Like many here , I am often tempted to get into a total rage when I think about some of the things happening during this administration. Perhaps the only real difference in our reactions is that the list of things which would provoke that reaction can vary greatly from one person to another. In my case one particular irritant is Margaret Court Spellings, who of course is totally unqualified for her position of Secretary of Education, and the various bloviations emitted from her mouth and her office. So I will use her as an example of why we should not get angry, but instead channel our reactions to being motivated and focused.
Spellings latest `brainstorm" is to seek $100 million for a demonstration project on vouchers. The Bush administration and those of their supporters seeking privatization of public education have been unable to get any meaningful voucher endeavor through the Congress, so now they want to try to get a first step towards their ultimate goal of delegitimizing public education by claiming that this is an ad-on, that it does not take away funds from public education.
But of course it does. That is, this is $100 million that could go towards one of the current Federal responsibilities that is not being fully funded. And this is where getting focused comes in. This becomes an opportunity to education (the choice of the words is deliberate) politicians and the public about how the federal government does not meet its current obligations. And here i will illustrate not by talking about NCLB, but broadening the discussion to talk about IDEA, which is truly an unfunded mandate.
IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (original name). It was originally enacted in 1975 in response among other things to court decisions which said if states provided free public education to students without disabilities they must similarly provide free and appropriate public education to those with disabilities.
Let me quote from a document put out by the republican controlled house committee that overseas this law:
When Congress first passed IDEA in 1975, many believe Congress committed to pay up to 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure to offset the excess cost of educating children with disabilities; talk about reaching "full funding" means reaching this 40 percent funding goal. Since taking control of Congress ten years ago, Republicans have dramatically increased spending for the IDEA Part B Grants to States program, which funds direct services to students. Funding has increased by nearly 360 percent, and the federal share of funding has increased from 7.3 percent of the average per pupil expenditure in FY 1996 to 18.7 percent in FY 2005. Under Republican leadership, Congress has increased its rate of progress toward finally reaching the 40 percent level many believe Congress sought in 1975.
So in FY 2005, the funding rate was 18.5% of the cost, not the 40%.
That same document from which the percentage was drawn says the federal expenditure for this program was 10.6 Billion. A 40% expenditure rate would have been ab out 22.920 billion, or in other words, the national shortfall was 12.320 billion.
BTW - as of June 30, 2005, the daily cost of the Iraq war was running at about 195 million. That means as of year ago the shortfall in the federal share of IDEA part B was about 2 months of spending on the Iraq war.
The National Education association used a somewhat more conservative figure of a shortfall to states and localities of $10.6 billion. Let me use some figures from their website:
the average differential cost in 2004 per special ed student was $9,369. Being generous on the Federal share, and presuming they actually met half of their commitment (20% rather than less than 19), the shortfall would be 20% of that 9,369, or 1873.80/student/year. Of course, this is a national average.
I live in Virginia, let me explain what the difference means. While I cannot give an immediate link, while doing some research a few months ago I found that the Commonwealth of Virginia has about 165,000 Special Education students. If we presumed that our average differential cost was at the national level, the annual shortfall to the state and to local education authorities would be 309,177,000. Each year, my home state is shorted 3 times what Spellings proposes to spend on demonstration projects on vouchers.
That 300 million is money that legally must be expended, and which therefore represents funds that are not available for other educational programs. Were the shortfall evenly distributed across the state's 11 Congressional districts, that is more than 28 million per CD. That is somewhat higher than what one gets by taking the NEA figures of $10.6 billion shortfall and dividing by the 435 CDs in the nation - that figure is a bit of 24 million.
Don't get angry, get motivated. When presented with something that is really upsetting about this administration, research, find the information that can help place the outrage in context, and use that information to
- lobby Congressional figures and candidates
- write letters to your local newspapers
- communicate with people in your community who might become motivated when you present them with the information.
Just expression our outrage may temporarily make us feel better. Focusing it into something that motivates us and draws in others might help make a difference.
One caution on the specific example I use. In theory (and we have heard this before), the government is supposed to be moving towards full funding of its 40% share over a 6-year period. But we all know that every dollar spent on tax cuts for millionaires, on handouts for unaudited work by Bechtel and Halliburton in Iraq, or for politically motivated things like demonstration voucher projects is a dollar not available to address the unmet social needs of America. Keep that in mind as you focus on whatever would outrage you.