Just how many federal education programs are there?
In Washington, estimates range from fewer than 200 to nearly 800, depending on which party does the figuring. And nailing down the number has become one of the hottest education debates in the 105th Congress.
The squabble began in January, when Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., announced that his subcommittee had completed a two-year investigation and found more than 760 federal education programs across 40 agencies. The subcommittee counted everything labeled as an "education program" in the Office of Management and Budget's Catalogue of Federal and Domestic Assistance.
Mr. Hoekstra recently said he was appalled that only 38 percent of the programs were run by the Department of Education. He announced that he wanted to "peel back the layers" and examine each program to ensure it is worthy of every federal dollar it receives.
But then Democrats pointed out that many of the programs targeted have nothing to do with elementary or secondary education. Also, many have not been funded for years, they said.
"This is recycled misinformation," said Education Department spokesman Rick Miller, who added that the document contains programs such as cancer research and air-traffic-control training. "To lump those in with everything else is misleading," he said. The department maintains there are fewer than 200 currently funded schools programs.
Mr. Hoekstra defended the list and said his point was simply to try to eliminate bureaucracy. The programs are "still on the books," even if they are no longer funded, he added. In his most recent count earlier this month, he cited 788 programs.
Now that he has a balanced budget agreement, House Speaker Newt Gingrich says he has three goals: To improve education, eradicate illegal drugs, and reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
After a recent speech to a group of religious broadcasters, Mr. Gingrich told reporters that schools must make up for the societal problems children face at home, adding that "good teachers are missionaries."
Apparently, though, there aren't enough missionaries in the schools now, in Mr. Gingrich's view. If the public education system were a private-sector employer, the board of directors would "close the institution and try to lock up the CEO," he said.
--JOETTA L. SACK firstname.lastname@example.org