RALEIGH -- Every now and then, I fall down on the job.
For some "Daily Journal" readers -- particularly those with itchy emailing fingers -- this will come as no shock. Whatever my job is, they'd argue, I'm obviously falling down on it constantly.
What I mean, however, is that most of the time I am able (and willing) to write forceful and direct opinions on issues, legislative proposals, candidates, or science fiction. But every now and then, I just don't have a strong opinion about something, and yet feel compelled to comment on it.
Today's stumble has to do with Rep. Connie Wilson's proposal to have North Carolina state law prevent school districts from starting their school years before Labor Day. Wilson argues that the school calendar has been encroaching earlier and earlier into the summer break and thus into family time. The tourism industry says that this encroachment is cutting into family vacations. The summer camp folks have a similar complaint.
On the other hand, the education establishment and its backers in the General Assembly are strongly opposing the legislation. While some actually defend the earlier start, the most common argument is that local school districts should have the right to decide this issue, rather than having to live under a statewide edict. Indeed, this week the bill began to run aground in the N.C. Senate as individual members sought to carve out exceptions for their own jurisdictions.
I'm no fan on statewide edicts, either. Only I don't see the North Carolina Association of Educators, the various other associations representing school administrators and school boards, and their legislative allies rushing to eliminate far more serious and onerous restrictions on local school autonomy and flexibility. For example, a move that would be immensely valuable to districts would be to allow superintendents to transfer freely their state dollars between teaching and non-teaching positions. Several have told me over the years that if given such power, they would immediately convert some teacher assistant positions into teaching posts or other high-priority expenditures.
Similarly, I don't see the NCAE pushing Raleigh to decontrol pay scales for teachers so that superintendents and even individual school principals have more ability to compensate according to performance and market conditions rather than longevity and credentials.
So the "local control" argument, while persuasive on its own, is also being made in a disingenuous fashion.
Lastly, here's something you probably haven't heard, but is nonetheless likely to be true. One reason the education establishment opposes Wilson's bill is that one of their long-sought goals is to lengthen the school year (and increase funding and pay accordingly). They believe that our students don't spend enough time in class, that this is one reason we don't test as well as some of our international competitors do (this is a false, but widely shared, premise).
By moving the start of school past Labor Day, Wilson's proposal would likely make it impossible to achieve a longer school year, without encroaching on summer vacation on the other end. So denizens of the Blob will continue to babble on about "local control," with something else entirely on their minds.
With all that being said, I still don't have a strong opinion on the merits of Wilson's bill. Sorry. I'll try to do better next time.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.