In a Gallup poll released on December 10 2007, Education scored a respectable #12 for the issues determining Americans' choice of president in 2008. Education even scored above Terrorism, Environmental Issues, Employment Issues and World Peace.
So it's no wonder that Democratic presidential candidates have aggressively criticized No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Bush administration's disastrous excuse for an education policy.
Obama said the law was "demoralizing our teachers" and Clinton promised to "do everything I can as senator, but if we don't get it done, then as president, to end the unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind." Of the law's emphasis on standardized testing, Edwards told Iowans, "You don't make a hog fatter by weighing it."
But only one presidential candidate has connected the dots from Baghdad to our nation's classrooms: Dennis Kucinich. In calling for 15% of the Pentagon's budget to fund education instead, Kucinich stands alone in promising books, not Army boots, to the nation's youth.
Doing the math on Bush's education disaster is easy. Opinions may differ about the merits of NCLB, but on one point there is little disagreement - it hasn't been funded properly.
Soon after signing NCLB into law in early January 2002, Bush released his 2003 education budget which not only cut 40 educational programs but also came up short on funding his own program.
As of 2004, Bush had allocated NCLB $27 billion less than Congress authorized, with programs for disadvantaged students underfunded by a full $7.2 billion. Things just got worse from there.
For FY 2005, Bush's budget underfunded NCLB by $9.4 billion, and other crucial partner programs were cut altogether. Among those on the 2005 chopping block: Even Start (reading program for poor families), Javits Gifted and Talented Program (for gifted students who are minorities, disabled or who speak limited English), Dropout Prevention, Foreign Language Assistance, and Arts in Education. All in all, the Bush administration's 2005 budget proposed cutting $1.4 billion from the education budget and axing 38 federal education programs.
Bush's proposed FY 2006 budget was even more extreme, underfunding NCLB by a full $12 billion, or roughly 33% of its authorized amount. Also slashed were programs for disadvantaged students and those with special needs.
The FY 2007 proposed budget similarly underfunded NCLB by over $15 billion and eliminated numerous critical educational programs.
Factoring in the $14.8 billion underfunding slated for 2008 in Bush's budget request, NCLB is left with a cumulative funding gap of $70.9 billion.
How can schools be held accountable for failing to reach NCLB goals if the federal government isn't held accountable for meeting its funding promises?
Meanwhile, the states have faced a one-two budgetary punch as the weak economy has driven down tax revenues yet simultaneously increased demand for social services. All of this has led to across-the-board cuts in education, combined with increased pressure to shell out money on standardized tests.
Doesn't help that the costs for war have simultaneously skyrocketed. Just last week, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) estimated that the US presence in Iraq was costing almost $15 billion per month. 15 billion dollars per month.
Connecting the dots here is simple, but most Democratic candidates are avoiding the elephant in the classroom. They criticize NCLB and promise more educational funding but don't say where that money will come from.