America needs healthy balance between federal, state governments

By Marty Holmes

Implicit in the concept of balance is the idea that two different things can be true at the same time – much like work and play. We put forth great effort and exert ourselves physically and mentally, but we eventually need to rejuvenate ourselves by having fun. Such is true in all aspects of life – whether it be our diets, our exercise routines, or simply how we allot our time. Life should be governed by this principle, and politics is no exception.

Today a lack of balance exists in U.S. government. Executive orders and legislative and bureaucratic overreach have become all too common, upsetting the equilibrium instituted by our forefathers. This is especially true of the relationship between the federal and state governments. Each has distinct powers and responsibilities under the Constitution, yet the federal government has slowly eroded states’ authority. When the states are allowed to be the “laboratories of democracy,” they produce innovative and extraordinary public policy.

For example, in 1994 Alaska began a two-year process gathering input from community and business leaders about what they wanted high school seniors to know by the day of graduation. After heavy investments from everyone involved, the Chugach District developed a performance-based learning program that helped Chugach leap from the bottom quartile to the 72nd percentile on Alaska’s required state assessments – a process that took only five years. The U.S. Department of Education recognized this success, and the federal government is now highlighting competency-based education and personalized learning ­­­­­as possible education reforms.

This story illustrates that when states aren’t coerced into blindly following federal mandates, great things can happen. The state and federal governments should be working in tandem yet within their own spheres of power – excelling in the areas where they are strongest and keeping the other side in check. A balanced form of governing will beget the prosperous and happy life that should be the foundation of our personal lives and American society.

Marty Holmes is a policy intern with Sutherland Institute.

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