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California State Government June 6, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Public Education or War

By Todd "Todd Chretien" Chretien

Candidate for United States Senator; Green Party

This information is provided by the candidate
What would happen if we switched the Department of Education's budget with the Pentagon buget?
Guns or Butter 101

Todd Chretien 4/3/06

The US government spent $2.25 trillion last year, not counting Social Security. This pile of dollar bills could be laid out end to end and stretch from the earth to the sun and back and still have enough left over to get to Mars. According to the War Resisters League, about half of this eye-popping sum goes to military spending. The League arrives at this figure by adding the official Pentagon budget for 2006 ($450 billion) plus the "supplemental" funds Congress granted Bush to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq ($120 billion) plus the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons maintenance and development costs ($17 billion) plus Veterans' benefits ($76 billion) plus the portion of the federal debt interest payments that were accrued from past military spending (at least $275 billion) plus another ten or twenty billion from various federal departments that go towards military costs. Lest you imagine that American rank and file soldiers and sailors are rolling in the dough, keep in mind that only $110 billion of military spending goes to salaries and only $76 billion for VA benefits. In fact, starting pay for an Army private is about $16,000 per year.

By way of comparison, China spend $35 billion on its military last year. Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, US military spending has increased by over 50%. By-and-large, this obscene military budget inflation has been a bi-partisan effort, with the parties squabbling over this or that high-tech system and this or that base closure.

Of course, the people of Iraq are suffering most acutely from the American government's militarism, but working class people here in the United States are bearing the costs as well. Over the past few years the Bush administration and Congress have cut billions of dollars in social spending, hitting the poorest people in our society the hardest. These cuts have done real and lasting damage to millions of people's lives. Yet, to understand the real structural role of the federal budget in maintaining inequality in American society, you have to step back from the budget cuts and look at the overall budget itself.

There is no better way to understand the bi-partisan consensus in Washington than to compare the endless rhetoric of both parties about "putting education first" with the actual amount they are willing to spend on it.

Depending on how exactly you count it, federal budgets are notoriously difficult to understand because of all the small print, the US Department of Education's (DoE) budget is around $70 billion. This has remained relatively stable over the last 10 years, going up and down by 10% per year. The DoE estimates that total education spending in the United States is around $909 billion dollars (K-12 and college, public and private), most of it funded at the state and local level. These figures tell you two things: first, the federal government doesn't really care about education at all, as it funds less than 10% of it; and, two, military spending exceeds ALL spending on education at ALL levels. So the next time your hear a politician talking about education keep these figures in mind.

Of course, the fact that the federal government refuses to take responsibility for funding public education means that local school districts are left to survive off local property taxes, which is one of the main reasons for the dramatic inequality between schools. Districts with high property taxes (upper middle class and rich counties) do fine, while districts with low property taxes (working class suburbs, inner cities, rural areas) get, to paraphrase Bush, left behind.

The easiest way to redress inequality in our schools would be for the Department of Education to exchange budgets with the Department of Defense. While this might be considered "unrealistic" let's take a moment to look at the potential benefits before we dismiss it out of hand.

As for the Pentagon, it would have to get by on $70 billion a year, which would mean spending only twice as much as China. But this would still leave the United States with the largest military budget in the world. Of course, this would require bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and closing hundreds of overseas military bases.

As for the DoE, let's just give it the $450 billion figure the Pentagon lists as it's official budget plus the $100 billion used to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. Right away you can see the impact, more than a 50% increase in the amount our county spends on education. What could we do with that money? Here's a proposed budget (amendments are welcome):

$75 billion: existing DoE budget $75 billion: hire 1.5 million new teachers at $50,000 per year in salary and benefits $200 billion: build 10,000 new schools at $20 million a piece $250 billion: double the number of students receiving Pell Grants to 10 million and double maximum grant to $10,000

What do these figures mean in human terms?

Hiring 1.5 million teachers would roughly double the number of public school teachers in America and allow us to cut class sizes in half. We could recruit and train teachers from the poorest communities with the promise of a good paying union job in exchange for teaching close to home. We could radically reduce unemployment and give every laid off defense worker a good paying job in construction or education by embarking on a nationwide school building plan. Instead of gutting bi-lingual education, we could teach every kid in the country to speak two or three languages and instead of slashing art and music, we could begin a public school based renaissance. And we could make public college or technical school free for all graduating seniors, thereby greatly expanding the number of students who see a reason to graduate from high school and the virtual elimination of student debt.

Imagine the dramatic changes flooding our communities with education would bring. A more hopeful youth, less crime, a spectacular increase in scientific interest and the arts, combating institutional racism and segregation, and showing the world that our country values children over military aggression.

Of course, these huge benefits will force some of us to sacrifice. The boards of Halliburton and Bechtel will have to tighten their belts and the shareholders in Northrop Grumman will have to go without their second summer homes.

What's the point of this flight of fancy? We have grown so accustomed to the bi-partisan blather about "security" and "no child left behind" that we can lose sight of how the system is actively robbing us and our children. Realizing what's at stake can be the first step towards joining the struggle. Let's be clear, our country is messed up. Tinkering around the edges is not enough. To get the kind of changes that will actually begin to improve our lives, it is not enough to elect this or that Democrat to replace this or that Republican.

To force any genuine change in the government's budget priorities will require a huge social force, like the beginnings of the one we witnessed in Los Angeles and Chicago and other cities when millions of immigrants and their supporters took to the streets. This has always been true in American history, from the Revolution against British colonialism to the abolitionist movement to end slavery to the fight for industrial unionism in the 1930's to the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960's. But this time around our social movements must have their own political party or parties that aim to help strengthen and coordinate our struggle, not co-opt and derail it as the Democratic party has traditionally done. Creating that genuine party of the people is perhaps the hardest challenge of all, but knowing what we could do with all the wealth the working people of this country have created should be a good enough incentive to give it a try.

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ca/state Created from information supplied by the candidate: April 11, 2006 15:54
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