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Posts published in “Day: April 6, 2008”

Merkley-Novick, bearing down

Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley

Steve Novick

Steve Novick

About six months ago, when Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley entered the race for the U.S. Senate, his prospects as an opponent to Republican Senator Gordon Smith were uncertain, which they still are. But he did seem to be the very likely - maybe just short of prohibitive - Democratic nominee. He was one of the top Democratic leaders in the state, a solid campaigner, aligned on issues with most of the state's Democrats, recruited by national Democrats and with the support of most of the state's Democratic establishment. No one else running or even thinking about it at that point had ever even been elected to any office.

Today - well, who knows? Last week, when he and his chief Democratic rival, Steve Novick (who is a first-time candidate), debated at the Portland City Club, Novick said in his opening statement that while he's been accustomed to and even comfortable with his role as an underdog, he's having a hard time defending that posture now. (Barack Obama said something similar about the time he became a front-runner.) And nobody took particular issue with Novick's characterization. One veteran Oregon politics watcher has told us he thinks Novick will win.

Right now, we'd characterize this race as too close to call. A whole lot will depend on these candidates' end games.

And that's more by way of sense and feel than hard evidence, of which there isn't a lot. (more…)

Room for mischief

We've never taken any particular conceptual issue with some of the hot developments in public education over the last decade, notably charter schools and virtual (or on-line) schools. Too much of public education is too bureaucratized; done right, some of these new developments could bring spring air into the system. If, of course, they're done right; and ho well they've been doing is a fair question.

The Twin Falls Times News gets into some of this with a valuable lead article today pointed out how little oversight - apparently, almost none - there is of the state's virtual schools, and of the state (taxpayer) money being spent on them.

Four online charter schools serving about 1 percent of the state's public school students received about $10.8 million in public money for the 2007-08 school year.

But the schools combined spent only about 58 percent of the money on administration, instruction and related expenses, according to records from the State Department of Education.

Unlike other schools, virtual charter schools are allowed to keep what they don't spend, which totaled about $4.58 million - and the State Department of Education isn't following the money trail.

"The state does not track how schools spend the funding if they choose not to spend it on staff," state Department of Education Spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told the Times-News.

All of which logically ought to be of great interest to Idaho taxpayers.