Mismanaging minds

National | On education, Congress should put up a fight

Issue: "Steve Largent," Feb. 13, 1998

President Clinton's proposed "balanced budget" is like the forecast you get from a palm reader. It's full of predictions based on hopes that will not necessarily come true, but which make you feel better while you're being suckered into paying the price.

In his effort to expand the cost and reach of government, the president wants to spend an additional $689 million, a 60 percent increase, just on the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Total proposed education spending is $37.7 billion. Now Congress has a unique opportunity to slap the federal hand and get it to abdicate its dictatorial role in managing our children's minds while incarcerating them in a failed government education system.

Congress should make school choice a top priority. Public support for it is huge, especially among minorities. In Washington, D.C., when the privately funded Washington Scholarship Fund announced the availability of 1,000 new scholarships to low-income families, it received 7,573 applications. This would seem to rebut claims by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who said: "I think I can say with confidence that the people I represent would deeply resent the imposition of vouchers." Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) would have a hard time proving his contention that "D.C. parents and ministers and local leaders have made it clear that they do not want vouchers."

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In fact, one out of six eligible children applied for scholarships and a chance to escape the abysmal D.C. public school system. Bill Clinton and Al Gore believe your kids should remain in these intellectual and moral firetraps, but when given an opportunity to put their children where their ideology is, the president and vice president opted to send them to elite private schools.

The public's support for school choice is greater now than ever. Thirty-two states considered a school-choice program of some kind last year, and at least 45 governors have stated their support for different degrees of school choice or charter schools, according to a survey by the Heritage Foundation. Much of the school-choice momentum is driven by the continued failure of the public schools to produce educated children, despite increased funding. The Jan. 8 issue of Education Week reported that only 40 percent of the fourth and eighth graders in urban schools scored on a basic level in reading, math and science tests given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Washington Post, a big editorial booster of public schools, reported last month that some of the factors contributing to this disturbing record include "unstable leadership, huge bureaucracies, and special interest groups." School choice can fix all of these.

An annual poll conducted last summer by the professional education association Phi Delta Kappa shows support for choice is about 49 percent in the general population and 62 percent among blacks. Hispanic groups, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens in Texas, have joined the growing bipartisan movement in support of school choice.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey promises that Congress will not ignore parental pleas for help. Mr. Armey's language in support of school choice in Washington schools was removed from the appropriations bill last fall after President Clinton threatened to veto the entire measure if the provision remained. The Senate then passed a stand-alone school-choice measure, and the House is scheduled to vote on the Senate bill in the spring.

President Clinton will surely veto it because he's beholden to the government school lobby. Congress should override the veto because freeing parents from a bad system will have the effect of improving those schools that want to improve and forcing the rest to close. Either way, the children benefit, and so do the taxpayers, who deserve more than they are now getting for their education dollars.

© 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.


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