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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)

  • eyekew

    As usual you definitely have it right. There is little evidence that throwing $$ at education has done anything positive.

    I think this is another Trojan horse and mindless expense. Like the sorry example of the D.C. vouchers, the budget overturns the NCLB standards as advocated by the teachers’ unions. IMHO new standards should be established before any more $$ are appropriated. Over recent decades, the more government $$, the worse the schools.

    The Rand Corp, in a study for the Gates Foundation, has shown that the one thing that determines student achievement is the quality of teachers. Better teachers in very poor testing classrooms generate very large increase in achievement. Put the lousy teachers into an overachieving classroom and the out performance goes way down.

    My (certain to the attacked from the unions) idea: It is a waste of $$ to pay for college for underachievers (here in CA 2/3 students in the state colleges need 1-2 years of remedial study before they can take college level courses!…and we still have one of the better state college systems!) Put the $$ into the middle years where kids fall behind; put the money into the several models of charter and other non-public school that have demonstrated they can take the most disadvantaged kids and get almost all of them into 4 year schools (and good ones at that). In fact, I would put nearly all of the money into creating clones of those schools. THe rest I would put into programs that in partnership with industry create skilled laborers that are nearly guaranteed jobs in the industries they have trained for.

    “Nuff said!

  • coe

    LD – You have once again touched a real nerve here. The society that does not prioritize the education of its children right at or near the top of its obligations to its people (Sadly, though, given man’s inhumanity against man, we unfortunately cannot forget the requirements of national defense and social services either), in my opinion, is doomed to decline and fall. But it really is not about money. I have worked as a Budget Officer for a large and well respected public school system in my checkered past, and I can assure you that there are so many pockets of headcount excess, waste, and patronage embedded that billions could be squeezed out of existing budgets if people were honest and purposeful in addressing things. The debate about vouchers and public/private schools is only one such topic. In my day, there was outrage directed at the public school budget because it was “subsidizing” some transportation costs to bus children to the private schools. Yet even after proving what a step up in costs would entail if those same kids were dumped into the public schools (space, staff and benefits, materials etc), the “enlightened” citizenry still did not get it. This is only one such example among thousands and thousands. And on the secondary level, just look at the surge in applicants to the community and state colleges as a result of the economic crisis and unemployment problems we continue to face – yet another strain on the fragility of the municipal budgets. This is a huge and complex problem, and somewhere at the heart of things sits the all powerful teachers’ unions – for better or for worse. I don’t know how the rest of your readers feel, but for my two cents it makes absolutely no sense on cents to throw money at a system that is so intrinsically flawed (and even corrupt – to wit, the Roslyn, NY school superintendant that embezzled millions from his district) that you might as well toss it into the cesspool (kind of like the TARP bailout?)…I could go on and on and back things up with years of practice, data and conclusions, but it is indeed, as you close, “about the kids”. And if the kids aren’t educated properly, the costs to our society and future way of life will be too staggering to contemplate. Here’s to turning the “three R’s” from “reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic” to “reality, restructuring, and responsibility”…as always, just one man’s opinion

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