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"Nosy Congress Makes
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May 13, 2010
Jeff Koterba, The World-Herald’s superb editorial page cartoonist, has done it again—this time in a cartoon that, in a drawing and 17 words, goes to the heart of a problem born in Washington and foolishly nurtured by the Nebraska State Department of Education.
The cartoon, published last Monday:
The sad story to which the cartoon so well applies.
In an effort to qualify more Nebraska schools for a slice of $77 million in federal “stimulus” funds—dollars which the federal government doesn’t have but must borrow—the Nebraska Department of Education created its own definition of “persistently lowest-achieving” schools.
The suggested federal standard was schools which consistently graduate fewer than 60% of students. The “born in Lincoln” Nebraska formula—in an effort to qualify for more federal fund—asked for funds for schools graduating fewer than 75% of students.
The result was to throw some of the state’s best high schools—Omaha Central and Omaha North, for two examples—into the “persistently lowest-achieving” schools category. (Central’s graduation rate was calculated as 70.3%, North’s at 69.9%.)
It is simply ridiculous to put these two high schools, for just two examples, on a list of Nebraska schools for which Obama-supported federal standards would apply mandating that the principal and 50% of the staff be fired or the school be closed and reopened as a charter school or that the school simply be closed with the students moved to another school.
Jeff Koterba’s editorial page cartoon in The World-Herald last Monday put the whole matter of “underachieving” schools in proper perspective. It makes clear that less-than-desirable graduation rates are to a large degree the result of external factors over which the schools have no control.
Yet the dictators (you don’t have to be the head of a totalitarian government to be a bureaucratic dictator) in Washington and now in Lincoln attempt to place the entire blame for lower-than-desirable graduation rates on the schools rather the societal factors which are the true roots of much if not most of the problem.
And if anybody is to be replaced in this sorry tale of how far a state education department will go in its search for federal dollars, let the school principals and staff keep their difficult jobs.
Fire anyone in the Nebraska State Department of Education who had any hand in adding a 25% increase to the arbitrary federal “your school’s a failure” graduation-rate standard for qualifying for federal handouts.
* * *
Still on the subject of journalistic commentary (which these days too often occurs in the news columns as well as on the editorial page):
Nebraska legislators were sent home with generally favorable journalistic commentary on what they had achieved during the 2010 session.
I would submit what I suppose might be called a minority report.
First, the legislators passed two anti-abortion bills, both of which are assured of winding up in the courts for years to come because they are the most extreme pieces of anti-abortion legislation passed in any state. They did this without making any effort at all to address the primary causes of abortion; i.e., unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.
Planned Parenthood, which gets roughed up regularly by anti-abortion forces, is on the right path when it advocates this policy: “Every child a wanted child.”
In contrast, the knee-jerk anti-abortion activists do nothing about this root problem except to preach abstinence. (Remember that the policy of the Catholic Church forbids the use of contraceptives, and Catholics are among the loudest of the anti-abortion activists.)
It is too much to hope, I fear, that in Nebraska and other states we can ever achieve an effective policy of educating young people in ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies—from abstinence, of course, to the use of contraceptives. There would be charges of encouraging promiscuity if contraceptives are mentioned or advocated.
But in a society where sexual relations are a part of far too many teenagers lives, it seems to me simply realistic to attempt to give at least as much attention to ways to avoid unplanned, unwanted pregnancies as to dealing with the tragic results—too often the birth of children who will go immediately onto the public welfare rolls and will predictably grow up raised by a teenaged mother who is a school dropout, without the father anywhere in the family picture.
Incidentally, the Legislature was certainly not at its best when it virtually panicked over the issue of denying prenatal care to pregnant illegal immigrants. There was talk that withdrawal of funding of prenatal care would create “an epidemic of abortions.”
Then a clinic serving low-income patients offered prenatal care and the University of Nebraska Medical Center reported that it would continue to offer such care as it has been doing for some time.
The legislative panic subsided.
Another area in which the 2010 Legislature deserves something less than praise, it seems to me, was the use of federal “stimulus” money—again, money which the federal government doesn’t have but has to borrow—to pay a significant portion of state aid to local school districts.
The day of reckoning will come, when the Legislature must face the problem of replacing those stimulus funds—a problem which governmental units across the nation will face unless they use stimulus funds for what might be called one-time needs as against continuing needs.
* * *
There has been a good deal of favorable comment as to the speed with which the unsuccessful would-be Times Square terrorist bomber was identified and arrested.
It seems to me that praise for this after-the-fact law enforcement work—which caught the would-be terrorist just as an airliner bound for the Middle East was about to take off with him as a passenger—entirely misses the basic point:
The important story is not one of success after the bomb plot failed, but a story of failure in keeping this young terrorist under some kind of surveillance which would have prevented him from bringing his amateurish terrorist bomb into crowed Times Square.
After all, if the would-be bomber had been more skilled—and there are a multitude of such skilled terrorists apparently available in the Muslim world—the bomb presumably would have gone off, killing nobody knows how many people in Times Square that evening.
Among the silly reactions to the Times Square happenings was this comment from liberal commentator Joe Conason of the Salon website (one of a number of website commentators who, unfortunately in my opinion, are being picked up for distribution in print media):
“…the response of government at all levels so far has been effective. The blocks surrounding the bomb were swiftly evacuated, and the bomb squad quickly disarmed the device.
“Then the suspected perp was apprehended within 48 hours, just as he seemed to have been attempting escape on a flight to Dubai.”
Liberal commentator Conason said that right-wing “talking heads” are talking “nonsense” about the terrorism issue.
I don’t listen to the right-wing “talking heads” but the whole Times Square bombing story deserves a great deal of scrutiny as to how the amateur terrorist could receive terrorist bomb training in Pakistan and return to this country free to threaten the lives of hundreds of people in Times Square with a bomb that—as good luck would have it—failed to go off.
* * *
More extensive comment next week on President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan, now serving as the Obama Administration’s Solicitor General, for a seat on the United States Supreme Court.
I want to read a great deal more about her record and also more pro and con commentary on her qualifications. (Early encouraging sign: A New York Times lead editorial raised several questions as to whether she is liberal enough.)
It is not too early to offer one observation and express one hope in regard to the president’s nominee.
The observation: she is obviously overweight.
The hope: That she shows proper judicial restraint and more caloric restraint.
Judicial restraint would be good for a country supposedly governed by the rule of law.
Caloric restraint would be good for Elena Kagan’s health and prospects for long service on the high court.
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