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Education Funding Needs Sense on Cents

Posted by Larry Doyle on February 1, 2010 12:02 PM |

Throwing money at problems is not necessarily a sure-fire fix. That said, without funding many initiatives never truly get off the ground. Money does make the world go round . . . but in what direction, on what axis, and at what rate?

Let’s enter into one segment of the Washington dynamic that is receiving increased funding — education. I concur with President Obama that quality secondary education is vitally necessary to address our long term social and fiscal problems.

In President Obama’s State of the Union speech last week, he referenced that he does not want to be in second place behind China, India, or any other nation in the world. Well, if we employ a little truth in advertising here, President Obama should have highlighted that the United States educational rankings currently place us 18th of the top 25 industrialized nations.  That ranking is awful and a recipe for future disasters in terms of social costs, especially in urban settings where the overall high school graduation rate is approximately 50%.

I am both heartened but concerned with the fact that the federal government is directing more money at education.

I am heartened by the fact that measures of accountability are being linked to this increased funding. As The Wall Street Journal reports in writing, Obama Plan Calls for 9% Education-Funding Increase:

President Barack Obama’s proposal to boost the Education Department by 9%, even as other areas get squeezed, highlights one area where the administration and Republicans have found some common ground.

Most of the additional $4.5 billion in spending proposed for the Education Department new money is slated to fund competitive programs, making the budget a key part of an administration bid to transform how local school officials interact with the federal government.

Under the proposed new rules, states and school districts will be judged, among other things, on whether they are promoting higher testing standards and enforcing teacher accountability. Those that aren’t will lose out.

“This is a philosophical and strategic shift,” says Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Part of that shift also includes an overhaul of the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind policies.

The administration is gearing up to rewrite controversial sections of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which guides much of the government’s interactions with the states. In his budget, President Obama notes for the first time his intention to scrap the Bush-era accountability standards for a new system to be negotiated with Congress.

The White House sees its efforts on the education front as a rare bipartisan success that it now wants to extend with increased funding. Mr. Obama claimed in last week’s State of the Union address that his emphasis on competitive education funding had “broken through the stalemate between left and right.”

But some critics question whether it makes sense to ramp up funding so quickly. “I am skeptical about adding money at a time of fiscal austerity when it’s not clear that it is really driving reform,” says Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, an advocacy group that supports charter schools, which receive public money but are run privately.

What are my concerns? I always get concerned when money is poured into structures that are fundamentally broken. All too often we have witnessed local school boards game the system in order to gain or maintain funding. Do we think Uncle Sam can properly monitor that gaming?  Using money as a carrot may work in certain circumstances, but I would much prefer to reward proven successes and raise the bar in that manner.

I also remain concerned by the incestuous relationship between the United Federation of Teachers and the Democratic Party. Why is it that President Obama’s own children can attend the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington while he will not support the use of vouchers for other children to do the same? The voucher system is anathema to the union and thus the Democratic Party.

Minority families in urban settings are screaming for greater access to quality educations provided by charter schools and via the use of vouchers. I believe the administration and Congress should aggressively direct massive, increased funding for the development of more charter schools and vouchers. The United Federation of Teachers would not be happy with that, but let’s remember this program is not supposed to be about the union or its relationship with political parties.

It is supposed to be about the kids.


Related Sense on Cents Commentary:

If Arne Duncan Visits Detroit; He Should Visit Domus; (May 16, 2009)

Detroit Schools : “A National Disgrace”; (July 21, 2009)

Helene Horan Giving Students ‘A Shot at Life’; (January 15, 2010)

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