President Obama’s latest economic stimulus proposal includes the $25 billion “Fix America’s School’s Today (FAST)” initiative.1 While there is no question that schools may have very real maintenance and modernization needs the nation’s school systems are so diverse that it is impossible for a Washington directed and funded program to effectively address these concerns. Despite its lofty sounding name, the proposal is merely another liberal spending plan to throw good money after bad. Money that America doesn’t have and will be forced to borrow.
FAST is a textbook example of why the Obama Administration’s spending plans have failed thus far, and why we need to move in a new direction to reignite the economy and create jobs. Like so many of the plans the president has touted as bipartisan, sensible, and worthwhile, FAST is crippled by three fatal policy flaws: (1) It is a rigid, one-size-fits-all response to diverse, local problems; (2) It allocates money according to political whims rather than actual need; and (3) It therefore wastes money addressing fake problems while ultimately making the real problems even worse.
FAST will make it harder, not easier, for American students to succeed in the classroom. It is designed, like so many liberal education proposals, to benefit adults at the expense of America’s children.
Washington One-Size Fits All Solutions
FAST embodies everything that educators and state and local policymakers criticize when they rail against Washington’s one-size-fits-all solutions.
The very premise of the program – school modernization - should give federal policymakers pause. There are nearly 18,000 different school districts in America serving roughly 50 million children.2 Over the last decade the nation’s population has shifted significantly and so have the associated needs for educational infrastructure in those 18,000 districts. Common sense would tell policy-makers that an area like Phoenix, AZ, which saw a greater than 9% increase in population from 2000 to 2010, will have different needs than Detroit, MI, which lost a quarter of its population during the same period. Such massive influx and exodus of residents might prompt local educators to think that new construction is the most appropriate tool to address their needs, yet the rigid American Jobs Act states that, “Funds awarded to local educational agencies under this part may not be used for— (1) new construction.3” Put simply, Washington knows best.
The bill even goes so far as to prohibit the use of funds for “modernization, renovation, or repair of stadiums or other facilities primarily used for athletic contests or exhibitions or other events for which admission is charged to the general public.”4 It’s a stunning example of Washington’s arrogance that the Administration has told schools districts that they cannot use these funds to fix a leaky roof in a high school theatre where they charge admission, but that they can invest in solar panels on the roof of the classroom down the hall.
With this proposal the president assumes that the best use of the next dollar in education spending in every community in the country is on school maintenance and modernization. This is absurd. Some communities may have a shortage of text books, others may not have adequate extra-curricular activities for high school students, and some may need to buy new computers or new band equipment. Many schools are looking beyond traditional classroom teaching methods and embracing innovative technologies such as Google Code University, Khan Academy, and iTunes University to best serve their students.5 None of these expenditures are permissible under FAST.
For these reasons lawmakers in Washington have attempted to draw the line at school construction spending, understanding that particularly in the physical plant of our schools the needs of our nation are so diverse that Washington solutions were uniquely susceptible to failure. The FAST proposal is the latest in an ongoing effort to blur and eventually eliminate any distinction between the state and federal role in education. . . .
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