Back in March and April of 2011, I did an eleven-part series on the state of education in America and efforts to reform a failing system (I’ll provide links at the end for anyone interested). I bring this up now because the Nation’s Report Card is out and shows more of the same: an educational complex in shambles with special interests more engrossed with furthering their own causes than championing the learning of today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders.
“About 22 percent of California’s eighth-graders tested on a national science test passed, ranking the Golden State among the worst in the nation, according to figures released Thursday.” (Fermin Leal, “Calif. Students Rank 47th In Science,” The Orange County Register,” 5/10/12)
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) penned an opinion piece for Politico on Monday evening titled, “Updating No Child Left Behind.” In it, Senator Harkin argues the No Child Left Behind legislation needs an overhaul that retains “its commitment to educating all children to high standards, while overhauling elements of the law that have proved ineffective.” Harkin’s measures for reform sound very reasonable, including focusing on “teaching and learning, not testing and sanctioning,” and eliminating “one-size-fits-all approaches” by replacing existing law with “state-designed accountability systems.” Further, Harkin writes, “the bill aims for a federal role that does fewer things – more effectively.” Wow, he almost sounds more like a Republican here than a liberal Democrat.
Few would argue that Harkin, as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions, is a central figure in efforts to reform education. And to many, Senator Harkin seems the ideal man for the job.
Education reform is of vital importance. America’s youth are falling behind the rest of the world in their studies. Children are not being taught the basic fundamental principles, traditions and values of our Republic. These are irrefutable facts that come despite the massive amounts of money we spend to correct the problem.
Real reform must look deep into the root causes of why our country is failing the children and at the same time understand that throwing more and more money at the problem is not the solution. Think about it, if money was the obstacle, we would have solved the problem long ago. After all, that’s what our government does best, spend money. Our government is so good at spending money that it has spent $14.2 trillion that we don’t have and can’t pay back.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) has long been a champion for education and the disabled. His signature legislative achievement is the Americans With Disabilities Act. So it is unusual to say the least that the relationship between Harkin and Au Clair School founder Ken Mazik goes back more than 17 years. In December 1993, as Mazik was gearing up to lobby welfare reform, Mazik and his business associates and employees contributed at least $14,000 to Harkin’s campaign committee, “Citizens for Harkin.”
Contributions have flowed into the campaign coffers of Harkin connected campaign and leadership PAC accounts ever since. But the relationship between Harkin and Mazik appears to have taken on more than the ordinary relationship of a donor who supports a politician who in turn is of course, grateful.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions, has enjoyed the support of a lot of donors over the years, but one of his biggest supporters is Kenneth M. Mazik. You won’t find him listed as such on the Center for Responsive Politics website though. That’s because Mazik has contributed or directed contributions exceeding $100,000 to Harkin’s affiliated campaign and leadership PAC committees through a maze consisting of his family, employees, and organizations. On at least one occasion, Harkin even used Mazik’s private plane.
So who is Ken Mazik and how can he afford to lavish Harkin with his largesse. He made his initial fortune at the race track, owns his own private plane, estates in Delaware and Florida, and has enough to spend lavishly on art and cigars.
When setting course to reform education, specifically to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” as President Barack Obama declared in his State of the Union Address in January, the interests of the children should come first and foremost. The interest of the taxpayers should also weigh heavily.
President Obama’s architect on education reform will likely be Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions. Where do Harkin’s interests lay? Are they with the children, taxpayers, or the country? Or do his interests intersect with those who support him? This of course is no easy question to answer. So let’s take a look at some facts and figures, primarily Harkin’s benefactors.
President Barack Obama’s plan to “out-educate and out-build the rest of the world” includes spending a staggering $77.4 billion in the next fiscal year, an increase of nearly 4.5% above previous levels. This won’t be easy in this climate of necessary budget cuts. With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, Obama’s go-to legislator will have to be in the U.S. Senate where Democrats still control the agenda and can carry his water. The Senator who Obama will rely on to implement his plan is likely to be Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions.
Senator Harkin seems the ideal man for the job. In the vein of Obama, Harkin’s a liberal’s liberal who views government as the primary solution to problems:
In Presidential politics, the maxim is always “are we better off today, than we were four years ago?” That question could apply to education: are we better off today than we were 30 years ago on the education front? The answer is, clearly not; but what to do?
President Barack Obama, the self-styled “agent of change,” appears set to travel down the same road we’ve been traveling, throwing more good money after bad at the symptoms, not the causes. Case in point, President Obama has repeatedly called for an “investment” in education. The so-called investment comes at the same time we face a severe fiscal crisis where the federal government is running trillion dollar, unsustainable deficits, and the nation’s debt exceeds $14.2 trillion.
Regardless, President Obama clearly controls the bully pulpit and will use it to drive the education agenda. We already know what direction he’s decided to go in: more spending.
The Iowa Independent is reporting this afternoon that Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is threatening Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) over government-run health care reform.
Walter Alarkon over at The Hill is reporting Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is threatening to use procedural tactics to force a simple majority vote over a plan to “cut off federal subsidies to student loan companies.”
Harkin’s Bill “Would End The Federal Family Education Loan program.” (Walter Alarkon, “Harkin Rattles Centrists Using Special Budget Rules On Education Bill,” The Hill, 10/19/09)