Opinion Columns & Blogs

Public education should be the last program targeted for budget cuts

When talking about the future and prosperity of America amid one of the worst recessions our nation has ever seen, one cannot help but mention the state of our public education system. Any cuts to public education have a far-reaching ripple effect, much more than one can see at first glance.

Cutting funding to sports or other after-school activities could be detrimental to student learning. These after-school activities give students an extra couple of hours with an authority figure to give them guidance and direction, whether it’s because their parents are busy with work or absent altogether from their lives. It gives students the opportunity to maintain discipline after-school hours until they develop their maturity and no longer require guidance to do the right thing.

Earlier in American history, before the civil rights movement, the disparity in education could be seen as a racial issue as white students were given access to newer schools, newer textbooks etc. Their black counterparts received the hand-me-downs during segregation and Jim Crowe era.

The disparity can be seen as more of a class issue today. If you come from a city with a strong tax base, you are going to get more qualified teachers, better equipment and facilities. Even if you are wealthy and in a poor district, you can send your child to private school, whereas the poor do not have that luxury. This would be indicative of a never-ending cycle where the rich stay rich and the poor remain poor.

Here is an extreme example: In Washington D.C., there is a high school that has enrolled over 60,000 students and more than 30,000 have dropped out. What do you suppose the effects of 30,000 uneducated 15- to 27-year-olds will have on a concentrated area of a city that only knows the culture of gangs and drugs?

Then there is this argument: “I don’t have a child nor do I know anyone with children in school, so why should I have to pay taxes for public education?”

The reality is that we are all affected by the actions of today’s students as they are our future leaders and members of society. If they fail, our future fails; it is in our best interest for them to succeed.

Nationally, a study was conducted in 2006 for the graduation rates in Baltimore and New York City. The results were disturbing: Both cities were below 40 percent. This means that more than six in 10 students did not graduate high school from those areas.

This statistic has very serious implications for today. The individuals who have dropped out are now in their early 20s and members of society without a high school diploma in a shaky economy.

The attitude seems to be that once these individuals drop out of school, they are no longer the state’s problem since they exist outside of the system and no longer use the resources of publicly funded education.

However, the reality is that they remain in society without any skills or knowledge for gainful employment which leaves them with what choice?

What was once a problem in our education system is now a strain in funding for social services, law enforcement, correctional facilities and overall safety of society in these cities. It started with a broken public education system.

The public education system in a community can be made or broken by its leaders. We look to them to set an example of work ethic, skill, professionalism as well as integrity.

When the success of our students and consequently our future hinges on the state of our public education system, we can ill-afford poor leadership and cuts to our schools. Education should be the last item on the “cut” list when lawmakers adopt a new budget for 2011-13.

Chris Chau, a graduate of the University of Washington, is an assistant records officer with the Employment Security Department. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, he can be reached at sideoutchau@gmail.com.