May 10, 2002


A Dollar Short : Bush's budget defunds Bush's education plan. (Noy Thrupkaew, 6.3.02, American Prospect)
When the education-bill team gathered in the White House for its initial negotiations, says [Representative George] Miller, both he and [Senator Ted] Kennedy emphasized that substantial reforms were only possible with an increase in funding to schools. "You couldn't do it on the cheap," Miller explains. "And President Bush said the money was going to be there." In order to win the Democrats' backing, Bush also scaled down his support for vouchers. But like so many of the bill's provisions, this compromise was undercut by the president's proposed budget, which diverts $4 billion to private-school tuitions, in the form of tax cuts for parents who remove children from failing public schools.

At the same time, the new budget increases total education funding by just $1.4 billion, the smallest boost in seven years. During that time the yearly increase in education spending has averaged 13 percent; Bush's budget calls for a 2.8 percent hike. "He signed [the bill,]" says Miller, "and he's not living up to it."

Kennedy and Miller aren't the only ones who expected the Bush administration to show a greater commitment to education. After all, Bush rode into the presidency on his education-reform platform. It was the linchpin of his successful effort to package himself as a "compassionate conservative" and to gain the support of white, moderate suburbanites. He repeatedly touted the state- and federal-testing standards that he had developed in Texas as the best way to defeat what he called "the soft bigotry of low expectations." The new education law reflects these ideas: It requires states to begin testing third- to eighth-graders in math and reading proficiency in 2005. Schools will also be required to administer a standardized national test; institutions that do poorly may be taken over by the school district or the state. Without additional funding, however, schools will find it difficult to live up to the law's heightened standards.

Teachers, too, will have a hard time clearing the high bar the No Child Left Behind Act attempted to set. Recognizing that the quality of instruction has a significant impact on student achievement, the legislation requires schools to employ a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom by 2005. But the budget freezes the teacher-quality program. In fact, as a result of the shortfall, 18,000 fewer teachers will receive training next year, Kennedy's office reports.

In all, Bush's budget axes 40 education programs to the tune of more than $1 billion; 26 of those programs are part of the No Child Left Behind Act. After-school programs and bilingual education are slated to receive the same funding next year as they did this year -- which amounts to a cut, due to the projected increase in enrollment. As a result, 33,000 children will go without after-school programs in 2003, and 25,000 will be deprived of bilingual education. [...]

The Democrats are fighting back. Miller believes there is still hope for restoring funding to the education bill, and Kennedy plans to introduce a new bill dedicating more funds to needs-based scholarships, special education, and early-childhood education. If Democrats can frame the issue as a choice between improving schools or letting them deteriorate, moderate Republicans -- from districts that voted for George "No Child Left Behind" Bush -- just might feel compelled to live up to the president's campaign commitments.

One of the great mysteries of media coverage of George W. Bush is how the press can have completely failed to understand his administration's roots in the world of business. The accepted storyline on George W. Bush assumes that his name got him into Yale, into the Air National Guard, into business, and into government, and that he learned nothing along the way. Completely left out of the equation is his MBA from Harvard, because it is annoyingly inconvenient. Bushs after all don't go to Harvard, especially stupid Bushs, and they don't go to grad school, because there's no need to when friends of the family are going to hand you opportunities regardless. So the whole MBA deal just disrupts an otherwise simple picture. Why not ignore it?

But suppose it matters? Suppose the point in his life where he most clearly broke with his father's career path and was most clearly his own man (supposedly he didn't even tell anyone he was applying) truly mattered, at least to him. And, God forbid, suppose he learned something, not something factual or some complex theory, but a culture and a way of getting things done. Suppose that, in much the way that LBJ's senate career taught him how to work legislative levers once he was president, George W. Bush's business training and career taught him how to get things done in a modern bureaucratic corporation, which, at the end of the day, is what government resembles.

As governor of Texas and now as President, George W. Bush has pursued a strategy that has been quite consistent : he proposes ideas; he lets the legislature shape them into bills, intervening only at the end of the process to make sure the final product becomes law; and then, as executive, he's administered the programs, to the greatest extent possible, along the lines he originally envisioned. And when he hasn't gotten everything he's wanted, he's not hesitated to go right back and start the process all over again. Thus, he got as much of his tax proposal passed as possible, then turned right around and asked for more (or, according to this story in The Hill, just used executive orders to create more). With everyone squawking about the need for a Security Czar, he acceded by appointing Tom Ridge, but then gave him no actual power. When everyone demanded he get involved in Middle East peace talks, he sent Colin Powell, knowing he'd fail miserably. Etc., etc., etc. And so, we get a horrible Education Bill, one that Democrats in the Senate thought they'd beaten him on, and he only orders his administration to push the parts of it he wanted. Why are folks still surprised?

Think of this bill as a car and the administration as Ford Motor Company. The president promised buyers a spiffy new car. The various vice presidents of the company each have their own vision of what that car should be like and they have powerful constituencies behind them. The president lets the vps who he disagrees with claim some victories in the design process, knowing that he'll be able to cut and trim once manufacture begins. The car starts rolling out and, even if a very few of the vps are still willing to fight, their own constituents aren't. Meanwhile, the buyers get their car and they're happy. They don't really care about the prototype that didn't get built. And enough of the vps and middle management guys would rather claim credit for the finished product than admit to being hoodwinked that the president can get away with it all.

It that dishonest? Sure, somewhat. Is it effective? Absolutely. Is it the way the real world works? You bet. Is that what President Bush is doing? Let's put it this way, if it isn't intentional, it's at least a frequently occurring coincidence. Sooner or later, the press, his fellow pols and foreign leaders may even figure out that this president is never more dangerous than when he appears to be doing what his opponents ask him to do. By not worrying about who gets the credit in front of the cameras, he's getting what he wants behind the scenes, again and again and again... With this business-trained president, it's time to start watching just one thing : the bottom line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 10, 2002 12:25 PM
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