Wednesday Roundup: Rural a Priority…? Maybe

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President Obama was on the road yesterday promoting his $447 billion jobs proposal. The White House is saying that the portion of the proposal that will pay for school repairs will make rural schools a “priority.” 

The President’s plan contains $25 billion to upgrade existing schools. (There are 35,000 of them.) Ten billion dollars will go to the 100 largest high-need school districts. The rest will go to the states, where the administration says schools in rural areas will be a priority, as will be schools financed through the Bureau of Indian Education.

The money won’t be used for new construction.

Rural school expert Marty Strange doesn’t see that the proposal makes rural schools much of a priority. For starters, the first $10 billion goes to the 100 largest districts with needs. That amount is automatically shifted into urban districts where, Strange writes, “the average poverty rate is only a little higher than the national average.”

The other $15 billion goes out through the states where half would be allocated according to Title 1 scores. We know already that Title 1 formulas are tilted in favor of urban schools. And if another portion of the money is allocated according to competitive grants, Strange argues, that, too, will favor larger districts that have easy access to grant writers. 

President Obama was in Ohio yesterday promoting the plan. The plan must be approved by Congress. 

•Republican state senator Mark Amodei won a special election to fill one of three Nevada seats in the U.S House. He beat Kate Marshall (the state treasurer) in a district that has never elected a Democrat. 

The district is repeatedly described as “rural.” That’s hard to see from the data, since about 78 percent of the population in the district lives in urban areas. The district is about average nationally in terms of its rural-ness.

Walmart says it will spend billions of dollars over the next five years to train female workers and to support women-owned businesses. 

The Bentonville, Arkansas, retailer says it will issue $100 million in grants to help build the job skills of low-income women in the U.S. and for women who work in Walmart suppliers in other countries. The company will also double the amount of goods it buys from women-owned firms. 

• The House approved a four-month extension in funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and a six-month extension for transportation funding. There were no restrictions on the funding. 

Earlier, Republicans had balked at subsidies for rural air transportation.

• There is a bizarre case out in Western Kansas that seems to ask if hay can be considered a pollutant. (Thanks for Agweek for untangling the details.) 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a notice of violation to Mike Callicrate, a St. Francis, Kansas, cattle feeder and meat producer. The EPA says that Callicrate failed to contain runoff from stocks of hay, silage and distiller’s grains. Such run-off, the EPA contends, would be a pollutant. 

Callicrate is no run-of-the-mill cattle feeder. He is one of the most outspoken cattle raisers in the country, closely affiliated with the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), United Stockgrowers of America and the Organization for Competitive Markets. Callicrate has been arguing for years that monopolistic practices by meat buyers have been harming cattlemen.

Callicrate told Agweek that silage and distiller’s grain were at the feedlot cited by the EPA, but maintains the two are “basic food sources” and had no chemicals added to them. He says that “not a drop of water” from his feedlot has ever reached a waterway. “It’s a nonissue,” Callicrate says.

R-CALF will hold a news conference Sept. 20 at Callicrate’s hay corral in St. Francis.

• The values of Iowa farmland rose 32.6 percent in the year ending Sept. 1, the Des Moines Register reports. 

“Factors contributing to the increase in farmland values include: strong commodity prices, favorable long term interest rates and limited amounts of land for sale,” the Realtors Land Institute said in a statement announcing the new values.

Poverty is up and incomes are down, according to the latest Census report. See the chart on the front page. 

• The slowest Internet speeds are found in Idaho, the New York Times reports.

The data is reported only at the state level and the map printed with the Times story shows that states with larger than average rural populations generally have the slowest speeds. 

“This is about our overall competitiveness,” said Jonathan Adelstein, the administrator of the federal government’s Rural Utilities Service and a major advocate of broadband. “Without broadband, especially in rural areas, kids might not reach their full potential. And we can’t expect to be competitive in a global economy.”

• There is a growing gap in spending on students between private research universities and public community colleges, according to a new report. 

“The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots has become much more exaggerated over the last 10 years,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability, the Washington, research group issuing the report.

Tuition is increasing at public colleges and universities, but not as fast as appropriations from state legislatures are decreasing.

• The more bats flitting around, the less farmers need to spend on pesticides.

So a decrease in the number of bats, who are being killed by a fungal infection, could increase spending on pesticides — dramatically, reports the Kansas City Star. 

• The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “U.S. coal companies have pumped $1.5 million into House Speaker John Boehner’s political operation this year, a sign of the industry’s beefed-up efforts to fight new and proposed regulations from the Obama administration.” 

Coal accounts for 10 percent of the money Speaker Boehner has raised.

 

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