A Stimulating Debate

A debate with some actual substance has broken out over the stimulus bill.   Not the phony contraceptive debate or the phantom CBO report debate, but rather a real debate about short term spending relative to long term investments.   On the one hand the point of the stimulus is to create or save jobs as quickly as possible, which means spending money quickly to try to head-off the worsening economic situation.    On the other hand, when we’re on the cusp of again spending upwards of a trillion dollars it’s worth asking whether the dollars could be leveraged more effectively against future challenges the nation faces.  Infrastructure is not surprisingly emerging as a flash point here because the trade-offs are pretty clear.  There are some implications there for education.  But, interestingly, again proving itself to be either a cheap date or missing a long-view the education community hasn’t really said much about how this school construction money could be used to leverage more funding down the road so the debate is happening more around other components of the bill.

There is a general consensus that school facilities are a problem in a lot of communities and most in the education community are excited about the proposed spending on school construction (and even more excited if it means that public charter schools get frozen out as apparently is happening in the Senate!).  And school construction is an efficient way to create and save jobs

But everyone seems to be forgetting that it’s been a decade-plus effort to get real funding for school construction (in fact a half-century effort if you want to go back to when President Eisenhower first proposed federal spending for facilities).   So, with this much money on the table should some of it be held back to create a longer-term and more permanent financing system for school construction?  For instance, you could give some grants now, for immediate or “shovel ready” projects, but hold some back to create state or regional infrastructure banks for long-term support for building and renovating education facilities, including charters and other non-traditional approaches.   Under the current proposal education advocates will be back hat in hand for more money as soon as this is spent and without a real hook in federal policy.

Of course, the appropriators are understandably concerned that if they allow programs into the bill that are not current law it will create more targets for the Republicans, who are clearly feeling around for weak points to push on in the public debate.   And many economists are saying spend as fast as you can now given the gravity of the situation and worry about later later.  So this is one where there are valid viewpoints on all sides but it’s a conversation worth having.  This is a big opportunity.

4 Replies to “A Stimulating Debate”

  1. I find it hard to follow the debate.

    It seems like there will be 2 types of K-12 money. Business As Usual $. Change $. Right?

    Of course Business As Usual $ will be much bigger. But the question is by what factor. 70-30? Or 99-1?

    BAU $:
    $64b give to states to make up for state shortfalls
    $16b construction
    $13b title 1
    $13b sped
    $5b early ed/head start

    Change $
    $15b to states to make up for state shortfalls, but incentive driven?
    $.25b child care quality?
    $.25b Teacher Incentive Fund?
    $.025b for charter construction?

    So, in current form, Change $ is at best about 13%.

    But since the “incentive” money for states will mostly go to those already hitting the incentive targets, unclear that it’s truly change money.

    Seems quite plausible that the whole $120 b is spent with <1% as Change $.

  2. Cutting money from schools and from education anywhere is a big mistake. Children, who are the future no matter how one looks at it, do not need schools that meet half of the standards and have part of the teachers they need. Cutting budgets in a school setting should only be allowed by politicians who have served as school officials for atleast fifteen years. People who have never taught twenty eight students in one classroom do not understand the importance of co-teachers, or resource classrooms. They do not understand the need for paraprofessionals because they have never worked without a secretary. They should ask for more opinions from the people actually getting their hands dirty, which are the teachers.

  3. It’s true that some schools are falling apart at the seams. The last school I was at had mold growing out of the walls and the air conditioners regularly caught on fire. Living in Florida, AC’s are a requirement in the tin can portable classrooms. But what good is having a new state of the art school for the students if there are no teachers in the classrooms? There doesn’t seem to be much money allocated to retaining teachers. Our district is looking at cutting most teachers who have been with the county less 3 years regardless of quality of their teaching or certifications/degrees. Already schools are seeing upwards of 30 kids in elementary classrooms, I would hate to see what that will be like next year with even less teachers in each school.

  4. Building new schools does create many jobs, but does that money have to come from the same pot that teachers are being paid from? I work in a school system in Georgia. We have something called “brick and mortar money” that comes from a group of outlet malls (a small % of every dollar spent) within the county. This money builds a lot of things, and produces a lot of jobs without cutting teachers. It not only pays to have buildings built, but it pays to furnish them also. The county is very small, but fortunate to have the outlets. I know that not all counties have this, but counties do have small businesses that could help! Two cents of every dollar can really add up!!

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