The origin of this article comes from a short blurb in the December 17, 2010 issue of The Week magazine. The latest survey of student school achievement, which is done every three years by the Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development, found that students in Shanghai ranked first in the world in reading, science, and math. Quite a feat, to be number one in all three. The survey measured the education proficiency of fifteen year olds in 60 countries around the world.
The very bad and sad news is that the United States ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31th in math. While the article did not give education expenditure information, it is a good bet that the United States ranked much higher in amount of education dollars spent per student than it did in any of the three categories measured. If this assertion is correct, then we are spending a lot of taxpayer money and getting mediocre performance in return.
Which brings us to the Federal Education Department, a bureaucracy that has been around since 1980 and according to its government website, has a discretionary budget of about $49.7 billion (this does not include the $33 billion or so of Pell grants that it administers). I guess one could make the argument that without the Education Department, the United States would have finished worse than 17th, 23rd, and 31th.
However, it is likely we could have finished this poorly without spending the $49.7 billion a year. In fact, if you look at the Education Department website, it acknowledges that “it is important to point out that education in America is a state and local responsibility.” They admit that they are not the main driver of education in this country but still eat up almost $50 billion a year just to fill a supplemental role.
Let’s do some fantasy math. What if we terminated the Education Department, what could we do with that money:
Since there are 50 states, you could provide an annual supplemental payment to the states, that the Department fully acknowledges has the main responsibility for educating our kids, of $1 billion per state to help improve their facilities and education processes.
According to the government’s National Center For Education Statistics, there are 93,295 public elementary and secondary schools in this country. If we divide this number of schools into the Education Department’s budget, each school could theoretically receive an additional $532,000 per school each year to help educate America’s youth.
If we purchased the basic iPad product at Best Buys’ current price of $499.95, we could outfit over 99 million students in one year with an iPad for themselves. Given today’s high tech world, wouldn’t iPads (or other worthy technology) be better use of taxpayer funds than a 31st finish in math?
Of course, just having a piece of technology is not going to improve an education process but imagine what could happen in education with an iPad. For example, the need for books and the high expense that goes with the school purchase of books could be diverted to hire more teachers, improve school curriculums, enhance teacher training, etc. since bound paper books are more expensive than electronic digital books, a format that that could also be much easily updated. And this is for only one year. With the technology already purchased in year one, next year, billions of more dollars could be spent on other education needs, if we eliminated the Education Department budget.
If you are not into helping improve our schools, you could divide the $49.7 billion by the number of U.S. households and give each household an annual check of just over $400. Certainly a better idea than 31st in math.
The point to be made by these math calculations is that the Education Department has done such a poor job of positioning our kids for success in the world that continuing to budget and pay for this non-performance is a farce. How much worse could it be to take the $50 billion or so and try something new with it? Given that the Department is supplemental, what is the worst that could happen? We fall to 32nd in math? The schools and education approach in Shanghai is getting results, why can’t we get the Federal government out of the way and let the states find a way to mimic what Shanghai is obviously doing right and our Education Department is obviously not doing at all?
While reading about our poor performance as a nation academically, it appears that another Federal agency, the Department of Energy, is also a total failure when it comes to its charter. Although it has been over 30 years since the traumatic energy crises of the 1970s, we as a nation are not closer to having a strategic, workable, and rationale national energy plan today than we were when the Department of Energy was formed decades ago.
Think about it: name one success story from the Department of Energy that you can come up with without doing some serious research? We still have no national energy policy. I can think of no significant project, program, or technology that the Department funded with our taxpayer money that has born fruit, either with cheaper energy, better energy, or less reliance on foreign energy sources.
If you look at their Federal website,you see that the Department Of Energy’s annual budget is around $28 billion, of which just over $11 billion of that is for Defense Department research. If you took that $11 billion and moved it and its staff into the Defense Department, you could dump the remaining parts of the Department Of Energy and save the taxpayers just over $17 billion a year. This would provide an annual tax reduction of about $150 for every U.S. household. What would you rather have: $150 in your pocket or just another government bureaucracy that did nothing it was supposed to do?
These are the types of questions that need to be asked as the country faces this extraordinary and looming budget crisis of skyrocketing national debt. Just because we always had a government program, does not mean we need to continue to have these programs. An Education Department that fails at education and a Department of Energy that fails at energy are not good reasons to continue to have them. Better to try somethng different and less expensive. Again, how much worse could it get when it comes to these two monstrosities?
Just because something exists today does not mean it has to exist tomorrow. Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Montgomery Ward, Service Merchandise, American Motors, Studebaker, GTE, ITT, the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union, etc. all existed and are now all gone. Given this historical perspective, getting rid of a mere Cabinet Department or two should be no big deal, especially the ones that are expensive and ineffective, the cause for the demise of these past giants in their respective fields.