There's a strange thing going on in our country. It's something most of us would have never expected or seen coming.
It's a war on local control. Local control is a concept this country was built on. There's an old saying that the most effective governance is that which is closest to the people. It makes perfect sense. The closer officials are to the people they serve the better they can hear what their citizens want and need. For the people, if one can talk directly to the person voting on decisions and give an opinion, the more likely it is that the people will feel empowered and important. Officials who see their citizens every day are more respectful of the financial load taxes put on the community. This leads to more satisfaction among the populous. It also keeps officials accountable.
Somehow, the people who run our federal, state, and even some local governments have decided that the will of the people they govern no longer works for them. They want full and total control of the most important aspects of our lives, law enforcement, education, and governance, etc. Of the three, education is the most basic target. To manage this, they take our most important treasure, our children, hostage via Federal and State grants.
When someone is kidnapped and held hostage, the kidnappers rely on the fact that families want their loved ones back. This allows them to extort huge sums of money from families. If the families don't do as they are told, kidnappers remind them that the result will be catastrophic.
The Federal Government and the State of Maryland are the kidnappers. The citizens are the ones being extorted. The threat is the withdrawal of funding.
As an example, our small county on Maryland's Eastern Shore has a public school system made up of two high schools, two middle schools, and four elementary schools. The student population is around 4,500 students. This small system, through the Blueprint legislation, will get a total of $50,922,000 State and local money because that is the State mandated amount; the ransom the state requires.
Unfortunately, not every program in the Blueprint legislation fits the needs of our county. So, the local Board of Education requested $1,118,000 over the mandated amount to fund special programs that could benefit our students. The County Council, for the sake of fiscal sanity, gave only $286,000 over the State mandate. In total, the FY 2024 budget will be $7,883,000 ($4,070,000 county, $3,763,000 state) higher than FY23. This will equal a sizeable property tax increase of 4 cents per $100 in property value to citizens, many of whom can't afford it during this difficult economic time.
Residents of our county ask why the County Council doesn't tell the State to go pound sand. "Do we really need State money to fund our system? Can't we educate our children better for less?"
The simple answer is "yes, we could." All one needs to do is look at the last set of state test scores to know that what we are doing right now is not working and our funding is not making a positive impact.
There's a second part to that answer, however.
The second part begins approximately fifty years ago in the 70's. That's when President Jimmy Carter created the United States Department of Education. It was created under the guise of increasing the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress and the public. In reality, it was a payoff to the National Education Association. As one House Democrat said at the time, "The idea of an Education Department is really a bad one. But it's NEA's top priority. There are schoolteachers in every congressional district and most of us simply don't need the aggravation of taking them on. Strangely enough, this was at the same time that Progressive education gained a foothold in the U.S. education system. I know, I lived it. We stopped teaching content and started worrying about "values clarification;" stopped rewarding hard work and achievement and started giving out grades whether students earned them or not.
That's when the Feds started giving money to State Departments of Education and they started giving money to locals. Year after year there was another federal grant given to states who then filtered it down to locals. When I was teaching, someone once told me that the problem with grants is that once the grant is implemented and staff or programs are started under it, they can never go away, even when the federal/state funding did or when the programs were shown to be ineffective or unnecessary.
And that's how programs grow and systems start depending on federal and state money. It's like feeding a wild animal. Once you start and make that animal dependent on you, it will never be willing to search on its own. It can never be released back into the wild. You will have to feed it forever.
School systems which may have been able to do a great job without federal and state funding are no longer able to do so.
When I tell people this is they counter with, "Well, we will just do without all that extra stuff."
Hold that thought.
Before 1965, the Tenth Amendment (States Rights) prevailed over the Federal Government in education. States and local districts were able to run their schools with little or no interference from the U.S. Government. With the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, this changed. The Federal Government, as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, began sending money to state and local agencies if they followed certain mandates. From HARVARD ED Magazine, Fall, 2017:
Title I provides funds to schools with a large percentage of low-income students. Title VI provides aid for disabled children. Title VII allots funds for bilingual education. The amount of funding provided by esea was small at first — around 2 or 3 percent of a district’s budget, according to education historian and former Ed School dean Patricia Albjerg Graham — but too large for states to pass up. The incentives-with-caveats formula allowed the federal government to work around the 10th Amendment and have a greater hand in enforcing the 14th. It provided, in Graham’s words, both the carrot of federal funds and the stick of their withdrawal.
Every three years the ESEA had to be reauthorized by Congress. As it was authorized, more programs were added. As the Department of Education was established, grants and funding to locals who followed federal mandates were the rule, not the exception.
Fast forward through the Bush and Obama Administrations, where "No Child Left Behind" and "Race to the Top" initiatives gave their own spin. Locals were finding themselves beholding to Federal and State edicts. More staff, more buildings, more "stuff." More programs that didn't work or that actually caused more problems.
With Covid, the Government sent approximately $170 billion to school systems so they could open safely during the Pandemic. Many of these funds remain unspent and unaccounted for to this day. In 2022, federal aid to schools was 2.7 percent of National GDP. In1970, the total budget for the Department of Education was $12.7 billion. In 2021, the total budget was $68.6 billion3. And, don't forget the States' contributions to their education systems at the tune of $350 billion in 2019 or 46.7% of total school funding. All in all, school funding has risen approximately 176%. Test scores have dropped dramatically at the same time.
All of this funding is tied to a myriad of federal and state programs that schools MUST participate in. As I said earlier, schools are being held hostage. Think of that when you ask yourself why school boards, administrations etc. would allow crazy programs to exist. They don't believe they have a choice.
Again, the easy answer is that we should just jettison these programs. After all, do we need all the bells and whistles? For the answer to that question, we need some hypothetical situations. Imagine a mom whose child is getting free and reduced lunch under the Federal and State School lunch program. Or, imagine a family whose son or daughter is attending Chesapeake College for free under the Public-School Dual Enrollment Program funded by the Blueprint. Now, imagine our County Council tells the State of Maryland that we won't play their Blueprint game and the State takes away twenty percent of our funding. All of a sudden, the free lunch isn't free. The free Community College isn't there. What will those parents do? It may look something like what happened when EBT cards stopped working:
People go crazy when EBT cards stop working: (EBT is Federal/State welfare)
When someone is given free stuff, extra programs, special designations, these things move from being nice and helpful to being expected. Gratitude becomes entitlement. Perhaps the reaction wouldn't match that of welfare recipients when cut off, but it will not be good.
All of a sudden, the County Council who is trying to save taxpayers money and make schools more cost effective and efficient is a local pariah.
The State and Federal Governments know this. They know that people will not stand for having all their goodies taken.
As I said, they have taken our children and our schools hostage. Every time we think we have paid the ransom, they increase the price tag. It's always presented with the idea that we don't fund schools properly and that is why children aren't learning.
This is a mess that will go beyond mere refusal on the part of local districts. It's going to take the courage of community leaders to stand up and say, "enough is enough." They will have to fight the educrats and Teachers' Unions with counterarguments and research for every line item on budgets. Unions will spend millions of dollars to get these leaders voted out of office. Citizens and parents will have to stand behind our leaders and support their efforts, even if it means our children don't get some favored status or special program.
It means that school systems will have to give up all the additional staff and programs and focus on their real purpose, academics. Some will find this hard, particularly those teachers who never really learned how to teach. Administrators who had jobs tied to junk federal and state programs will be out of work.
It will take time. This started in the 70's and now, fifty years later,we are STILL paying the ransom to those at the National and State level who are holding our children hostage to their extreme Progressive ideology. Only now the ransom keeps increasing.
We have to stand up and say "Enough is enough."
If you want to see this entitlement attitude on display at the National level watch the current argument over the debt limit. The Progressives want to keep putting this country into more and more debt, and they don't care who that hurts now or in the future. They will continue to create more programs, more "problems" to justify their gross overspending.
Jan Greenhawk, Editor/Writer for The Easton Gazette
June 1, 2023