Local Control Empowers Parents and Taxpayers

Feb 26, 2024 at 12:21 pm by JC Bowman

Local control has always been a vital part of the American education system. Until Race to the Top came along in 2009, conservatives defended the importance of local autonomy as a cornerstone of democratic values. Now, with a Republican supermajority 14 years later, they have embraced state and federal regulations aimed to standardize public schools. The new boss is just like the old boss.

Local control of schools is crucial to shaping a shared philosophy of education. Local boards must provide quality education that reflects community values. Strengthening local control and engagement can create a greater sense of common good. It's vital to remember why we have schools and education.  It is also critical to recognize the importance of educators as the primary drivers of student success.

Most citizens in Tennessee prefer greater control over their local schools instead of having them controlled by the state or national level. Taxpayers traditionally believe local officials should be in charge of running schools. However, current state and national policy debates have narrowed the purpose of education to simply enhancing economic competitiveness, overlooking the broader goals that matter at the local level.

Big government elites that champion centralized education policy often have a distinct perspective that differs from that of the average local person. We can stress the economic benefits of public education and the need for transformation but must avoid alarming language. Stakeholders and policymakers must communicate more clearly and assertively to instill confidence and inspire hope. It is crucial to prepare students for college and careers and cultivate democratic citizens who value the common good and are committed to working for it.

When individuals reminisce about their most cherished experiences in school, they typically recall instances of social learning, intellectual stimulation, and the connections they formed with their educators. This underscores the significance of a comprehensive approach to education, which prioritizes more than just test scores and economic achievements.

The history of local control in education stems from a deep-seated distrust of a centralized state and national government bureaucracy.  Most also believe in the value of educated citizens for a democratic society. However, in recent decades, efforts have been made to weaken local control and place more decision-making power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and contractors.

Local control is vital for effective education. All levels of government must cooperate to ensure high-quality education policies. Local officials should oversee schools for community understanding. A united effort is critical to provide children with the education they deserve.

In his book "The Fight for Local Control," Campbell F. Scribner addressed high-stakes testing, which bypassed local school boards. As a result, inequalities between districts were reinforced, while participatory government within them weakened. According to Scribner, this outcome retains the negative aspects of local control while forfeiting its virtues.

While enhancing local control is not a solution to all the educational challenges, it can help revitalize the connection between the public and their schools. Journalists, educators, and advocates can collaborate to encourage public participation and discuss educational issues. Let's unite and use our expertise to create positive change. Discussions about the purpose of education can lead to finding common ground and shared goals, resulting in improved academic performance.

Improving education requires decisiveness, continuous debate, finding common ground, and appeals to shared principles. Localized control and meaningful conversations can improve public education. We must provide quality education to all students while being transparent and accountable to the public, as we owe it to future generations.

Local control of education gives communities a say in their schools. It empowers parents and taxpayers, fosters innovation and competition, and can lead to better educational outcomes. We should prioritize local control of education as it's crucial for building a stronger society.


JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.