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Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2002 / 26 Teves, 5762

Cal Thomas

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The cost of bipartisanship --
IN Washington, the surest road to bipartisanship is through increased government spending. Most Republicans and Democrats are equal opportunity spenders of other people's money.

Last Tuesday, on a victory lap to promote his "bipartisan'' new education law -- and with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in tow -- President Bush said the measure shows what can be done for children and for America when Republicans and Democrats work together. It is a noble sentiment, but it is a one-way spending street.

In Boston, where he heaped more praise on Kennedy than most Republicans receive, Bush admitted, "We've spent a lot of money on education and a lot of it has been wasted.'' The solution? Spend more money, of course.

Yes, the testing and accountability provisions of the new law are good and long overdue. But on the White House Web site, which promotes the new law as a solution to an education system that has failed too many children and their parents, there was an acknowledgement that $200 billion has been spent by the federal government on education since 1965.

When that much money is spent and too many children still can't read, and when another $26.3 billion is added to the total in the new law, it is way past time to acknowledge that money alone, or even money mainly, is not going to fix what is wrong with American education.

The president's original proposal contained a provision that would have lifted all educational boats. It would have allowed parents, who are their children's first educators, to have the power to determine which school would serve the intellectual, social and moral interests of their children. It's called choice.

The National Education Association, which regularly passes resolutions in favor of "choice'' when it comes to aborting future students, vehemently opposes choice for educating children fortunate enough to have been born. Why is the education establishment pro-choice in one category and anti-choice in another?

The choice provision in the president's law allows some parents a choice between failing public schools. If they live in a poor district where all schools are bad, sending their child from one underachieving school to another underachieving school is no choice at all. Whether the condemned is executed by hanging or firing squad, one's life is over. And whether a child is educated in failing school No. 1, or failing school No. 2, the child is robbed of his intellectual potential and the nation loses a mind and a productive life.

Anything Washington gets its hands on, it eventually controls. The White House Web page says the law "trusts local parents, educators and school boards to make the best decision for their children.''

That is only partially true. If you want to send your child to a secular or religious private school and you believe that is where your child can best be educated, the federal government will make you pay twice -- once in your taxes to support your local public school and again in tuition and related expenses to the private school.

Liberal Democrats, who regularly lament the "unfairness'' of Republican proposals (and in many cases can afford to educate their children in swanky private schools), support unfairness when it comes to the education of children from middle-income and poor families. Why haven't Republicans done a better job playing the Democrat class warfare game on an issue that is ready-made for them?

Most of America thrives on competition. Competition keeps prices lower than monopoly in virtually every area of our lives -- from telephone service to supermarkets. Competition improves the quality of goods and services because companies know that customers have alternatives. "We know you have a choice in airlines and we thank you for choosing Delta/United/Continental, etc.'' says the flight attendant.

Competition in education will improve learning, while reducing the power of politicians and lobbyists. It is for these reasons that the NEA and even liberal Democrats like the president's new "good friend'' and "good man,'' Ted Kennedy, oppose real choice and why they are happy to wrap themselves in the cloak of "bipartisanship'' when, in fact, they are merely supporting the education status quo.

JWR contributor Cal Thomas is the author of, among others, The Wit and Wisdom of Cal Thomas Comment by clicking here.

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