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Tom Zirpoli: Education plays second to weapons

Last week I wrote about decreased funding for public education in America, especially in places where Republican governors are going out of their way to show their conservative credentials. After all, nothing shows your conservative credentials more than defunding the public education system.
So what do conservatives prefer to spend our tax dollars on if not for the education of our children? Answer: It is 25 stories high, longer than three football fields, and sails the seas at about 35 miles per hour propelled by bronze propellers. That would be, of course, the USS Gerald R. Ford, our nation's newest, biggest and most expensive aircraft carrier.
The USS Ford was dedicated last week at the Newport News shipbuilding yard in Virginia. The last carrier, commissioned in 2006, was named after George W.H. Bush, and the one before that was named the USS Ronald Reagan in 2003. Conservatives say they are for less federal spending, but when it comes to multi-billion dollar ships named after them, spend away.
When I first started reading about what I thought was the $2 billion price tag for this 5-acre floating airport, I soon realized that the $2 billion was not the price tag at all; it was the amount of money that the ship was over budget. The actual price for the USS Ford currently stands at $14 billion. After working on the ship for more than 10 years, it will not be finished until 2016. So who knows how much it will eventually cost. The cost of this carrier does not matter to conservatives from either party. But you will not hear one Republican complain about it or the fact that the project is, so far, $2 billion over budget. Not a problem, it seems.
The ship is powered by two nuclear reactors and is expected to last for about 50 years. It took 5,000 shipbuilders to build the new aircraft carrier at the only place in our nation that has the capacity to build these monster ships. It is important to keep the ships coming because they keep these people employed. Of course, new roads, bridges and schools also keep people employed, and I'm guessing that these alternative investments have a more functional role for our economy and our nation's future economic development.
I cannot help but wonder how our nation can spend this kind of money on a ship when we are cutting food stamps for children and veterans. How about we take one ship and, instead, develop a national preschool program for every American child? Now that would be a worthy investment and, over time, would pay enormous dividends to our nation's future well-being.
By the way, the U.S. already has 10 carriers in service, and more ships than the next 13 largest naval fleets in the world combined. More amazing is that two additional carriers as big as the USS Ford are under construction. The USS John F. Kennedy will be ready some time after 2022 and the USS Enterprise, in the planning stages, is scheduled to be ready some time after 2027.
Total cost for all three new carriers: Over $50 billion.
So how many new elementary schools can we build if we deleted just one of these new carriers? According to Reed Construction Data, the national average for one elementary school built in the United States is about $7 million. So, if we transfer the money from just one carrier, we could build over 2,000 new elementary schools for our nation's children. That equals 40 new schools for each of our 50 states. Now that's what I call an investment in our nation's future.
So as we continue to restrict investments in our nation's future, just remember that the issue is not about deficits or debt, but national priorities.

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