State education departments should be strengthened

If the federal government is actually going to cut in half the funds it provides all levels of education (from 7 percent of the federal budget to something under 4 percent). . . .

If federal funds for education are to come in the form of block grants to states instead of categorical aid. . . .

If federal government is not going to provide grants to needy students to attend the college of their choice. . . .

If school lunch and milk programs are not to be subsidized by the federal government. . . .

If money to carry out court-ordered desegregation programs is not to be provided by the federal government. . . .

Then the executive and legislative branches of the 50 state governments have a mighty job ahead of them.

Fortunately, most of the state legislatures and state departments of education already have been grappling for as long as a decade with more equitable ways of financing not only the public school systems in the states, but with access to higher education for their deserving (and needy) high school graduates.

But the record is spotty at best.

Each state has its own enormous tangle of laws, rules, and regulations, many of which are unenforcable, some of which mitigate against enterprise at the local school district level, and no state department is large enough or skilled enough to carry out.

If all we look at, for the moment, is the state aid which comes to a school district based on the numbers of students the district has in it; on the face of it, such a plan, money from the state based on per/pupil enrollment, seems fair and equitable enough.

But who checks on the school districts to know whether or not pupil enrollment figures sent to the state department of education are correct? And how often are they to be counted? Daily? Yearly?

Also, aren't these districts which need more money per pupil because it costs them more per pupil? Perhaps the district is rural and has isolated pockets of farm families with several school-age children. Perhaps one district has to tax at rates three and four times that of a neighbor district to bring in the same base per pupil funds.

There are some very basic human rights all our children deserve, and it is at the state level that schooling for all these children is legislated and protected.

Funding must be brought under control. The collection in the first place needs to be distributed equally over the population; the expenditures in the second place must fit the needs of the pupils and their circumstances.

New Mexico would appear to be years ahead of most other states in the way it both collects and distributes school funds. Several other states -- Vermont, New Jersey, Florida, to name a few -- are well on their way to improving their funding patterns.

Some states have a long history of providing good curriculum materials, strong in-service programs, and skilled consultants to local school districts -- such programs have long been in place in New York, Ohio, and Michigan, for example.

undoubtedly the change in federal funding amounts as well as types of grants will impact severely on state governments. A strenethening of the department of education at this level is essential.

We may not need a federal cabinet- level department of education, but each state should fill its education department with the best educators the state has to offer.

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