We’ve Heard This All Before

I’m sure there’ll be much ado about President Obama’s rallying cry for the ever-growing “stimulus” in today’s Washington Post , but to me it reads as just so much lofty but empty rhetoric. And at least in education, we’ve heard it all before.

Here’s what the President wrote about education in today’s op-ed:

Now is the time to give our children every advantage they need to compete by upgrading 10,000 schools with state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs; by training our teachers in math and science; and by bringing the dream of a college education within reach for millions of Americans.

Now, where might I have heard this sort of thing before? Oh, here’s an example! From President Jimmy Carter back in 1979, pushing for creation of the U.S. Department of Education:

The Federal government has a limited, but critical responsibility…to ensure equal educational opportunities; to increase access to postsecondary education by low and middle income students; to generate research and provide information to help our educational systems meet special needs; prepare students for employment; and encourage improvements in the quality of our education. 

President Carter, of course, got his Department of Education, and schools have also gotten a lot more money, as Adam Schaeffer and I pointed out yesterday. Indeed, looking specifically at the period between 1979-80 and 2004-05 (the latest for which data is available), inflation-adjusted, per-pupil expenditures in public elementary and secondary schools rose from $6,549 to $11,470, a 75 percent increase. And total federal education funding? Adjusted for inflation, In 1980 Washington spent or helped to provide $94.5 billion. By 2006, that figure had ballooned 146 percent, hitting $232.0 billion!

So how can we have pretty much all the same needs as we had in 1979? Because education spending is almost always as empty as the rhetoric that drives it, doing little or nothing to actually improve outcomes for students while letting politicians appear to “care” and enriching powerful education interest groups. In other words, it does nothing of what it promises, but keeps the busted status quo going strong!