The Best Way to Promote Entrepreneurship Is Good Public Education

I just posted Y’want Jobs? Small business? Then fund Education on the Huffington Post. I didn’t mention in that post how angry I am at the local schools problem, starting with our public schools in Eugene OR but including the funding-the-school disaster all over Oregon, California, and, as far as I know, most of the United States.

The Eugene town council met last Monday asking for public input. The public schools face a budget deficit of something like $30 million out of something like $130 million. They’re thinking of creating a city income tax to help.

Budget problems aren’t new here. They’ve already cut kindergarten to 10 hours a week. They’ve reduced school days to 168.5. But  that was before the big cuts they’re looking at now.

We should know better. This is a university town. The largest employer is the University of Oregon.

This isn’t just us, this one town in Oregon. Apparently all of Oregon and California as well are locked into state constitutional provisions, created in a burst of public selfishness in the early 1990s, that cripple funding of the schools (Prop 13 in California, Measure 5 in Oregon). I assume that’s happening in most states.

Also, some say public schools are overburdened with higher-than-market compensation and retirement plans that make what spending they are able to do less effective.

Can both of these assertions be true? Does cutting spending on schools make them better, forcing them to spend more effectively? Or does it just make them worse?

On the post at Huffington I quoted Kevin Swan’s Entrepreneurship is a Passion, Not a Program, and  Vivek Wadhwa’s A Better Formula: Connecting Risk Takers. They’re both writing about how governments can promote entrepreneurship and small business. Vivek concludes:

There is nothing to prevent there being many Silicon Valleys and nothing to stop most regions in the world from innovating. The focus just has to change from investing in real estate to investing in people.

So how do we invest in people? Education, perhaps?

With all the political posturing about small business, there’s not much governments can really do. Education is something they can do. And something that, frankly, they aren’t doing.


  • David Gehringer says:

    I live in a place where the community does chip in and support the schools vigorously and many choose to live here because of the school system and thus we are invested parents and very active in their education both at and away from school. For our community I call this the “Volvo Effect”, yes Volvos are safe cars, but they attract cautious drivers who want to be safe, and are in fact in fewer dramatic accidents and thus the driver and manufacture enjoy a superior result and reputation. As does our community wrt to education, we are also a college town.
    However to my point, I hope the teachers get angry enough to find where the money is going and to clean house as you do in the private sector. Not that more money isn’t needed but if you have a cancer (tenure for poor teachers, too many administrators, unproductive political appointees, and special interested programs) you need to fix that in order to get a more effective use of the dollars, which I agree are in short supply. I am just sick of the answer from every Politian is we need more money and we need more taxes. Yes I do agree the schools need more money, but please cut that mobile library bus and give the money to the school. We loved the conveniences in the good times but have a hard time going back to the appropriate base-line.

  • Fred Leo says:


    Is spending on education really crumbling in America? It seems to me that we keep throwing money at the problem without seeing the returns that we hope.

    Spending more on education sounds like it should help our education system, but it doesn’t seem to pan out in reality. I think that there are more systemic problems that government can’t do much about.

    Here are the factors that I think are bringing down our education system.

    1. Families who don’t value education or are too busy to be educating their children after school hours.

    2. Communities can’t fire below average teachers. I graduated from high school 17 years ago. My niece who is now 17 had some of the same bad teachers that I had. I knew they were bad at the time. She knows that they are bad now. And, I bet the principal knows that they are bad. But, 17 years later they are still wasting precious teaching hours.

    3. Too many fluff subjects. Our school curriculum today is filled with too many classes that teachers want to teach as opposed to what is going to help children the most once they graduate. So many of our students go onto college without learning the basics of grammar, writing, mathematics and science.

    None of these problems will be solved by increasing education funding. In fact, increased funding just covers up some of these problems.

    So, I guess I would like to hear from you, where do we need to be spending more money?

    Fred Leo

    • Tim Berry says:

      Fred, thanks for the addition.

      No doubt that support at home makes for better performance at school, but still, to be fair, when the U.S. cared about education back in the 50s and 60s the schools also educated the kids who didn’t get a lot of help at home.

      And your point 2, yes, it’s crazy. Here we are trying to salvage decent education out of the mess, and we still have worn out and burned out teachers hanging on, and school districts paying some people more than the private sector does, with lucrative retirement plans, compounding the problem. Worse still, in my opinion, that craziness gives people who oppose prioritizing schools some truths to argue with.

      On the third point, I wish that were true; you must live somewhere where the schools are faring better than where I am. Here they dropped all but essentials long ago. No bands, no music, no art, nothing really that looks like enrichment. High school AP classes are threatened.

      Where would we spend more money? We could start with fundamentals: more school days, more hours per day, and fewer students per class. When I googled this overnight I discovered that in the U.S. the average is about 180 days of school per year, while the worldwide average is 200, and the leaders (Japan, for example) have 240 or more. Having more days of school would be a good start.

      Thanks, Tim

  • Joy Marshall says:

    Once again, Tim nailed it exactly. Invest in people, in education, in
    human capital, and that is what will make us succeed.
    Thanks to Palo Alto and other Oregon businesses who really care about our state.

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