Despite President Bush’s efforts to limit spending, members of Congress, including many Republicans and nearly all Democrats, are on a spending spree, unable to resist the presence of surplus budget money. If the president does not veto the budget-busting bills sent to him, he will suffer the same fate as did Ronald Reagan, who is still being blamed for going along with the deficit-producing, pork-lined budget bills sent to him by Congress.

If Bush cannot bring himself to do the right thing and, if necessary, shut down the government to prevent runaway spending by the Congress, the very least he could do is veto the education bill.

Of all programs, why pick on education? Let’s leave aside the fact that the bill is now a pork-packed, bloated monstrosity, which has been stripped of all vestiges of school choice for parents, a cornerstone provision that Bush wanted. Let’s not dwell on the fact that the word “education” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution of the United States. For the moment, let’s put aside a discussion of the constitutional reality that powers and authorities not specifically delegated to the federal government (such as education) belong to the states and the people.

However, let’s do make it loudly and perfectly clear that nothing in the education bill, including a whopping increase in spending, has much, if anything, to do with improving or reforming education. In lieu of tough decisions, politicians worried about their next election are spending money to create the illusion that they care about children and are doing something about the “education problem.”

The Heritage Foundation recently published a study by education analysts Kirk Johnson and Krista Kafer that confirms there is a zero correlation between money spent and student achievement. Citing information from the National Center for Educational Statistics, they report that in inflation-adjusted dollars, America spends 72 percent more for education today than in 1980. Annual spending per pupil, adjusted for inflation, increased from $3,367 in 1970 to $6,584 in 2000.

These increases in spending yielded no academic improvement. K-12 math scores and reading scores during the last two decades are flat, with an increase in the gap between white and black students.

Since 1965, the federal government has spent over $120 billion on Title I programs for low-income students, but the achievement gap between poor and non-poor students has not improved.

Nationwide, the number of students per teacher decreased from 22 in 1970 to less than 17 in 1999. Student test scores did not improve. The number of computers in the classroom increased from one for every 63 students in 1985 to one for every 5 students in 2000. Student achievement did not improve.

Billions of dollars have been spent on a huge bilingual educational bureaucracy, only to discover that standard bilingual education of immigrant children actually delays their ability to read and write English.

We are spinning our wheels, wasting money and cheating children, particularly minority children. Despite vast expenditures on theoretical “solutions,” the problems remain implacably the same. Last year, the Department of Education announced that 68 percent of fourth-graders could not read at a “proficient level.” How long will it take us to learn that increasing the budgets of failed programs is no substitute for real reform?

So, how do we repair this ruinous situation? The answer is simple. Nothing will repair the broken government school system until two things happen: First, our schools, our children, our teachers and our parents must be liberated from the iron-fisted, self-serving control of the largest and richest labor union in America: the National Education Association. In addition to using education for its own benefit and enrichment, this government-protected union monopoly is a politically powerful advocacy group, which willfully disdains parental objections and laces classroom curricula with left-wing ideology.

Second, overcoming the failed status quo also requires open, market-based competition to provide educational services. No one has said it more clearly than Ted Forstmann, co-founder of the Children’s Scholarship Fund. At a press conference held before the National Press Club in Washington D.C., he said: “In America, people are free to make all sorts of decisions in every other area of their lives except education. … We believe that parents should be in charge of their children’s education: deciding where their children go to school, who teaches them and what they learn. It’s time to let education look like the rest of America.”

That’s exactly what the Founders had in mind.

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