Jonathan Chait

Do Not Obey

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The recession is forcing states to raise taxes and cut budgets, including education budgets, which is a wildly stupid national policy both on short-term economic grounds and in terms of investing in future human capital. The responses to this crisis have been maddeningly short-sighted. On the right, and even the center, you have self-styled deficit hawks cheering state-level Hooverism. (The Washington Post editorial page opposes any federal aid to cushion education firings unless states first overhaul their hiring practices, which is of course impossible in that time frame.)

Now on the left you're seeing an equally maddening response. House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey proposes to fund money for saving teachers by cutting back funding for the Obama administration's wildly effective "Race to the Top" program, which provides incentives to states that reform their education policy. Obey's spokesman explains:

"Mr. Obey has said, 'When a ship is sinking, you don't worry about redesigning a room, you worry about keeping it afloat,' " Brachman said. "He is not opposed to education reform. But he believes that keeping teachers on the job is an important step."

This is absurd. Obviously, the priority is to prevent education cuts. But Obey's plan does not prevent education cuts. It simply sloshes money from one pool of education funding into another, with the net effect being to hamper reform efforts.

There's a perfect symmetry here. The right is using the pretext of education reform to oppose sensible fiscal policy, and the left is using the pretext of sensible fiscal policy to oppose education reform. There's no reason why we can't continue to encourage education reform and also prevent mindless education cutbacks in the meantime.

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