Saturday, October 20, 2012

Energion Political Rondtable: Education

Our next question has to do with education and as is pointed out in the question this is an issue that gets virtually no play at in the Presidential debates and endless advertisements. The question is a big one: How can we go about improving the quality of education in this country?

As I said, "education", defined as spending money at the Federal level on various programs that have nothing to do with actual education, has gotten almost no attention in this election cycle. Little surprise there as both major candidates seem fine with a system that takes money out of local school districts, filters it through the Federal bureaucracy and then passes it back out (after taking a deep cut) to those same school districts and expecting the people that had this money seized from them to be duly appreciative at getting their own money back with Federal strings attached.With jobs and the economy dominating the discussion, "education" is a non-issue but this is short sighted, as is the mindset that see more Federal intervention and spending as synonymous with improving education.

I fall into the camp that believes that there is no Constitutional role for the Federal government in compulsory public education. If there ever was an issue that falls under the 10th amendment, it is education. I can hardly think of a worse system than to have bureaucrats in Washington D.C. sucking funding out of states that they have never been to and then telling the parents of those states that they know best how to educate their children.

The face of the Federal "education" racket is the U.S. Department of Indoctrination Education (hereafter DoED). Small by Federal government standards, it is one of the most untouchable of departments. Raised to a Cabinet level position by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the Department of Education is the capstone to a disastrous Presidency. In a Presidency marked by an energy crisis, an economy in disarray, the shameful Iran hostage crisis and botched rescue attempt and an ignominious defeat to Reagan, you would be hard pressed to find a malignancy that lingers from that era quite like the DoED.

The reach of the DoEd is massive, outsized for the size of the department and ridiculous in scope. As the Cato Institute notes:

The department will spend about $98 billion in 2012, or $830 for every U.S. household. It employs 4,300 workers and operates 153 different subsidy programs.

That quite a lot when you consider that most of that money is as noted above going back to the same communities it was taken from and all of that spending has minimal impact when it comes to improving performance. It is the perfect bureaucratic monster, a bureaucracy that demands more and more money for education while not actually doing a thing to help educate Americans. As the chart to the left shows, also from CATO, Federal spending in constant dollars has gone up steadily for decades for K-12: "from $12.5 billion in 1965 to $72.8 billion in 2008". I am not great at math (I went to a public school after all) but that sounds to me like over five times as much spending. Would anyone care to argue that the quality of education has gone up? Now imagine a business that spent more and more money each year for stagnant results. A business like that would die away. The DoED demands more money every year and typically gets it. No politician wants to be labelled as not caring about education so both parties keep writing checks.

In the Presidential race, there are pretty dramatic differences regarding the DoED, especially when you look at the libertarian candidates. Ron Paul spent zero time beating around the bush and is an advocate for complete elimination of the DoED. Gary Johnson also calls for the elimination of the DoED. Mitt Romney doesn't even mention it but he does talk about more choice and more local control. Barack Obama? Like everything else, he calls for doubling down on yet another failed, inefficient and unconstitutional Federal government program.

The politics of education is a different beast the more locally you look at it. At the state level here in Indiana we have a pretty drastic difference between the two major candidates. Republican Mike Pence speaks a lot about education, emphasizing flexibility and choice, two important issues in my state which has some of the most homeschool friendly laws in the country and also one of the best voucher systems around. Pence believes in rewarding high performing schools. On other hand the Democratic candidate (and I had to search for his name because I have honestly never seen a single sign or bumper sticker for him and can never remember his name) John Gregg barely mentions education on his webpage, throwing out some random ideas about spending more on early childhood education, full day kindergarten and a tax credit for working families to help pay for daycare (not sure what in the world that has to do with education but whatever). In a fun pop culture twist, Rupert Boneham of Survivor fame is running for governor as a Libertarian. His platform is pretty similar on education to Mike Pence.

As a general rule education should be as local an issue as possible. School choice, vouchers, alternative schooling and competition are the ways we need to be moving even if those common sense solutions are opposed by the biggest road block to educational reform in existence, the teachers unions. The best thing the Federal government can do for education is to get out of that business entirely.
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