How about making “local control” very local?

Proposals to drastically increase the size of school districts by force of law are being discussed in the Kansas Legislature. Some people oppose the idea on the ground that it would take away “local control” of education.

Start for a moment with the fact that “local control” isn’t quite what it appears. You’ve got the federal government using No Child Left Behind to nudge (some would say coerce) states and districts into certain actions. (The Obama Administration would make some changes that districts generally like, but even those changes still retain a federal role.) State government, meanwhile, imposes its requirements on schools as well. Oddly enough, the policy question that has gotten the most amount of attention over time–what the State Board of Education says should be taught in science classes–isn’t, strictly speaking, binding on districts. And what the state ought to impose on districts–a common chart of accounts and online disclosure of check registers–it doesn’t.

Now consider another question: If “local control” is important, why not make control as local as we can–invest the family with control? If you are a parent and you are dissatisfied with your child’s education in some way–you want him in or out of special education, you think she’s not being challenged, you don’t like his teacher–your options are limited. You can appeal to the school principal and perhaps other officials. But if you don’t get satisfaction that way, you’re more less stuck.

You are generally assigned to a school by your residence (see, for example, USD 259 Wichita), though in some cases you might be able to use a magnet school, which is a start in the right direction.

Kansas law also allows for a student in one district to enroll in another one (see the end of this post for the specific language), though it’s up to districts to agree to it, and students must play “Mother, may I?”

Kansas law also allows for charter schools, though the substance of the law means that charter schools are in effect little more than district magnet schools of another name rather than truly independent, alternative options.

So if, as a parent, you want some control over the environment your child is in, you have two expensive options: Pay private school tuition (after you’ve already paid taxes to the school your child won’t attend) or move to a new district. Your choice, under the current “district-of-residence” arrangement, is limited by what the political process (school board elections, state and federal rules, etc.) plays out. In that situation, “local control” is cold comfort.

To truly advance “local control,” we should recognize the primacy of parents by letting them take the money allocated on their children’s behalf to any willing school, whether or not it is operated by a local board of education. We should also have a charter school law that allows for these schools to be truly independent entities; that would also enhance “local” control.

Right now, the purest sense of “local” control in Kansas is the virtual school experience. Parents and their children can choose from a number of school districts that offer virtual schooling. If you don’t like what Basehor-Linwood is offering, you can try Lawrence, or another school, without having to move. But not everyone is cut out for or interested in that kind of schooling.

A final note: What about “local control” in sparsely populated areas? You might say “Being able to choose from a variety of schools is a good thing, but what about people in sparsely populated counties that have very few schools?” There’s no easy answer to that, admittedly, other than to note that a lack of many options in rural areas it not limited to schooling. Urban, suburban, rural, and, well, very rural environments all offer a variety of benefits, and limitations.

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Chapter 72.–SCHOOLSArticle 82.–ORGANIZATION, POWERS AND FINANCES OF BOARDS OF EDUCATION

72-8233. Interdistrict agreements for provision of educational programs authorized; conditions. (a) In accordance with the provisions of this section, the boards of education of any two or more unified school districts may make and enter into agreements providing for the attendance of pupils residing in one school district at school in kindergarten or any of the grades one through 12 maintained by any such other school district. The boards of education may also provide by agreement for the combination of enrollments for kindergarten or one or more grades, courses or units of instruction.

(b)   Prior to entering into any agreement under authority of this section, the board of education shall adopt a resolution declaring that it has made a determination that such an agreement should be made and that the making and entering into of such an agreement would be in the best interests of the educational system of the school district. Any such agreement is subject to the following conditions:

(1)   The agreement may be for any term not exceeding a term of five years.

(2)   The agreement shall be subject to change or termination by the legislature.

(3)   Within the limitations provided by law, the agreement may be changed or terminated by mutual agreement of the participating boards of education.

(4)   The agreement shall make provision for transportation of pupils to and from the school attended on every school day, for payment or sharing of the costs and expenses of pupil attendance at school, and for the authority and responsibility of the participating boards of education.

(c)   Provision by agreements entered into under authority of this section for the attendance of pupils at school in a school district of nonresidence of such pupils shall be deemed to be compliance with the kindergarten, grade, course and units of instruction requirements of law.

(d)   The board of education of any school district which enters into an agreement under authority of this section for the attendance of pupils at school in another school district may discontinue kindergarten or any or all of the grades, courses and units of instruction specified in the agreement for attendance of pupils enrolled in kindergarten or any such grades, courses and units of instruction at school in such other school district. Upon discontinuing kindergarten or any grade, course or unit of instruction under authority of this subsection, the board of education may close any school building or buildings operated or used for attendance by pupils enrolled in such discontinued kindergarten, grades, courses or units of instruction. The closing of any school building under authority of this subsection shall require a majority vote of the members of the board of education and shall require no other procedure or approval.

(e)   Pupils attending school in a school district of nonresidence of such pupils in accordance with an agreement made and entered into under authority of this section shall be counted as regularly enrolled in and attending school in the school district of residence of such pupils for the purpose of computations under the school district finance and quality performance act.

(f)   Pupils who satisfactorily complete grade 12 while in attendance at school in a school district of nonresidence of such pupils in accordance with the provisions of an agreement entered into under authority of this section shall be certified as having graduated from the school district of residence of such pupils unless otherwise provided for by the agreement.

History: L. 1984, ch. 261, § 1; L. 1984, ch. 262, § 1; L. 1991, ch. 220, § 5; L. 1992, ch. 280, § 47; L. 1994, ch. 36, § 1; L. 2002, ch. 167, § 7; July 1.

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