Timberlake: Where your tax dollars really go


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The U.S. defense budget has risen in recent years which inspires questions of where tax dollars really go.

Ian Timberlake

In 1947 our national defense budget was below $100 billion. In 1952 it was nearly $500 billion, dropping to $225 billion in 1955, and has been on the incline since. Excluding the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, since 2001 our defense budget has gone up from $287 billion to $530 billion. These numbers have been adjusted for inflation.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2012 the United States spent $711 billion in military defense. This accounts for 41 percent of the world’s military spending and is equivalent to five China defense budgets — the world’s second in military spending.

The only thing I will say about tax and budget cuts is that, regardless of administration, most of them are likened to cutting a lawn of grass at a slower rate than it grows back. Or maybe the more satisfying, trimming the foam off the beer.

Without contempt, I will be the first to opine that whomever the world superpower is, has a responsibility to act (at some regard) as a global justifier — a swift hand of morality. A global hierarchy needs to exist to keep international justices at bay. This does not mean, however, we need to micromanage the entirety of Earth.

Since 1977, the defense budget has accounted for 41-65 percent of the total national budget, while the education budget has accounted for 3-6 percent (excluding state expenditure) — with the exception of the 2009 stimulus that briefly placed the number at 10 percent.

Obviously, the costs are not comparable. An Air Force B2 stealth bomber costs about $1 billion; we own 21. That alone accounts for a third of the entire Department of Education budget in 2012. I can’t simply say we need to take money out of defense and put it in education, and here’s why.

Data shows that the amount of money in a nation’s (or state’s) education budget does not immediately correlate with the quality of education received. The United States is tied with Switzerland for having the highest annual spending per student, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Among the 31 industrialized nations, we place 15th in literacy, 23rd in math, and 17th in science. Switzerland is 17th, 7th, and 18th, respectively. The top nations in each category have a relatively low education expenditure. Finland, Japan, and Korea are on top of the respective literacy, math, and science charts.

These three nations are not far from the top in the other two categories, with Finland considered to be the global example in education, where teachers are high-status and require masters degrees. University is also free in Finland.

What needs to happen is a large percentage of our money needs to be put toward education reform. It’s shown that once the proper education plan is in place, top dollar is no longer required to operate at an effective rate.

A small percentage of the defense budget put towards education reform would not be difficult, our government just needs a plan and have the guts to do it. Here’s my proposition:

Grades K through 12 need to be more difficult to pass by not “teaching to the test.” Private, religious, and boarding schools must maintain the minimum requirements of the public schools. Teachers need to be paid more and on performance — as well as easily fireable. Tenure needs to be more difficult to achieve, or flat-out removed. Curriculum needs to be more flexible and/or reevaluated. Education should be free until the age of 18. School years should be longer. More money should be awarded to schools with lower graduation rates: more books, better resources, and better paid/quality teachers. Classes need to be smaller and we should never have a more-supervisors-to-teachers ratio that currently exists.

Why revamp education?

Outside of maintaining the status quo of the success of humanity, improved education could fix many other areas of problem in our nation’s society — as speculated:

Crime rates would drop; prison costs would go down. Health would improve; cost of care would go down. Unplanned pregnancy would go down; children would be raised in more privileged homes. Economy would improve through better business and innovation.

We need to start placing money where it matters: less in military; less in prisons (where it annually costs more to bed an inmate than it does to send a student off to a university); less in foreign aid that includes nations, religious organizations, and major corporations. And more into: education reform, NASA, and the National Science Foundation — all of which contribute toward the advancement of education among other, smaller, organizations.

To do anything less would be subverting the human species one profound thought at a time. Please sign this petition I wrote to make education reform a top-3 priority for our government: http://wh.gov/Ga77


Ian Timberlake is a senior in aerospace engineering from Chicago, Illinois.