Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2014

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CCSD’s mariachi program called ‘La Pork-a-Racha’

WASHINGTON -- The Clark County School District helped Nevada earn an "Oinker Award" for the $25,000 Congress approved last year for district students to study mariachi music.

Citizens Against Government Waste gave Nevada the "La Pork-a-Racha" award with the release of its 15th annual Pig Book today, a report that focuses on "pork barrel" government spending.

The report looked at federal spending for fiscal year 2005, which runs through September.

The 70-page report ranked Nevada as the 11th highest state in pork spending per capita, based on the $205 million the group deemed as pork or $87.89 per capita. The group qualifies spending as "pork" if it meets two of seven criteria, which includes being requested by only one member of Congress, it serves only local or special interests and is not requested by the president.

For Nevada, the report also includes:

The spending that received special attention was the $25,000 that went to Clark County School District for "curriculum development to study mariachi music," the report states. This appropriation is attributed to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., according to the report.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, another government spending watchdog group, listed the mariachi program as one of the 20 most egregious of the massive 2005 spending bill passed late last year.

The district's mariachi program, now in its second year, has about 1,200 students participating at 12 schools, said Marcia Neel, coordinator of fine arts education for the district.

The $25,000 grant helped pay for instruments, some of which cost as much as $1,000 a piece, that are shared between students.

"When you consider the trillions of dollars in the federal budget, our $25,000 doesn't account for much (of the total)," Neel said. "But we were so grateful to Sen. Reid for that money. It made our program possible."

Neel said she was unaware of the "Oinker award" until she was contacted by the Sun for comment. She said the organization that made the designation may not have a clear understanding of mariachi program or its benefits to students.

"It's been a terrific success on so many levels," she said. "The students love it and it's a wonderful way to honor and share musical heritage."

Other recipients of appropriations also praised Reid's work for bringing what they describe as important and much needed money to the state.

Paul Ferguson, vice president for research and graduate studies at UNLV, said the federal money that went or will go to UNLV will be used to acquire and improve equipment and research facilities, among other things, and that in turn allows UNLV to be "competitive in an environment that is highly competitive."

At $33 million, UNLV was one of the largest recipients of federal appropriations in Nevada.

The programs that are funded by federal appropriations, including $5 million for the Renewable Hydrogen Fueling Station and research into developing high temperature heat exchangers, will ultimately lead to possible breakthroughs in the energy crisis or in areas of medicine, Ferguson said.

Alaska ranked highest in the nation for pork spending. According to the report, Alaska received $646 million, or $985 per capita, in fiscal year 2005. Some examples of the money that went to that state includes $27.2 million for the Alaska Land Mobile Radio,which was slipped into the Defense Appropriations Act by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, according to the report.

Another example of defense spending included $1 million for brown tree snake programs, according to the report. The appropriation was put forward by the Senate and did not go specifically to one state.

The District of Columbia was the second highest in the nation, with $257 million, or $461 per capita. Some projects listed in the report include $900 for a capital development for the Shakespeare Theatre and $100,000 for the "Bach to School Program."

Hawaii was the third highest in the country in pork spending. A total of $574 million, or $454 per capita, went to the state for various projects, such as $355,000 that went to the state's tropical flower industry, according to the report. Sen. Daniel Inuoye, D-Hawaii, brought in this money through agriculture spending.

The state with the lowest amount of "pork spending" is, surprisingly, Texas, the home state of President Bush. The state took in $65 million in fiscal year 2005, or $2.90 per capita. California was the next lowest with $237 million, or $6.62 per capita.

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