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Back in (the) Black? Sen. Coburn’s Education Budget Plan

July 27, 2011

Sen. Tom Coburn, Republican from the central Midwestern state of Oklahoma, unveiled his 600-or-so-page independent budget proposal, Back in Black, on July 18th.  Besides being the only federal budget proposal named after an AC/DC song that I can find, it is interesting in its educational proposals (beginning on page 133).  He discusses the web of federal programs and regulations that dominate the time of education providers.  Some highlights:

  • Coburn cites the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke and Rep. John Kline in noting that reporting guidelines related to Title I cost districts millions of work hours and hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
  • The report states that federal funding comprised 8.2% of all public school revenue in the 2007-8 school year, up from 6.1% in 1989-90, while local contributions to revenue dropped 3.3% over the same time frame.
  • Coburn cites the stagnant scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (though the NAEP is not without problems, including issues with sample size and the difference between what it measures and what people try to conclude from its results). This is a common talking point among critics of public schools, though it is often over-simplified.  The report also, via graphic, cites the somewhat-strange measurement of “high school graduates as a percentage of the 17-year-old population” with no other reference or explanation.

The conclusions drawn by Sen. Coburn are pretty common themes to this audience: “Reduce, Empower, and Innovate”.  Reduce federal DoE funding by 50% through the “consolidation” (read: elimination) of federal programs and distribute the remainder of earmarked funding directly to the states.  States would be empowered to direct educational programs, ostensibly by rewriting or eliminating federal regulations.  At the end of the section is a long list of programs on Coburn’s chopping block, from Race to the Top and some Title I programs, to state grants for improving teacher quality and “voluntary public school choice”.

District leaders can make reasonable conclusions regarding the rank-and-file Republicans’ federal education policy from this report, and Sen. Coburn talks a good game on local control, though he proposes cuts to many programs that at least look as though they aim to strengthen public education at the local level.  The lesson to take away is: leaders should remain in close contact and on good terms with state departments of education, while still seeking out alternative funding, because the budgets are not looking good for money from on high.

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