Herald-Leader Editorial

Failure to invest is costing us a future

U.S., Kentucky neglect economic essentials

November 26, 2013 

A few recent stories reveal a painful disconnect between what as a society we say we want and the political will to pay for it.

The University of Kentucky said last week that one of its medical researchers is beginning first-ever trials of a procedure to stop or even reverse Parkinson's Disease by transplanting nerve tissue from another part of the body into a patient's brain. The work is the culmination of "decades" of work, the scientist said.

In July UK President Eli Capilouto and 165 other college and university presidents sent a letter to President Barack Obama, urging a recommitment to funding basic scientific research. Explaining his thinking the following month, Capilouto wrote, "federal budget priorities for research are dwindling and the effects of sequestration are creating an 'innovation deficit.'" Without the federal investment in research, "we are setting ourselves up to fail," he wrote.

Yesterday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray released the results of a study about what's needed to make the corridor between their two cities a hub for advanced manufacturing, and the high quality jobs it produces. A key finding, according to a news release from the mayors, is that "the region needs a much more skilled engineering and technical workforce" to achieve that goal.

Last month a high school calculus teacher showed the General Assembly's Interim Budget Review Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education a 13-year-old textbook that is literally falling apart at the seams. State funding per student has declined from $3,866 in 2009 to $3,827 this year, the lawmakers were told. So-called flexible funds, for things like textbooks, have sunk from $154 million in 2008 to $93 million this year. The newest book she has is seven years old, the teacher said. "At the beginning of the year, I actually have to tell my students that if Chapter 1 falls out, please do not lose it as we have no idea how many more years we will be using this book."

Cognitive dissonance arises when people are faced with two or more conflicting ideas or values.

So, we want to cure Parkinson's and other terrible diseases but the federal commitment to funding the basic research that's essential is evaporating.

And we want the skilled, high- paying jobs that come with modern manufacturing but high school math teachers charged with educating those skilled employees need rubber bands to hold textbooks together.

There's a popular line of thought that almost everything is better done by the private sector than the public. But the private sector won't fund the decades of basic research that will almost never lead directly to a breakout product but that is essential to discovering new therapies. Nor will it supply broad-based, high quality, low or no cost education for all the workers of tomorrow.

Those are rightly the jobs of government and they cost money that, tragically, is missing now because of the deep dysfunction in both Frankfort and Washington.

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