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Monday, December 6, 2010

Do We Need the Department of Education?

"You say: "There are persons who lack education" and you turn to the law. But the law is not, in itself, a torch of learning which shines its light abroad. The law extends over a society where some persons have knowledge and others do not; where some citizens need to learn, and others can teach. In this matter of education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this transaction of teaching-and-learning to operate freely and without the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed by government to instruct others, without charge. But in the second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property." — Frederic Bastiat (The Law)

The Department of Education operates a range of subsidy programs for elementary and secondary schools. That aid is matched by rising federal regulatory control over the schools, but federal intervention has not generally lifted academic achievement. The department also provides subsidies to higher education through student loans and grants. Unfortunately, that aid has fueled inflation in college tuition and is subject to widespread abuse.

The department will spend $107 billion in 2010, or about $900 for every U.S. household. It employs 4,100 workers and operates 169 different subsidy programs.80% of the Departments 2010 budget goes to aid to states and 17% to subsidies for individuals and businesses. The remainder goes to salaries and operating expenses.

Here is where the money is going in millions of dollars

Elementary and Secondary Education:.......... $61,527
Special Education and Rehabilitation:.......... $21,022
Student Aid: ..................................................................$17,116
Post-secondary Education:......................................$2,960
Vocational and Adult Education:.........................$2,095
Innovation and Improvement:..............................$1,177
English Language Acquisition:.................................$754
Education Sciences: ........................................................$697
Safe and Drug-Free Schools: .....................................$675
Departmental Management:.....................................$614

Source: Estimated fiscal year outlays from the Budget of the U.S. Government, FY2011. 
Some History of the Federal Government’s involvement in education.

In 1787 The Northwest Ordinance provided grants of federal land for the establishment of educational institutions. These were lands consisted of one section (640 acres) and were usually designated to section 16. This was the basis for many “Land Grant” colleges and the cost to the tax payer was virtually nothing.

The 1930’s brought an array of New Deal funding for educational activities including school construction and repairs, the hiring of teachers, loans to school districts, and grants to rural schools. These programs created precedents for later permanent education subsidies. There is no enumerated power in the Constitution for these activities, they were and should be the responsibilities of the States.

The 1944 Servicemen's Readjustment Act—the G.I. Bill—was enacted to pay for education costs of World War II veterans. The bill was widely supported, but like most subsidy programs, oversight was poor and there was substantial waste and abuse. A 1951 General Accounting Office report found that substantial G.I. Bill funding was going toward frivolous activities, such as courses on hobby photography. Some schools responded to the G.I. Bill by increasing their tuition for veterans, which allowed the schools to effectively pocket the subsidies, while other schools resort to outright fraud to garner benefits. This was the beginning of the biggest rip-off in education. Schools could charge what the market would bear, and if the costs were too high the government would increase the amounts of the subsidies, which encouraged the schools to once again increase their fees. This was and still is a catch 22 in the cost of education; more money, higher fees, more money to cover the inflation in fess and so on and on and on.

In 1958 The National Defense Education Act was passed in response to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik. The Act funded higher education loans, vocational teacher training, and various courses in the K–12 schools. Once again the schools had an opportunity to increase their costs and fees. The federal government would pay the bill in the name of national defense and science. No real change was evident in the number of students entering the fields of engineering, math or science. Liberal arts were the number one elective and we did not increase our human resources in the technical or scientific fields. Once again the schools benefited.

A series of 1963 laws expanded federal subsidies for the health professions, vocational education, and higher education facilities. The Office of Education now has 2,113 employees and a budget of $1.5 billion. Like the boiling frog syndrome we are hardly noticing the rising heat in the pot, after all it for the greater good.

1965 and the Great Society brings a massive increase in federal funding and involvement in education. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act creates a huge increase in federal education spending and regulations. The legislation's Title I is supposed to provide aid to K–12 schools in high-poverty areas, but by the end of the 1960s it is providing aid to 60 percent of the nation's school districts. Today, Title I is the largest federal subsidy program for K–12 education. In addition to Title I, the 1965 act creates subsidies for teacher training, educational research, school libraries, textbooks, student literacy, school technology, school safety, and other items. It also beefs up state-level school bureaucracies directly with "grants to strengthen state departments of education." The 1965: The Higher Education Act is the basis for many of today's post-secondary education subsidies, including student loan and grant programs, college library aid, teacher training programs and fellowships, and many other subsidies. The water in the pot is getting hotter, but we hardly notice it.

1972 brought amendments to the 1965 education laws and added a slew of new subsidy programs for K–12 and higher education, and created new education bureaus, institutes, and councils. In addition, Title IX is added, which bars gender discrimination in colleges and universities, but generates large bureaucracies of lawyers to administer, enforce, and litigate the complex rules.

The 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act required states to ensure free public education to all disabled students, and it spells out the services that school districts are required to provide. The law generates a great deal of legal and bureaucratic activities stemming from battles between parents and schools over whether federal mandates are being met. Today, special education is the second largest federal K–12 program. The water in the pot is getting hotter and our skin is beginning to turn red, but we don’t notice it. After all, who could be against education?

In 1976: Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter promises to create a Department of Education, and he is endorsed by the National Education Association. This is first time that the NEA has endorsed a presidential candidate in more than a century of existence. In 1979, after much opposition, Congress narrowly passes legislation to split off a new Department of Education from the existing Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The NEA and the American Federation of Teachers provide powerful lobbying support for the creation of the new department. The Department of Education begins operations in 1980 with 6,400 employees. The unions saw this as their greatest opportunity for taking control of education from the local level. The little man from Georgia with the hammer and nails had just nailed us into the pot. We were now being cooked and we didn’t even care.

When campaigning for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan calls the Department of Education "President Carter's new bureaucratic boondoggle" and promises to abolish it. Reagan's first budget consolidates some education grants into broader block grants and restrains education spending. In 1982 Reagan crafted a proposal to eliminate the Department of Education, but it went nowhere on Capitol Hill.

A 1983 blue-ribbon commission releases the influential report A Nation at Risk, which sharply criticizes the mediocre state of the public schools. The report sets back Reagan's efforts to eliminate the Department of Education and reduce federal intervention in education. Do you remember the 1958 The National Defense Education Act that was going to make the schools better?

In 1994 The Department of Education admits that it is losing between $3 billion and $4 billion annually to waste, fraud, and loan defaults in its college aid programs. Education Secretary Richard Riley calls the department's financial management "worse than lax." One problem is that the department wires billions of dollars each year to obscure trade schools based on undocumented claims about how many students are enrolled on federal scholarships.

Between 1994 and 2002 numerous increases in funding were granted to the Department of Education with no real increase in the quality of education. Urban centers were experiencing high school dropout rates of 50% and the cost for a college degree was costing as much as a mortgage on a new home.

The final demise of our frog was in 2002 when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law. It is 650 pages in length and represented a major new federal thrust into the classroom. The law triggers a huge expansion in the department's K–12 spending: from $20 billion in 2000 to $37 billion by 2005. State officials complain bitterly about the onerous regulations of No Child Left Behind related to such items as student testing, teacher qualifications, Spanish language tests, and after-school tutoring. The frog is now cooked and ready to eat without him even knowing it was happening.

The final act of serving the frog was the 2009 economic stimulus bill that showers college students and state and local governments with $45 billion in extra education funding. No the colleges and universities can really dig in and get those fees higher. More teachers, more administrators, more buildings, higher salaries, bigger pensions and more power for the unions — all in the name of the education empire. Socrates is rolling over in his grave.

K-12 Education Subsidies through Federal intervention into the nation's schools has consumed great deals of taxpayer money and created large bureaucracies to administer the funding and regulations. However, it has produced little, if any, improvement in academic results. It has also produced massive amounts of unfunded liabilities for the teachers unions, liabilities that cannot be met by the local or state school boards.

Federal intervention into primary and secondary schools has steadily increased since the 1960s, but there have been no obvious improvement in educational achievement. Indeed, standardized test scores for K-12 students have been stagnant for decades. Interestingly, Canada has virtually no federal involvement in its schools, but Canadian students generally score higher on international tests than do American students.

The sad truth is that rising control from Washington has probably damaged American schools by reducing local flexibility, retarding innovation, and burying school administrators in regulations. Federal involvement should be ended, and it should be up to the states, the schools, and parents to boost school performance.

Federal grants and loans for college and university students have contributed to soaring inflation in tuition costs. Student grant and loan programs have also been subject to high levels of fraud and abuse. We have more students attending college and learning less. They are being taught by tenured professors or teaching assistants that are more concerned with pushing an agenda than providing a path to learning.

Federal loans and grants to college students should also be ended. Personal savings, financial institutions, and charitable organizations are more efficient funding sources for college costs. Federal student aid has proven to be hugely wasteful, with large amounts of fraud and abuse combined with inept federal administration. A further problem is that rising federal aid has generated inflation in college tuition and other educational costs. Thus, ending federal student subsidies would create beneficial pressure on colleges and universities to trim their bloated budgets and reduce their tuition.

The Department of Education should be closed and its programs terminated. The main activity of the department is to provide grants to state and local governments. However, channeling taxpayer dollars through Washington and then back to the states is an inefficient way to fund local activities such as education. It would be better if the states funded their own education programs free of all the paperwork that comes with federal aid.

It is time for America to wake up and abolish the Department of Education and all of its programs. We will not only save $107 billion dollars, we will save our education system, especially at the local level and dramatically decrease the power of the teachers unions.

Reagan, as usual, had it right. He just did not have the support of Congress or the American people to this. The water in the pot was not quite hot enough to get the frog’s attention. Perhaps today it is.

As Milton Friedman stated in the Wall Street Journal on September 20, 2000; "Only a truly competitive educational industry can empower the ultimate consumers of educational services—parents and their children."

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