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Federal Opinion

Would A Constitutional Amendment Do Any Good?

By Alexander Russo — February 15, 2007 2 min read
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All this back and forth with The Quick & The Ed’s Sara Mead got me wondering well, what difference would a Constitutional amendment on education make, anyway? Would it be merely symbolic, as so many things are, or would it have any real impact?

The answer, I’m learning, is that if enacted it would have an enormous effect. And, regardless, it challenges the ed policy world to consider big ideas along with little ones. Click below to read more.From talking to a troika of very helpful experts in the field (LCCR guru John Brittain and CCCR gurus Bill Taylor and Dianne Piche), what I get is that, if it were to be enacted, such an amendment might make a very big difference -- way beyond any symbolic statements or wishful thinking that Mead is so concerned about. (Speaking of which, I was making fun of feel-good Wellstone amendments long, long ago.)

Primarily, an amendment creating a federal right to an adequate education could have a substantial impact because it would reverse the case known as San Antonio v. Rodriquez, thus allowing federal challenges based upon unequal financing of education. It would also -- I’m told -- give Congress more power over local education outside of its spending powers. And, in a perfect world, it might even create a legal test based on outcomes, rather than intent. Given states’ ever-growing abilities to measure impact, things start to get really interesting.

Pretty exciting stuff that goes way beyond what most of us talk about all the time. Of course, it’s not going to happen. And even if it did, it could get watered down in the approval process, gutted by legal decisions that followed, or end up eclipsing other more tangible efforts along the way.

So of course this is just an exercise. But that’s really the point. It’s an exercise that makes you think -- about legal rather than legislative approaches, and about how overstretched the legislative strategies at hand are at present.

One last point. We shouldn’t fear big ideas. Why not? Becuase big ideas, even bad ones, don’t necessarily have enormous effects. The national class size reduction program was a bad idea, in my view at least, and had some bad effects. But the world didn’t end. NCLB itself is a big idea that many would argue was bad, and yet it’s hard to argue that the effects have been profoundly negative. I think that most of the time, in recent years at least, the problem in the ed policy world is more likely to be lack of impact than too much.

See Mead’s post here: Size Matters?

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