Parochial Education Projects Harming Students

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) has released an oversight report on education earmarks entitled “Pork 101: How Education Earmarks School Taxpayers.”

“The tragic story of American education since 1965 shows that virtually all efforts to reform the system have failed.  Every meaningful measure of academic proficiency has either gone down or failed to improve in spite billions of dollars of education spending.  Of course, the problems in our system are manifold.  Yet, instead of leading the nation in a serious discussion about how to improve education, Congress has made the problem worse.  As this report documents, Congress’ obsession with its own self-interested parochial projects are harming students, delaying reform and undermining our future,” Dr. Coburn said.

“This report doesn’t suggest there is one easy answer. Instead, my goal is to force Congress to ask the hard questions it has avoided as it has embarked on a futile and counterproductive orgy of earmarking.  In many cases, earmarked projects are not given to schools and colleges with the greatest need but those with the best lobbyists.  Thankfully, the American people, local communities, and even filmmakers are way ahead of Congress in this debate.  People of good faith across the spectrum understand that even if we solve our debt crisis will never revitalize our economy and secure our freedoms if we don’t improve our failing education system.  This report, I hope, will give the American people information and insight that will help hold members of Congress accountable,” Dr. Coburn said.

The report focuses on two federal programs, each intended to spur innovation of the American educational system, that have become slush funds for congressional pork projects: the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) and the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE).  These two programs fund 97 percent of all education pork projects.  Over the last decade, Washington politicians obtained 5,563 earmarks costing nearly $2.3 billion through these programs.

Wasteful and egregious trends and projects highlighted in the report include the following:

•  This decade, federal lawmakers secured over $181 million from FIPSE and FIE in support of honorary programs named after themselves and other politicians.  (See pg. 40)
•  Jackson State University received a nearly $500,000 FIPSE earmark to establish a school of osteopathic medicine despite having no intention of establishing the school. (See pg. 34)
•  The U.S. Department of Education granted an extension of authority for an FIE earmarked project despite the fact that funds were being embezzled by its earmark manager, who is now serving 63 months in prison.  (See pg. 36)
•  A $200,000 FIPSE earmark was given to La Sierra University in California for a comprehensive university branding initiative.  (See pg. 58)
•  Oklahoma State University received a nearly $900,000 FIPSE earmark for a project that allowed participants to role play as members of Congress as they debate the current year’s budget and learn to responsibly negotiate budget decisions.  (See pg. 45)
•  Politicians have provided $3.2 million in FIPSE earmarks this decade to help fund scholarship and loan repayment programs for aspiring lawyers at Rutgers. (See pg. 38)
•  $4.3 million has gone to support Big Labor through the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland.  (See pg. 55)
•  A $200,000 FIPSE earmark went to Central Washington University for “curriculum development” – aka wine studies.  (See pg. 57)
•  In FY 2010, elected officials funneled a half million dollar FIE earmark to a private entity to develop an internet safety curriculum.  Its cost was sufficient to prevent teacher layoffs in the school district where the private entity awarded the pork project was located.  In fact, the earmark would have provided 65 percent of the district’s funding shortfall.  (See pg. 30)
•  Politicians provided the University of Hawaii – West Oahu a $200,000 FIPSE earmark to produce “Primal Quest,” a film documentary on some the most studied and photographed people in the world.  (See pg. 57)
•  A $25,000 FIE earmark went to Clark County School District in Las Vegas for mariachi music. (See pg. 56)
•  While nobody likes negative children, it is a dubious national priority to earmark funds to deter negativity in children, yet lawmakers did just that.  (See pg. 59)