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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

Childhood Poverty at “Obscene Levels”

January 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Charles Blow’s NYTimes column today deals with childhood poverty, a topic that has been the subject of scores of posts on this blog. Drawing statistics and quotes from “Ending Child Poverty Now”, a recently released report from the Childhood Defense Fund, Blow calls on us to reduce the “obscene level of childhood  poverty”. He writes:

People may disagree about the choices parents make — including premarital sex and out-of-wedlock births. People may disagree about access to methods of family planning — including contraception and abortion. People may disagree about the size and role of government — including the role of safety-net programs.

But surely we can all agree that no child, once born, should suffer through poverty. Surely we can all agree that working to end child poverty — or at least severely reduce it — is a moral obligation of a civilized society.

And yet, 14.7 million children in this country are poor, and 6.5 million of them are extremely poor (living below half the poverty line).

He quotes extensively from the report, which notes that children born in poverty in the US are more disadvantaged than those born in other developed countries in the world: “Among (the 35 OECD) countries, America ranks 34th in relative child poverty — ahead only of Romania, whose economy is 99 percent smaller than ours.” 

Citing statistics that demonstrate how poverty is intergenerational and the long term costs associated with the corrosive effects of poverty, the report recommends that our government invest $77 billion per year to end childhood poverty. While that is an eye-popping amount, the report notes that it pales in comparison to what we are spending now:

Every year we keep 14.7 million children in poverty costs our nation $500 billion — six times more than the $77 billion investment we propose to reduce child poverty by 60 percent.”

The report offers several ideas on how that money could be raised, including the obvious solutions of raising taxes on the highest wage earners and spending less on the military. But as I implied in the comment I left, these ideas are likely non-starters:

As you note in your column, this is not a new problem. Unfortunately “A Nation At Risk” that blamed economic problems on public schools captured the public’s attention far more than the 1994 CDF report “Wasting America’s Future” and the current toxic testing regimen is the result. You could get over $1.7 billion from the state coffers by eliminating standardized tests that are used now to tell us what we already know: children raised in poverty do worse on standardized tests than children raised in affluence. And here’s what is especially maddening: instead of using those results to demonstrate the need to invest more in children who are raised in poverty we are using those results to close neighborhood schools and replace them in many cases with for-profit charters that are not markedly improving the opportunities for children raised in poverty but ARE increasing the money shareholders receive.

I doubt that the 2014 CDF Report will get any more traction than the 1994 report, but appreciate Charles Blow’s effort to bring the report to the full attention of the public. MAYBE repeating the report’s central message will help people of conscience to think twice before they support cuts to programs that help children. That central message is:

“America’s poor children did not ask to be born; did not choose their parents, country, state, neighborhood, race, color, or faith.”

Kansas: Funding For Shareholders and Fundamentalists?

January 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, the US edition of  The Guardian posted an article by Sarah Smarsh on the state of public education in Kansas.  As reported in  earlier blog posts, KS finds itself in a funding crisis because their Governor has lowered taxes to entice the expansion of business and recently lost a Supreme Court case filed by a parent who felt that KS was not sufficiently funding its schools and that lack of funding resulted unconstitutional inequities. The Guardian suggests that the Governor or the legislature, which is sympathetic to his cause, might offer a solution that would not only please the court, but would also please privatization advocates like the Koch bothers who live in KS and the large number of fundamental Christians: vouchers. If the legislature closed public schools and offered vouchers to parents that could be used in any school at all, fundamentalists could open private academies to address their concerns about the secular humanism rampant in public education and the Koch brothers’ kindred spirits could open for profit charters and taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay any more money at all. It would be a win-win-win for the taxpayers, the fundamentalists, and the profiteers… but it would be dreadful for the very students whose parent filed the lawsuit because it would end public education as we know it today.

Smarsh notes parallels between Brown v Board of Education in 1954 and this case today, one of which was that the plaintiffs in both cases were pastors of churches. She writes:

It was a good legal strategy that a longtime Christian clergyman became the namesake for Gannon v Kansas (the lawsuit seeking funding equity), a lawsuit bent on increasing funding for a secular institution. Similarly, in Brown v Board some 60 years ago, Topeka dad Oliver Brown took the title spot for being a respected pastor. The two cases contain plenty more parallels, and if there was a poor people’s movement to match the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century today, people would be marching in the streets – not to desegregate schools but to keep them open.

Unfortunately for those of us who want to see a strong and vibrant public education system, the poor people whose children are being shortchanged cannot see how the system is working against them and taking tax revenues to either promote religion or increase profits. The war against the poor is subtler than racism but every bit as pernicious… and seemingly as intractable.

Inclusive Capitalism and Public Schools

January 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s op ed column today, “Can Capitalists Save Capitalism“, describes “inclusive capitalism”, an emerging economic theory Democrats are purportedly embracing in response to their defeat in the mid-terms. The basic premise of this economic theory is the same as Henry Ford espoused when he decided to pay his employees a large enough wage for them to buy his product: the Model T Ford. After reading the article, I left the following comment:

President Obama and all elected officials who advocate “inclusive capitalism” have the opportunity to put it into place by treating public employees differently than employees are being treated in the private sector. If the Democrats want to embrace inclusive capitalism they could do so by denouncing the de-regulation and privatization of public schools, which “broadly undermines the wages and working conditions” of those working in schools. The replacement of career-minded unionized employees with at-will teaching staff and contracted services in lieu of ancillary staff results in more job insecurity, lower wages, and, consequently, a hollowing of the middle class. The privatizers of public education”…function much less effectively as providers of large-scale opportunity” because “…their dominant focus has been on maximization of share prices and the compensation of their top employees.” Privatization of public services is a rejection of inclusive capitalism and an embrace of the winner-take-all mentality that the “winners” want to see kept in place.

The “reformers” want to run schools like a business… but the way businesses operate is to limit the number of wages, hours, and/or number of employees… and that, in turn, hollows out the number of employees who earn middle class wages. Maybe instead of schools running like businesses, businesses might want to run like schools.

Spending Priorities Askew

January 20, 2015 Leave a comment

The title of David Brooks’ column in today’s NYTimes got my attention: “Support Our Students”. Unfortunately, Brooks was writing about the wrong set of students. Instead of writing about the  support children raised in poverty require Brooks used his column to criticize President Obama’s proposal to provide free community college to all students. From my perspective both Brooks and the president miss the mark, as my comment indicates:

You could solve a lot of these problems by investing more in public schools. Providing “living expenses” for community college students while cutting SNAP makes no sense. Providing funds for more counselors at the community college while retaining unacceptably high student-to-counselor ratios at high schools makes no sense. Providing funds for remedial education in community college while spending billions on bubble tests makes no sense. Providing child care costs for community college students while cutting back on “welfare” for parents of school-aged children makes no sense. What DOES make sense is providing more money to “strengthen the structures” around Pre-K through grade 12. Unfortunately the people who would benefit most from this spending– the children in those grade levels– are not eligible to vote. Even more unfortunate is the fact that their parents are not major campaign contributors so their voices are not heard.

One more point that neither Brooks or the President are making: the impact of student loans. Because student loans can be used to defray living expenses, many college aged youngsters use the loans to cover their non-tuition costs and if they fail to graduate find themselves struggling to pay off those loans. Reforming the student loan industry should be a part of any legislation that expands the enrollments in community colleges.

Selma, Brown, and Plessy

January 13, 2015 Leave a comment

In the past week I’ve read several articles about the sad state of segregation in American public schools, in response to the recently released movie Selma and in anticipation of the forthcoming MLK Holiday. I wrote comments to two of those articles drawing on my recent viewing of Selma, responses that would likely apply to any articles on the topic of resegregation.

Salon featured an article by Alternet blogger Christopher Bonastia titled “The Ugly Segregationist History of the Charter School Movement” that described the means segregationists in the South intended to side-step the Brown case by closing all their public schools, selling them, and re-opening private schools in their place. It also described how politicians might limit the number of blacks in their schools by setting high academic standards and “hazing” children of color who attended. Bonastia did not draw direct parallels to specific practices of some charter schools… but he didn’t need to for Salon readers who are presumedly aware of the actions of privatizers who effectively exclude children of economically disadvantaged parents. In my comment I noted that unfortunately, as Congress looks to reauthorize ESEA I see no evidence that anyone in Washington is interested in addressing this. Instead they want to implement more tests to “prove” that schools are failing so that more for-profit charters can be opened in their place all the while ignoring the fact that the test scores are correlated with parent income and education levels. And since charters use screening methods that are analogous to the voting tests shown in Selma, the children of disengaged parents who struggle to earn a living suffer.

Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote a post expressing her dismay that several civil rights groups wanted to make certain that the reauthorization of ESEA continued the standardized testing regimen put in place by NCLB. Perplexed by this, she wrote:

After 13 years of federally mandated annual testing, how could anyone still believe that testing will improve instruction and close achievement gaps? Tests measure achievement gaps, they don’t close them.

Predictably, many of her commenters noted that Bill Gates and other billionaires helped underwrite these civil rights groups and concluded that they had been “bought and sold” as a result. Some of the commenters, though, had more nuanced responses. My own response to the post was used Selma as a context:

Having recently viewed Selma, I reflected that sixty have passed since Brown v Board of Education, the same number of years that passed between Plessy v Ferguson and Brown… and sixty years after Brown we have the worst of all worlds: schools that are separate and unequal and de facto segregation that is worse than existed in 1954. I empathize with the African Americans who want to make sure their children are held to the same standards as everyone else’s children because there is no evidence that anyone in Washington or all but 5 state capitols is interested in ensuring equitable schooling for ALL children.

Fixing the continued segregation of schools will require changes in district boundaries and/or residential patterns. More importantly, it will require a change of thinking on the part of many Americans: a willingness to accept African Americans as classmates and neighbors no matter what their economic standing or background. Changing minds and hearts is even more difficult than passing legislation.

Restore School Jobs Before Building Keystone XL

January 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s column in todays NYTimes decries the love affair we have with carbon  and the resulting focus on the completion of Keystone XL. The recently elected Republican majority in the House and Senate are moving quickly to pass a bill that would require the completion of this pipeline, using the idea that doing so is imperative because of the jobs it would create. Midway through his column that excoriates the obstructionism that has taken place over the past six years, Krugman acknowledges that Keystone XL will create jobs, but suggests another way that the government could also create jobs:

Yes, approving the pipeline would mobilize some money that would otherwise have sat idle, and in so doing create some jobs — 42,000 during the construction phase, according to the most widely cited estimate. (Once completed, the pipeline would employ only a few dozen workers.) But government spending on roads, bridges and schools would do the same thing. 

While I was glad to see “schools” included in the list, I felt a need to emphasize the jobs lost as well as the infrastructure needs of schools and so left this comment:

In analyzing jobs lost and “infrastructure” needs, do not overlook all of the cuts public schools were forced to make when state and local budgets were cut as a result of the bubble breaking. Public schools across this country have millions of dollars of deferred maintenance projects and thousands of jobs that need to be refilled. We need to rebuild our roads and bridges… but we need to rebuild our schools and restore our workforce in education as well… and doing that would create FAR more value and FAR more jobs than Keystone XL.  

I hope that some members of the minority party will take up this issue in the coming months. If we want to help middle class Americans we should be helping those who work in public schools for they are the core of the middle class.

Fixing Schools in Buffalo

January 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes editorial decries the condition of Buffalo’s school system. It enumerates several problems including fiscal mismanagement, civil rights violations, onerous union contracts, and failure to provide state mandated action plans to improve “failing” schools. The editorial recommends the following fix in it’s concluding paragraph:

The Cuomo administration alluded to the chronic problems in the Buffalo schools last month when it asked the Board of Regents what should be done about their “deplorable conditions.” Support appears to be growing for laws giving the state more authority to force policy changes on failing districts and to even appoint receivers to run day-to-day operations, which may be necessary in Buffalo.

That last paragraph compelled me to offer this feedback:

I am willing to wager that Cuomo and Tisch will “rescue” the Buffalo schools by placing them in receivership, gutting the teacher’s contract, looting any union pension and benefit funds, and turning the operation of schools over to for-profit charter schools. This will put an end to “mismanagement” of the schools and the “wasteful, outmoded teachers’ contract” that makes it difficult to make changes to the schools. I hope that the editorial board will look at how this “solution” played out in NJ, PA, MI, WI and other states where governors replaced “failing schools” with deregulated for profit schools and “union teachers” with at will employees.

You observed that “things went downhill…when court supervision ended and Buffalo experienced severe fiscal problems.” Cuomo and Tisch should:

(1) Get to the root of the “fiscal problems” and limit their oversight to the BUSINESS side of the schools

(2) Make certain that the “failing schools” are sufficiently resourced

(3) Expand the number of seats in its magnet schools

(4) Insist that the district change its magnet admissions standards by using a criteria other than standardized test scores

(5) Provide technical assistance to the Board and administration in place now an insist that they submit acceptable action plans for improvement.

(6) Make sure that Buffalo (and other economically challenged districts) is getting its fair share of state funds.

Privatization without oversight will NOT solve Buffalo’s problems.

That used up all of the space allowed in the comment section… but here’s the bottom line: privatization will put taxpayers money in the hands of shareholders and take it from school employees who are earning middle class wages who are replaced by at-will contract employees who are paid as little as possible. Worse, privatization will do nothing to expand the opportunities for Buffalo’s students because privatization will do nothing to get at Buffalo’s core problem: “the root causes” of racial disparities in enrollment and admission rates at the special admission schools. Oh… and the NYTimes mention of Buffalo’s “wasteful, outmoded teachers’ contract that provides unusually generous benefits and makes it difficult to manage the teaching force” is a gratuitous swipe at teachers. It has nothing to do with the problem at hand, which is the admissions process at magnet schools that results in civil rights violations.