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The Dirty Dozen: Ed. Dept. Budget Cuts In-Depth


The Obama administration has proposed cutting 12 programs from the Department of Education's budget, for a savings of $550.7 million. By contrast, in his fiscal year 2009 budget, President George W. Bush sought to scrap 47 Education Department programs (such as Even Start, and EdTech state grants) for a potential savings of $3.3 billion. But, as then-President Bush discovered, proposing those cuts and actually getting Congress to go along are two different things.

Let's look at the programs on the chopping block this time around. Notice that the department plans to keep many of the concepts of these programs (like character education) but absorb them into other programs.

Safe and Drug-Free Schools State Grants: According to the department, this program has not demonstrated effectiveness. Money would be better spent for targeted school safety and drug prevention education activities. The Office of Management and Budget, in its performance-based budget rating system, has not quite declared the program ineffective, but instead says that results have not been demonstrated. This means the program either hasn't set goals, or hasn't collected enough data to determine if it's performing. Savings: $294.8 million.

Even Start: This family literacy program is one of the more high-profile cuts, and may face the biggest barriers. The education department points out that three separate national studies find no benefit to the program. OMB rates Even Start ineffective. Savings: $66.5 million.

College Access Challenge Grants:
The department wants to eliminate this program, which helps increase the number of underrepresented students in higher education, in favor of its own, much bigger, "better structured", $2.5 billion College Access and Completion Fund. Seems like a name change to me. (The program wasn't evaluated by OMB.) Savings: $66 million.

Mentoring: This program that provides grants to school districts and community-based organizations for mentoring at-risk youth was found to be ineffective, according to a recent evaluation conducted by the Institute for Education Sciences. OMB declared it duplicative of other programs. Savings: $48.5 million.

Civic Education:
This program provides non-competitive grants for the We the People civics education course and for exchange programs. The department says it will replace this with a broader, competitive grant program. OMB hasn't evaluated this program. Savings: $33.5 million.

Character Education: Eliminates funding to states and school districts for character education, instead wrapping it into a new initiative that's part of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools national program, not to be confused with the state program that's getting the ax. OMB hasn't evaluated this program. Savings: $11.9 million.

Ready to Teach: Eliminates funding for TV programming that helps improving teaching in core curricular areas. OMB hasn't evaluated this one either. Savings: $10.7 million.

Javits Gifted and Talented: Read more about this over at the On Special Education blog. Savings: $7.5 million.

National Institute for Literacy: The department wants to cut this nearly 20-year-old program for demonstrating "little success" in providing national leadership on literacy issues (its mission). The OMB said this institute overlaps with the duties of other federal agencies. Savings: $6.5 million.

Academies for American History and Civics: The department says this program, which makes "3 or 4 awards" annually to support workshops for teachers, is too small to make any real difference. And apparently too small for OMB to bother evaluating. Savings: $1.9 million.

Close Up Fellowships: Provides funding for low-income students and teachers to visit Washington, D.C. The department says the foundation that runs the fellowship doesn't need taxpayer money because it gets plenty from the private sector. Not evaluated by OMB. Savings: $1.9 million.

Foundations for Learning:
The program is too small for its broad mission of helping to promote the emotional, behavioral, and social development of at-risk kids, the department says. Plus, other parts of the budget address these issues. OMB hasn't evaluated this one either. Savings: $1 million.

Total Savings: $550.7 million.


When politicians are considering savings they need to consider the long term expenses of children/students not receiving the quality of education they deserve. When programs were implimented they were for the benefit of the students. Success has been significant. When teacher pay cuts are made, as time allows, the best teachers will go on to other professions that enable them to better support children and their own families.


Not sure that I agree with you when you say that success has been significant, in the face of evaluations that say otherwise. Not to say that no one has been doing anything, or that the teachers hired didn't work hard, or care deeply. But, I rather suspect that many funding streams, which set up to meet specific targetted needs, become diverted to cover far more generalized purposes, one of which is always to maintain the staff that was hired on to carry out the purposes of the last funding stream that was cut. My guess is that this grab for dollars easily contributes to a muddying of purpose that makes the intended results unlikely.

I certainly know many who were engaged in literacy improvement through funded programs, or efforts to improve safety and prevent drug use. I have also seen cynicism at the local level--either about the possibility of achieving the program aims with the dollars available, or about whether the funders have any sort of clue about what "really happens." This can result in a strong tension in the direction of continuing to do whatever was happening last year, or is most comfortable, or is affordable, or meets the needs of the adults. We really have to commit to a more disciplined approach. If we take dollars for literacy improvement, we should expect to see improved outcomes in literacy. Having come close to a number of well-intentioned programs that made promises that did not deliver, I cannot say that they were negative if they brought adults and children together in some way. The DARE program, as an example, may have improved the image of law enforcement in the eyes of student participants. Certainly, everyone felt wonderful about it. It provided teachers with some non-teaching time that could well be put to other uses. These are not bad things. But in the end, it was intended to, and funded to, bring about a decrease in drug use in participants. This it did not do.

As regards the federal budget for education--I cannot see that there is any cause for complaint in the overall amount of dollars committed. I think that the examples given do demonstrate politicians and/or bureaucrats considering the long-term expense of students not receiving the quality of education that they deserve. Trying hard cannot continue to be the primary criteria of programs. We have to consider which things are having an effect on students.

I can't really speak to the efficacy of the other programs, but as a former local and state evaluator of Even Start programs (2004-2007) I certainly observed successes in those programs, including some that were not easily quantifiable, such as a parent whose first language was not English learning to navigate an urban transit system to take her child to the doctor or have increased quality of communications with her child's teacher. Not all Even Start programs performed equally, but the fact that there has not been a RECENT national evaluation on Even Start makes this decision to eliminate the program questionable. This CQ article does an excellent job of outlining why: http://blogs.cqpolitics.com/balance_of_power/2009/05/did-obamas-budget-scrubbers-us.html

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