Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Carter Years: Accountability - Business and Taxpayers
Backing the "accountability" movement were many prominent business leaders. Indeed, one of the most subtle but significant shifts in education reform in the late 1970s was a shift away from local community activists toward business leaders as the driving force behind school change. This shift toward business executives was supported in part by new federal grants that actively promoted business-school partnerships. The Carter administration lobbied hard for a new Youth Employment Demonstration Project Act-part of the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) of 1977 -which, between 1978 to 1980, directed millions of dollars toward local businesses that agreed to provide summer jobs to at-risk high school students. The assumption behind these school-to-work programs was that, if disadvantaged students could see what the business world required of them, they would start to understand the purposes of schooling and would work harder to improve their academic achievement (i.e., their test scores). In this way, public schools would become responsive or "accountable" to the demands of the labor market.
The growing school "accountability" movement of the 1970s was not limited to testing, however. It also included increasing restraints on local school budgets. Business officials-spurred by taxpayers' associations and watchdog groups-kept a close eye on education spending. Convinced that schools were "wasting" resources and could be more efficient as well as more effective in their use of public funds, voters put more and more stringent controls on school budgets. The so-called "taxpayer revolts" of this era began in California in 1978 with the passage of Proposition 13 and continued in Massachusetts in 1980 with the passage of Proposition 2½. Proposition 2½, for example, led to huge cuts in school budgets. If any town's property tax rate was higher than 2.5 percent (as most were in Massachusetts), then Proposition 2½ mandated spending cuts of 15 percent per year to bring local budgets in line with revenues generated by a (maximum) 2.5 percent property tax rate. At the same time, Proposition 2½ restricted all local tax increases to no more than 2.5 percent per year, regardless of growth in population or property values.