Superintendent Tom Luna was a guest of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. yesterday, where he joined U.S. Representative Rob Bishop from Utah in discussing the importance of federalism and education reform. Both speakers emphasized the need for state control in education, citing both the Tenth Amendment—which leaves to the states all powers not expressly granted to the federal government in the Constitution—and the ineffectiveness of federal, one-size-fits-all mandates, many of which are poorly suited to meet the needs of rural states because they are designed for urban school systems.
Representative Bishop, who spent 28 years as an educator before his election to Congress, emphasized the need for choice and freedom in education, something he believes has been limited by excessive involvement and regulation by the federal government. Bishop strongly asserted the importance of federalism, which provides for more independent choices, options, and opportunities without a universal value judgment on those choices. For instance, if the citizens of the state of New Jersey want to implement a myriad of social programs and heavily tax themselves to pay for it, that is fine by Rep. Bishop, as long as they don’t try and impose those policies on the rest of the nation. Each state makes the choices that are right for that state, as determined by that state’s people.
Rep. Bishop believes the free market, then, allows individuals and states to make the best decisions for themselves, and he supports the “idea of letting people make choices for themselves and letting schools make choices for themselves.” As a result, he believes in a customer model of education where the needs of students and parents are the priority. “We should be making sure that kids are the center of the picture, and that the politicians are taken out of the equation,“ said Bishop. Schooling should be about meeting the needs of kids, not meeting the needs of a curriculum concept. Rep. Bishop finds the argument some make against this model—that “parents are too dumb to make the decisions for themselves and kids will always take the easiest choices”—unconvincing, asserting that parents place a great value on education and want their children to succeed and that students who are given responsibility and who are held accountable will respond accordingly.
Superintendent Luna voiced a similar sentiment, drawing on Idaho’s own decision to stop waiting for the federal government to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act and to pursue a waiver. "Too many of our students can spend 12 years in our public schools and possibly never hear the proper role of the federal government in our lives. I agree with the representative about this Tenth Amendment approach to education, and that's really the foundation of what we've done in Idaho. And I think you're seeing more and more states taking that approach when it comes to education.”
Supt. Luna expressed his belief that as long as the federal government is going to send money to the states there has to be accountability, but he believes that that accountability is currently too intrusive. States should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to educating their students. “The fact that we've waited five years for the federal government to reauthorize this law is evidence enough of the minimum role that the federal government should play in education,” said Supt. Luna.
The Students Come First (SCF) reforms are Idaho’s demonstration of how federalism allows states to creatively address their unique needs. Our educators, parents, and legislators in Idaho have always sought to put students first. In reforming our education system, Idaho ensures that our policies reflect and support that commitment.
That means creating an open, sustainable, and data-informed education system. That means giving Idaho’s students access and opportunity to the highest level of instruction and the most effective instructors. It means supporting and rewarding our hardworking teachers. It means infusing our classrooms and empowering our students with the modern technology they need to compete in today’s global marketplace. And it means fulfilling our obligation to prepare our students to find success in their postsecondary and vocational endeavors and to realize their own versions of the American Dream.
“We did this without spending more money,” said Supt. Luna. “It’s an exciting time to be involved in education, not just in Idaho, but across the country….With the kind of flexibility that Representative Bishop talked about, these are the kinds of things that can happen at the state level.”
Supt. Luna’s visit with Heritage was the final stop of a trip to Washington, D.C., where he also met with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, attended the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Legislative Conference (Supt. Luna is President of the CCSSO), and joined an Education Sector panel of prominent education stakeholders to discuss the challenges of implementing multifaceted and interconnected reforms.
Watch the Heritage Discussion
Watch the Education Sector Discussion