Oliver: 'Sacrificing Now for Kids, Schools, Will Pay Off Later'

The following editorial, authored by President Rob Oliver, appears in the Friday, March 11, edition of the Argus Leader:

As a proud South Dakotan, a parent and an advocate for education, I am compelled to contribute to the dialogue surrounding the much-talked-about proposal to cut our state’s K-12 education budgets.

As we look to solve South Dakota’s budgetary challenges, I believe we can find the answer to our dilemma by looking to the past.

What might we learn from those who settled this great country, who saw it through hardships far beyond what we now face, and who were the architects and builders of the most productive economy in the world? What might we learn from those who built the finest education systems in the world, the best infrastructure, and the model of democracy that so much of the world craves today? I believe it can be summed up in one powerful word: Sacrifice.

After surviving the economic difficulties of the late 1800s, the challenges of the War to End All Wars, the Great Depression, the Dirty Thirties and World War II, our nation’s Greatest Generation set about paying off our country’s massive debt and building America’s infrastructure, including the educational systems that became the envy of the world, with a determination the likes of which other countries had never seen.

How did they do it? They did it with tax rates far higher than we complain about today. They taxed themselves because they believed that a strong America was good for the world, and for their children who would take over upon their retirement.

The challenges we face today are not nearly as simple as some would try to tell us by suggesting that cutting government is the only answer. The issues before us are complex and multi-faceted.

Make no mistake about it, investing in education is the best means for developing an appreciation for complexity. Education is our best means for developing solutions to complex problems. And, education is the best and most lasting stimulus for building our economy and developing a civil society. Yet, even as we acknowledge this, education funding is being placed on the chopping block in most states and in our nation’s capital, and education in America is losing ground rapidly to other countries.

The power of investing in education is not a new or novel idea. Whatever our voter registration card says, at our core, we all know that teaching children today will ensure a better tomorrow. Yet, each year, education seems to be losing its position as a public good, and salaries for teachers and education funding overall (especially in South Dakota) are a sad reflection of our budget priorities.

I believe that what is needed from all of us, and from our elected officials, is a bold call for collective sacrifice. If we are honest with ourselves, we can readily see that the budgets of our cities, counties, states and country will not be balanced only by cost cutting. Raising taxes is not something anyone wants, yet it is obvious that it is a necessary part of the solution.

The popular argument however, is that we dare not raise taxes in these economic circumstances. It is important to remember that economics is a social science, a study of human behavior both individually and collectively. Just as it is wrong to conclude that any single economic tool will have a guaranteed outcome, it also is a fallacy to conclude that there is a linear relationship between raising taxes and stalling the fragile economic recovery. It is more appropriate to ask what drives consumer confidence and confidence in public-sector decisions such that individual and social behaviors are positively influenced by economic and public policy.

It is my feeling that many – not all – of our elected representatives have underestimated the electorate by perpetuating the thinking that voters are unwilling to face higher taxes in exchange for real solutions. I believe that most Americans, and most South Dakotans, would feel a greater sense of confidence in the future if legislatures around the country set aside bitter partisan politics and focused on real problem solving, including the potential of raising taxes as part of a multi-faceted approach to balancing budgets without abandoning priorities, such as education and appropriate care for elderly.

Bottom line: Let’s quit fighting about how to cut education, and let’s invest in it – together. Let’s tax ourselves to do this and invest in our young people.

It begins at pre-kindergarten and continues through K-12, preparing our sons and daughters to then enter the work force or continue their preparation through post-secondary educational opportunities. We will be proud that we invested, and countless young people will gain from it, producing tangible benefits to our communities, state, nation and the world.

Kelly Sprecher
Director of Communications & Media Relations