On the second Monday evening of each month, as our school board gathers to begin their monthly business meeting, a dozen or so high school students respectfully wait for attention.
These high school juniors and seniors are waiting for an "official signature" on their social studies homework assignment, verifying that they have attended a school board meeting.
As the students listen to presentations on programs, discussions on policy, and parliamentary procedure played out at the board table, they wonder, Is this where all the decisions are made
Yes, in America's decentralized system of public schools, most key decisions affecting the day to day experience of students are made at the local level
However, there is more to the story, as you can guess by stories currently in the media describing federal and state policy and funding discussions about education. Following is a brief overview. If you read to the end, check with your social studies teacher to see if your efforts qualify for credit!
First, what is the federal government's role in public education?
The U.S. Constitution
is silent on education, leaving education to the states under the Tenth Amendment
(You can look this up for more credit). However, the federal government has found ways to influence state and local education policy and programs, sometimes through laws that enforce non-discrimination and equality (see the Fourteenth Amendment
), or by offering funding for programs attractive for schools and students such as remedial support, vocational and technical education, or the school lunch program. With this funding comes a great deal of regulation. Federal support is modest as a share of our budget--as a percentage, low single digits for most years.
Secondly, what is the state's role in public education?
The Minnesota State Constitution
, Article XIII, Section 1 contains the language requiring the Legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools
. (This is one more provision to look up.) The State Legislature sets funding and establishes laws and rules directing the organization of school districts; standards and curriculum; and providing direction on almost every aspect of our public schools. The Department of Education is the state agency that oversees compliance with most of these laws, but other state agencies have a role too.
Third, what is the role of the local school board?
Local school boards have all that authority and responsibility granted to them by the State Legislature. School boards develop policies that help carry out responsibilities consistent with state and federal law. As long as the district is meeting state standards for curriculum, licensing, finances, and many other laws, local school districts have discretion in programs and the "how" of implementing education. School board members serve four year terms; their business is governed by the "Open Meeting" law, which means that the public has notice of any meetings, and with only a few statutory exceptions, meetings are open to the public.
Which is why the high school students can listen to all the discussion preceding a decision, and can participate in the process if they have a viewpoint.
The public--including students--have regular opportunities to meet and discuss issues with our school board; two high school students serve as student representatives (regular and alternate) to our school board, so there is student representation at the board table. Our local legislators welcome public participation, and are especially generous in giving time to our students. On occasion, we are also asked to participate in discussions with our U.S. senators and representatives. (See photos accompanying this article.)
If you have read this far, check with your studies teacher about credit options. And if you are beyond this stage of life, consider ways to get involved at the local, state or federal level. The success of our school and our children depend on all of us working together for the common good