September 4, 2000
Local Control is the Key to Education Reform
Education reform is of critical importance in America today. Over the past decades, we have witnessed two undeniable trends in our education system. First, the role of the federal government has steadily increased. Second, the quality of our nation's public schools has steadily decreased. These unfortunate developments compel me (and millions of parents across the country) to question our approach, to ask hard questions about the obvious failure of many public schools to provide children with a quality education. Why, given 70 years of ever-increasing federal spending, has government failed to create the wonderful public school system promised us by Great Society politicians? Why do we spend far more per student today than in the past, with far worse results? Why, despite the increases in federal spending, are public school teachers still underpaid (with the brightest young people refusing to enter the profession)? Finally, why have we allowed the federal government to consistently expand its control over our local school systems?
These questions all point to an inescapable conclusion: the federal government is not the answer. The key to fixing our education system is to reduce the role of the federal government and expand local and parental control of schools. Funding decisions increasingly have been controlled by bureaucrats in Washington, causing public and even some private schools to follow the dictates of these federal "educrats" to an ever-greater degree to preserve their funding. As a result, curricula, teacher standards, textbook selection, and discipline policies have been crafted in Washington. Rigorous classes in basics such as mathematics, grammar, science, Western civilization, and history have been reduced or eliminated, while politically favored subjects have been forced upon students. Religious observation and prayer, although widely practiced and supported by the majority of Americans, have been forbidden to students under perverse interpretations of the First amendment by federal courts. Worst of all, the values and concerns of local parents have been ignored.
Last year I introduced legislation designed to return control of local schools to parents. The "Family Education Freedom Act" (H.R. 935) would empower millions of lower-income and middle class families to improve their local schools or choose a private school for their children. This is accomplished by allowing parents a tax credit of up to $3,000 per child for expenses incurred in sending their children to a public, private, parochial, or other religious school. The credit also is available to parents who home-school their children.
The $3,000 tax credit will make better education affordable to parents who would choose to send their children to a private school, but cannot because of the enormous tax burden imposed by Washington. Also, parents who wish to send their children to local public schools may use their credit dollars to finance the purchase of educational tools or fund extracurricular programs.
I also introduced the "Education Improvement Tax Cut Act" (H.R. 936) in an effort to give parents more control over improving their local schools. The Act allows individuals to claim a tax credit of up to $3,000 per year for cash or other donations to a school or scholarship program. This approach encourages parents to spend money to improve the school their child attends, rather than pay more in federal taxes to support distant education programs that reflect only the values and priorities of Congress and the federal bureaucracy.
When it comes to education policy, one size does not fit all. I want to give parents the freedom to choose the best option for their kids, without federal oversight. American families agree with me, as polls show that over 70% of them support education tax credits! True education reform requires that we return control of schools to parents and local school districts.