The New York Times is reporting that the economic stimulus package that passed Wednesday in Congress will “shower” the nation’s school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that will more than double the U.S. Department of Education’s current budget.
According to the Times, the “emergency expenditures” would touch nearly every aspect of education, including school renovations, special education, and grants for needy students, and amounts to the largest increase in federal aid since the end of the Second World War.
“Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government,” reads the story.
“Obama administration officials, teachers unions and associations representing school boards, colleges and other institutions in American education said the aid would bring crucial financial relief to the nation’s 15,000 school districts and to thousands of campuses otherwise threatened with severe cutbacks.”
“This is going to avert literally hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
More from The New York Times:
…Republicans strongly criticized some of the proposals as wasteful spending and an ill-considered expansion of the federal government’s role, traditionally centered on aid to needy students, into new realms like local school construction.
And they were joined by some education experts from across the political spectrum in wondering how school districts could spend so many new billions so fast, whether such an outpouring of dollars would lead to higher student achievement, and what might happen in two years when the stimulus money ends….
….One provision, which was sought by the student lending industry and went unmentioned in early Congressional summaries of the stimulus package, would temporarily increase subsidies to banks in the guaranteed student loan program by tying them to a new index, partly because recent federal intervention in the credit markets has invalidated the previous index. A spokesman for Sallie Mae, one of the largest student lenders, said the change was needed to keep student loan markets fluid. Critics said it represented a potential new windfall for lenders.
“This just continues the well-established tradition of welfare for the student loan industry,” said Barmak Nassirian, an expert in student lending.
The Department of Education’s discretionary budget for the 2008 fiscal year was about $60 billion. The stimulus bill would raise that to about $135 billion this year, and to about $146 billion in 2010. Other federal agencies would administer about $20 billion in additional education-related spending.
“This really marks a new era in federal education spending,” said Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of 90 education groups.
The bill would increase 2009 fiscal year spending on Title I, a program of specialized classroom efforts to help educate poor children, to $20 billion from about $14.5 billion, and raise spending on education for disabled children to $17 billion from $11 billion.
Those increases respond to longtime demands by teachers unions, school boards and others that Washington fully finance the mandates laid out for states and districts in the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, and in the main federal law regulating special education.
“We’ve been arguing that the federal government hasn’t been living up to its commitments, but these increases go a substantial way toward meeting them,” said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.