In this year's State of the Union speech, President Obama called for a "Sputnik" movement in education, and asked our nation to do what's necessary "to give every child a chance to succeed" and compete with their international peers. Sadly, the latest federal spending bill includes more than $38 billion in cuts to K-12 and higher education programs. When you look at how much we're spending on defense, it's pretty clear: Our national priority isn't really education, it's buying guns and missiles.
Indeed, on Tuesday, our culture editor Cord wrote about Swedish-based think tank SIPRI's latest report, which details that since 2001, the United States' defense spending has increased 81 percent. And, we spend almost 43 percent of the money the entire world allocates to defense.
Critics of our nation's public schools point to China's stellar international test results as a sign that we're falling behind our Asian counterparts when it comes to academic achievement. Notice that we spend six times more money on defense than China and we only have roughly one-fourth the number of people.
According to 2010 figures from the Office of Management and Budget, we're set to spend 20 percent of our federal budget on defense and a mere 3 percent on education. As the chart below from nonpartisan think tank Project America shows, Federal spending on education has never topped 4 percent of the budget—and is on its way down again.
Literacy, technology, and scholarships are all being slashed this year. The number of Pell grants low income students can receive has been reduced from two to one, and essential AmeriCorps programs like Teach For America, the National Writing Project, and City Year have been defunded. Federal stimulus money to help cash-strapped state governments funnel money to schools has dried up. As a result, states hit by the economic downturn continue to cut billions from education.
But, as the SIPRI report points out, “even in the face of efforts to bring down the soaring US budget deficit, military spending continues to receive privileged treatment.” And, despite putting education on the chopping block, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is passing legislation increasing defense spending.
So much for the argument that we're just throwing money at America's education challenges. We've never come close to trying that.