About Last Night

The old joke used to be “don’t forget to talk about education” when a politician was giving an education-focused speech. They were not common. The gag wouldn’t work last night because President Biden is very focused on education. This fact sheet gives you an overview of what he wants to do. Also, and my bias will show here, despite the staggering sums of public money we’re talking about and the masks and sparse attendance it was nonetheless all just so refreshingly normal. I’m not normie on everything but I do like my presidents and government that way. Couple of quick random thoughts.

The barbell is here. It’s hard to miss that while K-12 schools are getting a lot of money it’s mostly being left on a stump for them to grab as they like. Biden’s plans for expanding access to college and expanding early education will spark policy and political fights and show how much the political and policy load will be on the beginning and end of the education continuum rather than the middle. That’s good for Democrats because the politics work better for obvious reasons, but it’s not so good if you think K-12 schools need sustained attention as well.

Programs or personalized? Robin Lake asked about the merits of a four year flexible spending fund parents could choose to spend on early education or post-secondary. It’s an interesting point I’ve wondered about. From where I sit Franklin Roosevelt was one of our absolute best chief executives (yes, I know, but overall) but is the project now recreating the New Deal or creating a new one? That’s the ‘a program for every problem’ approach. Or should we be thinking about how to create flexible and more personalized and portable supports for every American – for instance baby bonds or more robust educational savings accounts that could be spent in different ways? Expanding access to early education and higher education seem like national priorities to me and smart investments in America’s future, but we’d do well to debate the best policies for making those investments in a dynamic way.

Does school reopening have any political traction? I haven’t compared the texts but watching both speeches it seems like Senator Tim Scott talked about opening schools more than President Biden didn’t. That seems interesting if indeed parent frustration here does not dissipate or morph into other issues as the party gets going.

2022/2024 Preview. Scott also seemed to test some lines of attack I suspect we’ll hear more of – especially the culture war issues around schools. It was Biden’s night but we got a preview of the 2022 and maybe 2024 lines of attack from both parties in the two speeches. Scott had a really weak hand to play – with his style and personality Biden hasn’t left a lot on the table for the Republicans to attack – but Scott played that hand reasonably well.* Some education implications there, again unfortunately some of them of the culture war variety.

*Yes, mixed metaphors galore.