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On Jan. 11, 2000, President George W. Bush asked: “Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?”
We just received the answer: “They isn’t!”
The Department of Education just released a study of 320,000 fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders, entitled “National Assessment of Educational Progress.” It analyzed students’ proficiency in science, and the results are dismal. Without science, we can forget competing with China, India, Japan or Europe. This lack of science skills is probably just the tip of the much larger “ignorance iceberg.” If a student cannot read a science question, then the problem is a lack of reading skills, not science skills. Without adequate reading skills, nothing can be accomplished, in any field.
In spite of this report, the Mountain Democrat’s editorial of Jan. 25 advocates the abolition of the Department of Education. Why does the Mountain Democrat never miss a chance to be wrong?
“Let’s abolish the ED” is a Reagan chestnut peddled by people bereft of constructive ideas. When it came time to put words into action, Reagan and both Bushes took a pass on abolishing the Department. They knew that, without federal dollars, states with a very low tax base, like Nevada, Mississippi, Arkansas and a host of others, would have no Head Start programs, or adequate schools, or school lunch programs, or universities worthy of the name.
It’s ironic that most of the beneficiaries of federal education funds, on a per capita basis, are generally southern and border states — the ones allegedly most opposed to federal aid. If only we had a “hypocrisy” means testing.
California gets over $12 billion a year from the Department of Education. How would the no-new-taxes crowd suggest we replace this money? Will the Mountain Democrat urge Congressman McClintock to vote against the Education Department’s budget? Will the Mountain Democrat suggest that the local school districts refuse all federal aid? If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
With 4,100 employees, the Department of Education is the smallest of all departments. Its manifold duties can be found on its Website, but it’s worth noting that, since 1964, enforcement of civil rights laws has been its main mission. This enforcement covers not only racial, but also gender discrimination, and includes financial aid to even out the playing field between poor and rich states. Viewed through this optic, it’s easy to understand why the far right would like the Department of Education to disappear altogether.
The department has a host of well-known programs that have directly benefited many Mountain Democrat readers. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been able to go to college thanks to Pell Grants or National Defense Education Act loans; hundreds of thousands more have benefited from work-study programs, vocational rehabilitation programs, literacy programs, and availed themselves of direct student loans that no bank would consider.
Let’s keep in mind that education in the U.S. is 85 percent financed by local/state means, so federal funds make up only 15 percent. Of course, this funding is based on needs, laws and congressional mandates and is not evenly distributed among the states.
A final note on the Mountain Democrat’s priorities. Its Jan. 25 editorial urges abolishing a $58 billion department concerned solely with education, but makes no mention of the Department of Defense’s annual budget of $1,000 billion ($1 trillion). In other words, the Mountain Democrat thinks that it’s perfectly OK to spend $1 to kill a foreigner but definitely not OK to spend 17 cents to educate an American child. I don’t know the budgets of China, Japan or India, but I’m willing to bet the farm that they reflect national priorities diametrically opposed to ours.