There are several reasons for fiscal visionaries to be concerned about education policy, all of which point towards getting the federal government out of the education business.

FIRST: The federal government is spending over $60 billion a year on education, with little evidence that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education, Neal McCluskey, 2007.

SECOND: Another cause for concern, hard to quantify but very important, is that public schools have been indoctrinating students to accept an ever-growing role for the federal government – more spending, more regulations, and more taxes – without much thought for the effects on the private sector.

This runs counter to the SAFE agenda of smaller, more focused, less costly government, coupled with prime reliance on competition and free markets to regulate the economy. And the effect is far from trivial, for in the words of Alexander Pope:

Tis education forms the common mind;
Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined

Our suggestion is not to redo the school curriculum to instill “conservative” views in young and impressionable students. It should suffice for the schools to focus on academic subjects, such as reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, and science, in a politically neutral fashion.

Restoring the primacy of state and local control of education, versus permitting a growing role for the federal government, should minimize the risk of a monolithic and politicized educational establishment.

THIRD: High quality education is essential to maintain leadership in the global economy, which can ensure this country’s continuing prosperity. It is generally acknowledged that US educational standards have slipped, and that our schools must do a better job. How can this best be accomplished?

Let’s have a range of educational options for students to choose from: public schools, private schools (for those who want and can afford them), charter schools (public funded, but with some flexibility to experiment), voucher programs (expanding access to private schools), and home schooling. Even if most students continue to attend public schools, a perceived need to compete for students will give the public schools an incentive to deliver better results.

Operating responsibility for schools is best vested in the administrators and teachers, who should then be held accountable for results. To the extent that school district and state level personnel have tried to micromanage the details, issuing rules and regulations to cover every situation, they should step back.

We see no need for another layer of monitoring at the federal level. If there is going to be a US Department of Education, we would suggest that it be charged with maintaining a data bank of best educational practices at the state and local level, sponsoring national and international educational contests, and the like.

The current push for "Common Core" educational standards sounds good in theory, but it seems motivated by a desire for more centralized control of the school systems. We do not believe this is a good idea.
Will Common Core standards enhance US education? 8/5/13.

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