The “super committee’s” failure to reach an agreement to reduce federal spending is supposed to trigger automatic spending cuts—some of which could decrease funding for the Department of Education beginning in 2013. This has the education unions and Secretary Arne Duncan up in arms.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, stated that this decrease in funding represents “drastic across-the-board cuts to vital programs” resulting in “massive reductions to education programs.”
“Massive”? Let’s put this in perspective. The total cuts, if enacted—which some suggest is doubtful—would represent a 7.8 percent decrease in funding for the Department of Education, equaling about $3.5 billion. Considering how much money has been pumped into the department’s budget over the last several years, this is a comparatively small amount. In the last decade, education spending has increased by 57 percent, adjusting for inflation. On top of this, the President infused the Department’s budget with nearly $100 billion in 2009 as part of the stimulus act, and just last summer, Democrats in Congress threw them another $10 billion through the “edujobs” bill.
Federal per-pupil K–12 spending has more than doubled since 1970. Today, the Department of Education’s discretionary budget is the third largest of all federal agencies, ranking only behind the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Yet all of this spending on the roughly 150 “vital” federally funded education programs has little to show in the way of improved student achievement. Despite ever-increasing education spending, the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress report confirms that student achievement continues the same nearly flatline trend Americans have seen for decades.
Taxpayers across the nation are demanding that the federal government take the financial steps necessary to put our nation back on a wise economic course. After years of failed education programs supported by the taxpayer’s dime, citizens—adults and children alike—deserve better.
Instead of continuing to pour money into unsuccessful Washington programs, systemic reform is needed. Proposals set forth by the House Education & the Workforce Committee attempt to achieve this goal by not only cutting ineffective education programs but also by giving state leaders flexibility to use education dollars as their states deem best. Along similar lines, the A–PLUS Act, proposed by Senator Jim DeMint (R–SC) and Representative Rob Bishop (R–UT), would provide states flexibility to opt out of federal programs outlined in No Child Left Behind. Instead, states would be able to create their own plans for student achievement.
More federal dollars are not the answer to improving education, as history shows. Allowing states to use their dollars more effectively is key to promoting policies tailored to the needs of individual students.