Why Isn’t D.C. the Testbed for All Federal Laws?

Several years ago, I pitched an idea in an essay addressed to the Secretary of Education — called, appropriately enough, An Unsolicited Proposal for the Secretary of Education — that they might do well to open and operate a charter school in the District of Columbia, with the aim of making it the best school in the nation. After all, if the US Department of Education really is the nation’s repository of educational excellence, it should be able to run a school, should it not? And not just any school, but a model school that other schools would want to emulate.

We could take that a few steps further, though, if Congress insisted that all Federal laws be tested in the District of Columbia for a period of time — five years, maybe — before they go into effect nationwide. Depending on point of view, D.C. residents would either be the pioneers of new legislation or the guinea pigs for it, but the object would be to actually try out the lawmakers’ (and, let’s be honest, the lobbyists’) ideas on a small scale before they get rolled out to the rest of us. Pilot programs: make sure the laws do what they’re supposed to and don’t have unexpected adverse effects before we make everyone subject to them.


This map shows the original boundary of D.C., before Congress gave Virginia back (in 1846) the portion it had originally donated. (Image: “Map of the District of Columbia, 1835,” public domain from Wikimedia Commons.)

Alas, it’s just another harebrained Anti-Candidate idea. (But, hey: if enough people wanted to put me into elective office, I’d be willing to give it a try!)

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2 Responses to Why Isn’t D.C. the Testbed for All Federal Laws?

  1. AvatarGuy Stewart says:

    I live in a state that started the charter school movement, and where there are Charter Schools every few miles (176 of them to be precise). Some of them have crashed and burned spectacularly — sometimes from poor asset management, some from outright embezzlement, others because the idea wasn’t good enough at the outset. I worked in one of longest-standing, which has won Financial Accountability awards in 6 of its 28 years of existence. I know there ARE charter schools in the DC area: https://www.dcpcsb.org/find-a-school but as I live in MN, I don’t know anything about them. ow much is the Federal government involved in “testing education ideas”? Hmmm…

    • You’re right that charter schools in general have a mixed record. Like most things, their proponents tend to overhype their successes, their detractors overemphasize their failures, and each side downplays or explains away the opposite. Perhaps it would be better to call my run-by-the-education-department-school by a different name.

      My thesis remains the same: that trying legislated solutions out on a small scale before applying them on a wider scale could work out the kinks, so to speak.

      Thanks for the comment, Guy!
      G