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Letter to the President

Tony Dudik

 

This letter was written as partial requirement to complete a graduate-level class during the fall of 2005 under Dr. Barry Price. While reading “Letter To The Next President,” by Carl Glickman for Dr. Price, he asked us- as a final assignment- to write our own letter concerning education to the next President of the United States. I have sent it- and read it- to several friends and colleagues and at their urging I submit this for Anthology readers far and wide in hope that someday my hopes and aspirations in this letter will become reality, and to perhaps stimulate a healthy discussion on the subject, not only in my home state that I love dearly but across this great land.

God Bless America. And God Bless Texas.

 

Dear Mr. President,

I use “Mr.” since I fully expect that a woman has not been elected; the Republicans in no way, form, or fashion have any intention of allowing a mere woman to run or win the Presidency and my own Democratic friends can’t even figure out how to put a set of wiper blades on the broken-down vehicle of our party. Whoever you are, I trust this letter finds you settling into the Office well and the coffee in the Navy mess downstairs as strong as I remember it.

This letter is an urgent appeal to your sense of duty to not only the Office in which you sit, but is a call to arms for a crisis that stands to cripple our nation in the next two generations, if not sooner. This firestorm on the horizon is not some far off emergency that can be settled by dropping in the 82nd Airborne, nor can tightening our borders or strengthening security in our airports fix it.

The problem is right here inside our shores, right in the public schools and communities of this great land: public education is begging for help and desperately needs your unequivocal attention. Without your immediate attention and a firm commitment from Congress to step up to the plate and start hitting homeruns for the schoolchildren of America, the gently protected minds of tomorrow will be left withering on the windswept crags of history.

If you, as President, decide to take on such a monumental task of restoring public education, you will find yourself caught between the fireplug and a dog and you will probably wonder how you will survive such a battle. I assure you that there have been many in your shoes (or boots) that have wondered the same thing. And, no doubt, there will be more to come who face tasks equally as daunting in their struggles.

Not since the heady days of civil rights reform has this great nation faced such divisive and refractive burdens. The problems facing public education today are painfully obvious in concept, yet meandering in their solution.

We can sit in our comfortable armchairs and watch the evening news and say that international problems are best left to governments across the sea. That crises around the globe are best left there and not brought to our homeland; that the problems of the less-fortunate are not always ours and they are destined for their lot in life. That our leaders of this nation are cynical and cannot be the sole agents of change in America: as Toby Ziegler once said, “…but that, my friends, is not worthy of you; it's not worthy of a president; it's not worthy of a great nation; it's not worthy of America.”

I write this letter in mid-December of 2005, less than a calendar year from the midterms of 2006, and a full three years before you have moved into the White House. But, just in the past few days we have seen the distinct lack of concern and compassion for public school children in the country. Your predecessor, George W. Bush, a man of notable shortcomings, pushed through a full-throated fight for his landmark legislation vowing to leave no child behind. Yet, that is what has happened. Child after child after child is being left behind in education.

Earlier this week, Congress passed tax-cut legislation adding another $56 billion, spread out over five years, that further deepens the deficit and allows for a cut in excess of $50 billion (that was passed just three weeks ago) that reduces funding to critical services to low and middle-income families, including $14.3 billion in cuts from federal student financial aid programs- the largest, mind you, cuts to the student financial aid programs (including Pell Grants) in the history of their existence.

The war in Iraq, which we now see was a sham: an excuse to divert attention away from the Saudis who financed the 9/11 attacks and the friends of the Bush Administration involved in the oil and defense industries. Leaving the human cost out of the equation, think about the financial costs associated with the war in Iraq alone. Now, I am not a mathematician, but let’s look at the numbers for a minute.

We’ve spent over $230 billion in Iraq thus far. With $230 billion, we could send 5 million American college students to college every year and give them a scholarship of $11,500 a year for four years.

With $230 billion, we could send 3 million American college students to college for four years, give them a scholarship of $11,500 and buy them a Lexus to drive off to college in.

If a senior citizen were taking four of the most widely used drugs for a range of ailments from hypertension to ulcers, their average yearly cost for their prescriptions is $4,251. With $230 billion and using data from the US Census Bureau basing this projection on 55 million senior citizens, we could pay for every senior citizen in the United States’ prescriptions every year for the next one hundred years.

With $230 billion, we could spend $3,750 a year for fifty years on every child in every public school in the United States.

While countries like India and China are making impressive improvements to the educational systems, our Congress is doing everything they can to bleed it dry, especially for students from low and middle-income families whose life dream is to go to college. All done while we’re spending $5 billion per month on a war in Iraq, thereby furthering the deficit. Where is the conservativism and compassion in that?

When we went to war in the past (at least until WWII), a President asked Congress for a declaration of war then Congress raised taxes to pay for the cost of the war. When President Bush began to prosecute the war on terror and on Saddam Hussein, Congress refused to raise taxes in order to pay for it. So, the costs of the war are going to be passed on to our children and grand children.

I urge you to fully commit to funding our educational programs that will help lead us out of the desert of mire and establish a culture of dedication to our schoolchildren and the future. So much waste in government and such little hope for the correction and prioritization in spending. Below are just a few items I have noted in federal legislation (in 2005, alone) that I really think we can live without:

· $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Iowa
· $102 million to study screwworms (these were eradicated at least forty years ago)
· $50,000 for a tattoo removal program in California
· $1 million for laptop computers for 20 police cars in Wassilla, Alaska (that’s $50,000 for each laptop)
· A $3 million grant to the Cal Ripkin, Sr. Foundation; $100,000 to the Tiger Woods Foundation (Tiger won $1.85 million in his first two victories in 2005; his foundation has assets in excess of $32 million)
· Since 1986, $439 million to the International Fund for Ireland (this year, Congress gave $10 million to help build a replica of a Canadian ship that ferried Irish famine victims to Canada)
· $1.7 million for the International Fertilizer Development Center
· $40 million for the Department of Homeland Security Fellowship Program (of 101 students trained in this federal program in 2004, two were hired by the DHS)
· $3.72 million to “finish” the Capital Visitor’s Center (swelling in excess of 111 times its intended cost, the center still isn’t finished.)
· $3 million for a US House of Representatives staff member fitness facility
· $1 million for the National Center for Air and Space Law (University of Mississippi)

 

In all honesty, I really think we can live at least another millennium without the need for a visitor’s center extolling the greatness of Congress and standing as a self-appreciating, pompous monument to itself.

Now, nobody with a lick of sense can sit here and argue that an increase in federal funding will completely result in higher test scores, better retention rates, lower dropout rates, or much else. But, at least it’s a start. When our policy-makers and Congressional leaders come to the realization that we desperately need to tighten the regulations on how federal money is spent and where it is spent, then we can get a handle on spending. With block grants, there is so much room for using federal funds for increasing administrative salaries and graft. Who’s to say that every penny for schools is going where it needs to be (with “needs” being the operative word, here) and not to frivolous programs or worthless purchases? Why not pressure your partners in Congress to line out where the funding will go and get away from the block grant notion and fully fund education across the board? Did I say ‘pressure?’ I meant LEAD! How about LEAD the Congress in this direction by publicly stating that during your Administration you plan to see that Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be fully funded, if it hairlips Bill Frist.

In Texas, education funding is quite disheartening because nobody wants to talk about HOW we solve the problem. Members of the legislature will propose their own, individual suggestions but when it’s time to sit down and talk them over and discuss areas to change and negotiate, there’s just silence… the conference committees must sound like Bill Clinton and George W. getting together to swap war stories.

Speaking of the state level, there MUST be some sort of equalization formula that will support education for a fair and equitable distribution of funds to the roughly one thousand school districts in Texas. But what is fair and equitable? Do you balance everything out by reducing funding to wealthy districts and increasing funding to poorer districts? The Texas tax code only allows for so much negotiation room in how we tax property values for school district funding. What about the school districts in West Texas that are extremely wealthy from mineral, gas, and oil revenues but have very few students? How would one handle this situation? Suffice to say that there are regions nationwide with this same predicament.

As an eighth-generation Texan, I speak with some authority on this matter as I have watched and studied Texas politics for over twenty-five years: there is but one way to solve our education crisis and that is for every penny collected in every school district in Texas to be sent to Austin. Then and only then can the tax dollars be divided evenly and equally and sent back to each school district. If we did this, school districts in Texas would have more money than they know what to do with. But until that day comes, the poor districts and their children will continue to suffer at the hands of the Legislature and the rich districts will continue their patterns of wasting money for frivolous expenses.

If you and the Congress could somehow- magically- sit down and take a true, bipartisan approach to education… leave the hatred, personal and special interest agendas and contempt at the door… and really take an honest and forthright look at tackling the crisis of funding education, then, Mr. President, that’s another good start.

We have entrusted you with not only the tremendous responsibility of leading this country, but you have also earned the support (or at least enough electoral votes to win) of the American public. Words are inadequate to describe the pressure you will feel over the next four years. The constant drains on your time, emotions, and previous commitments will cause you to draw on an inner strength that only men who have served in your Office know. You will feel from this day forward the honor and distinction of being recognized wherever you go and I sincerely hope that you will bring honor and trust to not only your duties as President, but to the far more greater duties of the Office.

And so, if this farmboy- rich in human friends but poor in worldly goods- can impart to you any suggestions for success, it would be to start with our youngest and most cherished commodities as a society. And when I think of the honors and kindness that I have known in my life, I think of the dreams and aspirations that I personally would like to see become realities for every man, woman, and child in this great land. I want my hopes and dreams to be those of all who serve in public office- that we not forget about those who suffer with grinding poverty, school classrooms like some of the ones I grew up in with leaky ceilings and roofs, and give every child and not the token few, the chance to have a better life in the world than their parents had.

But sadly today, that reality does not exist. Not for the 5 year old who starts school in classrooms with duct-tape on the broken windows or with textbooks that are missing covers and pages. For the baby born with birth defects that will have an uphill battle the rest of its life, which might have been prevented with adequate prenatal care that this government could fund. For the children along the Rio Grande, many of whom will likely never see the inside of a college classroom, let alone make a living wage substantial enough to support a family.

We need not overly concern ourselves with national tests that will tell us if Little Lucy is learning as well as her contemporaries in the 1st grade: we need to foster in these children the spirit of hope that someday they will be able to rise up out of grinding poverty and the staggering way of life that is the ruin to millions- even right here in Texas- of children. Whether it is from a college environment or technical school, at least they deserve an equal chance. Mr. President, we can do better than this. You can do better than this. And we owe it to the future generations and the history of the ages to do better.

Mr. President, your challenges are great in number and the rewards are few. You hold the future in your hands, and the reins of leadership of Congress tucked into your belt. Only by taking that first step forward and approaching the Congressional leadership with outstretched hands and not clinched fists can you save education. How can we expect society to cultivate the hope I wrote of earlier if you are not willing to believe and hope for a better tomorrow for ALL children? How can we ask children to perform in a classroom environment that suffers in some regions of the country as bad as third-world and developing nations halfway across the world? If you don’t believe me on this, hop in a limousine and take a trip through Appalachia, or visit some of the Native American reservations in the Western United States.

We can do better, Mr. President. Horace Mann once said that we rule by the majority and if the majority is insane, then the sane must go to the asylums. It is up to you to pull sanity from the depths of Washingtonian policy, no matter the personal or political costs. I know I stand with millions of other Americans- and Texans- and offer my support, trust, and faith that you will do whatever is necessary to save our young people.

With every good wish and hope for the future, I remain,

Very respectfully yours,

 

Tony Dudik,
Graduate Student
Tarleton State University
Stephenville, Texas