The new budget passed by the House continues federal education spending at close to previous levels. While there were no noticeably large increases in any category, there were no notable decreases either which means that, at least for the lame duck congress, there is no recognition that the federal government already exerts too much control through its education spending. And as is usually the case with large distant centralized planning, there is little logic or efficiency in the choice of program spending.

Head Start, which has shown little to no long term benefit for all but the most extremely disadvantaged students, continues to enjoy robust federal support, $8.6 billion. This program funding demonstrates that the federal government does not really care about ROI, only optics.

The largest share of the education budget will go to higher education through Pell Grants. In the last 20 years the number of students receiving these federal grants has more than doubled from 4 million to 8.8 million. Meanwhile, student loan default is at an all time high. There is a modest cut in funding of Pell grants, $303 million, but most of that money will go to student loan servicing to address the high default rate. As is usually the case with federal funding, the money tends to increase administrative spending and take money away from the direct providing of education. This too demonstrates that the federal government is not interested in ROI, but on the appearance of supporting more students going to college.

They have turned a blind eye to the effects of their generosity on the cost of college for everyone which has grown over 600% in the last two decades due in large part to the increased availability of funding through these grant programs. The goal was to improve career readiness by sending more kids to college, yet those degrees did not lead to greater employment. In that time the economy has fluctuated and individual business sectors have seen decreases in the number of jobs totally unrelated to the availability of degreed graduates in that field. But the feds still get the statistical bragging right that more than two times the number of kids have been able to go to college due to federal largess.

The rest of the education spending will remain mostly  flat. The TRIO college-preparatory programs will get an additional $1.5-million. TRIO programs are designed to help low-income and first generation college students with the basics: books, sitter fees, job search, tutoring, and in some cases gas money, and tuition. The TRIO programs have not been shown to be effective in graduating students. They have been effective so far only in creating college students, not getting them to graduate. In fact listed them as an ineffective program in 2008. Still they will get funding with the new omnibus budget.

No surprise that the budget from the lame duck congress is about more optics than results. What will be most telling for the new Republican dominated Congress, who is expected to reauthorize ESEA and cut federal education programs, is whether they can recognize these poor ROI programs and cut them when the optics of doing so aren’t good.


Published December 15, 2014

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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