Thanks to good ol’ Mike Petrilli, much of this week’s education policy debate has centered on the relevance of local school boards and the age old tug-of-war between state and local authority over the operation and financing of local public school districts. Much of the debate has been framed in terms of “democracy,” and much of it has been rather fun and interesting to watch. That is, until Mike and the crew at Fordham decided to let Bob Bowdon (of Cartel fame) join in the conversation, and inject his usual bizarre understanding of the world as we know it.
This time, jumping in where Petrilli had left off, Bowdon opined about how teachers unions and their advocates repeatedly cry for respecting democracy while consistently thwarting democratic efforts through legal action. The layers of absurdity in Bowdon’s logic are truly astounding, and perhaps best illustrated by walking through one of the examples he chooses.
Here’s how Bob Bowdon explains the Georgia charter school governance and finance decision of May 2011:
When the elected legislature in Georgia authorized the state’s chartering of schools, the Georgia Association of Educators union wasn’t so happy with the voice of the people. They later filed a brief in support of a lawsuit to strike down the law — and that suit prevailed. Democracy be damned.
So, according to Bob Bowdon, the way this really ambiguously referenced case played out was that the Georgia legislature acting entirely on the will of the good Georgians that elected them, passed a law establishing a statewide commission to oversee the operation and distribution of funding to charter schools. The state teachers union got pissed simply because they don’t like charter schools. The teachers union filed a brief with a sympathetic liberal activist court, which then, under no authority at all… merely being responsive the gripes of the teacher’s union, struck down the charter law. A major blow against democracy. Democracy be damned!
Okay. Let’s take a closer look at what actually happened. One reasonable summary can be found here: http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=238715, see also: http://www.earlycountynews.com/news/2011-05-18/Front_Page/Court_ruling_leaves_charter_schools_in_limbo.html
First, let’s acknowledge that Georgia, like other states has a) elected state officials – the legislature – who pass laws, such as the charter school law they had passed which would allow a state commission to redirect county funding (county and area district tax revenues) to charter schools established within their boundaries [by way of reducing state aid in a equal amount], b) county and area boards of education charged with establishing and maintaining public schools within their limits, and c) a State Constitution which outlines these responsibilities (http://www.sos.ga.gov/elections/GAConstitution.pdf, bottom of Page 60). That’s kind of how stuff works in U.S. States.
The County board of education in Gwinnett County, GA was not thrilled when they were informed they would be required to transfer significant funds to charter schools established under the legislatively granted authority of the state commission. The county board of Gwinnett County (joined by many others to follow) challenged in court that the legislature violated the constitution by granting authority to this state commission to redistribute county tax revenues – and more specifically – to establish and maintain schools (that would draw on such tax revenues). So, one level of elected officials – county officials – challenged that another level of elected officials – the state legislature – had interfered with their explicitly stated constitutional authority. And the court mediated this dispute (uh… ‘cuz that’s what courts do), finding in favor of the elected officials whose authority to establish and maintain schools was clearly articulated in the constitution?
How in the hell is that a case of “democracy be damned?” How is this a case of a union thwarting the “voice of the people.” Quite honestly, these are among the most bizarre, warped distortions of reality I’ve seen in a damn long time.
Note: Another fun twist here is that apparently, in Georgia, judges are elected (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2841). Democracy be damned I tell you! How can these elected officials overturn the will of the people as expressed by the elected legislature, when challenged in court by elected county officials?