I think it’s time for President Bush to reframe his education package. He
should make school choice the centerpiece, rather than the perceived throwaway
item of his plan.
So far, the Democrats have been controlling the education debate by making
this a contest as to which party is willing to spend the most money. Last week Bush
emphasized that his education plan wasn’t about just throwing money at the
problem, but he hastened to boast that his proposal involved greater federal
spending than ever before on education.
I wish Bush would quit trying to demonstrate his commitment to education by
pointing to his willingness to spend federal tax dollars. Surely he knows you can
never win a spending contest against Democrats. Indeed, the Democrats, while
brazenly masquerading as fiscal conservatives, dismiss as paltry Bush’s proposed
11 percent increase in education funding. Their proposal calls for an increase of $250
billion over the next 10 years, more than 10 times Bush’s proposal.
There’s a better way for Bush to prove his earnestness about improving the
quality of education. He should talk about what works and what doesn’t work.
Money, especially federal money, by itself, doesn’t work.
Democratic politicians who constantly equate dollars with compassion ought
to explain to taxpayers how increasing bureaucratic autonomy translates to greater
compassion. Earlier this month the American Legislative Exchange Council released
its Report Card on American Education: A State-by-State Analysis. While
expenditures per pupil have increased by 22.8 percent in constant dollars
nationwide over the past 20 years, standardized test scores have remained
Another recent study, by the Heartland Institute, has exposed the
mismanagement, corruption and waste in the Education Department. It reveals that
the Department is short on auditable financial statements, is suspected of wasting
billions of taxpayer dollars and has failed to hold many states accountable for
meeting federal Title I funding requirements.
In one case, according to Heartland, the Department almost issued an $800
million loan to one student, and another $500 million in undisbursed grants is
unaccounted for. Plus, there is a $6 billion discrepancy between U.S. Treasury
records and those of the Education Department concerning education expenditures.
Beyond issues of waste and corruption, the present system is not producing
results. There is simply no excuse for the scandalous rates of illiteracy among our
schoolchildren, e.g., nearly 70 percent of fourth-graders in poverty areas are unable
to read at a basic level.
The Democrats’ insistence on protecting the public education monopoly is
more than indefensible; it’s morally wrong. With all their professed zeal for campaign
finance reform and their dogmatic contention that money in politics is necessarily
corrupting, you would think they would voluntarily disgorge themselves of their
teachers’ union dollars.
Bush should point out their hypocrisy and get back to talking about the
superior features of his plan -- local control, accountability and school choice -- not as
a last resort, but as a primary component of his plan.
School choice is a proven winner, so there is no downside to Bush placing it
at the forefront of his education agenda. There is an answer for every false charge
leveled against educational choice. The Friedman Institute on Educational Choice,
debunking the many myths, concludes that school choice:
-- does not drain money from public schools or otherwise harm them, but
actually improves them. In Florida, where a voucher program was recently instituted,
failing schools have begun hiring more teachers and have increased funding for
tutoring and lowering class sizes. Similar positive changes occurred in Milwaukee and
Albany, N.Y., where school choice is being tried.
-- serves the students who need it the most (academically).
-- leads to more integrated schools.
-- improves the quality of teaching.
Democrats are forever bragging that the American people are with them "on
the issues." Oh? What about polls showing that 52 percent of parents, 59 percent
of public school parents, and 60 percent of minorities support school choice?
Given the manifest corruption and waste in the existing federal education
bureaucracy and the overwhelming public support for school choice, there is no
justification for President Bush or congressional Republicans to play on the
Democrats’ turf on this issue.
Let Daschle and Gephardt keep preaching about money. Bush and the
GOP should be talking about competition and how it will improve the quality of
education like it does nearly everything else. Why not try "the American way" with