Give educational responsibility back to parents

TRACKSIDE © by John DíAloia Jr.

June 15, 2004

You have to love politicians and bureaucrats. To paraphrase Will Rogers, columnists do not lack for topics; governments provide them on a silver platter.

Recently Rod Paige, the Secretary of Education, issued a press release, stating that all the claims that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA or the Act) was in fact an unfunded mandate on the states were not true. He said that the General Accounting Office had studied the matter and came to the conclusion that the Act was not an unfunded mandate, a conclusion contained in its report entitled "Unfunded Mandates - Analysis of Reform Act Coverage," (GAO-04-637, May 2004).

GAO undertook the analysis at the request of Senator George Voinovich to evaluate the effectiveness of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) of 1995. This law does not prevent Congress from enacting laws that impose unfunded mandates. What it does do is require that proposed legislation be analyzed for unfunded mandates and the results reported, but nothing is simple. As stated by GAO in its report, "Identification of mandates is a complex process with multiple definitions, exclusions, and cost thresholds. Also, some legislation and rules may be enacted or issued via procedures that do not trigger UMRA reviews." GAOís purpose and methodology was to evaluate Congressional mandates to be able "to provide information and analysis regarding UMRA implementation and identify options for reforming the act." No Child Left Behind was included in the cohort of laws and rules evaluated by GAO.

So what was in the GAO report to give Secretary Paige the ammunition he needed to say that GAO had determined that NCLBA was not an unfunded mandate? The GAO report I read surely must have been the same one read by Secretary Paige, yet I find no such clean bill of health for the Act, no words that say the Act does not impose any unreimbursed costs on states. In fact, as acknowledged by Secretary Paige, the Act does require states to spend their own resources. The GAO threw out the NCLBA from their analysis because the provisions of UMRA automatically excluded the No Child Left Behind from being a UMRA-defined unfunded mandate. This is much different than saying it is a not an unfunded mandate. It just did not meet UMRAís definition. And why was the Act not a UMRA defined mandate? Again, as stated by GAO "...because the requirements were a condition of federal financial assurance."

Put another way, if a state sidles up to the federal trough with its hand out for federal dollars, then, by its own volition, it has agreed to jump through whatever hoops are demanded by the feds as a condition to getting the dollars. The states cannot yell "unfunded mandate" when all they had to do to prevent spending the dollars required by the feds was to refuse the federal dollars.

The entire ploy is the classical Xth Amendment end-around used by the feds. Want the states to take an action that the feds cannot force a state to do? Tell the states that if they roll over, they will get a pot of money. With legislators and governors salivating at the thought of more dollars to spend, and lacking principles and backbone, the legislation demanded by the feds is enacted posthaste and the dollars received eagerly dispensed by the politicians, accompanied by press releases patting themselves on the back for bringing home the bacon. That the state sold out its sovereignty for 30 pieces of silver is of no concern to them. Carried to its ultimate extreme, state houses will be nothing more than the home of federal lackeys.

Was Secretary Paige correct in crowing that the No Child Left Behind Act does not contain unfunded mandates? He was - by the fedís definition. (The First Principle of Governing: He who has the gold rules.) The legislators who had their hands out for federal dollars have no room to moan and groan in front of the TV cameras. They acted knowing full well what was involved. If you do not like the rules, do not play the game.

Want to improve K-12 education? Give responsibility back to parents, where it belongs. It is a responsibility God places on them, not on government. Get the feds out of K-12 education - there is no constitutional basis for it - and give parents complete freedom to chose where - and how - their children are educated. With such freedom will come a dramatic reformation of education across the land.

See you Trackside.



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