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A Democratic Country Should Put Public Education Before Corporate Profits

(Photo: cvogle)

This is the first in a weekly series of op-eds from Salvatore Babones entitled “Economy and Society.”

The headlines this summer are full of gloom and doom about the upcoming 2012-2013 school year.

Schools are closing. Teachers are being laid off. State and local governments are cutting like crazy and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin has released a report warning about the looming sequestration of the federal education budget.

It shouldn’t be like this. According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the economy is growing – and has been since July 2009. The National Bureau of Economic Research declared an end to the recession three years ago. We’re now in “recovery.”

In fact, the average rate of growth in real gross domestic product (total US economic output adjusted for inflation) over the past three years has been 2.2 percent per year. That’s not great, but it’s good enough. So, why all the cuts?

To read more articles by Salvatore Babones and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

With the economy growing 2.2 percent per year, there’s no reason we can’t increase school budgets by 2.2 percent per year. If society’s total resources were distributed the same now as they was in the recession school year of 2008-2009, education budgets would be 6.6 percent higher now than they were then. And that’s in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Instead, school budgets have been slashed in each of the last three school years and they’re on track to be slashed again for 2012-2013.

Where has the money gone? In two words: corporate profits.

Last week, the Bureau of Economic analysis released revised estimates for corporate profits in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The news was bad: corporate profits in every year were lower than originally thought, as reported major news outlets like Reuters. Shed a tear for corporate America.

As it turns out, after-tax corporate profits rose by “only” 14.2 percent in 2009, 23.9 percent in 2010 and 8.9 percent in 2011.

There’s your education budget right there.

Why are federal, state and local governments cutting budgets when the economy is growing? The state and local governments have a good excuse: they can’t easily tax the corporate profits and executive bonuses that are easily shifted outside their jurisdictions.

The federal government has no excuse. The federal government can and should tax corporations and high-income individuals to support public education nationwide.

During the recession the federal government made up state and local budget shortfalls with temporary stimulus money. This funding prevented major cuts to public education during the recession itself, according to a report from the Center on Education Policy. Local education employment fell by only 26,000 jobs in the 2008-2009 recession school year.

Those modest cuts came on the back of a 172,000 increase in local education jobs in 2007-2008.

Now that the economy is expanding, local education employment should be expanding, too. The federal government has the power, reach and resources to tax the growing sectors of the economy in order to provide more resources for local education.

The compound growth in corporate profits has been 54.1 percent since the end of the recession. Executive salaries have grown at a similar pace. Even Forbes magazine admits that “executive compensation will only fuel the outrage over corporate greed.”

The economy is growing. The money is there. It’s our democratic choice: corporate profits or public schools. It’s up to us.

It’s up to you. You can support the education funding program of the National Education Association or join the legislative action campaign of the American Federation of Teachers. You don’t have to be a professional educator – or even a parent – to help promote America’s public schools.