Education Flavored Pork

The Washington Times reports on education earmarks in the federal budget. The U.S. Department of Education is choking on congressional pork, struggling with mandates to spend about $400 million on 1,175 specified local projects as earmarked by lawmakers in the omnibus appropriations bill enacted Dec. 8. . . . In addition to lacking enough staff to administer and oversee properly the large increase in directed federal grants, “Congress hasn’t given us the authority to ask a lot of questions of earmark recipients,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the department’s associate assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement. . . . Note that the department is out front about the lack of oversight on this new spending. The 1,175 mandated projects take up 40 pages of small type in four lists in a massive conference report accompanying the 663-page omnibus spending bill. The projects range from school district teacher training and curriculum development in specified areas to after-school programs. Money also was mandated for groups pushing everything from the teaching of Jewish history and specific arts disciplines to weekend programs for children with disabilities. Federal programs suffer from terminal program duplication. Many of these earmarks are in addition to existing programs in the regular federal education budget that do the same thing as the new earmarked programs. Teacher training is a perfect example. How many different federal teacher training programs do we really need? Similarly, how many different federal programs need to focus on after-school care? The largest spending mandate is $20 million to expand a “school-reform” program called Project GRAD USA, which has its headquarters in Houston and has received three successive $20 million earmarks, thanks to Rep. Ralph Regula, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the department. Project GRAD USA is a private nonprofit company that helps 12 urban school districts in Ohio and seven other states increase their high school graduation rates and prepare students for college, according to the organization’s Web site. Although perhaps a majority of nonprofits receive government funds, it always strikes me as bizarre to call an organization that receives $20 million in federal funds a “private nonprofit company.” Federal education spending continues the everlasting trend of more spending with less oversight.