The President???s cynical budget proposal
|Click to listen to commentary on the budget
Well, we must hand it to them: The folks behind Ed in ’08 were successful after all. It just appears that they are achieving their goal—making education a central plank in the presidential election—four years behind schedule. As reported by Politico this week, the President used “the issue of education to help frame the budget debate.” Expect to hear a lot about his support for America’s public schools (versus Republican indifference) between now and November 2012.
But his rhetoric—that education is a critical investment that deserves protecting—isn’t backed up by his own policy. Sure, Mr. Obama called for a few small-scale programs that Republicans will oppose, like extending Race to the Top (for districts this time, not states) and recruiting 100,000 new math and science teachers. But this is “school uniforms” sort of stuff. Regardless of what happens to the federal education budget (which will sway a few billion in this direction or a few billion in that—on an Education Department budget nearing $80 billion), even under the “draconian” Republican plan for 2011), education spending in the real world is going to take a huge hit. That’s because of the “New Normal”—as Arne Duncan described it—that is playing out in states and local districts, with enormous budget cuts pending.
If Obama is sincere about “protecting education,” he would call for another massive bailout, on the order of $100 billion or so, to hold the nation’s schools harmless from the steep drop in state and local revenue. (To be clear, I’m not advocating for that, for a variety of reasons.) That’s what it would take to keep schools level-funded. But he doesn’t have the political capital to suggest such a thing, so he’s chosen to play presidential politics instead. (“Democrats in Washington are “for” education. Republicans are “against.”)
To his credit, Obama’s budget proposal would provide incentives (via the new Race to the Top program mostly) for districts to find ways to do more with less. So he’s not tone-deaf to the funding cliff over which localities are currently tumbling. But by pretending that his policies would address the problem, he’s participating in the worst kind of cynical politics. It’s a long way from “the change we can believe in.”
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