The federal government has a role in ensuring that individuals can participate in the liberties that have been secured to them. And while the Supreme Court has not explicitly recognized a fundamental right to education, it has gone a long way to imply that a basic education is a prerequisite for enjoying other democratic rights that are enumerated and protected. I believe there should continue to be a federal department of education.
· I am persuaded by Hess + Darling-Hammond’s four duties of the federal government, though I would quibble with their “transparency for school performance and spending” role because I think transparency should also encompass resources available, constraints, and inputs not just the politically convenient ends, outputs, and outcomes that transparency usually means. I’d also like for spending disclosures to go beyond raw data and encompass best budgeting practices and cost accounting. Further, I see the federal government having a role in in incentivizing and supporting state education agencies to make their own administrative and structural changes that might unlock best practices for reducing bureaucracy and supporting local education agencies.
· Of course Madison’s Federalist No. 10 supports a federal department of education because his proposition extended means that there are factions that exist to act from the outside on education decisions—and logically also factions that exist within education to act on decisions the public should make about education. These individual factions, working from within and working from the outside, level out in a representative environment such that only those ideas worth bringing to a higher, next level decision-making get discussed: those ideas that are duplicative of efforts in other places, those ideas that are deeply believed, those ideas that are innovative enough to curry favor, and/or those ideas that are so much a part of the identity of the representatives that they cannot be left behind.
· However, I am unmoved by Friedman’s economics-based justification for no federal administrative role in education, though I do appreciate the separation of the two questions about what the federal government should finance versus what the government should administer. I see obvious problems with the voucher idea—for practical reasons and for definitional reasons. Putting black markets aside, a successful “free market” voucher system also relies on parents/individuals having the same access and amount of information about each educational choice and not having transaction costs (like the amount of time it take to pursue the voucher purchase, energy to devote to education research, distance and means to travel chosen schools, etc.). I don’t see this happening practically. By definition, a voucher would not, as Friedman wants it to, reveal an individual/parent’s absolute preference for schooling because as long as money can be added to the voucher to indicate an increased preference, individuals/parents will be faced with a substitution calculation choice—do I add money to the voucher I have to reflect my absolute preferences for education or do I accept my comparative preference and use the additional money to do something else that will bring me closer to fulfilling my basic needs? I don’t see how this escapes some of the conundrums we have now.