On Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered a back-to-school speech of sorts at the National Press Club in Washington. During the question and answer period, an audience member asked Secretary Duncan: “What would be the biggest difference between a Romney and Obama administration on education?” Duncan responded:
I think the choice is pretty clear, and frankly it’s pretty stark.…We fundamentally see education as an investment, they fundamentally see education as an expense. And if you look at Congressman Ryan’s budget…the cuts to early childhood education—200,000 less kids in Head Start—the cuts to IDEA and to Title I for poor kids; potential massive cuts to Pell Grants…none of that leads us in the right direction. We either think of education as an investment in this country, or as an expense. The choice is really clear. We’ll see what the American public thinks.
The budget passed by the House of Representatives (which Duncan refers to as Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget) does not designate specific cuts to K–12 education programs, and does not lay out cuts to any of the programs Duncan mentions. Instead, the budget calls for a reduction in non-defense discretionary spending over the next 10 years.
But as he did in Charlotte, Duncan makes a great leap in assuming that there will be 200,000 fewer children in Head Start and that there will be cuts to IDEA (federal funding for special needs children) and Title I (federal funding for low-income children). The words “Head Start,” “Title I,” and “IDEA” never appear in the House-approved budget.
The spending that Duncan refers to as an investment has reaped little return other than a bloated bureaucracy that is burdening state and local leaders. That bloat has been growing the past 45 years, and will continue to grow unless federal education intervention and spending is curtailed.
Moreover, while the House-approved budget doesn’t specify a major reduction in education spending, as Duncan claims, such a reduction is long overdue.
In 1980, the Department of Education had an $11.6 billion budget (which equates to approximately $31.7 billion in constant 2012 dollars). By the time President Obama took office in 2009, the budget had increased to $67 billion. And today, Obama’s FY 2013 budget proposes to increase the agency’s budget to $69.8 billion.
Moreover, the President sent nearly $100 billion to the Department of Education in 2009 as part of the stimulus package. And this year, he requested $60 billion more to fund supplemental education proposals outlined in his Blueprint for Education Reform.
While the House-approved budget doesn’t single out education, it could be used to stop the education spending spree and more effectively target spending, which is about the only approach Washington hasn’t tried over the past half-century.