Sunday, September 14, 2008

McCain: Making America Stupid

Thomas Friedman's op-ed in the New York Times called Making America Stupid (thanks Digg) rightly makes the argument that we need to quickly improve our educational infrastructure if we don't want America to slide into global irrelevance.

But what Friedman doesn't really do is make it clear what sort of approach our two presidential candidates would take on this issue.

I don't have to tell you that you can see what Barack Obama plans to do about it. He lays it all out.

It's harder to tell what McCain is going to do. He offers a page about his early education policy, and while it's filled with a lot of platitudes, it's extremely vague. A close read makes it clear that he's not planning on doing anything to improve things other than shuffle things around. Check out his carefully-crafted language to make it look like he'll be doing something:
  • "There is no shortage of federal programs..."
  • "There is much to be achieved by leveraging and better coordinating these programs..."
  • "John McCain will focus federal resources..."
  • "Each Head Start Center identified by the Secretary as a Center of Excellence will use their funds to expand their programs to serve more children..."
  • "We should also encourage and enable states to better align Head Start with their own pre-K programs."
  • "...partnership grants and targeted federal funding can be used to encourage and facilitate early screening programs..."
  • "John McCain will ensure that there are no federal prohibitions against preschool programs..."
  • "Current federal programs will be focused on educating parents..."
...and so on. A careful read of his entire early education document indicates that John McCain does not plan to increase funding for early childhood education by even a dime. The one place where he even has a dollar amount - $200k for Head Start programs he identifies as "centers of excellence" - he adds the caveat "...depending on availability of funding." (And even then, it's not clear whether the dollars come from a new federal program or are merely cannibalized from other Head Start programs.)

His idea is, apparently, to sail along with current programs, while imposing upon them reporting restrictions and federal-level mandates to shuffle around the existing programs. Yeah, that's exactly what we need - more unfunded mandates mixed with increased federal bureaucracy. I thought the Republicans were supposed to be against that kind of thing.

Of course, a better predictor of what McCain intends to do about our educational infrastructure is to look at his past votes on education issues. See the table below. To put things in perspective, I'm including the price of each educational program that was proposed, and how much sooner we could leave Iraq to pay for it.

YearWhat he didCostIraq Time
2006Voted against rolling back Bush's earlier cuts to education, health care, and job training programs for education.$7 billion20 days
2000 Voted against a small estate tax increase for school repairs and teacher training. $3.5 billion10 days
2001 Voted against improving the national student-teacher ratio to 18. $2.4 billion7 days
2003 Voted against funding for educational programs and dropout prevention. $210 million15 hours
2005 Voted for the largest cut to federal student loans in history, a vote that was voted against by crossover Republicans to make it a 50-50 vote, with Cheney casting the tiebreaker. If McCain had been the "maverick" on this issue, and also broken with his party, the student loans would not have been cut. $12.7 million53 minutes

In addition, he has voted multiple times against funding for Pell Grants, voted against a $12,000 college tuition tax credit, and practically every time it's come up, he's voted against school breakfast and lunch programs for low income students, even though this has been shown to increase school performance. Etc.

You get the idea. Clearly, McCain is hostile to even modest amounts of money going to improving our educational infrastructure in America, despite what he likes to say on the stump. McCain is willing for us to spend 100 years of America's economy on Iraq, but he's not willing to spend even 53 minutes on our schools here at home.

Our economy is weak, our schools are weak, and the world is increasingly relying on an information economy. The number one thing we can do to ensure America's longevity is to shore up its future economic might by making sure our kids are the ones who are inventing new technologies in the future. Everything in our future hinges on remaining excellent innovators compared to the rest of the world. We need new energy sources coming from here. We need new information technologies coming from here. We need new defense, threat detection, and investigation technologies coming from here. We need new medical and transportation technologies coming from here. We need to explore our universe, our seas, our deserts, and our genetic structure. If we don't, if we slide into a consumerist, superstitious society hostile to "ivory tower elitists," then we do so at our own peril.

We simply can't afford for McCain to win.

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