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Study: Federal Money no Asset to Education

July 12, 2004

Study: Federal Money no Asset to Education

Neal McCluskey, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute, recently released a study called: "A Lesson in Waste: Where Does All the Federal Education Money Go?" http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-518es.html

The study begins with this executive summary:


"Since the 1965 passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which concentrated unprecedented authority over American education in the hands of the federal government, federal lawmakers have passed increasingly restrictive laws and drastically escalated education spending, which ballooned from around $25 billion in 1965 (adjusted for inflation) to more than $108 billion in 2002.

"For many years that phenomenon appeared to be of little concern at the state and local level. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, however, that seems to be changing - citizens and policymakers are aggravated by the law's dictates, and a revolt against federal control of education is brewing. Of course, states can refuse their share of billions of federal education dollars and thereby avoid having to adhere to federal regulations, but turning down the money is difficult, especially since the federal government took the money out of state taxpayers' pockets in the first place.

"And it's not just state unrest that's calling federal control of education into question: Despite the huge infusion of federal cash and the near tripling of overall per pupil funding since 1965, national academic performance has not improved. Math and reading scores have stagnated, graduation rates have flatlined, and researchers have shown numerous billion-dollar federal programs to be failures.

"Both state unrest and academic failure necessitate an examination of federal spending on education. States must decide if the benefits of federal funding outweigh the costs of complying with federal rules, and the nation as a whole must determine if the federal presence in American education should continue at all.

"The answers, fortunately, are not elusive. Even when projects are measured against the Department of Education's own mission statement, it is clear that federal dollars are going to projects that should not be receiving them. More important, when evaluated using academic results, the strictures of the Constitution, and plain common sense, almost no federal funding is justified. For all those reasons, the federal government should withdraw from its involvement in education and return control to parents, local governments, and the states."


In spite of the facts, however, the response of federal and state policy makers to criticisms of NCLB has been either to demand more money to implement it (thereby tying states ever more tightly to federal mandates now and into the future) or to work hard to make it more user-friendly. Both approaches are deeply flawed.

The following commentary from Cal Thomas uses the Cato study to challenge America's national education policy. The Thomas column was originally published July 7, 2004, in the Baltimore Sun: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op. thomas07jul07,0,4000273.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines.

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Money + schools does not equal achievement
by Cal Thomas

Observation and common sense have told me for years that there is no relationship between the amount of money spent on education and student achievement. Now a study released last week by the Cato Institute provides irrefutable facts that lead to the same conclusion.

Neal McCluskey, an education policy analyst for Cato, notes that while federal spending on education has ballooned from about $25 billion in 1965 (adjusted for inflation) to more than $108 billion in 2002, the promise of improved performance in the classroom and better grades remains flat. "Math and reading scores have stagnated," writes McCluskey, "graduation rates have flatlined, and researchers have shown several billion-dollar federal programs to be failures."

Will that awaken politicians to cut these failed programs and return education authority to the states? Not in an election year, it won't, because politicians believe education is an issue that gets them votes, even though, as the Cato study shows, they have failed miserably to improve it.

More than 36 federal departments and organizations run major education programs, according to the Department of Education Statistics. What are they doing with the money if so much of it fails to produce the promised results? Why is a school system that dates as far back as the Massachusetts Colony's 1647 Old Deluder Satan Act, which established the first compulsory and partially public education (and was intended to ensure that all members of the colony were sufficiently literate to read the Bible, enabling them to "fend off the inducements of Satan"), turning out so many functional illiterates who so willingly give in to all sorts of modern temptations?

Mostly, it is because state and local authority over education has been gradually usurped by the federal government, which has no constitutional authority to run or dictate to local schools. But as Washington has gradually claimed more power over education, the states have been able to exercise less and have been forced to succumb to increasing amounts of federal regulation in exchange for federal dollars taken from its citizens in the first place.

It's the "one-size-fits-all, we-know-what's-best-for-you-mentality" of Washington that has some states complaining about the "No Child Left Behind" mandate that demands states squeeze students through standardized tests and achievement models into a mold designed by politicians and administered by bureaucrats. When these strategies fail, the government mostly does not end or change them. It throws more money at them.

One of the justifications for this socialistic redistribution of education money is the egalitarian objective of assuring the poor get their fair share and supposedly improve their chances of escaping poverty. But the Cato study again proves the failure of this thinking. Statistics show no correlation between the amounts of education money spent and a decline in the poverty levels in individual states.

As the Cato study concludes, the federal government should drop out of education and return the money and power for instructing children to the state and individual communities. Education achievement was better when it was practiced in the little red schoolhouse and didn't come as it does today from the big White House and its Cabinet agencies. The billions wasted on education since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society has been a financial and educational disaster, not to mention a violation of the Constitution.


The top six federal departments ranked by education spending and the amounts they spent in inflation-adjusted dollars in 1965 and 2002:

  • Health and Human Services $1 billion in '65; $22.9 billion in '02
  • Education $1 billion; $46.32 billion
  • Agriculture $769 million; $11.9 billion
  • Defense $587 million; $4.7 billion
  • Energy $442 million; $3.6 billion
  • Labor $230 million; $6.4 billion


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