Monday, August 18, 2014

K-12 students shipped to four different schools, because there's not enough money to fix theirs. A WPA could have prevented that.

(WPA workers repairing a school near Salisbury, Maryland, in April of 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

A school in Randolph County, West Virginia--the Harman School--needs a new ceiling, after part of it fell. Unfortunately, there isn't enough money to do the job. The local community raised $200,000, but $700,000 more is needed. So, the school will remain in a state of disrepair as the kids are dispersed to different schools across the county--some of which will be dangerous to get to during the winter, due to a journey that is likely to take them over several mountains during periods of harsh weather. Moreover, some teachers will have to routinely travel to different schools to find and teach their exiled students. (See, "Repairs force students at W.Va. school elsewhere")

Perhaps some millionaires & billionaires, or some huge multi-national corporations, will come to the rescue, but most likely they won't. During the New Deal era, however, this would have been the type of job that the WPA would have routinely engaged in. The WPA was prolific at constructing new schools--5,908 of them--and even more prolific at repairing or improving schools, performing over 30,000 such projects.

Recall that the community around the damaged school raised $200,000. During the Depression, the WPA usually required that local communities raise a certain portion of the money needed before they would kick in the rest. In this case, the $200,000 would have been more than enough for the WPA to fill in the gap with the remaining $700,000.

And if you're wondering about the quality of work performed by the WPA, you can find thousands of still-existing WPA projects on the map of the Living New Deal--an effort that has only just begun to highlight the New Deal projects that we still enjoy & utilize today (WPA, PWA, CCC, NYA, etc.).

(The Living New Deal map, showing New Deal sites across the country that we still enjoy & utilize today.)
If the WPA existed today, this school would be repaired, the children would remain in their community, and unemployed workers would be given a chance to learn new (or retain existing) skills--and earn some money to boot. This is precisely the type of win-win situation that motivated Ronald Reagan to write in his autobiography: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

Isn't it a shame that we don't have a WPA today? The politics & principles of the New Deal, based on hope and optimism, have been replaced with a political cynicism that lets our infrastructure deteriorate and causes public officials to insult the less fortunate, for example, when a Republican school official in Arizona called low-income Americans "lazy pigs" and when a Republican Lt. Governor in South Carolina advised us not to feed low-income school children because they might breed.

We need a new, and even stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, all we're likely to get are deteriorating schools and continued political scorn for the less fortunate.

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