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It’s beginning already — George W. Bush’s fearless foray into the
“mushy middle.” It is a move the politicos of the day say is required,
yet it is still greeted by many of the party faithful with more than a
bit of disappointment and disillusionment. I imagine such a journey is
akin to a romp through a giant vat of strawberry Jell-O — hard to get
your footing going in with no way to hide the telltale footprints coming
out.

The move I’m referring to is the governor’s less-than-inspiring
initiative on education that he unveiled on Thursday — a mere $2.9
billion plan to be administered by that stellar federal agency, the
Department of Education. His second education proposal of the week,
Bush’s four-point plan is supposed to show how he is taking “the side of
teachers.”

Point one: Add $400 million in federal funds for new teacher training
in return for states maintaining high teacher standards. Hmm, I always
thought teacher training was to be done in college and, thereafter, on a
local level, according to the needs of the local students. Apparently,
Gov. Bush agrees with President Clinton that somehow the federal
government knows what’s best for your local schools. Furthermore, Bush
includes the traditionally liberal “federal string” in his plan, telling
the states, “Do it our way, or else.”

Point two: A proposal to “shield teachers from meritless lawsuits
when they enforce reasonable classroom rules.” Frankly, I have a hard
time with federal laws that limit individuals’ rights to the legal
process. What about those teachers who deserve to be sued? Again, this
is an area of education that should be left to the communities affected,
not federal nanny-crats.

Point three: An increase from $2.4 million to $30 million for the
“Troops to Teachers” program that turns retired military personnel into
teachers. I’m all for veterans using their skills and experience in new
fields, but why a federal program? Are these men and women unable to
direct their own career paths without help from Washington?

Point four: An annual tax deduction of up to $400 for teachers who
buy classroom supplies with their own money. Without launching into a
tirade against the National Education Association, suffice it to say
that if education dollars were kept at home where they are ultimately
expended and spending priorities were readjusted, the efficiency of
those dollars would increase exponentially, and any deficiencies in
classroom supplies would evaporate. Having a tax deduction to cover
classroom supplies is not unlike giving clean needles to drug addicts.
In a subtle sort of way, Bush is admitting that government schools are
thoroughly ineffective and is now merely trying to treat a symptom.

My criticism of Governor Bush and his proposals all have one common
thread: The federal government should have nothing to do with education;
it is a local issue. The behemoth Department of Education should have
been dismantled years ago and the money sent back to local districts.
But at this stage of the game, that kind of constitutionalist argument
is a bit too bold for Mr. Bush. If you disagree with my
“constitutionalist” label, simply imagine the founding fathers
tolerating a federal Department of Education. Kinda funny, huh?

Bush could better “take the side of teachers” by eliminating federal
involvement in education, thereby allowing teachers more flexibility
within their own districts. That would be the mark of a true
conservative.

We limited-government types have been told to sit tight and button
our lips about Bush’s jello jig. It’s the only way, we’re told, that “W”
is going to pull in enough soccer moms to win in November. To be honest,
I simply was not ready for the man’s swerve. I guess the reality of it
all finally hit me as I read about his expansion plans for the federal
education bureaucracy. As one of those party faithful I mentioned, I
have found that my “faith” is starting to wear thin … and there are
more than seven months to go to Election Day.

Oh, well. Strawberry Jell-O, anyone?

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