Beggar thy Neighbor, or in this case the Feds

It's no secret states are struggling to make ends meet. For fiscal year 2009 alone, 31 states face a combined $30 billion deficit. Balancing budgets in 2010 and beyond will prove even trickier. Nowhere is this truer than in Ohio where Governor Strickland is predicting a $7 billion deficit over the next two years. That amounts to a whopping 25 percent of the state's discretionary spending, which includes K-12 education. No wonder, then, that Strickland is out front in seeking a $5 billion bailout from the federal government.

As a popular Democrat who worked hard to deliver his once-red state to Obama, Strickland isn't wrong to seek favors from the new administration. But despite Ohio's budget woes, it's not clear how an infusion of federal cash would improve the education sector.

President-elect Obama recently announced his intent to direct part of any federal spending package to school construction projects and expanding broadband access in schools. Too bad Ohio doesn't need either. The state is in the midst of $10 billion school construction effort, and as schools are built or remodeled they are wired for high speed Internet connectivity.

Obama and Strickland both support expanding access to quality early childhood education. Yet, if Ohio received additional federal funds for early childhood, it's unlikely that the state's powerful teacher unions (which also rallied around Obama's campaign) would let the governor use the money to open up more preschool slots while shorting K-12. The federal dollars would more likely supplant current state spending, allowing Strickland to move money from pre-K to K-12-without expanding preschool at all.

With 10 to 25 percent cuts in state per-pupil aid a real possibility, Strickland's best hope for federal help would come in the form of direct assistance for school operating expenses. Such an infusion wouldn't promote economic growth nor would it do anything to improve or incent innovation in school. It would protect jobs, but that's not enough. The Feds should attach strings to new money and we suggest three ideas:

  • ???????Incent a Weighted Student Funding system in which spending is transparent and money is allocated to individual schools based on children's learning needs.

  • ???????Incent innovations, including distance learning opportunities, high quality charter schools, and consolidation and cost-sharing among districts and other educational bureaucracies.
  • ???????Incent and encourage national standards and a national assessment system.

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