What Is the Definition of Coercive Federalism?

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Coercive federalism involves a strong centralized national government that exercises strict control over its states through the use of mandates or orders, often without providing the funding to carry out those requirements. In order to receive grant funding from the federal government, the states have to carry out the mandates first. This is a form of governance that the United States has followed on some issues since the 1960s, such as the environment and publicly funded education.

Coercive federalism is the tightest form of federal control. Permissive federalism is a structure giving the states permission to control more areas, after the federal government has established those areas as being open to the states. In the United States, permissive federalism has been a hallmark of such issues as the civil rights movement since the 1960s. New federalism is an effort by the national government to reduce its power by sending some responsibilities back to the states.

With regard to public education and the environment, there were elements in the federal government that felt that the states would not be able to provide uniform levels of quality on their own, making federal intervention necessary. The differences in educational quality between states like Massachusetts and states like Mississippi, though, indicate that there is still a lot of work to be done to even outcomes.