Tom Zirpoli: Politicians should value education

In 1947, the War Department of the United States of America needed a new image and, thus, adopted a new name. After all, World War II had ended two years earlier. So the War Department was renamed the Defense Department of the United States. It was a smart move. After all, who could be against the continuation of spending lots of money on the defense of our nation?

Meanwhile, the Department of Education did not exist as a separate department until 1979, when it was pulled out of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Today, there are about 5,000 employees in the U.S. Department of Education compared to about 800,000 civilians employed by the Department of Defense. And in 2013, we will give about 23 percent of our national budget to the Department of Defense and only 3 percent to the Department of Education.

Speaking at McDaniel College where she completed her graduate degree, 2011 National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer stated that our politicians in Washington have a great vision for our nation's children, but lack the conviction of their words.

It is one thing to say, for example, that all children will read at grade level by a specific date or that all children will pass a basic math achievement test in five years. It is another thing, however, to pay for an action plan to get us to be where we want our children to be.

Congress usually gives the Pentagon more money than it requests and actually forces the Pentagon to buy all sorts of things it doesn't need or want. When it comes to educating our children, however, educators must beg for additional funding and seldom get what they need to provide our children with a first-class education.

Over many decades, Democrats and Republicans in Washington have put forth all sorts of worthy goals for our nation's children. These goals are then dumped on our nation's schools, usually without the resources to accomplish them. Then, when our schools fail to achieve the lofty goals set by politicians, teachers are blamed and the politicians get a pass.

If we evaluated our politicians with as much rigor as our politicians insist that we evaluate our teachers, we'd have better politicians and more effective schools.

In many ways, Congress reflects the mood of the American people. We want a lot of things, including excellent schools for our children, but we don't want to pay for excellent schools.

Teachers in Wisconsin are under attack by their own governor, who believes that cutting teacher pay and transferring those funds to tax breaks for the rich is a better investment in the future of his state. What he fails to recognize, however, is that one of the primary reasons businesses move to Wisconsin - despite the harsh winters - is its top-rated schools.

It is well documented that businesses, especially good paying, high-tech businesses, prefer to move to states and localities that invest in and support great schools.

In Montana, students receiving subsidized lunches are under attack by Republican Congressman Dennis Rehberg, one of the richest members of Congress. Rehberg says that he is only interested in fighting government waste. But isn't it interesting where some Republicans always go looking for government waste?

Rehberg supports the continuation of federal subsidies for profitable oil companies. Yet, his recent target to save federal dollars is poor children receiving subsidized lunches in our nation's schools.

I hope that some day our politicians will see the value of investing in our schools as much as they value the defense of our nation. The way I see it, our education system is, and must remain, the most important weapon in our national arsenal.

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