Education Issue Update: Dispatch Digs Into Budget Battle

In light of the long-delayed federal budget coming due, there’s lots of news on the education front – including the band Dispatch launching an entire campaign to protect Pell Grants and service. We’ll get to how the money breaks down for schools in a moment. First, though: we’re putting out the call for a new Education Issue Editor. Does education reform interest you? If so, drop us a line at [email protected], and maybe it will be your face on our next email.

  • Legislators have finally passed the Fiscal Year 2011 budget. With nearly $40 billion in cuts, where did it leave the embattled Pell Grant (which provide scholarship money to low income individuals)? Surprisingly, in a good place. The awards will remain at current levels for the time being. That relief is short-lived, however, since under the Republican plan (from Representative Paul Ryan), the awards would be cut by 45%. For all of the non-math majors out there, that's a $2,500 reduction. The Republican plan has been voted down in the Senate, so it’s unclear what will happen next. Under the President's 2012 plan, Pell Grant awards will be maintained at $5,500, but with no cost-of-living increase.
  • Dispatch, about to embark on a national stadium and amphitheater tour (some call them the biggest underground band in America. Others say, “Dispatch? Who is Dispatch?") launched the Amplifying Education campaign (“AmpEd”). They’re donating a portion of every ticket sale to Teach for America, and giving away tracks from a specially-produced live album to anyone who signs up for their mailing list, takes an online action, or volunteers locally. The online piece is part of HeadCount’s “Music for Action” platform. Check it out.
  • And the kids they dance, they shake their bones – but we’re not hearing about it. While most media outlets focus their attention on student uprisings in the Middle East, there has been little coverage of the student protests here at home. At The College of William and Mary in Virginia, five students were cited for trespassing after a 16-hour sit-in associated with the nine-month-long Living Wage Campaign; meanwhile, in the California State University system, students at 11 out of the 23 campuses occupied administration buildings protesting budget cuts. Approximately 800 students marched on the Long Beach campus, and Sacramento students carried their efforts well into the next day. Even the Girl Scouts are making noise, demanding that Girl Scout Cookies be made without palm oil, an ingredient harvested by destroying rainforests.  But the largest rally by far occurred in Washington DC, of course, at Power Shift 2011. Over 10,000 young people gathered to talk climate change and organize Briefcase Brigades, a unique action where they showed up at Congressional offices to ask what their representatives are doing about youth unemployment. For highlights of Power Shift, check out this article by keynote speaker Van Jones or this coverage by the New York Times. For photos, follow the rabbit down this virtual hole.
  • Following the budget tussle, the President is trying to fulfill his promise to keep education in America a priority. Reforming "No Child Left Behind" has been a popular idea. But a provocative proposal to lengthen the school year is starting to gain some momentum. Currently, our school year calendar is based on the planting and harvesting agrarian culture of a bygone America. Professor Harris Cooper of Duke University provides a passionate argument for not just adding a few days to the school year, but for changing the structure of the year to fit the needs of the students.

If you care about what you just read about, perhaps you want to write about it too? As I said, we’re looking for a new Education Issue editor, so send an email to [email protected] telling us who you are an why you’re interested.