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Issue: "Earthquake in Bam," Jan. 10, 2004

GOP Santas

Federal education spending is up-way up-and Republicans are crowing. In 2004, overall funding for the U.S. Department of Education is expected to increase by $2.9 billion.

The agency's total discretionary funding will be $56 billion, up $13.8 billion during the Bush administration. At Christmas 2003, it appeared some Republicans were content to play Santa.

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House education committee Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) touted the education increases: "When President Bush signed the historic bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act into law nearly two years ago, we made a promise ... to significantly increase spending on education ... in exchange for accountability and results for the first time ever." Mr. Boehner's statement articulates the logic of some education reformers that change can only be bought at a price.

But for Republicans who supported an education agenda that would shift focus from inputs to results-as the early rhetoric surrounding No Child Left Behind suggested-championing spending increases is counterintuitive, and counterproductive. Thirty-eight House Republicans voted against the omnibus appropriations bill last month. The Heritage Foundation recently tabulated that federal spending has reached $20,000 per household, the highest level since World War II.

Rocky road

Colorado is the latest site of the school-choice two-step: one step forward, a half-step back. Wherever vouchers have advanced- Milwaukee, Cleveland, Florida-they have faced temporary setbacks, and Colorado's Opportunity Contracts are no exception. Signed into law last April by Gov. Bill Owens, the voucher program was ruled unconstitutional last month by Denver District Judge Joseph Meyer. Judge Meyer ruled that the statewide plan violates a local-control provision contained in Colorado's constitution; only five other state constitutions contain such a provision.

Defenders of parental choice programs know the dance well. "This is a temporary setback," said Chip Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice (IJ) in Washington. Colorado's program allows students in chronically low-performing public schools to choose an alternate public or participating private school. IJ will seek a judge's order to allow students to attend the school of their choice while the program is litigated.

Meanwhile, IJ is working with Colorado's attorney general to appeal the case immediately to the state supreme court. Mr. Mellor and team represent 12 Colorado families against a coalition of opponents mustered by the Colorado PTA. IJ has argued successfully on behalf of voucher and education-tax-credit programs nationwide, including the Cleveland program upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Report card

U.S. Department of Education officials announced this month that the agency has received a clean financial audit for the second consecutive year. The Department has a checkered financial past; on only two previous occasions in its 23-year history has it earned back-to-back clean audits. In the final three years of the Clinton administration, an estimated $450 million was lost to waste, fraud, and mismanagement.

The legislative finale for D.C. vouchers likely will come later this month. The U.S. Senate recessed last month after delaying its vote on the omnibus appropriations bill containing the choice measure. The massive spending package, passed by the House on Dec. 9, combines seven appropriations bills totaling $329 billion in discretionary spending. Proponents of the voucher have sought to avoid a filibuster against the D.C. appropriations bill containing the measure by including it in the perceived "must-pass" omnibus bill.

Faith reasons well when it comes to Ave Maria Law School graduates and the Michigan bar exam. The first graduating class from the Roman Catholic institution, launched in 2000 with a curriculum characterized by "the pursuit of truth," had a higher pass rate on the July 2003 Michigan bar than any other law schools in the state. Ave Maria grads' 93 percent pass rate far exceeded the 68 percent rate average among all test takers.

Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer Marshall

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