In today’s New York Times David Brooks has a column “The Power Inversion” describing a shift of economic and political power from the federal government to municipal governments. Of course, the rural to urban population migration has been taking place for many years. But now the financial crisis and resulting political stalemate in Washington is causing civic leaders to take more initiative in addressing economic problems. The Brooking Institution’s Bruce Katz gives many specific examples of such initiatives in a recent speech “After the Crisis: The Metropolitan Revolution”.
This shift of power away from Washington and back to local government could have big ramifications for the federal budget which, as almost everyone knows, is currently running huge deficits. Here is a good example to start with. The U.S. Senate is about to take up revision of the No Child Left Behind law which expired several years ago. A bill, Strengthening America’s Schools, has been introduced by the Democratic majority for this purpose. It allows states to create their own education reform plans and sets testing and performance standards for all states to follow. It is much more flexible than NCLB.
Congress should take this opportunity to reorganize the federal Department of Education by greatly consolidating its huge number of individual programs (over 100 separate programs in K-12 education alone). Support for state education programs could be given in much larger chunks thereby giving states and school districts more leeway in figuring out the best way to divide up and allocate their education dollars. The total federal budget for education could be significantly reduced in this way and the states will, at the same time, be able to do a better job with fewer dollars because there will be fewer strings attached.
This is a smart way to shrink the federal deficit and we should take advantage of it!