Better communication with state education officials might help Rep. Jim Ryun be a better advocate in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., deserves credit for arranging Monday's forum in Topeka to allow federal education officials to respond to questions related to the No Child Left Behind law.
But it was disappointing that, during the meeting, the 2nd District congressman failed to recognize issues related to a February news release about unused federal education funds -- in spite of the fact that his office issued an official response quoting Ryun on the matter.
The initial release came from U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who held Kansas up as an example that federal funding for No Child Left Behind obviously was more than adequate because Kansas was "sitting on" $16 million in unspent federal funds. The fact that the funds hadn't been used was cited as evidence that perhaps funding to Kansas should be reduced for the current fiscal year.
Rather than come to his home state's defense, Ryun -- or at least his office -- issued a statement the next day, Feb. 12, saying: "It is my hope that this report will put an end to the complaints by those who say that Kansas does not have adequate federal education funding. These statements are hard to believe when Kansas has accumulated over $16 million in unused education funding in just the past two years. I encourage our state elected officials to make wise use of already appropriated federal funds."
Despite the fact that this statement remains on Ryun's official Web site, the congressman seemed unaware of it when the issue was raised Monday and said he would have to investigate the validity of Boehner's claim.
Rather than jumping on Boehner's bandwagon in February, Ryun should have contacted his own Kansas education officials, who could have shared with him the information they released in a statement on Feb. 23. The Kansas State Department of Education refuted the Ohio congressman's contention that federal funding was lingering in the state treasury by pointing out that the state had until Sept. 30, 2004, to spend those funds, all of which had been awarded as subgrants or otherwise earmarked for use in the state.
The state is barred from drawing down federal funds until it is actually ready to use those funds. The funds were being portioned out to ensure that programs that were dependent on that money were continued at least through the current school year.
A couple of aspects of the Ohio congressman's statement particularly riled Kansas officials. Although the state was two-thirds of the way through its funding period, it had spent all but 6 percent of its federal allocation. The congressman also failed to note that the $82.7 million Kansas expects to receive to fund federal Title I reading and math programs in this fiscal year represents a $4.3 million reduction from last year.
No wonder school officials brought some complaints with them to Monday's meeting with Ryun and federal education officials. While the No Child Left Behind law is forcing Kansas schools to meet additional requirements, federal funds are being diverted away from Kansas to California and other states that are projected to have more students from low-income families. The advice of federal officials at Monday's meeting was to try to get more money from the state.
Hopefully, that will happen, but it doesn't lessen the federal government's obligation to provide funding for these programs. And it doesn't lessen the responsibility of Rep. Ryun and the entire Kansas congressional delegation to get the best information possible on this issue and stand up for their state's best interests rather than chiming in with its critics.