President Bush’s budget proposal has stirred up Congress during the past week, with both Republicans and Democrats expressing reservations about certain funding cuts and doubt over the plausibility that Bush’s proposal would actually reduce the record budget deficit. Education appears to be the primary loser in the president’s budget proposal. Although the Department of Education may have been spared in losing 1 percent of its funding for the next year, a discretionary spending freeze will reduce education funding by 15 percent over the next five years. In this year alone, the No Child Left Behind Act will remain underfunded by one-third of what Congress previously approved. Bush has long pledged to increase spending for education, but his record with the underfunded act and his current budget proposal suggest the president has different, misguided priorities. Sacrifices should be expected in order to curtail the enormous budget deficit, but the president should first look toward scaling back the massive tax cut he hopes to make permanent for the very wealthy before he decides to forfeit the future of America.
Education is the primary casualty of the president’s budget cuts — 48 of the 150 federal programs that will be reduced or eliminated are related to education. Some of the largest cuts will affect vocational education, state grants for education technology and safe schools. Furthermore, the Bush budget eliminates or substantially reduces education programs targeted for low-income students such as early literacy and after-school programs — further ensuring that already-disadvantaged children will be left behind under the president’s leadership. Education is so low on Bush’s list of priorities that he even decided to flat-fund charter schools — a personal political pet project of his and an initiative long-clamored for by his evangelical base. While Bush may highlight the increases in funding for Pell Grants, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and expanding No Child Left Behind to high schools, these increases fail to compensate for the overall reductions, and given the president’s record, it remains dubious at best whether Bush would ever truly fund them.
The No Child Left Behind Act stood as one of Bush’s proudest accomplishments during his first term, obtaining strong bipartisan support and representing a new government commitment to education. Although the act has its failings in overemphasizing standardized testing and raises concerns about federal intervention in local education, the legislation was supported by both parties for the fiscal commitment it made to schools nationwide. The bipartisan support for the act has already begun to unravel and will continue to do so as long as the promises the Bush administration made are neglected.
No Child Left Behind promised that school districts would receive the necessary funds to properly educate students so that they could easily pass standardized tests. It will become increasingly difficult for money-starved districts to avoid centering their curriculum around these tests so that they do not suffer the punitive damages of the act, including the deprivation of even more funds.
It is difficult to justify these education cuts given the president’s support for making the 2001 tax cuts permanent and reforming the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would come at a total cost of almost $2 trillion over the next 10 years. Bush’s tax cuts primarily benefit the wealthiest of Americans, making it fairly clear whom Bush really does not want to leave behind. All the while, American children and America as a whole suffer from a depreciated quality of education due to the president’s lack of leadership and misguided priorities.