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A plan for America’s stupid youth

I just got done watching the final presidential debate, and I’m glad they finally talked about some different issues, like nominating Supreme Court justices and reforming health care. I was getting really tired of hearing both candidates give non-answers when asked what they would do about the economic crisis, because, to be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what to do about the economy right now.

Unfortunately, both Barack Obama and John McCain spent essentially the entire debate giving more non-answers to every question lobbed their way, including the questions about the Supreme Court and health care. I’m not sure why I expected things to be different after the first two debates, but I’m sorry to report that they weren’t.

The answers to the last question, though, were the most frustrating to me. The moderator talked about how American children trail those of just about every other developed nation on Earth in subjects like math and science, and then he asked Obama and McCain what they would do to reverse that trend.

Both candidates hemmed and hawed about vouchers and the failure of No Child Left Behind, and they bemoaned America’s high dropout rates and the increasingly astronomical price of higher education. Neither of them gave anything close to a concrete answer, however, to any of the issues the education question brought up.

To me that’s extremely disappointing, because this is by far the easiest of America’s myriad problems to fix. There may be no one on the planet who is stupider than me when it comes to issues of economics and finance, but I can solve the education problem right now in this very column.

Here’s the way it would work: Every time a child is born in America to parents who are U.S. citizens, the federal government takes $50,000 and puts it into a trust in that child’s name until that child turns 18 years old.

I did a little research, and I found five-year CDs that pay off at a rate of 5.12 percent, so I think it’s fair to assume that the $50,000 socked away in each child’s name could pay off at an annual rate of at least 5 percent. Compounded over the course of 18 years, that equates to roughly $120,000.

When each child turns 18 and earns their high school diploma or G.E.D., they would become eligible to receive their $50,000 to help pay for college, start a business or make a down payment on a home. The government would keep the rest, meaning they would not only recoup their initial investment of $50,000, but they would earn an additional $20,000 per child on top of that.

It’s a win-win situation. Kids would be more likely to finish high school knowing that it was worth $50,000 to them, college would become a whole lot more affordable, and the feds would be making money hand over fist that they could put back into public schools and increased salaries for teachers. What’s not to like?

As I said, I’m an idiot, and I almost never have any clever ideas, but I was very proud of myself for coming up with this one — until I did a little more research and realized it wasn’t really my idea. I found an article from last year on foxnews.com mentioning how Hillary Clinton, who I never for a second thought I agreed with, was in favor of giving every child a $5,000 “baby bond” that they could access when they finished high school.

The difference in our plans lies in the costs involved, however. There are approximately 4 million children born each year in America. Hillary’s plan would just give the money to those kids, which would cost the government $20 billion a year.

Admittedly, my plan would be a little more expensive than that to start with. The government would have to shell out about $200 billion a year to make it work, but after 18 years they would get all the money back and start making $80 billion a year on top of that. So it wouldn’t really be an expense.

Some people may balk at such a large price tag; it is a lot of money, I admit. But if we’re willing to spend $700 billion to bail out bankers who are already rich, can’t we figure out a way to set aside less than a third of that to support our kids?

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Todd Hartley

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10 2008

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