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SL Principal carries education message to D.C., but finds many programs sliced in budget plan

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

If Storm Lake Principal Juli Kwikkel could give federal officials a grade for their stance on education this year, it might be an "F."

F for Frustrating.

"In the five years I've been meeting with our Congressional leaders in Washington, this is the bleakest situation I've ever seen. The budget outlook for education is pretty bad, and that is frustrating."

Kwikkel just returned from D.C., where she met with senators and representatives on behalf of the School Administrators of Iowa and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the numbers she brings back are alarming.

The president's budget proposal issued in February calls for a decrease in Department of Education funding from the current $84 billion for fiscal 2006 to $64 billion for 2007 - which would give education just 2.3 percent of the budget.

"I realize that the war didn't help, and Katrina didn't help. But it is troubling that education cannot get a bigger piece of the pie, because there are so many sacred cows in there that they won't touch," Kwikkel said.

If the budget stands as President Bush proposes it, Storm Lake will absorb some heavy blows.

"There are 42 programs proposed to be cut. Even Start would be totally zeroed out, and that would really affect Storm Lake," Kwikkel said. There are currently 46 children in Storm Lake in families being served by the preschooling program.

Cuts would be made to elementary counseling, arts programs, the Drug-Free Schools initiative, vocational-technical programs, Title 1 reading funding, special education, a program that helps districts obtain technology at a reduced rate - all items that would directly impact classrooms in places like Storm Lake.

Almost a third of the Bush budget-cut proposals come from education, one estimate indicates.

"Some of the [politicians] tell us that education has gotten more since President Bush took office. And they may have given some money to the university level - but it is misleading," Kwikkel said. "Where they give money, they take it from somewhere else in education. It's a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul."

In some cases, districts are already reeling from trying to locally fund federal mandates that have not come with the financial sources to pay for them. "If I could convince the Congress members of one thing, it would be that if they promise a certain percentage of funding on the mandates, put their money where their mouth is. If that's the promise and they don't do it, local districts end up backfilling to pay for it, and that takes money away from other areas where it is needed," Kwikkel said.

Kwikkel said that she is impressed with the efforts to gather knowledge on the education challenges that she finds in the offices of Senators Grassley and Harkin, as well as Congressman Leach and Boswell. In the cases of other Representatives from Iowa, she said she is still working to better reach them on the issues.

The Storm Lake Principal feels that cutting education would be a short-sighted solution to a budget challenge.

"When you see proposals for $41.6 billion in tax cuts that largely go to the wealthiest people, and then when education asks for $2.8 billion and the attitude is that we are asking for too much, you have to wonder," Kwikkel said.

One area Congress is pushing is a $100 million voucher system, as is being used in Washington schools. However, Kwikkel said that this would be "cutting the legs off" public schools. Iowa open enrollment law has provided parents a choice without taking public funding away from public schools, she said.

As opposed to private schools, the public school is charged to educate all. "We don't pick and choose. We educate 'em all," she said.

The principals pleaded with elected officials to return funds especially to Title 1 reading, disabilities efforts, counseling, leadership development and drug prevention programming.

Despite budget woes, Kwikkel points out, Congress always seems to find the money to vote themselves a pay hike.

"When you see 16-18 percent more going to top elected officials, compare that with the salaries of teachers who have basically had no increases because of more of their pay going to cover insurance all the time," she said.

"In Iowa, teacher pay has slipped to 42nd in the country. I would say that Iowans are getting pretty added-value service from their teachers. I can't say enough about them," Kwikkel said.

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