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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Munsterman Makes Free Market Argument for Open Enrollment and Against Consolidation

Here's an interesting confluence of ideas: GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Munsterman argues on his blog that competition is always good, especially in education:

The state can set standards for learning, but allowing the freedom for parents to send their kids where they wish creates a free-market, private-sector type of system where we can identify where improvements need to be made and discover what great schools are doing right more easily and learn from their ideas [Scott Munsterman, "As Is Always the Case, Competition Is Good," Let's Wake Up South Dakota, 2009.08.20].

Well, competition in education certainly doesn't hurt the Madville Times (thanks again to the good people of Rutland for their sidebar advertising!).

Did you notice the placement of that line about state standards? Munsterman is teasing my inner local-power conservative by suggesting he might agree with me that state standards don't do much to actually improve education on the ground.

Munsterman also challenges the rural school consolidation foisted upon us by an allegedly conservative governor and legislature by applying (oh my!) the same conservative free market principles:

The cycle of school consolidation in recent years decreases the number of options parents have to send their kids. Like this article from the Pierre Capital Journal states, some parents prefer to send their children to smaller schools for the intimate atmosphere; others to larger schools. Shouldn’t that be up for parents to decide, and not be dictated by the state? [Munsterman, 2009.08.20]

Munsterman nails a key contradiction in the policies of the governor he hopes to succeed: How do you promote choice by removing choices from the market? Gee, I thought only health insurance salesmen played that shell game....

If Munsterman were writing a Lincoln-Douglas debate case, I'd say he has a good outline! He starts from a clear value position—competition is good!—and builds a consistent logical framework around that value that demonstrates a connection between two different education policies.

Republicans will turn mental pretzels trying to argue their way out of that one. However, a good Democrat (Ron? Scott?) can more easily tackle Munsterman's argument by challenging the premise: is competition really always good? It would appear that, to achieve Munsterman's goal of winning the rural vote preserving small communities by helping them keep (or get back?) their schools, we would need to engage in some statewide cooperation. We keep all those choice-enhancing small schools viable with an education funding formula that funnels tax dollars from the larger, wealthier school districts to the smaller districts that don't enjoy the fiscal advantages of scale. Without that cooperation, without a statewide willingness to move money from Sioux Falls and Rapid City to Montrose and Hill City, we'd likely see more small schools go under.

Just a small pretzel for Candidate Munsterman to chew on....


  1. As far as I can see, there exists no pretzel into which Scott Munsterman is afraid to drive his choppers. At this stage, he's my man.

    Scott Munsterman has published a book outlining his views and visions for the future of this state ... a good, if rather dry, read.

  2. His blog is rather dry as well, but it and his book are still more clear and detailed communication than the other GOP candidates have offered. Is laying out his positions this early somehow a tactical disadvantage, or does he get a leg up by leading the discussion?


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