9th Aug, 2010




What do we have to show for all the Federal “assistance” (control) in public education? Between 1973 and 2004, when Federal spending on education more than quadrupled, test scores remained either flat or increased by only 1% among American seventeen year olds. Money alone is obviously not the answer to our quest for education excellence. Idaho and Utah (with large families and large per household education spending but low per pupil government spending) do very well among national test scores. The District of Columbia, however, with the nation’s highest per pupil expenditure (over $15,000 per pupil) scores dead last in student achievement.

Obviously, there are other factors including the stability of home life and the culture in which young people grow up that affect their overall well being, the quality of their education and, ultimately, their education performance. The Utah public school system is regarded as the most efficient in the country. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently gave Utah an “A” for return on investment and ranked our state as the highest in the country in that category.

Today’s out of control welfare or “nanny” state is rooted primarily in the liberal ideas of the Democrat majority during the Lyndon Johnson era. That is when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (EASA) was adopted. In 1965, it was designed to aid low income and minority populations. It comes up for re-authorization every 5-7 years and no President has yet been willing to terminate it. When it came to President George W. Bush, he sought to improve it. He turned it into “No Child Left Behind”, which now affects every student in the Country. It is now filled with heavy unfunded mandates that oppress local educators in our public schools. The bureaucrats in Washington have created reams of paperwork for teachers and administrators. The U.S. government has sought to control curricula and mandate and regulate bilingual education. While insisting upon accountability for local educators and administrators, there is no accountability for the Department of Education itself. They are the supreme power until “We the People” rise up and decide otherwise. The Tenth Amendment and bold assertion of states’ rights are the vehicle to do so and the time is now to make our voices heard.

In too many cases, it seems as if the states and local governments have become passive and indifferent. They seem to have grown accustomed to seeking and relying upon Federal funding to support their ongoing operations. As indicated, the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was originally passed as part of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. It has since provided Federal funding to needy students and schools for over 40 years. It has been re-authorized eight times – usually every five or six years – since 1965.

The Federal law created “Title I” funds to provide services to low income students but it was quickly expanded to include even private schools based on “equitable participation” and the desired benefits of such federal funding. At first, the Federal money was viewed only as “targeted funding” to meet special needs. In reality, however, it has become broadly recycled tax dollars and general aid to all education. Today, over 90% of all school districts receive and depend on Title I funding. From 1980 to 1990, there were no significant increases (other than adjustments for inflation) to fund ongoing extensions of the original ESEA. President Reagan tried to promote principles of free enterprise and local control of education. He had the money go to the states as “block grants” so local officials could apply their own discretion as to how the funds should be spent. Still, however, the heavy dependence on federal funding for local education has continued.

In 1988, the Federal dollars were conditioned for the first time on accountability for improved outcomes. Since 1990, Federal policy makers have searched for evidence that their entrenched investment in education programs is yielding positive results that are tangible and measurable in terms of student achievement. This, however, has only strengthened the notion that the Federal government has a legitimate role in local education. The fundamental flaw in the underlying jurisdictional premise of such Federal legislation continues unaddressed and perpetual re-authorization goes unchallenged.

In 1994, the Contract with America that brought Republican control of Congress called for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education. That still has not happened.

President George W. Bush seized on the reauthorization of ESEA during his presidency as an opportunity to implement many of his education initiatives as Governor of Texas. However, he failed to recognize the jurisdictional difference between State and Federal government when he crossed over the Potomac and became President and Chief Executive. Thus, the No Child Left Behind Act emerged. It was 1,100 pages long and was not likely read and fully digested by the House and Senate members. Nonetheless, it passed in 2001 by a vote of 87 to 10 in the Senate and 381-41 in the House.

Now the Obama Administration is dangling our own tax dollars in front of us once again. He is challenging all 50 states to compete for special Federal grants and subsidies (“prize money”) in what they are calling “race to the top.” States are asked to chart out a plan of what more they would do to improve their state education program if they had more money to spend. Utah spent countless hours and many weeks developing its proposal (more than 212 pages) but did not “win” or place among the finalists in the new federal “education idol” competition. Just as well since our room for improvement and our consensus and resolve to make changes in our current approach and our ability to elevate our overall performance do not depend on Washington.

Utah has been among the leaders in asserting the constitutional impropriety of Federal mandates and Federal control of our local education policy and operations. That debate continues as the private sector is now forced to turn over all future student loans to the Federal government.

Leave a response

Your response: