Federal Education Programs Are Bloated and Failing. Now, Congress Wants to Give Them More Money.

COMMENTARY Education

Federal Education Programs Are Bloated and Failing. Now, Congress Wants to Give Them More Money.

Sep 25th, 2018 4 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Jude Schwalbach

Research Assistant, Center for Education Policy

Jude is a research assistant in education policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Lawmakers are proposing spending $71.4 billion on federal education programs—$2.6 billion more than in fiscal year 2017. suethsayer/Getty Images

Here we go again. Congress plans to ignore the glaring education policy errors of the past five decades—and, worse, spend even more money on them.

As policymakers place the finishing touches on the Labor-Health-Education bill—a spending measure that funds education programs at the departments of Education and Health and Human Services—Americans stand to have more of their hard-earned dollars spent on policies that don’t work.

In fact, the entire spending package encompasses $178 billion in expenditures, $11 billion more than the Trump administration’s proposed budget.

Lawmakers should formulate good education policies that actually help students and protect American taxpayers, instead of seeking the approval of special-interest groups, such as teachers unions.

Although education spending skyrocketed in the past five decades, education outcomes remain the same. Instead of improved student outcomes, increased education spending has been accompanied by a lopsided increase in school staffing and administration.

For example, an 8 percent increase in the size of the student body since 1970 has been accompanied by a 138 percent increase in nonteaching staff over the same time period.

Instead of eliminating waste and bloat, federal policymakers propose to buttress bad policy by spending $71.4 billion on federal education programs—$2.6 billion more than in fiscal year 2017.

The federal government should eliminate duplicative and unhelpful programs instead of reinforcing them. For instance, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers are ineffective and failing to positively affect participants academically and behaviorally.

Even though the Trump administration’s budget rightly sought the program’s elimination, the Labor-Health-Education appropriations package would increase its funding to $1.2 billion.

David Muhlhausen, formerly of The Heritage Foundation, wrote, “Of the 12 behavioral outcomes assessed by the evaluation, six measures indicate that 21st Century Community Learning Centers produced more harm than good. Overall, teachers found participating students to have disciplinary problems that were confirmed by student-reported data.”

The Head Start program is another prime example of wasteful and poor policy. Although Congress plans to increase funding for the federal child care program to $10.1 billion (an increase of $200 million), research shows that Head Start has little to no lasting positive effect on participants. Moreover, despite funding boosts over the past few years, the program served slightly fewer participants between the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ own research found that Head Start participants performed lower than their peers in kindergarten math and “by third grade, Head Start had little to no effect on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting outcomes of participating children.”

My colleagues Lindsey Burke and David Muhlhausen wrote: “[Health and Human Services] has released definitive evidence that the federal government’s 48-year experiment with Head Start has failed children and left taxpayers a tab of more than $180 billion. In the interest of children and taxpayers, it’s time for this nearly half-century experiment to come to an end.”

The federal government’s large footprint in education has failed to make lasting positive effects, in part due to its sweeping programs, which fail to address the needs of local communities.

Policymakers should work to reduce the federal government’s intervention in education, instead of increasing it and implementing policies that do more harm than good.

Where else is the federal education footprint getting bigger?

  • Title I funding will increase to $15.9 billion, which is $400 million more than the Trump administration’s proposed budget.
  • The Student Support and Academic Enrichment program was eliminated in the Trump administration’s budget, but funding was increased to $1.170 billion.
  • TRIO, which provides federal funds to enhance college readiness, stands to see its budget increased by $50 million to $1.060 billion.
  • In the past two years, Pell Grants, which service 8 million students, will have increased by nearly $300 per student to $6,195.

At the very least, if the federal government continues to supplement state education spending, states should be able to use federal dollars as they see fit, instead of being required to accommodate ineffective or duplicative federal programs. State policymakers are more aware of local needs and concerns than Washington officials.

Congress should eliminate ineffective and duplicative federal programs instead of boosting their budgets. The Trump administration recognized the need to do that in its budget proposals, yet Congress seems bent on going in the opposite direction, increasing taxpayer spending on programs of questionable effectiveness.

It’s time to end the federal education spending spree and restore state and local control of education.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal