Fuzzy Math

Starting last Tuesday during his State of the Union address and continuing into the weekend, President George W. Bush has been pushing a broad set of new policies said to benefit America’s students. He plans

Starting last Tuesday during his State of the Union address and continuing into the weekend, President George W. Bush has been pushing a broad set of new policies said to benefit America’s students.

He plans to double federal funding for certain research programs, bolster private investments in technology, and train 70,000 high school teachers to lead Advanced Placement courses, particularly in math and science.

The proposals are primarily motivated by surging numbers of Asian students, scholars and scientists who are quickly gaining ground on American dominance in math and science. With higher and higher numbers of well-educated foreign students – particularly from India, China and Japan – willing to work longer hours for less money, America’s educational pre-eminence is slipping and many jobs are moving overseas.

So, in an attempt to stoke innovation and push students to continue to succeed academically, and, therefore, economically, Bush’s aptly named American Competitiveness Initiative was born.

That was last Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House approved a $39 billion, five-year deficit-reduction bill that included the single largest cut-$12.7 billion-to the federal government’s student-loan program. The bill, passed by a margin of two votes (216-214), also was narrowly passed by the U.S. Senate last year. News reports have said that Bush would sign the bill into law if it passes his desk.

What’s startling about this bill, besides the evident hypocrisy of Congress slashing student loans while our chief executive vows to double commitment for math and science, is that both bills were passed along party lines. That means Republicans, who typically support massive tax cuts and foreign wars that heighten deficits, affirmed a bill that not only hurts students, but also hurts those who rely on Medicare and Medicaid (two programs that were also affected by the bill). No Democrats voted for the bill.

Granted, our ballooning deficit needs to be reined in and a limited pool of funds must be siphoned to unexpected expenses, like rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

And some good comes out of the deficit-reduction bill, including a $3.7 billion grant program for low-income college students studying math, science or foreign languages.

But making student loans more expensive for those same students essentially negates both the grant program and Bush’s initiative.

Citing the House’s cuts, U.S. Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.), a senior member of the House’s Education and Workforce Committee, said in a statement quoted by the Los Angeles Times that “the president is saying one thing and doing another.”

“If we want to stay No. 1, and we can, then we have to make college affordable for every qualified student,” he said.

It’s that equation that a majority of government officials don’t understand. And that’s the saddest part: The same lawmakers who are imploring students to do the math can’t seem to do it themselves.

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