Who won?...Ultra Conservatives
We can haggle about the cuts. What's going to be cut and when and how many dollars we'll shave from the deficit. But ultimately, in the wake of the debt ceiling, the ideological war about the role of government was won by the far right wing. What should government do when the country’s in economic distress? Cut. Cut. Cut spending…and protect the rich from paying their fair share. Obama has adopted some of this conservative framework, frankly remarking that the latest debt ceiling deal would be “the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight D. Eisenhower”. That Obama seeks a stamp of fiscal austerity at a moment of national crisis is enough to say that conservative economic lunacy rules the day.
In real terms this will mean a contraction in federal government spending that will likely mean shortfalls and cuts to a public education system with increasing needs. What form those cuts will take is still unclear.
What will this ideology mean for public education?
Fresh from battle, ultra conservatism emerges with a new swagger. They’ve swayed the national economic debate. They even had Rep. Boehner on his heels. We know that emboldened ultra conservatives are bad for pubic education. During the debt ceiling debate, Tea Party members were willing to walk away from Majority Leader Boehner’s plan because it increased Pell Grant assistance. Yes, aid to poor students was a deal breaker! Rep. Denny Rehberg, Republican from Montana, characterized Pell Grants as the “welfare of the 21st Century” “you can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people who don’t have to graduate from college”. Thankfully, this is one of the few things the emerged pretty well from debt ceiling negotiations.
With this new climate, the future of federal education policy may no longer be one of benign neglect or misguided policy ideas. At least you can argue that Ted Kennedy sincerely believed NCLB would help public education. With these ultra conservatives at the wheel, it could mean progressives fighting cruel outright attacks on poor children of color and a concerted effort to end the very presence of the federal government in public education. We thought the Obama Blueprint for Reform was bad. Well, they’ll make the Blueprint look like a Christmas present.
At the moment ESEA legislation is at a grinding halt. But really, after what we've witnessed the past few months, forward movement on ESEA may give one pause. What would an Obama debt ceiling style compromise look like in education? It makes me shudder to think of it.