The proposed $60 billion in education funds in President Barack Obama’s $450 billion jobs plan offers schools and teachers false hope and will cause them yet again to structure spending around fantasy. This will devastate schools far beyond the current cries over recession-era education cuts.
This proposal is at least the third federal schools Christmas since 2009, when Congress designated $115 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka “the stimulus”) for education. In 2010, Obama signed a $10 billion “edujobs” bill. The current proposal designates $30 billion to stop layoffs or pay for existing teachers, $25 billion to remodel schools, and $5 billion for community college renovations.
The statistics show teacher jobs don’t need another taxpayer boost. The Census Bureau’s latest education statistics compilation, released in May 2011 using 2009 data, demonstrates a marked increase in public school teacher hiring while student enrollment has been flat. Full-time teacher employment increased 2.3 percent, by 137,175 jobs, in the 2008–2009 school year over 2007–2009.
Student enrollment increased a cumulative 0.7 percent from 2004 to 2009, while the K–12 teacher workforce increased 6.5 percent. Per-pupil spending increased 12.5 percent in that period, after adjusting for inflation, and spending on education employee salaries and benefits increased 27.5 percent.
All this happened while states and the federal government spent themselves into a severe fiscal crisis that will persist for the foreseeable future. If the discarded terror alert system applied to government budgets, we would all hide in our basements with water and radios for the next decade. Three trillion dollars in unfunded state pension liabilities is only the beginning. Those and other fiscal pressures – such as the spiraling, $15 trillion national debt and plunging property tax revenues due to the recession – mean education budgets will be strained for at least the next five years, says a 2010 American Enterprise Institute report. Yet the president’s bill requires recipient states to keep education spending at current or increased levels until 2013, apparently to ensure states commit suicide by budget bloat.
“Under current policies, the federal budget is quickly heading into territory that is unfamiliar to the United States and to most other developed countries as well,” said Douglas Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in a statement to legislators this week.
Continuing to stuff educators with money when neither taxpayers nor our governments have it is like pumping them full of cocaine. They might feel over the moon for a while, but the crash landing, hangover, and subsequent addiction will bring nothing but misery.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before Congress in 2010 that $69 billion in ARRA money had saved 400,000 education jobs. That’s a grand total of $172,500 per job, which doesn’t sound much like savings. The president’s current bill allows schools to use funds they receive for any employee compensation, so there’s no reason these funds won’t displace schools’ current salary pools, allowing them to spike funds elsewhere, prudent or not. Large school districts across the country kept the 2010 edujobs funds in reserve to prevent later layoffs instead of immediately rehiring, The New York Times reported.
What schools, teachers, and taxpayers need now is a sobering look at reality so we can pull together to stop the insanity and make necessary, tough spending decisions we can no longer avoid. By encouraging schools and districts to continue shooting up, the president’s education jobs stimulus will only push them into further recklessness.
Joy Pullmann ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute.