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|Stimulus bill could bring about positive change in education in Louisiana|
Within days, Congress is expected to pass an economic stimulus package that includes approximately $290 million for public school construction projects in Louisiana. Given the unemployment claims experienced in the construction sector of our state's economy, this allocation certainly has the potential to increase employment for many Louisianans who are currently out of work. Unfortunately, the bill's current funding mechanism does not ensure that tax dollars will be directed to areas that are experiencing the highest levels of unemployment.
The primary factor used to allocate federal education funding is based on the number of students who are considered "at-risk," typically defined as those who receive free or reduced lunches. Under ordinary circumstances, this factor seems to distribute federal monies equitably. But if this construction funding is designed to modernize school facilities while reducing unemployment, the $290 million should be prioritized toward parishes that are experiencing the highest levels of unemployment.
Furthermore, this stimulus legislation is missing language that forbids districts from allocating funds toward simply repairing gutters or using the funding for routine maintenance projects. With these funds, we have a real opportunity to not only stimulate local economies by increasing employment figures, but we can also thoughtfully and methodically use the funding to advance and build upon proven models of education success to provide a better future for the children of our state.
Louisiana's education leaders have identified high school models that consistently graduate 95 percent of their students, irrespective of socio-economic backgrounds. Graduates of these programs leave high school ready for college or career. Let's not build new gymnasiums at high school "dropout factories" scattered around our state that graduate fewer than 60 percent of their students. Why not invest in facilities for these high value high school models, and in turn, create centers of excellence capable of promoting economic development and higher employment statewide for years to come?
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recently received longitudinal research data indicating that students who participate in our nationally-recognized LA 4 Pre-kindergarten Program receive an academic boost that is sustained through the fourth grade and beyond. Some districts report that expansion of this successful model is limited due to the capacity of school facilities. Again, if we have a proven model of success, shouldn't we invest construction funds in building facilities that will allow us to provide such excellent programming to more of our children?
Our state hovers near the bottom of every national student achievement indicator. We simply cannot afford to invest these one-time funds repairing buildings that house ineffective educational programs. If we truly want to transform educational outcomes, we must stop funding failure and start building on our successes.
These stimulus funds should be allocated equally among congressional districts, targeted to areas experiencing the highest levels of unemployment and dedicated to projects that support 21st century learning models.
Tammie A. McDaniel is a member-at-large of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.