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The Facts on Federal Education Spending (Dan Lips)

Sweeping victories in the midterm elections have put Democrats in charge of the 110th Congress.  After twelve years out of power, what will Democrats seek to accomplish in federal education policy?

One common theme in their recommendations has been to increase spending on both K-12 and postsecondary education.  The Democratic Party’s 2004 National Platform criticized President Bush for “breaking his word” on No Child Left Behind and “providing schools $27 billion less than he promised, literally leaving millions of children behind.”  The platform also criticized the Bush administration for not providing enough federal funding for higher education and student loans, charging that “President Bush tried to charge more for student loans and eliminate Pell Grants for 84,000 students.”

Actually, federal education spending has grown dramatically over the past six years under President Bush and the Republican Congress.  But more importantly, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats increasing federal funding, more federal dollars have not improved American education in recent decades.

Consider K-12 education spending.  Annual U.S. Department of Education spending on elementary and secondary education has increased from $27.3 billion in 2001 to $38 billion in 2006, up by nearly 40 percent.  According to the department, annual spending on the Title I program to assist disadvantaged children grew by 45 percent between 2001 and 2006.  In 2007, the department will spend 59 percent more on special education programs than it did in 2001.

Unfortunately, there’s little reason to believe even these dramatic funding increases will lead to improvements in student learning in American schools.  Since the early 1970s, inflation-adjusted federal spending per pupil has doubled.  Over that period, student performance has not markedly improved, according to the long-term National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is designed to measure historical trends.

Under a Republican-controlled Congress, federal spending on higher education has increased

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North Carolina Could Learn From Florida (Camille Rodgers)

My name is Camille Rodgers and I am the mother of seven children.  My oldest is in college.  I have been around and through the public school scene for a long time-some 16-plus years.  Until two years ago we lived in Florida where there was an array of school choice options for my children’s education.  I was so excited when my children were able to attend a private school through a corporate-sponsored scholarship program.  It was such a blessing! The education my children were receiving was far and away superior to anything my children had experienced in the public school realm.

My husband took a job offer in North Carolina and two years ago we moved here.  I began searching for the options available to North Carolinian school-aged children and was horrified at the absence of choices.  Not only are there no scholarship opportunities nor vouchers for poorly performing schools, but even the magnet and charter schools were few and far between.  We live in a rural area, and our only options are the public school or homeschooling.  That’s all I can find.  

I wrote the elected officials for my area and asked for their assistance.  They essentially told me I didn’t have any options, and they weren’t interested in making any available.  They told me they fully supported the public school system and would only be interested in promoting that agenda.  I guess the education unions have deep pockets around here.

I went to enroll my elementary-aged children into the public school system here.  I met with the principal and asked specific questions in regards to why the school’s math scores were going down and reading scores were remaining flat on the North Carolina School Report Card.  She acted floored and said she didn’t know

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School Choice and Adolescence in America (Michael Strong)

On May 11, 2006, the Stanford Center on Adolescence held a symposium titled “Positive Youth Development in our Time: The Age of Purpose.” The advertisement for the conference claimed, “The experience may change the way you think about young people and the role you can play in fostering youth purpose.”

William Damon, Director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, is one of the founders of the “positive youth development movement” (PYD). He described it as “a new approach with a more affirmative and welcoming vision of young people.” Based in part on resiliency studies that show that many children thrive in the face of adversity, it acknowledges that the characteristics associated with resiliency include “persistence, hardiness, achievement motivation, hopefulness, a sense of purpose, and more.” Damon goes on to say that

“Research in the PYD developmental tradition has taken seriously the role of moral and religious beliefs in shaping children’s identities and perspectives on the future, and research has demonstrated a strong relationship between religious faith and at-risk children staying out of trouble.”

So in May, 2006, we have an opportunity to learn a “new approach” that may “change the way we think about young people” based on findings that children thrive in the face of adversity when they learn “persistence, hardiness, achievement motivation, hopefulness, and a sense of purpose” based on “moral and religious beliefs.” Although Damon deserves kudos for recognizing the politically incorrect truth that “moral and religious beliefs” are relevant to adolescent well-being, most parents knew it fifty years ago.

In the 1955 Milton Friedman proposed educational vouchers that would allow children to attend private schools with public moneys. Friedman’s proposal was dismissed in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. By the 1980s Brookings Institution researchers John Chubb and Terry Moe were coming to the conclusion

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