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.
Web site: www.limitedgovernment.org.