During a speech in New Hampshire last week, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said that education is too important “to be governed by unelected bureaucrats in Washington.” He said that education should be at the state level, or even better, at the local level, where parents could have direct input into the curriculum and what’s being taught in the classrooms. He went on to explain:
If you don’t like what’s being taught to your kids you can go down to the local principal, the local superintendent, the local school board, and you can make your views known. If they don’t listen to you, you can say, ‘You know what? I’m going to run for school board.’ You can have a direct impact. On the other hand, if education decisions are decided by some bureaucrat in the bowels of the Department of Education, he or she doesn’t care what you or I think. It needs to be close to the people because it’s too important, and education should reflect the values of each community at the local level.
Is there any parent who would disagree with that? Unless you’re a hardcore ideologue with an unwavering faith in the benevolence and competence of the federal government, you must believe that local elected officials are going to be more responsive to the needs of families and more accountable to the community than the unelected central planners working in a massive ’70s-era concrete building in Washington.
So why don’t parents and local school boards just tell the feds to take a hike on Common Core? After all, the 10th Amendment guarantees that the federal government possesses only those powers delegated to it by the states — or the people. It should be as simple as state or local governments exerting their constitutional authority and in turn, local governments doing likewise.
The problem, of course, is the money that the federal government uses to subjugate the states and suppress meaningful local control. Unfortunately, in most states, federal dollars account for 7-8% of education budgets. In essence, it’s a huge money-laundering operation, in which taxpayers send money to the federal government, a whole bunch of it is wasted in the massive federal bureaucracy, and then the feds send what’s left of it back to the states — but only after attaching plenty of strings and issuing volumes of federal regulations.
Lawmakers in Washington talk a lot about “fixing” No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which is arguably one of the most intrusive federal overreaches in our nation’s history, but you rarely hear anyone talking about eliminating the federal role in education altogether. Ted Cruz did say in New Hampshire that he thinks the Department of Education should be abolished completely, but most of the Republican establishment, including Rep. John Boehner, who co-authored NCLB, isn’t particularly troubled by continued federal involvement in education.
So, do states and local school boards have any recourse while they wait — maybe indefinitely — for the federal government to get out of the education business?
What if they refused the federal money?
Realistically, no state is going to voluntarily turn off the pipeline of education dollars currently flowing from the federal government. But what about local school districts?
No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and most of the other burdensome regulations owe their existence to the fact that compliance with them are conditions of receiving federal funding. If you refuse the funding, you remove the conditions.
What would it cost a local district to refuse federal funding?
The funding varies by state and by individual district, but as an example, my school district in Wayne County, Ohio, receives 7.41% of its funding from the federal government, or $676.25 per student. The state averages are 8.28% and $980.45, respectively. My district has around 1450 students, so refusing federal funding would cost the district around $980,000. I realize that I’m oversimplifying. The federal dollars provide funding for things like services for children with disabilities and the school lunch program, among other things, but I’m just looking at raw dollar without assessing how those dollars are used here.
Would it be “fair” for taxpayers to continue to send money to the federal government for education while receiving nothing in return? The reality is that taxes were never meant to be a dollar-for-dollar return on your investment. We all pay for government services we don’t use. We fund bridges we’ll never drive over and firetrucks that will never come to our homes. Those of us who homeschool pay for schools in our community that our children will never attend.
If you feel like your local schools are getting their money’s worth out of the 7% they’re receiving from the federal government and you think the federal mandates are a small price to pay for that funding, then by all means, encourage your local schools to continue to pay.
But when the price of freedom — of meaningful local control — is less than $1000 per student, it’s certainly worth asking whether the Trojan horse of government money is worth the enormous loss of local autonomy that rolls in with that money every year.
Image illustration via shutterstock / R.Iegosyn