Steve Bowen on charter schools in Maine

The introduction of charter schools in Maine has been plagued by myths and misconceptions. Maine’s senate voted 20 to 14 against the most recent charter school legislation, LD 1438. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated recently that “states will hurt their chance to compete for millions of federal stimulus dollars if they fail to embrace innovations like charter schools.”

The Maine View spoke recently with Steve Bowen. Bowen is the director of the Center for Education Excellence at the Maine Heritage Policy Institute. How charter schools can benefit Mainers, charter funding, and dispelling myths about charter schools were just a few of the subjects discussed.

Let’s begin with your thoughts on the general state of education in Maine.

To be blunt, our schools are not as good as people think. Our students rank well against kids in other states in standardized tests, but a good deal of that has to do with the unique demography of Maine’s students, who are almost exclusively white and English-speaking. We should expect them to do well against the tens of millions of non-English-speaking learners across the nation and the tens of millions of poor and minority students trapped in horrific schools in our biggest cities. When you adjust for our demographics, though, our rankings plunge. Some of our schools are very good, but not nearly as many of them as people suppose.

We need to make our schools much, much better and we need to do it very, very quickly.

Many in Maine’s legislative and education circles supported the past Charter legislation. What is your opinion of the defeated Charter School Bill (LD 1438)? Was LD 1438 perfect or could anything be done to improve it the next time it comes around?

I think the bill as it was originally drafted was excellent. It had been carefully crafted based on national models and feedback from a previous charter school bill which failed passage back in 2006. LD 1438 was watered down during the committee process in the hope that doing so would win it broader support, but that support did not materialize. In general, those who opposed the bill opposed charter public schools in principle, not this particular piece of charter school legislation.

There were a few outside Maine who saw the rejection of the Charter legislation as Mainers standing up to Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s call for charter expansion. Do you believe that sentiment to be true?

Certainly the Obama administration’s call for states to lift caps on charter public schools, including Maine’s absolute cap, impacted the debate, but I don’t think legislators voted against charters simply to send some kind of message to Washington. By and large, those that voted against the bill simply oppose charter public schools. If anything, I think the administration’s support for charters helped the bill, especially in the House.

I was enthusiastic about the virtual charter measure of LD 1438. What is your perspective on how virtual charter schools would have aided rural and urban Mainers?

There is no question that Maine is quickly falling behind the rest of the nation in terms of embracing online and virtual schooling. Florida, for instance, has a statewide virtual high school which gives students access to all kinds of courses unavailable in their local schools. Why aren’t we doing this? Online and virtual schooling is the future. The centuries-old model of students leaving home every morning and going to a brick and mortar building to be instructed exclusively by teachers located there is rapidly coming to an end. Our grandchildren will likely never set foot in a “school” as we understand them today.

How ironic it is that Maine, once seen as an innovator in educational technology, has come to resist the innovation of online and virtual schooling, which will utterly transform education as we know it.

Maine is one of the more rural states in the U.S. It has been said that there is not enough population base to support charter schools. Is that accurate?

One of the arguments I advanced in response to this concern was that charter public schools could very well be tools for economic and community development in the very areas of the state that most need it. How are we going to attract young families to rural Washington and Aroostook Counties, by maintaining the status quo? No. What we should be doing is transforming these rural schools into highly innovative charter public schools doing incredibly creative things.

Greenville is contemplating doing exactly this. According to a recent article in the Bangor Daily News, school and community leaders up there are looking for a way to transform the Greenville school into some kind of charter-type school that uses an outdoor leadership approach and integrates the curriculum around environmental stewardship. They’ve found that existing state and federal regulations prohibit them from pursuing this, and so are looking to the charter school model as a way to liberate teacher and administrators.

Unfortunately, legislators in Augusta think they know better than the folks in Greenville, what is in the best interest of Greenville, so the charter approach, at least for now, is off the table. Imagine, though, liberating teachers and school administrators all over the state and letting them explore innovative new approaches to teaching and learning. Such an approach would be huge, especially for rural Maine.

There is concern that charter schools would draw funding from already struggling rural schools. Has that worry been overplayed?

As I noted above, charter public schools would be a boon for rural Maine. If you ran a rural school, and a charter public school, were they allowed in Maine, opened two towns over and started drawing some of your students away, what would you do in response? If I were running the school, I would immediately convert to charter status and work to win those students back with more innovation and new ideas. The fact that the money follows the child is what encourages new approaches.

Some states have enacted chartering legislation that provides existing public schools with the same funding even if some of their students leave and go to charter schools. As you might imagine, that means no pressure on the existing schools to innovate and improve, with the result that the students left behind continue to endure schools that are failing them. It is the pressure to compete that drives innovation.

Plus, it is important to remember that if the struggling rural school is struggling because it is not very good, than putting it out of business is a good thing. We have to stop thinking in terms of what is in the best interest of schools and start thinking in terms of what is in the best interest of students.

The cost of charter schools has also been a source of uneasiness for Mainers. Would charter schools bring a heavier tax burden to towns containing them?

No. In most instances they would save tax dollars. Under the provisions of LD 1438, school districts were to pay charter schools a per-pupil amount equal to what the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding model says should be spent per student. The vast majority of districts in Maine, 88% to be exact, are spending well above what the formula says they should, which means that spending the state-calculated per-pupil rate would save the district money.

For instance, if a school district is currently spending $500 per child more than the state’s funding formula says it should, sending each child to a charter school at the state’s rate, as under LD 1438, would save the district $500 per child.

Furthermore, taxpayers do not fund construction or capital costs for charter public schools. Charter public schools have to provide for buildings and so forth on their own, through private donations and the like. The savings to taxpayers on capital costs alone would be huge.

Some say charter schools are unnecessary as they often do not outperform existing public schools. Is this myth true?

There are good and bad charter public schools just as there are good and bad conventional public schools. The difference is that bad charter schools close, whereas bad public schools remain open forever and continue to be fed a steady diet of students who are given no other options. What charter schools have that conventional public schools lack is accountability.

Besides which, most comparisons between charter public schools and conventional public schools don’t take into account that charter schools disproportionally serve low-income students and most do so with fewer resources at their disposal that comparable conventional public schools.

Charter schools have been accused of cherry picking only the best students to boost their performance rates. What would have prevented Maine charters from this?

The charter school law would have prevented this from happening because charter public schools are public schools and cannot use any kind of selective admissions process. They have to take all comers, and if they exceed enrollment capacity, have to use a lottery system to fill enrollments. The law forbids them from “cherry picking” students. They are public schools and can no more turn away students than can conventional public schools.

Charter public schools can specialize in certain instructional approaches, and these approaches may not appeal to all students, but charter public schools are public schools and cannot be exclusionary.

Many believe that charter schools could be controlled by corporations, such as Green Dot or the Gates Foundation, or religious organizations. There is a fear that these organizations would then use charter schools to push their agendas on children. Can Maine charter schools avoid this?

Setting aside for a moment the questionable notion that conventional public schools somehow do not have an agenda that they are pushing on students, what prevents charter schools from doing this is student and family choice. Students cannot be compelled to attend a public charter school – they are schools of choice. Assuming that you have tough transparency and accountability provisions in your charter school law, charter schools that are more interested in ideological ax grinding than in improving educational outcomes will fail and close. Only those schools that effectively meet the educational needs of students will succeed and remain open. You can’t say the same about a single conventional public school in this country.

Opponents of public charter schools and of school choice in general give parents very little credit for knowing whether their children are getting a high quality education or not. Parents should not be allowed to choose, we are repeatedly told, because they don’t know a good school when they see it. The research clearly shows, though, that parents, when given educational choices, do their homework and deliberate very, very carefully about where to send their child. The solution, therefore, is to give them lots of high quality choices, including public charter schools run by non-profits, for-profits, community groups, universities, and so forth. Parents, given a choice, will make the right decision.

Do you believe charter schools to be a better education option than what is already available to Mainers?

Having the option of public charter schools is better than not having the option, but whether the charter schools that are then created are better than the other choices available to students is a decision for students and families to make, not me. All I am saying is that this is a very promising reform approach that is being tried in 40 other states and ought to at least be an option here as well.

Greenville wants to convert its school to charter status in order to launch a highly innovation new approach to teaching and learning. Will it be better for students? I don’t know, but I am fully prepared to allow Greenville, if it so chooses, to at least experiment with it and find out, and I can’t, for the life of me, understand why legislators in Augusta think they shouldn’t have that opportunity.

If you had one point to make to change a charter opponent’s mind what would it be?

I guess I would encourage them to spend some time reading about and thinking about the challenges confronting this generation of school kids. These kids, my own 7- and 10- year-olds included, will be asked to compete for prosperity in ways that no prior generation of Americans has ever been asked to. As the national debt continues to skyrocket, these young people will face enormous fiscal and budgetary challenges here at home at the very time they will be asked to compete for jobs against tens of millions of college graduates from India and China.

To prepare them for this, we are using centuries-old model of schooling run on a school year calendar inherited from a pre-industrial agrarian society. Go back to your high school today, no matter what your age, and tell me how much, if anything, has fundamentally changed in the way that school does its work. Yes, there are computers and technological advances, but in the way that the school fundamentally works, from the factory-era bell schedule to the compartmentalization of knowledge (science in this room for 50 minutes, math in that room to 50 minutes), schools are run today almost exactly as they have more than 50 years.

That isn’t going to do it. We desperately need new approaches and new models for teaching and learning. Unfortunately, rather than liberate our educators to pursue these reforms, we have constructed these massive educational bureaucracies and have burdened them with overregulation and red tape. They can’t innovate even if they wanted to.

Charter schools, though, are a model that frees educators from all of that and allows them to be enterprising and innovative. The data on this is overwhelming, and it is what makes this model so promising that Republicans and Democrats alike (other than here in Maine) are rushing to embrace it.

The status quo is not enough. It is not enough. We need big, we need bold, we need game-changing. Charter schools aren’t the whole solution, but they are a very, very big piece of it.

What’s happening Wednesday?

The price of gas in Maine is going up. The gas tax is rising from 28.4 cents per gallon to 29.6 cents. I was just saying the other day that $2.79 is far too little to pay for gasoline. Why someone ought to increase the cost!

The summer tourists are just going to love this.

The Bolt to the Blaine House ’10 – Matt Jacobson (R)

Four Maine gubernatorial candidates have been covered so far. Alex Hammer, Bruce Poliquin, Lynne Williams, and Steve Rowe have had their time in the sun. Now Matt Jacobson (R) gets his chance.

Jacobson already has made a strong digital presence on the web. Jacobson exemplifies a web 2.0 candidate, as does most of his opponents. There is a website, blog, twitter, facebook, and myspace page for the candidate. Each is on par with the competition, though from a design point of view both Republican candidates at this point have the best looking websites. I’ll leave speculation as to why that is to others.

As a writer for Maine Biz, it’s no surprise that Jacobson’s focus is on business. All of the issue pages of his site are either overtly business related or link their topics to business. Not that this is a bad thing. With Maine struggling to emerge from recession, the loss of manufacturing industries like paper, and recover from years of mass youth migration Jacobson’s tactic is a wise one. Jacobson’s blog, a port of his Maine Biz writings, provides a wealth of information on his business stance. I’m going to focus only on Jacobson’s website at this point.

The site Jacobson has constructed is comprehensive. Coverage of issues is broken down into five categories; jobs and economy, education, spending and taxes, energy, and the environment. I’ll touch on a few of those.

Jacobson pushes for a smaller, learner government in order to lower spending. To get the best grasp of Jacobson’s plan for reorganizing government one need only look as far as the recent school district consolidation. Jacobson is looking to consolidate services the government provides. The engine of government will be tuned and all those useless aftermarket mods your cousin said would get you more power will be yanked out. Jacobson hopes his tuneup job will leave us with “Fewer yet more efficient units of government dedicated to higher quality performance is the key – just as it is in every budget across Maine”

I can say with confidence that Matt Jacobson fits the fiscal conservative mold to a tee. His stance on taxes and spending and pro-business attitude make that choice a no brainer. I hesitate to label him a moderate. There is little information available on his social leanings at this point.

You may be saying now well what makes Jacobson any different from Republican challenger Bruce Poliquin? They both in favor of lower taxes, less regulations, and pro-business. The differences are subtle, but they are there if you look. Take their environmental positions for instance. Poliquin advocates a partnership of ecology and economy. Jacobson too believes that economic growth and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive as well, but if push came to shove the economy would come first. Jacobson says on his website, “Where environmental and land use rules and regulations become unnecessary barriers preventing responsible growth of jobs and communities, I’ll make sure those barriers are taken away.” Yes, Maine’s environmental regulations can be excessive, but Poliquin illustrates what some of them made possible. “When I was a boy in Waterville, if you fell in the Kennebec River you had to get a tetanus shot. We should all be proud of the years of hard work to restore many of our natural assets. We cannot go backwards in the protection of our environment.”

Here’s how I look at the two candidates. Poliquin is pro Maine families. The crux of Poliquin’s campaign is his “plan to help Maine families.” Poliquin’s policies are to advance the quality of life for Maine families first. The fact that they aid business as well are almost secondary. Jacobson is pro-business first and foremost. This is not to say that Jacobson is anti-family. No candidate in their right mind would even elude to that. Jacobson’s policies advance the cause of business in Maine, which incidentally helps Maine families.

Does this mean Jacobson has no appeal to Maine voters? Of course not. Running the government is much like running a business. Jacobson could leverage this point in the primaries, driving home the economic state of Maine. There are two hurdles to face. Do Republicans want a Jack Welch type business man as their government CEO or do they want a jack-of-all-trades? If Jacobson should win his parties nomination, can Jacobson bet that the state at large is not sick of business types altogether?

So much of politics is all about spin. If Jacobson can spin his business experience, which is vast, to his advantage it could spell victory in the primary. Then possibly the Blaine House. It wont be an easy fight for Jacobson by any means. But if his military and business resume proves anything it’s that he’ll give the competition a fight.

The Bolt to the Blaine House ’10 – Bruce Poliquin (R)

Yesterday I covered Independent candidate for governor Alex Hammer. Today it’s the GOP’s turn. I’ll examine Bruce Poliquin.

A special note – It may seem that I have been much harder on Poliquin than I was yesterday with Hammer. This is only because Poliquin had more information available for me to pick apart. It is in no way an endorsement of one over the other at this point.

Bruce Poliquin is one of two GOP candidates at this point. Poliquin is not going to be left behind on the internet superhighway. He already has a decent website, facebook, and twitter. The majority of his platform seems like it could belong to any Republican candidate for governor in Maine. Lower taxes? Check. Less regulation of business? Check. Curb state spending? Check. Poliquin is even so bold as to state that education needs to be made a top priority! I never expected a politician to support education in such an unique way. OK maybe I’m being a little cynical. I’m 27. In my short amount of political experience I have never heard a politician not make education a “top priority”.

Before I’m accused of Bruce bashing, let me break down a few points of his platform. The highlight of Poliquin’s platform so far is his Plan to Help Maine Families. Poliquin’s plan contains ten points to address what’s ailing Vacationland.

from Bruceforme:

  1. Lower Taxes to National Averages or Less.
  2. Create Positive Attitude Toward Business Development and Jobs.
  3. Carefully Reduce State Spending to National Averages or Less.
  4. Reform State Programs to Do More With Less.
  5. Promote Competition Among Health Care Insurance Companies to Lower Premium Costs.
  6. Improve Education System to Better Prepare Students for College and Beyond.
  7. Simplify Business Regulations to Create New Jobs.
  8. Complete Infrastructure to Enhance Our Quality of Life.
  9. Explore Ways to Lower Energy Costs.
  10. Protect Our Environment while Promoting Job Creation.

Though not as bad off as our Massachusetts cousins, Maine taxes have been above the national average for some time. While the national average tax burden is 9.7%, Maine’s is 10%. Of course the median household income here is $44,000, about the same as the national average. Lowering taxes will certainly win some voters. Will it be practical when our infrastructure is crumbling? Maine’s infrastructure grade is a C- overall. Maine roads received a D and bridges a D+. That is beyond scary. There is a $400 million gap in funding for Maine DOT bridge repair. Not to mention that the ASCE labeled 17 Maine dams high public hazards and 153 significant to high hazards. Add to that numbers 6 (improve education) and 8 (complete infrastructure) and lower taxes seems more and more difficult to accomplish. In all honesty, I don’t think lowering Maine taxes to the national average is a poor goal. It would have to be coupled with large spending cuts, especially considering the cuts Maine had to make just to balance the budget recently.

Number 2 (creating a positive attitude toward business) is important for Maine at this juncture. Governors have tried to court companies into the state for some time. Their approach has been flawed. It has been too narrow. Governors have focused on getting this particular business or that one. The whole time they have neglected the broader business picture. Maine should open itself up to businesses of all types, not just existing industries or things like phone centers. Diversifying Maine’s economy is the only way for the state to proceed forward and to stop the flood of Maine’s graduates from the state.

How does Poliquin plan to do this? Well his recipe is not innovative.

from Bruceforme:
To attract businesses and jobs we must: tax less, spend wisely, simplify regulations, lower energy and healthcare costs, complete our infrastructure, and improve education. Some initiatives can be implemented relatively soon. Others are longer-term. It will take common sense, hard work, and competent management. For all of us who call Maine home, it will be worth it.

Poliquin’s solutions to taxation (across the board cuts), spending (cutting wasteful programs), regulations (streamline and simplify), energy costs (pursue alternative energy & upgrade grid with Canada) and healthcare costs (strong reforms) are a mix of Republican staples moderated with a generally liberal concern for the environment. Comparisons between the politics of Poliquin and Senators Snowe and Collins are sure to come. Will that link be enough for Poliquin to get to the Blaine House? To win his parties nomination for even the chance? It’s far too early to tell. Without more specifics I can’t say either. I will say a Republican that is not as least as moderate as Poliquin seems to be will last as long as a lobster at a tourist trap on Route 1 in this election

Tomorrow: Lynne Williams (G)

"Bag of Bones" Says Bye-Bye to Maine

There is something wrong in this next story. Maine writer Stephen King (if you don’t know of him I really can’t help you) has been basing many of his ludicrously popular novels in his home state for nearly 40 years. Of the some 109 films, television series and episodes produced from King’s works a mere 5 were actually filmed in Maine. 5 of 109. That is 6%.

A chance to have at least one more King flick (Bag of Bones) filmed in Maine was blown this week by Augusta. A bill that would have given tax breaks to film companies spending $50,000 or more in the state died on the voting floor. Tax credits would have been given to companies hiring UMaine system students, Maine workers, and to film in counties with high unemployment rates.

from Portland Press Herald:

The makers of a film based on the Stephen King novel “Bag of Bones” said Thursday they are “less likely” to film in Maine after a proposed state tax incentive for filmmakers died in the Legislature this week due to a lack of funding.

“We’ll have to investigate other options. The film still takes place in Maine whether we film there or not,” said “Bag of Bones” director Mick Garris. “All I can say is that I’m extremely disappointed. We were counting on Maine, but this is a big blow.”

Perhaps the $3 mil to fund the bill will be available next session, though it’s doubtful. It’s a shame really. For a state the really depends on tourist dollars, we really kick ourselves in the ass when it comes to news ways of bringing those dollars in.

Sunday Editorial on Editorials – Maine needs more of the same?

While there are some who would rather barricade schools up than allow the opinions of business people to influence education. When it comes to running a school more efficiently business innovations should be examined. However when it comes to actually educating children I’m not sure a business mind is always best.

Jake Burnham, a recent Columbia MBA graduate, wrote an editorial this morning linking the importance of an educated populace with a state’s economic growth and how to achieve that here in Maine. I agree with Burnham’s initial assertion. Maine is lagging in Gross Domestic Product (42nd) and GDP per capita growth (45th). A state’s percentage of graduates can contribute positively to GDP. Of the states in the top ten of GDP seven have 30% or more college graduates. Two of the top ten are mere fractions of a percentage point from 30%. One could stretch and say nine out of ten make the cut.

That doesn’t bode well for Mainers, 24% of whom are college graduates. Our two closest neighbors New Hampshire and Massachusetts are at 34% and 38% respectively. There are other factors to Maine’s low growth that Burnham doesn’t mention. Take into account the high property taxes (more on that later), high income taxes (10th highest), 48th out of 51 in the Business Tax Index, and relatively low per capita income ($34,000) the whole thing is much more complex than school reform alone can solve.

While Burnham’s narrow view of this issue is a problem it’s his solution that I find most troubling.

from Kennebec Journal:

The plan is simple but controversial: expand the scope of the education system to birth and extend the school calendar through the summer. The Educare center in Waterville, which will offer high-quality care and education for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers, is exactly what Maine needs, but the state needs it everywhere — and fast.

We are failing these children by assuming their parents can prepare them for kindergarten and keep them learning during the summer. Every child should have an opportunity to get a quality education. It should make no difference whether you are born into a mansion with two doctors in Cape Elizabeth or a trailer with one welfare recipient in Caribou.

Extending pre-k programs to all Maine children would be fruitful. Not all children start school with the same advantages as others. Giving everyone a leg up on a few skills (basic reading and math) will prepare them for their kindergarten year. Some summer programs will negate the need for so much review each fall. Burnham’s logic that if the current amount of education is decent then more must be better is severely flawed. Burnham assumes that schools are already functioning at high efficiency. Wrong. Maine schools are still functioning on the antiquated industrial learning model. Memorize, regurgitate, get a treat. Subjecting students to more of the same will not increase the quality of a school’s output to put it in blunt business terms.

Having state-wide Educare Centers such as the one in Waterville is also a nice idea. The cost, which at this time is not on the taxpayers, is high. Educare has a $3 million operating cost. When compared to the $93 million that the Portland School District has proposed for 2010 that doesn’t sound so bad.

But all this money talk raises one question. How will we pay for Burnham’s proposed reforms? More taxes!

from Kennebec Journal:

A creative recommendation from the Brookings Institution would be to institute a second-home property tax at the state level that would either apply strictly to non-residents or have a high exemption level to protect the majority of Mainers. “Summer People” own more than two-thirds of the $28 billion in second-home wealth in Maine. A small property and transfer tax would provide hundreds of millions of dollars with which to transform the outcomes of Maine’s future generations.

OK so maybe I played taxation specter a little bit. Taxing those dreaded people from “away” might not sound so bad to those of us who tough it out here year round. However, for a state that bases so much of its economy on tourism, taxing tourists may not be the best move. Not everyone who owns a second home can afford this extra tax. My mother in-law owns a small camp on North Haven. She is not a millionaire “summer person” in a McMansion. If they imposed yet another tax on her small property she would not be able to keep it any longer.

The economic impact of tourism in Maine cannot be understated. A 2006 study found tourism contributes $10 billion in sales and services. One out of six jobs in Maine is supported by tourism. That’s a greater percentage than even Florida. Those are numbers too big to ignore. How many people would continue to come spend their dollars in Maine if we taxed them even more. Most would find a less expensive place to play. That is not something Maine can afford in the short or long term. Especially since there are ways to improve education without large tax increases.

I may have come off a bit harsh. I agree with Burnham’s start (an educated populace improves economic growth) and his destination (Maine schools must offer a higher quality education). How we arrive at those goals are two vastly different trips.

Spend Money to Make Money – Obama’s health care plans

We all know that sometimes you’ve gotta spend money to make money. Can you spend money to save money too? Obama is hedging his bets that we can. Check out this report from ABC on how drastic health care reform will save us more money than privatization in the long run.

from ABC News

President Obama plans to move ahead this week with an ambitious plan to overhaul the country’s health care system.

It is likely to be a messy and costly political battle.

The latest ABC News poll shows that 53 percent of Americans are concerned about being able to afford necessary health care, and 33 percent are “very concerned.”

During the presidential campaign, both sides called for repairs to the ailing system. Now the question is: how?

Franklin Roosevelt couldn’t do it; nor could Truman, Kennedy, Johnson or Clinton. Both Clintons, in fact.

But President Obama will try again.

There are 46 million Americans without insurance and that number is quickly growing, as the ranks of the unemployed balloon in this economy.

“The cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year,” Obama told Congress Feb. 24.

Obama is asking for $634 billion in his new budget to be put aside over the next 10 years as a sort of health care fund. He says some of the money will come from taxing the wealthy and through trimming the fat in current government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

The budget calls for also taking, over 10 years, $175 billion in fees that the government now pays insurance companies to cover more than 10 million people in private Medicare. The administration has said that that such private plans cost 14 percent more than traditional Medicare.

In his weekly video address Saturday, Obama acknowledged that “the insurance industry won’t like the idea that they’ll have to bid competitively to continue offering Medicare coverage, but that’s how we’ll help preserve and protect Medicare and lower health care costs for American families.”

Others that might suffer under his budget include hospitals, drug makers and home health services. All have powerful lobbying groups.

The ambitious plan comes during the worst economic crisis this country has seen in a generation. Health care reform wasn’t achievable in even the best of times. Now, it could be that much harder.

Just today, the White House again offered an ambitious timeline.

“Look, we want to get health care reform done this year, and we want to do it in a way that doesn’t add to the deficit and that also helps bend the curve over the long term,” said Peter R. Orszag, Obama’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, said this morning on “This Week.”

Orszag said that heath care “is the key to our fiscal future.”

The health care debate is likely to pick up steam as the week moves on. Tomorrow, Obama is expected to nominate Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Thursday, he’ll host a nonpartisan health care summit at the White House.

If this can truly save everyone money in the long run, meaning the money we can all save on health care will be greater than the tax increases needed to pay for it, then I’m all for it. Is this the right path or is Obama in need of some health care for his brain?