America’s public schools and colleges spend $1.1 trillion a year, but often shun public input and accountability. In disregard of toothless open-government laws, colleges are shutting citizens out of trustee meetings, sanitizing their crime statistics, and hiring crony presidents in backroom deals. Dysfunctional student privacy laws are routinely abused to conceal unflattering information the public needs to know. Well-trained student journalists are kicking open the doors that wrongdoers prefer to keep shut.
Open-records laws need a 21st-century reboot, including meaningful penalties for noncompliance. Public access to police reports – especially those at secretive private colleges – needs clarifying so that only information essential to protect “hot pursuit” investigations can be withheld. FERPA, the federal student privacy statute, must be overhauled to prevent colleges and schools from frivolously invoking “student privacy” to withhold non-confidential records. The public’s right to access should include publicly subsidized “quasi-government” entities, like state school-board associations, that are driving public policy from the shadows.
“Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety. So, our honest politicians and our honorable corporation heads owe it to their reputations to bring their activities out into the open.”
— Woodrow Wilson,
The New Freedom: A Call For the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People, Doubleday, 1913