After reading a Forbes op ed column written by William Bennett, it dawned on me that we have gone decades without having a Secretary of Education who spoke out on behalf of the good work that public schools do in the face of adversity. Instead, from Terrell Bell forward each of the Secretaries of Education have used the theme of “failing public schools” as the basis for seeking more funding for schools and from Bennett forward each secretary has implicitly or explicitly promoted the notion that charter schools are a viable alternative. As a result, the re-branding of public education as “government schools” combined with our country’s deep faith in the marketplace has led voters to believe that the best way to fix the “failing public schools” is to replace them with deregulated for-profit charters that parents can opt into the same way they opt into buying a car.
Bennett’s column subtly plays into this notion and is full of disinformation and/or misinformation. Titled “Overcoming the Honesty Gap in Public Education” Bennett implies that States implemented watered down tests to look good but their “dishonesty” resulted in no improvement on the NAEP:
This is a serious problem, but, of course, it is not new. Intentional or not, many states have been offering less than truthful and accurate definitions of proficiency for far too long.
Of course one the reasons for that discrepancy was the fact that states were in effect permitted to develop their own standards and assessments, something that the Federal government was supposedly reversing with the implementation of NCLB Race to the Top. Ironically, one of the “reforms” in the new federal legislation is the chance for States to develop their own standards and assessments, which will exacerbate Bennett’s call for consistent definitions of proficiency.
Bennett also disingenuously misrepresents the development of the common core as a grassroots and voluntary undertaking:
Over the past five years, more than 40 states have diligently begun to implement the Common Core standards, which were conceived in mutual and voluntary agreement between the states, not under the pressure of the federal government. (Granted, the federal government has since intruded in some areas, but that is no longer the case and we must fight to ensure it doesn’t happen again.)
To paraphrase his earlier quote, Mr. Bennett is being “less than truthful and accurate” in his description of how the common core came into being. But the concluding sentences are the ones that jumped out at me because they are irreconcilable with the direction his party wants to take public education:
But the first step to addressing performance concerns is establishing a system that accurately identifies them through the implementation of higher standards and more rigorous testing requirements. American education is moving in the right direction right now. Let’s not slow or stop the progress.
Here’s my question for Mr. Bennett: if you are fighting to keep the federal government from intruding in mandatory testing how will you keep states from “offering less than truthful and accurate definitions of proficiency?”
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.
The beginning of the article shows how “good guys with guns” can become an occupying force in schools… and given our fear of “shooters” and willingness to fund police departments while starving schools more and more schools are turning to those “good guys” and students— especially students raised in poverty— are paying the price.
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.