Flush with Bears and Lies
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
I don’t discuss national politics here very much. Whatever influence I have is limited to the state of Oklahoma. I can’t tell you much about the state of public education in Maine or Oregon. I haven’t researched it. I haven’t lived it.
I have lived in Oklahoma all my life though, and I’ve yet to see a time that we were flush with cash, as President Trump said Friday. I’ve worked in public education for 24 years, and I don’t believe that we’ve left our students deprived of all knowledge, either.
Public education advocates (me included) often share the table from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that Oklahoma schools have endured the deepest cuts in state funding in the country. The table also shows that while we aren’t exactly alone, more than 20 states have increased funding for public schools.
The CBPP includes a more detailed breakdown of the funding data:
Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools — in some cases, much less — than before the Great Recession, our survey of state budget documents over the last three months finds. Worse, some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold. Our country’s future depends crucially on the quality of its schools, yet rather than raising K-12 funding to support proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding access to high-quality early education, many states have headed in the opposite direction. These cuts weaken schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.
Our survey, the most up-to-date data available on state and local funding for schools, indicates that, after adjusting for inflation:
At least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year (that is, the school year ending in 2014) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold. In at least 15 states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.
In at least 18 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period. In at least 27 states, local funding rose, but those increases rarely made up for cuts in state support. Total local funding nationally ― for the states where comparable data exist ― declined between 2008 and 2014, adding to the damage from state funding cuts.
While data on total school funding in the current school year (2016) is not yet available, at least 25 states are still providing less “general” or “formula” funding ― the primary form of state funding for schools ― per student than in 2008. In seven states, the cuts exceed 10 percent.
Most states raised “general” funding per student slightly this year, but 12 states imposed new cuts, even as the national economy continues to improve. Some of these states, including Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wisconsin, already were among the deepest-cutting states since the recession hit.
During this time of recession and austerity, I take no comfort in knowing that other states share our misery. One reason is that Oklahoma continues doing the one thing that makes times like these harder.
Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but recently some have enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues. Four of the five states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin ― have also cut income tax rates in recent years. (See Figure 6.) Another state that cut taxes deeply ― Kansas ― also has imposed large reductions in general school funding, but the precise size of those cuts cannot be determined because the state eliminated its funding formula earlier this year.
When it comes to politicians bashing public schools, I can’t let lies lie. We are hardly flush with cash. President Trump knows this, yet minutes after taking the Oath of Office, he said it anyway.
Unfortunately, if the lie is repeated enough, it will gain traction. That’s Trump’s plan. Lie and repeat. Don’t even rinse.
Trump’s son Barron attends a private school in New York where tuition is $45,000 annually. Does he want to compare our schools with that one? Does he not understand that public schools have nowhere near that kind of funding? To be fair, neither do most private schools.
The second prong of the lie – that we deprive our students of all knowledge – is simply ridiculous. Public education critics typically look at international test scores to show that other countries’ students outperform ours. Data without context is a dangerous thing, though.
American schools serving students with a similar level of poverty to Finland outperform Finland’s schools. American schools serving students with a similar level of poverty to Canada outperform Canada’s schools. And Estonia. And Australia. And New Zealand and Japan. Yes, Japan.
We have amazing schools in this country and in this state, but they don’t all exist to serve the same purpose. Nor do all of the countries to which we compare ourselves serve all students. They don’t all serve special education students. Comprehensive high school education for all is not a guarantee in every nation.
These facts don’t matter to Trump and the school reformers drooling over his election. His lie feeds the narrative that public schools are failing. It feeds the sycophants too, which brings me to Betsy DeVos.
Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education has paid her way into his Cabinet. She’s very open about this.
Trump may have run against big money in politics, but his choice for Education Secretary has made no apologies about her family’s political spending. Betsy DeVos has been a major financial backer of legal efforts to overturn campaign-spending limits. In 1997, she brashly explained her opposition to campaign-finance-reform measures that were aimed at cleaning up so-called “soft money,” a predecessor to today’s unlimited “dark money” election spending. “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”
You and I don’t have a chance of being heard by the likes of Trump and DeVos. Collectively, all of us who will read this post probably don’t have the wealth of any member of the DeVos family. For years, we’ve been fighting the Kochs and Waltons in this state. She just adds to the oligarchy.
That’s why I found an exchange between DeVos and Senator Bernie Sanders during her confirmation hearing this week very interesting:
Sanders: “Mrs. DeVos, there is a growing fear, I think, in this country that we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic form of society, where a small number of very, very wealthy billionaires control, to a significant degree, our economic and political life. Would you be so kind as to tell us how much your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?”
DeVos: “Senator, first of all thank you for that question. I again was pleased to meet you in your office last week. I wish I could give you that number. I don’t know.”
Sanders: “I have heard the number was $200 million. Does that sound in the ballpark?”
DeVos: “Collectively? Between my entire family?”
Sanders: “Yeah, over the years.”
DeVos: “That’s possible”
Sanders: “Okay. My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude. Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”
DeVos: “Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”
Well which is it, Mrs. DeVos? Do your donations buy you unlimited access inside the walls of influence, or did you get there because you’re so involved and well-informed?
I really need not to focus on this. Yes, she made the ridiculous statement that we need guns in school because of grizzly bears, but this moment of comic relief is a distraction. I downloaded I don’t know how many bear memes and gifs while I’ve been working on this post. I admit it’s slowed me down.
DeVos also was confused by the difference between proficiency and growth. She had no clue what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is. Is it possible the Secretary of Education-nominee has never heard of the country’s foundational special education law?
Presidents have a right to appoint the people to their Cabinet who they feel are best-equipped to execute their policy initiatives. That’s what winning the election gets them. The Senate has to confirm those appointments, though. Merely going through the motions of a confirmation hearing, however, does not meet that standard.
I’m bothered by many of the things DeVos believes about education. I’m more concerned, however, about the fact that she simply has no clue what she’s doing. Understanding the difference between proficiency and growth is so easy that a dentist could get it!
Oh wait, bad example.
Maybe the Senate will deny DeVos. On the other hand, she’s put a lot of money into the campaigns of many who will make that decision. Even if they don’t confirm her, she’ll be replaced with someone else who shares the Trump mindset and who is willing to repeat the lie.
We must fight back with truth.