The Corner

Obama & Education

According to Bill Bennett:

1.  First, the Senate passed the 410 billion dollar Omnibus Spending Bill last night by a vote of 62 to 35 with eight Republicans joining all but two of the Senate Democrats, Russ Feingold and Evan Bayh.  Those eight Republicans were Lamar Alexander, Kit Bond, Thad Cochran, Lisa Murkowski, Richard Shelby, Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter, and Roger Wicker.  


Sen. Jon Kyl noted this spending bill “adds an additional $410 billion onto a $1.3 trillion deficit this year, and a more than $10 trillion debt overall,” but the Washington Post put it even more starkly in their news story:  ”The bill, which includes thousands of controversial earmarks…[will be] sign[ed by] [the president] despite having misgivings about the earmarks….Congress already has approved a $700 billion financial bailout and a $787 billion economic stimulus package. And Obama has said he is likely to ask for more money.”  ”Many agencies would see big increases, in some cases 10 percent or more above fiscal 2008 levels.”


But there is one, even larger reason to not support this legislation and it would be a courageous and bold move by the President to veto it:


2.  That is the provision in the Omnibus legislation that strips funding for 1,700 poor and minority students in Washington, DC who receive federal aid to attend private schools.  The DC Opportunity Scholarship program died in the Senate last night with the Omnibus vote, despite DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee supporting it and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stating he would like to see the students in that program stay in it.  Keep in mind, the Opportunity Scholarship program currently helps two students attend Sidwell Friends School, where Barack and Michelle Obama send their two daughters, so it now looks like Sasha and Malia will have two less school mates in 2010 as a result of the vote yesterday.  As Virginia Walden Ford said:  ”I’d like to see a reporter stand up at one of those nationally televised press conferences and ask President Obama what he thinks about what his own party is doing to keep two innocent kids from attending the same school where he sends his.”


Only three Democrats voted to keep the Scholarships funded:  Robert Byrd, Mark Warner, and Joe Lieberman.  Mike Crapo, Arlen Specter, and Olympia Snowe joined the rest of the Democrats in killing the program.


This program is so popular that there’s only one slot for every four that apply, and it costs the federal government less than 15 million dollars (a drop in the bucket compared to the 7.7 billion dollars in earmarks approved last night).  Here’s what some of the students who benefit from this program have to say to the President about it.  AUDIO. 


On this part of the legislation, alone, President Obama should veto the bill.  Especially given what he said about education to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce yesterday.


3.  Yesterday, President Obama said it is time to end the “relative decline of American education,” which he said “is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy and unacceptable for our children.”  The Opportunity Scholarship program was a model for that, rescuing students from a school district where “more than 6,500 crimes were committed in the public schools…Estimates put the cost per student at over $14,000, while the cost per student through this program, which provides a much better education, is $7,500…and where half of all teenagers in the schools are in schools with enough crime incidents to be classified as persistently dangerous.”


Like almost everything President Obama states with regard to policy, the angel and the devil is in the details; he talks moderate and centrist but then governs to the left.  So, while he stated a willingness to take on influential Democratic constituencies, including teachers unions, which have been skeptical of merit-pay proposals, as the Washington Post put it, we need to see what kind of program he ultimately supports. He said he intends to treat teachers “like the professionals they are while also holding them more accountable.”


Good teachers will “be asked to accept more responsibility for lifting up their schools.” “But, he said, states and school districts must be ‘taking steps to move bad teachers out of the classroom.’”


“If a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching…I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.”


We know the effects of a good teacher and we know the effects of a bad teacher.  As Erik Hanushek at Stanford has pointed out:  ”The students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher.”


We’ll see.  We’ll see because, as Dan Lips at the Heritage Foundation pointed out, “it is unclear what type of merit pay system President Obama supports. Will he support real performance-pay bonuses for teachers who lift students’ test scores? Or will he provide bonuses for those who put in extra work through training and mentoring — the bureaucracy’s version of merit?”


There’s also a huge question of spending.  President Obama concluded yesterday: ”So here’s the bottom line: Yes, we need more money; yes, we need more reform; yes, we need to hold ourselves more accountable for every dollar we spend.”  But I ask President Obama to meet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who, interviewed in the Washington Post last week said, ”History has shown that money alone does not drive school improvement, Duncan said, pointing to the District of Columbia, where public school students consistently score near the bottom on national reading and math tests even though the school system spends more per pupil than its suburban counterparts do.


‘D.C. has had more money than God for a long time, but the outcomes are still disastrous,’ Duncan said.


Meanwhile, the “Education Department intends to channel $100 billion to the nation’s 14,000 school districts over the next few months.”  This ”would raise the Education Department’s budget for next year to $127.8 billion from $46.2 billion in 2009.”  By the way, in my first year as Education Secretary, our budget was under 16 billion dollars.  You want to save money in education, school choice is a good way to do it: you spend less for better results.

Some more here.


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