If you have $4.4 billion to spend, what's more important, widening a 28-mile highway or stopping devastating school budget cuts? According to the State of Texas—the same state that's subsidizing Formula One racing while preparing to lay off 100,000 teachers—the highway is the priority.
Texas' Department of Transportation plans to expand I 35E into a 14-lane highway for cars to zoom back and forth between Dallas and exurban Denton County. There's no denying that I 35E could use some structural improvements. Denton is on track to have more than one million residents by 2030, and many of them will certainly commute to Dallas for work. But given the immediate needs of schools across the entire state of Texas it seems shortsighted to gut public education while building a road.
Advocates of the expansion point out (PDF) that unlike the state's schools, this project is partially financed by public-private partnerships, road bond funds, and local toll revenues. They also claim that it's important for the state's economic competitiveness. What they don't seem to consider is the economic effects of a generation of Texans who've grown up trying to learn in overcrowded, underfunded schools, stripped of important things like intervention programs for at-risk students.
Why isn't Texas governor Rick Perry calling for public-private partnerships to erase this education budget gap? If companies in the state want an educated workforce, it's in their interest to stop severe education cuts. We're constantly hearing the rhetoric of “shared sacrifice” in dealing with the fallout of this recession, but we're balancing budgets on the backs of our students. As Christopher Mims aptly wrote over at Grist, "Hey, whatever—Texas' children can always get jobs as day laborers building these highways."