On Monday, President Obama spoke to the National Governor’s Association (NGA), using the opportunity to reproach state leaders for not increasing education spending in their state budgets:
Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest. Budgets are about choices. So today I’m calling on all of you: Invest more in education.
“Budgets are about choices”—unless you choose to cut spending. In which case the federal government is here to tell you that you can’t. And the Administration seems content to continue an education spending spree on the heels of the $100 billion “stimulus” gifted to the Department of Education in 2009 and the $10 billion public education bailout in 2010.
This education spending spree has failed to improve outcomes for students over the past four-and-a-half decades. But increasing spending—and increasing the number of education employees—is popular with the unions, which may explain why we’ve seen a hiring boom over the last several decades. And now, reality is setting in, and many districts are having to make cuts.
But the Obama Administration clearly isn’t interested in allowing states to consider reforms that would reduce costs and more efficiently use existing funds. And to show the governors how it’s done, the Administration released a staggering spending “blueprint” in conjunction with President Obama’s speech to the NGA. And it comes just two weeks after the Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request for the Department of Education, which also includes significant new spending increases—the largest increases, in fact, of any domestic agency.
President Obama stated, “Over the past four years, school districts across America have lost over 250,000 educators…all laid off when America has never needed them more.”
While layoffs are certainly tough for the teachers and school employees who are affected, claims that districts face catastrophic layoffs without federal help are exaggerated. In November, the National Council on Teacher Quality found that surveyed school districts reported laying off 2.5 percent of their teachers. The number fell to 1.5 percent when California was excluded from the analysis. There were no layoffs in half of the school districts surveyed.
The report stated that “while districts may be feeling financial pain, some of the layoffs can be explained by a ‘hiring spree in public education over the past decade.’”
For decades, public school staffs have been increasing significantly at great expense to states budgets. Since 1970, student enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools has increased just 7 percent, while public elementary and secondary staff hires have increased 83 percent.
As the same time, the number of teachers as a percentage of school staff has declined significantly. In 1950, more than 70 percent of elementary and secondary instructional staff was comprised of teachers; by 2006, teachers made up just slightly more than 51 percent of public school staff.
President Obama has also outlined a $30 billion proposal to modernize schools (again contingent on the American Jobs Act). Like teacher payrolls, school construction is a local issue, and federal involvement is not only inappropriate but is also expensive. Most schools receiving federal construction money would have to hire union workers. And when Washington funds school construction, it must pay prevailing wages, which increase costs, on average, by 22 percent.
The blueprint also includes a new $5 billion grant for the RESPECT project to increase teacher compensation. While talented teachers should certainly be rewarded for increasing student outcomes, the federal government should not be picking up the tab.
The Obama Administration’s education blueprint maps out a path toward significantly greater federal involvement in education. And when examined in conjunction with the Administration’s FY 2013 budget request, the proposals would increase education spending to breathtaking new heights.