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Education Reform -- Constitutional Principles Must be Considered

Since securing liberty is the principle office of government (MO Const. Art. I § 2) and since government's role in education is declared to be for the purpose of promoting liberty (MO Const. Art. IX § 1a) , it behooves us to make sure the no part of education reform undermines liberty in the process.

The Constitutional Approach to Education Reform

January 18, 2011

Education is NOT the state's #1 priority – Securing Liberty Is

While it's true that an entire article of the Missouri Constitution is devoted to education, and that article requires that a minimum of 25% of state revenue be spent on education, education is not state government's number one priority.

The first and foremost priority of Missouri government is clearly spelled out in Article I § 2 of the constitution:

"In order to assert our rights, acknowledge our duties, and proclaim the principles on which our government is founded, we declare:

"That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry; that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law; that to give security to these things is the principal office of government, and that when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design." (Art. I § 2)

Furthermore, even the constitutional rationale for free public education is based on the preservation of liberty:

"A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this state within ages not in excess of twenty-one years as prescribed by law." (Art. IX § 1a)

FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLE: Missouri's education policy must be crafted in a way that respects and does not diminish the liberty of the people. Otherwise, Missouri government will "fail in its chief design".

Guiding Principles of Missouri Education Policy

  • Respect Parents' Rights
  • Decentralize

 

Respect Parents' Rights

At all times, education policy must remember that parents are the stewards of their children, not the state. The vast majority of the time no one cares more for the well-being of a particular child than his parents.

The parents' right to select not only where their children learn, but also what they are taught must be the foremost consideration in all elements of education policy. Selection of curriculum should always be a local decision.

POLICY PRINCIPLE: Nothing that diminishes local parental control should be accepted. Local control should be district by district if not school by school. This is the over-riding principle.

 

Decentralize

Missouri education has become more and more centralized over the last several decades. In terms of academic and economic efficiency, the point of diminishing returns has long been passed. What's worse, this centralization has robbed parents of the right to control their children's education.

The 1993 "Outstanding Schools Act" (SB 380) has been the law with the most centralizing effect. It has proven to be an expensive failure and should be reversed. The autonomy that the local schools enjoyed prior to that act should be returned.

Large school districts should be allowed to break into smaller, more manageable entities. What's lost in economies of scale will be more than made up for by greater opportunities for accountability and parental input.

More and smaller educational units will afford a more "custom fit" to the needs and desires of the local community. They will also result in more "laboratories" where teaching techniques can be perfected.

POLICY PRINCIPLE: Do nothing that further centralizes education in terms of administration, geographics or curriculum. Break education units into more manageable and accountable entities.

Summary

Each element of any legislation under consideration should be weighed against the these principles. Violation of any of the principles should result in summary disqualification of the bill. To do less is for the General Assembly to "fail in its chief design".

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Guiding Principles of Missouri Education Policy

  • Don't diminish liberty in pursuit of improved public education
  • Respect Parents' Rights
  • Decentralize

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