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Would Bailout Affect Obama’s Education Spending Plan?

By Alyson Klein — September 22, 2008 1 min read
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Earlier this year, Sen. Barack Obama put forth a plan to provide an $18 billion-a-year boost in spending on early education and K-12 education, to help pay for a teacher-training initiative, leadership development, improved assessments, and other proposals. The Democratic presidential nominee said he would pay for the increase in a “fiscally responsible” way, by reducing earmarks, overhauling federal contracting procedures, auctioning off surplus federal property, and other measures.

But that was before the federal government was poised to spend some $700 billion--or even as much as $1 trillion dollars by some accounts--trying to avert a financial meltdown on Wall Street.

To put that number in perspective, the entire appropriation for discretionary spending by the U.S. Department of Education in fiscal year 2008 was $59.2 billion. So the proposed bailout is roughly 14 times the entire department’s budget, which includes grants to districts to help educate disadvantaged kids, spending on students in special education, and money for Pell Grants and other college access programs.

Obama hasn’t come out and said that the Wall Street bailout would put the kibosh on, or even signficantly curtail, his education spending plan. But this weekend, The Washington Post reported that it’s tough to see how either Obama or Sen. John McCain would be able to push significant domestic initiatives if he is elected in November, given the likely price tag of the bailout proposal.

Obama is reported as saying that the bailout wouldn’t change his plan to cut taxes for the middle class. But he didn’t say anything about revising his domestic-spending proposals.

Even before the bailout was in the works, McCain said he would freeze most domestic spending, including education programs. Last week, the Republican nominee’s top education adviser, Lisa Graham Keegan, cited the troubles on Wall Street as one of the reasons that education spending isn’t likely to see big increases, at least during the early years of a McCain administration.

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