Heritage Foundation and Club For Growth Offer Preposterous Portability Proposal for NCLB Repeal

July 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Think Progress blogger Casey Quinlan reports that the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth, two powerful conservative lobbying groups, undercut the last round of negotiations on the repeal of NCLB because it was intent on getting an amendment— the A-Plus Plan— incorporated in the bill. What is the A-Plus plan? Answer: block grant that allows states to receive federal money without any strings attached. 

As noted in earlier posts the testing quid pro quo included in the bill trades State’s rights on testing for a modest reduction in the mandate on annual tests and the de facto mandates on adoption of the Common Core and the use of tests to measure teacher performance. This trade that has some serious national repercussions given the curricula State Boards have adopted in some states and the way some governors want to use tests to measure school and teacher performance. But the A-Plus plan completely strips the Federal Government of its ability to target the way States use funds. Called “…the premier amendment for those concerned with federal overreach”, under the A-Plus Amendment

States would send proposals to the secretary of education to assure the U.S. Department of Education that they had certain safeguards in place. Those would include fiscal control procedures, include accountability to parents and other taxpayers and provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.

As some critics have noted, this would give the USDOE more power than it does now, which might help persuade some legislators to adopt it in the hope and belief that the USDOE will continue to emphasize the need to use the funds to supplement the budgets of districts incapable of raising sufficient revenues. But absent explicit guidelines like that, the USDOE could effectively de-regulate the allocation formulas and allow the states to use the money any way they see fit. And don’t think for a minute that this isn’t the direction Congress wants to head:

The House bill includes a portability provision, which means there isn’t an the ability to target federal funding toward communities with high concentrations of poverty. The Senate bill does not have that provision, but Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) may try to revive the provision since he supported including it in January.

The Conservative Think Tanks love the portability provision which, if it is adopted in the name of ending the overreach in DC and “flexibility” at the state level, will only make matters worse. As noted in earlier posts, it is difficult to trust State legislatures to do the right thing in terms of funding equity given that 42 of them have been sued over the past several years for failure to provide adequate funds to high poverty school districts. Here’s hoping the anti-testing forces don’t lose sight of this provision… for it would do far more damage to the opportunity gap than the continuation of the common core or the relentless testing regimen in place today.

The Result of Cutting School Funding in 1970s: Homelessness and Class Immobility

July 6, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an op-ed article by Hector Tobar titled “Welcome to Hooverville, California” describing the increased homelessness in his hometown of Los Angeles. Born in South America, Mr. Tobar senses that his adopted hometown is sliding toward the kind of economic disparity and substandard housing he witnessed when he lived in Buenos Aires.  He describes how neighborhoods of $750,000 residences overlook tent cities and how police are asked repeatedly to roust the residents of these makeshift “developments”.

Two paragraphs jumped out at me:

The paradox of increasing homelessness and rising prosperity has finally got Los Angeles talking about inequality. But the gap between rich and poor has been building here for 40 years. Every boom and bust simply accentuates the trend.

Bill Boyarsky, a retired city editor at The Los Angeles Times, dates the beginning to the decline of industrial Los Angeles in the 1970s: “We lost a huge number of middle-class jobs.” At the same time, the tax revolt led by the businessman and politician Howard Jarvis cut funding for public education. “We ended up limiting the ability of kids to move ahead of their parents,” said Mr. Boyarsky.

In a rational political world where voters look at evidence to inform their decisions, one look at the consequences of CA’s austerity budgeting would compel them to avoid cutting funds for public education. But we tend to think that CA’s problems are the result of unbridled immigration, not the lack of opportunities for children raised in poverty to “move ahead of their parents” because schools have been shortchanged.

Here’s hoping that Mr. Tobar’s assessment of the effects of homelessness has finally gotten the attention of LA residents and gotten them to see the inequality created by their toxic taxation policies has created major problems… and they begin to do more that talk about the issue.

Birth Control, Poverty, and School Success

July 6, 2015 Leave a comment

An article by Sabrina Travernise in today’s NYTimes described the astonishingly positive results the state of Colorado experienced by issuing free long-acting contraceptives to teenagers and young adults:

The birthrate for teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.

This 40% decline over a four year period reflects a huge increase in the number of long-acting birth control devices that prevent pregnancy for up to three years. That gives young women raised in poverty the ability to avoid unwanted pregnancies which, in turn, gives them the opportunity to complete high school and/or college. That, in turn, increases upward mobility:

“If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to,” said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. She argues in her 2014 book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage,” that single parenthood is a principal driver of inequality and long-acting birth control a powerful tool to prevent it.

The article notes that this program, and a smaller, earlier and equally conclusive study, was privately funded by the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s late wife. Unlike many foundations that shy away from political minefields like birth control, the Buffett Foundation listened to those working to prevent poverty and help avoid its human and governmental costs. While the article did not focus on this element, it is clear that from a pragmatic financial standpoint spending on birth control saves huge amounts of money:

The state health departmentestimated that every dollar spent on the long-acting birth control initiative saved $5.85 for the state’s Medicaid program, which covers more than three-quarters of teenage pregnancies and births. Enrollment in the federal nutrition program for women with young children declined by nearly a quarter between 2010 and 2013.

The notion of the state funding this long-acting birth control can be fraught with peril. Many religions explicitly forbid any form of birth control for fear that it will result in promiscuousness and many people see the potential for this kind of long-acting birth control to be imposed by the State either directly or indirectly. Colorado’s program appears to sidestep these issues by providing the long-acting pills to those women who choose this as a means of avoiding pregnancy during the time they are trying to complete school.

This is another example where those with economic means can make a choice that is unavailable to those raised in poverty. Affluent parents and/or children can underwrite the costs of birth control for young women while many young women raised in poverty are forbidden by law to have access to birth control. As Isabell Sawhill’s quote above indicates, this contributes to the vicious cycle of poverty.

Finally, this is a classic example of the government’s failure to spend wisely on the front end and the consequences of not allowing women the freedom to choose. We spend billions on prisons and overlook spending on programs like this that prevent unwanted pregnancies and the social costs that accompany those pregnancies.

Charter Failure is Widespread, Well Documented, But Hidden from Public View

July 6, 2015 Leave a comment

Alternet blogger Paul Buchheit’s July 5 post reviewed several studies done by both pro-charter and pro-public education that all come to the same conclusion: charter schools are no better than public schools and far worse when it comes to financial accountability. In successive sections of the post he offers specific findings from several studies, the lack of public accountability for spending, examples of fraudulent spending buy charters, and evidence that public schools are improving, contrary to the “failing schools” meme promoted by conservative politicians and “reformers” who want to monetize public education.

Buchheit has written about this before… as has Diane Ravitch and countless other bloggers, including me. I thought of skipping over Buchheit’s recent post for that reason. But recent conversations with those who are NOT familiar with the privatization movement make me realize that bloggers need to tell this story over and over to as many people as possible in order to offset the “true believers” in the media who want the wishful fantasy of the free market politicians to be true. They want to believe that “throwing money” at schools is unnecessary, despite the fact that the best funded schools perform  and despite the lack of evidence that schools can be made more successful if they are subjected to the magic of the marketplace. As Buchheit notes in his conclusion:

But the education reformers, who have a lot of money but little knowledge of the real world of education, don’t want to provide that funding. They frighten America with words from people like Rupert Murdoch: “The failure rates of our public schools represent a tragic waste of human capital that is making America less competitive.”

A better reason for fright is the rapid progress made by the charter school reformers. They want our children to be their human capital.

Politicians Who Blame Unions for Pension Costs Need to Look in the Mirror

July 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Over the past several years, I’ve read article after article on the impact that pension costs are having on local budgets and in many cases (e.g. Scott Walker and Chris Christie) politicians have pointed the figure at union contracts as the problem. Today’s NYTimes features an article on the Chicago pension program that illustrates the point indirectly, with Rahm Emmanuel bemoaning the fact that in order to keep the pledge to pay teachers’ pensions he will need to cut teachers. He’s at this point only because he lost a court appeal to renege on the payment altogether, a ploy that was successful in many states where the constitution did not explicitly require negotiated agreements to be met.

The problem with pensions is not the union’s doing: it is the fault of “management” (e.g. mayors and state legislators) who agreed to the pensions in lieu of higher wages and more benefits on the premise that rosy revenue projections would enable them to pay the costs for these agreements some time in the indefinite future. Now that private corporations have shed the defined benefit pensions they routinely offered employees public sector, public sector “management” finds itself in a predicament: they cannot shed these agreements as easily as their counterparts in business and so they have fueled the resentment of taxpaying voters, their “shareholders” to make their willingness to break a bargain palatable.


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NYTimes Sees Through Cuomo. Will They See Through His “Education Reform”?

July 2, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s editorial in the NYTimes describes Mayor de Blasio’s “surprise attack on Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom the Times editorial describe a politician who poses “…as liberal and reform-minded when it suits him”. de Blasio (and the Times editorial board) was upset with Cuomo’s unwillingness to enact any legislation that would help him improve the quality of life in NYC. Because of the legislative arrangement in NYS, the Governor has an inordinate amount of power over the mayor in the city and that dynamic invariably results in tension. But the philosophical rift between the idealistic progressivism of de Blasio and the pragmatic neo-liberalism of Cuomo make the tension greater than it has been for decades, and according to the editorial board, needlessly so. Many political insiders question de Blasio’s wisdom in attacking the governor, who has a track record of vindictiveness. The editorial concludes with these paragraphs:

Mr. de Blasio’s many critics say he was foolish to go on the attack and are waiting for Mr. Cuomo to bury the hatchet, in Mr. de Blasio.

But really — what should he have done?

State law gives the Legislature and governor far too much control over New York City’s business, and whenever the mayor — any mayor — takes his petitions to Albany, he has to beg, wheedle, cajole and bargain.

For a year and a half, Mr. de Blasio — maybe naïvely, maybe cunningly, maybe because he had no other choice — played nice with Mr. Cuomo, stressing their decades-long acquaintance and going out of his way not to pick fights. Sometimes it worked, as when the mayor won funding for a huge expansion of prekindergarten. Sometimes it didn’t. He was never going to eliminate longstanding mayor-governor tensions. But he has seemed to be making an effort to get past the nonsense, with a steadfast focus on policy over personality and power plays.

Some are now wondering whether Mr. de Blasio’s stand-up-to-the-bully tack will backfire. If it does, it will make clearer than ever who the bully is.

In reading this, the highlighted phrases jumped out at me because they reflect the difference between Mr. de Blasio’s approach and that of President Obama, whose executive authority has been similarly challenged by recalcitrant and bullying legislature. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

One more news item I’m eager to read about on the editorial page: the conclusion that Mr. Cuomo’s bullying extends to public schools and his desire to undercut public education is a power play as blatant as the one he is taking against the city.

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Poverty Narrows the Bandwidth of the Brain… and the Scale Isn’t Binary

July 1, 2015 Leave a comment

Kathleen Ebbitt’s Global News article, “This is Your Brain on Poverty: 5 Facts” describes the neurological impact of poverty using the metaphor of bandwidth. She uses her personal experience of moderate financial stress as a starting point and then enumerates five broad findings on poverty:

  1. Research shows that a lack of money affects cognition
  2. Everyday hardships affect those in poverty more than those who are affluent because those with affluence can effectively buy coping mechanisms and/or their status makes them exempt from some stresses. For example, if a CEO is five minutes late for a meeting because his limo gets caught in traffic there are no consequences. A lower level employee, on the other hand, could lose their job if the bus they are taking makes them late for work.
  3. Children are impacted by poverty more so than adults.
  4. Brain scans show that the surface of the brain is different in those experiencing poverty…. and the brains of children whose parents earned $30,000-$50,000 varied considerably from those whose parents earned $90,000 to $110,000.
  5. The last “fact” is that something CAN be done about this… ranging from better school lunches to systemic changes to income distribution.

Alas, getting the things done that would change all of this seems increasingly unlikely as most politicians and many stressed people in the $30,000-$50,000 income range push back against efforts to help them and those who earn less.