Andrew Malcom brings us a useful topic of discussion for the weekend, coming in the form of Senator Lamar Alexander delivering the GOP’s weekly remarks. A portion of his remarks focus on the pending battle over student loan fees and the competing plans being put forth by Republicans and Democrats. But Alexander goes a step further and takes the discussion to the meta level. While the Democrats’ plan seeks continued and increased regulation of interest rates, the GOP is looking at a more market based solution, taking advantage of the continued low rates being offered in the market. This, however, is just a symptom of a larger philosophical difference, as the Senator points out, and it defines our collective approach to education in this country and how we pay for it and administrate it.

Between now and the end of the month, Senate Republicans will work hard with the President and with the House to produce an agreement that ensures all student borrowers benefit from today’s low interest rates. That would mean that 100 percent of all new student loans made this year would have a rate below five percent.

We may be in agreement on student loans, but we have a major disagreement about who should be in charge of our 100,000 public schools that educate 50 million American children.

To put it simply, Democrats want a national school board; Republicans favor local control.

Over the last decade, the United States Department of Education has become so congested with federal mandates that it has actually become, in effect, a national school board.

If you remember the childhood game, ‘Mother, May I?’ then you have a pretty good sense of how the process works—states must come to Washington for approval of their plans to educate their students.

These weekly remarks can often get swept under the rug, particularly in electoral off-years, but this one is worth a full read. Liberal opponents of conservative doctrine frequently deride the idea that smaller government is better, depicting conservatives as people who simply hate government (and taxes) as a matter of rote memorization. However, those who have paid attention in history class know that the nation’s track record has demonstrated over and over again how there are some things which the federal government is simply not good at. While the list of such things is too long to flesh out here, education would certainly rank up near the top spot.

A national solution to something as basic as transportation infrastructure is complicated enough, because the individual conditions vary wildly with geography. Education is far more complex, and what works well in one area may not be a good fit in another. Communities are far better equipped to define what their own needs are and the best ways to structure and pay for them. But it goes even deeper than that. Education is a subject which looms large on the question of who is best suited to be responsible for raising children and preparing them for the world awaiting them upon graduation. Some may feel that Washington should be in charge, but the real answer is found in the community and – far more to the point – the family. And families need as many options as possible, including private schools and home schooling in addition to public institutions. (We’ve covered plenty of those battles here before.)

Alexander seems to be on the same general train of thought.

Republicans voted to move in a different direction. We offered a two-hundred-and-twenty-page plan to help children in public schools learn what they need to know and be able to do by restoring responsibility to states and communities, and giving teachers and parents freedom, flexibility, and choice.

We call it, ‘Every Child Ready for College or Career.’

Our plan emphasizes state and local decision-making. It puts Washington out of the business of deciding whether local schools are succeeding or failing.

It rejects federal mandates that create a national school board, and prohibits the Education Secretary from prescribing standards or accountability systems for states. It continues the requirement that states have high standards and quality tests, but doesn’t prescribe those standards.

The Senator is on to something here, and you should be up to speed on this discussion. Democrats love talking about education as one of the critical debates in the national forum – and it is. But this is one which can be addressed with some common sense and proposals which a significant majority of the country should be able to grasp and get behind. Spread the word.