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Beware the Long-Term Agenda in the Stimulus


Libby Quaid and Justin Pope of the Associated Press have done a nice job outlining one generally overlooked part of the emerging stimulus package, what they accurately describe as “the biggest increase ever in federal money for schools.”

They quote the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee (and the panel’s former chairman), Rep. Buck McKeon (R., Calif.), asking the pertinent question:

What will happen two years from now when the Democrat spending spree comes to an end?

Dr. (and Senator) Tom Coburn of Oklahoma provides the answer:

It’ll never go away. You’re talking about a permanent increase at a time when we are in the worst financial shape we’ve ever been in.

According to AP, the plan includes:

·        about $20 billion to build and renovate classrooms in your neighborhood school buildings,

·        $39 billion to states that have run into cash-flow problems to help keep education bureaucrats on the public payrolls;  

·        an additional $26 billion going to two long-term K-12 programs, No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; and

·         “a $15 billion bonus fund to encourage reforms related to teaching and student tests.”

My Heritage colleague Dan Lips fills in more of the gory details. According to Dan, “the proposed legislation includes at least $142 billion in new federal funds to be disbursed over the next two years–nearly double the total out­lays of the U.S. Department of Education in 2007” and approximately “the level of all on-budget federal funds for education in 2006: $166.5 billion.”  

The plan also includes funding increases for:  

·        higher education, including a $1.5 billion increase for Pell Grant funding and $6 billion for a new program to support “repair, renovation, and modernization” efforts at higher education institutions.;

·        early child­hood education and care programs, including  $2.1 billion in new funds for Head Start and a $2 billion increase for the Child Care Development Block Grant program; and

·        other K-12 education programs, including Impact Aid ($100 million), Technology Education ($1 billion), Education for Homeless Children ($66 million), Charter School Facilities ($25 million), and Teacher Incentive Fund ($200 million).

The take-away from all this is that this cornucopia of new federal education spending is anything but temporary and has nothing whatsoever to do with stimulating the economy. Rather, the AP reporters explain: “The measure would achieve a long-sought goal of Obama and other Democrats. (emphasis added) For the first time, it would fully fund No Child Left Behind, former President George W. Bush’s education program.”

The unstated goal, of course, is to use the stimulus as a vehicle to accomplish other ends. The motivation behind this corner of the stimulus plan, for example, is to fundamentally alter the federal government’s long-term role in K-12 education. If you thought the federal role grew during the last eight years, you ain’t seen nothing yet. 

Indeed, as the AP story points out “Republicans can only imagine the pressure they will face, once spending goes up, to keep it that way.”

The tragedy in all this is that the current flow of federal education dollars is already too much for the states to handle. The AP story also notes:

There currently is more than $5 billion in unspent federal education money, according to the Education Department. In other words, schools and states are still sitting on the money, McKeon said.

Let’s give the last word to Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.), the Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. Miller rebuffed suggestions that there are any ulterior motives at work here:

At the moment my interest is in rebuilding the economy. This is two-year money. As their revenue base is restored, as sales taxes start to grow, if the economy recovers and home values start to stabilize, [the states] will have to transition to return to reliance on that.

At the moment, that may be the case. The cynics among us just sense there’s another agenda at work.