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Kline's first salvo in education-overhaul plan cuts 43 programs

Rep. John Kline
Rep. John Kline

At first glance, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act, aka H.R. 1891 [PDF], is a curious critter. The first salvo in Minnesota Rep. John Kline’s plan for overhauling the nation’s governing education reform act, the bill would eliminate 43 programs its authors deem “unnecessary” and “wasteful.”

“Clearly, the problem isn’t how much money we spend on education, but how we’re spending it,” Kline said in a news release marking the bill’s introduction last week. “And right now, far too many taxpayer dollars are dedicated to ineffective, redundant K-12 programs.”

Slated for elimination are six early-literacy initiatives, many of them aimed at immigrants and poor minorities and their parents, as well as teacher and school-leader training programs, arts, physical education and mental health programs, and dropout prevention.

The programs in question may or may not constitute fat, but the bill clearly is a preview of the strategy congressional Republicans will follow in their efforts to control the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, best known in its current incarnation as No Child Left Behind.  

Eliminates more than half of NCLB's programs
Under the guideline of reducing the so-called federal footprint, the measure would eliminate more than half of NCLB’s programs. This, in turn, would make life a lot easier for the GOP, which is contemplating even more drastic cuts to education during next summer’s looming debate over the 2012 budget.

How drastic? The House version of the Labor/HHS/Education Appropriation bill, the overarching vehicle Congress uses to establish budget ceilings by spending category, proposes $41.6 billion less funding in 2012 than President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, or 23 percent. 

Obama has proposed a five-year freeze on all discretionary funding except education, which he would like to increase by $2 billion.

Eliminating the programs would mean there’s less to argue about during the budget debate, and it would also soften the outcry from critics who are bound to point out that the cuts contained in the Labor/HHS/Education appropriation package are far steeper than the average 11 percent in its 11 counterparts. 

Many lost funding last fall
The programs the measure would eliminate fall into a handful of broad categories best outlined by funding status. Many lost their funding last fall when Congress, at a loss to agree on a budget, passed a stopgap continuing resolution to keep government operating in fiscal year 2011, which started in October.

That continuing resolution froze education funding at 2010 levels, which are $18.2 billion, or 11.6 percent, higher than the amount House GOP leaders have in mind for 2012.

Other programs on the chopping block had not been funded recently, were created but never funded, or were targeted by the Obama administration for consolidation or elimination in the 2012 budget.

A final category is made up of programs deemed duplicative or “inappropriate for the federal government.” Many, including programs targeted at native Hawaiians and Alaskans, are categorized as redundant because they are aimed at the same disadvantaged kids as the enormously complicated Title I program.

(An irresistible aside: One of them is a $20 million program called Improving Literacy Through School Libraries. Tuesday afternoon a press release landed in my inbox announcing a press conference next Tuesday at the Library of Congress at which Kline and Target Corp.’s philanthropic leaders will kick off Target’s 2011 campaign of school library makeovers “to help children reach the academic milestone of learning to read proficiently by the end of third grade.” After last year’s political-donations imbroglio, surely someone at Target checked on the hometown lawmaker’s current portfolio before planning this?)

Women's educational-equity funds considered unnecessary
Funding for women’s educational equity is considered unnecessary because girls’ math scores — a tiny aspect of equity — have risen.

Arts, phys ed and economic-literacy funds are some of the programs in the “inappropriate” category. The bill’s authors describe some of the initiatives as earmarks and insist that others do not “serve a federal role.”

Kline’s four years of staunch opposition to earmarks, of course, has earned detractors here at home and admirers within the Tea Party. California Rep. Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and the chief author of H.R. 1891, may have a tougher PR issue here.

Hunter fought his first congressional race in 2008 for the San Diego-area seat long occupied by his father, also named Duncan Hunter. The senior Hunter was known for his love of earmarks, most infamous his 19 years of support for fruitless efforts to develop a “useless” plane the U.S. Defense Department did not want.

Change of tune on earmarks
When father stepped down, grateful beneficiaries stepped up to fund his son’s campaign. In 2010, the new congressman requested some $8 million in earmarks of his own. Now, as head of one of Kline’s subcommittees, Hunter seems to have done an about-face.

Coming full circle: The younger Hunter may have turned his back on earmarks, but defense is one area slated for a budget increase in 2012. In an interview yesterday, Mary Kingston, government-relations manager for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, suggested that thrifty lawmakers might want to look there for some fat they can cut in place of the 43 education initiatives.

Kingston disagrees that many of the programs targeted for elimination are ineffective.  Indeed, the effectiveness of one, the National Writing Project, was being touted last week on Capitol Hill as an effective way to reach English language learners, she notes.

“But this bill doesn’t seem to be based on research,” she said. “It just follows what’s not funded and what’s consolidated.”

Kingston’s not surprised. None of the 12 of the brand-new members of Kline’s Education and the Workforce Committee have any direct experience with education, she added, and aren’t likely to understand the impact of the cuts they’re proposing.

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Comments (2)

It's pretty scary (and typical) when a bunch of politicians with no educational training or background are making the decisions about what programs are necessary and valuable for K-12 education.

"Inappropriate?" Do not "serve a federal role?"

For what students are the arts as nourishment for their souls, physical education for life-long better health, and economic-literacy for protecting themselves from greedy and manipulative banksters inappropriate? What "federal role" do they not serve?

I'd like to hear Kline et al. explain their reasoning.