Engler's Briar Patch
The tone of Derek Green's "Engler's Angle" (Aug./Sept.) suggests that it is desirable to remove the public education funding debate from the cities and towns and centralize it at the state level for more uniformity and manageability, as if taxpayers have no right to craft local variations on some universal entitlement to the government/NEA version of a good education.
It's certainly not the poor taxpayer who will find Michigan's new school funding arrangement more manageable. He might find the time to campaign and lobby in his behalf in his own community but can seldom break away for even a day or two of inexpertly trying to be heard in the halls and corridors of the state capital.
Obviously Gov. Engler and company have tossed Br'er Rabbit (the Michigan Education Association) right into the briar patch, where their well-paid lobbyists can curry favor all year long with key legislators, without the worry of taxpayer involvement. The prior struggles over education funding were evidence that the taxpayer still had a fighting chance against the behemoth school lobby and its scary vision of ever-growing management and control of America's youth.
Now, thanks to Engler, less-resistible state taxes can be raised and raised and raised some more to feed the public-school lobby's insatiable demands. Any domestic peace attending these hikes will signal not public satisfaction, but the soulless surrender of a host organism to its overpowering parasite.
Mr. Green replies: Mr. McClarin correctly points out that one risk of centralizing public- school funding at the state level is some loss of local control over, as he puts it, the "right to craft local variations" in the type of education that schools offer students. I mention the problem (and other, more serious ones) in the article.
But in concluding that Gov. Engler and company have given the MEA even wider lobbying power (it's hard to imagine how anyone could have done that), Mr. McClarin misses some important points. First, Michigan's plan attempts to compensate for the effect of centralized funding by opening the way for a comprehensive, statewide charter school program. Charter schools offer a practical way for designing entire schools that fit local needs. Further, Michigan taxpayers are still able to levy property taxes on themselves in those districts that wish to raise funds beyond the state allowance. And mandatory tax caps and a shift from property to sales taxes make it unlikely that taxes will be any worse that they were before in Michigan.
Finally, Mr. McClarin suggests that poor voters will be less able to lobby at the state level than at the local level. That may be true. But all the local campaigning and lobbying in the world doesn't do much good when a school district has no money. That's one grievous inequity a centralized funding system, though far from perfect, can help relieve.