President Barack Obama has proposed a 2012-2013 budget that is, at best, politically pragmatic. Responding to the Republican sway in congress, he has decided to impose a set of his own cuts, anticipating those his opponents might offer. Their response is predictable. The Obama cuts are not deep enough; they do not go far enough. And I think they are just too much.
In other words, President Obama has been forced to take the knife to programs he supports, and he chose to do so to hold another set of programs harmless. He would cut community service programs, but he'd hold firm on education. In yielding to the new Republican majority, he has also reminded us that education is a priority for him, and that he will not cut the plethora of educational programs that buttress his visison.
Still, it is disturbing that education is on the table in a number of cities and states. When people have to balance budgets they come up with all kinds of cockamamie schemes, including reducing school days from 5 to 4, or reducing classroom hours, or reducing something that not only impacts the ways students encounter learning, but also the quality of their lives.
Some school districts, thanks to cuts, have no more than 900 hours a year of instruction for students; others have as many as 1400. Imagine what this means on a daily basis when, post high school, these students encounter a classroom. Some are well prepared, some are unprepared, both are products of decision that grown folks made, often mistakenly, about ways to manage budgets.
And now the budget thing is really rearing its ugly head. What will we do to balance federal, state, and local budgets? In Wisconsin, there is a proposal to change the way the state deals with teachers. In North Carolina we are blessed to have a governor who says she will not sacrifice classroom study on the altar of a blanked budget. In other states, there are challenges, and the challenges are also federal, because our government has been asked, as states must, to balance budgets. What does this mean for education?
To cut education in recession is akin to eating seed corn when it is clear that planting will provide resources for a new day. We can cut a plethora of things, but cutting education is unconscionable. Education is our nation's investment into futures, our opportunity to shine, grow, compete and we have to wrap our arms around our young people, young achievers, and provide them with opportunities.
One of the most disturbing rends of the early 21st century is the extent to which parents have embraced the notion of, "every person for herself". Some phenomenal young women can use more parental support than they get, and more of an opportunity to explore life's opportunities. African American students are less likely than others to have the access that comes from unpaid internships, often because parents and others expect them to work, and to earn, during their summers.
If we want to develop a world that is resplendent with diverse opportunities, we must develop a world where our young men and women are held harmless from cuts that are too deep, too harsh, too much. President Obama has been a visionary in suggesting that we in the United States can again lead the world in college attainment, but a budget that cuts education does not reflect his goals. Politics notwithstanding, it is on time and overtime for us to figure out ways to educate more people. Even as programs are cut, education funding must be expanded.
Those who have budgets in their hands must be prudent. Sound fiscal planning does not mean cutting today to hurt tomorrow. Education must be our priority. Whether we are looking at cities, counties, states, or our nation, we must hold education harmless as we exercise fiscal prudence.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women. She is the author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, available at www.lastwordprod.com.