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Monday, October 28, 2013

"Conservatives" and Education: Why is local control such a radical idea?



The State of Indiana is meddling again. We have a solid Republican legislature, a Republican governor, and a Conservative state supreme court. Nevertheless, the state thinks it's perfectly alright to mandate exactly how local school boards do their business. They feel the need to reach into every classroom and have people who've never taught a single lesson in school decide what form of pedagogy works best. They have seized property taxes from local municipalities and used it to enforce their pet theories with an iron fist. All of this has been done, ostensibly, in the name of Conservatism.

Even talk radio hosts have jumped on this bandwagon. Both Limbaugh and Hannity tend to paint the lack of positive outcomes for certain students as a problem of the local schools, something changeable by legislative (i.e. state-level) means. Yet, in all other areas, they extol the virtues of governance at the most local level possible. They cite the overspending caused by unnecessary bureaucracy. They cite the unresponsiveness of a distant and cumbersome centralized government. They cite the wastefulness of collecting funds from local areas and then redistributing a fraction of that money back to the same places it was taken from. In all of this they are absolutely right. For some reason, there is a disconnect between the principles of true Conservatism and so-called Conservatives' opinions on public education.

Can it be said that state control of local school policies has improved our educational standing compared to the rest of the world? Certainly not, and these selfsame pundits are constantly citing the widening gulf in achievement between the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. They have bought wholesale into the Progressive idea that equalizing funding via state redistribution schemes will equalize achievement, yet we can all see that this notion has completely failed. The same people who deny that funding makes a difference in achievement are perfectly fine with norming funding so that all schools within a state spend the same amount per pupil.

I suppose that makes me either an extreme right-winger or a liberal, depending upon whether you consider public education to be exempt from the principles that govern the rest of Conservative thought. I, for one, don't think so. Let's keep the state's paws out of local schools. They've done enough harm already.

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