I've been thinking about the future a lot, lately. Part, of course, is responding to the short sighted political debates going on in Washington: cutting spending rather than investing in the future, both in infrastructure and in our children in response to a deficit that we don't ask the rich to take any responsibility for. We will realize a "peace dividend" as we withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but are we going to spend it on more tax breaks for the rich who are already seeing a growing share of the American pie.
I spent Wednesday evening waiting to testify on Nevada Senate Bill 240, which would reimburse $100 to teachers (who spend an average of 900 nationally. I suspect it may be higher here, in response to the economic squeeze so many of our families have experienced.) It's a start. It was also heartening to hear the Education Committee members speak so strongly about the need for funding for ELL. Senator Aaron Ford, whose son goes to my school, even announced that teachers deserve to be paid $200,000 a year (I will be calling him to volunteer to campaign for his re-election in three years, trust me.)
What really struck me was an article in today's New York Times Sunday magazine. The focus of this weeks magazine is food. The article of interest is about the village of Baiersbronn in the Black Forest of Southwest Germany, which has not one, but two Michelin Three Star Restaurants. Why? In part because of excellent vocational training provided for free as part of the public education system, which provides very specialized classroom instruction alongside apprenticeships. It is turning out amazing world class chefs, who do not have to pay $50,000 to qualify for jobs that start out at $10 an hour (as sous chefs.) Despite the crunch the European economy has suffered, unemployment is only 5.4 percent. Of course, in part, it has to do with "Kurzarbeit," a program that pays part of lost wages when workers are hours are cut back, rather than being laid off. The other part is that Germany has created a whole population of well trained, high skill workers. Employers don't want to lose employees because they will be hard to replace.
Right now, the one way we are providing vocational training is by providing student loans for overpriced often poor quality for-profit schools. Students are graduating from these programs and even with jobs, find it difficult to pay back the Federal loans. Who is left holding the bag? Not the for-profit schools, who are raking in money like nobodies business. You and I, fellow taxpayers, on defaulted loans.
When are we going to start thinking about the future? When are we going to start asking people to pay their fair share for educational programs, both vocational and higher, that will create the workers we need for the future? And how long will we be so short sighted that we must balance the budget after 8 years of profiglate spending by the previous U.S. Administration?