Coming up short on the economy and on education

A substantial portion of the money Congress is about to spend on “stimulus” (roughly 20 percent) will go to “education.” As John Cogan has noted, this spending will do little to stimulate the economy because, except to the extent that construction is involved, it will not by and large put idle resources to use (it will probably save a relatively small number of teacher jobs, though).

To make matters worse, the education spending package the Democrats have thrown together is unlikely to improve education to any appreciable degree. That’s because, as noted at, the legislation mostly just pours money into existing programs, many of which are demonstrably ineffective. Only a small portion of the money ($340 million) is set-aside in a fund for “innovative programs.” In other words, to quote the Washington Post editorial page: “It seems that much of the billions of dollars of new federal spending is aimed at continuing programs and policies that largely have failed to improve student achievement.”

To spend this much money on education without carefully analyzing the effectiveness of the programs being supported, and to examine alternatives, is criminal. It also contradicts Obama’s promise in his inaugural address to judge government projects based on how effective they are.

In short, the huge “education” component of the stimulus bill makes little sense as stimulus or as education spending. It is best understood, perhaps, as a payoff by the Democrats to the teachers unions.

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