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November 2, 2006

Jacob Stockinger: A 'yes' vote for schools ensures a better future

This is one of the best things I read recently on support for public education.


Jacob Stockinger: A 'yes' vote for schools ensures a better future
By Jacob Stockinger
There is a lot I don't know about my parents. But I do know this: They would never have voted no on a school referendum.

They grew up in the Depression, then worked and fought their ways through World War II.

They saw how the GI Bill revolutionized American society and ushered in the postwar economic boom. They knew the value of education.

If the schools said they needed something - more staff, another building, more books - then they got it.

I am absolutely sure my parents and their generation thought there was no better way to spend money than on schools. Schools meant jobs, of course - better jobs and better-paying jobs. But schools also meant better-educated children, smart children. And schools were the great equalizer that meant upward social mobility and held a community together. Schools guaranteed a future: Good schools, good future. Bad schools, bad future.

Schools were the linchpin, the axis of American society. That's the same reason why they would never have questioned a teacher's judgment over one of their own children's complaints. Teachers were always right because they were the teachers.

And the reason I can still remember the name of the local superintendent of schools - Dr. Bruce Hulbert - was because my parents spoke of him with awe and respect as a man who was not looking to steal from their checking account but instead to help their children.

It's probably the same reason I can recall so many of my teachers' names - Mrs. Cuneo, in whose second-grade class I took part in the Salk polio vaccine trials, and Mr. Firestone, my sixth-grade teacher who made me memorize the multiplication tables and then sing in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance." And so on right though high school and undergraduate school and graduate school.

I find myself thinking of my parents now, wondering what they would do in the current atmosphere of criticism and even hostility directed at the schools.

They were middle-class, not wealthy, so when they paid taxes, it was not always happily but it was always with gratitude. They believed that paying taxes was a patriotic duty, the price you paid for living in a privileged, free and - in those days - increasingly egalitarian society.

Taxes were the cement that held us together, the concrete expression of the social contract. Taxes, they felt, were a form of insurance that guaranteed life would get better for everyone, especially for their own children.

But they knew value, and they knew that no dollar buys more value than a dollar you spend on educating a child.

Of course, times have changed.

Things are more expensive. And we have forgotten what life was really like - for the poor, for the elderly, for ethnic minorities, for the disabled - when we had the small government and low taxes that today's Republicans have bamboozled people into thinking were the good old days. My parents, and their parents, knew better.

But whatever fixes we need now, we should not deprive the children.

Yes, I see room for changes.

•We need to shift the burden of funding from the property tax. I think the income tax is more appropriate, along with a sales tax. And what would be wrong with just a plain old education tax?

•We need to correct the feeling that the public has been lied to. School spending keeps going up and up, but we keep seeing reports that American students have become less competitive internationally. Is someone crying wolf?

Let me suggest that a lot of the confusion has to do with bookkeeping. I would like to see the health costs for special education come from the state Department of Health and Family Services budget. I would like to see how much money goes for actual curriculum and instruction. Call it truth in spending.

Mind you, I am not suggesting that special education is wrong or too expensive. It is important for us to provide it. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^But we should have a better idea of just how much everything costs and whether some areas benefit because others are shortchanged.

•We need to stop lobbying groups like the Wisconsin Millionaires Club - I'm sorry, I mean Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce - from luring money away from other social programs for socialized business disguised as free market capitalism.

•We need to become prouder of paying taxes because they are, despite some instances of waste or mismanagement, generally very good deals. If you want Mississippi taxes, are you really ready for Mississippi schools and Mississippi health care and Mississippi arts?

•We need to make Washington pay its fair share of education costs. If we can fight wars as a nation, we can educate children as a nation.

So for the sake of myself, my parents and the children, I will vote yes on the Nov. 7 referendum for Madison's schools. I urge you to do the same.

Jacob Stockinger is the culture desk editor of The Capital Times. E-mail:
Published: November 1, 2006

Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at November 2, 2006 7:40 AM
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