Saturday, December 11, 2010

Poll: Education backed, but not new school taxes

I quote from the AP story:
The public verdict is in and overwhelming: The better the education people get, the stronger the U.S. economy will be, a poll shows. But don't count on folks to support higher taxes to improve schools.

Eighty-eight percent say a country's education system has a major effect on its economic health. Nearly as many — 79 percent — say the U.S. economy would improve if all Americans had at least a two-year college degree, according to an Associated Press-Stanford University poll.

Yet when it comes to financing public school improvements, people tilt slightly against raising taxes to do so, with 47 percent opposing and 42 percent in support. The findings underscore the tensions confronting federal and local officials across the country balancing the competing pressures of strengthening education while not overburdening taxpayers at a time of economic weakness and huge federal and state budget deficits.
I suspect that the problem is that getting kids to college is not doing enough in the United States to strengthen national economic capacity. The drop out rate from American colleges is too great. Grads are not adequately prepared to work in the economy. A lot of recent college graduates are currently unemployed, in part because they have studied topics such as folklore, renaissance literature, and art appreciation that have little value in the workplace.

Kids in some other countries enter college convinced that the right degree will really help economically in adult life but that the wrong degree will lead to a high probability of unemployment or poorly paid employment, and they choose appropriately. That does not seem to be equally true for the United States.

Don't get me wrong. I am all in favor of university education as a consumable to enrich the student's cultural and intellectual life. Higher education has intrinsic as well as instrumental value. However, I don't see much reason to use tax funds to subsidize consumption; in tough economic times taxes should go to invest in productive assets including intellectual assets.

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