“Interest on our debt was $196 billion last year—three times as large as the total education budget this year. In 10 years, under the president’s plan, the annual interest payment will be $844 billion, 10 times the size of the budget’s call for education spending... You cannot win the future for our children with borrowed money.”
“What we need is leadership that focuses on why our education system is not meeting our expectations. This funding crisis is an opportunity to challenge the education establishment, to thoroughly and honestly review the plain facts. What works and what does not. We owe that to our children for their education today.”
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing with Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the Department of Education’s FY 2012 budget request. Including the stimulus, education spending over the last three years is 68 percent higher than the previous three, and the president’s budget calls for an additional 11 percent increase next year. Despite these increases and despite spending significantly more per student than many other countries, American schools still trail in international rankings.
Sessions’ remarks, as prepared, follow:
“Mr. Secretary, thank you for your service and for being willing to confront some sacred cows in the education establishment. Your recent comments to a Governor’s conference, for example, noting that somewhat larger classrooms with better teachers outperform was good honest talk and a way to reduce costs.
I was pleased that you also met with Dr. Kathryn Mitchell of Alabama, who designed the Alabama Reading Initiative. That program, with very little cost, has transformed teaching and reading proficiency in Alabama. In just a few years, Alabama’s K-4 schools led the nation in reading improvement. It was technique change, not money increases, that was critical.
I strongly believe that our educational focus should be on advancing learning, increasing those magic moments in the classroom when learning occurs. For too long, we have judged our education system on new buildings, new equipment, classroom size, and how much we spend. But just throwing money at the problem is clearly not the answer. The test of an educational system can only be whether learning is adequately occurring. I think you believe this.
Now it’s time for honest, fact-based budgeting. Everyone knows we are in a period of financial crisis. Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said our debt is the greatest threat to our national security. This year’s deficit alone is projected to be $1.65 trillion. That amounts to $7,500 for each American adult over the age of 25. While the president tells the American people that this budget “asks Washington to live within its means,” the facts show the opposite. The president’s budget adds $13 trillion to our gross national debt, doubling it by the end of the decade.
Over the next 10 years, the smallest annual deficit President Obama calls for is over $600 billion. And the number rises to almost $800 billion in the 10th year.
We borrow the money, of course. Interest on our debt was $196 billion last year—three times as large as the total education budget this year. In 10 years, under the president’s plan, the annual interest payment will be $844 billion, 10 times the size of the budget’s call for education spending. Interest, the fastest growing item in the budget, will crowd out future hopes for education funding and funding for all other accounts. It’s an unsustainable path.
That’s why I am flabbergasted by this education budget. It could only have been written in Washington, a bubble zone detached from the fiscal reality just described. Over the last three years, we spent 68 percent more on education than the three years before that. This budget now calls for another 11 percent increase in federal spending for education. Sir, we don’t have the money.
Everyone knows that. American families are tightening their belts, doing more with less—as are cities, counties, and states. It’s time for the federal government to do the same.
All of us favor education, but we can’t continue these large increases in spending—every dollar of which is borrowed. This request for an 11-percent increase—more than 30 percent what we were spending in 2008—is an affront to common sense and an affront to the will of the voters. These charts show that education has been the beneficiary of unprecedented increases in recent years without, let me add, any significant increase in student performance. And when the stimulus money is included, education spending has risen by stunning, unprecedented amounts.
What we need is leadership that focuses on why our education system is not meeting our expectations. This funding crisis is an opportunity to challenge the education establishment, to thoroughly and honestly review the plain facts. What works and what does not. We owe that to our children for their education today.
And we owe our children a country that is not burdened by crippling debt. The President says his budget is a plan for winning the future. But you cannot win the future for our children with borrowed money. As Secretary Geithner acknowledged last week, our surging debt threatens our economic growth, reduces job opportunities for young graduates, and risks economic turmoil. It would be wrong to leave our country weaker and diminished because we lacked the courage to confront our growing fiscal crisis.
We need a dramatic course correction. We need to trim our bloated government—and we need to start now. And it goes without saying that the Education Department is not exempt.
We will vote this week on a Continuing Resolution to fund the government for some period of time. No Continuing Resolution to fund the government that fails to reduce spending will pass. It won’t pass the House or the Senate. We are going to fight for spending cuts this week, next week, next month, and next year. We are going to fight for spending cuts in the Budget Committee, in the Appropriations Committee, and on the Senate floor. We are going to keep fighting for a leaner, more productive government until we have restored confidence in our economy and put this country back on the right path—the path to prosperity.
The battle over the budget is just beginning.”