Who Has More Control Over Centralized Government?
Quite revealing, the underlying premise of regular Providence Journal contributor Tom Sgouros’s latest. He describes new education standards recently promulgated by the state Board of Regents that appear to give local school committees and districts more freedom in designing their curricula. What’s the problem with that?
The upshot is that school districts will be freed from the fiscal shackles that bind them and can manage their programs to increase their productivity. Sounds good? Even better, how about we say they can empower high-quality local school leadership to manage a streamlined 21st Century cutting-edge high-quality education program. What this means, of course, is there will be nobody to insist that elementary music classes aren’t just an hour of listening to the radio once a week with the regular teacher. If some school committee wants to call that a “high quality music program,” then there’s now officially no one to say otherwise.
So wave a fond farewell to your school librarians, the music and art teachers, the drama teachers and all the extras that make kids want to go to school. After the June 4 meeting, they won’t be required, so how long do you think your town will keep them?
What an astonishing view of government accountability! It would appear that an appointed (not elected) state board must be petitioned to change the rules because local school committees are all but unreachable… at least, Sgouros doesn’t mention the possibility of petitioning local government representatives to maintain programs that are important to residents.
The reason for this view is indicated by the three paragraphs that Sgouros spends complaining about property tax caps. If a town is constrained (one would prefer them to be restrained) in the amount of money that it can demand from residents, and if those residents insist that important programs such as music and library remain, there’s only one place to go, no? And applying pressure to the deals that unions have cajoled and bullied out of school districts is unthinkable to Sgouros’s crowd.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Tom and some among his peers don’t sincerely believe in the value of the programs that instruction costs are squeezing out. They know better than anybody that unions leverage state and national levels of power to implement ever-expanding contracts, so it makes sense, if they wish to protect programs, to install safeguards at that level. They’ve also learned that more powerful, higher, tiers of government may more easily be reached by powerful parties than by lowly taxpayers, whereas national lobbying influence and millions of dollars for expense on campaigns are not quite as indomitable in communities run by neighbors for neighbors.
I, too, believe that school children ought to have a wide range of opportunities for educational experience. Indeed, their loss is indicative of the American education establishment’s race to the bottom — focusing its resources on those who are more difficult to educate and thereby lowering the environment to a utilitarian plane for all. If America is to remain competitive with nations of differing economic, cultural, and demographic character, creativity and a capacity for innovation will be critical.
I also believe, however, that mandating creativity from the top down not only is oxymoronic, but tends toward corruption. I’d therefore join Sgouros in encouraging Rhode Islanders to show that they “care what kinds of services are delivered by our towns.” The most effective way of doing so is to approach that local committee whose members one sees walking their dogs and picking up prescriptions at the local drug store on a daily basis.