Saying Texas must be free from a “one-size-fits-all federal education system,” the governor’s office recently announced the Texas Education Agency will seek a waiver from the onerous No Child Left Behind law. But just as we seek to reduce federal control of education, it is time to consider new ways to free parents and teachers from other bureaucratic intrusion.
The federal waiver would rightly seek to sever the strings that come with federal dollars, thereby easing the burden Washington is imposing on our schools. This is welcome news and a good start.
Frankly, the sooner we get the federal government out of public education—and stop them reaching into our pockets in the name of education—the better off we’ll be.
As we demand the devolution of power from Washington to Austin, we must make sure it doesn’t stop there. A new governing mandate must be to devolve power to the lowest possible level, especially when it comes to education. If we value the idea of federalism—the notion that the several states should be laboratories of policy experimentation and innovation—perhaps we should look in the same way at the more than 1,000 school districts in the Lone Star State.
There is a fundamental choice that awaits us; one which we must confront if public education is to improve. Who should wield the most educational power? A centralized bureaucracy with “experts” selling questionable services and products, or those closest to the children: parents, teachers and local taxpayers?
Do we trust parents and teachers to run their public schools? What’s the risk?
We regularly hear from local school officials that they are impeded by a dizzying array of mandates and regulations imposed by the legislature and TEA. Now, let’s first remember that our state constitution requires the legislature “to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Can anyone argue we have an efficient system of public education? All told, we spend approximately $12,000 per child, with roughly only half getting to the classroom. Some of the non-classroom spending is the direct result of mandates, but more still derives from an imposed culture of top-down management.
Is there a better way to support and maintain our schools than through state control? A stronger system of accountability to harness?
Our state constitution provides the single reason we have public education in the first place: “the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people.” The fundamental nature of freedom is the ability to make choices.
If educational outcomes can be improved by loosening the state’s control over local decision-making and classroom instruction, wouldn’t that be a noble goal?
Frankly, by placing more power in the hands of parents and teachers—and limiting power the further away one gets from them—the more likely we will be to preserve liberty. Thus we will have accomplished the constitutional goal of education: promoting self-governance.
In terms of constitutional efficiency, “mistakes” made locally will be more readily apparent in comparison with the decisions of other schools and districts. (As it stands today, mistakes are masked because everyone is mandated to take the same steps—and therefore the same mistakes—at the same time.)
Meanwhile, a marketplace of public education—freedom from top-down micromanagement—will flourish. Letting parents pick which public school best suits their children’s needs ensures the most efficient use of taxpayer-dollars, while providing the truest form of accountability possible.
Not everyone will be happy. Those who currently profit off the one-size-fits-all monopolized approach to education will be the most unhappy. After all, they will no longer be able to compel the purchase of products no one wants to buy.
Taxpayers, parents, educators and children will be the winners. Schools will organize themselves around the needs of their communities like never before, taking on shapes never imagined or allowed.
As we prepare for the 2013 legislative session and the looming debate over education finance, the Legislature must be encouraged to consider reforming the governance structure of public education in a manner that provides parents and teachers with far greater direct control.
It is only by putting the people fully in charge of their local schools that public education can most efficiently meet the needs of all children. This is the essence of liberty and our heritage of self-governance. It is Texas at work.