If you have been listening to the news at all in the past couple of days you couldn’t have missed the stories of school districts around the nation that are closing schools in an attempt to cut cost. The reason they are so desperate to cut cost is because many of them are on the verge of bankruptcy.
Now in the stories that I have heard the common reason for these districts being in the condition that they are, is due to the down turn in the economy and the fact that they are having a hard time raising the local side of their funding because of the housing market.
I happen to believe that most of their trouble arises from federal intervention. All too often school districts are oh so willing to take federal funding. It must seem like a good idea to a small district in a poorer area. Suddenly they feel that they can compete with larger and more affluent districts.
Of course they are aware before they ink the deal that the deal comes with some very expensive strings. Federal education funding almost always comes with unfunded mandates that the districts must pay for from local taxes. So once they accept the deal they must implement these unfunded mandates. This may be possible in good economic times when the districts are flush with property tax money and the state is collecting transfer taxes on homes sold. However when the economy and the housing market turns downward , then the revenue source dries up.
If you factor in lower enrollment, which means less state funding, these local districts suddenly find themselves on the verge of insolvency.
So we can say that these districts got themselves in this mess, and that they should do exactly what they are doing,cutting cost and reducing their overhead by operating only the amount of schools they need to serve the needs of the district.
What is the alternative? Well its one that I personally would not care to contemplate. The scenario that I anticipate is that the parents in these districts that will be effected by these closings will scream to the heavens. They will complain that the decisions were based on the fact that the schools were in the poorer neighborhoods, I will not be surprised to hear the race card being played. The next step will be to appeal to the federal government for more aid. This will play right into the federal government’s hands.
I am sure that the federal government will be more than happy to step in and lend a hand. But don’t be surprised that this time, instead of just money, the federal government takes complete control of these”FAILING” school districts. Suddenly you won’t have just unfunded mandates, you will have the federal government actually running your local schools.
If we take this scenario to its logical end, we could see a time where we are subject to a federal property tax to pay for our local schools. We could see a time where money collected in Delaware could go into one big pot and be spent on schools around the nation.
To avoid this we must resist the urge to rail against closings and cuts. We must understand that there is not an endless pot of gold from which we can spend. We must understand that at times we may need to make sacrifices. We must understand that it may be better to suffer the short-term hardships, then to give up our local control forever.
I believe that we are currently seeing a move towards a federal school system. We are seeing a move right here in Delaware at a state and local level to consolidate school districts. In my opinion this would only make a federal takeover that much easier. At the other end , we see the federal government only too glad to keep handing out funding that is tied to more and more unfunded mandates, which will lead to more and more districts finding themselves between a rock and a hard place.