Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Real Effect of Federal Bailout Money on Education

The federal bailout allocated $150 billion for education - a 2-year commitment that should have doubled the current funding for local schools. While it would certainly be too early to notice significant gains in education, as new hirings and new investments would likely occur this summer, one might expect to see, at the very least, a static picture in light of the recent funding boost. But we see the opposite: schools are in a frenzy to keep their doors open, teachers are losing their jobs, and special projects are being eliminated.
So why, then, does the education system seem anything but static if there is so much money being graciously pumped into the system by the federal government? Why have California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Arizona announced profound decreases in education spending, despite receiving education funding relief from the bailout? Many states are following suit. In the midst of the boldest federal commitment to education since World War II, educators are running for the hills instead of celebrating.
The answer is as clear as it is upsetting: local funding for education is gone. The economic crisis has decimated state finances, rendering state budgets for education closer and closer to zero. The result is that the bailout money is unable to bolster education funding, and must be used instead to temporarily stop the bleeding. Pennsylvania's newest budget proposals are the most extreme, calling to replace all local education funding with federal bailout funding. Sadly, however, such proposals should not come as a surprise: local governments have more immediate needs, and any money available will be used to fill those needs. The old education funding is being reallocated to many other state programs that are not getting bailout assistance, including infrastructure initiatives, justice departments, and a myriad of specialty programs.
It's hard to be too upset about this seemingly unjust usage of education bailout money in light of these 'more pressing' needs. The real problem is what is happening to the power structure in American education: as local funding is replaced by federal funding, state governments are conceding control of their education policies to the federal government, a power shift that could strip local schools of their control of curriculum, mapping, and resource allocation. Whether or not such a power shift is desirable is a debate open to talking heads and casual readers alike, but its implications should not be ignored. Are we ready for a more centralized education system? Are we prepared for the federal government to dictate more education policy? Should we be alright with a more far-reaching national bureaucracy involved in our schools? Fire away.

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