The budget's trial balloons
It’s a shame that President Obama’s 2011 budget request is likely to be roundly ignored by Congress, because it’s a pretty decent blueprint for the direction in which the federal government should head on education.
Why will it be ignored? Well, Congress ignores most White House budget requests. At least that’s the lesson of recent history. The legislative branch much prefers to do its own thing, especially when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. Plus, the President is in a weak political state and that gives his friends and fair-weather friends on Capitol Hill even fewer reasons than usual to do his bidding.
But in the make-believe world that policy wonks inhabit, we can cheer the more elegant aspects of this proposal, even if they will never see the light of day. Most notable is a subtle shift away from big formula grants like Title I and toward competitive programs, in the spirit of the Race to the Top. To be sure, the vast majority of dollars would still go out via formula, but the plan would start to move money away from quasi-entitlements for school districts and into incentives for states and districts to tackle serious reforms. If your goal is to leverage federal funds into meaningful change, that’s certainly the way to go. Adding a billion dollars to Title I won’t buy anything, from a reform perspective. Putting another billion dollars into the Race to the Top might.
Several details are worth noting, too. There’s more money for replicating high-quality charter schools, a lot more money for innovative approaches to teacher and principal compensation, and dollops of money for programs like Teach For America and The New Teacher Project, which recruit top-notch folks into classrooms.
No, the budget blueprint isn’t perfect. The Administration continues to place bets on school “turnarounds,” even though we’ve got scant evidence that they can work. It would create a nice-sounding “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education” program in the guise of cutting funds for the teaching of U.S. history. And, of course, there’s the fact that education gets a 6 percent increase that the country clearly can’t afford.
But all in all, this budget deserves a “B”--almost certainly better than what we can expect from Congress.
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