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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

‘We the People’ contest suspended due to lack of funds

High school students lost an opportunity this year to vie for a national honor for the Commonwealth after the Public School System suspended the “We the People” competition on island due to budget constraints.

PSS federal programs officer Tim Thornburgh told Saipan Tribune that the suspension period is indefinite and will be in place until further notice.

The “We the People” program provides students with comprehensive instruction on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the principles and values they embody. During competition rounds, students demonstrate their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution before simulated congressional committees made up of constitutional scholars, lawyers, and public officials.

Each year, regional and state winners across the nation face each other at the national event. The contest is open to both public and private high schools on island.

PSS has been conducting the competition for five years now. Marianas High School topped the maiden launch of the contest in 2008, followed by Mount Carmel School, then Saipan Southern High School, which defended the title twice in 2011 and 2012.

For PSS to send a team to the national event, it has to come up with $70,000 for the delegates’ expenses, including fare and accommodation, Thornburgh said. This school year, federal funding is short to sustain this expense, he added.

The U.S. Department of Education had trimmed the travel costs of all states, including those for student competitions, due to the national deficit. The CNMI, which was approved $8.4 million under the consolidated grant for fiscal year 2013, was among the areas asked to “zero out” travel under the consolidated grant.

But because of the uniqueness of the islands’ situation, PSS had asked for the USDOE’s consideration for Commonwealth students who need to travel by air to compete in national events.

Thornburgh said that PSS submitted a revised plan on the $8.4 million grant, maintaining the “travel” items for student competitions, amounting to $250,000.

“We’re awaiting approval [from the USDOE]…and we’re optimistic,” said Thornburgh, adding that inter-island student travel is included in the revised submission.

The proposed budget of $250,000 for student competitions under the revised submission of PSS is lower than what was previously allocated for competitions, which was $350,000.

As much as PSS wanted to continue the “We the People” competition this year, Thornburgh admitted that asking some share from the students’ parents would be an added burden to families’ already tight budget.

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