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Move the money from battlefields to classrooms

Move the money from battlefields to classrooms

Published: October 5, 2012
Freedom school participant seated in classroom

AFSC program participants during a lesson at the Eddie Conway Freedom School.

Photo: AFSC

By Arnie Alpert

In New Hampshire’s largest city, school started this fall with 150 fewer teachers and classrooms so crowded some classes had four students sitting at the teacher’s desk. Linda, a student at the city’s biggest high school, told her after-school youth group, “In my math class there are 41 kids. It’s very loud because everyone is having side conversations.” It’s pretty hard to get an education in an environment like that.

And it’s pretty hard to teach, too.

The official standard is that high school classes should have no more than 30 students. The problem, of course, is money, and Manchester schools don’t have enough of it. But before we shrug and just say it’s too bad there’s not enough in the coffers to pay enough teachers, provide them with benefits, and still have some left over so that every student can sit at her own desk, let’s look a little more closely at where our taxes are going.

More than half the “discretionary budget,” the amount Congress approves each year, goes to the Pentagon. That was $544 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, and that doesn’t even count the $111 billion spent on the war in Afghanistan. It represents roughly half of all the military spending in the world, and much of the rest is spent by our allies. In fact, military spending rose by 35 percent from 2001 to 2011 even after accounting for inflation and excluding the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Yes, Pentagon spending creates jobs, and surely we need more of those. But dollars spent on education create more jobs than the same money devoted to the Pentagon. For every 12 jobs created by military spending, we could create 29 jobs in education alone.

“$1 billion spent on … domestic spending priorities will create substantially more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military,” according to a recent report from the UMASS Political Economy Research Institute.

“Dollar for dollar, clean energy and health care support 50% more jobs than defense spending, and education supports more than twice as many,” says Heidi Garrett-Peltier, co-author of the UMASS study. 

The way the National Priorities Project analyzes the government’s own figures, shifting 10 percent from the bloated Pentagon budget to education would create jobs for 800,000 teachers. Shift another 10 percent and we can create 7 million new Head Start slots. Making such shifts is consistent with what people want. Despite widespread public concern about the deficit, a February 2011 poll found that 62 percent of Americans supported more funding for education in the federal budget—the strongest support for any type of spending.

Our country’s strength depends on a healthy education system. Since 1994, World Teachers’ Day has been celebrated on Oct. 5 to note the essential role of teachers in providing quality education at all levels. The observance is coordinated through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. Its name stands for an ambitious goal: to build peace in the minds of human beings through education.

On this World Teachers’ Day, let’s honor those who help our children shape their futures by acting to move federal tax dollars from the Pentagon to schools. Let’s not wait. Students like Linda are depending on us.