In Wisconsin, a battle over "local control"

Education politics just got weirder: liberals are now for "local control," and Tea Party conservatives are against it. At least that one's way to read the situation in Madison. [quote]

Everyone knows that school reform has long foundered at the local school district level. Powerful teachers unions, with the help of state and national behemoths, get their friends and allies elected to the boards with whom they negotiate. Those boards--whether out of niceness, naivete, or negligence--make promises that taxpayers can't afford. Education spending goes up, and productivity goes down.

Governor Scott Walker wants to change that equation by taking certain issues off the bargaining table. This has been characterized as union-busting or political advantage seeking--and perhaps it is. But fundamentally it's a vote of no confidence in local school boards--for if they could be counted on to put the public's interest first, the state of Wisconsin wouldn't need to tie their hands in terms of the salaries or benefits they could offer.

It's true that Walker's proposal isn't the only solution to the problem of political imbalance at the local level. Instead, he might have called on his Tea Party supporters to take local boards by storm by getting themselves elected--and then pushing a harder bargain at the negotiating table. Alternatively, he might have called for a statewide teachers contract, as one prominent commission did a few years ago, so that the public could be represented by a serious advocate (himself).

But his approach--defanging the foxes guarding the hen-house--is the quickest route to fiscal solvency--and another (welcome) chink in the armor of? local control.

-Mike Petrilli

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