Did you know that it is Education Month in the Obama White House? Neither did we. But apparently it is, and accordingly the President crossed the Potomac yesterday to visit an elementary school in Arlington, Virginia, where he pushed for reauthorization of the unpopular No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program. It was a classic President Obama performance. First he denounced the “stale debates” over whether education needed “more money” or “more reform.” Then—surprise—he said what the country really needed was both: “We need more resources for the schools, but we’ve got to reorganize how our schools are doing business in order to assure success for our young people. … Let’s seize this education moment. Let’s fix No Child Left Behind.” No, let’s not.

NCLB is actually the eighth reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). Passed as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, this first federal intervention into what was originally a state responsibility included just five titles in 32 pages. The effect of the ESEA was felt quickly across the country—but not by the nation’s school children: after passage of ESEA, state education bureaucracies doubled in just five years. Now NCLB spans more the 50 programs, 10 titles, and 600 pages. The bureaucrats are winning.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), in 2010 there were 151 K-12 and early childhood education programs in 20 federal agencies totaling $55.6 billion annually. NCLB alone cost states an additional 7 million hours in paperwork at a cost of $141 million. A 1999 GAO study of 10 federal education programs found that by the time a taxpayer dollar reached a local school district, up to 17 percent of the funding had been drained by administration.

And President Obama has only made the problem worse. Forty-one states wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and administrative man hours trying to persuade Obama Education Department bureaucrats to give their states Race to the Top stimulus money. Louisiana’s application alone was 260 pages with a 417-page appendix. And in the end, the Obama Administration just wound up giving the cash to their government union political allies. What a colossal waste of time and money.

And what have federal taxpayers gotten for all this federal education spending? Nothing. Federal education spending has more than tripled since 1970, yet academic achievement has remained flat. Heritage Foundation Director of Domestic Policy Studies Jennifer Marshall will testify before the House Education Committee today:

A half-century of always-expanding and ever-shifting federal intervention into local schools has failed to improve achievement. But it has caused an enormous compliance burden. The damage isn’t just wasted dollars and human capital that could have more effectively achieved educational excellence. It has also undermined direct accountability to parents and taxpayers while encouraging bureaucratic expansion and empowering special interests.

Since 1965 our nation has chosen to direct more of its education dollars through Washington, D.C. This has empowered bureaucrats, weakened parents, and been a disaster for our students. We need to change course. States should have the freedom to opt out of federal education programs and should be allowed to consolidate federal funding to direct resources to any lawful education purpose they see fit. Bottom-up education reform will only really occur when local governments are free from federal paperwork and don’t have to beg federal bureaucrats for education dollars.

Quick Hits:

  • After a third reactor building explosion was confirmed, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan delivered a nationally broadcast message today, acknowledging a much higher risk of releasing radiation into the atmosphere.
  • Despite Japan’s crisis, India and China and some other energy-ravenous countries say they plan to keep building new nuclear power plants.
  • According to Gallup, support for offshore drilling and oil exploration in Alaska are at all time highs.
  • Senate Republicans say they will block the confirmation of a new Commerce Department secretary until the administration submits three free-trade agreements to Congress.
  • A former chief executive of the California public employee pension fund has been accused of pressuring subordinates to invest billions of dollars of pension money with politically connected firms.