Politics & Policy

The Limits of Money

Schools K-12 have plenty of dough, but what have they to show?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the October 11, 2004, issue of National Review.

John Kerry has repeatedly denounced the Bush administration for promoting an ambitious education agenda but refusing to foot the bill. Kerry charged in his campaign book, A Call to Service, that the administration has “undermin[ed] education funding as part of a larger strategy of directing every available school dollar toward tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.” Kerry has particularly attacked Bush for not spending enough money to support the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. In a July speech to the American Federation of Teachers, Kerry accused the administration of “[breaking] their promise by shortchanging the law by $27 billion. Millions of children have been left behind–left with overcrowded classrooms, left without textbooks, and left without the high-quality tests that measure what they are learning.”

Kerry’s signature education proposal is a new National Education Trust, a pool of funds supporting federal education mandates. Kerry promises to draw on those dollars to “fully fund” NCLB, give a $5,000 pay increase to teachers in troubled districts or hard-to-staff subjects, pay for a costly reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and fund a $24.8 billion school-facilities-modernization bond drive. All told, analysts have calculated that Kerry’s increases would amount to $200 billion over ten years.

The administration has not responded by insisting that money be spent more responsibly. Instead, it has bragged about its own largesse, pointed to a GAO study explaining that No Child Left Behind isn’t technically an “unfunded mandate” (since states can opt out), and berated states for not having spent a backlog of $6 billion in previous aid rapidly enough.

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