Today, only two days after the historic March for Our Lives in Washington, DC and other communities across the nation, there's a report that three hard-right governors who have bragged about slashing funding for education have suddenly seen the light and are reversing course.
Elections are coming and they apparently realize that cutting education might not be such a great idea. Amazing how they have suddenly got the "support our schools" religion.
I'm certain that the student protests about guns and school safety that are sweeping the nation are totally unrelated to this development. But maybe not. After all, millions of these kids will be voting for the first time in November and my guess is they'll be more than a little bit interested in who is supporting education and who is not.
According to this Washington Post article, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, famous for attacking unions and slashing school funding, is promising a “historic investment” in public schools as he campaigns for reelection.
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, another proud cost-cutter, is bragging about his more recent increases to school funding as he prepares to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate. Of course, Scott felt the heat from the Florida students after the Parkland shootings and signed legislation in early March that tightens gun control in several ways -- despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.
In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey, who won office on a “shrink government” platform, now boasts of his own plan for more school money, backed by a $1 million advertising campaign promoting the increases from supportive state businesses.
The Post's article points out that "The backlash that boiled over into a teacher walkout in West Virginia is playing out in several states, as teachers and the public demand more money after years of tight budgets and a Republican focus on tax cuts. That has forced a change in strategy, even as the legislators continue to resist calls for new taxes."
In West Virginia, it took a lengthy teacher walkout to convince the state legislature to find money for a 5 percent pay hike for teachers.
According to The Post, the schools in all of these states have yet to get back to the inflation-adjusted evels of per-pupil spending prior to the 2008 recession, and school administrators say teacher quality and student results have suffered.
Certainly, it shouldn't take a genius to figure that out. And yet we hear our politicians, including those right-wing cost-cutters, say how "our youth are our future." That, indeed, is true. So why is it that teachers' pay, in many, many states, is so paltry? Why are teachers expected to purchase their own supplies for their classrooms? Why, in some states, are teachers simply giving up and leaving the profession?
The Post's article says that in Oklahoma, where tax breaks and declining oil prices have sapped state revenue, the number of teachers has dropped by 700 over four years, despite a 15,000 increase in student enrollment. More than 2,000 classes — in foreign language, art, music and consumer science — have been canceled.
This has got to stop. If tough election campaigns will do the job, so be it. Education should be among the very last programs to be cut when communities are strapped for cash.
Remember, politicians, what you are so fond of saying. "Our young people are our future."