Tag: john kline

Demonization vs. the Constitution

Yesterday, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, introduced the first new legislation aimed at breaking down the prescriptiveness of the No Child Left Behind Act. It’s a small step in the right direction, but there are two serious problems with it:

  1. It doesn’t come nearly close enough to the reform we need.
  2. Democratic reaction to it illustrates why it is so hard for politicians to obey the Constitution.

First the insufficiency of the bill. The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act would, essentially, allow states and districts to take federal funding that comes through numerous streams and apply it to different streams. For instance, if a state wanted to take dollars slated for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and apply them to Teacher Quality Grants, it could do so without seeking Washington’s permission.

That’s good as far as it goes; it makes sense, at least in theory, to let state and local authorities manage money according to their superior understanding of the needs of their communities.  But that’s in theory.

The first serious problem is that, ultimately, Washington would still be dictating outcomes to states and districts. As the summary for Kline’s bill states:

The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act will maintain monitoring, reporting, and accountability requirements for states and school districts under existing ESEA programs.

That suggests, at least as far as this bill goes (Kline has promised more legislation to come), that states will still have to meet all of NCLB’s rigid standards, testing, and “adequate yearly progress” requirements.   

The next big failure of the bill is that it trusts state and local bureaucrats to do what’s best for kids and handle taxpayer funds efficiently. As many people have pointed out, that’s about as likely to happen as your winning the Powerball.  

Finally, the bill fails because it keeps the same basic, unconstitutional model we’ve had for decades: federal funding of education — and associated rules — despite Washington having no constitutional authority to do so. That’s why the LEARN Act, sponsored by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), is superior to both what Kline has proposed and the A-PLUS Act that continues to make the rounds. LEARN would simply allow states to declare that they will not be dictated to by Washington, and let their taxpaying citizens, not education bureaucrats, reap the rewards by getting back the “education” dollars Washington took from them.

Unfortunately, a revolting tactic commonly employed by Democrats — but little different in odor quotient from, say, GOP attacks on war critics as unpatriotic — threatens to chill any effort to impose rationality on education policy. It’s the all-too-standard implication that if you’re for cutting federal education spending or even just making it more efficient, you’re at best indifferent to civil rights and, at worst perhaps, secretly a pre-Brown v. Board segregationist. As Education Week reports:

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House education committee, said the measure is “an offensive, direct attack on civil rights” that is sure to weaken efforts to ensure that disadvantaged and minority kids get access to educational opportunities.

“This back-door attempt at fulfilling campaign promises to dismantle the federal role in education will turn back the clock on civil rights and especially harm low-income and minority students,” Miller said.

This sort of rhetoric is designed to do but one thing: defeat reform efforts by all-but-directly accusing supporters of racism, or at least inhuman callousness. But notice what gets no mention: the Constitution, the thing that gives the federal government its only powers and includes no authority over education. Well, almost no authority: under the 14th Amendment Washington does have a responsibility to ensure that states and local districts do not discriminate in their provision of education, but the amendment in no way authorizes federal spending on education.  

And let’s not pretend that current federal intervention is doing any good. National Assessment of Educational progress math scores for African-American 17-year-olds — the schools’ “final products” — did rise markedly from 1973 to 1990, which could very well be at least partially a product of proper federal intervention: ending de jure segregation. But from 1990 to 2008, which includes the age of federal “accountability,” we’ve seen at-best stagnation, with the 1990 average score at 289 (out of 500) and the 2008 score at 287. Reading is the same story: healthy increases until 1988 (but fastest in Reagan’s anti-fed-ed 1980s) and stagnation after that. Indeed, the average score for African-American 17-year-olds dropped from 274 to 266 between 1988 and 2008. Meanwhile, real federal K-12 spending more than doubled, rising from $32.6 billion in 1988 to $73.2 billion in 2008.

There is, frankly, no good argument for keeping the federal government in education. But we can’t even have a reasoned debate about that as long as thinly veiled assertions of racism and callousness are the the standard response to any downsizing proposal.

Keep Fed Ed? What, Do You Hate Kids?

Yesterday, Tad DeHaven wrote about an interview with Rep. John Kline (R-MN), likely chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee should the GOP take the House majority. Tad lamented that Kline seemed to declare any potential effort to kill the U.S. Department of Education (ED) already dead in the water. Unfortunately, Kline is certainly right: Any effort to kill ED in the next couple of years would not only have to get through a (presumably) GOP-held House, but (also presumably) a Dem-controlled Senate and Obama-occupied White House. There just aint no way ED will be dismantled – and more importantly, it’s profligate programs eliminated – in that environment.

That said, if many Tea Party-type candidates win today, it will be precisely the time to start pushing the immensely powerful case for ending fed ed. I won’t post them yet again, but Andrew Coulson’s charts showing the Mount Everest of spending and the Death Valley of student achievement over the last roughly forty years should, frankly, be all the evidence anyone needs to see that the federal government should reacquaint itself with the Constitution and get out of elementary and secondary education. When it comes to higher education, the evidence plainly points to student aid helping to fuel the massive tuition hikes – and major waste – that plague higher education. And let’s not forget the ongoing failure of Head Start

The biggest obstacle to ending federal intrusion in education is that no one wants to vote against more education funding or programs no matter how akin to money-sack bonfires they are. Politicians simply don’t want to be tarred and feathered in campaign ads as being against children, or education itself. (No doubt almost everyone has seen ads attacking candidates for just such impossible cruelty over the last, seemingly endless, few months.) But if Tea Party sentiment proves strong today, tomorrow will be exactly the right time to launch a full-on, sustained attack against the federal occupation of education.

For one thing, teachers unions – arguably the most potent force in domestic politics, and the biggest “you hate children” bullies – are on their political heels, with even Democrats acknowledging that the unions don’t actually put kids first. Next, people are very concerned about wasteful spending, and as Andrew’s charts illuminate,  education furnishes that in droves. Third, the latest Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll reveals that by large majorities Americans want state and local governments – not the feds – in charge of education. Finally, and most importantly, the evidence blares that federal spending and meddling hasn’t actually done anything to improve education. All of which makes this the perfect time to drive the argument home: We must get Washington out of education because it is bad for your pocketbook, and bad for education!

Now, some inside-the-Beltway types have counseled the GOP to ignore the Constitution and abundant evidence of federal failure because they think the feds can somehow do good. They should be ignored because logic, evidence, and the Constitution simply aren’t on their side. And for those who might say to drop the issue because you won’t win in the next year or two? They would be right about the time frame for victory, but absolutely wrong to not take up the fight.