On the presidential campaign trail, Senator John Kerry has embraced almost the totality of the National Education Association’s wish list for public schools now that the leaders of the nation’s largest teacher union have given the Massachusetts Democrat an early endorsement for President.
The Washington-headquartered NEA long has sought a substantial boost in the proportion of school funding (currently about 7 percent) bankrolled by the federal government.
Although federal education spending has increased more than 40 percent since passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in late 2001, Kerry has echoed NEA criticisms that President Bush has shortchanged NCLB implementation because appropriations have fallen short of congressional authorizations for the program.
In reality, actual appropriations have routinely been well below authorizations for major federal social programs no matter which political party controlled the White House or Congress. That was the case with Goals 2000, the education enactment supported by President Clinton during the 1990s. Yet Democratic Members of Congress, including Senator Kerry, did not cry out against Clinton Administration stinginess.
Nevertheless, Candidate Kerry now seeks to enshrine “full funding” of education at the highest possible authorized levels by creating what he calls a National Education Trust Fund to ensure that “for the first time ever, the federal government meets its obligation to fully fund our education priorities.”
According to Kerry’s website (johnkerry.com), “any new education program Congress authorizes will be automatically funded by law.” Neither Congress nor a President would be able to restrict the flow of money. So much for representative democracy.
Essentially, education spending would be on autopilot, even if local school systems still had billions of unspent federal dollars from previous budgets (as they currently do), and even if elected representatives had qualms about how the education establishment was using the largesse.
In addition, the automatic spending evidently would not be limited to “new” education programs (contrary to the Kerry quote above) because Kerry goes on to say that the Trust Fund would be used to ensure “full funding” of not just NCLB but the massive (and long-standing) Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Kerry estimates full funding of just NCLB would require a boost in annual federal spending of more than $11 billion. Bolstering IDEA and adding new programs (some of which Kerry proposes) would add tens of billions more.
The notion of guaranteed spending to prop up the existing educational system in line with NEA wishes contrasts sharply with Kerry criticisms of teacher unions and the education status quo in 1998.
In speeches in Washington and Massachusetts, Kerry blasted public school systems that are “imploding upon themselves,” bedeviled by “bloated bureaucracy” and “stagnant administration.” He urged that officials “end (teacher) tenure as we know it,” the better to facilitate the firing of incompetent teachers currently sheltered by the teacher unions.
Moreover, noting that beginning teachers had lower college-admission scores than majors in almost every other field, the 1998 Kerry termed the current teacher certification system “an absurd anomaly” resulting from a “convoluted monopolistic structure.” He went so far as to urge that every public school in the USA be converted into a charter school so that parents would have power to effect change.
In his recent pronouncements, Kerry did buck the NEA to some extent by saying another $20 billion he proposes to spend over 10 years to boost teacher pay would be accompanied by requirements, such as that teachers work in troubled schools, or teach mathematics or science, or meet performance standards.
That show of independence hasproven short-lived, however. According to the Education Intelligence Agency, an online service that reports on activities of the teacher unions, an internal memo from NEA president Reg Weaver boasted that in a private meeting with NEA officials Kerry had backed away from using any “pay for performance” language in his education plan. The idea of holding teachers accountable for results is of course anathema to leaders of the 2.7-million-member NEA.
Regardless of any hints that the Democratic candidate might favor merit pay, the NEA could hardly be too worried if the untouchable Kerry Trust Fund were automatically dispensing billions of federal tax dollars to good, mediocre, and lousy schools alike.
Besides, Kerry is endorsing a long list of other NEA demands. They include: watering down “one size fits all” NCLB testing requirements, reducing class sizes (despite the lack of evidence that the huge cost substantially improves student achievement), vastly expanding early childhood education, and targeting for extinction voucher programs such as one recently approved for the District of Columbia that will enable almost 2,000 low-income children to escape some of the worst public schools in the nation by transferring to private or parochial schools.
Elsewhere on his website, John Kerry does endorse vouchers – for poor families stuck in substandard housing. Moral: Slum lords need an NEA to protect their vested interests.