Money, Mandates, and Local Control in American Public Education

Bryan Shelly

State and federal governments supply a fraction of school funding yet enjoy disproportionate control over education policy


Pointing to the disparities between wealthy and impoverished school districts in areas where revenue depends primarily upon local taxes, reformers repeatedly call for the centralization of school funding. Their proposals meet resistance from citizens, elected officials, and school administrators who fear the loss of local autonomy.

Bryan Shelly finds, however, that local autonomy has already been compromised by federal and state governments, which exercise a tremendous amount of control over public education despite their small contribution to a school system's funding. This disproportionate relationship between funding and control allows state and federal officials to pass education policy yet excuses them from supplying adequate funding for new programs. The resulting unfunded and underfunded mandates and regulations, Shelly insists, are the true cause of the loss of community control over public education.

Shelly outlines the effects of the most infamous of underfunded federal mandates, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), and explores why schools implemented it despite its unpopularity and out-of-pocket costs. Shelly's findings hold significant implications for school finance reform, NCLB, and the future of intergovernmental relations.

"This book is outstanding. . . . [N]o one has delved into the issue of school financing with such depth, data, and thoughtful analysis. It is simply the best in the field."
—Susan B. Neuman, University of Michigan, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education

Jacket photograph: ©

Bryan Shelly is a Data Strategist with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and a Data Fellow with the Strategic Data Project.

Praise / Awards

  • "This book brings conceptual clarity, empirical evidence and even-handed analyses to the heated debates surrounding the relationship between greater centralization of funding and local control of public education.  It is essential reading for those interested in reforming school finance programs in ways that might advance equity and adequacy ideals as well as for those interested in intergovernmental relations and mixed-methods research designs."
    —Betty Malen, University of Maryland

  • "The most pressing question in American education today is how to allocate school financing and policy-making responsibility among local, state, and national governments. Bryan Shelly's valuable book sheds new light on this question and should be of great interest not only to those who study education policy, but also to scholars of federalism, public finance, and public policy more generally."
    —Patrick McGuinn, Drew University

  • "Bryan Shelly offers an insightful and persuasive analysis of the relationship between centralized funding and local control in American public education. His findings—of 'local control' as a reified ideal and political weapon in the politics of redistribution, and of the power of unfunded mandates operating at the margins of local school budgets—will provide a welcome addition to the study of the politics of school finance in the United States."
    —Scott Abernathy, University of Minnesota

  • "Money Mandates is not only a good read, but a must read for those who wonder why there is a one-size-fits-all approach occurring more frequently in education."
    Seattle Public Education Examiner

  • "Advocates of local control of public schools have long contended with supporters of state and federal educational standards and funding. Shelly draws on extensive data from seven states to discover if 'he who pays the piper calls the tune.' ... This is a highly competent study for students of education policy and intergovernmental relations."

Look Inside

Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 208 pages.
  • 21 figures, 22 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

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  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02673-9

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  • education policy, No Child Left Behind, school funding, school finance, federalism, state politics, school board politics, Michigan politics, Vermont politics, local politics, unfunded mandates