Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column
April 20, 1998
Giving power to parents is truly pro-education
Federal 'solutions' are biggest obstacles to academic achievement

Everyone, it seems, wants to wear the "pro-education" label, yet the direction of academics in our nation is dreadfully off course.

The ever-growing Department of Education - for whose existence there is no constitutional, economic, moral or rational justification - continues to promote a "one-size fits all" mode of education as it imposes more and more rules and regulations on our local schools which further removes parents and teachers from deciding what is best for the children, while giving more authority to bureaucrats in Washington.

Of course, everyone now uses the token rhetoric of "local control." However, when one examines the specifics of the plans being proposed - if such specifics are available - one has to wonder if the politicians think "local" refers to either Capitol Hill, or, at best, mandates coming down from the federal government to be implemented locally.

But when it comes to "control" in education, rarely are parents, the truly responsible party given any thought or credence. In fact, parents are often seen as an inconvenience or obstacle to "education" by many in the edu-cracy. A dangerous attitude, at best.

The reality, though, is that parents - not "well-meaning" politicians - know what options are best for their kids' education. Unfortunately, America has been saddled with a tax system which limits the ability of parents to pursue the academic options best suited for their children's individual situations. With combined taxes taking almost 50 percent of the average family's income, there is little left over for low- and middle-class parents to even consider other educational opportunities.

I have sponsored one piece of legislation, and cosponsored a second, which addresses this issue. My legislation would allow parents to take up to $3,000 a year per child in tax credits for their educational expenses, such as private, church and home school settings, as well as tutors, books and similar necessities. The credit applies even if the kids are in public schools. The other legislation is similar to Individual Retirement Accounts, but are for educational purposes. Parents would be allowed to set aside money in special savings accounts, the interest on which would not be taxed unless the money is used for non-educational purposes.

By making sure parents get to keep more of their own money, they will be able to provide in the ways best suited for their children and their children's specifics needs and abilities.

But even when we see education programs working well, the federal government still manages to find ways to endanger them. A prime example is agricultural education programs, such as those run through the 4-H and Future Farmers of America. When a young person enters those programs, wanting to gain hands-on experience and education in raising livestock, a part of that process involves "shows" and auctions. The proceeds from such shows and auctions are the money the kids use to participate in Ag programs the following years, or provide money for college.

Does the federal government stand back and applaud these young people bettering themselves academically, learning a skill and preparing for the future? No, Uncle Sam steps in and taxes the cash, meaning the kids lose precious money for school (making them more dependent on government aid) or the ability to participate in such programs the next year.

To combat this, I have introduced the Agriculture Education Freedom Act, which will exempt from taxes the income a youth receives while participating in these programs.

The more we can do to free people from the chains of government programs and mandates, and allow them to provide for themselves, the better off our society will be. But more importantly, as we free the resources of parents to provide for their children - and allow children to participate in programs that prepare them for adulthood - the higher we will see academic achievement reach.

Beware the government program labeled "pro-education." The only truly pro-education approach is to get the federal government out of education, and allow parents to provide for their own children.