Fun with Furlough

Today I took my first day of furlough. It was pleasant - I visited with my brother, ran some errands, and am now sipping a Rum & Pepsi to blog. And it's not even 5:00 yet!

I've spent a greater part of this last week wondering why Arizona's legislature doesn't value education, and why this seems to be a Republican thing. I know that there are Republicans that think educating our children is important, but the Party Majority seems to think it shouldn't be a priority. I really can't understand this, and believe me, I've tried. Any of my Republican friends feel like trying to educate me? Or would I need to pay for a private consultation? (Joke, joke...well, sort of).

I realize that the budget cuts need to come from someplace, but I just believe it should be spread around a little differently. Don't cripple education, don't close the libraries, don't discontinue environmental programs. It seems to me that, despite a huge deficit, we should be protecting our future, not destroying it.

I should probably cut down on my news intake - it's hard not to be drawn in to the overall recession drama. Chris and I are doing just fine, and will continue to be fine - we've always lived well within our means. If I read the Arizona Republic's tips for saving money, it wouldn't be much help anyway - I already don't pay for anything on that list. Okay, I do go out to eat on occasion - but seriously? The people who are hurting the most didn't have $100/week to spend on a cleaning service in the first place.

Luckily, I borrowed some good science fiction (Hyperion by Dan Simmons) from my brother to replace my news reading. I think some definite escapism is in order, and I foresee a book binge in 2009.


  1. I'm not a Republican, and I don't live in Arizona, but I have been accused of not valuing education because I don't believe in public support of it. But the reason why is that I genuinely DO care about kids, and want them to succeed. The public school system in our country is a mess, and at the risk of over-simplifying the problem, it's because it has no incentive to do well. If a private school has failing students, high student:teacher ratios, and asbestos, parents pull their children -- and their money -- out, and the school fails. In our public school system today, the more a school fails, the more money it gets, so it continues to exist while not serving our kids.

    A shift towards private, accountable schools is what's needed. Right now in most states 100% of property tax revenue (with an average property tax rate of 1% of the property value per year) goes towards public education. If we eliminated/reduced that tax, parents would have more money to send their kids to private school (the cost of which would be significantly lowered due to competition), and everyone would also have more money to donate for scholarship funds for kids who couldn't afford to attend. Given the staggering $ amounts currently donated to schools today, there's no reason to believe that number wouldn't go up if less money was forcibly taken from people.

  2. I would not be the person to educate you since am not 1) Republican and 2) don't understand this either. And about the Republic's tips about the cleaning service: not only do people who are hurting don't have money to spend on that in the first place, but many people would not be able to pay someone to clean for them. (For ethical and other issues like how they were raised and who they were raised by.)

    And yeah, I don't hike or do park things all that much. But don't cut money to the parks.

  3. And I checked the list. I don't do most of those things either. I did cancel my gym membership this year because I only went once last year. And I figured that if I wasn't going, there was a reason. I don't miss it. I would like to do more exercise, but am waiting until I find one that I would actually like. And yes, I do eat out, but I'm sensing a dinner at Nello's is probably not what they're talking about here.

    But facials and pedicures? Yeah right.

  4. Hope you enjoyed your day! Let me know how Book Binge 2009 goes. I am always on the lookout for some recommendations.

  5. Marina - I appreciate your comment, but I fear you underestimate the economic divide that exists in this country. No matter how cheap education is, there are people who won't be able to afford it. When it comes to choosing between food and a place to live and education, guess what gets cut. You say that without property taxes, people would be able to afford private schools, which would be cheap. That would not be the case. Many people have a hard time affording public education as it is NOW - they can't provide lunch for their children, they can't afford extracurricular fees, or field trip fees, or textbook fees. A divide already exists in FREE school!

    It's easy to say there will be scholarships and vouchers and grants available, but how will these be administered? Who will determine who qualifies? How much paperwork will be involved? Someone will have to research to discover the scholarships available to them and how to apply for them, and for many people, that is just not an option: they may not have the time, the education to value education, or even just the knowledge that help is available.

    I can guarantee you that if we had privatized education in this country, no matter how cheap it was, I would not have been able to attend school. This will only widen the economic divide, as the rich can pay to send their children to the best schools, and the poor are left to wallow in whatever charitable education is left to them - and each generation widens the gap.

    I'm not saying that our education system is perfect - I think there are improvements that can be made. But I believe 2 things: education can not succeed as a capitalist enterprise because it cannot make money, the profit is all intangible. Secondly, the education of our children is a societal obligation for the good of society as a whole, not just a burden for their parents to bear. I say this as someone who does not, and does not intend to, have children.

  6. You say Furlough. I hear "Fun time to play games with me!" Okay, it is fun free time for you but I will admit that is what my brain said.

    And wow, I love reading your response to the questions raised about education. So detailed and thought provoking. I like reading both because it raises questions. I agree with Grumpator about the need for public schools and I agree with Marina that it is a mess.

  7. kimkipling, I will totally give you a call on my next furlough day!

  8. I think the main problem is with the framing of the question: "Why don't Republicans care about education?" How can anyone answer that in a fair way? Someone else might as well as the question, "Why don't Democrats care about low income children?" when what they're really asking is "Why don't many Democrats support school vouchers?" I don't know what's going on in the AZ school system right now, but it sounds like what you're really asking is, "Why are Republicans calling for budget cuts and those cuts seem to inevitably come out of education?" Not being familiar with what's going on in your area, that's not a question I can answer, but it's at least a fair question: one of policy rather than judgment. It's hard to see someone else's viewpoint if you're starting from a negative judgment call.

    You and I come from the same socio-economic background (hell, pratically the same neighborhood) and I agree that without public education, I probably would have been stuck with my parents' attempts to teach me what I ought to know. Now, they're pretty smart people, but I don't think I've would have taken calculus there, eh? So I'm not libertarian enough to think that the school system ought to be privatized. But I do think acting more like a capitalist venture could improve schools far more than spending more money on them. Two big impediments to improvement: teacher's unions and tenure. More money thrown at schools that don't have the structure or the teachers to use that money is money wasted. The new D.C. superintendent is trying a new pay structure in her schools to see if it leads to actual improvement: teachers can choose between a tenure track position with a steadily, but slow rising salary over the years, or they can opt out of tenure, get an ok, but not great salary with the possibility of large bonuses based on classroom performance. Not surprisingly, the D.C. teacher's union is against this. But many of the young, still energetic teachers just starting out are excited for the new structure. They know it makes it easier for the school to fire them, but they can also make far above their possible salary in a tenure track position. It gives them an incentive to achieve something.

    I think very often this debate is framed as "More money = good" while "Less money = bad". But throwing money into a poorly structured environment is as good as just burning it (same problem with much of the aid to Africa which ends up in the hands of corrupt government officials and not invested in the type of business-creation opportunities ordinary Africans need and can use to improve their own lives). What is the incentive of a school that is already doing poorly with the resources it has to do better with more resources? Nothing. I think if we are going to throw more money at the school system, we need to have a better accountability structure for ensuring that money gets used in a responsible way.

  9. Considering the last few years, it seems pretty clear that the "free market" style doesn't work.

    Privatization and deregulation of the airlines in the 80s ended up with people not having much of a choice in flying (who in the business, academic, government, etc. world can go without flying at least once or twice a year for job purposes?). So, everybody still flies, but now nobody is getting decent service.

    Deregulation of the banking system has led to the ongoing collapse of our economy.

    Unfunded mandates such as the "No Child Left Behind" act have put enormous strain on an already struggling education system. Now the schools, teachers, and administrators are "held accountable" to silly and poorly thought-out standards with no funding to improve, all the while still trying to do the right thing for their students. Today, I received a letter from my child's teacher begging for xerox paper, pencils, glue, and markers so she could continue to provide a decent education for my son and the 24 other children in her class.

    The "free market" as perfected in the 80s by the Reaganomics crowd doesn't work. It doesn't work in business, it doesn't work in banking, it doesn't work for the environment, and it certainly doesn't work in education.

    The reason the school system in our country is in such terrible shape isn't that it's public.

    It's because every two to four years the people in charge of the money change and new requirements with less funding are placed on the schools.

    It's because so many people think that they can "hold the teachers accountable" without giving anything to those teachers that are performing.

    It's because education isn't actually valued in this country; imaging running for office admitting that you think people who don't know how or can't be bothered to pronounce nuclear correctly are idiots.

    It's because people think that science and education are anti-religion. .

    It's because teachers are treated as babysitters but are paid much worse. How much would a babysitter make if they had 25 children for six hours per day, five days per week, 36 weeks per year? I pay around $10/hour to my babysitter. That's $250/hour for 25 children, $1500/day, $7500/week, $270,000/year for 36 weeks. Even $5/hour/child is much, much better than what the average elementary school teacher makes, and they're the ones providing for the future of this country. Don't tell me they're paid too much for what they do. Right now, the median income for a kindergarten teacher is around $50,000/year. They often spend their own money on supplies, work more than the six hours that the students are in class, and often end up babysitting instead of teaching.

    It's because parents aren't more involved in their children's education. And bitching out the teacher because your student isn't passing is not being involved.

    I could go on, but I think it's clear that the failure of our schools has nothing to do with their being publicly funded except when that "funding" is held hostage to unrealistic and meaningless standards.

    Also, neither tenure nor unions are impediments to education in this country improving.

    Tenure is a system designed to protect a professor from unjust termination. It's meant to allow researchers, teachers, etc. leeway in what and how they teach without fear of reprisal from administrators who disagree with them. There is no guarantee of life-time employment. It is not a do-whatever-the-hell-you-want-without-consequence system.

    I was going to go into this some more, but it's almost certainly a waste of time, and I'm done ranting.

  10. Mara, you're right that I didn't frame the question very well. I'm frustrated that most of the Republicans that I see in power do not view education as a priority. I understand that cuts need to be made somewhere, but in Arizona, education has taken the largest hit. We have our state budget committee chairmen saying that all-day kindergarten is babysitting, and that our university presidents are a bunch of alarmist whiners.

    I know that my Republican friends DO value education - which is why I just don't understand the philosophy that is in power, and why I asked the question. I apologize that it came out so negatively - being furloughed is probably not a good excuse. :-)

    I completely agree with Moses on the reasons education is in the dire situation it is - it's such a combination of problems. While throwing money at it will not solve it, CUTTING money from a system that has always been underfunded will certainly not help.


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