Yes, you did read that correctly! Ok, so maybe you’re thinking I’m off my rocker; what in heaven’s name do cows have to do with the Constitution? Well, according to an interesting post by Liliana Segura at AlterNet this week, we learn that COWs is actually a device that Neil Bush is selling to school districts around the country.
Despite having no experience in education, Neil Bush is the founder of a Texas-based company called Ignite! Learning, which, since 1999 has peddled strange little devices called “Curriculums on Wheels” (COWs) to schools state and nationwide. Rather than anything bovine, COWs actually resemble bright plastic droids or office chairs gone terribly wrong. Described as “computer/projectors,” it’s not really clear what they do or how they work, and a cursory look at the company’s website does not help. (Apparently it involves swivel action.) Regardless, there are COWs for different subjects: the Math COW, the Science COW (“the ultimate classroom sidekick!”) and the Social Studies COW.
But here’s the kicker – Neil gets (surprise, surprise) federal funding for his COWs! It’s just another miracle provided to you and I by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Well, of course, there are some people who aren’t happy with this, and another acronym is speaking out against the possible impropriety:
Recently, a three-month investigation by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) revealed that schools are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, including No Child Left Behind funds, on Neil Bush’s COWs. “It is astonishing that taxpayer dollars are being spent on unproven educational products to the financial benefit of the president’s brother,” CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, said in a press release.
There’s definitely a problem here.Â But, where I see both Liliana and Melanie missing the mark is that they seem to focus primarily on the symptoms rather than the cause. Melanie’s statement is representative of this; “…It is astonishing that taxpayer dollars are being spent on unproven educational products…”
While it is a potential waste to spend money on unproven educational products, this isn’t the biggest problem. The real issue is that the federal government should not be taking your money and spending it on local concerns – at all.
First of all, there’s nothing in the Constitution which authorizes the federal government to engage in such spending. Readers of this site are probably quite familiar with the fact that the Constitution was written under the principle of “positive grant.” What this means is that the federal government can exercise only those powers which are specifically given to it in the Constitution. Everything else is left to “the States, respectively, or to the people.”
Constitutional arguments aside, there’s also a principle that needs to be followed – the idea that centralized bureaucracies are always loaded with corruption. Remember, it’s not the abuse of power that we should be most concerned with, but rather, the power to abuse. The ability to spend vast sums of money will inevitably lead to more and more corruption in government.
As long as this kind of spending exists, there will always – always – be corruption through kickbacks, contracts with friends and family, and the like. Unless we accept this reality, we’ll always end up with the short end of the stick when trying to improve education in this country.
Whether it’s Bush and his brother getting favored status and federal funding, or a future president and their family getting rich from your income, doesn’t really matter. As long as the power exists, it’s liable to be abused. And that’s the sad truth.