During his State of the Union address, the President spoke to two issues of great national importance: reducing the nation's troubling debt and effective investments in education. There are those who will undoubtedly argue that these objectives are incompatible, that to call for educational investment is to waver in your commitment to the financial security of the nation. In fact, it is only through targeted, high-yield investments that this nation will maintain its place in the world and see lasting prosperity.
According to a report from Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Eric Hanushek, if the United States could improve the scores of its lowest-achieving students, raising them up from a Level 1 to a Level 2 PISA score, the gross domestic product would grow by $72 trillion. A 2009 McKinsey & Company report found that the nation's achievement gaps impose the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession. Nobel economist James Heckman has found a 7-10 percent return on investment for early childhood education. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, if the dropout rate in the nation's 45 largest metro areas was cut in half, state and local tax revenue within these regions would likely grow by an average of $536 million a year, all without increasing taxes on anyone by any amount.
Limiting educational investments would exacerbate the current economic costs of low achievement. Targeted, high-impact educational investments will bring down the debt and lead us to surer financial footings. You don't have to pass the 11th grade PSSA to realize that drastic cuts in the 15 percent of the federal budget that is non-defense discretionary spending isn't going to get you a balanced budget. More than that, the past Administration taught us more about the need for long-sighted economic policy and out-year budgeting than we ever thought possible.
Righting the fiscal ship is going to take a lot more than throwing children overboard, after all they don't weigh much. Every day families are sitting at the kitchen table pulling their hair out over how to make ends meet. They're cutting out restaurants, vacations and upgrades to the family car. The one thing they're holding onto as long as they can is their children's education. They know that's where the future is. It would be foolish of our leaders to do anything less.
Two percent of the 2010 budget went to education, training, employment and social services. This is less than half of the 5.3 percent we spent on interest on the national debt. There is no possible mathematical way to cut our way into economic growth. We need smart investments that are targeted to do the most good at the least cost - and ensure future prosperity.
There is no choice between eliminating the nation's debt and investing in education. The only way we can possibly get the debt under control is by increasing future revenue, and that requires effective investment in those future earners.