Sequestration Not Likely to Harm Education

Published October 3, 2012

If mandatory federal budget cuts, called sequestration, take place starting January 2, most federal education programs will be cut by 8.2 percent, according to a new Office of Management and Budget report.

Such cuts could have “destructive impacts,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) in a hearing this summer. Testifying before the committee in July, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asserted: “It would be hard to overstate the devastating impact of sequestration.”

Despite such strong statements, others suggest cuts to federal education spending would benefit both taxpayers and children.

“Federal education programs … should be abolished with or without sequestration,” said Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. He says these programs have been “a complete waste of money.”

The Spending Black Hole
“The federal government has spent roughly $2 trillion on K-12 education since 1965, and test scores near the end of high school are flat in reading and math and have actually declined a little in science over that period,” Coulson said. Federal education spending has taken “$2 trillion out of the productive sector of our economy… thereby slowing economic growth.”

Per-pupil, inflation adjusted federal education spending has tripled since the 1970s, notes Lindsey Burke, an education policy fellow for the Heritage Foundation. She says federal education spending “has been on an untenable track for decades,” creating “numerous duplicative and ineffective programs.”

Burke also notes the compliance burden attending federal dollars. For example, a 2006 OMB report found No Child Left Behind, the largest federal education law, added 7 million man-hours of paperwork for states, at a cost of $141 million.

“Reducing bureaucracy and federal intervention … could ultimately put more money in the hands of local school districts,” Burke says.

Main Result: Bureaucracy
Federal dollars tighten central control without improving education, says Derek Monson, director of public policy for the Sutherland Institute.

“Accepting dependence on federal funding” does not improve education, he said. The best way to strengthen education, he said, is by “trusting and empowering the parents, teachers, and principals who know children the best to do what they want most: help children learn,” he said. 

That means allowing options such as digital learning, charter schools, “a tax system that rewards educational self-reliance,” and ending “intrusive” government regulation at all levels, he said.


Image by woodleywonderworks.