Some quick reax to the education parts of the President’s speech last night.
First, we’re talking about school construction again? Really? I’m getting that mid-1900s vibe…E-Rate anyone? When I heard the President mention wiring schools for the Internet I threw on some Pearl Jam!
Actually, investing in education infrastructure makes a lot of sense from a stimulus point of view and because there is a real need. But – cliche alert! – the devil is in the details. If infrastructure funding is spread too thin it ends up having a short-term stimulative effect but not laying the foundation for longer term initiatives. Not unlike the debate about the ARRA recovery act, if enacted these dollars will be stimulative, sure, but they can also be stimulative and reform-oriented, too. Those are not opposing goals. In this case, school districts can spend money in dribs and drabs, and that surely spreads it around more, but bigger projects – especially around energy efficiency, serious work to building envelopes etc…cost real money. And the bigger projects have more long-term impact. $30 billion is not a small sum but in the context of capital issues in our approximately 100,000 schools even with an amount like that you have to go deep not wide. To put it another way, with the E-Rate we wired schools just in time for wireless Internet to become more efficient approach. Let’s look ahead to the next thing with these dollars rather than investing a lot in soon-to-be-outdated approaches.
I’m still a fan of the regional infrastructure bank approach (here’s Sara Mead on the issue with a ten-year old paper that’s still relevant (pdf) and a shorter version from Ed Week) for education capital finance because it can create a more lasting funding mechanism over time. But the infrastructure bank idea is just a small part of this overall package and based on the paper released so far it doesn’t look like it’s tied to the education dollars.
On the edujobs proposal. It’s the same debate we’ve been having, yet again. Are we going to have perpetual bailouts that are caused by inept hiring and human capital strategies? Are we going to ask for any reciprocal reforms from states? Say, just for example, committing to ending last-in/first-out layoff policies in exchange? Here’s an example from Boston of why that might make sense. Here, too, the issue is less the spending per se than whether it’s actually going to move the field forward or just go for more of the same.