Considering that 49% more Americans can identify “Jon and Kate plus Eight” than the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice, the push to revamp public education is probably justified. The problem is who’s doing the revamping. Earlier today, President Obama announced his intent to expand the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” program that was tucked in the last stimulus bill by an additional $1.35 billion! At its core, the project funnels money to the states in exchange for more government input into testing, teacher pay, and performance standards. The current program was set to expire at the end of this year, but, like other stimulus projects, the President is eyeing permanency in what is already the largest federal funding of its kind in the history of the Department of Education. If Congress agrees to it, there would be “no definite end date” to the idea, according to senior officials.
Unfortunately for our kids, the President’s solution is bound to exacerbate more problems than it solves. Gov. Rick Perry (R) was one of the first to say, “thanks, but no thanks,” and is already joined by leaders in Ohio, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Florida, Montana, and others who won’t compete for a slice of the federal pie. Like us, they know that public education is struggling–but not for lack of funding. In 2005 alone, America spent $9,266 per student on K-12 education–and $71.1 billion of it came directly from the federal government. At that rate, the U.S. is shelling out $111,000 on every child who passes through all twelve grades. While spending has skyrocketed, we can’t say the same about student performance. Despite a 138% increase in federal dollars, the Heritage Foundation shows that reading scores are relatively stagnant and graduation rates have flat-lined. Of the 10 cities that rank highest in education spending, only three have graduation rates above 50%. States that spend the most often test the worst.
Until the White House incorporates parents in its plans, this is a losing “Race” for students. Sure, it will fluff up the President’s “State of the Union” address, but what else is driving this expansion? Certainly not results! If the White House is genuinely concerned about raising the level of student achievement, the administration should focus on giving families more options–and input. Both have proven to do more for the system than money. Back in 2001, Harvard University Economics Professor Dr. Caroline Hoxby found that public schools improved simply by facing the competition of private schools. Our own Dr. Pat Fagan tackled the issue as part of a broader speech on family freedom, which you can read here. FRC and other experts agree, in the “Race to the Top,” parental choice in education laps the competition.
Tony Perkins heads the Family Research Council. This article is excerpted from the Washington Update that he compiles for the FRC.