$157,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros, and a lot of tax dollars spent in 2010 for education. And what does the country have to show for it? Failing schools, high drop-out rates and inadequate school resources. Public schools across the nation are firing teachers and cancelling programs in Music, Art, and Physical Education - the latter shrouded in irony as our First Lady promotes her “get up and move” initiative, geared to fight childhood obesity. To boot, despite the U.S. ranking 1st in the world for amount spent per student, our 15 year-olds consistently score average and/or below average on math, science and reading tests.
The way I look at it, the renewed, budget-conscious GOP lawmakers have two ways to tackle this problem:
1. Get the federal government out of our schools. Show me a successful public school, and I’ll show you a community with high property taxes and/or a local government and residents who care about education. The difference maker IS NOT the federal government. Otherwise, shouldn’t we expect more success and consistency across the nation? We have over 70 million school-age children in our country with gross diversity in geography, demographics and economics. How can one entity accurately address their unique issues? Get rid of the federal bureaucracy and give state and local governments control of their own schools. For example, if bilingual education is important to the residents of California or Texas, then they should pay for it. It’s simply unfair to make residents of other states, with little or no bilingual students, to stretch already tight economics for the revenue.
2. Compromise (sigh – if we must.) Let states opt out of federal funds and regulations in education. If the feds only concentrated on the schools that were facing severe problems (most likely those in poor, urban areas), they could better address their needs. Why force schools in other areas - that don’t have similar problems – to succumb to the same regulations? It would cost a lot less in tax dollars to only fund those that want it, as well as shrink the federal regulations and personnel required.
I experienced both sides of public schools. As a child, I attended good public schools in a middle-class town. As an adult, I taught in a failing public high school in the South Bronx. We had no money for text books, yet the Principal’s office had the only air conditioner in the entire building, and it ran constantly during the warm months. We – the teachers – were specifically told to only take attendance during 4th period, since that was the time slot that determined how much government funds were going to be allocated to the school, on a per student basis. Otherwise, we were softly instructed to let kids leave and only worry about those that stayed. When a school was listed as failing, it had to undergo restructuring. The Superintendant dismissed our principal and brought over a principal from another failing school in the city – basically reshuffling the same inadequate people. Granted, the feds aren’t to blame for all these bad policies and practices. However, they exemplify the dangers of big bureaucracy and an outrageous abuse of tax-payer dollars. Schools like the one I taught at simply get lost in the ballooning government system.
Regardless of the option, gluttonous bureaucracy is not the answer. Yet in his State of the Union address, Pres. Obama called upon tax payers to spend more on the failed practices and policies of the federal education program, with a feeble promise of change. Spending more on federal education is like giving an alcoholic another drink. Do you really expect them to clean up their act then? Some lawmakers are touting vouchers, but they are only a temporary fix. The real solution lies in the decentralization of schools. We are a diverse nation; to apply a “one size fits all” policy to educating our children is not only illogical, but also arrogant. How could our President assume that bureaucrats in Washington know better than we do what our children need?
Update: That Mr. Guy linked – thanks!