Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mexico City: Everybody screaming about budget cuts to education; prepare to be shocked.

Felipe Calderón has proposed some sweeping cuts in the national budget., beginning with his own salary. Predictably, everyone is squawking about the cuts with the exception, of course, of his salary cut. That's ok since it's not their ox being gored.

The loudest squeals of protest have been about the cuts in the public education budget, particulary at the universities. El Economista points out some startling facts, however.

According to El Economista, Mexico spends a higher proportion of its Gross National Product (PIB) on public education than almost any other country in the world. Mexico spends 6.9% of its PIB on public education. Finland, for example, considered to have the best system of basic education in the world, spends 6.1%. The difference in Mexico's educational spending is even more stark when comparing it to other countries which are at about the same level of development. Turkey - 3.7%, Slovak Republic - 4.7%, Czech Republic - 4.7% and Greece - 4.2%. Against the average for all member countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Mexico's is higher than the OECD average of 5.9%.

But the real problem here is where the money is being spent. Every teacher in the United States would like to be paid more money. And many no doubt deserve it. But of the total amount of state and federal spending on higher education in the United States, some 55.5% goes to pay salaries and benefits. In Great Britain it's 58.3% and in Australia it's 59.6%. In Mexico fully 77.3% of all the money goes to pay teacher's salaries and benefits.

It's far worse in basic and intermediate education. Mexico spends 93.6% of every peso, or dollar if you like, from its public education budget on teacher and administrative salaries and benefits. That means that the children get only 6.4% of the money for their schools, classrooms, books, scholarships, materials, equipment, transportation, pencils and the like.

Remember the teachers' striking for the 31st consecutive year for more pay? Maybe the students should all go on strike and march to Mexico City to occupy the Zócalo. Oaxaca alone could send 1.3 million.

Before anyone starts carping about spending more of the overall budget on schools, tell us from whence this money might come. The point being made by El Economista is that many other sectors of Mexican society are suffering already due to the inordinant amount of money being spent on education. Teachers demanding more money, and getting it, simply robs Peter (who is already mal-nourished) to pay Paul.

Calderón has already promised to take another look at the education budget. If he holds his ground, be prepared for a wave of strikes across the country by teachers, professors, administrator's and university students, each demanding more from an already empty pot.

I have read with some amusement various blogs and "news" reports in the Narco News, IndyMedia and elsewhere justifying the teacher's strike because they are "so poorly paid". NEWSFLASH!! Mexico is a poor country. Just about everyone in Mexico is poorly paid with the exceptions of several billionaires and almost all politicians and government officials above the rank of street sweeper. I pay my kid's nanny more than a beat cop makes. There ain't no more money.

El Economista suggests some ways to better invest money that would otherwise be poured into an already tottering and incompetent education system. The magic words are:

Job Creation

Without jobs, the education system will continue to suck money and spit out undereducated graduates that either cannot find a job at all, must accept a job which does not require their level of education (bad as that may be) or are lucky enough to get a job based upon their education resume but will earn 1/5 to 1/10 what a similiarly employed graduate will earn in the United States.

And the key to job creation?


Oaxaca doesn't have any industry because you can't move anything here, like raw materials, and you can't move anything north, like finished products. What should be a 2 1/2 hour drive to Puebla requires 4 1/2 to 6 hours, depending upon the season. During the rainy season -- May through October -- you have to dodge boulders lying in the highway. And the drive can't be made at all whenever some dissident opposition group or another decides to block the highway in pursuit of whatever is the grievance du jour.

And all of those grievances are real enough. But the government's attempts to mollify whichever group is squawking the loudest at any given moment drains away what little money there is. And that's all Mexican governments have done, historically. They molify, cajole, buy off and placate so as to pass on the problem after they've gotten theirs to the next administration which is entering office in the noble quest to get theirs.

El Economista also suggests that colleges and universities start looking for ways to become at least partially self supporting. Like, you know, the thousands of private as well as public universities in the United States. Anyone who believes that, say, the University of Nebraska relies for 100% of its funding on the state of Nebraska does not know how expensive the University of Nebraska is to operate and maintain, let alone grow.

And that is true of every state supported school in all of the 50 states united. And the private schools, like, uh, Harvard? Those schools don't get diddly from their home states unless its in the form of grants for which the schools usually must provide some return to the state, like research results and the like. None of that exists here.

The basic problem is, of course, the nanny state. Once the people, be it the campesino, the college administrator or the private businessman becomes accustomed to being cared for by the nanny state, bad as that care may be, the only viable option any of them are able to see is more care and more of the time. When the money doesn't exist for that care, which it never has and never did in the first place, they go on strike, bribe more politicians, march in the streets and/or burn buses.

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