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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.

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A strange shift of priorities                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Jul/11/2010 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Education, Society,

I am going to venture into education again. I know, it would seem like this subject has been talked to death. I have definitely written on the subject previously. This time my concern will be more sociological in nature.

In California which is where I live, as with many states the primary source of school funding is from property taxes. When revenues fall class sizes grow and viable resources are reduced. This is not unique to California. Most public education systems across the country are funded either in whole or in part by state tax money. As state tax revenues decline the available pool of money to distribute to the various publically funded programs must also go down. There is nothing new here; economies have had up and down cycles before. Despite the “nothing new” approach, I have been bothered by the nagging feeling that there is something different this time, I just couldn’t get my arms around it.

With the help of a conversation I had a couple of days ago I have had my epiphany. I guess that it is really not an epiphany as much as a concise and pointed understanding, actually the two are one and the same. In case the individual I speak of reads this I want to clearly say the that the concept I am going to share is his, not mine…I just wish I had thought of it first as the clarity is brilliant.

What makes the impact on education different this time than other economic down turns is the priorities at the public level. For most our modern history the older generation has made sacrifices for their children. I suspect that an anthropologist would tell me that this behavior actually dates to well before modern history. So here we are in the largest economic down turn in the U.S. in 70 years and look at the choices we are making. We are preserving in home nursing for elderly and hospice patients. Additionally, programs like Medical-Cal, prescription drug assistance, the list goes on and on are being protected despite declining tax revenues.

Let’s look at this a little deeper. For most of the past 20 years California has seen a significant upturn in home sales and home values. Like so many other states, California looks to property taxes as one of the primary sources of income for the states publicly funded services. During these growth times many services were added to the state tax burden. Subsidies for in home nursing, disability services, medi-cal, prescription assistance. Many of these services are specifically intended as a benefit the older portion of our population.

Unfortunately, the money did not keep flowing. No one wants to be the one who takes services away from someone, so many of the fairly recent entitlements are being sustained during this budget crisis. So instead, all programs across the state are being cut. This ultimately means that education has been cut to funding levels similar to 1996. During these same cutbacks, many of these new programs for our aging population that did not exist prior to 1996 are being maintained, though at a reduced level.

Life is often about making tough choices. No one wants to be the one who announces that a benefit you fought for is going away, but the priority here disturbs me. Years ago I was engaged in one of those father son conversations. My father, then in his seventies was imparting a recently experienced philosophical situation to me based on a life experience. My father, with grown children and himself fully retired had recently been to the hospital. He was able to see all the specialist that he could possibly desire along with an endless battery of test. This was due primarily to his acquired financial resources after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice. On the way out of the hospital he overheard part of a conversation between a young man and a woman holding a small child. The young couple was apparently just getting started in life and did not have the resources or insurance to pay for the medical care that he needed. My father’s concern was the obvious observation that this young man with many years of potential value and contribution to his family and society was being denied all available care. Meanwhile, my father who is in his sunset years, could get virtually any medical service you could dream of. There is obviously no good answer here. I sure don’t want to imply that after you reach 70 you are disposable so that more resources are available to the young, but sometimes we do have to make tough choices. By the way, my father’s response to this situation was inspirational, maybe someday I’ll write about it.

Returning to the current theme: despite the tough choices, to my knowledge parents and grandparents historically always made sacrifices for the sake of their children. One would expect that while all programs that are tax funded would see cuts, education would proportionally see less…but this is not the case. There are some scary social questions that could be asked here. Have we become a society of selfish adults? Are the members of the “baby-boomer” generation that are now aging, that out of touch with historical social norms? Is living in the moment that much more important than planning and investing in the future and our children who will inherit that future?

I am not writing from the confines of some isolated and idealist pedestal or enclave. My household is not doing near as well now as just a couple of years ago. We have looked at all aspects of our life for ways to save. Maybe we’re old fashioned, but while all aspects of our lives have seen cutbacks, the things impacting our children directly have seen the least. If this behavior makes us/me old fashion, so be it. I am proud to open doors for others, help at charity when I can, and put the needs of my children ahead of my own.

Take a look at the state budget now as opposed to 15-20 years ago. If the shifting of resources proportionally from public education and our children, to the elderly, infirmed and prison confined does not concern you as much as it does me, then maybe I am just becoming a dinosaur.

Getting back to the earlier story, and please note that neither my father or I could be considered by virtually any stardard socialists. My father challenged me with the question of "as a society, are we distributing our limited resources in the best way for society, or in the most profitable manner available?"

As a dinosaur I suppose the one good thing is that I will get better care from the state than my children will...wow...that sure sounds selfish.

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Christopher Morely
There is only one success - to be able to spend your life in your own way.
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