House Republicans appear to be on the verge of making a terrible mistake, both politically and in terms of education policy.
On May 25, the House Education and the Workforce Committee passed its first major package of reforms under new chairman John Kline (R., Minn.), eliminating more than 40 inefficient, duplicative federal education programs. “There are more than 80 programs under current elementary and secondary education law, and that’s just too complicated and too great a burden for our schools and local districts,” Kline declared when the bill passed out of committee. “It’s time to weed out the programs that aren’t working and focus on initiatives that lead to real success in the nation’s classrooms.”
To most fiscal conservatives, large swaths of this proposal will make perfect sense, such as eliminating programs that are on the books but that have never received funding through the appropriations process, programs that haven’t received funding in several years, or programs that amount to earmarks, such as the Special Education Teacher Training Program, which gives $100,000 to the University of Northern Colorado train special-education teachers.
In an era of the Internet in the classroom, dropping funding for Ready to Learn television seems long overdue. Considering how few Americans understand much of anything about economics, it’s a bit troubling to see funding eliminated for the Council on Economic Education, but perhaps none of the council’s work will ever have the reach and popular appeal of the Keynes vs. Hayek rap videos.
But in the list of programs on the chopping block, in the category of “programs that are duplicative or inappropriate for the federal government” is this:
Foreign Language Assistance Program: The Foreign Language Assistance program provides grants for foreign language instruction. The program received $19 million in FY 2009, $15.7 million in FY 2010, and $27 million in FY 2011. The Foreign Language Assistance program has too narrow a purpose, and the activities funded under the program can already be supported under the ESEA Title I (Aid for the Disadvantaged) program.
Eliminate all targeted federal funding for teaching kids foreign languages? Seriously?
First, despite the assertion from the legislation’s architect, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R., Calif.), the program’s activities can’t really just be shifted to Title I programs. Title I grantshave numerous conditions: Schools must have at least a 40 percent poverty rate, or the program must specifically target children who are failing or are at high risk of failing. In other words, no matter how well the program performs or how cost-effective a school’s foreign-language program was, it couldn’t get any direct federal funding unless the student body was sufficiently impoverished or unless the program changed to help only failing or near-failing students. Students who aren’t failing would be out of luck.
The program deems FLAP to have “too narrow a purpose.” But this isn’t basket-weaving.
Other federal grant money could theoretically still be used to fund foreign-language programs, but this is an area that deserves targeted aid — direct encouragement from the federal government. Look at this from the national-security perspective, if not a “hey, this vote could easily be demagogued and used as attack ad fodder by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee” perspective.
The FBI has a critical shortage of qualified translators, leaving 31 percent of captured foreign-language e-mails and electronic communication un-translated and 25 percent of captured audio un-translated. They actually have fewer linguists than they did the last time the OIG looked at this, in 2005. It takes 19 months to hire a linguist and an additional seven months to hire a contract linguist to a permanent FBI employee.
The U.S. State Department has a serious shortage of personnel with key language skills; as of 2008, 31 percent of Foreign Service officers did not meet both the foreign languages speaking and reading proficiency requirements for their positions with the rate hitting near 40 percent the Near East and South and Central Asia. Fewer than a third of the Central Intelligence Agency’s analysts and overseas spies were proficient in a foreign language.The Government Accountability Office has found that the Department of Homeland Security knows that the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement all need more multilingual employees, but still haven’t figured out how many. The Department of Defense – you get the idea.