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Public education: a time without precedence

"Brother can you spare a dime?"

Some of our most senior of seniors can remember this plea. It characterized the generation that lived in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929. While numbers from this era are unreliable, at least one of every four Americans were unemployed and many more barely subsisted on itinerate jobs. Estimates on homelessness during the Great Depression vary enormously, but shantytowns of thousands sprang up across the nation.

The subsequent toll on the American population was catastrophic. A plethora of diseases went unchecked. Hunger turned into starvation. Many lost their lives to exposure. Mortality rates were outstripped only by an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

World War II had a revolutionary effect on the American (and world) economy. While the American public during the war continued to contend with austerity, rationing and scarcity, the military industrial demands put every able-bodied person (including women in unprecedented numbers) to work. The tragedy of global war ironically saved the planet from seemingly inescapable economic despair.

Peace and prosperity marked the Eisenhower Era with Americans discovering "conspicuous consumption." To be American became synonymous with lavish lifestyles, bloated appetites and escalating personal debt.

"Economic adjustments" or mini-recessions (perhaps most notably during the Carter years) were generally ignored early warning signs of an economic policy that would one day implode.

Schools rode the wave of economic good fortune during this period. Districts, in response to the post-war baby enrollment explosion, built schools that were (and still are) wonderments of architectural and aesthetic design. School employee salaries and benefits rocketed upward. This was a time when schools could ask for virtually anything and taxpayers would, in an obligatory knee-jerk, provide it for them (particularly in more well-healed districts).

The down falling of the World Trade Centers started a chain-reaction that went to the very heart of the nation's (and world's) economic infrastructure. Fiscal systems that were based on speculation, smoke and mirrors and no small measure of avarice trembled and soon collapsed.

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