More Local Control?

Is local control for education a good thing?

We’ve argued that within the present system, local districts ought to be able to decide for themselves how much they tax themselves. By contrast, current policy is to limit that amount, in the name of equity, and we would argue that what Kansas needs is less local control, in the selection of where students go to school, and more parental control, in the form of school choice and competition.

But let’s stick within the current context. Kenneth Daniel is out with a strongly-worded condemnation of both the status quo and many of those within it, in the piece titled Skin in the Game.

The operation of “local control,” he argues, has changed in two ways. First, members of local boards are now “pawns of the education special interest lobbies.”

Let’s step aside from Daniel for a moment. Assume for a minute that is true; the important question becomes “Why?” There are many answers to that question, but here are the two most important: public choice theory says that a small number of people with a lot to gain from increased public spending (say, teacher union leaders) will outhustle ordinary citizens, each of whom will lose just a little bit. Equally important, though, is the widely-held assumption that to question today’s operation of public schools is to question the value of education itself.

Now, back to Daniel. The second way, he says, in which local control has been weakened is that the role of local money is decreasing and role of state and federal money is increasing. Certainly, he who pays the pier calls the tune. “Unfortunately,” he says, “we have made it virtually impossible to go back to local funding.” Given the current assessment of the Kansas Supreme Court’s rulings on education and the current funding scheme, he’s probably right.

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