May 28, 2001
The Federal Education Morass
After more than 40 years of massive federal education spending, the inescapable conclusion is that federal control is failing. By any objective standards, our public schools are worse than ever. Policies regarding curricula and discipline, once set by local teachers and principals working closely with parents, are now established in Washington.
Politically correct sensitivity training substitutes for rigorous coursework in liberal arts or practical vocations. Children learn phony self-esteem, rather than the importance of productive achievement. Teachers are prohibited from maintaining discipline. As a result, our high school graduates enter adulthood less educated and less prepared for responsibility than previous generations. Obviously, ever-increasing federal control over our schools has failed the nation's children and lowered educational standards.
Yet while the need for new policies in Washington has never been greater, the approach unfortunately remains the same: more federal spending and more federal control. Last week Congress passed legislation that massively increases funding for failed Education department programs. Although the bill was widely hailed as bipartisan, the truth is that it contained mostly liberal measures promoted by Democratic members of Congress. Key Republican provisions such as school vouchers and unconditional flexibility for local school districts were not included. Regardless of the party stamp, the bill clearly represents a big-spending, big government plan that will only serve to further entrench the wasteful federal education monopoly.
The bill increases the Education department budget by a whopping 22 percent- more than even the liberals had hoped. The $9.2 billion increase brings the total department budget to more than $50 billion. No one mentions the high tax rates we all pay to finance this spending. We must remember that every dollar parents send to Washington is a dollar they don't have to spend directly on their children's education. Most education tax dollars sent to Washington fund the federal bureaucracy; far less than half of each dollar is ever returned to local schools. More importantly, federal school dollars come with strings attached. The more money we give to education bureaucrats, the more power they have to dictate how local schools are run. When federal spending increases, local schools are forced to do whatever it takes to get their share, even if this means adopting one size fits all policies mandated in Washington. In other words, federal money is used as a club to force schools to surrender more and more of their decision making authority to Washington.
I believe that parents and teachers know what is best for their schools at the local level. The key to reforming public education in America is returning local control back to our public schools. I have introduced three education tax credit bills which keep more tax dollars and more decision making power at the local level. The first provides parents with a $3,000 per child credit for educational expenses, including tuition, books, computers, and tutors. The second allows parents or individuals to claim up to $3,000 in tax credits for cash or in-kind donations to schools and scholarship programs. The third bill grants all teachers a $1,000 tax credit, effectively raising their salaries without spending tax dollars. All three of these measures share the same goal of insuring that parents, rather than federal education bureaucrats, decide how their children are educated.
Congress never seems to learn that Washington does not know what is best for kids. While both parties claim to stand for education, their bureaucratic approach should no longer be tolerated by American education consumers. American parents will spend generously on their children's education, but Congress must be willing to lower tax burdens and ease the federal stranglehold on education that has destroyed our public schools.