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Money, Mandates, and Local Control in American Public Education

Bryan Shelly

Publication Year: 2011

"This book is outstanding. . . . [N]o one has delved into the issue of school financing with such depth, data, and thoughtful analysis. It is simply the best in the field." ---Susan B. Neuman, University of Michigan, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education "The most pressing question in American education today is how to allocate school financing and policy-making responsibility among local, state, and national governments. Bryan Shelly's valuable book sheds new light on this question and should be of great interest not only to those who study education policy, but also to scholars of federalism, public finance, and public policy more generally." ---Patrick McGuinn, Drew University "Bryan Shelly offers an insightful and persuasive analysis of the relationship between centralized funding and local control in American public education. His findings---of 'local control' as a reified ideal and political weapon in the politics of redistribution, and of the power of unfunded mandates operating at the margins of local school budgets---will provide a welcome addition to the study of the politics of school finance in the United States." ---Scott Abernathy, University of Minnesota Pointing to the disparities between wealthy and impoverished school districts in areas where revenue depends primarily upon local taxes, reformers repeatedly call for the centralization of school funding. Their proposals meet resistance from citizens, elected officials, and school administrators who fear the loss of local autonomy. Bryan Shelly finds, however, that local autonomy has already been compromised by federal and state governments, which exercise a tremendous amount of control over public education despite their small contribution to a school system's funding. This disproportionate relationship between funding and control allows state and federal officials to pass education policy yet excuses them from supplying adequate funding for new programs. The resulting unfunded and underfunded mandates and regulations, Shelly insists, are the true cause of the loss of community control over public education. Shelly outlines the effects of the most infamous of underfunded federal mandates, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), and explores why schools implemented it despite its unpopularity and out-of-pocket costs. Shelly's findings hold significant implications for school finance reform, NCLB, and the future of intergovernmental relations. Jacket photograph: © iStockphoto.com/michelle_d

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. vii-viii

Had I not had such a positive experience in a public school district, I doubt I would have been so interested in the system as a whole. My first note of thanks must go to my teachers in the Pennridge School District for helping me grow as a person and giving me an ideal template of the type of education that I would like all students to receive. First among equals ....

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1. Equity and Control in School Funding

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pp. 1-16

When one thinks about public education, what is the first image that comes to mind? Many people will remember their own or their children’s schools, particularly if one had a favorite teacher or class or caught the winning touchdown that vanquished a hated rival. Others may think fondly of the promise that public education will help all students achieve ...

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2. Mechanical Advantage? : How the Piper Link May Work

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pp. 17-30

A proverb is an attempt to express the essence of a complex truth in a few words, but the relationship between funding from centralized levels of an intergovernmental system and the autonomy of decentralized levels is anything but simple. Even those who believe in a strong relationship between the two would agree that the failure more clearly to hypothesize the ...

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3. The More Money We Come Upon : Finance Centralized and Negative Local Autonomy

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pp. 31-46

Although local control is made up of hundreds of possible decisions, some decisions are more central to the core mission of public education and therefore more important than others. All else being equal, a school district that can independently choose its curriculum has more local control than one that can choose only its lunch menu. Fortunately, for many ...

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4. Sharks and Wolverines : The Effect of School Finance Centralization in Vermont and Michigan

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pp. 47-89

The results of chapter 3 may indicate that a state’s finance share has no effect on its level of regulation but cannot speak to whether state finance share undercuts local governments’ ability to undertake independent actions—that is, on their level of positive local autonomy. A strong local government is not just free from restriction. Its leaders must also feel ...

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5. Taxes and Tocqueville : Local Control and Public Opinion in School Finance Reform

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pp. 90-118

Both the aggregate statistical analysis from all fifty states and the case studies of Vermont and Michigan show that for the 20–90 range of possible state shares of total school funding, local autonomy is not compromised in any measurable way. Why, then, has the Piper Link been such an issue in so many school finance reform movements? The answer ...

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6. What Boiled the Frog : Unfunded Mandates and the Real Problem with Centralized-Level Funding

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pp. 119-131

Steve Jeffrey, the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, has probably spent as much time thinking about local control as anyone in the state. Local control, after all, is his business. He compares local control in Vermont to trying to boil a frog. If one turns up the heat on the stove too quickly, the frog will sense that something is amiss ...

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7. No Child Left Behind and the Power of 5 Percent

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pp. 132-154

Chapter 6 suggests that “unfunded” mandates such as special education and No Child Left Behind are far more harmful to local autonomy than finance centralization born out of state efforts to achieve a more equal funding distribution, but one critical question remains unanswered. If, as chapter 6 argues, local officials detest state and federal reg- ...

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8. Brave New World : Local Control and the Future of American Education

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pp. 155-166

This book’s central question has been whether funding from state and federal governments disrupts local educational control in the United States. The evidence presented suggests that the Piper Link functions but does not follow a simple “money equals control” formula. Relatively small contributions to the total funding burden give state and federal ...


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pp. 167-178


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pp. 179-192


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pp. 193-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026739
E-ISBN-10: 0472026739
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117659
Print-ISBN-10: 0472117653

Illustrations: 21 figures, 22 tables
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 792929057
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Money, Mandates, and Local Control in American Public Education

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Subject Headings

  • Educational change -- United States.
  • Education and state -- United States.
  • Educational equalization -- United States.
  • Educational accountability -- United States.
  • Education -- United States -- Finance
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