Local Control of Schools: A Fanciful Democratic Endeavor
For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change - Audre Lorde
In a Connecticut State Superior Court decision on September 7, 2016, Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher ruled that while the state of Connecticut is providing adequate funding for its school districts, the methods by which those funds are being distributed violates the state’s constitution. According to Moukawsher, “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid and school construction.” Moukawsher went on to claim,
…the state spends billions of dollars on schools without any binding principal guaranteeing that education aid goes where it’s needed. During the recent budget crisis, this left the rich schools robbing millions of dollars from poor schools…
Judge Moukawsher declared that a system that “allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns makes a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty” in providing “a minimally adequate, free public education.” He gave Connecticut six months to devise a new funding formula that applies “educationally-based principles to allocate funds in light of the special circumstances of the state’s poorest communities.” Judge Moukawsher went on to apply his indictments of Connecticut’s education system to the U.S. public education at large.
In step with common corporate education reform mandates, this unelected judge also ordered state leaders to “link the terms of educators' jobs with things known to promote better schools” by raising “standards for hiring, firing, evaluating and paying education professionals.” As part of this union busting agenda, Moukawsher also ordered the state to better define the purpose of elementary and secondary education based on the rationale of quantifiable education standards tied to tests that determine grade promotion, high school graduation and rationalize the high cost of special education.
Judge Moukawsher was appointed to the Connecticut of State Superior Court by Democratic Governor Dan Malloy, a committed education reformer. Prior to being appointed to the bench, Moukawsher spent years as a banking lobbyist as well as as special counsel to the Connecticut Senate Commerce Committee. It is therefore easy to assume that his ruling is based on the same interests and worldview as those who are driving education reform policies. Additionally, Moukawsher’s ruling has the potential to create more opportunities for charter schools and EdTech companies to grab more funds that will (supposedly) be directed towards Connecticut’s most impoverished school districts.
In his argument, Moukawsher identified local control as a long-standing problem that, while not law, is an American tradition that releases the state from taking more responsibility in guaranteeing an “adequate” education for “poor school districts.” To achieve his mandates, Moukawsher went on to decree that the “state's responsibility for education is direct and non-delegable” and therefore “it must assume unconditional authority to intervene in troubled school districts.”
Local control of schools in the U.S. has traditional conservative roots, stemming from antifederalist fears that evolved into localist, states’ rights and libertarian ideology. According to education historian Carl Kaestle,
…the tradition of local-state governance has prevailed over efforts to equalize education resources across state Schools Matter: Local Control of Schools: A Fanciful Democratic Endeavor: