Tuesday, February 08, 2005

So that's where the money's going!

...or a look at the US Department of Education’s proposed budget.

The SF Chronicle has the scoop on this year’s DoE budget proposal. So where exactly is the money going? Let’s take a look:

* Would increase aid to poor districts by 4.7 percent, to $13.3 billion.

This always sounds good, but what measures are in place to make sure this money gets past the district level to the schools, where it can actually help kids?

* Would end 48 programs and reduce spending on 16 others to free $4.7 billion for other priorities. A third of the federal programs Bush promised to cut in his budget are in the Education Department. All federal spending on vocational education, $1.2 billion, would be eliminated and redirected toward other high school initiatives.

Pretty predictable. The Bush Administration seems bent on making sure every kid gets into college, whether it’s the best place for him to be or not. Admittedly, this mentality seems wide spread in Washington and every other place politicians (and educators, for that matter) congregate. It might even be called a consensus. It’s still wrong. College is *not* the best place for every high school graduate. Some would be much happier to get out of an academic setting and learn a vocation or trade. Why force them into college?

* Would spend almost $18 billion on Pell Grants to help poor students attend college, an increase of 45 percent. That money would come mainly from deep cuts in subsidies to lenders.
Good move. The less money that has to be paid back, the sooner that college degree can go towards bettering one’s life, which is the point of student aid for the poor.

* Would spend $200 million to help high school students who read below grade level. That would be an eight-fold increase in the program's current budget.

Right idea, wrong level. This money should be used to level the playing field at the end of third grade. Children who are below grade level in high school begin losing ground in fourth grade. This is called the fourth grade slump. The money should be used to get students on a good enough footing by the end of third grade to stay on grade level. It will do much less good at the high school level, where it will probably be used for intensive-- and expensive-- remediation of a small number of students.

* Would create a $500 million fund to reward teachers whose students make great progress.

Again, another good idea. Since the unions are dead set against integrating merit pay at the district or state level, the Feds should show that achievement by teachers is valued. Teachers who do a good job with their students deserve the support.

* Would end $438 million in state grants for safe and drug-free schools. Related national programs would get more money, but overall funding for safe schools would drop $355 million.

In my opinion, you can throw as much money at schools to make them safe as you want and it won’t make a bit of difference. What will make a difference is teachers and administrators who act as authority figures and hold students responsible for their actions. We need to quit letting kids run amok in the name of “progressive education.”

"We want to make sure that when children get into high school, they have an opportunity for rigorous academic courses," said Ray Simon, assistant education secretary.

Students need to come out of elementary school and middle school ready for such courses. Efforts should be focus in the lower grades on achieving literacy and mathematical fluency in all students.

At the same time, Bush would cut almost $2 billion in popular high school programs deemed "ineffective," including vocational education, Upward Bound, Talent Search, and GEAR UP.

(Links Added to quote.)

I mentioned my opinion on vocational education earlier. The other three programs are all college prep programs. Again, arming students with fundamental skills in English and math is the best way to ensure college readiness.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, called for Congress to reject the education budget. "The administration is going to find out that people believe we need to invest in our children," he said.

Since the government is spending the people’s money, the have an obligation to spend it only on what works. In the case of the DoE, I think trimming the fat is in order.

(Note that the above opinions are from the point of view of a libertarian temporarily resigned to the fact that eliminating the Federal DoE wholesale isn’t an option. I figure, as long as it’s there, it might as well do some good.)

TOPIC: Education