That said, I'm catching up on the news and the political negotiations around the stimulus bill. Tuesday's New York Times featured this editorial ("A Vital Boost For Education") which gets to the main point I made in last week's blog post ("Overstated"). Despite some such as Ed Sector's Chad Aldeman ("Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste") who have already popped the cork in celebration of a new era in federal education policy, more money alone will not transform the federal role in education or lead to necessary school reforms.
Here are the cautions and recommendations from The Times:
The stimulus measure being debated in Congress contains a vital $140 billion education package that would more than double the Education Department’s discretionary budget and give the federal government unprecedented leverage over a school-reform effort that has been controlled primarily by the states. Congress has to make sure, however, that the spending does not actually undermine reform. The money needs to be targeted in a way that forces the states to adopt reforms required under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.This is not a done deal, folks.
For that to happen, Congress would need to embrace the stronger House measure, which was framed with an eye toward forcing the states to end the shameful practice of shunting the least qualified teachers into schools that serve the neediest students.
The purpose of the measures is to protect schools from damaging cuts and layoffs while preserving the momentum toward reform. But that won’t happen if the states adopt the familiar strategy of cutting their own contributions to education — and shifting the money to other uses — while using federal dollars to plug the hole. That could result in a decline in total financing for education despite the mammoth federal expenditure. Worse still, money that moves from the education fund to say, road building, is often lost to the schools forever.
Congress is doing the right thing by helping the states stave off layoffs and other problems. But the stimulus will fail Americans in crucial ways if Congress squanders the opportunity to push the country’s schools toward long-overdue reform and allows the education money to be turned into more pork-barrel spending.
Further, since that editorial was published three days ago, news out of Washington, DC (courtesy of Tom Toch at Ed Sector) is that a bipartisan group of Senate moderates is insisting upon greater cuts in stimulus spending, cuts that would disproportionately affect the education-related stimulus provisions.
It seems short-sighted to me to bank too heavily on old-school infrastructure spending (let alone more tax cuts) to lift us out of the economic ditch we're in. Our nation's increased reliance on the knowledge economy -- which will have to be a key part of the recovery -- suggests that vital investments in education and human capital need to be a significant part of the stimulus package as well.
The House version of the stimulus bill provided a good balance of additional dollars and some reform provisions (Teacher Incentive Fund, Teacher Quality Partnership Grants). It could have gone further. The Senate stepped too far back from this approach and now appears to be stripping funding for the bill as well.
I hope that the Obama Administration stands firm on the need for stimulus funding focused on education, discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education, and the inclusion of reform provisions, such as a requirement of equitable teacher distribution in the final package.