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Put the Money Up Front

Education: To improve minorities' chances in college, spend a lot more in K-12.

May 25, 1997|CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER | Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist in Washington

The effects of affirmative action's slow death are beginning to roll east across the country from California. The University of California system is prohibited from using race as a criterion for admission. The first results are now in. Minority (black and Latino) admission to the freshman class at UCLA's and Berkeley's law schools dropped 80%. At the University of Texas at Austin, minority admission was down 85% in the law school.

Any drop in minority representation in such important institutions is a serious national problem. What are we doing about it? What is at the heart of President Clinton's huge educational initiative--by his own boast, the largest single increase in higher-education spending since 1945?

Answer: A $35-billion federal giveaway to middle- and upper-middle-income college students.

Yet the great crisis in American education is not at the university level. It is at the elementary and high school levels, where thousands of kids--particularly inner-city minority kids--are getting educations so rotten that their entire life prospects are blighted.

What, after all, are the California and Texas experiences telling us? They're showing that under affirmative action large numbers of minority students were being admitted on the basis of race. Take away the criterion of race and four out of five minority law applicants who previously would have been admitted to these schools don't make it in straight-up colorblind competition.

This is a tragedy that cries out for remedy. Think of what Clinton could do with that $35 billion. At $35 billion over five years--$7 billion a year--we could be giving 2 million inner-city kids an outright grant of $3,500 per year to improve their elementary and high school education. (According to the Cato Institute, the average private school tuition is $3,116.)

Now, we can argue left and right how to give it out: whether directly as a voucher to the child for private education or poured back into the existing system to improve the public schools.

I favor the former. But I'd be willing to try the latter. For example: For every class of 20 children, take the $3,500 per child and offer it to some special top-quality teacher as a bonus--$70,000 ($3,500 x 20) per year in addition to regular salary--for teaching in the toughest inner-city schools.

Or why not a grand experiment? In one part of the country, a voucher system; in another, a massive teacher incentive program.

Devise whatever program you want. But the point is to spend that $35 billion where it is desperately needed: at the pre-university level that is so obviously failing our minority kids.

Given (as the affirmative action proponents correctly claim) that, under the new post-affirmative action dispensation, minority enrollment in higher education will decline, why is Clinton lavishing money on an education initiative that promises to go down in history as the Aid to White (and Asian) Kids' Education Act?

After all, Clinton fancies himself the nation's great racial healer. His aides say he wants to leave his mark as the president who bridged the nation's racial divide. And what does he do about it? An apology for the Tuskegee experiment. Fine. But this is typical of Clinton's no-cost, feel-good politics-as-therapy.

Therapy is nice. But what the kids of South-Central could use are better schools.

The administration is talking, too, of launching commissions and town meetings--a "national conversation"--about race relations in America. Yak, yak. As if in the land of O.J. and Rodney King and Fuzzy Zoeller and Jackie Robinson's 50th and Proposition 209 there is a lack of racial discussion.

The race problem in America does not need more conversation. It needs cash. Cash where it can make a real difference--in the schools.

If Clinton wants to attack the problem of racial inequality, he should be working to ensure that the next cohort of promising minority students receives top-flight preparation during kindergarten through grade 12, so that these children can get into the college of their choice meetingthe same academic standards as their Asian and white counterparts.

Thirty-five billion for education? Sure. But we should be pouring it not into some fat middle-class entitlement whose only certain effect will be to inflate college costs for all, but into the inner city where the failure of government-run education is a disgrace to the nation.

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