GLEN COVE, NY — Some “conservative” governors
seem eager to get the usual dose of federal “aid” to education.
Similarly, some “conservatives” want to cut the budget
of every federal department by 10 percent without considering how much
harm certain departments do and without distinguishing between constitutional
and unconstitutional government programs. The truth is that cutting
federal aid to education by 90 percent would be better than cutting
it by 10 percent.
In a previous
I explained how most of the money we spend on education goes to hire
mediocre teachers to take the load off good teachers, to hire administrators
to frustrate teachers trying to do their jobs, and to create extracurricular
distractions for students. The money does not help education; it
Federal money is even more harmful than state money for two reasons. First, virtually
all federal involvement in education is unconstitutional. Second, the federal
bureaucracy is even more remote than those of the states.
It is immoral for a person to take a position that requires him to swear to uphold
the Constitution and to violate the Constitution while holding such a position.
The Constitution does not have a provision allowing the federal government to
involve itself in education or even to require education. The United States had
a system of education when the Constitution was drafted, but the Constitution
says nothing about education.
Some federal funding of education even predates the Constitution; land grants
were made by the Continental Congress in the western territories for the purpose
of building schools and colleges. The federal government, throughout our history,
has provided various forms of military education, including the service academies
and ROTC. None of these involved federal interference in local schools.
Before the 1860s, in fact, the federal government made no real federal attempt
to control education. A short-term exception occurred when certain New Englanders
serving as governors in the militarily occupied South tried to impose their model
of public schools in parts of the South.
Widespread federal interference began under Franklin Delano Roosevelt with a
school lunch program. The program was fairly harmless, but the theory behind
it was not. It arose out of a novel interpretation of the Constitution in which
every tomato grown on an apartment balcony was in interstate commerce, and every
handwashing took place in the navigable waters of the United States. John F.
Kennedy added another arrow to the federal quiver with his claim that student
loans were a national defense action.
Today, these distortions of the Constitution have expanded
to the point that we have a cabinet-level Department of Education,
volumes of federal regulations governing local schools, massive transfers
from the federal treasury to local schools, and the horribly misnamed “No Child Left Behind Act.” This
act has nothing to do with children and everything to enriching the
worst schools in the country and rewarding changes from bad to mediocre.
Quite apart from the immorality involved in distorting the Constitution, federal
involvement in education is bad policy. The United States is a confederation
of 50 states with a variety of traditions and needs. It is not a one-size-fits-all
place. Federal controls cannot accommodate all the needs in the country and are
necessarily unfair. Furthermore, channeling money up to the federal bureaucracy
and back down to the local schools only enriches the power of the federal bureaucrats.
The federal courts have stripped the schools of religious
content. Shortly after the Constitution was adopted, the passage of
the First Amendment served to prevent any federal interference in the
religious content of the schools. At the same time, schools had a strong
religious content, and many states did have requirements regarding
this content. For example, the Connecticut legislature required belief
in predestination and presbyterian ordination to teach at Yale. The
Supreme Court ducked the question of whether a state could establish
schools that denied Christianity. This original and accurate meaning
of the Constitution was that the moral content of education was determined
at the local rather than at the federal level. Does anyone really want
Washington deciding what we should tell our children is right and what
We should abolish the Department of Education and all its regulations. We should
abolish all federal aid to education that would not have passed Constitutional
scrutiny in the earliest days of our Constitution.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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