Gack. Fresh on the heels of the Department of Education’s Paidpunditgate scandal, the Bush administration has now announced plans to EXPAND the reach of the No Child Left Behind Act from grade school to high school. The plan will involve $1.5 billion in new federal education spending, including:
- $200 million for the “Striving Readers” literacy program. Bush asked Congress for $100 million for this fiscal year and received $25 million for the initiative, which provides grants to schools to give extra help to middle and high school students who have fallen behind in reading.
- $12 million to expand the state scholars program nationally to better prepare more students for college or the workplace.
- $500 million for states and school districts to reward teachers whose students show improved achievement.
This is another massive usurpation of local control of public schools, draped in the faux fabric of federal accountability. Here’s an e-mail I received from a teacher that shows how the act provides irresistible, tax-subsidized incentives for educrats to abandon proven teaching methods for pedagogical fads:
I’m a public school teacher in an “urban” school district in suburban Detroit. Here is the short version of my NCLB nightmare.
After battling administrators, I was finally able to bring trainers into the district to teach a phonetic language arts method.
A few of us took the training, we used it in the classroom. Results were great. The superintendent and our district reading coordinator (whom I had to battle to get the training) loved what was happening.
NCLB comes along. Our reading coordinator smells the money, and applies for a Reading First grant. She’s approved and we’re stuck using a government-approved, whole-language reading series.
Since it only covers grades K-3, I moved to 4th, where I’ve been teaching my students to read, write, and spell the right way. My big decision now is: do we read Hamlet, Macbeth, or Julius Ceasar in the spring? Otherwise, I will be watching the parade of illiterates pass through our district.
Will Congressional Republicans stand up for limited government and local control? Or will they cave in once again to the Bush-Kennedy agenda? As David Salisbury of the Cato Institute put it a few years ago:
There is really no difference any more between what the Democrats and Republicans believe about what the federal role should be in education. The only thing they disagree on is how much money it should spend.
Update: George Will adds…
In 1996 Republican appropriators gave the department a 15.7 percent increase in discretionary spending. And No Child Left Behind increased federal education spending more than any increase requested by President Bill Clinton, who was the teachers unions’ poodle. Some of that money went to Williams.
When conservatives break with their principles, they seem to become casual about breaking the law, too. Last year the then-General Accounting Office accused the Department of Health and Human Services of illegal spending when it distributed fake “news” videos that were used by 40 local stations around the country. In them the many benefits of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement were “reported” by a fake reporter whose actual status — an employee of an HHS subcontractor — was not revealed. The English version of these “video news releases” concluded, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.”
This scofflaw enterprise was an appropriate coda to the lawless making of this law. Republican leaders traduced House procedures by holding open the vote for three hours, giving them time to pressure sensibly reluctant legislators. And the Justice Department says the Bush administration broke no law when the Medicare program’s chief actuary was told he would be fired if he gave Congress his estimate that the program’s 10-year cost would be about a third more than the $400 billion the administration claimed.
The GAO has frequently had occasion to insist that taxpayers’ money cannot be used when the “obvious purpose is ‘self-aggrandizement’ or ‘puffery.’ ” Last week it had another occasion, chastising the Office of National Drug Control Policy for also disseminating fake news videos.
It is difficult to calculate how many billions of dollars the government spends on indefensible, if not illegal, self-promotion. Democrats, too, have violated the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of various laws that contain language such as “no part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by the Congress” and appropriated funds may not be used “in a general propaganda effort designed to aid a political party or candidates.” But conservatives should be less aggressive than Democrats in using taxpayers’ money to try to mold taxpayers’ minds.
It is impossible to draw, with statutory language, a bright line between legitimate informing and illegitimate propagandizing by government. What is indispensable is common sense, and that is atrophying as this lawyer-ridden nation sinks deeper into the delusion that sensible behavior can be comprehensively codified.
Obviously government leaders must try to lead by persuading the public. But government by the consent of the governed should not mean government by consent produced by government propaganda. Unfortunately, as government’s pretensions grow, so does its sense that its glorious ends justify even the tackiest means…
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