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Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

The Oligarchs Are Winning the PR Battle

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

The NYTimes headline reads “Nation’s Confidence Ebbs at a Steady Drip” and Peter Baker, the author of the piece, fails to connect the dots and come to the obvious conclusion:  the steady loss of confidence is a victory for the oligarchs who started the “government is bad” meme and kept the drumbeat going with every chance it had… and the combination of  inept political leadership and diminishing government resources is paying off! Anything with a “government” label attached is ipso facto incompetent and anything run by the private sector in a marketplace free from regulations is ipso facto superior. So those who own and operate deregulated corporations are benefitting and the rest of us are suffering…. especially the children raised in poverty who are left being in those “government schools” and whose parents get fewer and fewer benefits… unless they work for a company that pays them minimum wages in which case they “earn their food stamps” (sic).

And as we come to a national and local elections that are bought and paid for by the “dark money” of the oligarchs, voters are staying home in droves because the system is rigged so that the primary elections yield only mirror image candidates. Getting the government confidence back on track will require an investment by taxpayers… but getting that investment requires faith that the spending will be worth it. When you vote in a couple of weeks, select the candidate who is willing to break this vicious circle. It’s the only way “government schools” will rebound.

State Takeovers Haven’t Worked

October 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Recently elected Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s op ed column in yesterday’s NYTimes is a case study of why State takeovers of urban districts have failed… but Baraka downplays major reason for the State’s failure, which is inadequate funding. Instead, Baraka emphasizes the loss of local control as being the primary reason for Newark’s persistent failure. While I agree that the loss of local control is detrimental and the restoration of an elected Board is necessary, it will be insufficient without a corresponding increase in State funding…. and if I were Baraka I’d be looking for a substantial increase in the range of well over a billion in capital spending a millions in annual spending.

In the column Baraka recounts the history of the State’s takeover, which he insinuates was linked to a 1994 NJ Supreme Court ruling on inequitable funding in the State. He recounts the endless cycle of experimental programs that were abandoned if they failed to achieve breakthrough success levels. He also recounts the way a recent $100,000,000 grant from Facebook magnate Mark Zuckerberg was wasted on a merit pay program and the current mismanagement of the schools by State appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.

One citation in Baraka’s essay jumped out at me: Over the years, the court-ordered remedies for Newark’s schools were eroded or ignored. A $6 billion schools construction program never materialized. He wrote these two sentences near the beginning and never returned to this fact later…. and this is the kind of promise that was the underpinning of most state takeovers. One of the rationales for State takeovers of urban districts was that the local boards were corrupt and that in their effort to provide patronage jobs and construction contracts to cronies the locally elected boards ignored the needs of children. As part of their takeovers the States promised new schools, more funding, and better programs for children. Instead, urban school systems served as de facto patronage for hedge-funders seeking profits for new schools and the facilities were closed or sold to developers seeking to gentrify neighborhoods. The patronage shifted from the cities to the States and while children didn’t benefit from the changing of the guard the state political leaders did.

While I DO believe restoring local control is imperative… I think it is more important that STATE money be provided to upgrade the facilities in Newark (and as noted in an earlier post Zuckerberg’s $100 million won’t come close to helping) and to increase the operating budget so proven programs like those Baraka advocates can be funded. Without more funding Newark schools– and all schools under the control of the State— will not improve.

Toll Roads and Toll Schools

October 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes editorial page blog, Taking Note, has a short post by Vikas Bajaj titled “Republicans Against Toll Roads“. The blog talks about the pushback TX Republican legislators are getting as a result of their decision to fund road improvements through tolls instead of gasoline taxes. But voters are getting what they are paying for… and MAYBE the pushback in TX will spread the same way their current thinking about charging fees instead of taxes has spread.

As I noted in a comment I left on the blog, Texas’ Republican’s view of “the commons” is different from the rest of the country… but seemingly the thinking of Texas is spreading. IN, IL, and WI are all talking about toll roads as a workaround to tax increases which were needed because the mpg on cars was resulting in lower fuel consumption. But the “fee for service” model in TX has spread to schoos as well. Their public education funding is based on the same kind of premise: they underfund school districts who then charge fees to make up the difference. Texas is ranked 45th in the country in per capita spending, up from 49th. Prisons, though, are a GOOD place to spend if you’re a TX legislator! TX has more people in prison than ANY state and keeps spending even though it had 11,000 empty beds in 2013.

It would be nice if TX was an anomaly… but what has happened in TX mirrors what is happening in our country as a whole where we are cutting social spending but adding to a military budget that has excess capacity. MAYBE the outback in TX is a harbinger of what will happen across our country in the near future.

Born on 3rd Base

October 20, 2014 Leave a comment

The headline of Matt O’Brien’s Wonkblog in the Washington Post summarizes the whole story that, in turn, summarizes everything that’s wrong with our economy: “Poor Kids Who Do Everything Right Don’t Do Better Than Rich Kids Who Do Everything Wrong“. The article describes the findings of Richard Reeves and Isabell Sawhill describing the glass floors and glass ceilings that make our class system more rigid than it once was and make it difficult for children raised in poverty to move into the higher tiers of earning. This chart from Reeves and Sawhill’s report shows this graphically: Poor-Grads-Rich-Dropouts

O’Brien writes:

…rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.”

It’s an extreme example of what economists call “opportunity hoarding.” That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children’s favor.

As he notes earlier in the post, things are unlikely to improv given that affluent parents outspend other parents nearly 3-1 in providing enrichment opportunities for their children… and some of the folks at the very top of the pyramid are spending billions to convince the rest of us that all children raised in poverty need is “grit” to get ahead. O’Brien concludes his post with this:

It’s not quite a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose game where rich kids get better educations, yet still get ahead even if they don’t—but it’s close enough. And if it keeps up, the American Dream will be just that.

Amen….

NYTimes Omits Key Information

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Mokoto Rich’s latest NYTImes article on Philadelphia schools describes the continuing plight of the district due to the lack of money. This paragraph offers a look at the general and particular impact of the funding shortfall on the schools:

Such is the state of austerity across Philadelphia, where this fall, the schools almost did not open on time, and the district has eliminated 5,000 staff positions and closed 31 schools over the last two years. Feltonville (MS with roughly 800 students)… has lost 15 teachers, two assistant principals, two guidance counselors, an office secretary, three campus police officers, 10 aides who supervised the cafeteria and hallways, and an operations officer, who oversaw most of the school’s day-to-day logistics.

The article is primarily about the conflict between the teachers union and the board that oversees Philadelphia schools over the ongoing negotiations needed to balance the budget and the State’s funding formula which is the underlying cause of the problem. What is NOT mentioned, however, are the huge tax breaks the current Governor and mayor offered to businesses locoed in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the state… and those lost resources are as much a factor as the funding formula itself.

I’ve written several blog posts on Philadelphia schools, which is where I got my start as a middle school math teacher in 1970. I am saddened every time I read an article that described the funding problems the school faces and the draconian measures the district has taken to close the funding gaps. In my judgment, every single article about funding problems should contain at least one sentence describing the tax breaks business have received because that is a far better source of revenue than squeezing money out of sin taxes on cigarettes and diminishing salaries that are already 20% lower than those of nearby school districts.

And here’s a cartoon that shows the Philadelphia situation: substitute “Philadelphia Schools” for the cat at the bow of the boat and you get the picture….

 

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Another Philadelphia Disgrace

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Fourteen years ago, the State decided Philadelphia schools were in such horrible condition that they needed to be taken over. The legislature created an agency to govern public schools in Philadelphia and gave it a high-minded moniker: the “Philadelphia School Reform Commission”, or SRC as it is referred to in the media. Over the past 14 years, as noted in several blog posts, the SRC has eliminated staff, lowered costs, increased the number of for-profit charter schools,increased the tax incentives provided to private businesses seeking to locate in Philadelphia,  and done nothing to change the academic performance of students or improve the services and facilities for those children. Unsurprisingly, the difference in per pupil expenditures between Philadelphia schools and the neighboring suburban districts, the “white ring” as David Hornbeck called it, has increased.

Yesterday’s Philly.com blog featured a post by Will Bunch describing the latest and most disgraceful action by the SRC: in a technically posted public meeting attended by a handful of people they voted to end their recognition of the contract they agree to with the Philadelphia Teachers Union, increase the cost for health insurance to current teachers, and eliminate all medical benefits to retirees. The action was Draconian in the extreme, leading Bunch to speculate that it was intended to create a anger the union leadership to the extent that they might strike and create a situation where Governor Corbett could show his “support for taxpayers” by upholding the SRC’s ability to suspend the collective bargaining agreement. What Bunch didn’t speculate on is whether Tom Wolf, the  Democrat running against Corbett will have the chutzpah to challenge the SRC’s action and stand up for the teachers and CHILDREN in Philadelphia. Here’s where Wolf’s courage will be tested. Will he speak out against this deplorable act by the SRC or let it be? If he says nothing, Philadelphia’s children will not have an advocate in the Governor’s office no matter who is elected… and if the White House’s position on privatization is any indication that will be fine with the national democratic party.

Bill Clinton’s Legacy: For Profit Charters

October 6, 2014 Leave a comment

An Albany Times-Union op ed essay by Demos fellow Richard Brodsky lamenting the lack of dialogue on the public school privatization debate in the NY gubernatorial race, includes this little factoid:

Under President Bill Clinton, a tax break called the “New Markets” tax credit has provided a 39 percent tax break for hedge funds that invest in charter schools in underserved communities. Like Albany, for instance. It’s one thing for the financial community to speak out against teachers unions, to fund lawsuits against tenure and to push high-stakes standardized testing as a matter of corporate citizenship. It’s another matter when there are big tax subsidies at stake.

So here’s the deal: if I am a hedge fund operator who makes a gazillion dollars in profits I can get a tax break if I invest some of those profits in charter schools… and I can make money from THAT investment that can be churned into even MORE profit if the number of charter schools expand…. and I can get the number of charter schools to expand if I can get elected officials to buy into the expansion of unregulated for-profit charter schools and/or convince the public that unregulated for-profit charter schools are the best way to provide public education.

And here’s the problem: it’s WAY TO EASY for hedge fund investors to get elected officials to buy into the expansion of unregulated for-profit charter schools and/or convince the public that unregulated for-profit charter schools are the best way to provide public education. WHY? Because for-profit charter schools can get a high return on investment while operating at a lower cost and a lower cost translates into lower taxes… and politicians and voters LOVE lower taxes.

And here’s the reality: you can’t get something for nothing. The lower taxes are paying for a lower quality of schooling in 90% of the districts in America… and the affluent districts where taxpayers are willing to pay a premium will no be affected.

Here’s Brodsky’s concluding paragraph:

To me, a healthy debate about the policies could be a good thing. But if we’re going down a path of privatizing public education, I’m worried. Public schools created the American national success story. Whatever their real shortcomings, they need to be strengthened and they need to be funded. And I don’t want that fight to be distorted by huge tax subsidies going to charter schools, even as we reduce federal and state aid to public schools. That’s the wrong kind of financial aid to education.

With Teachout in the race, there would have been a healthy debate… with Cuomo it isn’t happening.