According to the Evening Sun, Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) is working to consolidate over 500 of Pennsylvania’s school districts down to 100 districts. According to Rendell, “Almost everyone agrees that Pennsylvania has far too many school districts … we just don’t need that many school districts, and, more importantly, in today’s economy we cannot afford them.” Gov. Rendell is going to create a Commission to hash out the details of the plan, but if lawmakers reject the plans of that Commission, the state Board of Education has been given the authority to consolidate districts.
I disagree. More districts is better for several reason. First, fewer districts gives the federal and state governments more control over local districts — an idea that libertarians believe will fundamentally result in more failed schools. Then there is the obvious point that local teachers and parents know much more about local students than students being bused across the county or than state bureaucrats. Of course, there will also be additional burdens on local taxpayers.
As longtime RLC activist Jeff Palmer recently wrote, “A fundamental pillar of freedom is that power should be entrusted to the level of government closest to the people. A school board of a small district must be responsive to the voters; a school board of a large district is more insulated from its constituents and is typically beholden to unions, building contractors, and other large special interests.”
Keep in mind that, until the 1840s, American education was not a system at all, but a disjointed collection of local, regional, and usually private institutions.
In 2009, our federal Department of Education has a budget of over $56 billion annually. Under George W. Bush, the Department primarily focused on elementary and secondary education, expanding its reach through the “No Child Left Behind” law. The Department’s budget increased 69.6% between 2002 and 2004. However, an overwhelming majority of teachers oppose the law.
In 1996, the Republican Party made abolition of the Department a cornerstone of their campaign promises, calling it an inappropriate federal intrusion into local, state, and family affairs. The GOP platform read: “The Federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the market place. This is why we will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.”
This school district merger plan in Pennsylvania is another move toward central planning; it’s bad news for taxpayers, teachers, district administrators, and — most importantly — children who desperately need to learn.