Some schools are rethinking federal dollars for education: it's costing twice as much as we're getting, they say

TRACKSIDE    (c)   by John D'Aloia Jr.

5/19/02 - Our community is embroiled in an internecine battle over the school boardís decision to restructure, transforming the high school in one city into a middle school. Citizens are up in arms. Attorneys have been retained. School board meetings are packed. Patrons are taking advantage of the board meetingsí public forum segments to exercise their right of petition, letting their elected school board members know exactly what they think of the idea. It is all in the best tradition of American participatory government. Unsettling though was one particular idea used as a rationale for putting the entire question to a public vote. The rationale was a familiar one, commented upon in TRACKSIDEs past. It goes to the effect "We are a Democracy. We should be allowed to vote on it. Let the majority rule." How easy it is to forget Civics 101 and the reasons why the Founders rejected the creation of a Democracy when they were crafting the framework of our nation. They knew full well that a Democracy - pure majority rule - degenerates into mob rule and anarchy.

We are a Constitutional Republic, with our law based on and constrained by the Constitution. Our control over the performance of the officials we elect to represent us is exercised at the ballot box - sometimes not very well, I must admit. Specific questions may be put to the voters at state and local levels, but only in conformance with statutory and constitutional limitations to protect the rights of all citizens. Citizens do not have, as they would in a Democracy, the right to impose whatever they want on the rest of the population if they can put together 50 percent plus one vote on a particular issue. In a Riley County Democracy, it would be a slam dunk to mandate that a purple cat head be painted on every car. A Jay Hawk fan would be out of luck with that question on the ballot.

Could the school board on its own submit the question to the districtís patrons? School district election state law does recognize "question submitted elections." Sending the "restructure-or-not-restructure" question to an election is an option open to the board. It would certainly take the heat off the board, but in doing so, the board will in effect be washing its hands of any responsibility for the decisionís ultimate results should the restructuring be rejected. We elect fellow citizens to represent us and make decisions based on the law and their evaluation of circumstances. We do not elect them to be but ceremonial vote counters.

Two elements underlie the districtís restructuring - the desire to implement an improved and forward-looking curriculum and the stark real-world realities imposed by funding constraints. The former is laudable; funding levels, for all intents and purposes, are out of the districtís hands. To compound the districtís dilemma, unfunded mandates from on high render the term "local control" almost meaningless. (As an example, the feds fund but 10% of the special education requirements they imposed on schools in 1970.) The nationwide situation is only going to deteriorate as the latest federal foray into K-12 education is implemented. The "Leave No Child Behind" bill imposes new educational and testing standards on school districts and new penalties if The Clerks determine that a school is "failing." Although the states write the assessment standards, Washington educrats must approve them. It is a "catch-22" situation. Set high standards for academic excellence and you face the risk of increasing the number of "failing" schools and the imposition of penalties. Set the standards low to eliminate the chance of "failing" and it will be suspicions confirmed for many - the purpose of government schools is to dumb down the population.

Some state governments are having second thoughts about accepting federal dollars and thus subjecting themselves to new demands by The Clerks. Vermontís Governor Howard Dean (D) has publicly stated that the federal dollars and control should be rejected. In the on-line Christian Science Monitor, he was quoted: "It may cost us twice as much as theyíre giving us, and thereís no money to pay for it." What should be of even greater concern than money is that the new federal law takes a giant step forward in transferring control of K-12 education to The Clerks. Just what we need, The Clerks deciding what our children should be taught. This is local control? In reality, it is unnervingly similar to the education systems created by the tyrants of the world to enhance the stateís power.

That we allow state and federal Guardians to use education as a route to power is an example by which we have failed to use the ballot box to prevent elected officials laying waste to freedom.


See you Trackside.

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