As our schools face draconian budgets cuts, there are two critical ways in which Washington can help: by investing in our schools and by harnessing the insight and will of our educators.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in FY2009 and FY2010, 44 states face estimated budget shortfalls totaling $234 billion. Approximately one-third of that money, or $78 billion, was intended for education.
This is a lot of money. And the $700 billion bailout package (the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act) has gone to companies considered “too big to let fail.” The proposed $850 billion stimulus package is focused on creating jobs. Although it may have an incidental effect on education budgets, it is not the direct investment that our schools need.
An Unequivocal Choice
So $78 billion, a mere 5 percent of the two currently proposed packages, is needed to stabilize our schools for FY2009 and FY2010. And unlike the money given to AIG ($80b), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ($25b), and Bear Stearns and JP Morgan ($29b), this money would be an investment in our future, not a bailout. Washington needs to make an informed financial commitment to our schools today.
This investment is not optional. We know the critical impact that education has on our economy, equality and ability to compete on a global stage. In The Race between Education and Technology, Harvard professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz show that the “American Century” was the direct result of our investment in education over the last hundred years. Sadly, their analysis confirms that, since the 1970s, we have been on an educational attainment decline that is leading to a declining middle class, loss in productivity, and inability to compete with other nations.
Tapping the Best Resources
But we can’t ask Washington to simply throw money at the problem and expect improvement. How do we invest wisely? I believe Washington needs to ask the people on the front line of education to harness the insights and will of our educators: superintendents, elementary school principals, math teachers, single parents, struggling students—these are the experts who can give us the best “investment advice” we need.
A few years ago this direct communication would have been impossible. However, the Internet and e-mail have given us the ability to reach and get real-time feedback from our roughly 15,000 superintendents, 100,000 principals, and 3 million teachers. Today there are systems and networks that connect entire schools, districts, counties, states and even nations. They have broken down departmental silos, improved communication, and engaged students and parents in a way heretofore impossible. Critically, such systems have closed the gap between those making policy at the district, state or federal level and those on the front line of education. I know, because I founded eChalk, a company that helps schools do such things.
Barack Obama used the Internet to reach a nation of people who wanted change. Let him use it again to reach his education “investment advisors,” so that going forward Washington can allocate funds and that, together, we can ensure a new American Century.
Torrance Robinson is the founder and president of eChalk (www.eChalk.com), a software-as-a-service that provides comprehensive and integrated solutions to help K12 communities use the Web to erase classroom walls, communicate more effectively, and make instruction more successful.