Thursday, January 29, 2009

Education funding in the Stimulus--Are we finally looking to our future?!

Though I am passionate about education, I didn't vote for Barack Obama based on his stance on education. Actually, I didn't hear him talk much about education. It disappointed me, but I believed that, overall, he had the right vision so I voted for him anyway.

So, when I saw the New York Times article, Stimulus Plan Would Provide Flood of Aid to Education, I was pleasantly surprised...and actually very excited.

The $150 billion designated for education would more than double the current education spending and would go toward "school renovation, special education, Head Start and grants to needy college students." It's about time we started thinking about education in a much broader sense than "No Child Left Behind."

There are large amounts of money allocated for Title I (used to help improve schools with large concentrations of poor children) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures services to children with disabilities, including special education). From what I can tell, it doesn't look like the stimulus package is doing much to change the schools' level of resources and innovative implementation (which is what really needs to happen to help our poor schools get up to speed with the wealthier, more resourced, classrooms) but is more about infrastructure, staying on target with what President Obama has suggested since the beginning. It's not innovation and new technology, but I believe it is a move in the right direction. I just hope the states and the individual districts choose to spend those funds in a way that benefits the children.

Another thing that really excites me about this stimulus is it's focus on college. The plan is to increase Pell grants for low-income students by $500 to $5,350 for 2009-2010 and to $5,550 for 2010-2011. College needs to be just as accessible as our K-12 public education system if we are to develop leaders for our future.

The stimulus will also increase annual loan limits of federal Stafford loans for undergraduate students by $2,000. This will not completely pay for a student's college experience. Even with the $500 increase per student in the Pell grant, though, students will still need to take out loans...which leads to another positive part of the stimulus package...the Stafford Loan.

Stafford loans allow students to take out loans without their parents' credit scores. This is important for those students whose parents are uninvolved or have such bad credit that the student is ineligible for private loans after maxing out their Stafford loan. This is also good because most of the students taking out Stafford loans will be paying them back themselves (without parental assistance). Stafford loans offer much lower interest rates than the private loans that have become such a necessary part of a college education.

The other great thing about the stimulus package is that it will expand Work Study and service opportunities for students, allowing an additional 200,000 students to get paid for work in a field related to either their major or community service. In other words, all of the money being provided is not free. Work study allows the student to gain work experience and understanding, while also providing cheap labor to the university and surrounding non-profits...thus stimulating and helping the economy in more ways than one.

With education, we can begin looking toward our future and planning how to get out of our economic downturn. It baffles me when people like Rep. John Boehner [R-OH] says that "providing ... $140bil in education funding... is not going to do anything, anything, to stimulate our economy, to help our ailing economy."

I don't know where he thinks he got the knowledge that has allowed him to get this far in his career...I would guess it had something to do with a good teacher and a good education.

Short-sighted vision like Boehner concerns me. Hopefully we will have enough others in the House who will be able to see that if we only solve what is right in front of us, we have not really solved anything at all and will be back in this same position sooner rather than later.
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