneously increasing the financial burdens for the poor, along with the use of accounting sleight-of-hand to make the books look better.

So Governor Sam Brownback's "blueprint for utopia" has been exposed for what it is, the camouflage for a massive transfer of wealth to the wealthiest. It is now well-documented by Senator Bernie Sanders, among others. The result is that almost all of the income gains since the end of the Great Recession have been to the top one percent, and starving our K-12 education systems of resources will only preserve such inequality.

Harlan Green © 2016