A New Definition of States’ Rights for Progressives?
The reaction to the election of Donald Trump as President, has upended the American political landscape. The “Yes California Independence Campaign” is attempting to gather just under 600,000 signatures to put the succession measure on the 2018 ballot (would require a US Constitutional amendment). Trump supporters have introduced two measures in Congress that will transform the relationships between the Federal Government and the States by devolving power from the Federal Government back to the States:
(1) American Health Care Reform Act of 2017 (HR 277 https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/277) the revenue bill that would defund Obama Care, and
(2) School Choice Act (HR 610 https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/610/text) a bill to eliminate Lyndon Johnson’s landmark 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, moving control of common education back to the states.
Taken together, these three activities are putting life back into the concept of States’ Rights – it appears likely that this concept might be adopted again by the Democratic Party, perhaps under a different name, as a mechanism to preserve their progressive ideas in progressive states. The larger question becomes, after decades of federal paternal oversight and mandating state programs for education and health care, are the states ready to assume the mantle of leadership required to propagate responsible policies?
School Choice Act:
The School Choice Act (HR 610) would eliminate the landmark 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The primary argument against the School Choice Act has been couched in terms of school vouchers, but it does much more. If HR 610 passes in its current form, a state that does not allow vouchers for public, private, and home schooling will not get any funds from the federal government for common education; Oklahoma may need changes to its Education code to accommodate the HR 610. It is arguable that the more important changes of HR 610 is to convert all common education funding to a per capita block grant, and limits funding of administration to 1% of the block grant. (Oklahoma state law has administrative caps of between 5% and 8%, depending on enrollment. In 2014, Oklahoma City Public Schools was spending about 2.5%, and Tulsa Public Schools about 3.6% on administration.)
Voucher payments are made for students who attend public or private schools, and given to parents for home schooling; home schooling payments are not taxable income. The concern: without a system of accountability, in the short-term, there is not much to prevent a person from claiming the home school voucher payment and not home schooling their children.
The ESEA is targeted for elimination, and is the basis for what is known as the Education Title Programs. For example, Title IX Sex Discrimination is the section of the ESEA code that requires equal treatment for men and women in both academic and athletic programs. It has also been used in key areas of sex-based harassment, treatment of pregnant and parenting students, discipline, single-sex education, and employment. Title II provides grants to states to support the training, recruitment, and retention of teachers and principals. Title IV provides block grants for enrichment learning like STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs and technology integration. The School Choice Act (HR 610) would eliminate all of these regulations and programs and replace them with a single block grant to a qualified state, a state with voucher programs for public, private and home schooling of students.
The School Choice Act creates a mechanism to make block grants to the states without any mechanism for accountability; the Act fundamentally removes the federal government from any regulation of common education, leaving that regulation to the states. A major concern by progressives of the Act is that there is no plan in place to assure block-grant money would still be available to protect the rights of the most vulnerable students; in Oklahoma this concern is of particular significance.
Health Care Reform
The American Health Care Reform Act of 2017 (HR 277 https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/277) is one of two bills being introduced to repeal and replace Obama Care. HR 277 is a funding bill that be under the rules reconciliation, requiring only a simple majority of the House and Senate for passage. A second bill for non-revenue parts of Obama Care will require 60 votes in the Senate for passage. Items the Republican Leadership has committed to be preserved include:
• Allowing dependents to continue staying on their parents’ plan until they are 26.
• Prohibit health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions
Major changes in HR 277 include establishing block grants to remove entitlements by sending most aspects of health care to be administered and controlled by the states. Each state would be able to customize their health care systems to the needs of their local citizens. Key features of the devolution of health care to the states include:
• Modernize and strengthen Medicaid by transitioning to a “per capita allotment” so states can better serve the patients most in need.
• Establish a Patient and State Stability Fund, which provides states with $100 billion to design programs that meet the unique needs of their patient populations and help low-income Americans afford health care .
• Empower individuals and families to spend their health care dollars the way they want and need by enhancing and expanding Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)—nearly doubling the amount of money people can contribute and broadening how people can use it.
• Help Americans access affordable, quality health care by providing a monthly tax credit—between $2,000 and $14,000 a year—for low- and middle-income individuals and families who don’t receive insurance through work or a government program.
If this experiment in devolution of authority and responsibility for education and health care from the federal government to the states is to be successful, many states (including Oklahoma) will need to become more responsible in their role of being good stewards for taxpayer money and the general welfare of their citizens. It should no longer be acceptable for legislators to grandstand fringe ideas with the belief that the federal government will bring sanity to the process. Because most states have balanced budget requirements, a state will need to become very adept at balancing programs to address needs with tax revenue to support the programs.