School's In: Federalism and the National Education Agenda

School's In: Federalism and the National Education Agenda

School's In: Federalism and the National Education Agenda

School's In: Federalism and the National Education Agenda

Synopsis

For most of the history of the United States, citizens and elected officials alike considered elementary and secondary education to be the quintessential state and local function. Only in the past four decades, from Lyndon B. Johnson's signing of the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to George W. Bush's ambitious but controversial "No Child Left Behind" initiative, has Washington's influence over America's schools increased significantly. Today, many Americans have become more convinced that the U.S. government and the states should play an increasingly important role in the nation's schools.

In School's In, Paul Manna looks over forty years of national education policymaking and asserts that although Washington's influence over American schools has indeed increased, we should neither overestimate the expansion of federal power nor underestimate the resiliency and continuing influence of the states. States are developing comprehensive -- often innovative -- education policies, and a wide array of educational issues have appeared on the political agenda at the state and national levels.

Manna believes that this overlap is no accident. At the core of his argument is the idea of "borrowing strength," a process by which policy entrepreneurs at one level of government attempt to push their agendas by leveraging the capabilities possessed by other governments in the federal system. Our nation's education agenda, he says, has taken shape through the interaction of policy makers at national and state levels who borrow strength from each other to develop and enact educational reforms.

Based on analyses of public laws, presidential speeches, congressional testimony, public opinion, political advertising, and personal interviews, School's In draws on concepts of federalism and agenda-setting to offer an original view of the growing federal role in education policy. It provides insights not only about how education agendas have changed and will likely unfold in the future, but also about the very nature of federalism in the United States.

Excerpt

Americans govern their schools with a system as complicated as the country is vast. the nation's fifty states have created nearly 15,000 school districts to oversee roughly 90,000 public schools. For essentially the entire history of the United States, citizens and elected officials alike have considered the provision of elementary and secondary education to be the quintessential state and local function. With that fragmented system of governance—one strains to call it a system at all, actually—it is remarkable how much weight education policy presently carries in American national politics.

Events from 2001, for example, illustrate the growing role that K–12 education has come to play in the calculations of federal officials. During that year, President George W. Bush began his first term by noting that bipartisan education reform would be the cornerstone of his administration. Less than six months later, Senator James Jeffords of Vermont ended his life-long affiliation with the Republican Party in protest when the president and gop members of Congress decided to use significant portions of the nation's budget surplus to cut taxes rather than increase special education funding. Jeffords's break with the party reverberated like a political earthquake and returned Senate Democrats to power for the first time since 1994. After the Senate reorganized, and Washington, dc, broke free from another humid August, the tragic events of September 11 riveted the country's attention on terrorism and national security. As they scrambled to respond to the devastation and shore up the nation's defenses, members of Congress still managed to pass with much celebration the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). nclb extended the federal government's reach into the nation's public schools more deeply than ever before. Significantly, it was the only major piece of domestic legislation, other than laws to defend the homeland, to become law before the end of the year.

These three events from 2001—Bush's articulation of his administration's priorities, Senator Jeffords's declaration of independence to promote special education, and the passage of NCLB—illustrate how education policy has risen to the top of the nation's agenda like never before. Beyond the concerns of political elites, though, as figure 1.1 shows, Americans have increasingly identified educa-

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