Over the summer, Michigan was passed over in the second round of the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative. Through RTT, Obama had the states compete with each other over a paltry $4 billion in federal funding for public education. The winners were those who went furthest in carrying out the administration’s education reform principles.
However, like many of the states that applied, the $400 million Michigan sought as part of their application was not the primary motivation for participating. The prospect of funding merely provided the political cover for state and local officials to push through anti-education reforms, which were aimed at cutting costs in the face of a burgeoning state budget deficit.
This was evident in the reaction of the losers. Michigan’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan responded to the news by saying, “It would have been helpful to get a ‘Race to the Top’ grant, but we have a lot of work to do here to implement our new reform laws.”
In other words, having received nothing for prostituting themselves to the Obama administration, state school officials are now eager to move ahead with the reforms anyway.
In its essence, Obama’s RTT is reactionary and aimed at dismantling public education. It is the crescendo of a bipartisan assault on education spanning three decades.
Republican President Ronald Reagan initiated the attack in the 1980s when he cut the federal share of education funding in half. A decade later the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton began promoting “school choice” and charter schools, diverting public education funding toward privately operated schools. The trend continued under Republican George W. Bush with the “No Child Left Behind Act” – an act co-sponsored by the late-Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy – which instituted standardized testing to target “failing” schools.
Through RTT, President Barack Obama expanded upon Bush’s NCLB, allowing many liberals to support the same policies they publicly condemned under Bush. At its center is the closing of “failing” public schools in favor of charter schools and the tying of federal funding and teachers’ pay to standardized test scores.
One the one hand, this is a policy aimed at holding teachers responsible for the educational handicaps associated with poverty, homelessness and general familial instability. One the other hand, its goal is the creation of a two-tier education system in the US. The limited money allocated by the federal government will mostly go to funding private charter schools for the wealthier fraction of the population while traditional public schools will be left to deteriorate, serving as little more than holding pens for the poorest layers.
At its heart, this is a rejection of the democratic principle held by the founding fathers that says, regardless of socio-economic background, all children have a right to a free, quality education. But like many things, this egalitarian principle is now found to be “unaffordable” by the nation’s wealthy elite.
After all, why should government resources be squandered funding the education of working-class youth when only a portion of them will have the opportunity to be employed, and even then, only a fraction at jobs requiring an education?
This correlates with Obama’s indifference toward the unemployment rate and his refusal to initiate any program for direct job creation. He has rejected out-of-hand any federal funding that isn’t first funneled through the private sector to generate profit.