Congress has little to crow about
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, February 24, 2013
2/24/13 at 6:47 AM
A fascinating PBS show aired last week about crows and that bird's high intelligence and problem-solving abilities.
Example: Crows like walnuts but since crows don't own fancy nutcrackers they must figure out a way to penetrate the nut's tough husk and then its hard shell to get to the meat of the matter.
A crow's beak can shred the husk easily but splitting the walnut shell is daunting for creatures with wings for hands. So crows calculate at what height they must drop a dehusked walnut onto a hard surface - such as pavement - to split but not shatter the nut.
Urban crows in Japan and California are even more enterprising: They've learned to time stoplights so that they can place a walnut on the roadway to be cracked by passing vehicles.
Now that's something to crow about.
Congress appears devoid of any similar ingenuity. As the crow flies, lawmakers are five days away from the sequestration deadline, which they probably will allow to pass, and a million miles away from working together on a solution. Unless someone figures out how to crack the walnut, automatic across-the-board spending cuts will begin unfolding.
By earlier estimates, Oklahoma schools could lose up to $51.1 million in federal funding - $18 million for Tulsa Public Schools. These are draconian cuts that would not happen all at once. Looming federal cuts actual compound funding problems for public schools here, which have suffered through reduced and standstill appropriations. As a result, public education is a changed institution. Just how much so has been calculated by Oklahoma Policy Institute analyst Gene Perry.
Slash and burn
Since 2008, Oklahoma has made some of the deepest cuts to school funding of any state, slashing per-pupil education aid for primary and secondary schools by 20 percent, or $706 per student. Meanwhile, lawmakers passed new mandates, even as they continued cutting funding needed to implement them.
Perry offered three examples:
- Oklahoma soon will require children who do not pass a reading test to be retained in the third grade. "However, in 2012 the state zeroed out more than $6 million in funding meant to help students meet these new requirements."
- Oklahoma recently began requiring high school seniors to pass four out of nine end-of-instruction tests before they can earn a diploma. But last year, the state cut funding from a program that provides extra help for students struggling to pass the tests.
- Class-size limits in place since the reforms of HB 1017 in 1990 have been suspended because schools cannot afford to meet them.
Since 2008, state funding to schools has dropped by $224 million, but enrollment increased by 31,000. The number of students per teacher has increased from 13.7 in 2007-08 to 16.0 in 2010-11.
Is Oklahoma rewarding its teachers for extra burdens? No. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, cited by Perry, Oklahoma ranks third from the bottom in annual salary - $44,156, compared to $49,017 in Texas, and from $46,406 to $46,959 in Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri.
OPI Director David Blatt wrote that this fiscal year's state budget provided no more money for common education, even as total state appropriations grew by 3.2 percent.
Writing on public education last fall, Perry - using Office of Management and Budget and National Education Association figures - detailed the potential effects of federal cuts:
- Title I grants. These grants support programs in schools where at least 40 percent of students come from low-income families. Almost every school district receives such funds. Sequestration would cut funding by $13.3 million, affect some 30,000 students and spell the end for 220 jobs.
- Special Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B grants support specialized services, helping schools cover expenses of providing individualized education programs, transportation, psychological counseling, medical evaluations, etc. Federal cuts could shrivel such grants by $12.1 million, affect more than 7,000 students and eliminate 200 jobs.
- Head Start. Providing comprehensive services to economically disadvantaged preschool children, the program could lose up to $8 million, which could affect 1,200 state children and 530 jobs.
Overall, schools could lose up to $51.1 million in federal dollars - a loss impacting up to 102,630 students and 1,200 jobs. Put that on top of state cuts to educational funding and the challenges to public education are overwhelming. Sometimes good things spring from adversity. Not this time. As I wrote last year, this is not a teachable moment.
Send in the crows.
Original Print Headline: Caw of the wild
Julie DelCour, 918-581-8379
Parents, students and supporters attend an education rally protesting education budget cuts in Oklahoma, taken at Edison Preparatory School in Tulsa in April 2012. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World file