Wednesday, October 12, 2011

League of Women Voters Want to Know about the Federal Role in Public Education

Responding to a few questions posed by the League of Women Voters in Sussex County, New Jersey, I thought it interesting to share my thoughts on the role of the federal government in public education. Many national candidates have stated their position on this matter so this is a non political response from an individual point of view:

The current role of the federal government in public education appears to be much too imposing (too large)in my opinion. Additionally, the requirements surrounding federal "standards" do not come with sufficient federal funding. In fact, most of the federal regulations are unfunded mandates that need to be dispensed with. The simple fact is that legislative or elected officials have no professional role in formulating educational practices locally and those decisions about school priorities need to be left to the states and their localities. Let me explain. We receive about 2% or less of our total funding from the federal government and yet they demand a disproportionate amount of time, resources, and effort from school personnel that actually harms our ability to deliver efficient and effective educational services to children.

There is no provision in the United States Constitution for public education and thus the federal presence in public education exists by virtue of the defined role in each state constitution. Therefore, there is no actual foundation for the federal government to create policy or impose controls with any system of free public education in any of the states. Public education is exclusively a state issue. If the federal government wants to run schools nationwide, it needs to adequately fund public education nationwide which it is not currently doing nor has it ever done.

Responding to the League of Women voters question about the role of public education in a democratic society: A quality public education does perpetuate a strong democratic and representative government...this was stated by John Dewey over a century ago as the purpose for public education in the progressive movement. The problem here is that the federal government has had little to do with the evolution of public education in America. Again, this has been a result of state priorities and state constitutional mandates, not federal. The federal role in public education has served to complicate and confuse educational priorities in the name of "standardization" or "accountability" and the hunger for national comparisons on test measurements that do not yet exist. Ronald Regan attempted to dismantle the Federal Department of Education during his term and fell just short of that goal...someone should revisit this as a cost savings measure and turn the responsibility for public education back to where it the state level. The less bureaucratic interference for public education at the federal level will in my opinion solve many problems that are best left to the various states to resolve.

The discussion should revolve around how states can run an efficient and effective system of public education based on their own definition of free and appropriate public education and the complicated funding formulas that each state must strive to improve in order to provide an adequate public education to its citizens. For example, the needs of Texas and New Mexico will vary differently from the need of New Hampshire and Maine in terms of clientele and priorities. What authority does the federal government have in establishing these priorities for the states, much less any legal basis for imposing legislation on each state for public education? None.

The economic times that we are experiencing call for some radical changes in thinking about the federal role in many areas. Education is one of them. Let each state decide how to educate its citizens and reduce the federal imposition into an area it has little expertise in.

That is my opinion, not the opinion of my school board or school district.

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