Education Week has a promising look at what House Democrats are proposing in terms of economic stimulus for the schools: a massive infusion of $100 billion for programs ranging from assistance for meeting IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) to school construction:
The legislation includes a $79 billion fund to help states to prevent cuts in services, the bulk of which is slated for education. On top of that, the measure outlines specific aid for school construction, support for early-childhood education, and substantial spending boosts for major Education Department programs, including Title I grants for educating disadvantaged students and aid for special education.
Unsurprisingly, I am in support of what Congress is proposing. If the federal government has the necessary resources to bail out irresponsible corporate executives and banks, we certainly should invest in our students and their schools. Predictably, conservatives like John Boehner, who found the stomach to vote for the massive corporate bailout, find the idea of supporting the schools unimaginable:
Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, issued a statement Jan. 15 saying he was “disappointed” with the bill.
The plan “appears to be grounded in the flawed notion that we can simply borrow and spend our way back to prosperity,” he said.
Boehner’s opposition is part of what I see as a typical conservative response to education: criticize spending for political purposes without ever offering a meaningful alternative.
To some extent, this conservative criticism about education spending is based in some truth. I have seen far too many technology levies ‘passed for the students’ diverted to administrative salaries, infusions of cash devoted to pet projects unrelated to student achievement, and grants spent on marginal, experimental programs, rather than sustained progress.
The complicated reality is that a) we probably don’t spend enough money educating our students and b) we are probably spending a great deal of money inefficiently.
The thing is, though, I think conservatives would rather be able to kick around the political football of ‘wasted’ education funding than actually demand spending accountability. It’s easier to bash the schools to appeal to the base than to do the difficult work of evaluating programs and demanding that education funding be spent on the classroom.
If we are going to move the education funding debate forward, we need to move past simple truisms about “waste” and “achievement,” and start talking about practical, local and state solutions to get the most out of every dollar we spend, as part of this proposed stimulus or any other spending.