Tuesday, July 04, 2006

More lack of love for home rule change

Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, expresses his dislike for amending the District's Home Rule Act to guarantee "free, high-quality public schools" for all on the Post's op-ed page.
Even its supporters are uncertain how "high quality" would be defined. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp observed, "If I had everyone in this chamber write down what a high-quality education means right now, I bet we would get a hundred different answers."

Nationally, only three states promise "high-quality" schools. All three -- Florida, Illinois and Virginia -- have been sued based on that language.

Council member Carol Schwartz sought to prevent residents from using the new language to sue the District. Her motion was voted down 12 to 1. One could imagine local lawyers grinning as D.C. school board candidate Marc Borbely said, "Our tool has been moral persuasion," but "now, people fighting for better schools will have a legal power also."

The D.C. Council is already responsible for the District's schools. Having failed to provide even "medium-quality" schools, it's unclear what council members think this language will accomplish. If they think the school system needs more money, they already have the authority to raise taxes.

If the issue is reform and not revenue, courtrooms have proven a pretty lousy tool for "fixing" schools. In fact, experience in cities such as Baltimore and St. Louis suggests that they may do more to sidetrack than stimulate school improvement. The District's sorry experience with special education is proof enough of that.

The District needs leadership, not empty language. Let's hope council members remember that, even in an election year.
I've been whistling this same tune for a while.

No comments: