“Our formula is as simple as it is sweeping: The federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the workplace. That is why we will abolish the Department of Education and end federal meddling in our schools…”

— The Republican platform, 2000.

Yes, times do change. Last week it was mainly Republicans and conservative organizations that were lambasting Maine’s failure to obtain federal Race to the Top funding for the state.

It’s hard to imagine a more meddlesome, top-down, heavy-handed government program than this one.

The Department of Education dangles the usual carrot — money — and the states, badly in need of money, must comply with detailed guidelines to obtain it.

The Race to the Top Program Executive Summary alone runs 15 pages. In response, states have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants who have produced voluminous applications.

Maine alone spent $75,000 on the consultant who helped write its failed application.

The federal requirements are specific and extensive:

* …”adopting standards and assessments”

* …”articulating state’s education reform agenda…”

*…”ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals…”

“…”ensuring successful conditions for high-performance charters.”

And that’s just through page three. The summary goes on for another dozen pages.

Make no mistake, many of these are good and necessary ideas. It is truly embarrassing that Maine’s efforts to reach such goals ranked 33rd among the 36 states applying for the second round of funding.

Indeed, other than developing ambitious standards and assessments, the Maine Legislature and the state’s educators have shown little taste for more radical reform.

The Legislature has specifically outlawed charter schools, and lost 32 points in the Race to the Top total for that alone.

The state also showed little evidence that its educational establishment supported even its modest application for change.

Only 38 percent of school districts signed on to the application, and only 30 percent of local teachers’ union leaders did so.

“Maine appears to have only low to moderate commitment from local education agencies,” the evaluators said, hitting the nail squarely on the head.

Maine was criticized for its lack of boldness. Its lack of detail. Its lack of ideas for implementation. Its failure to better link teacher performance to pay and promotion.

“It’s frightening how far behind we are,” Steven Bowen of the Maine Heritage Policy Center told the Bangor Daily News.

He’s right. We are behind, and it is discouraging.

What’s more frightening, however, is the widespread acceptance that the federal government has the authority to blackmail us into action with our own tax money.

Whatever happened to the conservative principal of state and local control over education?

Apparently, when you agree with what’s being enacted, you are happy to have the federal government use its full force and authority to enact it.

Other than a few conservative think tanks, even Republicans seem to have accepted the idea that bureaucrats in Washington know best when it comes to educating children in Maine.

It was Ronald Reagan who boldly proclaimed that he would abolish the Department of Education.

But it was George W. Bush who enacted the now largely discredited “No Child Left Behind” expansion of federal involvement.

Now the Obama administration has taken federal interference in our lives, and the lives of our children, to an entirely new level.

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