The federal government does not pay for education!

This is an old gripe of mine that has just flared up again. I saw a small story on CNN Headline News today where they said that, in a recent speech, Kerry said that Bush’s tax cuts gave money to the wealthy while under funding our schools. Now forgetting the actual merit of that particular argument, I would like to say that THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DOES NOT FUND SCHOOLS!!! Nor should it!

This is not a gripe against Kerry or the Democrats; both parties are responsible for perpetuating this myth. I was also pissed off at Bush (and still am) for calling himself the “education president” during the 2000 election and for trying to gain control of schools with No Child Left Behind. Your local school is paid for (most likely) with local property taxes and administered by local officials. The Fed’s give very little money to your schools, and what little they do give is almost always given for some new, and likely stupid, mandated program, not general funds.

Education is an important issue, but it is not one that Washington has any (currently) control, or much direct influence over. It is disingenuous for federal politicians to make it sound like they do, and it is wrong for them to try to gain such power.

You’re basically correct, but the Federal share of funding for K-12 education has been increasing, according to the Department of Education, and now stands at over 8% of the total (i.e., 92% is coming from state and local taxes, and from private tuition payments, for private schools).

That does leave the question of how much of the Federal money is targeted to things that the schools would rather not be doing at all (like some of the No Child Left Behind stuff). But from that website, it appears that quite a bit of the money is spent on schools that have a large proportion of economically disadvantaged students, and on special education needs.

The bottom line, however, is that no President can make or break the public education system - it really is a local matter.

This is probably a terrible oversimplification of the school funding complex (and rest assured, complex it is). Local taxes, generally property taxes are a significant funding source for local primary and secondary public education. In some states it looks as if local property taxes are the primary funding source for local schools – thus some grumbling about the inequality of education in some states. In other states there is substantial state funding running from the state’s general revenue to the local schools. This serves to relieve the property tax burden in favor of income taxation, an idea much appreciated in a land-rich but cash-poor agricultural economy like rural Iowa. Nonetheless there is significant federal money in the local and state education pot for specific education programs on the order of vocational training and technology (computers) and special education.

The federal largeness is some what balanced by things like the testing and measuring required by the No Child Left Untested program which requires local schools and states to spend tremendous amounts of money to develop every pupil standardized tests, develop and implement education standards (ever kid leaving 3d grade should know and successfully do long division, or how to bisect and angle or something else – figuring out what a kid of a given level should know or know how to do) and do the follow up to make sure that all the children are above average. That is a mandated federal program and its teeth comes in the form of loss of federal funding if the school does not bring its kids up to standard. Unfortunately the feds have not funded the No Child program to balance the cost of putting the thing together and running it. Thus No Child is a net loss to the school and presents a potential disastrous loss of funds if the school does not measure up to an often arbitrary standard.

In Iowa (disclaimer, as I understand it, and I am no educator) the state has an every pupil test and has had them for years for years. The state adamantly resists state wide (meaning state imposed) standards and has talked the feds into accepting the state’s every pupil test as the required standardized examination. The catcher is that somebody has decided that the acceptable level of achievement is the 44th percentile level on the test. In other words in order to preserve federal funding for technology, vocational training and god knows what else for East Harness Buckle Community Schools every last mother’s son and daughter in that system must score at or above the 44th percentile on the state wide test.

There are a couple obvious ways to deal with this particular insane assignment. One is to just flat cheat – falsify the test scores. Another is to strongly encourage kids who are not likely to be on the good side of 44 to drop out of school. There are other dodges but those two are the most apparent. How does that help the stated goal of improving public education?

Do you see the insanity of this?

Easy answer: NONE of the money is earmarked for No Child Left Behind. The directive was made mandatory… and NO funds whatsoever were added or earmarked to make it happen. That was left to the individual schools.

This is debatable.

The current President, like other former governors of Texas, chose to create an issue (public education) which he then tackled, abused into submission, and rode into office.

The more directives like NCLB that are forced onto the public education system, particularly UNFUNDED directives, which the schools are by law forced to adhere to… well, the less time is spent on actual education. Less money, too.

Seems to me that this could easily be taken to an extreme capable of pretty much crippling a school system that most people already agree is underfunded.

Muad’Dib, in a strict sense, you’re absolutely right. I would point out, however, that the Federal Government’s influence is not limited to the portion of the budget labeled “education.” Federal expenditures in all areas impact the amount of money available for public schools – highway funds, energy subsidies, oh hell let’s call it pork in general. For an experienced Senator like Kerry, it isn’t an empty promise to use the Executive Office to benefit education in ways completely unrelated to the Educ.Dept. budget. Whether he’s likely to keep these promises, well, that’s an argument I won’t be drawn into. Having ended that last sentence with a preposition, I suddenly realize the poverty of my own education and must withdraw. Good night.

Only if they want federal funding; school districts may choose to not implement NCLB, but in doing so, they lose federal funding. But there are no legal repercussions if they opt out of federal directives.

More specifically, the federal government does not fund its latest “new, and likely stupid, mandated program”: No Child Left Behind. Which I suspect is what Kerry was getting at.

Doesn’t the Federal government fund/subsidize programs like the free school lunches and breakfasts and many “afterschool” programs that benefit more than half the students at many schools?

Wouldn’t these be lost if the schools didn’t follow the mandates?

Seems like that would be significant for most schools, giving the Feds a lot of “leverage” even though they don’t directly fund a lot of the basic school costs.

Sort of like when they forced states to adopt the 55 mph highway speed limit in order to keep Federal highway funds or to make the drinking age 21.

You’re right in a sense. The federal government doesn’t pay for education in the same way any extortioner doesn’t pay for his indulgences. It is his victims who pay.