Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Call to Action

Shortly before the Christmas recess the Senate passed a 774 page budget bill, the contents of which are just now starting to surface. Once again the Senate has acted with good intentions, but has done so while taking liberties with the Constitution and at the expense of fiscal prudence.

The Senate approved a five year, $3.75 billion dollar initiative to provide $750 to $1300 grants to low income freshman and sophomores in college who have completed a “rigorous secondary program of study.” It will also afford larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science, and other critical fields.

Trouble begins with the definition of “rigorous study.” It will require someone, or some organization, to identify the qualifiers of a rigorous study program, and then it will require a significant organization to evaluate the curriculum in the nation’s 18,000 high schools. Who would that person or organization be? The answer is obvious – Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and the federal bureaucrats in the Department of Education.

The clear result will be the establishment of a “national curriculum” - another Washington mandate, unfunded too, settled on States and local school boards across the nation by federal bureaucrats harboring not in the classroom but rather in the sterile offices far removed from the students they seek to guide.

The assault on the Constitution evolves around the Tenth Amendment which says:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Article 1 – Sections 8 through 10 clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of a central government and the restrictions placed on the States. Education is never mentioned, meaning it is not the role of a central government, nor is the responsibility to educate denied to the States. Given that public education was not identified as a role of the federal government, it is “reserved to the States respectfully, or to the people” and we the people must lay claim to it or stand to be further divorced from a responsibility so critical to our children and future generations.

President Carter created the Department of Education in the late 1970’s because of the perception that public education was slipping. We have now had nearly thirty years of a federal agency attempting to redirect the path to quality education, but I do not believe it has changed any perceptions of public education at all. We must look to remove this federal bureaucracy from the equation, and return school operations and curriculum to the States and local school boards.

Another problem surfaces with the expenditure of $3.75 billion dollars at a time when our Nation is engaged in a War on Terrorism and faced with continued budget deficits year after year. Since the federal coffers do not have the funds to cover the $3.75 billion, the expenditure will simply be added to our mounting national debt which currently stands at $8.1 trillion. You and I will pay the interest on these borrowed funds, as will our children and the generations to follow.

Some day in the future some hapless generation of American taxpayers will be forced to finally pay the principal amount our Senate is so generous on committing today. But that time will come long after this 5 year initiative is over and forgotten.

The Senate’s initiative is aimed at supporting students majoring in math, science, and other critical fields to support the technical needs our Nation’s businesses require to remain competitive in our global economy. As a benefit to business, let the benefactors support the initiative through grants and scholarships rather than the overstretched federal budget.

To date, the well intended measure has only passed the approval of the Senate, and awaits review by the House when it returns. It is time “we the people …” have our voices heard, and that the message we send says that we do not support the continued federal interference with our local schools. Furthermore, we expect our elected representatives – public servants – to manage our Nation’s finances as we must manage our own, which means deficit spending must cease.

Abraham Lincoln said a prayer at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania that “this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” I ask you to join me in calling on the House to reject the Senate’s initiative to further direct the precious responsibility to educate our children into the hands of federal bureaucrats far removed from the day to day operations of our schools, and to reject the commitment to additional deficit spending.

William G. Pierce, P.E.

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