February 6, 2001
It is a cliche among economists that "There is no such thing as a free lunch." You don't have to be an economist to realize that you can't expect to get something for nothing, however -- you just have to be an adult. It has been repeated to the point of cliche that the starting point of real development for this community -- not only in the narrow economic sense of better jobs, but in the broadest sense of developing the full potential of the community -- is better education. Some people may believe that is not true, but some people still believe the earth is flat -- it is no use trying to convince them otherwise. Many people who are willing to admit that better public education will benefit the community, however, are still not willing to go the next step and admit that if the community wants better education they will have to pay for it. This childish attitude of expecting something for nothing is encouraged by Experts who contend that cutting tax rates will increase tax revenues, or that the money distributed under the recent Amendment One doesn't come from anywhere -- a free lunch. It doesn't take an Expert, however, to see through those self-serving or pandering fantasies. If the community is serious about long-term improvement in the quality of life, there is no way around the fact that sooner or later we have to pay the price. The alternative is to continue paying the price of collective childishness and apathy by settling for second-rate institutions. Mobile has made some real gains in the past ten years, but achieving those gains was surely made harder by the handicap of a seriously under-funded school system.
The latest smokescreen put up to obscure the issue of under-funding is the false dichotomy of raises or insurance for public-school teachers. This is a tried-and-true method of misdirection -- set up a straw man and draw the public into a debate about a chimerical side issue to distract from the real issue of under-funding. It's time to grow up, put up the fantasies and straw men, and face up to the fact that there is no free lunch.
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