Overstated

January 28, 2009 | Blog

I’m sorry. Am I missing something?

How is the infusion of new federal resources for schools in the stimulus bill going to transform the federal government’s role in education? I just don’t see it.

Today’s front-page New York Times article (“Stimulus Plan Would Provide Flood Of Aid to Education”) couches the stimulus bill as a transformative vehicle.

The economic stimulus plan that Congress has scheduled for a vote on Wednesday would shower the nation’s school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education’s current budget.

Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government.

Hey, $150 billion is nothing to sneeze at. But it still represents a fraction of overall education spending. According to the U.S. Department of Education, federal dollars currently account for less than 9 percent of overall education spending. State and local dollars account for more than 80 percent of the total. Even with a doubling of federal outlays, Uncle Sam would still account for less than 1 in 5 dollars spent on schools.

Republican leaders are crying wolf as well. From the New York Times:

Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California and the ranking minority member of the House education committee, said, “By putting the federal government in the business of building schools, Democrats may be irrevocably changing the federal government’s role in education in this country.”

Listen, short of the inclusion of some major new education policy in this stimulus bill (which won’t happen) – greater accountability for spending, such as Title I and Title II dollars, for example – how is this piece of legislation going to “profoundly change” the federal role in education? Answer: Apart from coughing up some new federal resources at a time of need, it’s not. It won’t fundamentally change the business of teaching and learning without further legislative and policy changes. We still await action on ESEA reauthorization – the next best hope for positive changes and needed reforms to current federal law.

Saying something represents change doesn’t make it so.

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