Job Training Left Behind

One of the President Bush’s low moments in the third presidential debate came when he was asked about his opposition to raising the minimum wage. Here was his answer:

“…let me talk about what’s really important for the worker you’re referring to. And that’s to make sure the education system works. It’s to make sure we raise standards. Listen, the No Child Left Behind Act is really a jobs act when you think about it.”

Bush was panned for this response and others during the debate, in which he repeatedly referred to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as if it were a job training program. It’s not of course (especially “when you think about it”). It’s an underfunded education initiative which involves a lot of tests for kids in grade school. NCLB’s merits for grade school kids can be debated, but there is no evidence whatsoever it has helped anybody get a job. It would be one thing if Bush talked about NCLB in connection with other efforts to improve job training, but he doesn’t. He means it as a substitution for those efforts.

He won the election so he must think this is an appropriate substitution. Here Bush is at the State of the Union:


“To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we’re closing the achievement gap for minority students.”

Regardless of whether NCLB actually has had these effects, these two sentences are only tangentially related. “We must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century” should have been followed by, “so I’m going to improve job training by…” Today we learn why that option was closed to the president — his budget really doesn’t care about filling the jobs of the 21st century, (from a generous description of the president’s job cutting proposals in the Wall Street Journal):

“In the budget for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, the White House will propose combining four Labor Department jobs programs and reduce spending to $3.9 billion from the $4.1 billion appropriated for the current fiscal year. The programs cover adults, youth and dislocated workers, as well as employment-service centers.

The White House also will propose allowing governors to combine federal-funding streams that go to five other programs that serve many of the same groups through the Labor, Education and Agriculture departments. For these programs, Mr. Bush proposes to spend $3.6 billion in 2006, down from $3.9 billion in 2005.”

No word on how these moves will affect eighth grade reading scores.