- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

Many of you might remember, and some probably don’t even it know it. But years ago, before cars became equipped with computers, drivers often had to pump the accelerator a couple of times to get a sufficient amount of gas into the carburetor to get the engine going. Pump too much, though, and it flooded — leaving you exactly where you started, at a standstill. It appears we are flooding theschool-reform engine.

Prior to the president’s signing of the No Child Left BehindAct (NCLB)two yearsago, everyone and every lobby was aflutterwith schooltalk. Funding, yes; vouchers, no. Funding, yes; accountability, no. That was two years ago. Today, as we slide past the second anniversary of NCLB, the chants have turned to mo’ money.

Listen to John Kerry — silver-spooned Teddy Kennedy’s mini-me, who promised the lobbies, “As president, I will fund [you fill in the blank].” He already has promised the American Federation of Teachers. His are promises he will be unable to keep.

What gets me, though, is that some conservatives and some officials within the Bush administration are considering policy changes on the political whim that Mr. Kerry and the other mo’ money theorists are right.

Educational funding is not an issue. Spending, however, is. Indeed, as the title of a congressional report queries: Are we pumping gas into a flooded engine?

To hear tell, localities and states are having a terrible time trying to implement NCLB without “full” federal funding. The claim warrants legitimacy — but only to a certain point. The No Child Left Behind Act, I think, was a direct result of snatch-and-go liberals and lobbies. The Bush administration said, “Well, let’s do this. Here’s the pot of money and here are the strings.” The liberals and lobbies grabbed the money and ran, but they forgot about the strings.

Some school districts have made good use of their federal dollars, but there are many more that have yet to figure out how to spend the money — hence Rep. John Boehner’s report, “No Child Left Behind Funding: Pumping Gas into a Flooded Engine?

The mythical answers to that question are legion, but the facts speak volumes.

Myth #1: Democratic presidential candidates, governors and so-called education advocates complain that the Bush administration failed to adequately fund NCLB. Mr. Kerry, for example, said, “The Bush administration has turned its back on its responsibilities to meet the costs of education reform.”

Fact: States are sitting on $1.9 billion in unspent federal school funds. Mr. Kerry’s own home state of Massachusetts, which has seen 47 percent increases in Title I money for disadvantaged students since 2000, has $15.8 million. North Carolina has $29 million.NewMexico,whose governor, Bill Richardson, is viewed as a possible Democratic vice presidential nominee, saw a 58 percent increase, yet more than $13 million went unspent.

Myth #2: The Clinton years were more generous to needy students than the Bush administration.

Fact: “The total Title 1 increase from FY 1993 to FY 2001 under President Clinton was $2.7 billion. The total Title I increase from FY 2001 to FY 2003, the first two years under President George W. Bush, was $2.9 billion.”

Clearly, we are pumping more and more gas into the engine. The numbers do not lie. The problem is that federal, state and local red tape is tying up the money and, therefore, hamstringing student achievement.

The support for NCLB and school reform are mandates from American taxpayers, who are not getting — have not been getting — their money’s worth. A January poll by the Winston Group for Americans for Better Education, for instance, shows that 54 percent of respondents support NCLB and that 60 percent support raising standards and accountability as the top priority for improving schools. Only 30 percent said increasing funding should be the priority.

So, taxpayers support the fact that the goalposts have moved. A key problem to meeting that challenge, I think, is that parents, teachers and principals have turned control of their schools over to state and federal bureaucrats. And they didn’t do it deliberately. It was a slow-moving process that began when Democrat Jimmy Carter took the “E” out of HEW (the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare) in 1980. Ever since, the liberals and the lobbies have led the way, with the Republicans pumping the accelerator. The results? Substantial declines in student performance.

Yet, no one asks do we need the U.S. Department of Education?

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