Gambling on Education, Dodging Blame, and Lighting the Way

By Scott J. Cech — April 22, 2005 3 min read

Cigarettes, alcohol, and gambling are all good for you, provided you live in Louisiana, and especially if you’re a teacher. That’s the line Governor Kathleen Blanco has been taking in her push to finance a statewide $1,000-per-teacher raise with a hike on so-called sin taxes. The proposal aims to raise $120 million annually because, the Democratic governor says, “[T]o continue long-term educational improvements in Louisiana, we must be able to attract, retain, and reward our teachers.” Not surprisingly, the idea has raised the ire o+f the Bayou State’s video-poker, tobacco, and spirits industries, as well as state Republicans, who have promised to kill the plan. But the proposal has also caught flak from its would-be beneficiaries. Pooh-poohing Blanco’s insistence that a thousand bucks is a “meaningful” pay raise, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has seen fit to educate the governor about the definition of that word. “Meaningful,” the union says, starts at $2,000.

Speaking of fusillades, a longtime recess favorite has hit the secondary-school big time in West Des Moines, Iowa. Taking its place in the intramural pantheon beside lacrosse, basketball, and bowling, dodge ball has taken Valley High School by storm. “Some of the games can be intense, but all of them are really fun,” says Gabe Carlson, the school’s club sports coordinator, adding that the game was introduced this year by popular request. Dodge ball season is now over, but if the sport’s success is any indication—21 mixed-gender teams took part in the just-concluded championship tournament—VHS students will be pelting each other for many years to come.

Avoiding incoming attacks has become second nature at the U.S. Department of Education lately, but officials there could be forgiven for thinking that even their erstwhile allies are out to get them. Following Texas’ outright defiance of No Child Left Behind rules and a lawsuit threat by Connecticut’s attorney general, Utah lawmakers have passed the most explicit state repudiation yet of the law. Like Connecticut’s executive branch and both legislative houses in Texas, the home state of both President Bush and education secretary Margaret Spellings, Utah’s legislature is dominated by Republicans. But party loyalty didn’t stop Beehive State officeholders from overwhelmingly approving a bill directing their education officials to ignore parts of NCLB that require state funding. The state’s Republican governor has promised to sign it into law. “I wish they’d take the stinking money and go back to Washington,” said GOP Representative Steven R. Mascaro.

Money—or rather, the lack thereof—was always the excuse Cleveland Municipal School District officials gave teachers when they begged for extra security. Now, after years of pleading, they’re finally getting their wish, but it’s the educators themselves whom the guards have their eyes on. Administrators have hired 23 security officers to make sure potentially disgruntled teachers at the 22 schools slated for closure this June don’t take or destroy any district property on their way out. Boxes, bags, and even teachers’ purses have been searched. The guards are costing an estimated $126,187, but faculty who wonder where the money is coming from needn’t worry, a district spokesman says—the savings realized by closing the schools should cover the security bill.

Award ceremonies for educators are about the only education gatherings where one can reasonably expect a break from talk of financial doom and gloom these days, but new National Teachers Hall of Fame inductee John F. Mahoney made it the centerpiece of his acceptance speech. In a stark departure from most teaching-award pablum, the 57-year-old math and robotics teacher took the opportunity to point out the abysmal condition of his Benjamin Banneker Academic High School and the rest of Washington D.C.’s public schools. In front of students and city officials, and with news cameras clicking, Mahoney said, “For over 50 years, the District and federal governments have effectively ignored the children of this city.” His blunt assessment has already brought a small but significant improvement: After years of vain attempts to get burned-out bulbs in the school’s auditorium replaced, district administrators contacted Mahoney’s principal immediately after the ceremony to promise the lights would be fixed. There’s something to be said for throwing light on a subject.

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