President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address covered several macroeconomic issues. In his speech he tried to focus on broad topics like growth, education, and innovation. The “Race to the Top” (“RTTT”) program was hailed by President Obama as a fundamental education reform that will shape the future of our economy.RTTT is a federal program that is meant to provide incentives to states for improving educational outcomes. President Obama also called this our generation’s “Sputnik Moment” which is a call to improve our science, math, and technical training over the next several years. In order to improve our educational system we will likely need to spend a fair amount of money. The “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) act passed during the George W. Bush administration has largely been seen as a failure, and recent reports have shown that science education in particular has lagged behind. The NCLB emphasis on improved test scores and graduation rates has led to teachers focusing on teaching students to pass tests and promotion without cause.
Politicians have spent a great deal of time emphasizing the federal government’s various budgets. President Obama proposed a freeze of the discretionary non-military budget for five years. However he also noted that the discretionary non-military budget is only a fraction (about 12-13%) of total government spending (this is the $520 billion in the lower right corner). In order to truly reign in spending, the federal government needs to address the problems of Medicare, Medicaid, Defense spending, Social Security spending, and other programs known as “entitlements.” While our federal government has run persistent budget deficits over the last several years, state and local governments must typically balance their budgets annually (meaning their revenues must balance with their spending). One of the things that we must consider is that the federal government does not control most education spending, but rather education is funded at the state and local level. The left leaning Center on Budget Policy and Priorities released a report showing that most states are actually cutting spending on education as states are facing budget crises of their own. Newly elected Senator Rand Paul has proposed cuts to federal spending on education to save money over the next decade. So, if Obama proposes to increase high school and college graduation rates, either states and localities need to reform the system, or the federal government needs to provide incentives to change. The right is hesitant to give more power to the federal government on education, and give the power to states to make education decisions. However, states are cutting education funding at this time.
Questions to think about:
- When we think about education, innovation, and growth, you must consider the costs to providing these benefits. What do you believe the U.S. government should do about improving education, and at what cost (giving specific numbers)? Avoiding anecdotes about personal experiences, you can make broad statements about a state or local program that you think has been an effective use of state or federal funds.
- If states are cutting spending on education, and the federal government is also considering cuts to education, how do you believe we can provide better educational outcomes? Does money matter with regard to education?
- Do you believe that it is more important to balance the federal budget or provide better education? If you think education spending needs to be increased at the federal level, how do you propose to distribute this money? Do you think that the federal government needs to play a role or do you think states should be left alone to decide how much money to spend on education?
- You are free to answer any other question you want, but it should be relevant to this discussion.