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My Turn: Beware the education-industrial complex

For the Monitor
Published: 4/29/2019 12:15:09 AM

President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address remains consequential. A five-star general, Ike warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex – an informal alliance between our military and business establishments. This relationship between the government and “defense” corporations benefited both sides – one obtaining redundant and extravagant war weaponry while the other made huge profits from supplying it all. Taxpayers anteed up accordingly.

A soldier and patriot, Ike saw the military-industrial complex as a threat. Veterans who’d been in harm’s way echoed Ike’s sentiments. Those who committed their lives to our nation’s defense saw that pledge as sacred, and like Ike, had contempt for war profiteers safely seeking to get rich while paying lip service to national security.

Now in 2019 we must similarly shine a light on an education-industrial complex, which like the military-industrial complex involves special interest alliances seeking to materially and politically benefit from a supposed advocacy for youngsters and teaching – when in reality this alliance threatens education.

Consider Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s recent call for a $13,500 or a 23% increase in salary for each teacher nationwide. That’s good politics in that her proposal mobilizes countless educators for her candidacy.

Harris – a lawyer – has spent minimal time in the education trenches. So let’s see her proposal for what it is – a craven, cynical and unaffordable exploitation of teachers. But committing teachers’ unions to liberal causes worked well for California Democrats, while public school enrollments – and test scores – dropped. The sordid mess that California became under Democratic rule rates much attention – but that’s another column.

Consider the recent calls of Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to refinance or forgive college student loan debt while making public colleges tuition-free.

The student debt debacle is of Democratic making. As college costs shot up – largely due to exorbitant salaries – Democrats were at the forefront to make money available for student loans. Students subsequently went deeply into debt. But the beneficiaries were college faculties and administrators, whose pay skyrocketed. The more loan money the government made available, the more colleges spent, while professors redirected much largesse back to Democratic politicians. Campaign contributions are public record. It’s a shameful shell game. And yet many proselytized college students pathetically voted for Democrats. But they’re finally figuring out that they’ve been fleeced by the folks they supported.

Having enriched their academic allies and advanced their political agendas while putting students deeply in debt, Sanders and Warren typically now want to leave taxpayers on the hook.

Ponder that Warren “earned” $429,981 as a part-time Harvard law professor during 2010-11. Or that Sanders’s wife, Jane, made hundreds of thousands of dollars while mismanaging Burlington College into bankruptcy. Or that many New Hampshire school superintendents make more than our governor.

Education-industrial complex indeed!

Like war profiteers who wrapped themselves in the flag to position themselves to make money, education profiteers cite “the children” as they seek to redirect public money to themselves.

The percentage of school budgets that actually go to classroom teachers is smaller than ever. Check out how much money now goes to administrators, bureaucrats, lawyers, lobbyists, consultants, accountants, “support” personnel and the like, not to mention numerous other budget line items that rate more attention. But rather than make tough choices to support education fundamentals or protect taxpayers, school boards err on the side of “the children” as property taxes go ever higher.

This plays into Democrat hands, as Dems call for broad-based taxes – ostensibly for “property tax relief.” The reality is that new taxes allow Democrats to expand government and hire countless more public-sector workers who then become Democratic voters.

Many of us who devoted our lives to education did so not to get rich or to advance political agendas, but rather to enjoy the intrinsic rewards associated with making differences in people’s lives. So it’s painful to see a liberal education-industrial complex convert our academic establishments into subsidiaries of the Democratic Party.

It may be good politics, but it’s not good for taxpayers or for traditional Granite State educational priorities and values.

Or for “the children.”

I’m sure Ike would agree.

(Michael Moffett of Loudon is a retired Marine Corps officer who also taught in public, parochial and military schools, as well as at the community college and university levels. He served on a school board as well as on the House Education Committee.)

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