Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Juicy Story

I'm taking down Washington politics in this story.

In our morning meeting the producers, anchors, and reporters throw around stories and we decide what will be the lead and what angle each story will receive. Tuesday morning we glossed over a story about a local district being awarded a portion of a one-million dollar grant. Cool. But on second look, we realized that the district was getting one-million for itself, and it was one of 120 or so districts across the country, each receiving a million dollars. Cool! What's the money going towards? Saving teacher jobs maybe? According to the press release, "improving teacher quality through intensive professional development." It looked to us like Federal Government was giving $115 million to teachers to go on retreats. Is that the best way to spend $115 million in schools right now?

I interviewed the man who wrote the winning grant from Medford and he immediately brought up the fact that this grant could be perceived in the "money misspent" light. He told me that the money was ear-marked (his words) for this purpose and stressed that one hundred and fifteen million really isn't a lot of money against the entire national budget. While that may be true, that could pay for thousands of teachers to keep their jobs or improve classrooms or new facilities or about a half dozen other problems with public education. It's hard to justify spending that kind of money for sending teachers on trips.

After a bit of investigating I found out that the money is appropriated by Congress each year. The next step was to contact Oregon's Senators and the Congressman from Medford. None of the politicians had a comment, but Congressman Walden (a Republican) did send a letter he wrote in support of the program.

Writing the story was difficult because I wanted to be balanced and not place blame on any one person. That wouldn't be fair. Also, the program did have some merits. Test scores for students whose teachers took part in the program went up.

It was a juicy story with a lot of sidebars and information and questions. Hopefully there's more out there I can find.

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