An Education Fantasy Come True

I’m sure members of the education BLOB are pinching themselves right now. Somewhere Randi Weingarten and Dennis Van Roekel are rolling around on a hotel bed covered in money. Get ready for the largest transfer of funds from the federal government to local schools in history. Democrats in Congress are proposing a new infusion of federal cash for public schools through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In the House version of the stimulus package released on January 15, Democrats are proposing $120 billion for K-12 education, almost $22 billion for higher education through Pell Grants and higher education “modernization,” and close to $5 billion for early education. This will be on top of the approximately $60 billion that the federal government already spends on education in the United States. The stimulus package includes $79 billion block grant for education stimulus for states to help stabilize state and local education budgets and $26 billion in new money for existing Title I and special education programs and $1 billion for technology to provide “21st Century Schools” and a new $20 billion school construction program with $14 billion for K12 and $6 billion for higher education. These proposals increase spending on everything from internet access to early education. The stimulus package will spend more than double the current total federal education budget for K-12 and higher ed. This huge expansion of federal education spending will bring federal funding of education to well over $200 billion!!! It will be unlikely to spur improvements in public education. It will continue to encourage states and local districts to spend money with little regard to student outcomes. In the last thirty years, the United States has doubled per-pupil spending in real dollars. We spend more money on education than most other industrialized countries. Yet, outcomes for students at the end of their public education career have not kept pace with these large-scale investments. For 17 year olds on the National Assessment of Education Progress, the nation’s benchmark for student achievement, the average outcomes for reading and math are no better than scores in 1971; on the SAT verbal scores show a decline from 530 in 1972 to 504 today and math scores have been essentially flat; U.S. graduation rates remain flat since the 1970s; and U.S. 15 year olds score below the international average on science and math literacy when compared with 30 OECD countries.