The Corner

Re: Slicing NJ’s Schools

Yesterday, I mentioned New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s brave attempt to cut his state’s budget by implementing large cuts and limiting the ability of lawmakers to raise taxes. This morning a reader sends me this note:

The point that isn’t made anywhere in your post is that it’s not enough to limit the revenue side (reduced state subsidy, caps on local tax increases). More of an effort must be made on the “mandate” side, or in other words, the cost-driver side of education. Here in PA, we cannot furlough teachers because of the school code. On paper, our boards can eliminate a program, but when PA Dept of Ed requires that program to be part of the curriculum, how can you cut?

This is a very good point. So many of New Jersey’s problems (and those of other states) come from the mandates imposed on them by the federal government or state court rulings. I asked Eileen Norcross, an expert on the fiscal situation in New Jersey, about this question and she replied:

I agree, more must be done to limit the mandate side. Mandates come in many forms:  curricula, education standards, and any number of other things that are set at the state level (and of course, the federal level – NCLB is an example of this). It is a matter of loosening up the centralization that has taken place in the last several decades in the provision of education. It’s not easy. There are constituencies, such as the NEA, that benefit from a centralized system. But a combination of reforms may help – introducing more flexibility on the local level, such as allowing districts to use state standards as a guide or recommendation, rather than imposing them as a requirement.  Real reform requires a reexamination of the current approach towards education policy in the states and at the federal level.

She suggested two articles that illustrate how states struggle with the state/federal education mandates: California and Oklahoma.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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