Shoots from the Grassroot Institute – Jan. 8, 2004-Local Control of Education is Better for Hawaii's Taxpayers, Parents and Students

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“Laura Brown Image”

The New Year is here and the public is focused on “smaller” debt, less taxes and smaller government. Smaller means more control of finances. In fact, communities worldwide are pushing away from big government toward decentralization simply because it makes good economic sense in this era of limited resources.


In Hawaii, other arguments for decentralization or “home-rule” currently lead the public debate. In the discussion on education, Gov. Lingle’s Citizens Achieving Reform in Education (CARE) panel recently recommended replacing the statewide Board of Education with 7 district-level school boards to allow for local decision-making. The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) responded that changes should only be made if they improve student achievement and do not add to the bureaucracy.

Self-interest is a more likely motivator for change. For example, HSTA wants smaller classrooms instead of local school boards (better working conditions for teachers). Parents also want less crowded classrooms (more individual attention for students). The statewide Board of Education attempted to address this problem with its smaller school policy. The policy backfired when it was misused by the Department of Education (DOE) to build smaller buildings with fewer classrooms, allowing the DOE to take cash in lieu of land, thus shortchanging communities in the long run with school overcrowding and higher costs to taxpayers.

This example brings the argument full circle back to local control. HSTA President Roger Takabayashi wants to correct or eliminate unproductive practices and hold all DOE employees accountable, but in the autonomous, self-monitoring DOE bureaucracy, nothing allows for accountability. There are no penalties if the DOE violates or ignores Board policies. The Superintendent of Education, as a member of the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) must, by contract, back up her deputies and district superintendents. She has no power to hold them accountable. Takabayashi uses the word accountability to mean adherence by the state to the bureaucracy-laden requirements of the HSTA agreement. The HSTA agreement is 119 pages long and so severely restricts the flexibility of local schools and communities to educate children in the manner they see fit, it renders the Board of Education, taxpayers and parents mute. (1)

”Giving Taxpayers and Parents, Not Only Unions, A Voice in Education”

Five conditions are needed to decentralize the education system in order to give taxpayers and parents a voice in how their money is spent to educate their children:

*Local financing and fiscal authority must be linked to the responsibility for the provision of services. Locally elected leaders can then be held accountable, because the impact of their decisions will be clearly evident.

*The local community must be informed about all available services and costs. A participatory budgeting process will create this awareness.

*A binding mechanism, such as local elections of local school boards, must be in place to create an incentive for citizens to participate and to allow the public to express their desires. People will participate only if they can effect change.

*All information must be public and transparent to allow for monitoring.

*The structure of service delivery responsibilities and fiscal system must be designed to support objectives.

”Design Principles of Finance as Applied to the DOE”

Policy and institutional mechanisms must be designed to meet the specific needs and conditions of any individual area. Four elements are critical to this design:

*Clear assignment of functions
*Informed decision-making
*Adherence to local priorities
*Fiscal accountability

”Choosing the Most Effective Decentralization Model”

UCLA Professor William Ouchi, in his newly released book Making Schools Work provides a conclusive argument based on extensive research that the multidivisional structure is far more efficient than the unitary or statewide structure. Two conditions must be present to allow the M-form structure to work effectively:

*Top management must not micromanage
*Sub-units must not try to set overall “corporate” policy

Hawaii’s geographical dispersion lends itself naturally to the M-form structure of governance. Hawaii’s current School Community-Based Management (SCBM) law allows for the formation of local education agencies, while leaving intact the constitutionally mandated statewide board of education. However, the Board of Education’s SCBM policy must be modified so that it applies to the community level instead of the individual school level, as it is currently written, to allow for community-based control. Then, defining the roles of the statewide and local boards following the design principles outlined above will result in fiscal and performance accountability and efficiency in Hawaii’s education system.


*(1) This conclusion is a fact of law as decided by Hawaii’s Circuit Court Judge Marie Milks, who ruled in the 1998 Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit, “Parents have no say in public education.”

”’Laura Brown is the education policy analyst for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Hawaii’s first and only free market public policy institute focused on individual freedom and liberty, can be reached at:”’

”’This editorial is intended to provoke thought, discussion and an examination of issues. It does not reflect official policy of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.”’

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