Mark Dayton, Minnesota’s Democrat governor, wants Universal fully funded pre-Kindergarten offered in public schools across the state. Because of his approach to taxation (as contrasted with his neighboring state Wisconsin), Minnesota has the $125,000,000 needed to do this and have $1,000,000,000 left over to offer rollbacks on some taxes and/or improve the transportation budget. But the Minnesota legislature has a different agenda for public schools, one that seeks more for-profit charters predicated on the belief that “failing government schools” need to be replaced by imaginative and forward thinking charters. So… when the legislature hammered out it’s budget they gave the governor the funding he requested for public schools but omitted the funding for the pre-Kindergarten initiative that was his major priority. The Governors’ reaction? As reported by NPR, Governor Dayton offered these thoughts about the Republicans who dominate the legislature in a press conference:
“They hate the public schools, some of the Republican legislators,” the governor said. “They’re loathe to provide any additional money for public schools and for public school teachers because all of the good programs I’ve seen around this state for pre-K and all-day kindergarten. All of those programs contradict what they say, which is public schools do things badly.”
Predictably the Republicans pushed back… but not on the substance of his statement— their reluctance to “…provide any additional money for public schools and for public school teachers” because of the fact that doing so contradicts their “failing public schools” narrative. No… the Republicans lashed out at the Governor for characterizing some members of the Republican party as hating public schools.
The stories (see here, here, and here) that followed this press conference predictably focussed NOT on the evidence that some Republicans have animosity toward public schools, but rather on the Republican’s demand that Dayton apologize for saying that they “hate” public schools. One of the articles on the apology demand in the Pioneer Press reported that the Governor was not inclined to apologize. Why? At a subsequent press conference he asserted that “Republicans haven’t shown true support for public schools” and offered this quote:
“Actions speak louder than words,” Dayton said.
The Governor’s words were arguably truthful and honest… but they unfortunately gave the legislators a chance to shift the conversation away from their actions toward his words… Here’s hoping that in the coming weeks someone takes the time to assess the voting records and written and verbal statements of “some” Republicans to buttress the Governor’s assertion that “some” members of the party are adamantly opposed to the idea of “government run schools” and detest everything they stand for. Unless MN is different from most states in the country there will be a t least a handful of legislators who are on record in that fashion… But it might be easier for the Governor to acknowledge he could have chosen his words more wisely and offer an apology accordingly. THAT might help shift the conversation quickly to something more substantive.
Earlier today I posted an article describing the adverse effect PILOT agreements have on public funding. Sunday’s NYTimes business section featured an article by Binyamin Applebaum describing the impact of trade agreements on one community, Galesburg, IL. When NAFTA passed in the mid 1990s, Maytag closed the doors of its manufacturing plant in Galesburg IL and moved to Mexico. Years later, the dust has settled in the community and across the country and the results are clear and unambiguous… well at least unambiguous from two different perspectives as exemplified by these quotes from two Columbia economists:
David Weinstein… said the image of downtrodden Galesburg should be set alongside the prosperity of Silicon Valley, because the decline of manufacturing in the United States helped free resources to feed the high-tech boom.
“There was a sense that by losing the ability to produce computer chips, we were going to see the American electronics industry collapse, and it turns out that those cheap imported electronic components were just the thing that all of these companies needed,” he said. “What these critiques miss systematically is that the losers know who they are, but the winners don’t know who they are yet.”
(But) Joseph Stiglitz… said the magnitude of these losses was large enough that increased trade may now be harming the American economy.
“The argument was always that the winners could compensate the losers,” Mr. Stiglitz said. “But the winners never do. And that becomes particularly relevant when we have a society with as much inequality as we have today.”
Unsurprisingly to those who read this blog, I concur with Stiglitz’ analysis… and will take it a step further. NAFTA accelerated the race to the bottom on wages that began with the advent of PILOT programs. PILOT programs, after all, are a form of internal “trade wars”. IBM tells two communities it intends to consolidate its operations in one location and the communities bid against each other to provide “incentives”… which are really tax breaks that add to the profitability of each company at the expense of local taxpayers who lose either way. VW announces its intent to build a factory in the US and identifies three or four communities where they know they can pay low wages and avoid unionization. The communities then begin a bidding war and VW receives tax breaks that add to their profitability at the expense of local taxpayers.
The articles premise, which is that of most politicians, is that trade is good because jobs eventually come back, goods are cheaper, and, consequently, underpaid workers can have the same material wealth for lower wages…. but here’s the way that plays out on the ground:
The variety of imports has also roughly tripled since the 1970s, according to a 2006 study that Mr. Weinstein, the Columbia economist, helped write. “We benefit from the fact that it’s no longer just a choice between Maxwell House and Folger’s,” he said.
Walmart opened a supercenter in Galesburg in 2007, but Mr. Broughton said the arrival of the store could hardly offset the loss of the factory.
“The decline in the quality of life for working-class families has not been nearly matched by the low, low prices,” he said. “Maybe those diffuse benefits have benefited America more generally. But it’s not the case in Galesburg.”
The choices may have expanded over the past several decades, but the ability to choose is dependent on the wages one earns and when those wages are suppressed choices are between low grade products. And just as the 1% believes the lower 99% are better off because they can choose between more than Maxwell House and Folger’s, the 1% also believe having a choice between underfunded public schools and highly profitable cut-rate charter schools will add to the quality of life.
Earlier posts on this website, like this one titled “Tax Racket“, have decried the practice of offering huge tax incentives to private corporations on the premise that they will either leave town and go somewhere else or the premise that they will reap huge benefits to the community.
That earlier essay was brought to mind when I read Deborah Scott’s post titled “Someone Has To Pay” in this past weekend’s Chattanoogan.com. Ms. Scott provides several specific examples of very generous tax breaks (or Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs)) that the counties in the Chattanooga area offered, including this blatantly irresponsible action:
In 2008, Volkswagen received incentives from local, state and federal sources equaling approximately $840 million. This figure included commitments from Chattanooga and Hamilton County for $245 million. [Additional incentives were granted to VW in 2014, but why talk about the additional millions. We have already been told those millions will come from the city and county’s reserve funds. Folks, that reserve is our rainy day fund.]
In the meantime, public services— like public schools— are scrambling for money because valuable commercial property is no longer bringing in the same revenues and the County Commissioners have pledged to keep homeowners’ taxes flat. This combination of corporate largesse and refusal to raise property taxes leads to a manufactured crisis… and at the conclusion of her post, Ms. Scott poses the right questions:
If the economy is significantly stimulated by the use of PILOTs, where is the positive effect? If the local economy is humming from PILOT businesses, why aren’t other revenue streams growing and making up for lost property tax revenue and increased expenses? Are PILOTs the magic bullets for economic success? If so, why do city and county property taxpayers feel they are under the gun?
I cannot answer the questions about PILOTs in Chattanooga. I know that public schools are expected to account for every dollar they spend and as Superintendent in many districts I was asked to prove that forecasted savings actually materialized. Private corporations are seldom held to such a standard by locally elected officials or State and Federal governments. Consequently there is no means of determining whether PILOTs have a net positive effect on the tax base or add to the quality of life in the community. On the macro level it is clear what is going on: the major shareholders of corporations, the top .1%, are accumulating vast wealth while the bottom 95% have seen no substantial change in their earnings for decades. The revenue starved city, county, state and federal governments cannot turn to the 99% for resources because they have none and they are fearful of turning to the 1% who make decisions for major corporations for fear that they will abandon the community altogether. And that’s the answer to the final rhetorical question Ms. Scott poses.
Expanded Vouchers in OH, WI Drain Public School Budgets, Add to Inequity… But Cuomo Wants Them for NYS!!!
The Google Public School feed this past weekend had two articles on pending legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio to expand existing voucher programs that enable urban students to attend private suburban school. In both cases the beneficiaries would be parochial schools, who would receive roughly $7,000 per student in WI and $5,700 per student in OH, not enough to pay full tuition but clearly enough to help keep the private sectarian schools in the suburbs afloat. This legislation is terrible on several counts:
- It requires parents to make up the difference between the tuition charge and the voucher, effectively eliminating the most poverty stricken families from the pool of those who could take advantage of the program.
- It gives vouchers to parents who have already chosen to enroll their children in private schools! According to the State Department of Public Instruction, 86 percent of voucher applicants for next year don’t even go to public school now. In effect, instead of providing a means for students raised in poverty to attend better schools the vouchers provide a bonus of $5,700 to parents who can afford to send their child to parochial school and take away that sum from public schools who cannot achieve savings from having fewer students enrolled.
- It directs public funds to specifically identified religiously affiliated schools. It is hard to believe that the legislators would provide vouchers to a school operated by a mosque or a Wiccan group, yet providing funds to Catholic schools is acceptable.
- There is no evidence that providing vouchers to students in urban districts improves the opportunities for large groups of students or improves the urban schools. Indeed, Milwaukee has had vouchers in place for over 20 years and Cleveland has had vouchers for nearly 20 years and neither city’s schools have improved.
But despite this track record two midwestern states led by Republicans, NY’s Governor Cuomo is promoting a similar law in his state. So vouchers are the silver bullet for Republicans, neo-liberal Democrats, and “reformers” who view schooling as a commodity that customers can select the same way they buy a car. The flaw in this thinking is that “informed consumers” have equitable resources and deregulated schools offer sound programs. One look at the track record of deregulated for-profit charter schools and the vast inequities in wealth puncture these assumptions… but vampire ideas are hard to kill!
Andrew Cuomo’s war against public education continues… and voters across the country should take note! Why? Because Cuomo’s playbook is no different than that of the President’s and, in all probability, no different than that of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat nominee for 2016.
An editorial in today’s Journal News calls out Cuomo and the NYS legislature for their latest idea on public school funding: $70 million in tax credits for parents paying private school tuitions and $50 million in tax credits to corporations or private donors to those same schools. Oh… and parochial schools are NOT exempt from this proposed giveaway. Public schools? They get cut. Yonkers, one of the school districts serving children raised in poverty, is a case in point:
The Yonkers schools have cut 535 staff members in the last eight years. The schools now offer one guidance counselor for every 827 students, one social worker for every 2,405 students and one library media specialist for every 3,307 students.
But that’s nothing. Yonkers is looking at a $26 million hole in its 2015-16 school budget. If the state doesn’t fill it, the public school system is prepared to make mind-blowing cuts: 20 out of 38 art teachers; 20 out of 33 music teachers; 10 of 37 physical education teachers; and 10 high school teachers.
Also on the firing line are all sports, extensive transportation, half the budget for supplies and materials and plenty more.
The editors acknowledge that the Yonkers school district has experienced some financial management challenges, but they rightfully note that the fiscal management has been in “disarray”:
It’s true that last year the state wrote Yonkers a one-shot $28 million check to cover part of an accounting mishap. A investigation by the city’s inspector general found that the school system’s undermanned and inexperienced finance department – the product of previous budget cuts – had left the schools’ finances in “complete disarray.”
I know from experience in NYS that the toughest jobs to find are those in finance… and the most crucial jobs in managing a large district (I was superintendent in one of the 10 largest districts) are in finance. When I was appointed Superintendent our record keeping was in “complete disarray” and it took us 18 months of hard work combined with a grant from the then State Senator, Steve Saland, to computerize out bookkeeping to get the house in order. But in the late 1990s the state government was working with public schools. Now, with the State legislature seemingly wants to let districts like Yonkers crash and burn and wants to do everything possible to enhance private education in the name of “school choice”. But here’s the sad reality: Mr. Cuomo’s desire to privatize schools aligns with the Federal Government’s agenda… and that of the Republican party. Unless struggling districts like Yonkers are given the time and financial resources to improve, their fiscal health will never be restored. And I would like to know what school district serving affluent children would allow their local schools to have staffing ratios of “one guidance counselor for every 827 students, one social worker for every 2,405 students and one library media specialist for every 3,307 students” or consider a budget that calls for cuts to 66% of its music staff and 30% of its PE staff. At least the teachers who lose their jobs in Yonkers won’t be unemployed for long: they will be able to find work in nearby private and parochial schools where children raised in poverty will be given the choice to attend. What’s that you say? The children in Yonkers won’t be able to attend the schools getting tax breaks because their enrollments are limited? Oh, never mind. Those kids in Yonkers don’t matter.
Financial Times writer John Kay’s article, “Good Corporations Should Drive the Economy“, offers a prescription for increasing social welfare: reframe the mission of corporations in America. Kay does not believe that corporations need to choose between doing good and earning a profit any more than schools have to choose between teaching facts and critical thinking or smartphones have to choose between portability and battery life. Kay recommends business focus on the following array of outcomes:
It pays workers a living wage; it does not engage in aggressive tax avoidance. It develops the skills and capabilities of its employees and does not bewilder customers with complex tariff structures. It earns profits, reinvests some and pays a dividend to shareholders. Its executives spend more time walking around offices and shop floors than sitting in the meeting rooms of investment banks. The good corporation contributes relevant expertise to the formation of policy but does not engage in lobbying on a scale that corrupts political decision-making.
Unlike the major shareholders of corporations— and the politicians they support— who assert that profit must predominate the corporation’s mission, Kay advocates an expansion of their mission to serve the public good. Here’s hoping this issue becomes a part of the debate for 2016 in the form of requiring corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, to provide their employees with a living wage, and to help develop the skills of the workforce.