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July 2008

Using Federalism to Reform Education: Reagan Style

By John R. Hendrickson

“It’s time to face the truth. Advocates of more and more government interference in education have had ample time to make their case, and they’ve failed,” stated President Ronald Reagan in a radio address to the nation in the spring of 1983. Reagan’s point is still true today.

"Each year, the United States spends more than $550 billion on K-12 public schools — more than 4% of the nation’s gross domestic product,” noted Dan Lips, who is an education policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation. In addition, Lips reports that “a student attending a public school in 2008 can expect taxpayers to spend an average of $9,266 on his or her behalf — a real increase of 69 percent over the average per-pupil expenditure in 1980.” In other words public education is not starving for more taxpayer dollars.

On all levels from K-12 education to higher education students are not receiving the proper education that they deserve or need in order to function in today’s economy. Taxpayers are also being asked to provide more money for education when academic results are declining. For example, Lips reported that “on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, 33 percent of fourth-grade students scored ‘below basic’ in reading.”

The solution to the education problem should not include further increases in national or state funding or even the continuation of federal programs such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but rather is found in limiting federal involvement, strengthening and supporting parental and school choice programs, and allowing states and localities greater control. States should also ease restrictions on both charter schools and parents who choose to home-school their children.

Article 1, Section 8, of the United States Constitution lists the enumerated powers of Congress, and education is not listed as a power of the legislative branch. Although the Framers believed education to be highly crucial and important to a civil and moral society, they believed that issues such as education could best be handled at the state and local level or by private institutions such as church affiliated colleges and universities.

In the early 20th century, the progressive movement, led by individuals such as John Dewey, pushed to centralize, bureaucratize, and regulate the federal government, which included involvement in education. The Nation is still dealing with the “progressive education” theories of intellectuals such as Dewey, but the current record shows that perhaps, yet again, the Founders were correct.

In the 1980s President Reagan wanted to reverse the course of education by abolishing the Department of Education and limiting federal involvement, while returning education policy back to parents and state and local governments. Reagan wanted to use federalism to reform education. Reagan wanted to work toward the passage of “tuition tax credits, vouchers, educational savings accounts, and voluntary school prayer.”

President Reagan’s solution to reforming education is much different than the approach taken by President George W. Bush and NCLB, which has only required more red tape and more taxpayer dollars. Dan Lips has noted that the administration has “requested $24.5 billion for NCLB programs for fiscal year 2009 — an increase of 41 percent over 2001 levels.”

In order to reform education, we need to follow Reagan’s direction, which in reality is the correct constitutional direction to follow. Continuing the status quo of educational policy is not only unfair to children and taxpayers, but it is dangerous to our national identity and security. “If you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance,” stated Reagan.

John R. Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with the Public Interest Institute in Mt. Pleasant, IA. 

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Hard evidence that government 'solutions' don't work

The Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), more commonly known as Fannie Mae, is a government sponsored enterprise, a government pipedream corporation that makes loans and loan guarantees in the housing market.  Along with its brother Freddie Mac, these Congressionally backed and micro-managed home finance/mortgage institutions are financial losers and many elected officials in Washington are arrogantly calling for a taxpayer bailout.  They want you the taxpayer to bail out their failed government 'solution' to home mortages.

Amtrak - Ridership is at an all-time high due to the prices at the gas pump, and yet this heavily government subsidized and micro-managed passenger train outfit is STILL operating at a loss.  Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that in a meeting Monday with Amtrak Chief Executive Alex Kummant, he urged Amtrak to refurbish old rail cars in storage as soon as possible so they can be put back in service to relieve crowding. Amtrak ended FY 2007 with a net operating loss of $1.0 billion and Senator Durbin, a Democrat, wants to throw even MORE of your money at the government mangled operation. 

Editor's Notes:

Tell Senator Harkin you disapprove of throwing good money after bad.

Tell Senator Grassley he needs to investigate mismanagement

Tell Congressman Loebsack to quit voting partyline yes to spending bills without a clue as to what he's voting for.

These are Democrat concepts folks, do we really want them in power?

Supervisor Sullivan wants to look over your shoulder

Rod_sullivan_3Johnson County Supervisor and Chair Rod Sullivan made the following comment in one of his 'Sullivan's Salvos' emails:

"Far too many city leaders forget that County government serves the citizens of their cities. The County should be at the table when the cities are making plans."

Can you say, "Micro-manage?"  I think you can.  Here's a guy that has overseen a 13 percent increase in the county budget requiring a tax hike.  Here's a guy that a couple weeks ago approved putting a $20 million bond referendum on the November ballot to buy land in the county, despite post flood 2008 fiscal needs.  And he wants to look over the shoulder of city planners?  No thanks.  Far too many county leaders forget that taxpayer money isn't theirs to spend on every whim, as if it grows on trees.

The Importance of Elections and the Electoral College

As the November presidential election nears Americans will begin to increase attention on the candidates from the respective political parties. The hysteria and dire forecasts that will inevitably spew forth as we near Election Tuesday are predictable, as party machines and interest groups will do their best to convince us that doomsday looms unless their candidate is elected.

This does not mean to diminish the consequence of the upcoming presidential election. Elections matter, and most Americans hope to see their preferred candidate elected. But if this chaotic nomination season has taught us anything, it should be that the way we elect our candidates also matters.

Americans often take for granted the brilliance of their electoral process. We seem to assume that the peaceful relinquishing of political power is an entirely natural phenomenon. One need only recall the Revolt in the Vendée of the French Revolution, the Ryutin Affair in Stalin’s rise to power, or, for a more recent example, the Terceristas movement in Nicaragua , to realize that the bloody annals of history are besmirched by political wars as well as wars between nations.

The exceptional track record of the United States should not be taken for granted. Nor should we fail to understand why this has happened. It is through neither chance nor temperament that the United States has enjoyed—with only the occasional exception—its striking electoral success. The Constitution is what has made this success possible.

The Electoral College is derided as archaic and undemocratic in some circles today. Notwithstanding its success, many detractors would replace the Electoral College with a “more democratic” system. These democracy enthusiasts would replace the Electoral College with elections based solely on a popular vote.  But as columnist George F. Will has pointed out, the system created by the Framers does not simply seek majority rule “but rule by certain kinds of majorities.”

The Electoral College forces candidates to appeal to a multitude of constituencies. The system rejects candidates that can appeal to only particular factions or enclaves. The Electoral College buttresses the two-party system and nudges candidates to the political center. Essentially, it is a system designed to support those who can unite and lead.

It is worth recalling that our Founders, like the Greek philosopher Plato, abhorred simple majoritarianism. James Madison warned that pure democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention.” Benjamin Rush called “simple democracy” one of the “greatest of evils.”

The Electoral College is just one of the Constitution’s many checks and balances. It protects small, rural states from being swamped by highly populated urban areas and inhibits regionalism. With a direct popular vote, rather than the Electoral College, candidates could concentrate their campaigning in and tailor their message toward large urban areas, ignoring states like Iowa .

Legitimate elections are the bedrock of democracy. The U.S. Supreme Court recently reflected this sentiment when it upheld the constitutionality of an Indiana law that required citizens to present photo identification to vote. Critics of the law maintain that it presents voters with an undue burden and claim the absence of voter fraud prosecutions show that the law is merely a partisan plot to suppress voter turnout for the under-privileged.

The extent of voter fraud in the U.S. is debatable, although it should be noted that an absence of prosecutions does not indicate an absence of crime. Often poor record keeping and a lack of resources make it impossible for municipalities to make a case in court even though a crime has been committed. The Court was correct that requiring voters to present photo identification is a “minimal and justified” burden. Furthermore, in this age of cynicism the perception that elections are fair, honest, and legitimate is nearly as important as its actuality.

No matter who wins this November, the republic will persist, so long as the system does. 

Jonathan J. Miltimore is a Research Analyst with the Public Interest Institute in Mt. Pleasant, IA.   

Phone: 319-385-3462

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