Meeting with urban school leaders from NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE), U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah said that President Obama’s willingness to invest in education during economic hard times was a bold but necessary decision.
“We face some challenges . . . a fiscal deficit,” Fattah (D-Pa.) told urban school leaders during CUBE’s annual Congressional Luncheon at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.
“But another great deficit our nation faces is in human capital,” he said. “We cannot possibly live up to our ideals, live up to our potential as a nation, if we leave so many of our young people behind.”
Last year’s stimulus package put $100 billion into public education and mitigated the negative impact that devastating budget cuts could have had, Fattah told school leaders. But the stimulus “was a one-shot deal, and [Obama's] budget is about turning the country in a different direction.”
Even in tough economic times, a greater regular investment in educationparticularly in urban education is essential given the high economic costs of allowing students to fail, he said. A recent report suggested that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would rise 3 percent to 5 percent “if we would just eliminate most of the disparities that exist in terms of educational attainment of the young people in our urban centers.”
In fact, he suggested, the economic cost of these educational disparities “are larger than the costs of the entire economic recession that we face. So we have work to do.”
That’s all the more true given the heavy investment that China and India are making in their educational systems. “They’re ramping up their educational systems. We can’t compete in the long-term and leave so many of our people . . . people who’ve been written off.”
Although Fattah expressed support for much of Obama’s budget plan, he said he was particularly gratified by the proposal to put $323 million into GEAR UPGaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.
The federal education program was sponsored by Fattah a decade ago to provide college-readiness support for low-income students.
“It has made a remarkable transformation in the districts where it’s been implemented,” he said. For example, he noted, South Dakota officials have included GEAR UP in their application for Race to the Top Funds because of its success in dramatically boosting graduation rates and college entry among Native American students.
Fattah also took the opportunity to praise urban school board members for their hard work. And he urged them to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill.
“We’ve got to look at what’s in front of us,” he said. “We have a president who is willing to carry his part, and those of us who believe in education is the lynchpin of our future, we need to stand up” and carry part of the load, too.
Del Stover, Senior Editor