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A Dose of Budgetary Reality for Policy Makers and Education Advocates

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September 29, 2011 03:44 pm

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As we head into the fall, jobs and the budget are at the forefront of national discussion. President Obama has announced and is now campaigning for his jobs plan. The bipartisan, bicameral super committee continues its own discussions on the federal budget. Within this discussion, there is a larger economic debate on how to spur recovery.

One side argues that cutting spending could deepen the recession, while the other side argues that failing to cut spending would deepen the debt and prolong the recession.  Amidst this lose-lose debate, = something is missing that’s more fundamental to the nation’s long-term economic health: how the nation is educating tomorrow’s workforce. Education programs will already see cuts as part of the 10-year trillion dollar cuts to discretionary spending and could be subject to further cuts if the super committee fails to reach an agreement. With this context as a backdrop, both policymakers and education groups need to respond to the realities the nation faces.

a dose

A Word to Policy Makers: Ignoring Education is Short-Sighted

If you ever doubt the relationship between education and the economy, go back to the graph to the right. Unemployment in good or bad economic times will hit the less educated harder and the more educated will have greater earnings and as a consequence greater tax revenues.  Reports by the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics highlight that this dynamic will only get stronger. Additionally, the Alliance publishes reports on the effects of education on other aspects of the economy such as home purchases, tax revenue, jobs created, investments, and other categories for the nation, all 50 states, and 220 Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

So the caution to the super committee and other policy makers is to be weary of balancing a budget through education cuts. At best, the strategy amounts to the fiscal equivalent of the carnival game, Whac A Mole. By cutting costs in one area, you will accrue greater costs in others.

A Word to the Education Community: Cuts Are Real and More Needs to Be Done With Less

Having said this, one cannot ignore the budget realities schools, districts, states, and the federal government will face in the next several years. As an education advocate, I would love to say that we won’t see cuts to education, but I know such statements would be either delusional or dishonest.  As mentioned decisions have already been made to cut education funding at the federal level and while we advocate for prudence, we should still brace for further cuts.  When looking at budget shortfalls across states, the news there is not much better (see figure from the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities.)

The challenge federal, state, district, and school policy must confront is that at least in the short-term, more needs to be done with less.  There have been several discussions brewing around this goal of doing more with less. This includes Rick Hess’s book Stretching the School Dollar, the Center for American Progress report on education productivity, and even the Secretary weighing in. Some of these ideas presented in these discussions such as better utilization of technology, redesigning transportation routes, and cutting some central office staff have greater merit than others such as cutting school days. Nevertheless, education advocates must continue to weigh in on this discussion, because at least in the short-term, it’s not an issue of if things will get cut, but what will get cut.

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