Robert Reich joins the attack on American public education while documenting the attack on American public education

Just before Christmas, on December 23, University of California (Berkeley) economics professor and pundit Robert Reich published an analysis totaling up some of the costs of the recent attacks on public education across the USA. This holiday, it's worth reading (or re-reading) as we take a closer look at what 2011 will bring to American democracy, America's public schools, and our unions. Leaving aside Reich's boneheaded notion about vouchers (below), a closer look at the national attacks on both k-12 and higher education like the one Reich begins here (Illinois is conspicuously absent from many of his listings below) is more necessary now than ever. And maybe someone reading this can pull Reich over and fill him in on why vouchers are one of the worst ideas every touted by "economists."

Berkeley professor and former Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich (above) favors vouchers but admits that public schools need support. But one of the most significant things that can be culled already from these data is the simple facts that the USA is simply reverting to the status quo that existed throughout most of history, when k-12 schooling was manual training (remember "grammar school"?) for the working class, and college excluded working class children by means of the "free market." At the time Grapes of Wrath was published (and documented some of the horrors facing the working class in California, where Reich works today), to urge working class children (white, black, other) to aspire to college was cruel. All the child had to do was harvest a million tons of strawberries while working 36 hours a day in one of those labor camps or canneries in California depicted in John Steinback's novels.

So we're simply getting back to that as a country. But since a couple of generations of children have been raised believing that they had the right to a decent k-12 education and higher learning if they worked hard, the propaganda machine has to obliterate economic class and most of U.S. history as a piece of the current debate. With liberals like Robert Reich preaching vouchers, imagine what the "conservatives" are coming up with?

Basically, until the American working class helped out allies around the world win World War II, higher learning in the USA was "pay to play." And most of those of us who were "qualified" for higher learning — even as late at the early 1960s, when I finished high school — couldn't pay and therefore weren't eligible to play. Most of my high school friends didn't get college scholarships, so they were "channeled" into the military via the Draft ("Selective Service"), some to die in the imperialist war in Vietnam (and elsewhere in Southeast Asia) and others to be seriously messed up by the empire's misuse of their talents.

One of the grotesque lies being spread lately by Bill Gates (and others) is that the majority of working class kids in the USA are not "college ready" and therefore not doing college. One of the most ridiculous "data sets", which I heard recently from Advance Illinois, Stand for Children, and CPS officials at the Aurora hearings on Illinois "school reform," is that only a handful of Chicago high school children ever make it through a four-year college. The data were lies when they were first repeated from my Alma Mater (the University of Chicago) in 2002 and repeated over and over by that corporate reformer, Andy Stern, in 2006.

And they don't become any more true when spouted by Alicia Winckler of CPS in 2010.

Working class kids don't finish college in four years because, for the first time in about fifty years, the working class, no matter how motivated or talented, has been priced out of higher education. Vouchers and other crazy economists' nostrums won't solve that, because the problem is rooted in the most vicious returns to class warfare (against the working class and poor) in the USA.

How many children were forced to drop out of the University of California at Berkeley, where Reich teaches. the past three years because tuition went through the roof and the family faced financial trouble, or ruin? Reich asks some of the right questions in the discussion below, but misses a lot.

The Attack on American Education By Robert Reich (Robert Reich's Blog, 23 December 2010)

Over the long term, the only way we're going to raise wages, grow the economy, and improve American competitiveness is by investing in our people — especially their educations.

You've probably seen the reports. American students rank low on international standards of educational performance. Too many of ours schools are failing. Too few young people who are qualified for college or post-secondary education have the opportunity.

I'm not one of those who thinks the only way to fix what's wrong with American education is to throw more money at it. We also need to do it much better. Teacher performance has to be squarely on the table. We should experiment with vouchers whose worth is inversely related to family income. Universities have to tame their budgets, especially for student amenities that have nothing to do with education.

But considering the increases in our population of young people and their educational needs, and the challenges posed by the new global economy, more resources are surely needed.

Here's another reason why the $858 billion tax bill — including a continuation of the Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans and a dramatic drop in their estate taxes — is so dangerous. By further widening the federal budget deficit, it invites even more budget cuts in education, including early-childhood and post-secondary. Pell Grants that allow young people from poor families to attend college are already on the chopping block.

Less visible are cuts the states are already making in their schools' budgets. Because these cuts are at the state level they've been under the national radar screen, but viewed as a whole they seriously threaten the nation's future.

Here's a summary:

• Arizona has eliminated preschool for 4,328 children, funding for schools to provide additional support to disadvantaged children from preschool to third grade, aid to charter schools, and funding for books, computers, and other classroom supplies. The state also halved funding for kindergarten, leaving school districts and parents to shoulder the cost of keeping their children in school beyond a half-day schedule.

• California has reduced K-12 aid to local school districts by billions of dollars and is cutting a variety of programs, including adult literacy instruction and help for high-needs students.

• Colorado has reduced public school spending in FY 2011 by $260 million, nearly a 5 percent decline from the previous year. The cut amounts to more than $400 per student.

• Georgia has cut state funding for K-12 education for FY 2011 by $403 million or 5.5 percent relative to FY 2010 levels. The cut has led the state's board of education to exempt local school districts from class size requirements to reduce costs.

• Hawaii shortened the 2009-10 school year by 17 days and furloughed teachers for those days.

• Illinois has cut school education funding by $241 million or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. Cuts include a significant reduction in funding for student transportation and the elimination of a grant program intended to improve the reading and study skills of at-risk students from kindergarten through the 6th grade.

• Maryland has cut professional development for principals and educators, as well as health clinics, gifted and talented summer centers, and math and science initiatives.

• Michigan has cut its FY 2010 school aid budget by $382 million, resulting in a $165 per-pupil spending reduction.

• Over the course of FY10, Mississippi cut by 7.2 percent funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a program established to bring per-pupil K-12 spending up to adequate levels in every district.

• Massachusetts has cut state education aid by $115.6 million, or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. It also made a $4.6 million, or 16 percent cut relative to FY 2010 levels to funding for early intervention services, which help special-needs children develop appropriately and be ready for school.

• Missouri is cutting its funding for K-12 transportation by 46 percent. The cut in funding likely will lead to longer bus rides and the elimination of routes for some of the 565,000 students who rely on the school bus system.

• New Jersey has cut funding for afterschool programs aimed to enhance student achievement and keep students safe between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. The cut will likely cause more than 11,000 students to lose access to the programs and 1,100 staff workers to lose their jobs.

• North Carolina cut by 21 percent funding for a program targeted at small schools in low-income areas and with a high need for social workers and nurses. As a result, 20 schools will be left without a social worker or nurse. The state also temporarily eliminated funding for teacher mentoring.

• Rhode Island cut state aid for K-12 education and reduced the number of children who can be served by Head Start and similar services.

• Virginia's $700 million in cuts for the coming biennium include the state's share of an array of school district operating and capital expenses and funding for class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade. In addition, a $500 million reduction in state funding for some 13,000 support staff such as janitors, school nurses, and school psychologists from last year's budget was made permanent.

• Washington suspended a program to reduce class sizes and provide professional development for teachers; the state also reduced funding for maintaining 4th grade student-to-staff-ratios by $30 million.

• State education grants to school districts and education programs have also been cut in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah.

Meanwhile, at least 43 states have implemented cuts to public colleges and universities and/or made large increases in college tuition to make up for insufficient state funding.

• Alabama's fiscal year 2011 cuts to higher education have led to 2010-11 tuition hikes that range from 8 percent to 23 percent, depending on the institution.

• Arizona's Board of Regents approved in-state undergraduate tuition increases of between 9 and 20 percent as well as fee increases at the state's three public universities. Additionally, the three state universities must implement a 2.75 percent reduction in state-funded salary spending and plan to do so through a variety of actions, such as academic reorganization, layoffs, furloughs, position eliminations, hiring fewer tenure-eligible faculty, and higher teaching workloads.

• The University of California has increased tuition by 32 percent and reduced freshman enrollment by 2,300 students; the California State University system cut enrollment by 40,000 students.

• Colorado funding for higher education was reduced by $62 million from FY 2010 and this has led to cutbacks at the state's institutions. The University of Colorado system will lay off 79 employees in FY 2011 and has increased employee workloads and required higher employee contributions to health and retirement benefits.

• Florida's 11 public universities will raise tuition by 15 percent for the 2010-11 academic year. This tuition hike, combined with a similar increase in 2009-10, results in a total two-year increase of 32 percent.

• Georgia has cut state funding for public higher education for FY2011 by $151 million, or 7 percent. As a result, undergraduate tuition for the fall 2010 semester at Georgia's four public research universities (Georgia State, Georgia Tech, the Medical College of Georgia, and the University of Georgia) will increase by $500 per semester, or 16 percent. Community college tuition will increase by $50 per semester.

• The University of Idaho has responded to budget cuts by imposing furlough days on 2,600 of its employees statewide. Furloughs will range from 4 hours to 40 hours depending on pay level.

• Indiana's cuts to higher education have caused Indiana State University to plan to lay off 89 staff.

• Michigan has reduced student financial aid by $135 million (over 61 percent), including decreases of 50 percent in competitive scholarships and 44 percent in tuition grants, as well as elimination of nursing scholarships, work-study, the Part-Time Independent Student Program, Michigan Education Opportunity Grants, and the Michigan Promise Scholarships.

• In Minnesota, as a result of higher education funding cuts, approximately 9,400 students will lose their state financial aid grants entirely, and the remaining state financial aid recipients will see their grants cut by 19 percent.

• Missouri's fiscal year 2011 budget reduces by 60 percent funding for the state's only need-based financial aid program, which helps 42,000 students access higher education. This cut was partially restored with other scholarship money, but will still result in a cut of at least 24 percent to need-based aid.

• New Mexico has eliminated over 80 percent of support to the College Affordability Endowment Fund, which provides need-based scholarships to 2,366 students who do not qualify for other state grants or scholarships.

• New York's state university system has increased resident undergraduate tuition by 14 percent beginning with the spring 2009 semester.

• In North Carolina, University of North Carolina students will see their tuition rise by $750 in the 2010-2011 school year and community college students will see their tuition increase by $200 due to fiscal year 2011 reductions in state higher education spending.

• South Dakota's fiscal year 2011 budget cuts state support for public universities by $6.5 million and as a result the Board of Regents has increased university tuition by 4.6 percent and cut university programs by $4.4 million.

• Texas has instituted a 5 percent across-the-board budget cut that reduced higher education funding by $73 million.

• Virginia's community colleges implemented a tuition increase during the spring 2010 semester.

• Washington has reduced state funding for the University of Washington by 26 percent for the current biennium. Washington State University is increasing tuition by almost 30 percent over two years. In its supplemental budget, the state cut 6 percent more from direct aid to the state's six public universities and 34 community colleges, which will lead to further tuition increases, administrative cuts, furloughs, layoffs, and other cuts. The state also cut support for college work-study by nearly one-third and suspended funding for a number of its financial aid programs.

• Other states that are cutting higher education operating funding and financial aid include Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Have we gone collectively out of our minds? Our young people - their capacities to think, understand, investigate, and innovate - are America's future. In the name of fiscal prudence we're endangering that future.

In January, Republicans take over the House and its appropriations committees. What would it take for them to reinstitute counter-cyclical revenue sharing that would help the states restore some or all funding for education? Can you imagine the White House and Senate Dems putting this at the top of their 2011 agenda? Is it possible this could be a bi-partisan effort?

Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on and iTunes.


December 25, 2010 at 6:08 PM

By: Jay Rehak

Creating more have nots

Astounding that Mr. Reich can correctly point out the facts (funding for education is being undercut by short sighted tax breaks for the wealthy) and still come to the wrong conclusion.

Vouchers, like charter programs, are nothing more than an attempt to further shift our collective government treasury to private entities. In reality, vouchers will do nothing to solve the inequity in public education. Quality private schools cost far more than any voucher will ever be able to provide. The poor will not benefit by such a scheme, but those wealthy enough to be currently enrolled in private schools may "qualify" for vouchers, and benefit from such a program. The rich will get richer still.

In the end, all voucher programs do is create more economic distress for the states that are foolish enough to allow them. Vouchers drain resources from public education period.

Funding for public education will continue to suffer with the result being the creation of more have nots in a society that already has far too many people who "have not."

Finally, whether we like to admit it or not, it is impossible as a society to wage two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and not have negative financial consequences at home. Until the cost of those wars are regularly and routinely included in "economists" essays, writers such as Mr. Reich are being disingenuous at best.

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