Want jobs and prosperity? Fund education.

150 150 Max Zimbert

Education is among the single biggest long-term indicators of economic prosperity. The smarter we are, the better we are, so it goes.

Gov. Jerry Brown hopes otherwise.

Time and again quality K-12 education– with robust academic standards– means greater earnings for the individual, fairer income distribution for the community, and sustainable economic growth for the region.

This year though, California’s leaders have chosen to follow the 40-year precedent where funding for local schools is, at best, in flux.

To be fair, education cuts are not all Brown’s fault.

California bean counters undersold tax revenue expectations by $2.2 billion and overspent by another $2.6 billion. But the Brown administration is using school spending as to push a $4 billion tax-raising ballot measure.

It’s a proposal discussed elsewhere but, no matter the outcome, thousands of rural California children will have heart-breaking difficulty getting to school when state-subsidized bus programs end this upcoming academic year.

The tax-hike-as-education-policy actually polls well, but it’s so tenuous that the consternation in heavily Democratic suburban utopias like Burbank is palpable. The superintendent in that high performing district says, very carefully, there’s a darkness on the edge of town.

Like his predecessors, Brown’s chosen an education plan that’s consistently inconsistent, and no amount of categorial program reforms, block grants and student attendance calculations– the elements in Brown’s plan that deserve enthusiastic kudos— can change that. 

The unintended effect of Brown’s plan is another downgrade to our K-12 schools, which signals better days are not ahead. Worse, the policy flies contrary to facts that would bring warring legislators together.

Short term education spending provides an immediate flurry of shovel-ready construction jobs (.pdf). In the medium term, robust K-12 funding enables digital classroom elements and technology needed to reverse the dearth of highly sophisticated workers who are in demand now and will be years from now.

Education spending is by no means a perfect remedy to our 11.1 percent unemployment rate, but even the most ardent Brown critic agrees on the merits. Invest in education as a down payment now, and reap economic growth immediately and beyond.

As legislators prepare to trade horses and lard up policy with political giveaways and loopholes this season, it seems like education policy as a highway to economic growth may will remain an aloof and (ironically) academic solution. California will shortchange its economic future as long as school funding is plugged by half- and quarter-measures. 

Teachers say it every day: the children are our future. As it stands, we aren’t paving a very easily-travelled road for them to reailze that destiny.

Max Zimbert is a former education reporter for the Glendale News-Press


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