Obama’s Education Budget: It’s About the 2012 Election, Not About the Kids

Well, I have to hand it to them: The folks behind Ed in ’08 were successful after all. It just appears that the are achieving their goal–making education a central issue in the presidential election–four years behind schedule.

Read this Politico post and you’ll see what I mean.

President Barack Obama, balancing his blueprint to recalibrate the nation’s economy against a looming confrontation with Republicans over federal spending, will use the issue of education to help frame the budget debate.

As he argues for a budget that includes painful cuts to government-funded initiatives he favors, such as home weatherization programs, community development plans and even college Pell Grants, the president will use his bully pulpit to defend spending more on education — a domestic issue that has been overshadowed by debates about the economy and the health care overhaul.

But this is completely cynical. Sure, the President will call for a few small-scale programs that Republicans will oppose, like extending Race to the Top (for districts this time, not states) and recruiting 100,000 new math and science teachers. But this is “school uniforms” sort of stuff. Regardless of what happens to the federal education budget (which will sway a few billion in this direction or a few billion in that, even under the “draconian” Republican plan), education spending overall is going to take a huge hit this year. That’s because of the “New Normal“–as Arne Duncan described it–that is playing out in states and local districts, with huge budget cuts pending.

If Obama is sincere about making “crucial investments” in education, he would call for another education stimulus, on the order of at least $100 billion, to hold the nation’s schools harmless from the steep drop in state and local revenue. (To be clear, I’m not advocating for that, for a variety of reasons.) But if he wanted to draw a sharp line with Republicans, and actually believed that education was a critical investment worth “protecting,” he’d do it. Instead, he’s just playing presidential politics. What a shame.

-Mike Petrilli

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