Obama, federal school spending and the Founding Fathers’ intent 

Despite his newfound cost-cutting rhetoric, President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget significantly increases federal education spending. His supporters defend the expansions as consistent with the vision of America’s founders. The historical evidence, however, refutes this argument.

If enacted, the Obama administration’s $77.4 billion education spending proposal would represent a 57 percent inflation-adjusted increase since 2000, according to Heritage Foundation education analyst Lindsey Burke. The president’s spending plan includes $1.4 billion for a new grant program for early childhood, K-12 and higher education, plus another $350 million for state early childhood programs.

In his State of the Union, Obama highlighted his Race to the Top program’s requirement that states adopt national education standards crafted by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Education Week reports that a federally funded group of testing experts is planning to design curriculum aligned to the national standards. Trouble is, federal law prohibits federal funding of curriculum. Some Obama supporters, though, have come up with novel arguments to justify the administration’s Washington-centric policies.

Jack Jennings, former Democratic staff director for the House education committee and current head of the Center on Education Policy, claims that even during America’s founding era the federal government played an activist role in education. He points to the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which allowed proceeds of land sales to support public education. Jennings, however, conveniently ignores a document far more important to the lives of all Americans — the Constitution.

When the United States ratified the Constitution in 1788, any mention of public education was conspicuously omitted, thus leaving that responsibility to the states or the people under the 10th Amendment, which provides that any power not described in the Constitution and prohibited by it is the province of the states and the public.

The Founding Fathers believed in the importance of an educated citizenry, but they didn’t think that the federal government was the best means to achieve that goal. History has proved them right. After decades of failure, it should be apparent that federal meddling is part of the problem, not the solution.

Lance T. Izumi is Koret senior fellow and senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute. He is co-author of the recent book Short-Circuited: The Challenges Facing the Online Learning Revolution in California.

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