We received an email today from Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “By now, I expect you’ve heard the good news,” the Secretary wrote. “…at a time when most government spending is frozen, the President proposed a significant increase in discretionary spending for education in his fiscal year 2011 budget.”
We were tempted to respond: What makes you think we’d think this is good news?
Secretary Duncan’s email offered a sneak-peak of the highlights of the Obama administration’s 2011 budget for education: “a massive increase in student aid” ($156 billion for 2011), a $4 billion increase for K-12 education programs, and new funding ($9.3 billion over 10 years) for a new federal preschool program.
But is this really good news for American students and taxpayers? Past experiences suggest the answer is negative:
- In higher education, decades of increasing spending on federal student aid has failed to solve the college affordability problem, and evidence suggests that rising subsidies have spurred skyrocketing tuition costs.
- In K-12 education, the ever-expanding federal role has done little to fix the crises in our nation’s classrooms. Since the 1970s, federal per-student spending has tripled, while long-term test scores are relatively flat and the performance in many school districts remains abysmal.
- A new national evaluation of the federal Head Start program found that the largest federal preschool program, which has received $167 billion since 1965, is a complete failure—providing zero lasting benefits for students by the end of first grade. Little is known about the effectiveness of the other 68 federal preschool and child care programs.
It’s easy to see why Secretary Duncan would see this budget proposal as good news. But we’d hope he’d understand why American taxpayers and students might think otherwise.