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December 22, 2008

Education: The Neglected Crisis

By

With daily doses of bad news coming in the form of rising unemployment and business failures, the words "financial crisis" are everywhere. Meanwhile another crisis is receiving virtually no media attention, even though it potentially threatens our future economic prosperity and national security.

I'm referring to our country's education system.

In some of our major cities, nearly half of all children enrolled in the public school system won't graduate high school. And according to data from the Department of Education, 33 percent of fourth graders and 26 percent of eight graders scored "below basic" in reading in 2007. And with Hispanic students representing more of the student body in our nation's public schools, (particularly in cities like Los Angeles and New York) this issue hits close to home.

The fact that the Census Bureau predicts a dramatic growth in the U.S. Hispanic population makes this educational statistic all the more alarming.

Although education received considerably less attention this year than other issues, it was encouraging to hear President-elect Barack Obama say, "We cannot be satisfied until every child in America -- I mean every child -- has the same chance for a good education that we want for our own children."

In a matter of days, though, the president-elect will need to match his rhetoric with action when he announces his nominee for Secretary of Education. Obama's appointment will signal how beholden he will be to the powerful teachers' unions.

Instrumental in helping the president-elect garner political support, teachers' union are a powerful constituency with considerable clout. And like other unions, the teachers' unions exist to protect their more than 4 million members by fighting for increased salaries and benefits. But as those earlier troubling statistics note, what's good for teachers is not necessarily good for our children enrolled in the public-school system.

Unfortunately, some aim to fix the broken public-school system by increasing federal spending. And yet, it's clear from various studies that the most dramatic improvements in education are happening on the state level. They're not directed from Washington, D.C.

Despite spending roughly $9,300 annually (according to the Digest of Education Statistics) on each child enrolled in a public school, reading and math scores reveal the sobering reality that we are failing to prepare our future lawyers, doctors and scientists. This is simply unacceptable.

The reality is that no matter who Obama appoints, that person alone won't be able to solve the problems in the nation's schools. Real solutions can be found on the local level, starting with school choice.

Providing each and every family the ability to choose for themselves where to send their children to school makes the most sense. And it would dramatically and swiftly focus our education system on the children.

The Obama family recently exercised school choice, by electing to enroll its children in a private school in Washington, D.C.

Now it's time for the president-elect to fight to give everyone else the same right.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at the Heritage Foundation and has more than half a decade working in Congress and Washington, D.C.

First appeared on Siglo21.com

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