Washington is spending more money on federal education programs than ever before. But are American students any smarter?

It’s a question worth asking in the context of President Obama’s budget request, which increases the Department of Education budget to $69.8 billion. That’s a 2.5 percent boost over 2012 levels and the largest increase proposed for any domestic government agency.

And that’s not all. Tack on another $13.3 billion in mandatory spending for Pell Grants and the total request is $83 billion. Add to that $60 billion more from Obama’s supplemental “blueprint” — covering school construction, teacher pay and compensation — and you get the picture of just how much this administration has expanded the federal government’s role in education.

The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke takes Education Secretary Arne Duncan to task for suggesting he doesn’t have enough to make do:

If enacted, these proposals would mean that in one term, President Obama has spent almost as much on education as President George W. Bush spent in two terms—even considering the fact that Bush nearly doubled the size of the DOE. …

In his testimony about the budget before the House Education and the Workforce Committee last Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated that it is “unconscionable for us to ask a generation of students to pay the price for adult political dysfunction.”

What is unconscionable is for American taxpayers to keep pouring billions into more than 150 federal education programs that are failing children. Increasing spending on the status quo won’t improve outcomes. Instead, policymakers should free states to spend dollars on the education priorities that they believe would best meet student needs.

It’s not just spending on federal education programs that should alarm liberty-minded Americans. Under Duncan’s leadership, he’s gradually and systematically stripped power away from states and further reduced local control over education.

In exchange for granting states waivers from No Child Left Behind, Duncan has required them to adopt the Common Core State Standards, national standards and tests that require states to surrender control of their classrooms. Unfortunately, too many Republican governors have misguidedly taken the bait.

The loss of freedom can be reversed. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), founder of the 10th Amendment Task Force, is championing the conservative alternative to No Child Left Behind. It’s called the A-PLUS Act, and with 93 cosponsors in the House and companion Senate bill, is fast becoming the consensus conservative approach to education reform.

“It has always been the concept of a conservative alternative,” Bishop said, “that tries to meet the needs of kids and also tries to respect the roles of government that we haven’t done so well at for seven or eight decades.”

Unless conservatives take a stand, there’s little hope of stopping Arne Duncan’s power grab and the massive expansion of government.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertBluey