Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Taking Candidates to School

You might have noticed that in all the heat of the presidential campaign so far, the candidates have rarely asked the Bushian question, "Is our children learning?" Luckily, some people are trying to learn what the candidates have to say about education, and a quick summary of that is in Education Week this week (subscription required). Here's one key passage:

But in at least one area, the differences between Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are clear: education spending.

Sen. McCain pledged in a speech last month “to make government in Washington more efficient” and to “freeze discretionary spending until we have completed top-to-bottom reviews of all federal programs to weed out failing ones.”

Sen. Obama, meanwhile, has proposed about $18 billion annually in new federal education spending, including programs aimed at expanding early-childhood education and bolstering teacher training.

Now, if you ask me, if we were going to "complete top-to-bottom reviews of all federal programs to weed out failing ones,” the Iraq War would be first to go. But what do I know--if you check McCain's economic, well you can't call it a plan as he didn't offer any concrete numbers, McCain's economic sketch, let's say (or perhaps we should call it an answer about economics a beauty pageant contestant might give?), we have to win the war in Iraq to fix the economy. Just think how much money we could save with a war in Iran, too!

But I digress. Meanwhile, the right wing think tankers are lining up to back whatever McCain says, as the Republicans pay their bills, of course. Here's a lackey for the Heritage Foundation from that same Ed Week article:

Dan Lips, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, based in Washington, said that federal education spending has risen by more than 40 percent since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind law more than six years ago, and that the boost hasn’t led to a significant increase in student achievement.

He noted that federal appropriations account for just 9 percent of all K-12 education spending nationally, and he suggested that states and local governments would be better positioned to finance and implement many education programs.

“Federal funding comes with strings,” Mr. Lips said. “I think people should recognize that there isn’t simply a pot of additional funding buried under Capitol Hill that could be used to improve schools.”

Alas, Lips' ideas aren't a logic lock. First, he's fudging the bit about federal education spending increasing. Sen. Kennedy, one of NCLB's original sponsors, had this to say about the most recent Bush budget in February:

President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget provides no increase in overall education funding – freezing funding at $59.2 billion in discretionary education funding.

President Bush’s paltry proposed increases in funding for the Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act and a $300 million voucher program are more than offset by the elimination of 48 programs ($3.3 billion), including Perkins career and technical education, Tech Prep, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (campus-based aid), LEAP, Education Technology State grants, Even Start, Smaller Learning Communities, Arts in Education, School Counseling, and Special Olympics Education Program. He also proposes significant cuts to numerous other programs including Safe and Drug-Free Schools State grants, Teacher Quality State grants, and funds for Teaching American History.

Indeed the NEA, which obviously has a stake in this discussion but let's hope most people realize it wants better schools, too, has a handy PDF based on Department of Education stats that points out just how many millions each state is behind in promised funds under NCLB. Glad to see California leads the way at $9.2 billion for the years 2002-2008. So that shoots a hole in Lips' claim that "states and local governments would be better positioned to finance and implement many education programs." They might be better positioned, but they don't have the money. After all, California is trying to come up with a budget that closes a $15.2 billion deficit this year.

I do have to agree with Lips' line, “I think people should recognize that there isn’t simply a pot of additional funding buried under Capitol Hill that could be used to improve schools.” There's no buried pot of funds under the Capitol. The funds are buried in the wallets and bank accounts, if they get to have any, of our children. At least that's where the Iraq War funds are "buried." And the Heritage Foundation has no problem with that.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Smitty said...

Great post.

Early childhood education is absoutely the key. I think I've said it on your blog before...but the point at which the human brain develops the fastest is the point where we have tradtionally spent the least money on education. A shift in spending to early childhood education is the right kind of shift.

I seem to recall some Dirty Hippie bumper sticker about bake sales and bombers...kinda rings true...

6:02 AM  
Anonymous The Santa Barbara Review said...

This is an excellent article, well-written, informative and very useful.

6:27 AM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks, folks.

I forgot to point out the true insidiousness of all of this--we don't finance education, so the children don't get that, but they do get the debt from the needless war to pay off.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Good stuff. McCain is on record saying that we might be occupying Iraq for 100 years. Not a lot of budgetary wiggle room for after school programs in that scheme, is there?

1:22 PM  
Blogger Trekking Left said...

McCain's position on this (and many such issues) is "let me tell you what the government is not going to do for you" ... Yet, people still think he will make their lives better. Amazing.

9:47 AM  

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