Education Spending Reform: Possibility or Pipe Dream?

When talking about the sequester cuts, national attention seems to be directed at the “big” issues, especially national defense.  And while I’ll grant that it is undoubtedly important to be prepared for any type of military emergency, no matter how unlikely, more attention needs to be given to the impacts of the sequester that affect us every day, including cuts to education spending.  Though the exact effects vary by state, the sequester has generally cut funding for poor and special education students, decreased Head Start enrollment, slashed after-school programs, caused class sizes to increase, cut financial aid for college students, and caused thousands of job losses among teachers and administrators.  A recent article in the Huffington Post described an elementary school teacher in Michigan swamped with phone calls about cuts to school programs including specialized math, reading, and writing help sessions and the loss of speech therapists, counselors, and teachers devoted solely to kids with special needs.

Unfortunately, the conversation over government spending is mired in debate over military spending and the funding of Obamacare, and does not appear to be reaching a sustainable conclusion.  Debt ceiling negotiations and foreign policy are also likely to eat into Congress’ time this fall, further pushing the important subject of education spending to the back burner.  Education spending has been stagnant since 2008, and is in need of overhaul if these problems are to be solved.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committees, is currently drafting a sweeping education reform bill based on President Obama’s prekindergarten initiative, which may receive floor time in the Senate this fall.  However, the bill is likely to carry $1.3 billion in spending increases with it, which will not garner much support from Republicans looking to trim federal spending wherever they can.  Put simply, unless the bill’s funding is cut back so much that it is rendered nearly useless, it is unlikely to come anywhere near to becoming a law.

So is it possible that Congress could pass an effective bill anytime in the near future?  Barring an unexpected upturn in the economy, the answer is probably no.  Any proposed bill is likely to come from Democrats and be significantly left of the point needed to overturn a filibuster and pass the House.  The only hope is for our lawmakers to ignore the fiscal implications of any such bill and pass it.  Education has one of the greatest returns of any investment one can make, and a comprehensive education spending bill, if implemented correctly, could very easily pay for itself in the long run, increasing American innovation and competitiveness in high-tech, high-skill sectors.

-Chris Gibson

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3 responses to “Education Spending Reform: Possibility or Pipe Dream?”

  1. Marissa says :

    It is unfortunate that education has taken such a hit with budget cuts. Of course, right now the focus is on military spending and Obamacare, but I fear, considering the government shutdown and whatever chaos will ensue, that its only going to be continually marginalized as an important issue. The education reform bill being drafted by Senator Harkin seems like a good start in revamping the education debate, but may unfortunately be poor timing. Furthermore, it seems doubtful that any funds cut from Obamacare or military spending will be redirected towards education, but will be rather seen as a victory for cutting government spending.

    • Chris Gibson says :

      I agree; it seems that the most realistic place for education reform to happen is in the individual state legislatures. But this is hardly the way to get universal improvements in education across the U.S., and of course topics like federal student loans can’t be tackled at all. Also for better or for worse, I can’t imagine any sort of education “crisis” that could occur to bring the issue to the forefront (think Sandy Hook and gun control – though you never wish for any sort of crisis, crises do serve to bring legislative issues to legislative attention). It looks like we’ll just have to wait until the current mess is well in the rearview mirror to tackle education reform.

  2. legiprocess says :

    While I agree with you that the government is gridlocked and will be unlikely to pass any legislation, I am curious why you think that Democrats will write a bill that is necessarily left of the filibuster voter. If Democrats are serious about passing legislation, wouldn’t they prefer to compromise on the contents of the bill in order to improve education?

    -Jenny Wu

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