Back to the Blog. I've taken my month off from visiting here and it's time to get back on the beam and start blogging again. I'm going to try and cover a lot of territory during the interim, posting articles and comments about national and state education policy and national and state political news.
I'd like to kick off the summer with an article from conservative thinker/writer Reihan Salam that was printed in Sunday's Minneapolis StarTribune. The article is entitled "What Would Actually Happen if Tea Partiers Ran the Country?" The gist of the article is that the Tea Party does have a distinctive vision of how it would govern given the opportunity. Salam writes from a national, federalist perspective and a lot of the piece is very straightforward, particularly in Salam's assertion that education would more than likely be funded through vouchers and/or an aggressive expansion of charter schools in the more conservative states. He doesn't mention how federal education policy would change and one of the bigger issues would be how special education and other federally-funded programs would be handled. Would IDEA be repealed? A great number of unanswered questions would arise in addition to this.
Where I would like to depart a bit from his script is to point out the more worrisome aspect of subsidiarity that he describes early in the article. Subsidiarity contends that power should lie as close to the people-at-large as possible (and often that simple association between individuals can replace government). I'm not intent on arguing those points. Salam has a viewpoint and he backs it up in this piece. What worries me is what the piece does not say.
Minnesota has a very strong constitutional provision relating to education, as do most states. What makes the constitutional protection stronger in Minnesota is that the Minnesota Supreme Court argued in Skeen v. State of Minnesota that education is a fundamental right under the Minnesota Constitution. The question then becomes--and admittedly this may be apples-to-oranges--is how the concept of subsidiarity meshes with this fundamental right. Clearly, Minnesota is a local control state when it comes to education policy. While there are numerous state mandates that limit the scope of what local school boards can do (and many of those mandates cause considerable headaches), local districts still do their own bargaining, develop their own curricula, etc.
What is a bit troubling to me is whether our funding system and the concept of subsidiarity fit together. The role of the property tax in funding education (a tax that is favored by many who subscribe to subsidiarity because it is the tax closest to the people and funding services consumed directly by local residents) is always going to be contentious. The tax burdens experienced by taxpayers in low property wealth districts is much greater than it is in high property wealth districts on a dollar-per-dollar basis of revenue even with Minnesota's commitment to property tax equalization. I don't think that the concept of subsidiarity threatens that in the near future, but if there is a turn in that direction nationally and in Minnesota, problems of differential property tax burdens may again arise. It is always important to remember that Van Dusart v. Hatfield, the lawsuit that launched the Minnesota Miracle was a tax lawsuit as much as an education funding lawsuit.
Anyway, I found this article extremely interesting as it provides some very heady food for thought. The Tea Party gets bounced around a lot by criticism that it doesn't have a set of guiding principles, but I believe Salam provides at least an outline of some of the intellectual underpinnings of that particular movement.