There’s no $ in team

Carissa Chan

For students who are part of MVHS Government Team, there are no formal assessments or exams, save for one short quiz at the beginning of the year. There are only competitions — local, state and national. For most high school Gov teams, the most prestigious competition is the annual program called We the People: the Citizen and the Constitution. But what if there were no competitions?

Then there would not be a Gov Team.

We the People: the Citizen and the Constitution, founded in 1987, is a nationally recognized student government program that is open to upper elementary school students all the way to those in high school. MVHS 2009 and 2010 Gov Teams attended the annual competition under former advisor Christopher Chiang and qualified for the California State Finals both years.

According to Robert Leming, 25-year director of the WTP competition, the program involves lawyers, professors, educators and even members of Congress as judges, as competitions are held as Congressional hearings. With over 30 million participants since its founding, We the People has become one of the most popular programs for student government teams, including the MVHS Gov Team, to compete in.

But, Leming said, the national government withdrew funding from dozens of civic education programs in April 2011 in an attempt to cut spending. WTP, previously funded under the Education for Democracy Act, thus lost its primary funding source.

“I don’t think it’s the case that members of Congress don’t like the program — they do, but it’s a political storm, and we got caught up in it,” Leming said.

An article published by the newspaper Education Week revealed that WTP has an annual budget of $21.6 million, which, Leming says, is used mostly to run the competitions and provide schools with textbooks that serve as competition guides. Various schools have raised enough money for the 2012 national competition to stay in place, but Leming and current MVHS Gov Team advisor Eric Otto say that the program’s future remains grim.

And without competitions like WTP, MVHS Assistant Principal Ben Clausnitzer says, MVHS administration believes that Gov Team, a competition-centered application class, no longer has a unique and effective purpose. FUHSD funding will no longer be allocated to Gov Team as of the 2012-2013 school year; this year’s Gov Team, led by Otto, will be MVHS’ last.

“These changes have had a significant impact on the overall quality and administration of the [WTP] program,” Otto said through an email statement to El Estoque. “Taking these factors into account, the decision was made to remove the Government Team program from MVHS’ course offerings for the 2012-2013 school year.”

Altering the Gov Team curriculum to fit the typical classroom standard was not an alternative either — it would be too similar to already offered courses like Government and Economics, Clausnitzer said. And according to their principals, none of the other four FUHSD high schools offer a Gov Team, so FUHSD will lose its only Gov Team as well.

“It’s honestly quite sad that this is happening this year,” current Gov Team information technology director senior Hemanth Kini said. “I feel terrible for current juniors and all the [students] who won’t get this wonderful opportunity … [MVHS] is losing out.”

Gov Team has been a popular choice for incoming seniors in the past: Out of sixty applicants last year, 32 were chosen to be part of the team. Without the MVHS Gov Team, juniors now have four options — none of which are application-based classes — for their senior social science courses.

“I was looking forward to taking Gov Team next year,” junior Ankita Tejwani said. “[Even without competitions], the class should have still stayed.”

Although the news came as a surprise to many students, Gov Team has been losing funding for a while — most recently, the 2011 Gov Team could not participate in the WTP competition because of financial difficulties. The team had even hosted a community sale in an attempt to clear their debt, but the Gov Team budget continued to dwindle, and the loss of stable competitions like WTP ultimately brought about the final decision — there will no longer be a Gov Team after the 2012 seniors graduate.

“Certainly, there [will] be some disappointment,” Clausnitzer said. “It is unfortunate, but [budget cuts] are part of our world now. We have to be thinking about what’s best for students and budgets.”