Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oregon reporter wins big community-journalism award; Gish Award winner Swindler a runner-up

Tracy Loew of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., is the winner of the $10,000 prize for community journalism in the National Journalism Awards sponsored by the Scripps Howard Foundation.

Loew and the 38,000-circulation Gannett Co. newspaper won for a 16-month investigation of widespread mismanagement during the past 10 years in the Willamette Education Service District, which serves rural and suburban schools south and west of Portland. "WESD's Web of Deals" had already "won the top investigative reporting prize for small newspaper markets in the Education Writers Association contest," the Statesman Journal reports.

Runners-up were Will Doolittle of The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., for "Showdown at Black Brook," an examination of conflicts between landowners and the Adirondack Park Agency, which earlier won the New York State Associated Press Association's first-place award in depth reporting; and Samantha Swindler and Adam Sulfridge of The Times-Tribune, circulation 6,000, in Corbin, Ky., for their investigation of a sheriff who was later indicted.

Swindler, right, is the winner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues' 2010 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism. She now publishes weekly newspapers in, of all places, Oregon -- in Tillamook, 75 miles from Salem. The institute, which publishes The Rural Blog, is the repository for entries in the Community Journalism category of the National Journalism Awards.

Another Gannett newspaper that has a significant rural audience, the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, won the First Amendment category of the National Journalism Awards "for its aggressive editorial stance that made open government a paramount issue in the 2010 elections and spurred reforms," Scripps said in its news release about the awards. The paper (32,000 circulation, 42,000 Sunday) beat out finalists from much larger papers, the St. Petersburg Times and The Washington Post.

AP: It’s now ‘email,’ ‘cellphone’ and ‘smartphone’

The editors of the Associated Press Stylebook have made some changes, effective at 3 a.m. EDT today. Since many rural newspapers are weeklies that are not AP members but like to follow its style, we pass along the changes, most of which are related to technology:

email, not e-mail. (Other “e” terms, such as e-book and e-commerce, remain unchanged.)
cellphone and smartphone are now each one word.
handheld is the noun and hand-held is the adjective.
• The big city in eastern India is Kolkata, not Calcutta, the local usage.

The changes were announced at the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society in Phoenix. "The editors say the spiral bound version of the newest AP Stylebook will be available sometime in May," ACES reports.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Postal Service is selective and inconsistent in releasing data on individual post offices

As it considers closing and downgrading many rural post offices, the U.S. Postal Service is being selective and inconsistent with the information it reveals about the business activity at individual offices. We'd be interested in hearing from our readers, especially journalists, about their own experiences on this front.

We've read stories, such as this one in the Rapid City Journal and this one in The Washington Post, that gave annual revenues and expenses of post offices that were the foci of those stories. Those reporters tell us they got their information from Postal Service officials. But when the Midway Messenger asked the manager of post office operations in the Lexington, Ky., sectional center for such data on the post office in Midway, Ky., above, he denied the request.

"The Postal Service does not disclose specific financial data, not even in response to a Freedom of Information Act request," Thomas J. Adkins wrote. "The revenues and expenses of our offices are considered proprietary business information." Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth had also asked for the information, to help him evaluate Adkins' claim at a town meeting on the issue that cuts at the office would save almost $100,000 a year.

But the USPS does release certain information, as it did to residents of Slayden, Tenn., population 300, who may lose their post office. At a meeting there this week, a USPS official "said low business activity at the post office warranted an investigation into the closure. She said the Slayden post office processes 15.1 daily retail transactions, 84.4 pieces of mail, rents about 68 boxes, and dispatches about 51 letters/flats," reports Josh Arntz of the Dickson Herald. The number of retail transactions was mentioned in a letter the USPS sent residents, Arntz told us.

Another postal manager "said a post office’s closure or consolidation is regulated by federal law," Arntz wrote. "Congress requires that the decision be based on the effect the closure will have on the community served and the effect on post office employees. She added that government policy dictates that the Postal Service must provide effective and regular service to rural areas, communities and small towns." (Read more)

As isolated rural community celebrates broadband success, others fear funding sources will dry up

Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks Telephone Cooperative, with an average 2.5 customers per square mile, could be the first telephone cooperative to provide fiber-to-the-home broadband to “one of the most sparsely populated areas of West Virginia” if federal funding is not reallocated, reports Miranda Kessel for the Daily Yonder.

In 2008, the co-op received a $7.7 million loan from the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service to update its copper-line telephone system the latest fiber-to-the home broadband technology. It got another $8.5 million was in 2010 as a part of the Broadband Initiatives Program, to “expand their (SKSRTC) customer base in surrounding rural communities, including Green Bank”, reports Kessel, a West Virginia University graduate student. (Read more)

Vickie Colaw, the co-op's eneral manager, credits the project to subsidies form the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes rural phone service. The Federal Communications Commisison wants to restructure the program to give more help for broadband, but the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association fears that will penalize rural phone co-ops that have made a strong commitment to broadband delivery, like Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks. For background on that debate, go here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

OSHA is doing more inspections of farms with more than 10 employees

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is increasing inspection of farms that have more than 10 employees or operate a temporary labor camp, Brownfield Network reports. OSHA compliance assistance specialist Mary Bauer told Bob Meyer of the network that in areas like hers, in western Wisconsin, the Labor Department agency is focusing on dairy farms. (Read more)

Cash-strapped school districts turn to bus ads

Interior Dept. has website for youth to find jobs, events as part of Great Outdoors Initiative

The Department of the Interior has created a website for young people to serve as a "one-stop shop for information on job and internship opportunities, upcoming outdoor events, educational resources and more," the department said today. The new website – – is part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which also includes the Department of Agriculture.

The site links to internships, seasonal jobs and career opportunities in the Interior Department, ranging from working concessions in a national park to building trails on public lands. “This website is designed to help young people get out, get involved, and get a job when it comes to the great outdoors,” said Secretary Ken Salazar. He said it is part a department-wide effort to get youth more involved in recreation and conservation, and to increase employment and career opportunities. (Read more)

House votes to deny NPR federal funds; unlikely, but would have disproportionate rural impact

The U.S. House voted 228-192 today to keep federal funds from going to National Public Radio, a move that would have a disproportionate impact on public stations in rural areas.

"All but seven Republicans voted for the measure, and all Democrats present voted against it," reports Felicia Sonmez of The Washington Post. "The measure is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate." However, in the current budget-cutting atmosphere, and recent impolitic statements and actions by NPR officials, the issue is unlikely to go away.

"Could NPR survive without public funding? That depends on which NPR you're talking about," writes Clarence Page, Washington columnist for the Chicago Tribune. "There are two NPRs. There's the national news and talk show syndicator formerly known as National Public Radio, and there are about 800 local "member stations" that buy its programming. It is the local stations that serve more rural and less wealthy markets that would suffer the most without the federal grants they receive" from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which House Republicans have voted to de-fund. (Read more)

Former Post editors Len Downie and Bob Kaiser make similar points in an op-ed piece that concludes by urging local stations and their supporters to speak up: "The public broadcasting community has appeared flustered by the ferocity of its critics’ attacks, some of which are ideologically motivated. But most members of Congress are sent to Washington by communities with NPR member stations, which could do a better job of selling their increasingly vital role in news reporting. Consumers of public broadcasting could raise their voices, too. Public broadcasting should be able to accept and manage a fair share of federal budget cuts, but should it be abandoned?"

Alaska is especially dependent on public radio, Erika Bolstad of McClatchy Newspapers reports: "The state's public radio stations have long been woven into the fabric of life, and the state's 700,000 residents could be hard hit if Congress limits how local public radio stations spend federal money — or if it does away altogether with government funding of public broadcasting." She quotes Steve Lindbeck, president and general manager of Alaska Public Telecommunications Inc.: "The more rural and remote you are, the more dependent you are." (Read more)

Rhonda McBride of KTUU-TV in Anchorage reports, "If you tuned in to KYUK, the public radio station in Bethel at noon on Monday, you would have heard Lillian Michael broadcast in Yup’ik, the Eskimo language of Southwest Alaska. On the radio, she goes by her traditional name, Atmak, which means 'backpack' and, true to her name, she shoulders an important responsibility. She helps to keep elders in her region informed about state, local and national news. In so doing, she helps to keep the Yup’ik language alive. Native language broadcasts are just one of the reasons the Alaska public broadcasting system is different from those in the Lower 48. Stations also receive more federal funding, due to their remote location and sparse population, which in most rural communities is not big enough to support commercial radio."

The boss of the public station in Carbondale, Ill., WSIU, Greg Petrowich, discussed the issue with Chicago's WBEZ-FM. To listen, go here. Rural NPR affiliates came under attack when the network fired commentator Juan Williams. For that story, click here.

EPA imposes first limits on mercury, lead, arsenic, other pollutants from coal-fired power plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday unveiled its first national standard for emissions of mercury and other previously unregulated pollutants from coal-burning power plants. The proposed rules could lead to the early closing of a number of older plants and are likely to be challenged by congressional Republicans, John M. Broder and John Collins Rudolf of The New York Times report.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said compliance with the standard would cost the industry about $10 billion annually and would result in an increase of $3 or $4 for monthly household electric bills. It could also accelerate coal-burning utilities' use of natural gas. EPA "said the proposed rules, once fully implemented, will prevent 91 percent of mercury in coal from being released into the air," Timothy Garder of World Environment News reports. "Power plants would have four years to meet the standards."

The Times reports, "Roughly half of the nation’s more than 400 coal-burning plants have some form of control technology installed, and about a third of states have set their own standards for mercury emissions. But the proposed rule issued Wednesday is the first national standard and will require all plants to come up to the standard of the cleanest of current plants."

The rules had long been expected, but the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of utilities, called them "an extraordinary threat to the power sector" and questioned Jackson's claim that the technology needed to reduce emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium and other airborne pollutants was readily available and reasonably inexpensive. (Read more)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rural cops seek more effective national voice

Rural law enforcement agencies have reponsibility for the vast majority of the American landscape, but lack an effective voice at the national level for their concerns and those of their communities, so they need to work on that, many of them concluded at a recent conference.

At the 2010 National Summit for Small Law Enforcement Agencies, attendees from 27 states “identified their primary concern as the lack of a unified voice at the national level to present the concerns of small and rural agencies,” TechBeat, part of the Department of Justice, reports on

Most attendees agree that until they have a unified voice, their other goals cannot be met. Some said they have success working with state law-enforcement associations. Kim Wallace, chief of a six-officer force in Dover, Tenn., told TechBeat that she is working with her state association to start a Rural Law Enforcement Committee.

The conference was sponsored by the Small, Rural, Tribal and Border Regional Center of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System. Scott Barker, director of the center, told TechBeat, “Quite often, when the national organizations form committees and working groups, they typically select representatives from major cities. It isn’t that they have a hidden agenda, they just don’t realize that policing is different in rural areas.” (Read more)

Barker's center is part of the National Institute of Justice in the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs. TechBeat is a service of the institute.

Fracking puts gas industry on the defensive

The public backlash against hydraulic fracturing is being felt throughout the oil and gas industry. "Protests across New York state have temporarily banned the practice," Steve Hargreaves of CNN reports. "Unfavorable coverage in the media and a scathing documentary film that was nominated this year for an Oscar also seem to have scared the industry." One gas company executive recently noted during a fracking discussion at a recent conference, "We've done a terrible job at getting our message out to the public. Now we're locked out of New York."

In fracking, which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected into wells drilled into dense shale formations, releasing natural gas or oil. Critics worry that the process may taint drinking water sources. At the conference, sponsored by energy consultant IHS CERA in New York, the Oscar-nominated documentary "Gasland" and a recent fracking series by The New York Times both were mentioned as examples of poor publicity for the industry. Despite the increased focus on fracking, no representative from a drilling company that is fracking was included on the panel. "Typical," said one attendee from a water purification company. "Put the environmental guys in a room and let them talk to each other." (Read more)

Gas drilling may be causing problems for water treatment plants in Western Pennsylvania

Wastewater from natural-gas drilling may be causing problems for water systems in Western Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh water official tells Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“The spike in salty bromides in Western Pennsylvania's rivers and creeks has already put some public water suppliers into violation of federal safe drinking water standards,” Hopey writes. “Others, like the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, haven't exceeded those limits but have been pushed up against them. Some have had to change the way they treat water.”

The concern with bromide in the water supply comes when it is treated. “Bromide facilitates formation of brominated trihalomethanes, also known as THMs, when it is exposed to disinfectant processes in water treatment plants,” writes Hopey. Some studies suggest links between THMs and various cancers and birth defects.

Stanley States, water quality manager for the Pittsburgh system, told Hopey the elevated bromide levels in the river could be coming from municipal sewage-treatment plants and private brine-treatment plants handling drilling wastewater. (Read more)

Closing and consolidation: Is this the future of rural education?

After a 10-year battle in the Arkansas courts, the Lake View School District in the Mississippi River Delta was awarded equal funding from the state budget. However, “within a few years of this decision, the Arkansas school funding system was dramatically overhauled,with significant increases in funding for operations and facilities and with more emphasis on getting the money to high-needs districts,” but it included A mandate that all districts with fewer than 350 students be closed, and that included Lake View, writes Marty Strange, policy director for the Rural School and Community Trust, in the latest edition of Phi Delta Kappan Magazine.

Lake View is not alone. Strange identifies four main factors for mandated closings of rural schools or districts: increasing per-pupil costs due to declining enrollment, state budget cuts, disparities in economic fortunes of a state's rural and urban areas, and court decisions like the one in the Lake View case. Strange reports that these problems are exasperated by state and federal funding formulas that limit funding to rural areas. For example, much state aid is based on district enrollment size. To read Strange's entire report, with details about the federal funding formulas, click here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two newspapers serving rural readers are among 10 recognized for digital innovations

A rural newspaper in Connecticut and another one serving rural communities in California made this year's list of "10 Newspapers that Do It Right" from Editor & Publisher magazine.

The Register Citizen of Torrington, Conn., pop. 35,000, won recognition for tearing down the walls between its newsroom and the public with the Newsroom Cafe, where folks sip coffee, munch pastry, use wi-fi, talk with staffers, comment on just-published stories and suggest others. "The public is even invited to daily story meetings, which are streamed over the Internet with live chat," report Kristina Ackermann and Deena Higgs Nenad.

"It has generated a slew of story ideas and has even convinced a stingy advertiser to buy digital space for the first time," E&P reports, citing Publisher Matt DeRienzo, who told the magazine: "It's like social media. It peels back the curtain like the Wizard (of Oz) ... the great and powerful newspaper how it used to be." Well, actually, Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal the wizard, but we get the point.

The 8,000-circulatiion daily is owned by Journal Register Co., which emerged from bankruptcy with a new motto, "Digital First," and a goal of $40 million profit in 2010. "You hit more than $41M," CEO John Paton told employees in his Digital First blog, announcing that all would get an extra week's pay. "Not bad for a bankrupt, beat-up, old newspaper company people had written off as dead in 2009. But we didn’t write ourselves off. We picked ourselves up and got working. We learned to harness both cloud and crowd. Using new tools and working the new news ecology we produced new digital products and revenue streams AND reduced costs. We focused on what we do best and linked to the rest."

E&P also recognized The Appeal-Democrat of Marysville and Yuba City, Calif. The cities have a combined population of 72,000, and Yuba and Sutter counties 162,000, but are the hub of farm country and Sierra Nevada foothills north of Sacramento. Last year the Freedom Communications paper went big on multimedia, started using QR codes, "bar-type codes that enable smartphone users to link content, enter online contests, and view photos," and teamed with the two cities' chambers of commerce "to produce nearly a dozen political forums during the primary and general elections last year," E&P reports. "Employees, including the editor, lugged the necessary equipment to various locations so they could do live webcasts and live blogging. Total video views and visits to the Appeal-Democrat website exceeded 15,000 in a month." (Read more)

Crackdown on fertilizer fraud leads to indictment of another 'organic' manufacturer in California

Kenneth Noel Nelson Jr., the largest supplier of organic fertilizer in the Western U.S., was indicted by a federal grand jury last week on 28 counts of mail fraud. The indictment accused Nelson of "selling premium-priced liquid fertilizer touted as made from all-natural products such as fish meal and bird guano that instead was spiked with far cheaper synthetic chemicals," P. J. Huffstutter of the Los Angeles Times reports. This is the second indictment of a California organic fertilizer producer in five months and has "fueled fears among some farmers about possible contamination of their pristine fields," Huffstutter writes.

To be certified organic, the federal government requires farmers to not put synthetic chemicals on their land for three years before harvest. Justice Department officials told the Times that federal law prohibits organic farmers from using synthetic fertilizer with limited exceptions. The indictment says Nelson received organic certification from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Organic Materials Review Institute by lying about the ingredients he was using. "The motive in these types of cases is economic," U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said. "Consumers pay a premium for organic products, and they should not be misled." (Read more)

Coal company paying big fine for water pollution, and a lot more for new pollution-control system

The nation's largest underground coal producer, Consol Energy, has agreed to pay a civil fine of $5.5 million for water-pollution violations that caused a huge fish kill in Dunkard Creek, along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border. The company also agreed to built a "state of the art" pollution-control system, at an estimated cost of $200 million, for wastewater from its mines, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a news release.

"As is standard procedure in such agreements, Consol did not admit any liability," reports Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It issued a lengthy news release touting its economic importance to West Virginia and its environmental record."

Consol said in its release that it "challenges other operators along the Monongahela [River] tributary to follow its lead to protect the watershed and believes that today's announcement sets an example for everyone in the energy industry." For our most recent item on the Dunkard Creek spill, click here.

Horse slaughter could be banned in Canada

The U.S. essentially stopped domestic horse slaughtering in 2007 by prohibiting federal funds from going to inspection of horse slaughterhouses, and now "there is a movement to bring the ban to Canada," Liz Twan, a rancher and columnist, writes for the Williams Lake Tribune in British Columbia.

A bill in the House of Commons would ban horse slaughter for human consumption in Canada. Twan warns "there should be grave concern at the thought of the Canadian government blindly galloping into the same box canyon as the U.S. regarding horse slaughter," noting the uptick in abandoned horses in the U.S. In the face of mounting horse neglect, many horse lovers in the U.S. are advocating a re-opening of domestic slaughter facilities, she notes.

While consumption of horse meat may sound alien to Americans and Canadians, the world consumes about a million tons per year, Twan notes. "Worldwide there are many meat dishes that you’d not be able to force the average Canadian to eat, knowing beforehand what animal was killed to make it," she writes, citing Mark Schatzker of The Globe and Mail in Toronto's key facts about horses: "They're cute. They're edible. You probably haven't eaten any lately because of No. 1."

Twan concludes, "We may love our horses with all of our hearts and souls, but trying to keep them all forever might not necessarily be the kindest, most humane option." (Twan's original column said the U.S. has banned horse slaughterhouses, but she clarified that in a subsequent column.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Derry Brownfield, famous farm broadcaster, dies

Derry Brownfield, who founded and sold an agricultural radio network that later fired him because he was too hard on Monsanto Co., died Saturday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 79.

Brownfield, left, was a cattle farmer and University of Missouri graduate. He and friend Clyde Lear established Brownfield Network in 1972, and he called himself "America's most listened-to farm broadcaster." He sold the network to Lear in 1997 but kept the talk show he had started three years earlier. He called it "Common Sense Coalition" and used it to attack Monsanto for its business practices. In 2008, after complaints from the Learfield Communications sales staff, which feared loss of advertising from the chemical-and-seed giant, Lear asked his old friend to "lay off" the company or have a Monsanto representative on the show. Brownfield refused, and Lear canned him. For our story on that, go here.

"Never one to give up, Derry continued broadcasting his show via webcast," the Daily Yonder reports. "Long an advocate for family based agriculture and a harsh critic of its enemies, Derry Brownfield will be missed across Missouri and the entire nation." His old network has a Soundslides tribute to him on its home page, with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing Dale's "Happy Trails to You," which he used to end his show. It also has a video of Brownfield at work and a tribute from his friend Bob Priddy, which begins "He used to joke about things that would have to wait for 'Bury Derry Day'."

Rural reporter gives school district some advice about public relations, or public information

Some rural school administrators who already have plenty of responsibilities sometimes spend too much time worrying about the image of their school systems, which, of course, means their own image as well. That can cause problems for rural journalists, and Allison Hollon smelled that coming last month when the school board in Adair County, Kentucky, unveiled a draft public-relations plan.

"I applaud you for making the effort," Hollon, left, wrote in a column, but urged officials not to adopt a policy that school-district employees go through a public-relations person before speaking to the news media. "Employees of any school district already have reservations about speaking to the media," she wrote. "I strongly believe if the school district develops a system where employees have to go through a public relations department before they can speak to me or any other media, it will increase that fear."

Hollon, who has had classes in public relations, also questioned the school superintendent's plan to have "print ready" press releases. "When I receive a press release in 'print ready' form, the first thing I do is come up with a way to change it that makes it unique to our publication," the weekly Adair County Community Voice, Hollon wrote. "Any good journalist worth their salt would do the same thing." The Voice competes with the weekly Adair Progress.

Hollon said a role model exists right there in Columbia: Lindsey Wilson College. "I can call just about anybody at LWC and have an on-the-record conversation. ... Developing a relationship with the media is more than just sending out story tips or press releases. It’s also about developing an open line of communication between the media and janitors, teachers, bus drivers and administrators." (Read more)

Hollon has it better than some. Lisa Gross, the director of the Division of Communications and Community Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education, told us in an e-mail: "I recently talked to an editor at a newspaper in Eastern Kentucky, who told me that the superintendent of the school district he covers had informed him that he’d no longer be receiving press releases or news items from the district, because the paper had reported (truthfully) on some negative issues at a local school. When I talk to school district PR folks, I remind them that their local media outlets are not there to serve as 'cheerleader' for their school systems – media can be helpful, but they should not expect to only see the good things covered and not the 'bad' things." That's good advice that rural journalists need to remember, and on occasion share with school folks.

Is Conservation Reserve Program to protect marginal land causing rural population loss?

A federal farm program that pays farmers to idle their land may be causing population losses in rural America. Leaders of small towns across Washington state think it is. The Conservation Reserve Program, which was established 25 years ago, "paid Washington farmers $84.6 million to leave 1.4 million acres for habitat and erosion control," John Stucke of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane reports. In Whitman County, where more than a dozen towns lost people over the last decade, but the county's largest city, Pullman, enjoyed a 21 percent population growth, the program has become a target of local ire. (Wikipedia map)

"CRP is killing our towns," Whitman County Commissioner Greg Partch told Stucke. Critics of the program say that when farmers idle land, they no longer buy fuel or fertilizer or hire local help for the harvest. Partch argues the program stifles "the local economies by suppressing high-production agriculture in an area that boasts some of the best wheat-growing conditions in the world," the Palouse region, Stucke writes. Still, Judy Olson, state executive director of the federal Farm Service Agency, says the CRP has helped thousands of farmers hold onto their land during down years.

"In the past several years the high price of wheat and other crops has helped farmers fetch a handsome profit, dulling the conservation program’s allure as a safe financial bet," Stucke writes. Farmers who pull land out of the program before its contract expires must pay penalties, and in some cases might have to return the signing bonuses collected upon enrollment. While that is a business decision for many farmers, LaCrosse Mayor Larry "Butch" Burgess still wishes the local economy wasn't hurt. "Used to be around here that the town would get some sales tax money when farmers would spend a few million dollars on new combines," he told Stucke. "We miss that." (Read more)

There's no reason to think that this phenomenon is limited to eastern Washington. What do your local leaders think?

Obama ramps up plea to fix No Child Left Behind, opposes cutting federal spending for schools

"We have to reform No Child Left Behind," President Obama said at a Virginia middle school this morning, urging Congress to "fix" the No Child Left Behind Act "before the next school year begins" in August. He also said that as Congress cuts federal spending, it should not cut aid to education.

The speech was "the administration's highest-profile pitch yet for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is seen as one of the few pieces of legislation that could garner bipartisan support in a deeply divided Congress," Alyson Klein of Education Week reports.

"High-profile education programs have already taken a hit in the stopgap spending measure now funding the federal government," Klein notes. "And the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has shown support for slashing Pell Grants, Head Start, Title I grants to districts, and money to turn around low-performing schools." (Read more)

Obama said the law's goals of an excellent teacher for every child, with higher standards and accountability, are correct, but the law is "denying teachers, schools, and states what they need to meet these goals. That's why we need to fix No Child Left Behind," he said to applause. "we need a better way of figuring out which schools are deeply in trouble, which schools aren’t, and how we get not only the schools that are in really bad shape on track, how do we help provide the tools to schools that want to get even better to get better."

Obama called "inexcusable" the fact that "15 states have actually lowered their standards to make it easier for their kids to meet the targets set by No Child Left Behind. . . . So instead of measuring students based on whether they’re above or below an arbitrary bar, we need to set better standards to make sure our students are meeting one clear goal –- they’re graduating ready for college and ready for a career." The president's quotes come from a White House transcript, which is online here.

UPDATE, March 15: "Pitching the area Republicans agree the most with him on, education," Obama is doing local TV interviews today with affiliates in Albuquerque, Pittsburgh and Hampton Roads, Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro of NBC News write on First Read. "What do they all have in common? They’re all in swing states." But it's not all politics. Klein notes the unusual direct involvement and bipartisan cooperation among four senators "overseeing reauthorization in that chamber . . . Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee; Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the top Republican [on the panel]; Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., himself a former secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush; and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M." Education reporters in those states, take note.