Cutting the Federal Budget to Prevent U.S. Bankruptcy: Part IV– Abolish the Department of Education

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by Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman) by Jim Grichar

(Author's note: I ask readers for their indulgence because of my extensive use of the b-lingo – bureaucrat-lingo – and the detail I used in presenting my arguments. I do this to reduce bureaucratic counter-arguments – which I expect to receive – to the absurdity that they invariably are.)

For those who did not read Parts I–III of this series, total actual cuts in proposed spending (what I call the "Cut-o-meter') now amount to $196 billion. Those cuts came from Defense, HUD, NASA, and other agencies.

The U.S. Department of Education, created as a political payoff to the National Education Association by former President Jimmy Carter, is a sewer for taxpayers' money and ought to be abolished outright. Since then, although a few politicians – notably former President Ronald Reagan – have paid sporadic lip service to abolishing this useless organization, most have pushed for additions to its budget in order to curry favor with NEA members at election time.

With a budget that was at $35.7 billion in fiscal year 2001, the Bush Administration, in league with Sen. Ted Kennedy, has managed to push up that total to a whopping $64.3 billion proposed for fiscal year (fy) 2005, an increase of over 80% in just four years! Actual spending for the current fy 2004 will total $62.8 billion.

Instead, the whole department should be abolished, saving taxpayers $62.8 billion in the next fiscal year and even higher amounts in out-years.

The "Public Edu-Scam"

Apparently most Americans are either too stupid and/or too emotional to see through the "Public Edu-Scam" being perpetrated on them by the NEA and its lickspittles.

In private industry, a worker earns higher pay by being more productive, that is, by turning out more product or output for his or her employer with the same level of effort. And that output is generally of the same or higher quality that is consistent with consumer demands, and consumers freely purchase the product or service.

Public education is totally different. First of all, citizens are forced to pay for it via taxes, based upon the dubious notion that what economists call "positive externalities" or "positive social benefits" accrue to society, and not just the individual, from a person receiving an education. What this phony positive externality argument suggests is that left to the private sector, individuals would not invest enough in their own or their children's education and that there is a rationale for government intervention in the market for education. What the public education lobby claims is that all of us benefit from being taxed to educate even dumb, intellectually lazy or incorrigible students, and that some vague benefits accrue to the rest of society from pouring ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer funds down this rathole; that is, into a bad investment.

That these so-called benefits are never quantified in a rigorous manner should make one suspect whether any such claimed benefits even exist. And that is the only rationale for the forced taxpayer provision of education. There are certainly no other rational economic arguments for the forced provision of public education. It makes one wonder how the U.S. and other developed nations made such tremendous economic and social progress prior to the creation of massive public school bureaucracies.

Add to that the nonsense about classroom size and the rest of the education babble that is used to snow taxpayers into ponying up more good money on top of bad money. It seems that public education is one of the main areas where a worker gets a raise for turning out fewer products (a lower level of students per teacher via smaller classroom sizes) and of a lower quality (look at the drop in SAT scores prior to the recent rigging of the SAT numbers to make recent test takers look more intelligent).

And look at pay levels for those teaching in private K-12 schools versus those in the public school establishment. Private teachers on average earn less money than public school teachers, but it is common knowledge that children in private schools get a better education, on average, than those in public schools. Thus, it is readily apparent that public school teacher pay levels have little, if anything, to do with the quality of a child's education, contrary to what the NEA and edu-crats at all levels of government claim.

The Results

Despite having spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the last 25+ years, U.S. Department of Education programs can at best be said to have improved the results of all education in the United States only marginally, and these numbers include students educated in private schools. In addition, one would have to include all public and private school expenditures – which registered into the trillions over the last 25+ years, to give a better idea of what spending on education achieved.

Take a look at the long-term trend results from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), an ongoing Education Department program that supposedly measures educational achievement by fourth and eight graders and also measures results for students aged 9, 13, and 17, over a long period of time. The results of the long-term trend tests are not comparable with other NAEP annual tests, which have varied in content over the years so that no inter-year comparisons can be easily made.

Results for the long-term trend tests are interesting. For 17 year olds, in mathematics, the average score from 1978 through 1999 improved only 0.1% per year. The median score improved by the same percentage. And the mathematics test allows students to use calculators for some questions, an implicit acknowledgment of the decline in mathematical abilities of students. In reading, the average score from 1978 through 1999 for 17 year olds improved a minuscule 0.04% per year, with the median rising even less per year. And in science, the average score for 17 years olds rose 0.09% per year from 1978 through 1999.

Regarding international comparisons, results are available only for mathematics and science for 8th graders and for reading for 4th graders, and these results cannot be compared to the long-term trend results for U.S. students. For mathematics, the latest results are for 1999, with students from Singapore getting a standardized score of 604 compared to 502 for U.S. students who took the test. In Science, Taiwanese students gained the top spot, with a score of 569, compared to the U.S. score of 515. In reading, results are only available for 4th graders for 2001, with the U.S. doing a lot better in a relative sense, with a score of 542 compared to 561 for students from Sweden. It would have been interesting to see what kind of results would have been obtained had 17 year olds in all the countries been given the tests.

Rationale for giving the NAEP tests is that traditional testing and grading of students does not measure their academic progress and that more frequent testing is needed to highlight the need for further programs (you get to pay more, via higher taxes) to bring students up to expected levels of achievement. In other words, teachers in public schools give passing grades to those who really did not learn the subject matter. Otherwise, actual testing and grading would reflect student achievement.

Note further that the NEA and public edu-crats want to avoid using the results of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to show whether or not student performance has improved. They complain that the SAT only measures the aptitude of those wanting to go to college. And several years ago public edu-crats managed to convince the firm that develops and administers the test to change it so as to make it easier for students to get higher scores, a way of trying to change the yardstick that in the past has shown what a poor job public schools have done in educating children despite the huge sums being spent at both the federal and state and local levels of government.

How the Education Department Wastes Money

The proposed federal Education Department budget for fy 2005 is $64.3 billion, with more hair-brained programs than you can shake a stick at. A lot of them are grants to states and local school boards which lead to the hiring of more school administrators, the real growth industry in public education and the area where an edu-crat can earn higher pay than by just being a teacher. Here are some of the larger programs in the budget: 1) $14.3 billion for education for the disadvantaged, which encompasses grants to schools to help raise the achievement levels in high-poverty area schools to meet challenging state academic standards (as if the state standards were challenging!); 2) $6.6 billion for school improvement programs, including improvement of teacher quality, early childhood education, improving math and science education, for state-wide education assessments, and more money for educating students in poor areas; 3) $10.8 billion for grants to schools for special education programs, which encompass a wide variety of funding for different classes for special needs students (that is, hiring more teachers); 4) $3.0 billion for rehabilitation services and disability research, to help the disabled live independent lives; 5) $2.0 billion for grants for vocational and adult education, primarily in the areas of eliminating adult illiteracy (for those whom the public schools failed to train properly in the first place!) and for helping students acquire skills for getting jobs and getting through college; 6) $2.1 billion for higher education, including the improvement of academic programs by strengthening institutions (more administrators, at pumped-up salaries), helping those from disadvantaged backgrounds get into and through college, support for tribally (i.e., American Indians) controlled vocational and technical schools; and, 7) $15 billion for Pell grants, that is, direct scholarships to college students; 8) $6.3 billion for the net interest subsidy on college student loans.

Federal subsidies to college students – whether via student loans or Pell grants – do not necessarily bring brighter students into colleges. It mainly serves to pump up the demand for college education, an indirect subsidy to professors' salaries. Let those students who want a college education, but cannot initially afford it, work and save for it. Such people invariably turn out to be much better students as they are motivated to work hard in the academic environment to get a college degree.

Given the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the Department of Education over the last 25+ years and the dismal results, abolishing it would not harm the quality of education, public or private, in the United States.

And the Cut-o-meter Total is …. $259 billion!

By abolishing the Education Department, estimated annual savings to the taxpayer would amount to nearly $63 billion over current levels and would raise the Cut-o-meter to $259 billion. annually over current spending levels.

Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman) [send him mail], formerly an economist with the federal government, writes to “un-spin” the federal government’s attempt to con the public. He teaches economics part-time at a community college and provides economic consulting services to the private sector.

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