Proposal to ‘terminate’ the federal Dept. of Education

By: 
LORRAINE MARIE
Special to the S-E

The day Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the new Secretary of Education, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie filed HR 669, which succinctly says “The Department of Education shall be terminated on Dec. 31, 2018.”

That single sentence is the entire content of the bill, which was referred to the 22-member House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

In explaining his proposal, Kentucky’s Rep. Massie, stated his opinion that state and local communities can better oversee the education of community children.

But can they do it better without federal funding? The bill has no details about what would replace the national average of $816 per student provided by those funds.

Over seven percent

In the Colville School District, no federal funds would mean a $1,614,203 budget loss -- over seven percent of the budget, according to Superintendent Pete Lewis. The District’s total budget is $20,813,779.

Lewis cautions that in other school districts, the figure may vary: there is no “one size fits all” use of federal dollars. For example, about half of CSD students qualify for federally-funded free lunches, but in some other district, 10 percent of students might qualify.

Rep. Massie is part of a Republican faction claiming that in a 30-year span, starting in 1982, public school funding rose 375 percent, but test scores remained “flat.”

Politifact looked into the allegation and found it “mostly true,” but also found the 375 percent figure significantly skewed. Those figures spanned a time frame that concluded with a short-term large stimulus infusion to the Education Dept.: money intended to help schools through the Great Recession.

Once that surge money stopped, the more accurate figure is a 117 percent increase, according to Politifact.

The surface statistics do not show educational gains, such as the average math scores for blacks and Hispanics being up 20.5 points, and up 25 points for nine-year-olds.

Left out of the expense equation is how education costs have changed since 1982.

As Supt. Lewis points out, everything costs more. There are also expanded services for providing equal opportunities for all the students, such as occupational therapists.

Technology

And yes, there have been investments in technology that were not happening in 1982. But on the other hand, Lewis points out that technology in some cases can dodge the purchase of classroom sets of science textbooks -- at $125 each -- that may be outdated once they hit the classroom; computers fill the need for accurate information not found in those pricey books.

As well, credit requirements have expanded. Prior to 1982 Supt. Lewis said students needed less than 20 credits to graduate, but recently, the credit number rose to 24.

Since HR 899 is vague, there is no predicting what could happen: would abolishing the federal branch of education actually shrink education funds, which may be one intent of its promoters?

Could local levies compensate?

As it is now, Lewis said levies are capped at 14 prcent locally (the state cap is 28 percent, but local voters have approved a 14 percent cap).

CSD does get levy equalization funds from the state, that attempt to equalize student funding. But state legislators, who are now grappling with a court order to beef up education funding by the state, could create a whole new set of considerations when deciding how to compensate for possible local losses in the multi-millions.

Levy amounts aside, the Colville School Superintendent pointed out it is still up to voters whether they will say yes or no.

Read the full story in the Feb. 22 edition of the Statesman-Examiner. An e-edition is available at http://www.statesmanexaminer.com/e-edition.

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