Jon Huntsman: We’ll Be Better Off If Education Policy Is Pushed to the Local Level

I watched the video of yesterday’s blogger’s briefing at The Heritage Foundation with former Utah Governor and Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman.  Rob Bluey of The Heritage Foundation asked Governor Huntsman the first question after he gave his opening remarks about the Obama administration’s run around Congress with national education standards and No Child Left Behind waivers.  His answer surprised me.  I was happy to see the Governor affirm both local control in education and educational choice for students and parents.

I transcribed the money quotes:

It would be very instructive to look at some of the states and what they have done in terms of education reform, and I would point you to Utah as well.  I wasn’t just critical of No Child Left Behind, but I was the first Governor to opt out of  No Child Left Behind because it took a lot of good schools in our state and it made them schools that were not measuring up to adequate yearly progress for facility reasons.  It made a lot of hard working folks who were associated with those schools, families and students feel like they were failures.

I learned some very important lessons through that entire discussion.  Number one being, I’m still trying to find the value added of the Department of Education.  Now I don’t say that as a political bromine.  I say that as a realistic, pragmatic Governor trying to figure out where the value was in the Department of Education foisting these unfunded mandates on us.

I have to tell you the more we can push education policy to the local level the better off we’re going to be because parents and school board leaders and local elected officials do not want their schools to fail.  And I believe if left to the locals they will innovate their way forward in ways that will create better schools.

Number two, I also found raising seven kids, I mean I done what ultimately is the greatest clinical trial one can do and that is watching kids going through the educational system.  You learn a lot.  So we saw public schools, we saw private schools.  My daughter was homeschooled, she was a piano player, and I’ve seen international schools.  I’ve seen every variation on the theme of education one can ever want to see and I walk away from that with certain insights. Number one being we don’t have enough in the way of options and choices for our kids.  I believe that every child walks into the classroom with a different approach, temperament and attitude toward learning.  Every child learns a little bit differently, and that one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t serve our interests very well.  So signed as Governor the second voucher bill in the entire country, a special needs voucher bill back in 2005 because I believe we needed a little bit of a lift.  We needed to free up the marketplace in education.

We also launched a very aggressive charter school movement in our state because I was of the deep belief that we needed to find new opportunities for kids walking into the classroom.  I believe every child had a genius within; the challenge is finding that genius and bringing it out and maximizing it in the educational years.  So having a marketplace of options, charter schools that speak to math, science, and engineering and arts and music was a very important step in our state, and I think our country would be similarly a very important step…

…We learned a lot in our journey in education reform, but that opting out of No Child Left Behind left me with a very strong impression about the power ultimately of local decision-making as it relates to education, and the centers of excellence that can be created at the local level that many throughout the nation can learn from…

…So we can do a whole lot with local decision making in education policy.  I saw it first hand as Governor and I think there are a lot of lessons that can be learned as we look out at different school systems and prepare our kids for the 21st century by looking a little more closely at what different governors have done.

I don’t agree with Governor Huntsman on much, but on his statements on local control in education and school choice I think he is spot on.  He is correct when he said in his opening remarks that “many of the challenges we face in our nation today can be addressed at the state level.”  Very true, but with education he recognizes the more local, the better.

Originally posted at Caffeinated Thoughts