Local control means choice

December 5, 2013

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FULTON, Ga. – It is highly unusual for government school employees to endorse school choice.

meeting_2But one public school superintendent in Fulton, Georgia gets it: “There’s nothing more [in line with] local control … than choosing where your kids go to school,” Robert Avossa told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Local control is a weasel phrase that in education often means union control. Liberal local control proponents often insist the ability to elect a school board means government schools reflect the will of the families they govern. In truth, school boards are typically elected in low-turnout elections during off-season times such as spring. This means special interests such as teachers unions and the education establishment determine the electoral outcome at the expense of kids and individual choice, as the Hoover Institution’s Terry Moe and others have exhaustively demonstrated.

Sullying the name and concept of local control, however, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, just as the prevalence of divorce doesn’t mean marriage is worthless and fake Rolexes don’t mean the real thing is low-quality. People who want others to accept bad ideas must cloak them, so they use a worthy name without its substance.

So local control, when it means freeing families to meet their needs as they determine them and not a cover for slightly smaller central planning and coercion, is a central feature of any good education system, just as Avossa says. It’s similar to the concept of subsidiarity, in which responsibility for any one person or concern belongs to the individual or organization as close to that person or concern as possible. For most children, the people appropriately responsible for their care and upbringing are their parents. That’s why local control in education should mean parent control, and thus school choice.

Avossa plans to listen some more to the parents who trust their children to his care and ultimately start a portfolio of schools that respond to their desires: Montessori, unified K-8 without a separate middle school, and so forth. That’s certainly a good start and, again, far closer to family freedom than most public school systems, which are often not acutely responsive to family concerns.

True local control, by the way, is why charter schools do not destroy representative government, because they cannot compel students to attend. Every family that chooses a charter school implicitly votes for its existence by bringing their government education funds to it. If they aren’t pleased, they can take their kids and their money to another school. If too few people vote for the school that way, it dissolves, with far less harm than Detroit is facing. The more people’s lives and preferences are subject to central planning, the worse the outcome when that planning ultimately fails.

Authored by Joy Pullmann – Heartland Institute

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