When budget cuts go to the extreme

WHEN BUDGET CUTS GO TO THE EXTREME…. There’s been a fair amount of attention lately on the kind of budget cuts states and municipalities have been forced to make during lean times. Hawaii is going to a four-day school week; an Atlanta suburb has shut down its public bus system; and parts of Colorado Springs are going without streetlights to save money on electricity.

Paul Krugman added in a recent column, “[A] country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.”

But Alyssa Battistoni flagged a report I’d overlooked last week:

It has come to this: Parents are now being asked to send their children to school with their own toilet paper. And not just toilet paper, but all sorts of basic items that schools themselves used to provide for kids. It’s all part of a disturbing trend, highlighted by the New York Times last week, of cash-strapped public schools — their budgets eviscerated by state cutbacks — shifting more and more financial responsibility onto parents.

This isn’t an exaggerated anecdote. The NYT report noted that schools that used to simply require students to bring in glue, scissors, and crayons, are now demanding that families provide everything from paper towels to garbage bags to liquid soap.

Pre-kindergartners in the Joshua school district in Texas have to track down Dixie cups and paper plates, while students at New Central Elementary in Havana, Ill., and Mesa Middle School in Castle Rock, Colo., must come to class with a pack of printer paper. Wet Swiffer refills and plastic cutlery are among the requests from St. Joseph School in Seattle. And at Pauoa Elementary School in Honolulu, every student must show up with a four-pack of toilet paper.

As Natasha Chart put it, “Because nothing says ‘superpower’ like when your public schools can’t afford toilet paper.”

It’s probably worth noting that raising taxes on the wealthy, just a little, back to the levels seen in the 1990s when the economy was booming, could help make much of this far less necessary. We live in the wealthiest country in the planet, but as officials fight to cut spending and reduce taxes on the wealthy, we’re left with often-ridiculous cuts and children who have to bring toilet paper to school.

Battistoni concluded, “The best-case scenario is that the impact of these cuts will help people understand just what their tax dollars are paying for and spur greater consciousness about the relationship between public spending and public goods. Now that shortages of teachers and books are spreading to suburbia, we’ll decide that shortfalls in education funding are unacceptable after all. The worst-case scenario, though, is that reduced public spending on essential goods and services will continue to hollow out our infrastructure and reduce our capacity to meet the needs of most Americans.”