Monday, September 27, 2004

George Bush: The Education President?

President George Bush has stated repeatedly and has made a hallmark of his administration that he wants to be known as the education president. His “No Child Left Behind Act” promised to increase federal commitment towards education and has been a cornerstone of his tenure. However, Bush continues to cut spending on education. The 2004 fiscal year budget which has already been enacted allocates $55.7 billion for education. The submitted 2005 budget cuts education spending to $57.3 billion and the 2006 proposal is for $55.9 billion. While this does not seem like a dramatic roll back of funding essential educational services and programs could be dramatically effected. The White House has continued to deny that education budget cutbacks are in place but a memorandum of May 19 unequivocally states that decreases are being mandated. The Department of Education (DOE) will suffer some of the deepest cuts in funding of any governmental agency.

The Office of Manage and Budget (OMB) has outlined some of the proposed cuts of Bush’s February budget. Title I, which provides funding for state education grants, could take a $340 million hit. Title I specifically funds academically at risk students and poverty stricken districts. The “No Child Left Behind Act” imposes rigorous academic standards that will be increasingly difficult to reach for many Title I schools.

According to the American Counsel on Education’s (ACE) Center and Policy Analysis 2003 report Pell Grants provided 4.6 million college students with about $11 billion in funding for secondary education. The DOE estimates that a quarter of all college students receive Pell grants and that since the economic downturn in 2000 the number of applicants has grown by an average of fifteen percent each of the last three academic years. Further, since the 1980’s Pell grants cover an increasingly smaller percentage of overall college expenses. With the cost of a college education spiraling upwards the cap on maximum Pell grant awards has been frozen at around $4,000 since 2002. The President’s budget proposals would cut the average Pell award by $75 making it increasingly difficult for millions of high school grads to go to college.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Bush’s education budget is the effect on special education. At $10.1 billion the federal government’s contribution to special ed programs represents barely forty percent of the authorized level of full funding set out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The current budget would freez special education funding at around $11 billion through 2009.

Over the last four years over 1.1 million jobs have been lost, the longest sustained period of job loss since the Great Depression, yet Bush wants to gut vocational spending as well. In 2004 the current administration slashed vocational spending by over $300 million and proposes the same for 2005. This represents a roll back of nearly one quarter of the amount requested by Congress for vocational training for 2004 and 2005.

In these times of decreased faith in public education, secondary ed, and vocational ed, you don’t fix the problem by gutting essential programs and services. George Bush claims to value education, so much so that his “No Child Left Behind Act” is and will be a major part of his legacy. Unfortunately, Junior continues to poor billions (over $200 billion so far) into a war in Iraq that some in his own administration feel at this point is not winnable. The so called “Education President” needs to put his money where his mouth is.