Published on
the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

So There Is Money that Could Have Helped Schools

The secret is out.

Like a note confiscated by the teacher and read aloud to the class, there can no longer be any doubt about the message being sent.

With the passage of the bailout bill for Wall Street, everyone now knows that the government can come up with a gazillion dollars (I'm not a math teacher, but I believe that is the approximate sum) to address a national problem if it's deemed serious enough.

Being a social studies teacher, I'll give you a simple quiz to assess your comprehension of the Wall Street giveaway. This means either:

A) Before this bailout, we haven't had any serious problems in America that would require a massive spending initiative.

B) Government had the capacity all along to address any of the major crises in America with the needed funds, but has refused to do so.

Gottcha! This one's a trick question -- the answer actually depends on who's taking the test.

If you are taking this test as you travel from the Cayman Islands to Wall Street in a personal Lear jet, one answer is appropriate.

The same answer applies to the politician taking the quiz while being chauffeured between fundraising dinners and appointments with lobbyists.

The answer is very different if the test is taken from the Ninth Ward in New Orleans; on the Interstate 35-W Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis; from a hospital bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; or in a classroom on Main Street.

The reality of the neglect of public schools in the United States is astonishing. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the national school system infrastructure a "D" on its annual report card.

Overcrowded classrooms have cheated students from the individual attention they deserve. Teachers struggle to make ends meet, as the average increase in salaries nationally was 2.1 percent last year, while official inflation increased by more than 3.1 percent.

The solution to the problems in education, we have been told, is the same solution to everything else: "Let the free market rip." Advocates for public schools have been lectured about improving education by introducing the business model. Privatize with charter schools and vouchers. Get rid of elected officials and bring in high-paid CEOs to run the schools.

Judging by the way corporate executives sabotaged their own system, I would rather see the student body president appointed to run the Department of Education.

With shrinking state budgets, school districts across the country, including Seattle, are asking their constituents to prepare for cuts in education spending.

The justification for starving schools because of diminishing funds may have slid by last month. Now, pleading poverty and other "dog ate my homework" kinds of excuses just won't fly.

Total government spending (federal, state and local) on education in 2001 accounted for 4 percent of gross domestic product. The federal share of this spending, however, amounted to less than 8 percent of the total.

It's clear that the federal government -- Democrats and Republicans -- have had other priorities.

In the world's richest country, we now know there is no sum of money so big it cannot be raised if the problem is deemed important enough.

Our community says, "Money for Main Street Middle School, not for Wall Street!"


Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian teaches history at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington and director of  Black Education Matters. He is the editor and contributing author to the book, "More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing" (Haymarket Books, 2014) and co-editor of "Teaching for Black Lives." Currently, Hagopian serves as a national surrogate for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Follow Jesse on his blog at or on Twitter: @jessedhagopian


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