School Choice Is the Lasting Solution Only with Local Control
[Education Commissioner Deborah] Gist is wresting power from the unions and implementing reforms through the state Department of Education, such as the no-bumping rule. In Cumberland, meanwhile, [Mayor Dan] McKee is taking power away from the school committee and enhancing the role of the mayor.
In both instances, the intent is laudable, but what happens if an anti-reform mayor is elected in Cumberland, or a new commissioner takes office at the state level, one less inclined to do battle with the unions?
Either way, control is just being shifted from one governmental entity to another — from the school committees to the mayor, or from public teacher unions to the education commissioner and the superintendents.
The danger is a bit more acute than that. In both cases, power is moving farther from accountability. In the case of a mayor, accountability is still local, but education becomes muddled in with every other issue the town faces. With the mayor running the show, voters no longer have an elected position that’s directly and solely responsible for education. That could dilute the opportunities for grassroots action while increasing the opportunity for special interests to stitch together coalitions.
In the case of the commissioner, power has moved not only away from local hands, but also to the hands of an unelected bureaucrat. Should Commissioner Gist be replaced with somebody interested in serving an entirely different constituency (if you know what I mean), voters’ recourse is through the governor’s office, where education becomes even more diluted as an issue for the grassroots and special interests have the full state tableau of special interests in which to make alliances that are unhealthy for the state. In other words, it’s what we have now, but with unions’ focus honed in on the more powerful, more centralized focus of power.
This consideration becomes even more significant when one takes into account that Bill’s (correct) solution, more broadly, is the parental control inherent in school choice. The power of such freedom diminishes as the controlling authority, for schools, spreads out to a broader array of the choices that parents have. The unions might not mind the idea that parents can send their children anywhere when all of the significant decisions related to taxation and school management are controllable at the state level.