Is Education Spending Going Up Or Down?

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Nick Anderson for the Washington Post has the details on the information leaked earlier this week that the President’s budget would include a 6.2 percent increase in education spending within the context of an overall freeze on domestic discretionary monies. That said, Rob Manwaring points out that this means federal education spending will actually go down not up:

When the stimulus bill passed, everyone knew that the state fiscal stabilization funding was certainly a one-time occurrence, and that states should thank the federal government for the funds, and spend it wisely on one-time things. Many in the education community felt differently about the $13 billion in Title I funds and $12.2 billion in special education funding in the stimulus package. This funding was also technically one-time funding, but there was immediately speculation as to whether some of this funding would effectively become the new base for those two programs.

The answer is basically “no.” Contrary to the hopes of school boards and the fears of conservatives, the administration is not proposing to de facto start including that money in the baseline. Instead, the 6.2 increase is based on FY 2010’s “regular” education budget of $63.7 billion, meaning that the extra $4 billion or so in federal monies is but a small slice of what’s expiring in terms of stimulus.

Procedurally, all that is important. Federal education spending is among the most high-value of our discretionary domestic programs so it’s good that it’s being treated well. The stimulus should be for the purposes of temporary stimulus and not used to confuse the baseline issue. Basically the right thing is being done here, except that it’s all arguably being done at too low a level. The stimulus was too small to begin with, and consequently weak economic conditions are going to persist into FY 2011 (it starts in October) so the pivot toward spending discipline looks to be timed wrong.