In his race for the United States Senate in Mississippi, conservative Republican Chris McDaniel has taken heat from his establishment opponents for some of his policy stances, most notably, and most recently, his vow to close the US Department of Education.
To listen to most liberals, or establishment Republicans who are losing campaigns to conservatives, to seek closure of that inefficient and worthless department is akin to hating public schools. Currently Mississippi receives about $800 million a year from Washington in education funds, without which, they say, our schools would suffer irreparable harm.
Former Governor Haley Barbour attacked McDaniel on that very issue in a fashion not unlike recent Democratic campaigns where liberals used scare tactics to frighten voters into supporting their failed programs. Said Barbour of McDaniel: “He’s talking about wiping out special education, for autism, physically disabled, mentally disabled, kids who are just slow. That will all be gone if McDaniel gets his way.” Bill Clinton or Barack Obama could not have said it better.
But as with most leftwing lies, nothing could be further from the truth.
Senator McDaniel comes from a family of public school teachers. His father was a beloved professor at Jones County Junior College, and his wife and mother-in-law were both public school teachers as well. His oldest son attends a public school in Ellisville. And he has spent literally thousands of dollars of his own money on teaching supplies for classrooms. So the very notion that he is against the public school system is more than absurd. It’s an outright lie.
Upholding the Constitution
James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, warned us that if Congress had unlimited powers, if they could legislate under the General Welfare Clause, he feared they would one day “appoint teachers in every State, county, and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union.” Is this the path we are now on? Sadly, yes it is.
Rather than actually sticking a gun to our heads, Washington uses a different tactic: get the states dependent on federal dollars, then dictate to them at will. This is one of the main points that separates true conservatives from Establishment Republicans, an understanding of the true nature of the federal government and having the willingness to scale back federal power.
Education is just one example out of hundreds whereby Washington keeps the states in permanent dependence, with the threat of lost funds if they do not comply with federal mandates. Many states jumped on the “Race to the Top” and Common Core bandwagon early on in order to get the federal funds they had made themselves dependent on, before soon realizing what nightmare they unleashed in their school systems.
This federal tactic is designed to destroy the federalists system designed by the Founders, which provides a separation of powers between Washington and the states. If not stopped, the Washington bureaucratic machine, just as Madison warned, will be dictating what local public schools can and cannot teach, and what students can and cannot do. That is the fear expressed by many states with the new Common Core standards.
Senator McDaniel, like Madison, holds a strict view of the Constitution, meaning he actually believes in doing what it says rather than what it does not. “The word ‘education’ is not in the Constitution,” he said in a speech in Jackson on his education policy. “Because the word is not in the Constitution, it’s none of their business. The Department of Education is not constitutional,” a remark that drew applause.
In a phone interview with the AP later that same day, Senator McDaniel said he supports education, just not federal involvement in it. “Invariably, somebody will try to twist this as me being anti-education,” he said, which is exactly what Barbour and the Cochran team are attempting to do.
Senator McDaniel simply believes the ineffective federal Department of Education should be closed and the issue of public education should be left to state and local governments, including funding, where it rightfully belongs. “I think Mississippi, if it’s allowed to keep more of its tax revenue, could offset those losses,” McDaniel said, speaking of the $800 million in federal funds. This is particularly true when you consider that the US Department of Education’s budget is about $110 billion per year, money that could easily be given back to the state and local governments.
For those who think the Department of Education is a great idea, consider this: the Department of Education does not educate a single child in America. It administers and issues rules and regulations, in exchange for money, but it does not actually teach children. However, the Departments of Defense and the Interior do run school systems. Defense is responsible for schools on military bases, while the Interior runs schools on Indian reservations. And people actually believe government works!
In supporting the goal of dismantling the federal department, Senator McDaniel is in good conservative company. Closing the Department of Education was in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 platform, a proposal he specifically called for in his 1982 State of the Union address. It remained a policy of the Republican Party until 2000 when establishment forces could finally assert themselves over the old Reaganites.
Killing a Bureaucratic Monster
Keeping more tax revenue in Mississippi, rather than send it to Washington to be sent back with strings, is not the only way to save money. The state and local governments would benefit greatly in reduced “cost of compliance” expenditures. As it stands now, the states are burdened with nightmarish regulations from the federal government, rules that take a lot of much-needed state funds to implement.
According to Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, many states are reporting that as much as “40 percent of the paperwork burden they deal with is to comply with federal regulations. This is one of the reasons Texas didn’t apply for a federal Race to the Top grant. The governor and education commissioner said it would have only funded their schools for three days, but brought with it significant new compliance regulations.”
In Louisiana, state superintendent John White has said publicly that federal funds account for just 10 percent of the state’s education budget but more than half of Louisiana Department of Education staff spent all their time complying with federal mandates.
This is insanity, as Philip K. Howard, author of The Death of Common Sense, wrote in 2012 in The Atlantic: “America’s schools are being crushed under decades of legislative and union mandates. They can never succeed until we cast off the bureaucracy and unleash individual inspiration and willpower.” To be successful, he writes, “we must bulldoze school bureaucracy. It is a giant diversion, focused on compliance to please some administrator far away. Every minute spent filling out a form or worrying about compliance interferes with the human interaction that is the essence of effective teaching.”
When did all this bureaucracy begin? After trying for decades, the federal government first got involved in public education 50 years ago with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, an initiative called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. And the growth has really never stopped. Washington continued to pile it on. The 1965 act was 31 pages long and cost $1 billion; by 2002, when it was re-authorized for a seventh time, and renamed No Child Left Behind, it alone costs American taxpayers $25 billion annually.
In the last 35 years, there have been three major federal initiatives in public education, and Senator Thad Cochran has supported all three:
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter finally acceded to the demands of the teachers’ unions, after a promise he made in his 1976 Iowa campaign, and approved the creation of the US Department of Education, breaking it off from the Department of Heath, Education, and Welfare. Thad Cochran voted for the new Cabinet department.
As American education scores continued to slip, and public schools continued to deteriorate, President George W. Bush, as one of his main campaign promises, vowed to impose new standards in his “No Child Left Behind” law, largely authored by Senator Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate. Thad Cochran voted for it, even though conservatives in Congress, and in the states, rebelled against it.
And though neither of these fixes worked to improve schools and test scores, Senator Cochran has thrown his full, unequivocal support behind the new Common Core initiatives, created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and pushed relentlessly by the Obama administration. We have covered this in detail, as did Breitbart News recently.
And how much has all this cost us? Too much. For simple-minded liberals and Establishment Republicans, to be successful we must spend more money and create a larger bureaucracy administered from Washington, even though our education spending is already enormous.
In the last 40 years we have seen a 375 percent increase in federal education spending. Since the creation of the Department of Education in 1980, Washington has spent, in real dollars, around $1 trillion funding it. Since 1965, the total is $2 trillion. Annually, American taxpayers spend $13,000 per student, roughly a quarter of a million dollars per classroom, more than any other nation on the planet by far.
So, if we spend all this money, why are our schools still failing? Because, as Investors’ Business Daily has editorialized, all this federal money “feeds a bureaucratic monster sheltered from competition.” And with a monopoly on education, there is no incentive or reason to improve public education.
An Embarrassing Performance
And what has all this spending and bureaucracy wrought? Dismal test scores. Here are a few numbers:
In international competition, American kids are slipping further and further down the scale. In 2003, roughly a decade ago, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), tested American 15-year-old kids and ranked them 25th out of 40 countries, well below international standards.
In December 2013, PISA released its latest study and found that American teens have slipped to 31st in math (even Vietnam outranked us), 24th in science, and 21st in reading (where Vietnam beat us once again).
But it has not always been this way. The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) tested a cross section of adults aged 16 to 65, and found that the oldest group, those 56-65, scored the highest, ranking second in the world. “For those attending school in the 1950s,” the Hoover Institute noted, “SAT scores reached an all-time high.” So before Washington got involved, things were much better.
Despite all our spending and all our administering, this is what we have to show for it all. The facts are clear: the more we spend and legislate from Washington, the more we fall behind the rest of the world.
A Way Forward
Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Does this not accurately describe our federal experiment in public education? Senator McDaniel understands this perfectly. He knows that the top-down approach has failed and failed miserably.
Why should we continue a failed system? He believes that Mississippians are more than capable of handling public education without federal interference. He also understands that if we do take federal money, it will come with federal strings attached. It was that way with No Child Left Behind and it is with today’s Common Core. And federal strings mean more problems.
To see improvement, we must first reject Common Core. Senator McDaniel has worked tirelessly, along with other conservative members of the state senate, to end Mississippi’s involvement, only to come up a bit short during the 2014 session. Yet in state after state we are beginning to see a full-scale rebellion against this latest federal intrusion.
By ending Washington’s role in education, and the burdens that come with it, the states can begin slashing budgets, which have grown as a result of the federal bureaucracy. More federal regulations led to a greater number of state administrators and non-teaching staff, which has grown seven times faster than student enrollment in the last 45 years. Cutting out these costs will greatly help recoup much of the lost revenue.
Senator McDaniel has been involved in education issues throughout his time in Jackson. He has authored a couple of state laws that have greatly benefited Mississippi schools and students. He is the author of the Student Religious Liberties Act to help protect students’ right to pray in schools. Students may pray, read the Bible, or write papers of Christian topics, like the life of Jesus, without threat.
He also authored and passed legislation to help children of those serving in the military so their school credits transfer from one state to the next as their parents serve our nation.
But ultimately the education of our children begins and ends at home. Senator McDaniel understands this all too well. He supports charter schools and home-schooling initiatives. Parents should have the right to educate their kids in the way they see fit with no interference from government in Washington, Jackson, or Jones County.
So, the bottom line is this: Senator McDaniel wants public schools to improve and succeed; Cochran and his cronies, like Haley Barbour, want to continue the same failed path we have been on for half a century. Yet without getting rid of the Washington bureaucratic machine, as history has shown us, our schools will continue to fail and our nation will continue to decline.