Public education is a public good. This can’t be said often enough or stressed strongly enough. Like law enforcement and fire protection, public schools are offered free of charge on an even-handed basis. But it’s the one public good no one wants to pay for. Instead we come up with one silly scheme after another as the savior for cash-starved schools.
For four decades politicians have sold gambling as a way to boost school spending and generate new school revenue. We entice people with slick marketing and government-funded advertising to spend money on state lotteries, which have raised billions of dollars. Yet “in state after state…schools are still starved.”
Slot machines. Casinos. Riverboat gaming. The promise of more education funding is always the ‘bacon’ waved in front of the public’s nose to make the gambling pill go down quicker and easier.
Now Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett wants to take pimping education to a whole ‘notha level. Corbett has proposed a novel plan to privatize the state’s liquor stores and fund education programs through the sale of liquor licenses.
Jessie B. Ramey, a parent of two Pittsburgh public school students, analyzes this tradeoff at the Yinzercation blog:
The plan estimates collecting around $1 billion in revenue from the sale of licenses and auctioning off wine and spirit retails stores over four years. Ironically, this is precisely the amount that Gov. Corbett and the legislature cut from public education in 2011, then locked in again in the 2012 budget, compounding the damage. Mike Crossey, President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, responded to the plan saying, “It’s nice that the governor has acknowledged that he created a school funding crisis, but our students shouldn’t have to count on liquor being available on every corner in order to have properly funded schools.”
Given his track record it’s easy to question Corbett’s motives. Last January he refused to advance funds to one of his state’s most impoverished districts, and was prepared to let the Chester Upland School District close down in the middle of the year, stranding 3,700 students without an education.
From Mr. “Sorry, Chester. You’re cutoff” to patron saint of public schools in 12 months. Not quite. Christopher Borick, a Pennsylvania public opinion expert, in The Patriot-News:
“If we are to sell the state stores in the state and it does create a pool of funds for resources for the state to use, tying it to education is a smart political move given that under the Corbett administration we’ve seen public education be one of the areas most hardest hit in terms of budgets in his first two years as governor.
“If he is trying to find ways to make his proposal more attractive to Pennsylvania in general, the idea of tying the benefits from the sales to a particularly hard hit area such as education makes political sense.”
Without a doubt. It also makes horrible education policy.
Everyone wants better schools. No one wants to pay for them. Ramey’s bold invitation:
Maybe our governor needs to come back to Pittsburgh and sit down over a boilermaker (that’s a shot-in-a-beer — a steelworkers’ post-shift local specialty), to talk about how we are going to adequately, equitably, and sustainably fund our public schools. I’d raise a glass to that.