Debate: Parental control vs. centralized control . . . and school finance

The goal is to get the best possible education for our children — but how do we get there? Do we hand a check to the parents and let them walk it to the school of their choice? Do we bundle the money and deliver it to local school districts? Are there risks to greater centralization of education policy?

Professor Jay P. Greene argues for decentralizing control:

Dreaming about a world in which parents almost entirely control the education of their children at least provides me with a principle by which I can judge policy proposals.  I favor policies that move us closer to my ideal and oppose those that move us farther away.

“Why I Favor Decentralized Governance of Education”, Jay P. Greene’s Blog, May 8, 2012.

In Texas, a hot topic is centralization of school finance. Five lawsuits are challenging the current system. “A Guide to Texas School Finance Lawsuits”, The Texas Tribune, February 29, 2012.

Under our current system, money for education is largely raised by local property taxes. School districts with higher property values (called “Chapter 41” or “revenue-contributing” schools) send money to the state (the Foundation School Program), which then redistributes the money (plus money from other sources, such as the lottery) to school districts with lower property values. Charter schools are largely funded from the Foundation School Program.

The various school finance lawsuits were filed by groups of schools with differently aligned interests. Most complain that the state does not distribute money fairly. Others complain that the system has effectively created a statewide property tax, which the Texas constitution does not allow. One lawsuit, the self-proclaimed “Waiting for Superman” lawsuit, complains that the current system is not efficient.

Would centralizing school finance across Texas lead to better education services for students? How would the school finance system handle a dramatic increase in the size of the charter school community? Is there a way to reform the Texas school finance system that is consistent with Professor Greene’s goal of making policy decisions that move towards greater parental control?

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