Published Online: September 17, 2013
Published in Print: September 18, 2013, as Blogs of the Week

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| NEWS | Politics K-12

Will Sequestration End? Don’t Hold Your Breath

Here we go again: Congress is gearing up for its umpteenth game of fiscal chicken, as lawmakers have to craft not one, but likely three separate budget agreements over the next several months to keep the government from shuttering.

And yet again, education programs—which have already taken a hit of more than 5 percent through “sequestration”—are caught in the crosshairs.

The latest, completely unsurprising development: A stop-gap spending measure, written by House Republicans, that would fund the government until Dec. 15, doesn’t alleviate the cuts, which are slated to stay in place for a decade.

Passing that continuing resolution may not be easy, since some Republicans would like to use the opportunity to defund the president’s health-care initiative, aka Obamacare. If Congress isn’t able to get the stop-gap measure done by Sept. 30—which marks the end of fiscal 2014—the government could shut down.

What all this means is that education advocates must yet again fight the sequestration cuts. The problem: While the cuts to Head Start and federal impact aid are obvious and quite dramatic in some cases, most K-12 schools were largely able to absorb them without the massive layoffs that the administration predicted.

That’s great for actual children and teachers, but it makes it tough for inside-the-Beltway folks to make the case that sequestration for education is harmful.

And advocates are getting battle-weary.

Here’s the argument you can expect to hear from the education community this fall: This year, districts may have been able to rejigger their budgets, but things are likely to get much worse if the cuts stay in place.

—Alyson Klein


| NEWS | State EdWatch

Idaho Chief Rethinks Vote-Counting Focus

Too much time spent thinking about legislators, and not enough time about the public, helped derail several significant Idaho education bills that Republican lawmakers approved in 2011 only to see them overturned at the polls, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said last week.

Luna championed three key proposals in 2011. The Republican-controlled legislature passed them, but the voters shot all of them down in 2012. Among the “Luna laws,” one would have restricted collective bargaining; another would have instituted merit pay; and the third would have mandated more technology in the state’s classrooms. They were major priorities for both Luna and current GOP Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. But the Idaho Education Association fought to get enough petition signatures to put the laws on the ballot.

Luna’s comments came in the Idaho Statesman, where he said that instead of spending the amount of time he did on ensuring that his legislative proposals would get enough votes to pass, he should have thought more about how people were reacting to his ideas outside the state capital.

It’s an interesting admission by Luna, a highly visible defender of the Common Core State Standards in a place where there’s been some visible opposition. He survived a recall attempt in 2011 triggered by those legislative efforts, but the defeat of the Luna laws counted as a major victory for state teachers’ unions. Those two results show that state superintendents who enjoy early success and national prominence aren’t guaranteed everything, or anything.

After seeing the laws get beaten at the polls, Otter convened a task force last December to outline the state’s educational goals and strategies. That task force, which includes Luna, released its recommendations for Idaho education last month, and they were subsequently endorsed by Otter.

Two of the recommendations deal with providing more classroom technology and better Internet access. And the plan reiterates the state’s support for the common core.

—Andrew Ujifusa


| NEWS | Education and the Media

Patch Sites, Heavy on School News, Face Retrenchment

From its very beginnings, the hyperlocal news site Patch has made coverage of local schools a priority.

With a retrenchment announced last month by Patch’s owner, AOL Inc., however, many of the 900 local websites will be shut down.

Patch launched in 2007, and was acquired by New York City-based AOL in 2009. The Internet company rapidly expanded the number of community Patch sites, mostly in upper-middle-class suburbs. As described by one early local editor in a cover story last year in the Columbia Journalism Review, “Patch aimed to be the community newspaper and more, a hub for local businesses and a forum for community conversation.”

That editor, Sean Roach, said local editors were given latitude to set their own coverage priorities.

Ken Doctor, a former newspaper editor and now a media analyst who writes the weekly Newsonomics column for the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, said in an interview that with most Patch sites having one full-time editor and a small freelance budget, they could only “hit the patina of education.”

“They didn’t say, ‘We’re going to cover education better than anyone else in the community,’ ” said Doctor.

Still, said Michelle Ferrier, an associate dean at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, the Patch idea held promise at a time when many local newspapers were cutting back.

“Patch was going to go into places where there had been cracks in the media landscape,” she said.

Patch began to transform its sites in 2010 and 2011, making them more of a “platform” for contributed content and less of a mostly news outlet.

And this year, the push was on from aol to make the advertising-supported sites profitable.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 33, Issue 04, Page 13

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