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Opportunity through Education: Two Proposals

Policy Brief #181

The new normal for local, state and federal governments is fiscal austerity. Although President Obama supported education during his State of the Union address and in his budget proposal to Congress, cash-strapped localities and states—which foot most of the bill for educating America’s children—may have to balance their budgets with cuts to schools and teachers. The recession exposed a long-developing structural imbalance between public expenditure versus raising the revenue for public services. Especially on education, reality has set in, with a vengeance.

Cutting public expenditure is not necessarily a bad thing. There are, however, some activities that have become so fundamentally governmental and so critically important to the nation’s future that they require special care during a period of severe budget trimming. Education is one such example.

The Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings has recently developed proposals to ensure that federal investments in education have impact. These proposals present the dual advantage of low costs of implementation at the federal level coupled with the promise of considerable leverage at the state and local level. Two of those proposals are presented in this brief: increasing digital and virtual education and expanding consumer information on higher education.

One important path to individual opportunity is higher levels of educational attainment. The U.S. economy is marked by an increasing economic divide between those who are educated and those who are not. In a time of fiscal austerity, every federal dollar invested in education must have a return.

Congress should:
  • Increase digital and virtual education. In reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act, provide that parents of economically disadvantaged students who are eligible for federal Title I funding should be able to direct that the funding associated with their child be spent to cover the costs of enrolling their child in virtual courses or in a virtual school.
  • Expand consumer information in higher education. Amend the Higher Education Act (HEA) to require that states that receive federal funds for statewide longitudinal data systems provide information on completion rates, employment levels, and annual earned income for each degree or certificate program and for each degree-granting institution that operates in the state. This information could be disseminated on the Internet.

SERIES: Brookings Policy Brief Series | # 181