Purdue’s plan mixes up priorities

I love construction just as much as every other student on campus (i.e. I don’t), and normally I wouldn’t say a word about the hassle of having to reroute my way to class every morning or the futility of blocking off lots that aren’t being developed yet. But when all this beautiful progress comes at the price of teachers’ salaries and healthcare for the poor? That’s going too far.

Two weeks ago, Governor Sonny Perdue introduced a plan that would slice off $2 billion from the state budget and borrow $1.2 billion to build schools, libraries and other facilities—one big, happy construction spending spree to create 20,000 jobs. Sure, desperate times call for desperate measures. The unemployment rate is above eight percent, so we need to make new jobs and trim the fat—but what’s being considered fat?

Under the proposed plan, tax relief grants for homeowners would be eliminated (making it even harder for people to hold on to their homes); funding for school nurses would be cut (sorry kids, we’ll just send you to the already overburdened ERs instead); teachers would get no cost-of-living raises (as if they don’t already make next to nothing) or supplemental income for receiving national board certification (so let’s not encourage good teaching); K-12 public schools would lose $185.8 million (goodbye after-school programs that keep kids off the streets); and Georgia colleges and universities would lose $176 million in basic instruction funding (which means no new hires or supplemental teaching staff, so current professors will have to work harder and longer).

Oh, and did I mention that the plan also includes a 1.6 percent fee on hospital revenues to make up a $208 million shortfall in Medicaid? Have we forgotten that Grady is still operating in the red for serving the poor and uninsured?

At least the construction industry has cause to celebrate. It makes me really rethink those Psychology and STAC degrees I’m getting come May—I should just give up on the job hunt now, don a hard hat and start shoveling for a piece of that $1.2 billion pie.

Educational institutions in particular will be funded for a whole slew of construction projects. K-12 schools are getting $318 million, so even though they’ll have no money for band programs or foreign language classes and their teachers will be stressed, overworked and even more underpaid than usual, the kids can sit in sparkling new classrooms. Tech itself stands to benefit—we’re getting $43 million for the Clough Undergraduate Learning Center, which I’m sure will be the pride of the Institute and a relief to all the students trying to pick their way around the tarp fencing currently blocking Skiles.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with building this center. I’m sure it will be a fantastic facility with all kinds of cool features and great benefits for students, and I’m all for honoring former president Clough. But now? Should we really be taking money from the state to build this center now, when homeowners are struggling against foreclosure, teachers are being stretched to the bone and Medicaid is in the toilet?

The truth is, we won’t die if this center isn’t built this year or even next. We have a library where students can gather to work on projects and study, and a Student Center where organizations can meet and hold events.

This facility is not indispensable to our undergraduate education. If anything, quality of instruction is. I would much rather use this money to hire new professors, keep our non-tenured teaching staff and attract more excellent talent to Tech than have a fancy new building as a “locus for enhancement of undergraduate education” (quoted from the Library website). Besides, what could enhance undergraduate education more than top-notch professors?

It’s a tough economy, but that means it’s more important than ever to be smart about our spending. Will $1.2 billion in construction projects for 20,000 new jobs really be better for us in the long run, when education and healthcare stand to suffer so much? Do we really need to spend $43 million on the Undergraduate Learning Center when we’re losing basic instruction funding?

We need to look beyond quick fixes and cosmetic changes and focus on real priorities. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but they also challenge us to stand our ground about the things that matter. At Tech, I hope that means better instruction instead of a shiny new center.