June is the month of graduations, the month packed with public and private recognitions of academic achievement and the attendant next steps towards new horizons. We all celebrate these milestones with much exuberance and fanfare–which is as it should be.
But we should also celebrate with serious reflection. The June 2010 graduates are the foundation of our collective future. And June 2010 is the right time for us to examine our commitment to investing in our future. Investment in education is the most fundamental future investment we make.
So how are we doing in terms of investing in our future? in terms of investing in our children? Sad to say, we are not doing very well. In these truly tough economic times, we have chosen to cut back on our funding for public education, our funding for graduations. Whether we chose to look at ourselves as a commonwealth, as a county or as a community, we should be honest enough to acknowledge that we have been quietly undermining public education in Virginia for several years. We seem to have collectively decided that an ever-increasing number of students can be well-educated with an ever-decreasing number of dollars. We have decided that more and more teachers should dedicate themselves to our students for less and less compensation. We have decided that our well-regarded state universities can and should attract and retain the highest quality of professors with ever-shrinking budgets and increasingly reduced opportunities for research and development. We have denied the proven value of pre-school education while at the same time refusing to increase the number of seats available in our most efficient and least expensive form of higher education–our community colleges. We have quietly accepted the ever-more obvious fact that our high school and college students are graduating in a time that does not offer them opportunities to make the contributions that we have prepared them to make.
“You get what you pay for” is an often-heard American cliche. This cliche is frequently used as the basis for an argument in favor of cutting our public education investment. I agree that we do often get what we pay for–but do we really want to get only what we pay for? Virginia has now “paid for” congested highways, pot-hole filled secondary toads and condemned bridges. Do we want to come to this same place in our once-excellent public education system? And if we do want to get only what we pay for, what future are we buying?
I am calling for an honest public conversation about what sort of future we are willing to pay for and what sort of future we are willing to lose. Democracy is a forum for open public decision-making.
It is time we used our democracy to clearly plan our investment in our future.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].