Every day for the past two weeks, my Mom has been driving a fourth-grader who graduated from her Bright Stars preschool program—the same Mom and program on which I focused in this Tribute post—about 35 miles (each way) to a Central Virginia horse farm. There, the farm’s owner, a friend of my Mom’s, has been offering this girl a free slot at the horse riding camp she operates during the summers. This is the second summer where such a slot has been offered to one of the Bright Star graduates, in each case a girl who is recovering from sexual abuse. My Mom has been extremely impressed with how much these couple of weeks, and especially the connection to a particular horse that each girl has fostered during that time, have helped the kids to move forward in the very difficult but essential healing process, as well as other parallel growth and maturation processes in their young lives. Because of the generosity and efforts of both my Mom and the farm owner, the experience costs virtually nothing to the school system or the state or the taxpayers, and yet, like all that my Mom and her colleagues do for their kids and families (the program continues to work with the kids and families through 5th grade), it would not exist without the overarching state- and local-funded Bright Stars program.
The vast majority of the spending cuts required by the just-passed debt ceiling deal are to be made in the euphemistically titled “non-defense discretionary spending”; as the article at the first link details, that category comprises a variety of areas, but certainly includes educational and social programs—and Bright Stars, like many programs, is a combination of those two types—front and center. A cynic might argue that my entire first paragraph is too unique or anecdotal to be relevant to the question of such cuts, might contend that such programs in general work far less consistently or include far too much bureaucracy and waste or otherwise can stand to be cut; in point of fact, I have read and encountered a wide variety of arguments along the latter lines, as well as parallel arguments that since we simply must cut spending, the cuts should at least come not from nationally necessary programs such as Social Security or Medicare, nor by negatively impacting industries that create jobs and grow the economy, but from programs like these, which unfortunately are just (in this argument) more cut-able than the other areas. An even more cynical perspective would add that the beneficiaries of a program such as Bright Stars not only are unlikely to vote but have virtually no voice in our national and communal conversations, and as such are perhaps the only group affected by potential spending cuts who will not protest those cuts nor otherwise complicate the process moving forward.
The only problem with those various points is that they’re all completely nonsensical. For one thing, social and educational programs already receive less governmental, federal funding than any other item on the budget; if we simply must cut spending, we presumably must do so in such a way as to genuinely impact the budget moving forward, and cutting these programs will not achieve that objective. For another, while every industry and field includes wasteful or unnecessary spending and bureaucracy, that already-low level of funding for these educational and social programs, coupled with the tremendous amount that their workers contribute and give on their own—I firmly believe that my Mom’s and her friend’s generosity in the above anecdote, impressive as it is, is quite the opposite of an anomaly—means that far less is wasted in these programs than in (for example) the defense industry or the budgets of the giant corporations whose tax breaks remain untouched in the debt deal. And for yet another and by far the most important—if also the least quantifiable—thing, the human cost of cutting these programs is without question the most explicit and destructive. It’s there that the power of the above anecdote is really revealed: without Bright Stars and the opportunities that it, combined with the efforts of my Mom and her friend, can offer, this young girl and hundreds more in this one program—and millions more in programs and schools around the country—would have no support, no recourse from the horrors that far too often constitute their lives, virtually (if not certainly) no possibility of changing those lives for the better. And what could be of more communal and national importance than the question of whether millions of young Americans will or will not have the opportunity to become strong and successful adults and citizens?
I don’t personally believe that we should be focused on cutting spending at all, but that’s an argument for a different post. For now, the bottom line is that, even for those who believe again that we simply must cut spending, our consistent and continuing priorities in what, and who, we cut first are so profoundly ass backwards as to defy both reason and compassion. What can those of us outside of the corridors of power do about that? Well, for one thing, we can tell stories like the one in my first paragraph, of the people at the heart of these most vital and endangered American programs. If those people don’t have enough of a voice in our conversations right now, then all the more reason for us to make sure we voice our support for them. More tomorrow,
PS. Three links to start with:
1) A Mother Jones story on where the “non-defense discretionary spending” cuts are likely to come from: http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/united-states-of-austerity
2) The website for the Bright Stars program: http://www.albemarle.org/department.asp?department=dss&relpage=3897
3) OPEN: What do you think?
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