What would be the better investment: Locking up a young adult and spending $37,000 per year incarcerating him or her, or spending $22,000 per year educating that adult and, hence, eliminating the likelihood of the $37,000 expenditure? Of course, the question answers itself – except for the fact that our society is willing to pay the $37,000, but only willing to pay approximately $7,000 – not $22,000 – educating our public school children in California and across the nation.
Why the $22,000 figure? Because that is what quality private schools spend per pupil and that is what I believe quality education costs.
All across the country groups of people have sued various states’ legislatures (Ohio, New Jersey, California, Kentucky, etc.) for failing to provide “adequate quality – good” the adjectives vary – education. The plaintiffs will define what they mean by adequate or quality education and will usually win these lawsuits. The state judiciary will then direct the legislature to comply and the legislature will often say, “We can’t comply; we don’t have the funds.”
Of course, we do have the means to raise those funds; we simply lack the motivation and willingness to sort out our priorities. And when I say we, generally speaking, I mean the voting electorate and the elected governing officials. When the president decided he needed to invade a country that had not attacked us, he found seemingly unlimited funds – more than $200 billion to date. But somehow we cannot seem to find the funds to alleviate overcrowded classrooms, under-paid teachers, and curriculum and facilities that deprive students of a good education.
We are, however, and will continue, paying a terrible social cost. We have astonishing drop-out rates in our inner city and impoverished community schools. We, the richest nation in history, have unacceptable rates of homelessness and unemployment. We have more homicides per capita than any European country and the list of social and educational ills goes on and on.
Our failure to fund education properly leads to another sad fact – we are becoming two Americas, and education is one of the central causes of the division. There is the America of the well-to-do, the 20% of the populace that controls 94% of the wealth, lives in “nice” neighborhoods, sends their children to private schools or well-cared-for public schools and enjoys all the material blessings, including adequate health care. The other 80% of America scrambles after the remaining 6% of the wealth, attends severely compromised schools, fills up the lists of homeless, unemployed, incarcerated, absent of medical care and the like. According to Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” and American is surely becoming that house.
Drop-outs combined with the compromised conditions in low-income schools contribute to the overall “dumbing down” of the country. And the social consequences of a dumbed down society are legion among them: Voters who don’t vote; unemployed people who lack the skills to find employment; gangs and violence; barely literate folks who vote but are easily manipulated by cynical and crafty politicians and media sharks; and a spiritually numb populace that retreats to mindless consumerism. A dumbed down populace also lacks the understanding of what the critical issues of the planet really are: A diminished and daily declining environment; over-population; world-wide poverty, starvation, declining water supplies; social injustices that lead people to further exploit the earth’s resources. Ignorance creates is own downward spiral. It enables exploiters to exploit – un-encumbered by regulations and reason. The sad fact, however, is that the sins of this generation of exploiters and deficit financiers will be visited upon succeeding generations.The list of social ills, the racist divides, the massive inequities can only be addressed by improved education. So the real investment is now just to improve conditions, not just to provide businesses with more skilled workers and to improve the economy by putting more people to work. The investment in education is to preserve the very soul of the nation.