Saturday, August 6, 2011

What's really important; high-speed rail or better schools? Pick one.

Charles Blow is one of the op ed. writers for The New York Times who appears on week-end editions.  This article is particularly telling, and very, very angry making.

Simply put, we are screwing our children.  We are thereby harming the long term economy of this nation more surely than if we set out intentionally to do so.  

I have often said that the most valuable natural resource of any country is its people.  While, unlike Syria or Libya, we are not shooting our people in the streets, we certainly are not making a major effort to provide basic needs (food, clothing and shelter) for millions of our children, or educating them to the best of our, and their abilities.

I have made the comparison in the past that our children, as a natural resource like petroleum in the ground, need processing in order to be functional.  Consider it a crude (oil) metaphor for what our children need and deserve; that is, the health, well-being and competence to become functional adults. We do this as parents, of course.  

However, as you can see from Charles Blow's article, we're doing a lousy job for millions of our kids.  Let me stress that none are expendable. Poor kids, immigrant kids, kids from the "lower" classes, are still our kids in this country. All kids are our kids. We not only have a moral obligation, but we should understand that it's economically smart to optimize this most powerful potential of all our resources.

This tirade has a context.  The great "winning the future" race in which we are currently engaged, and led by the Administration in Washington, is seeking "national greatness" by putting scarce dollars into the high-speed rail program. At the same time, our budgets are being slashed, including budgets that are intended to benefit our kids.

So the question becomes, if you had to choose, would you put our scarce resources into bringing our nation's young up to speed and making our educational system "competitive" with those leading countries, like Finland and Korea?  Or, is it better to let the kids fend for themselves and put our money into the high-speed rail race, which we are determined to enter, if only to catch up to other countries like France or China? In other words, if we are so enamored with races, are we even in the right one?

Almost five years ago, I predicted that California would become a state with high-speed trains and low-speed schools.  Well, we're certainly on that critical path right now. How dumb can you get?

August 5, 2011

The Decade of Lost Children

One of the greatest casualties of the great recession may well be a decade of lost children.
According to “The State of America’s Children 2011,” a report issued last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, the impact of the recession on children’s well-being has been catastrophic.

Here is just a handful of the findings:

• The number of children living in poverty has increased by four million since 2000, and the number of children who fell into poverty between 2008 and 2009 was the largest single-year increase ever recorded.

• The number of homeless children in public schools increased 41 percent between the 2006-7 and 2008-9 school years.

• In 2009, an average of 15.6 million children received food stamps monthly, a 65 percent increase over 10 years.

• A majority of children in all racial groups and 79 percent or more of black and Hispanic children in public schools cannot read or do math at grade level in the fourth, eighth or 12th grades.

• The annual cost of center-based child care for a 4-year-old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

Grim data, indeed. And there is no sign that things will get better anytime soon.

As a report issued last week by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out: “Of the 47 states with newly enacted budgets, 38 or more states are making deep, identifiable cuts in K-12 education, higher education, health care, or other key areas in their budgets for fiscal year 2012. Even as states face rising numbers of children enrolled in public schools, students enrolled in universities, and seniors eligible for services, the vast majority of states (37 of 44 states for which data are available) plan to spend less on services in 2012 than they spent in 2008 — in some cases, much less. These cuts will slow the nation’s economic recovery and undermine efforts to create jobs over the next year.”

We risk the creation of an engorged generational underclass born of a culture that has less income equality and fewer prospects for mobility than the previous generation.

It’s hard to see how we emerge from this downturn and its tumult a stronger nation if we allow vast swatches of our children to be lost. My fear is that we may not.

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