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Jewish World Review May 10, 2000 / 5 Iyar, 5760

Cal Thomas

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Gore's plan: More good money for bad education

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
AL GORE HAS A PLAN for education: spend more money. Numerous surveys prove to anyone who is not a member of (or beholden to) a teachers' union that money alone, or even mainly, cannot improve academic achievement. Still, the Democratic presidential candidate has outlined a multibillion-dollar education-spending plan rooted in votes, not substance.

First, he wants to give $5,000 raises to "qualified''teachers and $10,000 raises to master teachers. In a speech last week in Lansing, Mich., Gore ticked off not only a list of new spending initiatives, but increased federal intervention in what used to be a state and local concern. If this were a campaign song (to the tune of the Beach Boys' hit), he'll have fun, fun, fun till big daddy puts the checkbook away.

Leaving the bogus linkage between more spending and better education aside, the vice president and, for that matter, Gov. George W. Bush should be focusing on the horrendous waste, fraud and abuse at the Department of Education.

According to the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), the Education Department has issued at least $50 million in duplicate payments to grantees over the past two years.

There is an internal investigation into an alleged computer theft ring involving Department of Education employees and contractors. The ring appears to have been operating for the last seven years, primarily because of improper inventory controls.

The vice president (and Bush) might question why 39 students were named recipients of Jacob Javits fellowships worth $100,000 each, even though these students had been named alternates, not recipients. Perhaps out of a concern for what not winning the grants might do to their self-esteem, the department gave them the money anyway, costing taxpayers $3.9 million. Runners-up should be so lucky with next week's $300 million lottery.

The Department of Education, according to CAGW, has wasted billions of dollars by making improper payments and inappropriately forgiving student loan debts. In one recent year alone, the agency awarded $177 million in Pell Grants to students who exceeded the income-eligibility limit.

Unspent education grants are returned to a special account. In 1996 that account contained $750 million. But the Education Department says it cannot find $700 million of the money.

How bad is the incompetence at the Education Department? So bad that the accounting firm Ernst and Young has stated publicly: "...a private corporation with books as problematic as the Department's would have their stock suspended from trading by the SEC.'' Yes, but this is government, which never has to say it's sorry, reform its ways or give us our money back. The vice president likes to call any Republican tax-cut plan a "risky scheme.'' So what would he call this continued waste, fraud and abuse? It makes those $600 Pentagon toilet seats of the Reagan years look like a bargain.

One might think that politicians would demand that the waste, fraud and abuse end before proposing more money from overburdened taxpayers to be spent. Congress is supposed to exercise oversight in such matters. But this Congress is terrified of a Democratic shadow and so does little to rock the boat, thinking this will keep them from drowning in the election.

One of the purposes of a presidential campaign used to be (before focus groups) informing the public on important issues. If children's education is among the top concerns of voters (and it is), could we please get a discussion going about the wasteful spending at the Department of Education? Might we hear what Gore and Bush intend to do about it before we're called upon to spend more of our money on overpriced schools that aren't working and overpaid bureaucrats whose spending privileges ought to be revoked?

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