Friday, January 23, 2009

The End of Publicly Funded Education

I have no idea what is happening in your state, but here in Arizona, public education is screwed. When Janet Napolitano was Governor, she was able to protect education funding to a certain extent against the Republican legislature and its never-sated desire to cut education funding.

Now that Republican Jan Brewer has taken over for Napolitano (who is now Home Land Security Czar, or whatever the hell they call that position), the GOP dominated legislature has a Governor who will rubber-stamp anything they can pass. And they are thrilled at the prospect of gutting education.

Not good, as the Tucson Weekly reports:
Republican leaders followed through on their promise to focus on the state's budget crisis last week, offering a plan to trim state spending by nearly $4.9 billion over the next 18 months.

Sen. Russell Pearce and Rep. John Kavanagh, who chair the Senate and House appropriations committees, unveiled a range of options that included cuts of up to nearly a billion dollars to K-12 education, $489 million to universities, $665 million to health-care programs and $310 million to welfare agencies.

The proposals reflect the state's dire economic straits as forecasters project a shortfall of $1.6 billion in the current fiscal year, and $3 billion in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

University of Arizona President Robert Shelton said the proposed university cuts would "cripple" higher education.

"The severity of the cuts proposed would only serve to prolong the recession, damage the economy further and threaten the state's future workforce," Shelton said. "The state needs to protect its universities, not dismantle them, if it has any hope for building an economy for the future."

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Al Melvin, a freshman Republican representing the Catalina foothills and Oro Valley, said his priorities included permanent cutbacks in state programs and the elimination of a $250 million property tax that was set to kick back in this year after a three-year suspension.

"From our point of view, there will be no new taxes," Melvin said. "There will be no borrowing. There will be cuts."

The University of Arizona is facing up to a 50% reduction in faculty:

The message they delivered that education is front and center to the state's future ``is going to carry a lot more weight than just my saying it,'' University of Arizona President Robert Shelton said.

Shelton said that the $103 million reduction in state support for the University of Arizona that the JLBC proposed for the remaining five months of the current budget year is equal to some 2,000 jobs, or half of the total jobs funded by the state.

Cuts to the university will have an impact on producing skilled workers for Arizona employers, and thus on the economic future of the state, Shelton said.

``If the JLBC proposal were to be accepted,'' he said, ``it would force massive layoffs, it would force the closure of departments and indeed whole colleges.''

Shelton added that it would reduce class sections and enlarge classes, delay graduation, costing students more in tuition and fees, and trigger a departure of valuable faculty and research grants.

The JLBC's report proposing the budget cuts is ``vindictive, hurtful and is more than just reducing the budget. It's punishing particularly higher education,'' said Regent Dennis DeConcini, a retired U.S. senator.

This is simply the continuation of ongoing efforts to cut public for education, especially in Arizona. While there might be some concessions made for K-12 education, my sense is that things will only get worse for higher education.

Organizations like Family Security Matters and conservative activist and author David Horowitz are opposed to the "liberal" academic atmosphere at most of America's Universities. Their GOP brothers and sisters in state government are seemingly in agreement, and one way they can limit the reach of the "liberal" academics is to make a university education too expensive for most people to purchase.

In Arizona, at least, with one of the worst public education systems in the country (we rank #50 on some lists), the end result of destroying the education system is an uneducated work force - and this in a state trying to attract high tech industries (Tucson has a plethora of call centers, but few high tech industries other than Raytheon, the military contractor).

I think what we are seeing is the beginning of the end of publicly funded education (Arizona is now calling higher education "publically assisted") at the university level. I think that within a few years, public colleges will be on their own, dependent on higher tuition rates and some other form of funding (perhaps industry will fund departments to create future employees?).

However it plays out, I think out culture will be the worse for the loss. An uneducated population is exactly what the GOP wants - study after study have shown lower education correlates with more conservative political views.

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