While a strong advocate of government funding and the muscle that comes with programming meant to make a difference in the nation, I am also lamenting once again the lack of needed requirements on spending such money.
The lead paragraph in the Associated Press story woke me up Wednesday morning almost as fast as a cup of French Roast.
One Wisconsin school district built a new football field. In Iowa, a high school weight room is getting a renovation. Another in Kentucky is replacing two outdoor tracks — all of this funded by the billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief Congress sent to schools this year.
No one needs to be reminded of the concern felt around the country when schools needed to close to stem the spread of COVID-19. Scores of national stories were reported about the shortcomings of virtual learning, the slower pace of learning, and the loss for some students of basically a year in their education.
When the federal government stepped in with a large package of funds to address the pandemic and specifically schools which were severely impacted most people were pleased with the efforts.
When school officials in Whitewater, Wisconsin, learned they would be getting $2 million in pandemic relief this year, they decided to use most of it to cover their current budget, freeing up $1.6 million in local funding to build new synthetic turf fields for football, baseball and softball.
Athletics officials in the district of 1,800 students said the project was sorely needed to replace fields prone to heavy flooding. They touted the federal money as a chance to solve the problem without asking local taxpayers for funding.
“If we don’t do it now with this money, I’m not sure when we would ever do something like this,” athletic director Justin Crandall told the school board in May. “I don’t see us being a district that would go to a referendum for turf fields.”
Two school board members objected, with one raising concerns that just $400,000 was being used to address student learning loss — the minimum to meet a requirement that at least 20% goes toward that purpose.
The board approved the plan over those objections, and the new football field had its grand opening in September. District Superintendent Caroline Pate-Hefty declined to answer questions about the project.
Call me old-fashioned but athletic programs in schools should come in far behind the core reason we build classrooms and hire teachers. The academic mission should be front and center. Following what took place in schools nationwide in 2020 there should not be any district that fails to understand the first order of business is to get every child to the level they need to be at so as to advance further with learning.
Regardless of the state or school district, we should not need to read that coaches or athletic directors are number-crunching to see how federal funds in a pandemic can be used. Prioritizing sports programs over the academic needs of the students is a larger problem than just turfs over textbooks.
This is an example as to why there are always problems with large government programs, and it should bother all of us. As a liberal, I fully appreciate the power of government to act for the needs of the moment. Such robust legislative actions, as the COVID funding bills, do have a real meaningful impact. Many people needed and received a variety of assistance.
But it is also clear that large funded programs often are marred by problems due to too few restrictions, and when that happens it makes for a lack of confidence among the populace for future moments when needs arise. That is why it is essential for those of us who align with an active and robust central government to then demand the implementation of programs be as reflective of the original goal as can be attained.
In Congress, lawmakers from both parties say it’s wrong to use the money on sports. Democrats say it’s not what it was meant for, while Republicans say it’s a sign it wasn’t needed.
And so it goes.