In “You can’t make this stuff up” news, Michigan Attorney General “quietly issued an opinion” that state taxes earmarked for schools could be used to build a new arena in downtown Detroit. At stake in this particular instance are “only $15 million per year” which some Republican legislators described as a “pittance sum”. The billionaires who are asking the taxpayers to pony up $261,000,000 claim the new arena will “…create 400 part- and full-time jobs, and the city will receive about $16 million in total income tax revenue”.
Here’s another way to calculate the economic impact: if the school district received the $15,000,000 per year it is entitled to they could hire 300 teachers per year (assuming $50,000/year in total compensation) or maybe renovate one or more schools per year thereby creating employment opportunities for contractors in the area and refurbishing schools that are in disrepair.
Oh… and that additional “total income tax revenue”? How much is likely to end up in the school budget? Any way you look at this, using $261,000,000 of taxpayers money to underwrite the costs of an arena to house a team owned by a billionaire is a bad deal… especially for the children of Detroit.
Today’s NYTimes has an excellent article by Nikole Hannah-Jones on the horrific racial imbalances in MO schools, imbalances that persist despite numerous lawsuits and persistent efforts on the part of minority parents who want a better life and an equal opportunity for their children. I’m sure many who read this will shake their heads at the “racism in the South and Midwest”… but in doing so they will miss a major point: virtually every state in the union has inherently inequitable funding formulas and one of the consequences is a corresponding inequity in opportunity for students raised in poverty.
In 1972 as a graduate student at the University of PA I wrote a term paper for an education law course titled “Exclusionary Zoning: The Ultimate Roadblock to Equal Educational Opportunity”. The research I did at that time illustrated how zoning regulations in affluent suburbs close to Philadelphia and other low income communities precluded affordable housing and contributed to economic and racial segregation. Things have only gotten worse since then… and not just in Philadelphia. Since that time, all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding, evidence that we are not even meeting the Plessy v. Ferguson standard of ” separate but equal” let alone the Brown v. Board of Education standard.
Politicians like to claim that every child deserves an opportunity to succeed in the 21st Century economy and virtually everyone agrees that a good education is the crucial first step to make this happen. The solution racial and economic inequity that the MO legislature came up with to address the deficiencies in the Normandy School district was to allow some Normandy students to take a bus to a distant district with surplus space. The result? Normandy parents were elated… but…
Parents in the school district that had to take Normandy’s students — Francis Howell, an 85 percent white district 26 miles away — were not. Officials there held a public forum to address community concerns. More than 2,500 parents packed into the high school gym.
Would the district install metal detectors? What about the violence their children would be subjected to, an elementary school parent asked. Wouldn’t test scores plummet? The issue wasn’t about race, one parent said, “but trash.”
If the MO state legislature is any indication, State elected officials do not want to upgrade “low performing” districts by providing more money— especially if that money needs to be drawn from state funds currently being sent to middle class and affluent districts.
Nor did the legislature want they want to provide more opportunities for African American children by redrawing boundaries so that nearby affluent districts would merge with districts like Normandy… and the answer was provided in the article:
…students were not sent to the high-performing, mostly white districts nearby (and) Michael Jones, a state board of education official, was blunt about the reason: “You’d have had a civil war.”
And here’s what is frustrating: even though 45 states have had lawsuits brought because of funding and racial inequities, I don’t recall ANY gubernatorial candidate, or congressional candidate making this an issue in 2014 and, to date, no “serious” Presidential aspirant is making this an issue for 2016.
When I wrote that term paper 42 years ago I was confident that political leaders would see this injustice and provide a remedy. I hope some graduate student today still holds out that same hope.
After the Republicans swept into office a month ago, it is now clear that both NCLB and RTTT are going to be eliminated AND there will be an increase in the maximum amount available for Pell grants AND the incoming House Education Committee leader is pledging full funding for special education. Yet there is no sense of elation among those of us who have advocated for their demise. Why?
Progressive educators are sitting in stunned silence because they se that the increase in the number of Republican State legislatures and the increase in Republican governors the path for wholesale privatization and ALEC-inspired legislation is clear.
Progressive educators are dismayed because they see that NCLB’s punitive approach, RTTT’s overreach, and the CCSS backlash has played into the hands of privatizers and ALEC… and they see that if the GOP DOES increase funding for special education it will warm the hearts of local property taxpayers and school boards who have absorbed costs for special education for decades.
Here’s a dystopian scenario for the next few months:
- Urban school districts are turned over to States who then turn them over to for-profit “school management” firms
- Suburban and rural school boards, parents, and taxpayers are thrilled by the increase in special education funding and are elated that their state tax dollars will be “saved” by the state’s takeover of urban schools
- Think tanks and university education and economics professors funded by the oligarchs will issue data supporting the cost-effectiveness of the privatized urban school districts
- Voters with no children in public schools and/or no children in URBAN public schools will indicate their support for these changes in focus groups and neither party will want to undo what the 2015-16 legislature has done
- Public education will exacerbate the economic divide instead of serving as a means of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty.
After November’s election results, the de-funding of the loathed RTTT, the likely demise of the CCSS, and the plans to fully fund special education it is hard to envision a different scenario that the one outlined above…. but one needs to be developed soon or social mobility will be even more challenging in the future.
In the last election cycle many States elected “fiscal conservatives” who believe corporate tax cuts are the road to prosperity. Sam Brownback (and his like minded colleagues Chris Christie and Scott Walker) decided four years ago that cutting corporate taxes would stimulate the economy in his state. But, as today’s NYTimes reports, that hasn’t happened. The new jobs haven’t materialized and new revenues that would result from those new jobs is non-existent and as a result Kansas is facing a large deficit…. and Brownback is faced with a dilemma: he either needs to cut far deeper than the public will support or face the music and roll back the tax. The sad reality for KS teachers and school children is that he seems intent on cutting even more deeply into their state funds. In addition to making cuts to pension funds, infrastructure projects, and every government program outside of schools and Medicare (more on this below), Governor Brownback is proposing the redirection of funds for early childhood education:
A state advocacy organization for children said that the governor’s proposal to transfer $14.5 million out of an endowment for early-childhood education programs could affect services in the future. The money comes from a settlement with tobacco companies and is used to fund things like Early Head Start, preschool and a program that trains parents to teach their young children skills at home.
With the transfer, the endowment balance is less than $100,000. Each year, the fund receives a check for $50 million to $70 million, said Christie Appelhanz, the vice president for public affairs for Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group. But the programs cost about $50 million a year to administer, she said.
“We’re really calling into question the stability of early-childhood programs in Kansas for the future,” she said.
And why isn’t Brownback cutting education funding? Because the courts ruled that the current funds are inadequate to provide fair and equitable funding for schools in accordance with the state constitution. So based on my reading of previous articles on this State’s woeful legislature, here’s what KS will be considering to balance the budget going forward:
- Amending the constitution so that fewer tax dollars go to schools
- Unilaterally changing pension formulas
- Selling off as many state owned assets as possible to yield one-time savings that will help balance the budget for a year
- Transferring money from categorical funds like those cited above to help keep other government services afloat
- Privatizing to save money (and pay people less)
When this is kind of government strategy is transferred to the national level— and it looks more and more like it will be— expect the same kind of scenario at the Federal level with a slightly different twist since the Federal government, unlike the States, can operate in a deficit for the short term:
- Convince voters that deficits are bad
- Convince voters that spending at the Federal government level is “out of control” and full of “waste fraud, and corruption”, especially spending for social services
- Convince voters that tax cuts will stimulate the economy to help close the deficit
- Give huge tax breaks to private corporations
- Sell as many assets as possible (the Onion suggested selling Grand Canyon to China— which may not be so far fetched after we recently appropriated parklands from Native Americans to allow fracking)
- Cut as many pension obligations as possible
- Privatize services (and lower wages to make this pay off)
If the first four items on the list sound familiar, it’s because they’ve already happened. And if you don’t think the next three items on the list are possibilities, look no further than Kansas, NY, and Wisconsin— they’ve successfully accomplished the first four steps and to balance their budgets they are implementing the next three… and school children in those states— especially the children raise in poverty– are suffering as a result.
A few days ago I wrote a blog post on Thomas Edsall’s NYTimes article titled “The Intergenerational Transfer of Disadvantage” that included questions on the kinds of programs the government might be able to institute to address the cultural behaviors that distinguish the “advantaged” from the “disadvantaged”. After reading “The Imitation of Marriage”, Ross Douthat’s NYTimes column today, I came up with a few answers.
Douthat’s hypothesis is that “liberals” want to encourage non-college educated males to behave more like those males who have degrees. He summarizes his premise in this paragraph:
The core idea here is that working-class men, in particular, need to let go of a particular image of masculinity — the silent, disciplined provider, the churchgoing paterfamilias — that no longer suits the times. Instead, they need to become more comfortable as part-time homemakers, as emotionally available soul mates, and they need to raise their children to be more adaptive and expressive, to prepare them for a knowledge-based, constantly-in-flux economy.
Because Douthat is a cultural warrior and one who favors the unregulated capitalistic system beloved of conservatives and libertarians, he believes strongly in the power of the institutions of marriage and religion and it comes through loud and clear in his analysis. As one who sees the unregulated capitalism in place now as antithetical to equality, I see many ways where “profit sharing” could help solve the problem… and I offered a few in the comment section:
Our corporate desire for higher profits led to a race to the bottom in wages which, in turn, led to the outsourcing of virtually all unskilled labor and/or their replacement by technology. This cycle is impossible to reverse unless we as a nation decide to transfer wealth from the .01% who are the primary shareholders of the corporations who benefit from this “new economy”. That could be done by imposing tariffs on things like flat screen TVs and computers that COULD be assembled in our country… or imposing higher taxes on the .01% to establish more government funded infrastructure jobs that pay what passes today for a middle class wage… or increasing the minimum wage to a level that would enable a breadwinner to earn what passes today for a middle class wage… or encourage the creation of unions in the retail sector thereby forcing that sector to provide higher wages and be able to experience the same working conditions as those working in jobs requiring a college degree. Each of these requires additional costs to corporations and, therefore, diminish profits. Taken together these would put more money in the pockets of workers, create opportunities for the work schedules experienced by those working in jobs requiring college degrees, and empower individuals to have the time and fiscal wherewithal to make rational choices. Maybe if our politicians weren’t dependent on huge donations from the profiteers we might debate these ideas.
Douthat either glosses over or is oblivious to the way work schedules in the service sector preclude the kind of life-style college degreed employees experience. Someone whose work shift isn’t determined until mid-week cannot plan to attend their child’s T-Ball game let alone serve as a T-Ball coach. They cannot attend a PTA meeting let alone schedule a parent-teacher conference. They cannot even schedule child care on a predictable basis. Unfortunately the new just-in-time scheduling methods used by retailers and fast-food companies are alien to most college degreed employees. Many college degreed employees work long hours, but many of those hours can be scheduled at their convenience and the majority of the work time is regular and predictable. These practices corrode family life but enhance the bottom line and will not change unless government regulations are put in place or employees unionize… But profits are invested in lobbying and lobbyists too often write the laws of the land or prevent them from being written.
Two recent articles described the findings of a recent study conducted by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). The Pacific Standard article by Lauren Kirchner, titled “The Cost of Juvenile Incarceration”, describes the broad findings of the JPI analysis, while the Reuters newswire cuts to the chase in it’s lengthy title: “Hidden Costs of Youth Incarceration Nationwide Estimated to Run Between $8 billion and $21 billion per year”.
Both articles describe the folly of this spending. The Reuters article reported that “Research shows that the experience of incarceration increases the likelihood that young people will commit a new offense in the future”. The Pacific Standard article provided some specific data to support that the money was not well spent:
If incarceration were expensive, but it worked, that would be one thing. But, as this report argues, it just doesn’t. About 60 percent of juveniles currently incarcerated are in for non-violent offenses, but research has shown that incarceration itself can increase the probability that they will re-offend as adults.
The Reuters article described the reality that black and Hispanic youth are incarcerated at MUCH higher rates.
…the report also notes that the system does not affect all young people equally. For example, African American youth are incarcerated at a rate nearly five times that of white youth, and Hispanic/Latino youth at a rate twice as high as whites. Even though young people engage in similar behavior, there are big differences in the way young people of color and white youth are treated.
The Pacific Standard dug into the economic analysis more deeply, noting that the costs for incarceration of youth would be even more staggering if the number of incarcerated youth hadn’t declined over the past…. and it notes that the unspent funds COULD have been invested in more effective programs:
“We have seen reductions in incarceration, which is great, but we have not seen those resources be re-invested sufficiently in communities,” said David Muhammad, director of national justice programs at the National Council of Crime & Delinquency. “We can re-invest those resources into things that are much better, like in-home family counseling, academic support, mentoring, and other positive youth-development approaches, to build on the strengths and assets of young people—and not simply focus on their deficits, or the one act of delinquency in their life that forever marks them.”
But we haven’t done so… and consequently we are spending just under $149,000 per incarcerated student on average in our country: more than ten times the average per pupil cost for a school student. Money for nothing….
Truthdig reported today on the practice of “sweeps contracts” whereby a NON-profit charter school is paid a flat fee for providing services and then ostensibly sub-contracts all it’s work to a FOR profit organization who’s detailed report is exempt from review by auditors. This funding mechanism is allowed in most States and has led to some charter chains making huge profits at the expense of taxpayers.
I can see now that the distinction I’ve made in this blog between for-profit charters and non-profit charters is insufficient because some “non-profit” charters are in effect fronts for for-profit organizations and, based on this report, those “non-profit” front organizations are intentionally opaque in their financial accounting and intentionally anti-democratic in their operations.
As a superintendent for 29 years I encouraged boards to consider outsourcing non-instructional functions. Whenever school boards outsource a function (like payroll, transportation, maintenance, cleaning, food services, etc) they lose direct control of that function. In exchange, however, they got lower costs for these functions which frees up more funds for the classroom. More importantly school boards no longer had to debate business functions, busses, buildings, and lunch from their agenda giving them more time to focus on instruction. Principals, too, liked the freedom from overseeing bus drivers, food service staff, and custodial staff. While not all outsourcing was advisable– custodial services and payroll provide to be especially problematic— when it worked will it accomplished the goals outlined above.
What’s happening today is different from the selective outsourcing I recommended. As the article indicated, when a school board outsources an entire school it is effectively abrogating its oversight responsibility for the children in that school and abrogating its responsibility to taxpayers to ensure their money is being wisely spent. For some elected school boards, that may be seen as a feature and not a bug: they may be willing to trade savings to taxpayers for loss of control and loss of oversight for the quality of the school… and when the quality of the school is reduced to a test score the savings are MUCH easier to achieve.
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