A Call for Tocquevillian Federalism

What do Alexis De Tocqueville, immigration policy and federal education policy all have in common? If you answered federalism, you would be right, but not for the reasons you might think.

In the seminal observational document of American democracy, Tocqueville noted that American democracy is predicated upon the premise of national laws locally administered. In the 1830's this was not an option for the young republic. If Congress passed a law, the slow methods of communication, the small nature of the national government and the far flung geography of America at the time all but demanded a certain reliance upon local government to not only promulgate federal law but to enforce it as well. In this respect the federal nature of the American democracy suited the rugged individualism of the American people. In short, those who administered the law had to look their neighbor in the eye when making decisions and that led to some different applications of the law to account for circumstances that Congress could not envision. The Tocquevillian Federalism, a national law enforced locally, can be a prescription for many policy areas and at the same time, engender more fully the ideas and ideals of the Framers, a limited national government and a robust state and local government.

However, today, with rapid transit and even faster communications, we as a republic have lost some of that Tocquevillian spirit. Congress can pass a law and a massive federal bureaucracy, backed up by a judiciary interested in even and consistent enforcement of the law, can execute a law without regard to sectional or local differences. Indeed, even the laws Congress passes are larger and more complex than ever before in an attempt to predict and respond to all manner of scenarios and never able to address unintended consequences. To be sure, the world is more complex, but that complexity screams not for more complexity in the law, but for broader guidelines on the national level and local enforcement and administration.

Outside of health care, education and immigration policy are likely to dominate the debate on domestic policy in the 2008 elections. On their face, there could be no two issues more different thatn these two. Education, a traditionally state and local govenrment responsibility, has become more and more federalized, even though the Framers, who thought education was vitally important, made no mention of education in the Constitution. In some respects that is not a bad thing, but in many other respects, education is a policy area screaming for Tocquevillian federalism. Immigration, on the other hand, a policy area expressly delegated to the Congress (see Art. I, Sec. 8) and federal government, is a policy area that Congress and the executive have nearly abdicated; paralyzed by interest group politics and our desire to not look mean-spirited on the international state. In the absence of federal leadership, more and more localities are stepping up to fill the void, only to be slapped down by judges who must read the law and see a federal pre-emption in this area.

A Tocquevillian federalism approach to both of these policy areas can provide immediate and lasting change. If Congress were to pass a set of broad federal goals in each of these areas of policy and empower the states and localities to enforce the law as their needs dictate, the goals of federal policy can be achieved and the proper functioning of our republic can be achieved.

As for immigration, the laws are already on the books that need to be enforced. Local law enforcement, tasked with enforcing state and local law, must still adhers to federal law, specifically things like criminal and civil rights (the Miranda warnings are a federal invention). There is no reason to suspect that a local cop in incapable of enforcing federal immigration law as well as state criminal or civil law. A local cop can check the immigration status of suspected illegal aliens and can begin the process of deportation just as easily as an ICE agent. Furthermore, a local cop in Thermopolis, WY has different immigration enforcement needs than a cop in El Paso, TX. If we empower the local police to help enforce federal immigration law, we can immediately and drastically increase the manpower to effectuate real immigration control.

On the education front, the more we read about states gaming the accountability system and the federal intereference in a traditionally state province, the more people are coming to realize that No Child Left Behind is better turned on its head. A national education standard, the goals and criteria that Congress believes indicates a well education child must serve as the goal of federal education policy. But that is where federal policy must end and state enforcment begins. This would be the ultimate in Tocquevillian Federalism, a broad national standard enforced by the states as best fits their conditions. States would be left to determine the remediation needed by schools that fail to meet the national standard. As Diane Ravitch noted in the New York Times on Oct. 3,

No Child Left Behind can, however, be salvaged if policymakers recognize that they need to reverse the roles of the federal government and the states. In our federal system, each level of government should do what it does best. The federal government is good at collecting and disseminating information. The states and school districts, being closer to the schools, teachers and parents than the federal government, are more likely to be flexible and pragmatic about designing reforms to meet the needs of particular schools.
(a brilliant, if unintended summation of Tocquevillian Federalism). There would be no doubts as to what the standard is and the states would be held accountable by their citizens, a more immediate accountabilty than a federal bureaucracy, for failure to prod schools to meet the standard.

Upon examining the Constitution and the specifically enumerated powers, there are some powers that must be undertaken by the national government alone. But in many other policy areas a Tocquevillian Federalism, of a national standard or law that is locally enforced can do wonders, both in terms of reducing the size of govnerment, but also in ensuring that national law does not become so large and complex so as to attempt to deal with every potentiality. As the U.S. Code has grown, the responsiveness and adaptiveness of federal law has declined. We need to embrace the idea that just because Congress can and actually does have the power to make legislation in a given area, does not necessarily mean that Congress and the Federal government are the only entity capable of applying or enforcing the law; the states and local govenrments are capable applying and enforcing that law and may often do so in a more effective manner.

In Tocqueville's time, such local administration was a necessity born of condition. Today, local administration is a necessity required by flexibility. Modern communications, instead of demanding centralized control, can actually effectuate local administration.

Posted by Matt Johnston at November 14, 2007 4:52 PM
Comments
Comment #238373

Interesting. Can you give some examples of the flexibility that is needed in each area, education and immigration? How would enforcing the law be different in different areas?

You have my curiosity aroused!

Posted by: womanmarine at November 14, 2007 5:40 PM
Comment #238381

The Federal Government collects taxes in every state, runs it thru the bureaucracy in Washington which leaches out a good percentage and then doles it back to the states by political patronage. Not a good system and one that should be servely constrained. Education is absoutely a state’s right and not the business of the Federal Government. Protection of our borders is addressed in the Constitution and is the responsibility of the Feds with cooperation of the individual states. Matt, I enjoyed your well presented and persuasive arguments. I just heard that the San Franciso city council is approving a city ID card which will be issued to all residents, legal and illegal. Not surprising but extremely short-sighted. Imagine the chaos and potential for harm if every city followed suit. But then, I guess the folks in SF don’t mind being herded like sheep. I would support a Federal ban on all these so-called “safe-haven” cities as they are in direct oppositon to the Constitutional Power of our Congress and a slap in the face to all Americans.

Posted by: Jim at November 14, 2007 7:28 PM
Comment #238382

Matt said: “To be sure, the world is more complex, but that complexity screams not for more complexity in the law, but for broader guidelines on the national level and local enforcement and administration.”

Which translates to unenforceable. And if locals decide not to enforce? As in the case of the Southern states and desegregation? C’mon, this is not new territory, Matt. We have a long and rich history of why local enforcement of federal law can fail horribly especially where individual Constitutional rights are jeopardized.

Matt, your comment misses the boat on education. “The states and school districts, being closer to the schools, teachers and parents than the federal government, are more likely to be flexible and pragmatic about designing reforms to meet the needs of particular schools.”

Equal and quality education is the right of every child in America. This was established in landmark cases in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Here is the problem. Local government politicians like Georgia and Alabama have no inclination to foster an educated and rational voting public. It is not in their political interests. Hence, leaving enforcement to them, is an enormous violation of every child’s right to an equal and quality education K-12.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 14, 2007 7:30 PM
Comment #238384

Matt

I pretty much agree with you about education. The feds should be responsible for enforceing anti-segregation laws and keeping the curiculum within 1st amendment bounds.It could be argued that there is a federal role in compeling states and localities that refuse to adaguatly fund pubic education to step up to the plate under a few constitutional clauses,one of them being “to provide for the common wellfare.
On immigrations issues your arguement can and is being used to modify immigration enforcement much differently than you suppose. In my region the local police have been instucted NOT to enforce federal laws.Not to check immigration status and not to assist federal immigration officials beyond minimum requirements.We have our reasons . They are local economic and humanitarian issues. Generally we do not want or need the feds interfereing.

Posted by: BillS at November 14, 2007 7:39 PM
Comment #238389

P.S., I generally agree with the rest of your article.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 14, 2007 8:49 PM
Comment #238392

Jim
You say that SF is shortsighted in issueing ID cards. Why is that short sighted?You also ask us to imagine “the chaos and potential for harm if every city did that.” Huh? I guess we will have to imagine it because it is imagninary. Any train of reasoning there?People eligable for services the city chooses to provide might be able to access them without a hassle. Jeeeze, not thats a terrible outcome.

Posted by: BillS at November 14, 2007 9:00 PM
Comment #238396

Jim said: “Education is absoutely a state’s right and not the business of the Federal Government.”

The Supreme Court disagreed with you in the 1950’s and 1960’s and that is a settled issue. Local education can not discriminate against taxpayer’s young. Equal protection clause mandates equal education K-12. There are most definitely Constitutional constraints upon local control of education.

There are a few tribes in the Amazon who still practice local education completely independent of federal government, if you prefer that. The rest of the industrialized world has accepted that education of its population is too important to the survivability of the nation to allow too much autonomous control to local officials whose careers may be jeopardized by an educated constituency.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 14, 2007 9:24 PM
Comment #238403

David wrote:

Here is the problem. Local government politicians like Georgia and Alabama have no inclination to foster an educated and rational voting public. It is not in their political interests. Hence, leaving enforcement to them, is an enormous violation of every child’s right to an equal and quality education K-12.
The Supreme Court disagreed with you in the 1950’s and 1960’s and that is a settled issue. Local education can not discriminate against taxpayer’s young. Equal protection clause mandates equal education K-12. There are most definitely Constitutional constraints upon local control of education.

And how has all this been working out under a federally-controlled system? You really have this completely backwards.

The fact is that local authorities DO still control the education systems in such places, and because their actions are under a federal umbrella, they have no accountability whatsoever to the parents, students, and communities that they serve. Somebody has to implement any educational system, and those somebody’s will always be somebody local even when their money and their authority flows from the federal government.

Who has the absolute greatest interest in seeing that students get the best possible education? Not officials in Washington. And not local officials either, so long they’re not held to account by their communities. The people with the most at stake are the parents and the students themselves. Hence it is better to make the system accountable to those people locally than to far-off officials in Washington who don’t give a rat’s ass.

Posted by: Liam at November 14, 2007 11:17 PM
Comment #238414

Liam, your comment reflects a reading deficit, when you respond with: “And how has all this been working out under a federally-controlled system?”

I never said we had a federally controlled educational system. I said, the Supreme Court established that there federal roles to be played in local education. Please debate honestly by avoiding answering phrases the person you are debating with never uttered. It’s bad form, you know and doesn’t speak well of one’s debate skills, command of the facts, aside.

Liam, you said: “The fact is that local authorities DO still control the education systems in such places”

But, of course, I never said they didn’t. In fact, I did say that some local officials have a vested interest in insuring their voting public is not well educated or rational, which of course directly implies that such local officials ARE still in control of much of their educational systems, accounting for why they are so far behind the rest of the nation.

The Supreme Court ruled discrimination in education violates the Constitution and equal protection clause, and empowered the Federal Government therefore to act in such matters. That clearly indicates a shared role in Education controlled by BOTH local authorities and federal statute and Supreme Court rulings.

Your comments appear to be unidimensional, black or white. And that’s fine. But, don’t try to subtly imply that such black or white thinking belongs to the person you are debating. It’s dishonest to answer dialogue which another person never uttered with the implication that they did.

If you want to debate me, debate what I actually say. Not what you wish I had said to make your argument stronger.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 1:47 AM
Comment #238415

Liam asked: “Who has the absolute greatest interest in seeing that students get the best possible education?”

The American people, Liam. And they vote and lobby their Federal Congress on Education issues. That makes education a federal political issue if nothing else. And Americans are increasingly realizing American education between 5th and 12th grades largely sucks in America compared to other developed nations. That can only be attributed to the results of local mismanagement of education, because as you say, local authorities hire teachers, select textbooks, and pass through students who have learned what the students their age in other developed nations have learned.

In a 2003 study conducted by UNICEF that took the averages from five different international education studies, the researchers ranked the United States No. 18 out of 24 nations in terms of the relative effectiveness of its educational system.

That is an appalling finding given that the U.S. is the wealthiest of them all. Clearly America’s priority on education is lacking and local management of schools is clearly deficient in far, far too many school districts.

There are many complex reasons why American education is not better than it is, of which politics is just one. Those reasons however, are not excuses for failing to produce a far more educated and competitively capable high school graduate.

I have seen this in my own daughter’s school where the teachers are teaching to the test, instead of teaching her how to critically think, evaluate, and analyze, and understand why an algebra problem is worked this way. Memorizing algebra formulas are soon forgot. Learning why that formula works for this kind of problem is retained far better and longer. This has been one of the major failings of the No Child Left Behind Act which sought solution through testing. America has far too many poor teachers. My daughter has but one teacher each year she says inspires her and makes learning enjoyable and interesting. That right there is a huge part of the problem.

My wife is an excellent teacher. But, she doesn’t teach children. She makes twice what school teachers get paid teaching adults to become claims adjusters for a major insurance company. Pay parity between public schools and private industry instructors is another part of the problem. Talented and highly skilled people are hard to keep on the cheap.

But parents don’t want to pay more taxes, and therefore, their schools can’t pay what it takes to lure talented and highly skilled teachers. Republicans are fond of saying money doesn’t matter in education. That’s because most of the leadership in the Republican Party don’t have their children in failing schools. Money does matter immensely in acquiring effective teachers overall. Sure there are exceptions, the gifted teachers whose dedication and enjoyment of teaching supercede the need for income. But, they aren’t sufficient in number to raise America’s educational standing against other developed nations.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 2:12 AM
Comment #238433

“But parents don’t want to pay more taxes, and therefore, their schools can’t pay what it takes to lure talented and highly skilled teachers. Republicans are fond of saying money doesn’t matter in education. That’s because most of the leadership in the Republican Party don’t have their children in failing schools. Money does matter immensely in acquiring effective teachers overall. Sure there are exceptions, the gifted teachers whose dedication and enjoyment of teaching supercede the need for income. But, they aren’t sufficient in number to raise America’s educational standing against other developed nations.” Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 02:12 AM

David, you are partly correct, taxpayers do not want to pay more in taxes to a failed education system and that is not an attitude of Republicans only. Your statement could be used as an argument for allowing parents to send their children to the school of their choice and receive a tax credit to offset what they are paying by virtue of local school taxes so they are not paying twice for their children’s education. It is true that the lousy public schools will loose students and, isn’t that what we want? If it is truly about a better education for our children then those public schools who can’t compete should no longer exist. Nearly every Democrat or Liberal I know is “pro-choice” in women’s reproductive rights and against parental choice in educating their children. What’s the deal here?
My wife is a retired educational diagnostician having served for 33 years in Texas public education. When the state and federal government spends, in some cases, over $100 thousand to teach a challenged child to tie his/her shoes, and considers that money well spent, it is not surprising there is not more money for teacher pay. Not every child is college material. And, unfortunately, some children don’t belong in school. I am not being cold-hearted here, just pragmatic. It is about the money, and even the wealthiest country has limits. The wise use of limited resources is good for America and our children. In my youth, in the 40’s and 50’s, we had classes that taught a trade to those not college bound. What’s wrong with teaching children how to make a living being a mechanic, plumber, electrician, welder, etc. if they don’t have the desire to earn a B.S. or B.A.?

Posted by: Jim at November 15, 2007 11:12 AM
Comment #238442

Jim said: “If it is truly about a better education for our children then those public schools who can’t compete should no longer exist.”

Because public schools are largely controlled and run by the parents, taxpayers, politicians, and school board locally, whose fault is it that that the schools are failing? Seems to me, a fire needs to be lit under the parents, taxpayers, politicians, and school board to force them to upgrade their own public schools to the standards they cry about not having.

I am for leaving the system as it is. If parents will consider paying double to send their kids to a private school, perhaps they should consider simply voting for higher taxes to improve public schools at the same cost as private school, and join the PTA, and vote out School Board incumbents and County Commissioners until they have quality public schools.

If responsibility, or the ability to respond appropriately is lacking in a school district to insure quality education, or the income base is so low as to prohibit the raising of taxes, then one has to question whether the children should suffer such lack of responsibility or poverty? The American people are in the process of deciding this, and if the decision is reached children should not suffer poor education for lack of responsibility or resources, more federal control of schools and infusion of tax money to hire competent and talented teachers may well be the result.

I see nothing wrong or offensive with this. If local communities want local control of public schools, then they need to INSURE their children are receiving an equal quality education as other children in the country. If they can’t, then another solution besides local control will follow. This has been the pattern followed by nearly all other developed nations whose systems produce better educated students than ours.

Democracy and the very survivability of a nation or society DEPENDS upon quality up to date education of its young. There is just no getting around the enormous stake all the people of the society or nation have in this issue. The correlations between poverty, crime, and violence in a society and lack of quality education are overwhelming and cannot go long ignored without serious damage and consequences to that society or nation.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 11:54 AM
Comment #238443

Jim
I am with you about vocational ed. In Ca. our schools are moving back to that. Shop classes were turned into computer labs. Computer skills are necessary for just about everything but most jobs involving them involve taking fast food orders.There is also more cooperation between our schools and building trades apprentice programs.
Parental choice within the context of public schools is supported by most “liberals”. What is not supported is taking needed funding out of public education to subsidize private schools.

Posted by: BillS at November 15, 2007 11:57 AM
Comment #238452

BillS, that partnership between business and schools is a very encouraging development.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 12:49 PM
Comment #238454

Thanks David and BillS for your comments. There is no magic in public ed anymore than there is in private ed. What needs to be measured and encouraged are results. If the private sector can produce a better educated child than the public school, both being funded with public dollars, where should the money be allocated? Why should parents with high income be the only ones allowed choice? If $1 of tax is better spent in the private sector should that not be encouraged? How will the poor be disadvantaged if their children can choose the private sector? Some say we need to get parents, school boards, etc more involved. Well, sorry to say, that’s just not working for whatever reason and no amount of money or magical thinking will change that. Let’s opt for a system that is, by all accounts, working and producing better educated children. It makes little sense to try and fix a system that is broken when we have private schools that work. It is not the parents and children who won’t benefit, it’s the bloated and ineffectual federal and state educational agencies that will suffer.

Posted by: Jim at November 15, 2007 12:56 PM
Comment #238466

Jim said: “Why should parents with high income be the only ones allowed choice?”

High income has always provided for more choice, Jim. As it should and must. The issue is whether all children are entitled to a quality education regardless of the means of their parents? Which of course translates to: Should poor income school districts be left with poor quality schools? Or, should the nation step in to provide additional resources to those low income school districts to elevate the quality of education within it?

Libertarian and many Republicans say Hell No! Democrats and a majority of independents say Yes. With Democrats recapturing majority control of government, it appears clear federal spending on schools is in low income districts is in the cards.

And an elevation in the quality of education in those schools will be the string attached to that federal dollar spending (Democrats get that now, finally!). In the end, it is inevitable that the federal government will be more involved local school districts to insure a minimum, but higher, standard of education is afforded to the children of all American citizens, regardless of their neighborhood or parental income. That is the step most other developed nations in the world have taken and the results are superior to America’s (24th amongst developed nation’s education systems in learning proficiency and measures of students).

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 4:42 PM
Comment #238485

Jim said: “Why should parents with high income be the only ones allowed choice?” Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 04:42 PM

David, Jim also said, “It makes little sense to try and fix a system that is broken when we have private schools that work. It is not the parents and children who won’t benefit, it’s the bloated and ineffectual federal and state educational agencies that will suffer.”

Sorry David, your magical thinking cap allows you to believe that a future congress, one controlled by Democrats or Liberals will have more success than the failed past Congress’s of both parties. More spending, same results, it’s a failed system that money won’t fix. More government mandates, more federal interference, more wasteful spending is what you’re advocating by believeing that congress can fix these glaring problems. The constant reference to European models is a little tiring. Just saying their system will work in America is at best, a guess. It makes about as much sense as saying let’s find the state with the best student achievement records and adopt that states methods to the other 49 states. Very simplistic if one does not consider all the variables involved. We have private schools that work now, not at some distant point in the future. Let the Europeans do what works for them and let us do what we know works best in America. Public education in competition with Private Education will lift the level of achivement of all students over time. And, we won’t need to spend billions of dollars experimenting or holding endless congressional hearings and investigations that go nowhere. The way forward is simple and fair to all as outlined in my previous post.

Posted by: Jim at November 15, 2007 6:04 PM
Comment #238489

Jim said: “It makes little sense to try and fix a system that is broken when we have private schools that work.”

Yeah, and we have laws suits flying in Texas over private schools that didn’t work but, ripped parents off big time.

The issue is not private vs. public Unless religious school is the issue. Religious schools aside which parents should pay more for, since religion is an extra topic not covered by public schools, the issue is whether schools private or public are meeting the nation’s and society’s and parental needs in preparing taxpayer’s children for the tomorrows they will face.

Many private schools offer evidence that more money improves education as they pay their teachers more, have smaller size class numbers, and many more material provisions. It would be natural to expect such private schools to produce a better educated student.

But, the minute one advocates for all private schools, you are back to a public school system for all intents and purposes. And, the minute private schools in low income districts attempt to compete with public schools with their own buses, a proportional share of special needs students and campus accommodations for them, that private school loses advantage over public schools.

So, the issue is not private vs. public, it is equal resources to provide high quality education even to those with special needs. And obviously, in low income school districts, the resources are not equal to match quality education in better resourced school districts.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 7:20 PM
Comment #238496

David and Jim,

both of you are arguing about a monetary/choice issue, or at least that is what it seems to me. I am a wholehearted, fully invested believer in school choice. But at the same time, public education, that is traditional public schools are in a pinch.

The issue is not really a lack fo resources, at least not right now. The issue is, and really always has been, resource allocation. It takes an average (real average) of some $9,000 per student per year to education a child in this country. That represents a nearly 400 percent increase from 40 years ago. At the same time there has not been a 400 percent increase in school effectiveness.

But interesting, David makes the point that low income school districts, the resources are not equivalent to provide a quality education. But that assumes that resources are the only or detrminative factor in education success. If you want data that resources does not mean quality education, you need to look no farther than our nation’s capital. DC public schools spend nearly $15,000 per pupil and have some of the most dismal schools.

I don’t think private schools only is a solution, nor do I think public education must necessarily be the norm. There is room for both, as well as charter schools, homeschooling and other as yet to be determined educational models.

Here is another idea to think about? Most state consitutions read that the state government shall provide for a system of public education. It does not say the state government shall provide a system of public education. What if the state simply got out of the business of providing a school system and instead provided a certain amount of money for each child to attend a school of their choice?

Posted by: Matt Johnston at November 15, 2007 10:42 PM
Comment #238498

Matt said: “But interesting, David makes the point that low income school districts, the resources are not equivalent to provide a quality education. But that assumes that resources are the only or detrminative factor in education success.”

Matt, how do you jump from “resources are not equivalent” to “resources are the ONLY determinative factor in education success”

That is illogical. And those are your words, not mine. Try applying some logic. Resources obviously are a major factor. My wife makes more than twice what a school teacher makes, teaching for an insurance company, and my wife is an excellent teacher.

Resources matter a lot in attracting highly qualified and talented and effective teachers. Sure there are dedicated talented and qualified teachers who sacrifice income to teach in our schools, but, there are nowhere near enough of them to bring America from its 24th standing compared to other developed nations.

But, it is also obvious that teachers are not the only factor. Overcrowding in the school can be a factor, the local culture and crime can be a factor, the provision of security from home to school to home for students can be a factor, parental involvement and education level can be a very large factor, and of course, the quality of the School Board and administrative staff for a school district can be a factor.

There are many factors. If you will note however, the majority of them do relate to financial resources. Financial resources of the district are not the only factors, but, for low income districts they can be amongst the most important limitations upon better education output.

Bush went to Yale. Proof enough financial resources are no guarantee of quality education. The student themself can be a factor. So, be careful in leaps to conclusions which bypass logical premises, or trying to attribute to others what they did not say. It doesn’t make for a convincing argument or debate.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 15, 2007 11:32 PM
Comment #238513

When it was determined that we the people should feed the hungry of the nation the method used to feed those poor souls was not for the federal and state governments to build food stores. We provided food stamps that the hungry and needy could use to purchase food at the store of their choice. By wise shopping for lower prices it enabled some of the voucher recipients to stretch their food voucher dollar. In much the same way, a tax credit going to those whose children are trapped in failing schools can provide choice for the parents to ensure their children get the best education available without paying twice. No where in my previous posts have I advocated for the elimination of all public schools. I advoce for the parents of children wanting a better education. Again I say, let the public and private schools compete for these scarce resourses and let the better system win along with all Americans.

Posted by: Jim at November 16, 2007 9:59 AM
Comment #238581

Vouchers for private education by the federal government, Jim, gives education for the poor, lower, and middle classes over to the federal government. Never has the Federal Government long provided funding without demanding accounting and compliance with government policy’s created for the use of the handouts.

There is a role for federal funding by public tax dollars for public education. But, the instant you give public tax dollars in support of private schools, the day is not long away, that the federal government will dictate to those private schools.

It is very much more difficult for the federal government to overreach in the affairs of local controlled public schools, for what it does affects all public schools and a majority of voters. That is not the case with private schools. The government can far more easily dictate to private schools taking public money one private school at a time, with little notice by the rest of America’s voters.

Is that the path you really want to travel? Remember, federal overreach in public schools musters the resources of an entire State or States to fight it. Private schools, on the other hand, have no such vast resources to fight the strings attached to public funding of the private school.

Religious private schools enjoyed 1st Amendment protections. Charter and other non-religious funded private schools have no such 1st Amendment religious practice protections. In a competition between public and private schools, if private schools win a majority of students, the federal government wins control over school indoctrination of children. Fine for the USSR, but, not America. But, that is where this competition you suggest will lead if ever greater public schools are replaced by private ones, funded in part by federal dollars.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 17, 2007 12:04 AM
Comment #238600

David, I receive a tax deduction for the interest I pay on my home and the Feds don’t dictate what color I must paint my walls. I am talking about a tax credit here, not a voucher system with strings attached. It’s simple, fair, and effective. Obviously, there are opportunities for pandering politicians to mess it up and we must be on guard. You fail to understand the premise here David. I am talking about parental rights to choose without government bureauracy dictates and the siphoning off of these precious resources. A simple tax credit…no more, no less, and no strings attached. One of the reason’s private schools are more effective is the lack of government control and mandates. I am not advocating making private schools public and subject to the whims of politicians, but of private schools remaining private with access by all who wish to use their services.

Posted by: Jim at November 17, 2007 11:38 AM
Comment #238633

It makes no sense to say that attempting to break the federal stranglehold on education by issuing tax credits or vouchers would result in the federal government moving in and exerting control over private schools. IF that happened, they’d have to be resisted tooth and nail (and would be) because the very reason for such tax credits or vouchers is to BREAK that stranglehold on education that the government already has and abuses.

Saying for this reason that there should be no programs that allow school choice is like saying that the federal government should not ensure the freedom of religion or freedom of speech because if they do, they’ll start regulating religion and speech. You can argue that the government DOES in fact try to regulate speech and religion, but their reason for doing so is NOT that they guarantee such rights. In fact, the only defense of these rights are that free speech and religion are supposed to be protected.

The same holds for school choice. Saying that we shouldn’t have something we don’t have now because having it would threaten our ability to have it makes no sense whatsoever.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at November 17, 2007 10:43 PM
Comment #238642

Loyal Opp, who is saying there should be no school choice? Are you arguing with yourself here?

For those who can afford it, there will always be school choice. For those who can’t afford private education or lack home tutoring options, moving to a school district of choice is always available as a choice. But, public funding of private schools merely begins the process of recreating another public school system. And taking funds otherwise available to public schools and redirecting them to private schools, undermines public schools.

There is no non-political reason why America cannot have the very best quality public schools in the world. It is politics and political will, pure and simple, that keeps our public schools from becoming high quality in every school district in the nation, as they should be. Especially in a highly mobile work force society, parents should be able to count on their kids having top quality education regardless of what school district they move to.

That should be the goal. This public funding of private schools is a band aid approach, and ignores entirely the problems with public schools. Some, not all, who support this publicly funded choice of private schools, are the planned beneficiaries of another segregated school system, but, instead of segregation by color, it will be segregation by financial class - the charter schools concept is primed for that evolution if we continue down this path.

Our neighborhoods have long been pursuing this path, and now many want the schools to follow the same path. This despite the evidence of research and very positive results of the few mixed income class neighborhoods designed that way from the gitgo.

Public funding of private schools takes America down the wrong path toward even greater problems without having solved the original ones.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 18, 2007 5:43 AM
Comment #238643

Matt, I have to point out that your references to Toquevillian federalism as you define it, is not the definition of federalism as defined by the Federalist Party of old. In that definition, there was as you say of necessity in the 18th century local enforcement of federal law, but, also, two separate but interactive jurisdictions and bodies of law, federal and state, with federal trumping state where conflicts arise on federal Constitutional grounds.

Today, the federal government has its own law enforcement, and though, as a result of 9/11, there is a dramatic increase in the cooperation between federal and local law enforcement, local law without federal law intersection is outside federal jurisdiction.

So, like law enforcement, a federally mandated national minimum quality standard for K-12 education can function without eliminating local control and administration, and the laboratory efficiencies of states meeting those standards in innovative ways.

What I have a problem with today, is that local schools are not meeting national standards, and even curriculum material is divergent from school district to district in areas like science, history, and literature. I truly believe in our future we will see, if we are to dramatically improve our educational product in America, a national minimum curriculum and testing based on national norms for quality education. Being a baseline and minimum, local schools can add more to that curriculum, but, may not remove minimum content required for national testing standards.

And if a school system consistently fails those national standards for their students, the federal government may elect to underwrite parent’s financial needs to send their child to another compliant school, or even, if there are none to be found in the district, the federal government may contract to have one established.

Of course, this would raise many federalist issues, and contention. But, in the end, if American democracy and capitalism are to survive, America’s educational product must improve significantly. And protecting and defending the United States from enemies both domestic and foreign is in the province of the federal government. Those who would subvert America’s integrity and future through sub-standard education, must be considered enemies at some point, to protect America’s future in an ever more competitive world.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 18, 2007 6:07 AM
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