Obama Plans To Invest Stimulus Dollars In Human Capital

Today, President-elect Barack Obama delivered a major address at George Mason University to introduce his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, an economic stimulus package that could amount to $775 billion in federal spending and tax cuts. During the speech, Obama emphasized that part of the plan will be an investment in updating and modernizing American schools:

To give our children the chance to live out their dreams in a word that’s never been more competitive, we will equip tens of thousands of schools, community colleges and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs and libraries. We’ll provide new computers, new technology and new training for teachers so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with children in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future.

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This would be a wise use of stimulus dollars, as America is not only in the midst of an economic crisis, but is headed toward a human capital crisis. The College Board notes that there has been an “alarming decline of U.S. educational attainment among 25- to 34-year-olds,” and that “a torrent of American talent and human potential entering the educational pipeline is reduced to a trickle 16 years later as it moves through the K-16 system.” The stimulus package can help to reverse this decline, while at the same time providing an immediate boost to the economy by creating jobs and supporting material providers.

Currently, “close to a third of schools have one or more temporary buildings, housing an average of 160 students each”; more than half the schools in California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington have temporary buildings. The Center for American Progress has found that, with about a $20 billion investment in school modernization and repair, the federal government can generate “250,000 skilled maintenance and repair jobs and supply $6 billion of materials and supplies,” while correcting these abysmal numbers.

As Jim Goodnight and Keith Krueger wrote in Business Week, a “carefully constructed” education investment “can meet the short-term stimulus requirements,” while the “greatest impact is that our children would receive an education that reflects the wider world, and would emerge from schooling ‘future ready.‘” Indeed, there is no reason for stimulus dollars to be wasted on roads to nowhere or corporate handouts, when a strong investment can be made in America’s present and future.