Commentary: Putting stimulus money where it counts

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

President Obama's economic stimulus package is aimed at more than some degree of immediate relief in this battered economy, though it's hoped there will be some of that. The stimulus plan also must look to the years and decades ahead, which is why the component of it that puts billions of new dollars into education is vitally important. Critics see a potential for waste. It's a legitimate concern, but one that can be overcome and does not diminish the importance of the greater good.

It's true that the education plan is a heap of money, $150 billion, and that it would indeed enlarge the federal government's financial participation in education, an area historically left to the states and the country's 15,000 public school systems. But these are exceptional times. And here is what public schools are facing because of tapped-out state and local budgets: out-of-date and crowded buildings, teacher shortages, all manner of program cuts, classrooms overbooked.

The long-term prospects, should such problems go unaddressed, would be a decline in the quality of American public schools at the very time when global competition for industry and the need for higher-tech training for jobs of the future has made improving them all the more important.

Investment must be made, and local school districts and the states don't have the money to do what needs to be done. In North Carolina, lawmakers who have just convened for their new session are looking at a budget hole that could reach $3 billion. They'll work to boost public schools, but how much can they do without federal help? Not much.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

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