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Cato Scholar: End It, Don't Mend It

Enough single-issue items for now. It's time to look at the big picture.

Today at noon I'll be moderating a discussion at the Cato Institute. The focus of the event is a new book by Neal P. McCluskey, a Cato policy analyst. As you might expect from a libertarian, McCluskey argues against NCLB and any other significant federal involvement in K-12 education. The title of his book sums up his position: Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education.

"It is clear that 40 years of expensive federal intervention in our schools has been a failure," McCluskey writes. "Yet the flow of money keeps increasing and federal meddling keeps spreading."

McCluskey explains that NCLB runs afoul of basic conservative tenets. It has increased the federal government's say in curricular and testing decisions, while also dramatically increasing federal K-12 spending. He digs up a quote from Rep. David Souder, R-Ind., from the day the House passed NCLB in 2001: "We wouldn't have passed this plan under Bill Clinton. It's more money than we would have given Clinton, and we would have never given him a national test."

After McCluskey's presentation, Mike Petrilli will respond. Petrilli has had his own love-hate affair with NCLB. He helped implement it from the Department of Education during President Bush's first term. As recently as 2005, he extolled the law as a way to make affluent schools pay attention to their neediest kids. Earlier this year, he turned against NCLB, although he "still likes its zeitgeist." And he has dismissed the House's discussion draft on Title I as "The Suburban Schools Relief Act."

My question for McCluskey and Petrilli will be this: Judging by their combination of disgust with and ambivalence about NCLB, how can President Bush expect to generate enough support among Republicans to support its renewal?

This page on the Cato Web site tells you how you can tune in.

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