Paul Krugman is a Nobel-prize winning economist and someone who sees a direct connection between education and the economic success of the US.*

He also says that our national “educational neglect” has led to “a slow-motion erosion of America’s relative position” in the world.

And the current financial mess is only feeding that neglect.

But things are about to get much worse, as the economic crisis – its effects exacerbated by the penny-wise, pound-foolish behavior that passes for “fiscal responsibility” in Washington – deals a severe blow to education across the board.

His focus in this column is on college-level education but much of what Krugman says also applies to K12.

There’s no mystery about what’s going on: education is mainly the responsibility of state and local governments, which are in dire fiscal straits. Adequate federal aid could have made a big difference. But while some aid has been provided, it has made up only a fraction of the shortfall.

As a result, education is on the chopping block. And laid-off teachers are only part of the story. Even more important is the way that we’re shutting off opportunities.

Certainly money is never the sole solution to all our problems, educational or otherwise.

However, an excellent public education system, one that provides an excellent foundation for every child no matter where they live, cannot be done on the cheap.

The longer we wait to provide adequate funding for that system, the larger the number of children who are shut off from those opportunities.

* BTW, I’m one who believes the economic connection is NOT the most important reason for creating a strong public education system.