Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Suffer the Little Children

Another one to file under This can't be right, the federal government has said it will not help Texas pay for additional textbooks or teachers needed to educate the 29,000 evacuated Louisiana students the state has enrolled thus far (or the several more thousand expected in coming weeks). While FEMA has money to pay for increased transportation costs, portable buildings, school computers and mental health counselors, the state must bear the primary costs of teaching additional children (the state mandates 65% of monies be spent in the classroom), at least for the time being. How long a time do you reckon that's going to be? My guess is as long as it takes to measure the political fallout of the decision. The greater the heat, the more likely funds will be made available.

Complicating the funding dynamic is the dismal fate of the Texas' state education funding. Three legislative sessions down and no remedy for what ails it. Add a Gubernatorial primary season started early by two high-powered Republicans, and the chaos is more apparent. Governor Rick Perry believes his good buddy W will eventually reimburse the state for these additional costs and does not plan to do anything about funding at present (too tired from his wasted summer). State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn (little Scotty McClellan's mom) has her eye on $1.2 billion surplus revenue the state has collected in higher oil and gas receipts, which would usually go into the "rainy day" fund, but could be earmarked for disaster relief for schools, police and hospitals, if the legislature decrees it. Only problem, Governor Rick Perry would have to call for a special session, and he doesn't want to. Not only did the ones he held over the summer really bum him out, he doesn't want to give the comptroller the political edge.

As if that were not enough burden for the beleaguered, Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling, who no doubt has spent countless seconds pressing Bush and Congress for money to help states pay for the their recent additions, has not yet determined if displaced students will be held to the strict No Child Left Behind guidelines, which mandate already underfunded testing, and retention of students who do not meet their criteria. She claims that exceptions may be made on a case by case basis, but we all know what that means.

Who do you think will suffer most in all the bureaucratic nonsense? Got it in one; the children, of course. They are the ones who will sit in over-crowded classrooms without textbooks, while underpaid teachers force-feed them the uninspired pablumn our government mandates. Many of them have just come from a trauma more painful than most adults can process, have lost family members, their homes and possessions, are living in shelters and learning lessons in compassion and caring from total strangers in the form of volunteers and classroom teachers. Wouldn't it be nice if our government considered these lessons as valuable as those on the TAKS test. Wouldn't it be really great if those who have given freely were not made to pay for their generosity by having to stretch the already meager government dollars paid to education. Wouldn't it be fabulous if those who have already lost so much were not subject to losing even more to a government test that can not hope to show the true measure of children.

Lets turn up the heat on this one and let there be no misunderstandings, before education in Texas and across the country becomes another unintended catastrophe.