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Education Reform: Trump Has the Wrong Priorities

Sep 12, 2017 by

by Abby M. McCloskey –

Some programs are wasteful, but reducing overall education spending shouldn’t be conservatives’ first priority.

The debt-limit deal punted on questions surrounding education funding (and funding in general for that matter) — a disappointment to many Republicans. But this is preferable to the Trump administration’s slash-and-burn approach to the issue if the goal is actually to enact lasting, conservative education reform.

Conservatives have always been quick to point out the liberal fallacy that more education spending necessarily equates to better outcomes. On this, the evidence is clear: From 1970 to the early 2000s, spending per student on K–12 education doubled, but achievement scores remained flat. The U.S. now spends close to $12,000 per student, or $700 billion a year, on K–12 — far more than most countries — and yet ranked 27th on mathematics, 20th in science, and 17th on 2012’s international PISA tests. There are certain circumstances where higher spending can help, particularly for low-income students, but more money does not automatically improve student learning.

It doesn’t follow from this, however, that cutting education spending should be conservatives’ first priority. That seemed lost on the Trump administration, which spearheaded its education-reform efforts this spring by proposing deep budget cuts. The White House budget called for a 13.6 percent reduction in the Department of Education’s budget, or $9.2 billion in cuts. Funding for college work-study programs, student-loan forgiveness, after-school programs, teacher training, and literacy programs were on the chopping block.

This approach misses the point for three reasons.

Powered by First, spending cuts in and of themselves do not improve school quality or student outcomes. To be sure, the cuts may be to unnecessary, duplicative, and wasteful programs. American Enterprise Institute education scholar Frederick Hess recently called the student-loan-forgiveness program “ridiculously ill-conceived”; it has grown to cover Ivy League graduate students working for Uncle Sam with debts in the six figures. Ridiculous indeed. But these loans’ absence — however welcome — would do little to improve the life of a middle-school student in Mississippi or the trajectory of U.S. education more broadly.


continue: Education Reform: Trump Has the Wrong Priorities | National Review

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1 Comment

  1. Billy Buchanan

    So if a student from a low income household makes the choice to get the best possible post-secondary education they can buy with the assumption that they make 120 consecutive payments towards their federal student loans while being employed in the public sector what part of that is “ill conceived”? By the end of the ten years that students are repaying the loans, while working in the public sector, the externalities will far out weigh the remaining debt that would be forgiven at the end of the ten year period. Oh and by the way, that forgiven amount is also taxed…like ordinary income. So a program that may shell out $20k or so for a student after they’ve dedicated 10 years of their labor to the public good is a bad investment? Maybe the policy agenda of the Republican Party should focus more on learning math and economics than making ridiculous unfounded claims that scare people into believing that these programs don’t help.

    Full disclosure: I grew up in a single family household with a disabled mother, who has worked in Mississippi – among other places around the US -, was deployed in combat for the benefit of student loan repayment through the US Army (also taxed as regular income), went to an Ivy League institution for graduate school (on a fellowship provided by the institution), and has worked in the education field since then. I’d be more than happy to further discuss this with you and/or Rick Hess, but when I ask Rick questions he tends to fumble around for ways to try pivoting instead of addressing the question. But then again, what could an adult who grew up as a child in poverty know about public policy?

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