Permissible Arms

DoD is ruining education!

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, us congress, us defense by Abbie on 5 August 2010

Thanks to Karaka for letting me guest post again!

I usually keep quiet when those with experience start debating military and foreign policy issues on blogs and elsewhere online. These issues interest me terribly, but I don’t suffer from any illusions that I know half as much as the people I choose to follow on Twitter on these matters. But on the issue of guns vs. butter–or more specifically in this post, guns vs. schoolbooks–I have an informed opinion that goes something like this: Please stop blaming war spending for diminishing the federal investment in education spending. Recent efforts to secure much-needed aid for educator job retention has reignited a long-suffering debate about funding priorities that has me banging my head against the wall.

I represent educators before Congress. Yes, I’m a lobbyist. My colleagues and I enjoy advocating on one of the few “nonpartisan” issues in Congress, if such a thing exists. We have our fair share of dramatic debates, but when it gets down to brass tacks legislators generally agree that education is a good thing. This is similar, I believe, to the widely held post-Vietnam idea in Congress that we must support the troops, regardless of personal feelings about war or defense policy.

Tough times call for tough measures and all federal agencies are preparing for Congress to allot them smaller budgets to complete their work. This includes the Department of Education. But nothing demonstrates the state of our poor economy to many Americans more than this: Even the (discretionary) federal funding juggernaut more commonly known as the Department of Defense is cutting back.

Secretary Gates has gone to great lengths to implore Congress to do away with spending of programs he calls “excess” or “poorly performing” in an effort to streamline DoD. He’s even gone so far as to call for the President’s veto of any appropriations bills that include funding for six projects he opposes (see page one of his June testimony here). He’s also called on his staff to shrink the department’s annual budget by more than $100 billion over five years. (To learn more about why, read the recent CBO report detailing DoD’s ballooning expenses, or the excellent report by Robert Haddick at Foreign Policy.)

Despite these and other efforts, my education colleagues—who I respect and work passionately along side in our efforts to expand the federal investment in education—continue to make the baseless argument that DoD is to blame for shrinking funds for federal education programs. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve suffered through one of my colleagues’ angry diatribes against spending on “the wars” or “DoD” or “the military” I probably wouldn’t be sweating my student loans payment this month. The argument simply doesn’t stand up.

To suggest that funding for any non-DoD program hangs on the funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is naive and shows extreme ignorance of the federal appropriations process. Anyone ever heard of mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare? Let me assure you that these programs are having an impact on available monies legislators have to play with.

Please, let’s have reasoned debate about the benefits of war, the implications of war, even the morality of war. I find myself questioning our efforts “over there” at times, too. But let’s not suggest funding these wars is depriving states of federal education aid. Legislators choose whether or not to appropriate funds. They make choices. Legislators choose to prioritize funding and programs.

Congress has the responsibility to fund defense and education fairly and appropriately. It’s not an either/or debate. The federal government needs to do both better. Let’s face it, they need to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars, generally.

I’m hardly the first to point out the deterioration of reasoned debate and policy development in America. When Congress is involved, there is always plenty of finger pointing to go around. But on this issue, surely we can rise above and realize one priority (national defense) does not undercut the other priority (educating the nation’s youth).


6 Responses

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  1. Karaka said, on 5 August 2010 at 21:50

    See? Totally non-ranty! Just intelligent and informed.

    • Abbie said, on 6 August 2010 at 01:52

      But ranty is what I do best! :) Thanks again.

  2. Mike Few said, on 6 August 2010 at 02:52

    Hi Abbie,

    Education is one of my second passions. I concur with your essay. After I finish two upcoming articles, I plan on examining the problems existing in my hometown (Raleigh, NC). They’ve decided to end busing, one of the forced socio-ethnic measures put in place after the Civil Rights movement, in order to allow each child to have stability and know what school they will go to. Now, it’s turned into another race debate.

    What frustrates me is that instead of discussing how to revamp our school systems for the 21st century, we’re stuck arguing over our past. I grew up busing sometimes enduring hour long bus rides and changing schools every other year. My parents explained to me when I was young why it was needed at the time. We’re past that point now, and it’s time to move on.

    I think the same could be argued for your point of view. Instead of complaining about the “bad” guy, focus on the issues. There exists so much innovation in creativity from charter schools, SAS and Google’s interconnectivity ventures, and advancing on education reform. We should be encouraging those and not stuck in the mud of partisan debates.


    • Abbie said, on 6 August 2010 at 03:12

      Oh Mike, I could make your ears bleed on this topic! Suffice it to say that public education is a complex animal that deserves our support and attention. NC’s current problems are being mirrored across the country in myriad ways (and school budgeting is just one of many items of concern).

      You’re right, it’s easy to get distracted by the “issues” rather than solutions. Glad you’re paying attention!

      Thanks for reading.

  3. Mike Few said, on 6 August 2010 at 03:41


    Well, if it’s okay, then I may contact you next spring to help get me smart on this stuff. I hopefully plan to start a PhD program in History/Int’l Relations next fall, and I want to work at a think tank/policy group during my studies. I have an interview next week. My dream job would be working on comprehensive education reform for NC.


    • Abbie said, on 6 August 2010 at 03:48

      That’s awesome! Good luck on the interview and I’d be happy to chat whenever you’re ready.

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