The 2020-21 school year has ended with failures across the education landscape. In the face of this education catastrophe, President Joe Biden earns a disappointing “D” on his end-of-semester report card.
From still-not-fully-reopened schools to inadequate school-district distance learning efforts to huge student learning losses to rampant mental health problems among children stuck at home, the just-concluded school year has been a disaster.
Like the half-century politician he is, Biden dusted off the old Washington playbook and just threw money at the problem.
In his massive stimulus plan, public schools received more than $120 billion to reopen. But there were huge problems with the way Biden doled out this boatload of taxpayer cash.
Most important, Biden’s big bucks have no conditions on them—he simply shoveled money at the problem.
Georgetown University researchers analyzed the largesse that Biden provided to the public schools and found “few limitations on the funds.”
For instance, 20 percent of the total amount of funding is supposed to address the learning loss of students. Yet, “as a practical matter,” said the researchers, “districts could justify almost anything,” including “adding more staff.”
“Honestly,” they concluded, “we’re challenged to find something that districts couldn’t spend their money on.”
So, when Biden and the feds offer free cash with no strings, the public schools have steered that money, not to students, of course, but to the adults within the system.
The Georgetown researchers said that so far, they have seen a lot of spending on things such as “thank you payments to staff” and plans to hire more teachers and non-teaching staff. Alarmingly, they found, “Not much in here for students,” “Lots of ‘as-usual’ spending,” and “Lots of one-size-fits-all vs. targeting to high-needs kids.”
For parents and the public, much of this swamp feeding frenzy is taking place under cover of darkness, with “very little transparency at this stage into the planning process.” Further, the researchers warn, “We’re hearing it’s ‘Procurement-palooza’ in many districts” and “Contracts are being negotiated with little public visibility.”
Los Angeles is a case in point. As Reason Foundation education director Aaron Garth Smith has pointed out, despite decreasing enrollment and chronic financial problems in the city school district, the United Teachers of Los Angeles “is now demanding thousands of new teachers and support staff as well as on-going salary increases for staffers.”
In other words, bad decisions are being made at the local level, but Biden opened the door to those bad decisions by how he structured his school-funding scheme.
Moreover, by focusing on conventional priorities supported by special interests like the teachers unions, Biden’s spending plan ignored more innovative options.
For example, given that the Biden spending plan works out to about $2,450 per student, the Heritage Foundation has recommended temporary student-centered micro-education savings accounts that “empower parents to spend their dollars on any approved expense, including private tutoring, books, and special education services.”
Such out-of-the-box thinking, however, is beyond Biden’s policy pale.
Biden has also proposed massive new programs guaranteed to fail if enacted.
In his proposed American Families Plan, Biden would spend a whopping $200 billion to create universal government preschool for all three-year-olds and four-year-olds. Yet, research by Vanderbilt University of Tennessee ‘s universal preschool program found that students in the program scored lower on academic tests and were more likely to be diagnosed as having a learning disorder than students who had not attended preschool.
So why does Biden get a “D” instead of an “F”? Well, he still has room to do more damage. For instance, his Department of Education has opened the process to push schools to soften discipline policies, despite evidence showing that disruptive student behavior hurts the achievement of other students.
Perhaps Biden can avoid an “F” on his next report card. But don’t bet on it.