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November 8, 2012

Education likely to take a backseat to other areas

NORMAN — Following an election which saw no changes in the presidential, House and Senate leadership roles, gridlock will likely keep the education status quo intact for the next two years or more.

“I don’t expect to see a whole lot of anything happening at the federal level,” said Thad Balkman, Norman attorney and former state representative. “With so much disagreement between the president and Republican leaders, federal education initiatives will take a back seat.”

The main concern for most regarding federal gridlock, predictably, is funding and how the lack thereof will slow or stop new initiatives.

In a Heartland News article Wednesday, American Enterprise Institute education director Rick Hess was quoted as saying, “The size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell (grants), the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act and the rest mean that there won’t be big, new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the president says nice things about edu-investment and work force initiatives.”

As Balkman pointed out, however, this may not be such bad news after all.

“I think education is best managed and mandated at the local level, so I for one am not too worried about gridlock. I think I’m with the majority of Oklahomans in believing we can handle education on our own and the federal government should have a limited role,” Balkman said.

Indeed, even the most well-intended federal mandates can translate into more expenses for districts, students and families, as in the case of a 10-cent lunch price increase in the Norman district, approved by the Board of Education in May. The price increase was a result of a federal mandate for more healthy foods to be incorporated into lunch menus.

The challenge, like the leadership, will therefore remain unchanged: Translate ideas into policies that function well in practice, which — as Balkman observed — is easier said than done.

“The legislature has lots of ideas about what to do for education, but in the implementation process, these ideas sometimes prove to be not so well thought out,” Balkman said.

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