Military resolutions and rumors of war dominated all discussion in Washington, D.C., this fall. In the national media, education had receded behind blanket coverage of Iraq and terrorists. Whether by happenstance or by design, education and other domestic issues stayed as tightly veiled as a Grecian statue at General Ashcroft’s Justice Department.

But old Washington hands are not so easily distracted. They know such bellicose days are the very times educators need to be most vigilant. For like card sharps out to dupe the rubes, the double dealers in the nation’s capital could trick you with fast hands and flashy gestures designed to make you look where the action isn’t.

Oh, to be sure, not everything important was going on in Washington.

Far beyond the Beltway, for example, a stealthy revolution in computer operating systems was struggling to take hold. Motivated in part by a PR misstep that continues to haunt Microsoft (see page 16), local school districts are beginning to give serious consideration to Linux, the open-source operating system advocates say one day will challenge Windows, Unix, and OS X. To find out what’s behind the incipient insurrection, check out our special report on “Linux & Learning,” beginning on page 27. Big things have been going on in paradise as well—the island paradise of the Caribbean, that is. This issue contains a special advertising supplement, which—while not written or reported by us—tells an inspiring tale of how high tech has transformed educational opportunity in the U.S. Virgin Islands (see page A1).

The supplement provides a practical example of how eRate funding fueled positive change in an economically challenged school system. Indeed, federal funding often can mean the difference between progress and stagnation. That’s why we’ve been especially hard at work watching out for what’s happening with school funding. Beginning on page 21, you can get the lowdown on what’s up with all the major funding programs from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). At press time, about a billion dollars was in the balance.

That’s the discrepancy between what the Bush administration has requested for ED grant programs and the larger amount being bandied about in the U.S. Senate. Here’s the good news: Regardless of whose funding requests prevail—either those of the president or those of the Senate—the money earmarked for schools will be up substantially compared to 2002 funding levels.

That’s the big story for now. But what about the rest of the story? That’s the one harder to keep tabs on. It involves a looming food fight unrivaled since the days when they tried to tell us ketchup was a vegetable.

Remember that double dealing I said could be playing out while everyone was looking toward Iraq? Well, in a move noted by nearly no one, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was quietly laying the groundwork to take away with the right hand those very grant dollars the left hand has been flourishing. Read all about this impending sleight of hand in our Front Page story, “USDA probes $15 billion benchmark.”

Some distrustful souls even fear such below-the-radar cuts in domestic spending might be a way to find more money to fund Desert Storm Part II and still maintain those cherished tax cuts. In the case of school-lunch eligibility, the move could be the actual embodiment of that old cliché: literarily substituting guns for butter.

You read it here first, of course. But if the USDA really acts to cut education spending by such a backdoor tactic, the deed eventually will come to light—even in the general press. Then such actions could lead to a backlash against military spending. Vietnam-era Baby Boomers—gray but reflecting fondly on their youth—might suddenly find common cause with their grandchildren. In fact, a USDA crack down on the school lunch program just might revive that old anti-war anthem of the ’60s, now with a special twist for schools.

Outside darkened cafeterias, impoverished educators and hungry children might lift their poignant voices in a haunting chant heard all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue:

“All we are say-ing is give peas a chance.”