Investing Our Money Where it Counts— In Education
In a world where an honest search for solutions drives policy-- the government would prioritize access to education as one of the most important policy issues along with health, housing, economy and security.
I look at the government spending now, active (federal/state and city budgets) and passive (tax cuts), and I see priorities aligned with a problem based policy world. Solution based policy -is dynamic. It is crafted when a variety of stakeholders identify goals and objectives based on what works in people's lives. Solution based policies promote the general welfare in new ways to meet new needs rather than maintain established systems.
To eliminate poverty, government budget priorities can reflect more commitment to solutions, human and sustainable development. We can prioritize based on people's real needs and not preconceived notions of what is best for them. Dillonna Lewis, Welfare Rights Initiative Co-Director calls it, "intelectuallizing poverty."
Education from pre-school through higher education, is a policy category that requires and benefits from government spending. In turn, fully funded education benefits every aspect of human life: security, social, political and cultural. If ever there is a source of solution, it is education. Yet, here in New York, for example, a new report shows that college enrollment has stagnated generally and adults accessing higher education are in a fateful decline.
Just last month, the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy published Working To Learn, Learning To Work: Unlocking the Potential of New York's Adult College Students. Upstate media highlighted some sobering facts from the report "about adult (ages 25-49) college students in New York:
Adults represented one-third of all undergraduate students in 1995 and just more than one-fifth in 2005.
Fewer than 4 percent of all adults with high school diplomas attend college.
Tuition and fees at New York's community colleges are more than 50 percent above the national average, the sixth- highest in the nation.
Tuition and fees, books, housing, transportation and other expenses can cost between $12,000 and $14,000 a year.
Those costs range from $17,000 to $19,000 at four-year public schools, and from $20,000 to $50,000 at private schools.
Almost half of all full-time adult community college students also work full time, compared with one-third of full-time community college students in other states.
States do better economically and people do better in every way when access to education is available, promoted, encouraged and open.
There are those who say that not everyone should/could or needs to be educated and they support public policies that bear witness to that idea. In welfare reform discussions many policy think tanks, advocates and electeds put their money where there mouth was in keeping people receiving welfare from accessing education. Federal welfare law is a testament to policy that restricts access to education. As Professor Vivyan Adair writes in her recent article, ”Welfare Reform...allocated $1.5 billion in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (the federal welfare law) funds for a narrow set of rigidly defined "marriage promotion" programs, while cutting almost all support for educational programs."
In New York, we saw a staggering number of students fail to continue education because of welfare regulations. Here at CUNY, we lost over 20,000 students receiving public assistance from 1995 to 2005. As the Schuyler report shows that correlates to the drastic loss of adults in higher education in New York during the same time frame. Policies have consequences and welfare policy clearly has consequences for NY beyond its scope to regulate.
We want to insure that this election cycle, elected officials, newly elected and those who are already in office, are clear about our priorities.
Governor Spitzer and the New York State Legislature can make education for all a budget priority this year. State government kicks up in January. We want to see budgets that have a lot more money for higher education, tuition assistance, training programs and that show a long-term commitment to community and other colleges in New York. In addition to the resources, we want to see consistent regulation and agency directives throughout the state that promote people accessing the education they need and want. This has not always been the case in the past.