The world has come a long way since Woodrow Wilson offered a 14-point plan for world peace. (It was not entirely successful.) Today the junior senator from Illinois has a 35-point plan to "revolutionize" education. Clearly, point inflation has gotten out of hand.
Barack Obama’s $18 billion education plan, recently unveiled in Manchester, NH includes a "Zero to Five" early education program and a quadrupling of the Early Head Start program. Early Head Start is a lot like Head Start, only it starts earlier, giving little toddlers a greater appreciation of redundancy in federal programs.
Obama’s plan would also provide funding for expanding the school day or the school year. It includes a base salary for "well prepared and successful teachers" with increased pay for those who demonstrate additional skills and higher levels of performance. But Obama, compassionate soul that he is, would not impose pay raises on teachers without their consent.
"He said the higher pay would have to be designed with the agreement of teacher unions," said one news account. Well, of course. Congress designs its own pay raises with the agreement of the Congress, so why shouldn’t teachers have the same opportunity? Surely, teachers’ unions can’t be left out of the planning of an education program for the entire nation. Parents and taxpayers, sure, but not the teachers’ unions.
When education programs are funded from the federal treasury, taxing and spending decisions are taken away from citizens and their local school boards and settled in Washington, D.C. And our "leaders" in Washington remain convinced that money grows on trees, even if those trees are now in China. While it may be true that for some of these programs, state or local officials may have the option of refusing the largesse, who wants to turn down "free" money, once it has already been taken from the taxpayers (or borrowed from China and other creditors) by a higher authority?
"As president, I will put the full resources of the federal government behind this plan," he said. Never mind the hyperbole employed in committing "the full resources of the federal government" to but one of that government’s myriad functions. But note the hubris implicit in the notion that those resources are at the disposal of the president, to implement whatever plan or plans he may have in mind. Surely, Sen. Obama expects his education plan to be designed with the approval of the Congress, which he may consider almost as important as the teachers’ unions.
Obama, sad to say, is not alone in wanting to expand the reach of the federal government in education. Gov. Richardson has an education plan. Rep. Kucinich has an education plan. Sen. Clinton wants to "provide universal basic education for all children throughout the world." This is "mission creep" on steroids. The United States, already the world’s policemen, must be its school district as well.
And the Republicans, after 20 years of promising to abolish the federal Department of Education, dropped that plank from the party’s platform in 2000, when George W. Bush came along with his "No Child Left Behind" plan. The programs multiply but somehow the benefits are always to be found in the next multi-point plan to reform or "revolutionize" education.
That, in turn, is a reflection of the way we look at politics. The typical media portrayal of a presidential campaign is of voters shopping among various agendas and priorities offered by vendors (candidates) with a dazzling array of them. But the agenda of the federal government is set out in the Constitution of the United States, where education is a "priority" nowhere mentioned.
That document, held in minimum high regard by most who are sworn to uphold it, would leave the people of New Hampshire and the other states to be arbiters of their own education policies and programs. It does not authorize the federal government to take from us with one hand dollars for education it will give back with the other, minus the transfer fee. It provides neither the president nor the Congress the authority to impose anything resembling a 35-point plan to direct our steps on everything from pre-school to Early Head Start to teacher pay.
Earlier this year I asked presidential candidate Ron Paul what he thought the next president should do to improve education in America.
"Get out of the way!" was his clear and sensible reply. Such concise wisdom should be rewarded at the polls.
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.