By Ira Harritt, AFSC Kansas City Program Coordinator

When we first began organizing a forum linking school closings to the inflated U.S. military budget, one progressive educator questioned the link. And this questioning could be seen as valid, if you accept our current priorities as valid (59% of FY 2011 federal discretionary budget going to military expenditures while education gets 4%). The hundreds of billions going to war and military expenditures did not cause the closure of nearly half of KCMO School District schools this year, but the misguided priorities these expenditures represent did.

The May 22nd In Defense of Public Education: Fund Schools, Not War! forum made the connection between war-making and the crisis in education unmistakably clear. Also clear was the way the school crisis is being used to push privatization of public education.

The forum offered an opportunity for participants to get a broader view of the issues surrounding the education of our children. Dr. David Burress, retired research economist from KU’s Institute for Policy and Social Research and president of the Ad Astra Institute of Kansas presented the larger economic picture. He concluded, “Politics aside, backing away from our military empire (reducing military spending from 6% of GDP to 2%) would free enough money to fund education (adding an additional 1% of GDP) and almost balance the budget (directing 3% of GDP toward the deficit).”

Dr. Amy McAninch, Associate Professor of Education, Rockhurst University, warned of the misguided analysis and ideologies blaming educators for structural and financial problems in education and the pushing of privatization of schools. She emphasized that it is critical that we fix our problems in education so that our children can contribute and compete in our complex world and are prepared to participate in the civic life of our nation.

Ossco Bolton, former Kansas City gang leader turned gang / violence prevention leader and youth empowerment advocate, pointed out the failure of our community to protect our youth. He emphasized that education was more than math and science but needed to help youth learn “who they are” and must be relevant and contribute to their success for the future.

Cris Mann, K-12 Special Education teacher and community activist, shared successful approaches to educational change. She identified approaches and educational activism taking place across the country that can serve as models for reform here in Kansas City.

The forum closed with questions and a discussion of actions community members could take. Some participants pledged to: Join or start an Educators for Social Responsibility group; Seek to change federal budget priorities; Raise the issue of militarism in schools; Continue work with neighborhood association; Challenge the scapegoating of teachers; Promote programs like Public Achievement; Challenge the privatization of public education.

The success of our public education system is crucial for the future of our nation and should receive adequate funding to assure success. The U.S. has wealth and resources we can invest to increase the quality of our education and the human security of our citizens. If we squander these resources on military might and bailouts for the powerful, we will be sacrificing our futures at the altar of greed. Nelson Mandela observed, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We hope that our nation will replace military might with the weapons of education and wisdom.

Here is the link to Dr. Burress’ PowerPoint, Guns and Mortarboards: Is US defense crowding out education?: http://afsc.org/document/guns-and-mortarboards.