Lance Hill in New Orleans knows what it is like to have no democratic control of schools funded with taxpayer dollars (so do people in New York City, but that’s another topic).
|Local democratic control of schools is the last remaining obstacle to the complete privatization of public education. For that reason alone, the movement to save public education needs to make this a central program tenet.
Locally elected boards are the only entity that has the mission of keeping public schools public. They have a vested interest in retaining public control of schools and ensuring quality education since their actions directly impact local community life. That don’t always live up to that mission, but democracy allows us to hold them accountable.
State control is no different than federal control since state elected officials are more susceptible to lobbying and legalized bribery (called “campaign distributions) and nearly impossible to access and recall. Local board elections, unlike any other elected office, provide an opportunity for voters to specifically vote up or down education issues and not compromise their vote because they agree with a candidate’s stand on other non-education policies. Local school board elections are normally the only opportunity for the direct expression of the will of the people on education issues.
I agree that local democracy is rife with problems. But democracy, unlike privatized education, is self-correcting. Corrupt and incompetent boards can be thrown out of office. Local democratic control does not preclude state standards and state and federal protection for liberties, equal rights and due process. There is an appropriate role in local education for state and federal government and there is also an appropriate role for locally elected schools boards.
In the past when local boards have done stupid and corrupt things and violated the rights of students and teachers, we have often turned to the judiciary and state and federal government for remedies. But local democracy has always been a balance of the rights of a community and the rights of individuals that the community has the power to neglect or abuse. That balance has shifted dramatically toward hierarchical and corporate control of education which now makes paramount the role of local democracy as the guardian of public education.
This is the time to put aside our misgivings about aspects of local control and make common cause with all who want to keep public education public. Once we save public education from the usurpers, we can return to fighting (with each other) for intelligent, honest, and accountable education. If we lose local control of schools, we permanently lose the right and ability to control those elements of a good public education.