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N.J. education reform does not require any more money

SabrinM012810_optBY MURRAY SABRIN
COMMENTARY

The federal government will finish this fiscal year, ending September 30th, with a $1.4 trillion deficit. Instead of reining in federal spending to get its fiscal house in order, the Obama administration is desperately trying to "stimulate' the economy with money it does not have, including sending more money to public school's via a competition, "Race to the Top," supposedly to enact "education reform."

In Phase 2 of the competition, New Jersey came in 11th, just missing the cut and losing a $400 million grant. In a press conference after the state was notified that it would not be awarded the grant, Governor Christie criticized the Obama administration and the Department of Education for slavishly following bureaucratic rules instead of giving New Jersey's Department of Education the opportunity to amend its application. Since then, education commissioner Bret Schundler was fired after he was told to resign because he and the governor got into a "he said, he said" flap about the events surrounding the state's failed application.

Former education commissioner Schundler is asserting that he did not provide the federal education department review team the data it sought and therefore he takes responsibility for the state's failed application. Governor Christie is asserting that Schundler misled him, claiming that Bret told him that the state's team did supply the fed reviewers with the data. Schundler is adamant. Bret has released several documents apparently confirming his chronology of events leading up to the governor's press conference where Christie blasted the federal department of education bureaucrats.

Although Governor Christie and Bret Schundler are providing the mainstream media with great copy for their newspapers and other outlets and wonderful "theater,' they are missing the bigger picture.

The federal role in education is unconstitutional. The U.S. constitution does not authorize the federal government to fund education. Public education was always funded by state and/or local taxes. That changed with LBJ's Great Society and the creation of the Department of Education in the Carter administration.

As federal money poured into local schools over the decades, student performance has declined, especially in inner city schools. We do not need any more studies, commissions, blue ribbon panels, etc., to acknowledge what is wrong in public education — the politicalization of learning has dealt a blow to student achievement.

High school diplomas for inner city youths are fraudulent. Students do not have the skills they are purported to have. Incredible sums of taxpayers' dollars are spent on failure in public education.

So instead of applying for federal education grants — the current form of acceptable begging — governors and mayors should call for the abolition of the federal role in educaiton and a downsizing of the federal government. But like the drug addict who is seeking the next fix, states have become hooked on the federal government's "free money."

The federal government's grant money is not free; it is borrowed. Borrowing money to pay for current expenses has been the modus operandi of both Republican and Democratic presidents for decades. In short, the Obama administration is accelerating the coming bankruptcy of the federal government with its irresponsible spending and gargantuan deficits.

And New Jersey governors have borrowed to pay for operating expenses too (Whitman to fund the state's pension plans and McGreevey to cover budget deficits while he was in office) until the State Supreme Court ruled after a lawsuit was brought before it challenging deficit spending a few years ago. New Jersey's fiscal situation is in many ways worse than the federal government. The state's unfunded liabilities are a millstone on future generations, with no one to bail us out.

Although New Jersey's failed application prevented a $400 million infusion of borrowed money from the federal government, this incident should be wake up call to Governor Christie and the Legislature; do not rely on the federal government to fund education "reform."

The only reform we need does not require any more money. It is time that public schools be separated from the political process and become centers of excellence. That means teachers, parents, and administrators should run the schools, not the bureaucrats and politicians in Washington DC and Trenton.

Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at Ramapo College. He was the Libertarian Party nominee for governor in 1997 and a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and 2008. Check www.MurraySabrin.com for more of his writings.

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