Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 23, 2010

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."

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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The corporate interests running the country have a vested interest in keeping the citizenry uneducated. Even most modern degree programs leave students dreadfully ignorant about government, history and personal finance.

What's more surprising about this story is that public schools have running water at all. I assumed by now they'd have dug latrines.

Posted by: doubtful on August 23, 2010 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Toilet paper?
They don't have TOILET PAPER?!?!
We are officially now a Banana Republic, thanks to Banana Republicans.
Absolutely amazing. And reprehensible.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on August 23, 2010 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

We have to do this for our school children in Columbia, MO, except we only had to provide Kleenex, not TP. However, the school supplies are not for the individual students-they go into a communal pot and are divvied up as needed. We also have to provide supplies for the teachers, including an ungodly number of dry erase markers. All hail Capitalism!

Posted by: Steve on August 23, 2010 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Careful, Benen. You are starting to sound like the Professional Left.

Posted by: square1 on August 23, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Steve writes: " We live in the wealthiest country in the planet,"

I think that depends on you definition of "wealth".

Debt per capita, yes.

Education, no.
Longevity, no.
Health, no.
Happiness. . .

Posted by: DAY on August 23, 2010 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

And here I was thinking this was simply the new normal for back to school shopping. We've been supplying wipes, paper towels, printer paper, and dry erase markers since my daughter was in kindergarten three years ago at our Minneapolis school. I don't mind, but I also can afford the extra $10 or so to supply the school with these items.

Posted by: Lisa on August 23, 2010 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

This isn't anything new - it's just getting noticed. My kids have both graduated from high school but we have been bringing basic supplies to school for years. When I was in charge of the PTA at my sons school part of our annual fundraiser was to supply soap for the bathroom soap dispensers, tissue for the teachers lounge, paper for the copiers, and list goes on and on. But then I live in a VERY red state that prides itself on individual liberties, which apparently includes the right to buy basic supplies for school kids! Welcome to Republicanland!!

Posted by: cmm on August 23, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

So the rest of the country is dropping to Alabama standards? Getting a list of things to bring to school, like toilet paper and paper towels, is a long standing practice in many of this state's school systems. We're a third world nation and damn proud of it.

We could double the property tax in this state and I would still be paying more for basic cable than I do on my house.

Posted by: martin on August 23, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

School districts wouldn't have such a problem buying toilet paper for the kids if we weren't paying million dollar salaries to the administrators. That is the single largest change in school budgets in the last twenty years.

Posted by: cr on August 23, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

I get it now. The GOP is trying to destroy the red states. The states in which they have the most supporters.

If Govt goes in the toilet the blue states will reap the benefits of not having to subsidize the red states.

In other words the people who want smaller govt the most have no idea the red states will go down in chaos if the blue states ever stop subsidizing them.

If the GOP regains control and stops the stimulus program those red states would fall off the map the next day.

We in the blue states might have to send our kids to schools with toilet paper but they won't have schools in the red states.

Check out this article.

The biting the hand that feeds you party.


America’s wealth is, indeed, being redistributed-from what the independent Tax Foundation calls the “giving states” of New York, New Jersey, New England, most of the northeast and California-to the “receiving states” consisting of all of the south and, ironically, Alaska.

For example, those poor socialists in New Jersey only get back $0.56 on the tax dollar. But for every tax dollar Mississippi sends to Washington they get back $2.02, more than doubling their money! That’s a Madoff return paid by the “giving states.” Same for Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Rand Paul’s Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina. Then, of course, there is Alaska.

I live in NJ.
Almost makes me wish the GOP took over.

Posted by: sharkbreath on August 23, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

What's more surprising about this story is that public schools have running water at all. I assumed by now they'd have dug latrines.
Posted by: doubtful on August 23, 2010 at 1:31 PM

And when they inevitably do they'll make the students to dig the latrines themselves.

Now that shortages of teachers and books are spreading to suburbia, we'll decide that shortfalls in education funding are unacceptable after all.

This is true; once little Madison and Joshua hop in the SUV after school and get Mommy off the Blackberry long enough to tell her they need to start bringing their own toilet paper, a new revolution will be underway!

Posted by: electrolite on August 23, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Historians will one day be awestruck over the fact that the middle class in the most powerful nation in history basically voted itself out of existence.

Posted by: Archon on August 23, 2010 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

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.

Never happen. You watch, the next project will be to fire the teachers (and administrators, cr, I think you were kidding but my snarkometer needs adjustment most Mondays) and go back to one-room schoolhouses. "Hey, it was good enough for great, great grandpa. Grandma? She was a girl, didn't need to waste no edumacation on her!

Posted by: efgoldman on August 23, 2010 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Er, Hawai'i is not going to a four-day school week. It DID have 17 Friday Furlough days last school year, but there is no attempt or desire to institutionalize that as standard. In fact, the lege either passed or tried to pass a bill to lengthen the school year.

Posted by: Linkmeister on August 23, 2010 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to throw the cold water on this party, but stories like this will only reinforce the anti-tax crowd. I live in a midwestern suburb, and you know what people without kids in school ask? "Why should I pay to educate someone else's kids?" Because, you know, they act as though they paid for 100% of the cost of educating their own kids who are grown now.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on August 23, 2010 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

goldman: ...(and administrators, cr, I think you were kidding but my snarkometer needs adjustment most Mondays)

No, not snark. Our district is actually firing teachers, but keeping tons of administrators on at ridiculously inflated salaries. I don't think that's funny at all.

Posted by: cr on August 23, 2010 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Bob Dole used to claim quite loudly that it was your money , before John Kerry's silver star apparently meant something other than a football for notable cowards to either hide behind or just ignominiously kick .
Now the former Senate leader meant that the prosperity that was being taken for granted , ushered in by what to amounts to a moderate tax policy was basically a political exercise in class warfare . So class warfare and immoderate taxation were the points Dole struggled to make . How adorable that looks compared with the bright lights of gunslinging advocation , at best rancorously presented , of the tendentious party of Limbaugh and Rove . Less it be forgotten , at no less than a presidential appearance these stalwarts of principle served as stewards carefully husbanding against the imaginary threats to our fragile second amendment .
I subscribe to what seems brilliantly clear from my photosensitive position , the vision of sharecroppers has more to do with the Luntz parables of bathing government before interring it , than the health and safety of a fresh and clean government .
Is Mr Benen's startling summation of life after reason just a cynical attempt to put a gloss on a failed experiment of governing by the authority of the people ? Some how I am less confident than I was in my younger days , after all the majority party has been mauled by the smallest minority in a generation .

Posted by: FRP on August 23, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Our fifth grade list included:a ream of printer paper, 4 rolls of paper towels, Germ-X with aloe, Clorox cleaner wipes, baby wipes and Kleenex. Oh, and some folders.

But, OTOH, the school district only cleans the rooms once a week so kudos to the teachers for taking steps to clean their own rooms.

Posted by: Sandtress on August 23, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

How amazingly appropriate this cartoon is...


Posted by: Zorro on August 23, 2010 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Yes..."Why should I pay to educate someone else's kids?" Because 1)they paid for YOU and 2)an intelligent electorate is WORTH it! Of course, there is the comment about the middle class voting itself out of existence. I'm gonna have to remember that.

Posted by: SYSPROG on August 23, 2010 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

It's a matter of personal responsibility. Parents should be responsible for their own kids' poop. (/snark)

Posted by: LarryB on August 23, 2010 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

School districts wouldn't have such a problem buying toilet paper for the kids if we weren't paying million dollar salaries to the administrators. That is the single largest change in school budgets in the last twenty years.

Actually, if you REALLY want to cut out waste, make school district employees take a benefits plan that is similar to what the private sector gets. More $$ is spent on health benefits in school districts than on technology.
Read this if you want to get an idea about what state employees and teachers really value.

Posted by: Gridlock on August 23, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK
More $$ is spent on health benefits in school districts than on technology.

How (given our screwed up employer-dependent system of health coverage- not that that SHOULD be a given) could it possibly be otherwise in an enterprise as labor-intensive as education? Give me the best teachers without any more technology than pencil, paper and blackboards and you can have the fancy technology.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 23, 2010 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, the bananarepublicans at "work"...

Posted by: Neil B on August 23, 2010 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK


I have no problem with teachers getting good benefits and pensions; we all should. But there's no reason that a district superintendent of a medium size district should be paid twenty times the salary of an average teacher. That's bullshit.

Posted by: cr on August 23, 2010 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Sigh. And the biggest bloodsucking program -- of which most people are either ignorant or choose to ignore -- is military spending. It's skyrocketed from the previously obscene ~$350B/yr under Reagan (held steady by HW & Clinton) to the astonishing $700B/yr under W (held steady by Obama). And no politician -- save Kucinich and a handful of others -- Dem or Rep, will touch the topic of CUTS, because it's political death. INSANE.

That's nearly $2500 per person per year ($10k for a family of four) -- for thousands of nukes, a huge air force, navy, army, weapons of death galore, to "defend" us from what exactly? The Russian Army? A Japanese Imperial Navy? Al Queada? Illegal Mexican immigrants?

And people fume endlessly over a carbon tax (say $200/yr), or gay marriage (um, $0), and now toilet paper for the kids (what--$10/yr?).

When will this country wake up?

Posted by: lrtc on August 23, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

There isn't significant waste in education. That is a load of crap. Sure, some administrators are overpaid (and redundant). But mostly we get what we pay for.

As Steve LaBonne points out, education (like health care) is labor-intensive. Yes, technology can improve efficiently somewhat, but it just doesn't scale too much. It takes roughly the same number of teachers to teach the same number of students the same material as it did 50 or 100 years ago.

What does this mean? That over time we should EXPECT to pay an increasing percentage of our income on labor-intensive services like education and heath care.

Yes, there are efficiencies to be found, wastes to be eliminated, and anti-competitive practices to be regulated. But, as a matter of principle, health care and education should get more expensive and we shouldn't be shocked.

Posted by: square1 on August 23, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

In states I'm familiar with the typical superintendent salary in a medium-sized district is on the order of $150,000. Compare that with any top executive of a business of similar size.

There are certainly significant problems of administrative top-heaviness in many districts, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to overall underfunding of education. Not to mention that you can't simultaneously want schools run by competent managers who are good custodians of the public's money, yet not want to pay what it takes to get such people. It is a fact, at least where I live (Ohio), that districts are finding it more and more difficult to attract and retain superintendents. Those who scapegoat them certainly don't have the best interests of the educational system at heart.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 23, 2010 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Note that, in most places in the US, public school funding is largely based on local property taxes. This is, by design, redundant, as it all but guaranteed that kids from poor families will get more poorly-educated than kids from rich families.

Public schools are *purposely* underfunded. This trend has accelerated over the past 40 years or so, for one simple reason: stupid people are easier to manipulate. And, as an added bonus, by keeping people stupid you wind up w/a readily-available pool of cheap, easily-exploitable labor.

To tie these paragraphs together, notice that rich kids in the suburbs generally get well-funded public schools. Those are the ruling classes kids- they get the good education to better allow them to keep exploiting the poor kids in future years.

Feeling especially cynical of late,

Posted by: Zorro on August 23, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

All together now: "Freedom."

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 23, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

We note the outrage of childless folks ranting about THEIR tax dollars going to educate the offspring of others.

Wait until you hear the screams when hard working folk realize that THEIR payroll deductions are going to support geezers on the golf course. . .

Posted by: Day on August 23, 2010 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Oh ... no, no, no! It just proves that GOVERNMENT SUX and that privatization is the only answer!

Seriously, though. This isn't just the result of tight budgets - it is also the result of a political program. In many states, the public school system is being gradually and deliberately defunded. Too many voters don't prioritize education funding any longer (as opposed to, say, Medicare and Medicaid).

The GOP in my state promotes the breakup and privatization of the public school system every so often. Many voters - especially older ones, who no longer have kids in the system - treat education as a personal problem, and one that the parents should assume rather than the rest of society. If you challenge them on this, what you get are sneers about teachers unions and worthless, undeserving kids as rationalizations for what is, essentially, a form of generational warfare. Add in the people who homeschool or use private schools, and you have a substantial voting bloc.

And while the majority of the public isn't embracing this screw-the-schools agenda all the way, they are definately embracing the incremental approach. The public education system is gradually de-funded, and turned into a fee-for-service public enterprise that is no longer really supported by the community (or the state universities by the state).

Posted by: Bokonon on August 23, 2010 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Bloated Intelligence Service Structure
F 22s
Electronic Battlefields
Payoffs to the Taliban to Allow Trucks to pass through
Non payment of taxes by the rich
Agricultural subsidies
Giveaway prices to timber oil and mining rights
Pentagon can't account for $8 billion...?

A billion here, a billion there...and a few more tax cuts for the rich and before you know it, you are wiping your kid's ass with gravel.

Posted by: dweb on August 23, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

This is partly a consequence of demographics. Only 44% of the US population consists families with children under the age of 18. One would hope that the other 56% would value public education and an educated workforce, but obviously, they don't. Children are regarded as a personal consumer good, not the future of our society: "You choose to have a child, I choose to buy a Mercedes."

So, on the one hand, people with no children often don't see why they should be forced to educate the children of others. You choose to have children; you can pay for their education!

And conservatives regard the public school system as a state monopoly out to corrupt the minds and spirits of the young (not Christian! Not English! No Evolution! Forced integration! Multicultural! a Hate-America first curriculum!) so they don't want to pay for it. And liberals haven't been able to make the case that public education accomplishes what they claim it accomplishes; the achievement gap has given Conservatives a huge opportunity to frame public education as a big welfare program designed to transfer money from hardworking "us" to low-achieving "them"--whether students or teachers.

It is shocking to think of parents having to supply toilet paper, but I think that is an unintended side effect of viewing the public school system as a way to transform society.

Posted by: PTate in MN on August 23, 2010 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

The idea of public education isn't to 'transform society;' it's to preserve it.

From one perspective, government by the people and for the people is impossible unless the people are decently educated. Of course, if your express goal is to end government by the people- at least, government by other than 'your people'- then starving public education not only makes sense, it's all but obligatory.

From another perspective, well-educated workers are better workers. But, again, if your interest is in maintaining a large group of easily-exploited workers, then starving public education is, again, helpful, as is allowing a constant stream of illegal immigrants.

In other words, public education is *necessary* if we expect to remain a democratic republic. If public education dies on the vine, then only the ruling class' children will be educated, thereby perpetuating the ruling class. But, again, this is likely precisely the goal of some who wish to starve public education.


Posted by: Zorro on August 23, 2010 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

You can be sure that students at private schools (the schools that all the elites and pols' kids attend) do not suffer from a shortage of anything.

Their solution to their "starve the beast" plan is charter schools, handing over our public dollars to corporations that will impose their agenda and simultaneously slash educator's benefits for profit.

But all is not lost. So what if our children are indoctrinated into corporatism as long as we don't raise taxes on the filthy rich? It will save us our hard-earned after-tax dollars and our kids will have the luxury of free toilet paper. Watch a few commercials and feel free to wipe your arse on our dime.

Posted by: Theodore Wirth on August 23, 2010 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

So far this year, and we're about two weeks in, we've put up over $500 for each of our high-schoolers for their "public" education, on top of the standard "back to school supplies". We pay for sports, we pay for all art and computer supplies, we pay for their English reading materials (!); we are required to buy a PE uniform and even a lock for their PE locker from the school (as a security professional, I find that absolutely absurd); we are required to donate classroom materials.

Posted by: Tom Dibble on August 23, 2010 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Our high school has asked us to kick in some cash to make up for our governor's (CA) raid on the education budget. I'll kick in $2k this year. Cheaper than private school.

Posted by: JohnK on August 23, 2010 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

No to TP for grade schoolers, but its a must that the US spend more than the rest of the world COMBINED every year on the massively wasteful US "defense" budget and increase that every single year. The choices Americans allow their plutocratic slovering politicians to make with their money is nothing short of disgusting and pathetic.

Posted by: pluege on August 23, 2010 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

How ironic... For such an arrogant country that believes it's the best of the best in everything, this is quite sad. And yet, you keep wasting money and resources in plastic plates at lunch? When I was in school, we ate real food, cooked from scratch, with real plates and real cutlery. This mentality of one-time use stuff is stupid. But I digress..

Posted by: Jfk on August 24, 2010 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

When a child brings toilet paper to school, an adult in the school system profits. I've learned that as a public school parent here in Louisiana. Do school board members, administrators, or their
administrative assistants & secretaries bring their own toilet paper to school? Oh, no . . . they avoid school like that dope smoking dude who sat next to me (sometimes) in homeroom. Their new office building is clean, well air-conditioned, carpeted, has new desks & plush chairs . . . and is fully stocked with toilet paper. Oh, and they have expense accounts . . . instead of buying school supplies, school tax money in Louisiana pays for their car expenses, for their pricey restaurant meals with administrator pals . . . . and for the office supplies (toilet paper?) they regularly bring home. They way they booze it up, I should just be happy "healthy liver" isn't on the list of items my child is expected to "donate" this school year . . .

Posted by: honeybadger on August 24, 2010 at 3:16 AM | PERMALINK



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