I've been working on a profile of Rick Jore, who chairs the Montana House's education committee despite being the only representative in the state from a third party. Jore home-schooled his own kids and has tried for years to end compulsory school attendance.
"There's a misconception that because we have a constitutionally established system of schooling in the state that the state has a compelling interest to require attendance," he told me. "My view is that is a usurpation of the authority of parents. Compulsory attendance necessarily presupposes that every child is a ward of the state. I disagree. Every child is a ward of the family or parents or guardians."
Jore also thinks the federal government has no role in funding education and its education department should be abolished.
Not surprisingly, the educational establishment in Montana can't stand Jore or the fact that he heads up the committee that oversees them. But that raises an interesting point. Should people on policy committees necessarily be fans of the policies and programs they're charged with overseeing?
Several years ago, I covered agriculture for Congressional Quarterly. Everyone on the ag committees was from an ag district or state. That seemed to make sense, but when bills came to the floor, where were the urban members equipped to argue against the ever-increasing levels of subsidies for farmers?
In those days, only Barney Frank of Brookline and Charles Schumer of Brooklyn delved deep enough into the hugely complicated federal agriculture policies to argue intelligently with the farm-state homers. In general, most urban and suburban members seemed to think that unless there was some direct and obvious harm to their constituents by way of pricing, they'd go along with whatever the aggies wanted.
Education is a similar type of issue. Nobody wants to oppose it. There has been more debate in the last few years about whether more money makes good policy, compared with the idea of market competitions and the like. Certainly it's an issue worth debating, though -- and not only among those who have signed pledges of allegiance to districts, teachers unions or other interested parties.
Jore is a special case, being such a clear outlier on an issue of real importance. But it's worth stacking committees with a few critics, it seems to me, rather than just letting roosters and hens guard the henhouse.