Playing Games with LA’s Future

For more than a year now, we have been hearing about the dire financial state of public education in California.  We’re ridden a roller coaster of threats of massive teacher layoffs and a two-year ban on the purchase of any textbooks or instructional materials.  We’ve viewed district after district struggle to meet the school equity requirements placed on them by the courts.  And we’ve witnessed state officials dance a West Coast two-step to quickly eliminate the barriers to additional federal education funding.  And even though California has spent more of its education stimulus dollars, percentage wise, than any other state in the union, schools in the Golden State are still hurting and are still facing tough decisions and even tougher cuts.

Fortunately, Cali Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has now stepped up to make a major investment in the future of the state, or at least in the future of the greater Los Angeles area.  In the name of creating jobs, growing the economy, and strengthening the community, the guvernator yesterday signed a bill that could deliver upwards of a billion dollars to the City of Angels, money that would be coupled with a $150 million bond pledged by the business community.
Unfortunately, not a dime of these funds will ever see an LA classroom or be used to help an LA teacher improve their craft and meet the new demands being placed on our public schools.  Not a dollar of it is doing to school improvement or innovation.  And not a penny will go to support Los Angeles’ blossoming charter school movement.  No, the entire kitty is designated to go an build a new football stadium for the city, a stadium for an NFL football team that does not exist.  The full story can be found here.
Why does this matter?  In these tough economic times, we have to make choices.  Schwarzenegger signed the controversial spending bill claiming that this stadium investment would generate jobs and bring an economic boost to Los Angeles.  Noble goals, yes.  But there are few facts to back it up.  Even since the renaissance of baseball stadium construction launched two decades ago in Baltimore, we have heard how new sports stadiums result in jobs and economic development.  But in study after study, researchers have found that such impact lasts only as long as the construction cranes are on site.  Once the venue opens to the public, the economic impact is complete.  Jobs are temporary, manifest in the construction itself.  Then the community goes back to normal.  That’s why cities have shied away from paying the tab for such construction projects in recent years, leaving it to the teams that will enjoy the long-term benefits of a shiny new stadium.
In an era where dollars are in short supply in California, if the goal is really to invest in job creation and economic strength, is this really the best investment for the citizens of Los Angeles?  Right now, the state is trying to move heaven and earth to get Race to the Top dollars, following the belief that these dollars can serve as make or break for the future of California education.  If successful, RttT would likely result in a few million dollars a year for four years to LAUSD.  Yes, LAUSD’s cut of a successful RttT grant likely won’t even cover the laundry costs for the school district’s athletic teams. 
Imagine what would be possible if they could muster the strength to move this $1 billion from a stadium that may be used on any given Sunday and instead invest it in LAUSD.  One billion to ensure that LA students are gaining the skills and knowledge they need to hold 21st century jobs.  One billion to improve high school graduation rates.  One billion to demonstrate the relevance of K-12 education to the futures of K-12 students.  One billion to truly innovate and improve.  A $1 billion targeted investment at what LA public schools need the most.  
Football stadiums may be the sexy choice, but they’ll break your hearts and empty your wallets.  If the goal is to create jobs and strengthen the economy, it doesn’t take a Vegas oddsmaker to tell you that the schools are a far better bet than a new stadium.  Years from now, LA will have its new stadium (which may or may not remain empty), but how many area kids will have the high school diplomas, skills, and jobs necessary to enjoy a beautiful LA Sunday afternoon in its friendly confines?
    

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