New Federalism, Rhee, Teachers and Public Perception: Lessons for Obama from the DC Mayoral Election

 “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

                                                      – James Madison

As we move toward November 2nd, the mid-term elections, and ultimately 2012 a major issue is the conflict over “new federalism,” the tug between the national government and state and local governments.
New Federalism is a political philosophy of devolution or the transfer of certain powers from the United State federal government to the states.
Two areas that characterize this philosophical debate are healthcare and education. The Attorney Generals in thirteen states are challenging the constitutionality of the healthcare bill in the courts,
The Act represents an unprecedented encroachment on the liberty of individuals living in the Plaintiffs’ respective states …. the Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate either directly or under the threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying healthcare coverage …
In the education arena the administration has required states to adopt a range of policies to be eligible for billions of federal dollars.
In the Congress the Republicans are pushing back, questioning, from their point of view, the intrusive role of the federal government.
The Necessary and Proper Clause in Article I, Section 8 gives the federal government an implied power to pass any law “necessary and proper” for the execution of the enumerated powers.  While on the surface this appears to restrict Congress from meddling in the affairs of the states, it has been used to usurp the authority of the states time and time again.
Rep. John Kline (R, Minnesota), the presumptive chairman of the Education Committee if the Republican seize control of the House is suspicious of the range of administration education policies,
Kline casts a wary eye on the federal role ….the federal incentives for adopting the Core Standards standards make him—and many of his fellow House Republicans—uneasy.

“We’re watching this very closely,” Rep. Kline said. “If we are, in fact, putting in a de facto national curriculum, my caucus will rebel. I’m very leery when [the action] shifts over to the U.S. Department of Education providing either rewards or punishment” for adopting certain standards. “That’s dangerous,” he said. 

 Although educators in his district want to see a fix for NCLB, there are “objections to anything … that comes in and tells them how to do their job. … One of the things that we’ve been insisting on is that we have to make it simpler, easier to comply with and more flexible, therefore putting some meaning back into local control.”

 Each of the fifty states and fifteen thousand plus school districts raise dollars through state and local taxing powers. Legislatures and state departments of education establish regulations for certifying teachers, for granting high school diplomas, set standards for each grade and in each subject area, and have done so since colonial times. The New York State Board of Regents was established in 1784,
“The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.”
In 1965 the Elementary and Secondary School Education Act (ESEA) began to provide federal dollars under Title I of the Act. The dollars were driven to states and on to school districts based upon a poverty formula. The law was re-authorized in five years cycles with additional funding streams.
The 2001 re-authorization not only changed the name of the law to No Children Left Behind, it established the goal of all students achieving “proficiency” by 2014  and required states to intervene if schools failed to reach Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
The Obama department of education continued the “federalization” of education. The possibility of billions of federal dollars required states to implement a range of policies, i.e., expansion of charter schools, linking student test scores to teacher evaluation, easing teacher dismissal rules, exploring pay for performance, etc., none of which are supported by peer reviewed research.
For increasing numbers of the working class expanded federal policies appear suspect. TARP, the stimulus, and healthcare have not abated the slide for far too many Americans. Foreclosures, unemployment, a stagnant economy have made Americans fearful; fearful of losing their job, of losing their house. The Obama/Duncan education policies are also looked upon with suspicion, by teachers, principals, school boards, state legislators and parents, especially parents in inner cities who see their neighborhood schools closing.
Jimmy Smits, playing president-elect Mathew Santos in an episode of West Wing explores schools in Washington for his daughters, after exploring a range of elite private schools he and his wife chose a public school. In life imitating art the Obamas explore elite private schools, reject public schools, and chose the most elite private school.
With double digit unemployment, a bleak economic future, the president decides to vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and play golf with the rich and powerful.
In Washington the Fenty/Rhee team is a surrogate for the Obama/Duncan team. Working class black families are suspicious of an aloof mayor and an arrogant school district leader and express their displeasure at the polls.
In spite of the fawning adulation across the nation from the elites, on the cover of Newsweek, featured in a documentary, Rhee’s  “customers,” families of color in Washington looked upon her with distrust.
The defeat of Fenty/Rhee presages the defeat of Obama/Duncan policies on election day, and, perhaps  his defeat in 2012. 
The warns,
But assuming that Obama wants to get re-elected two years from now, he should take note of how Fenty — a D.C. native with a model-hot wife, parents who own a small business in town, a loaded campaign war chest and a pretty good résumé of governance — couldn’t get re-elected because the people concluded that he really didn’t care about what they thought of him.
Obama/Fenty forget that it was the sans culottes (‘shapeless, mostly urban movement of the labouring poor, small craftsmen, shopkeepers, artisans, tiny entrepreneurs and the like’) who were the foot soldiers that drove the French Revolution, and are driving the current discontent.
Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
Thomas Jefferson.

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