Last week, President-elect Barack Obama announced his intention to invest stimulus dollars in repairing and modernizing America’s schools. As The Wonk Room noted, this would be a good investment in immediate stimulus and longer-term human capital.
Today, the Politico reported further that “federal aid for education could grow as much as $140 billion under a two-year economic stimulus bill now taking shape in Congress,” in the form of a block grant for states and a $15 billion expansion of annual Pell grants to low-income college students:
[L]ike Medicaid, education has clearly emerged as a favorite channel through which Washington will pump massive amounts of aid to states struggling with huge budget deficits aggravated by the economic downturn.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Gov. David A. Paterson (D-NY) explained that the block grants for state education would go towards preventing “teacher layoffs, suspension of academic programs and substantial increases in school property taxes.” Furthermore, as the Center for American Progress’ Will Straw and Michael Ettlinger wrote, providing college funding to low-income students “would provide a boost to the economy and improve the workforce skills needed when businesses begin to hire again as the economy improves.”
Indeed, investments such as these would be a wise use of stimulus dollars. They would not only prevent states from making potentially debilitating budget cuts, but will also aid America in restoring its competitive academic edge. America’s lead in educational attainment has slipped in recent years, which increased federal aid could help address.
But these investments do more than simply bolster America’s human capital. The purely fiscal benefits of education investment “aren’t abstract or aspirational“: better educated people are more productive, healthier, less likely to require public assistance, commit fewer crimes, make more money, and therefore pay more taxes.
It’s an absolute necessity that the stimulus package finance economic recovery and growth simultaneously. These investments in education would be an excellent step toward achieving that goal.