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BAPB (Bouncing Around Paul's Brain) No. 3: Another cold war, another attack on public schools

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Mar. 22, 2022

What Ukraine means for another cold war

Update: On March 28, President Biden presented his (purely advisory) budget for the fiscal year starting in October; it included a 10 percent increase in the military budget.

Is this a new cold war?

Well, it’s a second one, but it isn’t exactly new. I’d date the start to 2007, when Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly laid out his anti-Western manifesto. That’s roughly analogous to the 1946 Truman Doctrine, when the U.S. said “enough is enough” to Soviet Union expansion and declared its intention to fight back on all fronts. Note I am not equating Putin’s concerns with NATO expansion with Truman’s over the Soviet takeover of half of Europe.

Since Putin’s speech, Russia’s taken direct military action in Georgia in 2008 and the first time in Ukraine in 2014. In classic cold war fashion, it jumped into a civil war in Syria in 2015 with military and economic aid that saved the corrupt and brutal Assad regime. As in the first cold war, resistance from outside Russia has been minimal. But now Russia’s attack on Ukraine has finally set off alarms that were probably silent for too long.

What does a second cold war mean for us?

Heightened fear, absolutely and justifiably. Russia isn’t a match for the US and Europe, either militarily or economically, but it is more focused and brutal. Russia has a wide range of weapons of mass destruction and a leader who is unpredictable and apparently uncontrollable. It’s totally reasonable to expect Putin to unleash large- or small-scale nuclear, chemical, biological, or cyber attacks if provoked, either in reality or in his mind. Western powers may be faced with a decision on how to respond, on a scale that runs from “do nothing and hope he quits” to “well, you can stop worrying about climate change now!”

Regardless, expect the US military to grow. As the cold war got hotter in 1967, we were spending nearly ten percent of our gross domestic product (i.e., our entire economy) on defense. Right now we spend less than four percent. We’ve already started spending more to help Ukraine. Regardless of what happens in Ukraine we can expect significant increases in our own military. If we get to the 1967 level we’ll be spending $1.3 trillion more on defense each year. That’s more than we spend on Social Security today and over half what we collect in income taxes. The last cold war required a combination of tax increases, domestic spending cuts, and deficit spending and this one will, too.

Like hot wars, cold wars result in domestic backlash against those we associate with the enemy. In the first cold war, the backlash was based on ideological, not national, differences. Our enemy was not just the Soviet Union (and later communist China), but the idea of communism. We fought the supposed enemy at home by creating a domestic spying operation, turning Americans against each other, and destroying careers and lives. This time the domestic response has been not ideological, but national. We’re boycotting Russian vodka, whether Russian or not, and some Russian artists are being frozen out. We haven’t launched an ideological domestic attack. That would be difficult since Russia’s ideology (oligarchy) isn’t dramatically different from our own. While it might be fun to see American oligarchs persecuted, and we could start with the ones supporting Russia, I’m not holding my breath.

Six reasons to kill Oklahoma’s school voucher bill

Update: On March 23 SB 1647 failed in a 22-24 vote in the state Senate. However, bills like this, with powerful and somewhat shadowy and very well-funded state and national organizations, have a way of resurfacing late in the legislative session. Public school supporters should not let down their guard and could use the coming weeks to strengthen the resolve of like-minded legislators.

Last week, the Oklahoma Senate scheduled and then put off a floor vote on SB 1647, which would give parents control over state dollars spent on their children’s education to use instead for private school. A vote is likely soon and the bill may head to the House for consideration in April. Here’s six reasons to oppose this bill.

It’s unamerican. Public schools are the bedrock America is built on. For nearly two centuries they’ve taught character and virtue, assimilated immigrants, and prepared children to be informed citizens and economically successful. Before public schools, few American children had access to regular schooling; those who did tended to be well off and White. This being America, we can virtually guarantee that vouchers will be most heavily used by those same families.

It’s bad for schools. The bill is estimated to cost $119 million per year. While some legislators have vowed to protect public education from bearing the brunt of this cost, they can’t guarantee that beyond this year. It’s a safe bet that, if more parents take advantage of the vouchers, arguments that fewer students mean schools need less money will prevail sooner than later. In a state that’s already 46th in per pupil funding, how do further cuts make sense?

It’s unnecessary. Most current and prospective parents carefully consider school choices when buying or renting a home. With over 500 school districts in Oklahoma, everyone has choices within a reasonable commuting range, whether in metropolitan areas or in remote McCurtain County, which has 13 districts. Most parents have choices among elementary and middle schools within a single school district and about a dozen of the largest districts have multiple high schools as well. My kids spent a cumulative 25 years in Oklahoma City Public Schools but only 1 was in the neighborhood school.

It’s anti-rural. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 135 private schools in Oklahoma, serving 29,000 students (about 1/25th the number served by public schools). Of the private ones, only 23 schools (serving 1,811 kids) are outside the metropolitan and smaller city areas. More than half of Oklahoma counties currently have no private schools! (Data available on request). In other words, this program provides choice to those who already have choice and none to those who have fewer choices. And while there is logic to proponents’ arguments that private schools could multiply and expand to meet higher demand, that will take years and will still leave out the most rural children.

It’s redundant. Oklahoma is already a leading purveyor of “school choice.” We don’t regulate homeschooling; in fact, we’re one of 11 states where you don’t even need to let the state know you’re doing it. We also have scholarship programs for roughly 2,000 children to attend private schools, either through tax-subsidized donations for scholarships or full funding for disabled children.

It doesn’t help kids. Students attending private schools through vouchers generally have lower test scores than similar students in public schools, and there’s little recent evidence for claims that vouchers result in higher rates of graduation of college-going.

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