Saturday, June 21, 2008

my bankrupt state

Summer has begun - not the season, the domestic arrangement. Young S finished her first year of school and is officially a first-grader (oh my!). While the end of the school year completely up-ends my work expectations, this is nothing compared to the hundreds of California teachers who now find themselves without a job. They're not jobless because thousands of schoolkids have disappeared but because my state is bankrupt.

A $16 billion shortfall means that all "social services" get cut. The misnomer "services" refers to the essentials of life: publicly-supported health care, infrastructure, and public education. Somewhere around 24,000 teachers and school staff will be/have been cut. In a couple of months I'll have to report back on what this means for my grade school where young S was in a class of 32 kindergartners. California will certainly retain its distinctive education rating: 51st out of 51 states and the Territory of Puerto Rico in student-to-teacher ratios.

Coincidentally, this very month marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of Proposition 13. That "popular revolt" against increasing residential property taxes deserves much of the credit for struggling, underfunded schools - and schoolkids - in California. And while I sympathize with the currents that brought this about - a state legislature that shifted its revenue source from corporations to individuals - Proposition 13 was a harbinger of the current fiasco (which includes the Governor's zany schemes to fund education with a Wall-Street backed lottery). Californians then and now don't want to pay for the comforts they enjoy (chief among these is the well-regulated interstate system) and they're sadly reluctant to make California industry contribute its part. Too many Californians are focused on the "minutiae of me" and see budget cuts to life's essentials as acceptable so long as it doesn't touch them.*

In this the state's current fiscal woes are indicative of a deeper, moral bankruptcy of toxic individualism. In this fantasy state-of-mind, everyone (also read as "every nuclear family") does her own thing separate from everyone else for her own personal enjoyment/fulfillment, etc. I could cite those lovely hours I have spent on the freeway dodging wild-eyed drivers as evidence of the mentality-of-one (and, of course, the highways are proof of this of themselves - why can't I take the train to get where I want to go? The train doesn't go there.)** Instead, I will offer proof through comparison. I am a fan of public libraries. The last two cities I lived in (in semi-urban Oregon and rural Ohio) both opened grand, new public libraries recently. These impressive edifices house their expanding collections and accommodate an increasing number of patrons. Here in my corner of OC, the public library is tiny - pinned between the Chamber of Commerce and school district offices. Its selection of books is slim, but can be termed solid if I overlook the baby-boomer era children's books which should be removed to an archive. What is more likely, however, is that one of the librarians will be removed; another casualty of budget cuts. This person can join California educators who have also lost their jobs. All these professionals - in whom the state invested so much by educating them - is watching them take their skills and experience to other states less plagued by bankruptcy.

*Note I didn't say all Californians; just too many.
**I can't give this one up that easily. Last week, LA Metro ridership hit an all-time high at 50,000 passengers a day (credited to high gas prices). News bites failed to note that the average daily ridership 70 years ago (before all the track was torn out and paved over) was 200,000.


kungfuramone said...

Not to mention that the fundamentally ecologically unsound nature of the Sun Belt is finally hitting home, as the state burns down and water runs out in the most populous state in the union...

Get me back to the Pacific Northwest!

SuperJew said...

Spot on miss V! Robert Self should blurb your post!

Dolce Vita said...

Here, here, KFR! I agree. And thanks SJ - I know you've both seen these trend (from different angles).