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What's on the Congress' Chopping Block? Education, of course.

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 02/13/2009 - 1:24pm

Look, I'm as big a fan of round numbers and arbitrary goals as the next person, but the politicking and compromise between House and Senate leaders in pursuit of the final stimulus package that should be signed into law by President Obama before the end of the week seems a bit much.

The final cost of the bill looks like it will be $789 billion, which is $30 billion less than the House approved last week and $39 billion less than the Senate's version as well. One of the major reasons why the compromise version ended up being smaller was a push from a number of moderate senators from both parties who refused to vote for any bill that exceeded $800 billion.

Like I said, there's something to be said for nice, round numbers and it's hard to make an economic case for why $801 billion is all that much different from $800 billion or $799 billion for that matter (beyond the notion that the more money the government spends, the more jobs, consumer spending, and investment might be spurred at the cost of higher national debt).

But what I do know is this: $789 billion is a lot less than what the House and Senate passed separately... so something significant must have hit the chopping block.

So what was it, out of all of the various programs and tax cuts included in the bill, that Congress deemed to be the least important? What a surprise: education.

Two of the most significant changes from the original House package included a reduction from $14 billion to $6 billion for school construction, and states were set to receive only $44 billion in aid for necessary functions such as school spending to avoid school closings and teacher firings, down from $79 billion as originally planned.

Do either of these cuts make sense? I'm struggling to see how, both from the view of what will best stimulate our economy and create jobs, and from the view of what will go furthest towards improving our long-term chances of recovery.

For starters, building and renovating schools is one of the most shovel-ready type projects that can create instant jobs in a hard-hit construction sector, while having the long-term benefit of providing children with new, safe, and sound places to learn. And direct aid to states to assist in school spending is instrumental if we want to stave off a host of future layoffs.

For instance, a recent University of Washington study revealed that without federal government intervention, more than a half million jobs are likely to be lost in public education due to impending state budget shortfalls--and likely more when one considers falling local government revenues.

In the end, I suppose it can be said that $6 billion for school construction and $44 billion for aid to states is better than nothing. But you have to wonder what Congress's priorities are when it sets an artificial spending limit on the stimulus package, the impact of which falls most heavily on the very children for whom we are trying to build a brighter future.