Is “Local Control” an Obstacle to Reform?

The Hutchinson News carries an AP story (John Hanna) on special education students. It’s about whether some special ed students can be physically restrained, and if so, how.

That’s an interesting, or depending on your view, appalling story in its own right. Equally interesting is the reaction of some members of the State Board of Education, which is debating the question of whether or not to issue guidelines.

Janet Waugh, one of the dissenters from the board majority, objected to the idea of the state board getting involved in the first place.

Kansas has a tradition of leaving decisions about what happens in the classroom to local boards. For example, while the board sets general academic standards, it doesn’t review textbooks or dictate the content of courses.

“To me, this is probably another issue that is a local issue,” said board member Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat. “I support local control.”

Local control is one factor behind the state’s overly restrictive charter school regulatory process, which all but make charter schools nothing more than alternative schools operated by the same old school district, and not true innovators in governance.

We expect that any move towards vouchers or tax credits would run into the same obstacle, which is political if not constitutional: if a parent is actually able to decide that state and local dollars previously spent on her child in the local school instead, is that a case of “local” control?

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