The President sent his budget request for Fiscal Year 2007 to Congress yesterday and it included some edu-action. Let’s dispense with the policy, since there is very little beyond an apparent administration policy of referring to cuts as “savings.”
First the good: There are a few good ideas tucked in here like the Adjunct Teacher Corps which actually makes sense on a couple of levels.
Then the not-so-good: The budget is basically flat for the two big K-12 programs, the Title I program which is the backbone of No Child Left Behind and the IDEA program which funds and governs special education programs. After the increases of the past decade this is not exactly cutting to the bone — though you’ll hear howls to the contrary — but it’s surely not good news either. And, it’s avoidable if one thinks back just a few years to when the country made some budget/tax cut choices. Also for all its rhetoric the competitiveness ideas are still pretty small bore and by taking the foot of the gas on fundamental K-12 reform it’s like trying to fill a bucket with a colander.
Then the bad: Though the back and forth on spending will obscure it, the real problem is that the Administration still is not leading in a big way on No Child Left Behind. They could put forward a whole host of initiatives designed to make the law’s core mission of helping students in low-performing schools more effective. These include obvious things like improving the supply of good schools in low-income communities and less obvious ones like initiatives on teachers, professional development, and using data. The feds are now getting serious about demanding the “what” from school districts: better performance for all kids. But they’re still not doing nearly enough to increase the toolbox for the “how.” And again, we’d be in a better position to invest in activities like this but for choices not circumstances beyond our control…
Now the politics, the real bottom line here. This is a political year. It’s a midterm election year and base turnout matters a lot in midterm elections. This budget is calibrated to help with the Republican base. The proposed voucher initiative will fire them up and the lack of spending will, too. Saying you’re “holding the line” on spending is red meat for the ‘wingers. And, all this business about expanding the federal role in education also doesn’t help a lot on the right either and this budget minimizes that issue. And, because there is not a vice-president positioning himself to run, they can put out a budget that might not be great come the general election in ’08 but fits their needs now.
Besides, they know that a lot of this will change as it moves through Congress anyway. And you should know that, too. This is the first inning of a game that generally goes into extra innings so all the panic and hand-wringing now is good theater but really premature.