(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Image: Your Little Planet

Last week, we noted that public education for all was viewed by founding fathers like Madison and Jefferson as essential to informing and building intellect of our citizens to make good decisions selecting our political leaders.  A well-educated citizenry would be able to separate the leader focused on the common good from the leader who would rule unjustly as a tyrant.  Madison and Jefferson proclaimed that a well-educated voter is the last bulwark to build majority moving away from a tyrannical faction.  Certainly, we need to shift from a tyrannical faction today – the oligarchy.

So, what role does funding play in public education performing its role as the Fifth Estate, alongside the three main branches: The Supreme Court, Congress, and The Executive with the Fourth Estate being the Press?

The key factor in how well education is building the common good across all income levels is funding.  Since 1975 funding by state and local governments for higher education has dropped from 60.3 % to to 34.1 % in 2010. The last eight years has seen this figure continue to drop close to 24 %. Public colleges and universities have coped with the unprecedented drop in state and local funding by raising tuition year after year to the point where students are now carrying the highest level of student loan debt ever at $1.5 trillion. Families can’t keep up with the tuition increases

Source: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 8/15/16

Because of this huge debt load millennials are not buying first homes at the rate of previous generations, and they are moving in with parents to live.  Plus, couples are now postponing starting families as the birthrate has dropped to the lowest level in 30-years way below the needed replacement level. In regard total education US federal funding accounts for only 14 % of education spending vs OECD countries where national general funding is allocated across regions at 54 %.  The property tax maybe the way Madison recommended where local communities wanted local control. Yet, to make the quantum leap in education for all to build the common good a new source of funding must be found at the federal level to balance the funding between poor versus wealthy districts.

When as a country we don’t make the financial commitment it says that for all the platitudes about the importance of public education, regardless of private schools and for profit colleges, we need to ensure that all citizens receive a good high quality education that create lifelong opportunities for them to contribute to our society.

Ironically, funding for public education has continued to decline since the 1980s and steeply recently since the Great Recession.  As Corporate Nation States and the Elite continue cutting funding to federal, state and local government these common good building institutions and the people they serve suffer. The mantra of ‘my kids are taken care of’ I don’t need to worry about yours with my tax dollars has held up and politicians keep getting elected and putting pro profit and private educators in key positions like the Secretary of Education today, who has zero interest in rebuilding public education but is instead working hard to dismantle it. The way change in building the common good is going to happen is when voters realize they have been sold an education equality myth for decades. Only when we set a top priority on public education funding at ‘common good building levels’ of the 1970s will our democracy work for the middle class, ending income equality and create an enduring prosperity.  Someday Corporation Nation State executives and the wealthy who own them, will figure out that having a whole generation in debt, not building households, not buying goods and services at growing economic levels and not bringing new babies into the world is going to cause great loss in wealth for them!  If they aren’t concerned about losing wealth, they need to heed the point that  the democracy that provides the framework for their wealth will fall if the common good is not continuously built.