An Education Budget That Makes the Cut

Just as the No Child Left Behind Act (search) requires schools to make “adequate yearly progress” toward state education goals, now it’s time for Congress to show it can make real progress toward sound fiscal policy on education.

President Bush’s 2006 education budget has set a standard of budgetary restraint. Faced with a projected $427 billion deficit, President Bush has pledged to cut the deficit in half by 2009. Toward that end, his proposed budget calls for eliminating 150 redundant or ineffective programs this year, including 48 education programs.

This year, if President Bush has his way, the ax will fall heavily on aging education initiatives such as TRIO (search), a series of support programs for disadvantaged high school students.

It’s not that the president has something against poor kids. It’s that these programs don’t work. Some may survive in modified and scaled-down form as part of the president’s new initiative to improve the nation’s high schools. But he has served notice that, from now on, all federal education programs will have to demonstrate their worth constantly or face elimination.

Overall federal education spending has grown by a third since President Bush took office. If the president’s budget request is approved, funding for programs designed to end the achievement gap between white and minority students -- the focus of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968 (search) -- will have grown by 52 percent since he took office in 2000.

But even significant increases in spending on Title I programs doesn’t make them any more effective. In fact, despite hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending over the last 37 years, we’ve yet to make much of a dent in the achievement gap.

The difference is that President Bush, the first chief executive to hold an MBA, believes we can’t manage what we don’t measure. As such, he has ordered rigorous review of much of what the federal government does through the Office of Management and Budget’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). He wants the programs that PART has identified as not producing the desired results rolled into his new high school initiative or dropped. And he wants the programs that did measure up this year to have to continue to prove their worth.

In other words, the president has done the hard work. He’s stuck out his neck and identified, by name, the programs that ought to be cut. Congress now should do its part and start eliminating these. In fact, it should go further and slash some other examples of education waste, such as the Women’s Educational Equity Act.

Last year, Congress funded WEEA, which repeatedly has been marked for elimination, to the tune of $3 million. The problem is that girls don’t need the help. They already equal or surpass boys in nearly every indicator of academic achievement.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education released yet another report demonstrating girls’ educational dominance. In the K-12 years, girls outperform boys in reading and writing and essentially have closed the gap in math and science. Girls are less likely to repeat grades or engage in risky behavior. More girls than boys enroll in undergraduate institutions, and girls are more likely to graduate with a degree. Girls are also more likely than boys to enroll in college immediately after high school.

This is not about choking public schools of needed resources or leaving the underprivileged to fend for themselves. It’s about fiscal responsibility. It’s about eliminating programs whose main argument for survival is that they have a well-placed supporter in Congress. It’s about eliminating small, special-interest programs with limited impact, such as the Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners Program (search), and slashing other ineffective programs.

Admittedly, Congress loves to feed the special interests. Last year, it passed a huge education appropriations bill with more than 1,200 pork provisions, including $450,000 for a distance-learning project from the Baseball Hall of Fame and $25,000 to develop curriculum to study mariachi music.

At the same time, inexplicably, Congress cut $600 million from President Bush’s proposed spending on Title I programs and $500 million for special education programs.

Members can make their own “adequate yearly progress” toward responsible spending this year by following the president’s lead and trimming unnecessary pork. To avoid this responsibility is to shortchange our children’s future.

Krista Kafer is an education analyst and Jonathan Butcher is a researcher at The Heritage Foundation. See more research on education policy and other areas at