Watching an old country shoot itself in the foot from south Georgia, good ol’US of A

With things calming down approaching what in 1980s UK terms used to be called Chrimbo in North Bury (Labour seat turned Tory), I thought I’d share some US-UK cheer in the spirit of Trump, the Brexit salvationist. Your author teaches in a Title 1 school in Hinesville, Georgia, USA. Title 1 offers extra Federal Funding for school’s students disproportionately in poverty. Our school, because Hinesville is an Army base, gets generous federal funding.

Statewide 2015-16, Georgia paid 46% of education spending. The Georgia Department of Education (GaDoe) ranks us on a 100-point scale. We are a 75.3 CCRPI (College and Career Readiness Performance Indexes) school. The average is 77. This, as sometime Lib Dem supporter, Alistair Campbell (campaigning for Luciana Berger) had it, is a ‘bog standard (American) Comprehensive School’.

GaDoe for our school – non-ironically one administrator calls it Godot – reports 55.1% African-American, 66.2% economically disadvantaged, 19.7% white and 14.4% Hispanic students. Last month, waiting for Godot ended: we managed a 2-point CCRPI improvement. CCRPI rank us by complex metrics against unattainable goals.  After a decade here, an achievement given staff churn, your author, teaching 12th English has some observations.

I notice a vogue for predicting US politics based on the UK’s general election and visa versa. The BBC’s Anthony Zurcher recently asked Does UK hold clues to Trumps fortunes?. The answer is no. The US has a constitution; the UK does not: well, not a modern, European style written constitution anyway. But that, as so many Brexiters appear to believe, makes the UK better, since “We didn’t lose World War Two” – a bit of an obsession of theirs, no?   “We” didn’t win it either – not without the USA. There won’t be trans-Atlantic salvation this time, whatever Johnson flunkies think. Contrast what I hope will still be in the UK with what has existed here for decades.

If the UK labour movement’s decline has had results for progressive politics (especially the Labour Party), it is reasonable to suppose Georgia’s history of small-scale state government has had educational consequences. This state’s budget in 2020 is $27.5 billion. A total of $10.6 billion of that gets spent on public education. In 2015-16 there were 1,764,215 students in public, 189,630 in private schools, many affluent Atlanta ones. Georgia’s 2019 GDP is $613,105,200 million. So Georgia, a low tax, low service state, spends 1.73% of GDP educating its citizens. According to the OECD, UK education spending in 2016, after austerity, was 4.2%. Our local income tax – we have one, Florida and New Hampshire do not – is 6%, reduced to 5.75% by a Republican governor for 2020, who spent 95% of new budget money giving 114,000 Georgia teachers a $3,000 raise.

Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, whom I didn’t vote for, but who a colleague knows well, believes two things about schoolteachers. As they vote the state goes electorally. His democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, implicated him in vote suppression by among other things purging those who had not voted recently. Second, public school teachers are cheaper than public safety officials (Police, Fire, Highway Patrol, National Guard). Teachers keep hope on life-support in a state with high poverty rates and a criminalized underclass. If you think chlorinated chicken and NHS drugs dangers from closer US alignment, think again. America is no social democracy. There is much to fear from Boris Johnson’s neo-liberal, free trade agenda. Let progressives -Liberal Democrats especially – unite!  It could get a lot worse.

* John David Leaver is a Lib Dem member currently working in the USA

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  • Simon McGrath 22nd Dec '19 - 12:18pm

    Can you clarify what point you are trying to make ?

  • A rather amusing post, hinting that we spend too much on education or that we should have local income tax (some States have property taxes rather than local income tax, maybe some even have both) or something that I missed? Boris getting Britain battle-ready for Brexit will have many politico’s in anguish, especially if he gets it right for the majority and his poll rating gets past 50 percent. With Trump’s own personal history of getting the better deal out of company bankruptcy, if he gets reelected who knows what he will be doing to an economy absolutely drowning in personal, state and govn debt?

    Actually the economy in 1920s Britain wasn’t that good. Labour disputes culminating in the General Strike of 1926 and of course the London stock market crash in September 1929. Wall Street followed.

  • John David Leaver 23rd Dec '19 - 12:26am

    Perhaps the style of my piece rather clouds its meaning. In short, education in Georgia, Southern states generally, is underfunded and yet miracles are still expected. The only resulting miracles are, of course, rhetorical ones. As teachers here we are subject to constant initiatives which rarely have time to bear fruit of any kind before the next bright idea heads at us ‘down the pike’. Unsurprisingly there is a teacher shortage. Many of our responsibilities come at us as unfunded mandates, federal requirements without much financial support to really pursue them. This is especially so in Special Education, what is special needs education in the UK. I offered the piece as a warning. I wonder how far issues identified here are felt in British state schools. In Georgia we have minimalist state government and lowly ranked schools as a result. This has its economic as well as human consequences, of course.

  • John David Leaver 23rd Dec '19 - 1:24am

    As the ITV article indicates, US ambassadors are chosen sometimes on account of being Presidential friends. Sondland who testified against Trump was a Seattle hotel owner, before giving ‘readies’ to the Donald. Always better when ambassadors are chosen as career diplomats like Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump removed to facilitate his conspiracy theories about supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Ambassadors like Woody simply donated to the Donald. Heretofore they usually served only as ceremonial letter boxes – like Shirley Temple in Ghana – but Trump has emboldened all kinds of lunatic ideas. Woody has a track record, as you’d expect, of saying some pretty outlandish things. Look up some of the ambassador’s ‘great thoughts’ on The Netherlands, for instance. Thanks for the comments.

  • John David Leaver 23rd Dec '19 - 1:40am

    Oh, I missed a point or two, Manfarang. It is exceedingly common for unsophisticates like Woody to see everything overseas exclusively from a US POV. The 1920s over here were for some certainly an age of excess (The Jazz age, the Roaring Twenties) that many suffered for later in the 1930s. Both were decades when the cultural gaps between the rural and the urban — e.g. prohibition (cities wet, rural areas dry) — were as wide as they are today, with Trump popular in neglected rural as well as deindustrialized urban areas. There’s also an anti-intellectualism which Trump’s mentor Roy Cohen fed on and nurtured while working for Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Here in Georgia there are still dry rural counties left over from prohibition.

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