Terry Jeffrey

Suppose there were a law that forced you to pay a government agency for apples you were supposed to feed your children.

The government didn't care if you grew your own apples or if your neighbor grew apples you liked better than the government's brand -- the law compelled you to pay for the state's product whether you wanted it for your children or not.

Now, suppose many people who actually fed their children public apples discovered something wrong with them. Some apples were bitter, others mushy and others rotten to the core.

When they complained to the public-apple agencies, agency bureaucrats and their union would say: "Excuse me, the bad apples are not our fault. You need to give us more money so we can build better apple storage facilities, and so we can pay better wages to apple handlers."

So the government forced everybody to pay more for its apples.

Now, the public-apple agencies built beautiful new apple storage facilities. They paid their apple handlers handsomely. Still, a disturbing number of apples remained bitter, mushy or rotten to the core.

In the face of new complaints, the bureaucrats and their union declared, "We need a federal Department of Apples."

Conservatives fruitlessly argued that the Constitution does not authorize a federal Department of Apples. Congress created one anyway. The new DOA spent vast sums paying its own bureaucrats and subsidizing local government apple agencies. Still, many public apples remained bitter, mushy or rotten to the core.

A "compassionate conservative" -- N.B. a "big government conservative" -- was elected president. He advocated giving even more federal aid to local public-apple agencies in exchange for a federal "apple accountability" program. Under the program, states were required to test their apples every year, with the goal that after 13 years every public apple would be good enough to eat.

After several years, the tests showed almost no improvement in public apples. Apple agency bureaucrats and their union representatives complained that the apple-accountability standards were unrealistic. So the secretary of apples relaxed the standards, and the compassionate conservative president called on Congress to reauthorize the program.

The public apple in this parable, of course, is public education -- which is indeed rotten in many places.

Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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