Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Keep Your Eye on the .01%

November 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Several articles of late have emphasized that “the 1%” aren’t the real problem with the effects of inequality in our country, it’s the .01%.

Progressive economist Robert Reich’s essay titled ” If you Want to Know What’s Happened to Our Democracy, Follow the Richest .01%”, describes the effects of inequality in stark terms. After providing lots of statistical information detailing how wide the spread is between the 16,000 people who control 11% of the total wealth in our country, and a description of how this is affecting the debts of the bottom 90%, Reich outlines the political reasons for why we should care about this:

…the top .01 percent have also been investing their money in politics. And these investments have been changing the game.

In the 2012 election cycle (the last for which we have good data) donations from the top .01 accounted for over 40 percent of all campaign contributions, according to a study by Professors Adam Bonica, Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal.

This is a huge increase from 1980, when the top .01 accounted for ten percent of total campaign contributions….

All this money has flowed to Democrats as well as Republicans.

In fact, Democrats have increasingly relied on it. In the 2012 election cycle, the top .01 percent’s donations to Democrats were more than four times larger than all labor union donations to Democrats put together.

(And) their political investments have paid off in the form of lower taxes on themselves and their businesses, subsidies for their corporations, government bailouts, federal prosecutions that end in settlements where companies don’t affirm or deny the facts and where executives don’t go to jail, watered-down regulations, and non-enforcement of antitrust laws.

Since the top .01 began investing big time in politics, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels. That’s enlarged the wealth of the richest .01 percent by an average of 7.8 percent a year since the mid-1980s.

But the bottom 90 percent don’t own many shares of stock. They rely on wages, which have been trending downward. And for some reason, politicians don’t seem particularly intent on reversing this trend.

If you want to know what’s happened to the American economy, follow the money. That will lead you to the richest .01 percent.

And if you want to know what’s happened to our democracy, follow the richest .01 percent. They’ll lead you to the politicians who have been selling our democracy.

But why should advocates of public education care about this increasing inequality? An Inside Philanthropy blog post titled “Be Afraid: The Five Scariest Trends in Philanthropy” by David Callahan outlines five reasons:

  1. The growing push to convert wealth into power: (see Reich’s article and this quote from Callahan offers an example in public education: “Look at nearly any sector of U.S. society, and you’ll find private funders wielding growing power. Most dramatic has been the reshaping of public education by philanthropists like Gates and the Waltons, but the footprint of private money has also grown when it comes to healthcare, the environment, the economy, social policy, science, and the arts.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the specific views pushed by private funders, you’ve got to be disturbed by the growing army of hands-on mega donors and foundations that seems to get more clever every year about converting their money into societal influence. Love it or hate it, the Common Core is a great example: In effect, private funders are helping determine how tens of millions of kids will be educated for years to come. And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!”

  2. How philanthropic dollars have become another form of political money: (see Reich’s article for lots of examples)
  3. The decline of the public sector relative to private fundersThis means that as public funding for schools diminishes and schools are privatized the wealth trickles UPWARD instead of ACROSS the workforce. As a result, the extraordinarily wealthy individuals (e.g. philanthropists) who make “generous donations” to public schools have more and more influence in how schools spend money.
  4. The rise of the know-it-all funderSee Bill Gates and any hedge fund manager or technology squillionaire who provides a “generous donation” to schools contingent on the implementation of a program they are certain will be a game-changer. Callahan describes how this is playing out in public education: “In an age of hands-on living mega donors, the possibilities for big screwups are self-evident and we’ve seen some doozies so far—like, say, turning urban school districts upside down to create small high schools and then realizing that this idea wasn’t as brilliant as MS-DOS.”
  5. A rising flood of anonymous moneyThis is playing out as dark money flows into elections for State and County Superintendents, governors, and various referenda on issues like the elimination of tenure, school funding, etc. 

Inequality matters to public education and it matters to democracy. Here’s hoping that the issue gets an airing in 2016… but as long as the richest .01% buy and own our political leaders and buy and control the advertising that is the basis for voters’ decision making having a dialog on this issue will be difficult.

Guns Again….

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

On the one hand I feel bad posting twice in one day about gun violence, but this article in the Washington Post merits a post of its own. After digging around on Google I’ve learned that six states, OK, MO, IL, TN, AR,  and NJ, specifically mandate active shooter drills for schools while 26 other states require general school lockdown or safety drills. Last year 10 State legislatures considered legislation that mandate “active shooter drills” as outlined in this synopsis written by Lauren Heintz for the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting tragedy in December 2012, state lawmakers have been working on strategies to strengthen K-12 safety and preparedness. One of the most common responses has been to add “active shooter” or “school intruder” drills to the list of general emergency drills that 32 states already require schools to conduct for earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and other potential disasters.

Lawmakers in 10 states—Arkansas, California,  Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee—have introduced such legislation since last year. The bills tend to address only general requirements for the drills, such as how many must be conducted each year and who needs to be involved, rather than specifically what should occur during the drill. Like the laws requiring schools to conduct general emergency drills, the proposed “active shooter” measures give districts and schools the flexibility to implement the type of drill they determine is best for them, from simple discussions and table-top exercises to full-scale operations involving emergency and law enforcement personnel.

To address  concerns that the “active shooter” drills might unduly frighten children, the National Association of School Psychologists has created guidelines for the drills.They include recommendations that school officials steer clear of potentially traumatic stimuli, such as blank bullets or fake blood; collaborate with an outside expert to conduct the drills; and focus on communicating the purpose of the drills with students and families well in advance.

The mandatory active shooter drills provide zealous police forces with an opportunity to use their acting talents as the Washington Post article referenced above indicated. That article featured this picture from an “active shooter drill” staged earlier this year in NJ:


The picture raised a number of questions in my mind:

  • Who took the picture?
  • Who gave authorization for this to occur?
  • Who authorized the picture?
  • Why are the policeman smiling?
  • Were parents smiling when they received panicked texts from their children?
  • How did administrators handle the influx of panicked parents?
  • Were the CHILDREN smiling afterwards?
  • How did teachers and school personnel handle the panicked children afterwards?
  • Were the TEACHERS smiling afterwards?
  • How did administrators deal with the teachers who were stunned by the unannounced drill?
  • Would the police have arrived before the shooter and his hostage left the school in a REAL “event” of this nature?
  • How would police handle a shooting event if their was already carnage in the school?
  • Do we need to legislate drills for cleaning up wounded bodies since most shooting incidents occur without warning and end within minutes?
  • Who thought this was a good idea?
  • Who drafted the legislation that mandated these drills?

I’ve got a catchy phrase for this kind of legislation: No Child Left Unafraid. I’ll be watching the legislative docket in NH to make sure I get an opportunity to weigh in any legislation they consider about this!




Fear of Prekindergarten

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Nick Kristoff’s column in today’s NYTimes poses this question: “Do Politicians Love Kids?“. My answer is: “Yes…. but… they love shareholders more!”

Kristoff’s column focuses on the need for universal prekindergarten, an issue he believes both parties can support. The column offers James Heckman’s research as evidence along with lots of statistics comparing our nation’s preschool programming with our “competitors”.

But, as noted in earlier posts on this issue, I believe Republicans and “school reform” advocates will use the expansion of prekindergarten as an opportunity to expand “choice” and expand the privatization movement that has burgeoned under NCLB, RTTT, and in urban districts under the control of business minded neo-liberal and/or conservative mayors. This led me to leave the following comment:

Given the Republican majority in the House and Senate and a handful of sympathetic neo-liberal Democrats here’s the likely pre-kindergarten scenario: vouchers. Instead of putting prekindergarten programs under the aegis of public school systems Republicans and “school reform” Democrats will advocate for “parental choice” and use the funds to open privatized programs instead of expanding the mission of “failed government schools”… and the shareholders of these programs will benefit while urban neighborhood schools and small rural schools wither.

Politicians love kids… but they love shareholders even more… because kids can’t vote or make campaign contributions but shareholders can.

Unions’ Self-Inflicted Wounds

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s column today, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions”, describes the systematic efforts of the Republican party to reduce the power of labor unions and, in so doing, diminish the power of the Democrats who benefit from the support of unions. But based on the content of his column, it could just have easily been titled “Neither Party Loves Unions” since he provides lots of evidence that the Democrats are ignoring union issues or— even worse, taking union support for granted— or worse yet, buying into an anti-union stance themselves. The article provided evidence of all three possibilities, noting that the Obamacare penalty for “Cadillac” health care provisions will hurt union members more than anyone else.

As I read this, though, I couldn’t help but notice that in some cases the unions are wounding themselves. In public schools, unions have adopted some of the concepts of their brethren in the auto industry (and, to be fair, Boards have adopted the same concepts in framing their bargaining positions). One particularly short-sighted approach to achieving settlements that enable management to reduce costs while simultaneously enabling veteran union members to get wage increases and retain benefits is to offer lower pay scales and fewer benefits to those to be hired in the future. As these bi-furcated agreements phase in, the newer employees have no reason to support the union and they often harbor resentments against their seasoned partners, resentments that manifest themselves in either NOT supporting the Democratic candidates chosen by the union or by staying home. This lack of enthusiasm for the union is, I believe, an underlying factor in the diminishing number of union members, especially as laws are passed that do not require everyone to pay union dues.

These bifurcated agreements also drive down wages and benefits, and those lower wages and benefits are a drag on the economy.  By agreeing to contracts that undercut wages of new hires the unions, then, are helping the pro-business candidates get elected… thereby closing a vicious cycle.


Newark Exemplifies “Business Minded” Operation

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Frank Bruni’s column in today’s NYTimes celebrates an emerging trend of the election of Governors who have a background in the private sector,  a trend that I see as ominous for the traditionally operated public school system. Titled “From Profits to Politics”, the column profiles several recently elected governors whose business acumen presumably swayed voters… and includes this hypothesis:

… in a country convinced that government is broken and its servants hopeless, perhaps plutocrats are cuddlier than bureaucrats.

No one ever accused Michael Bloomberg of being “cuddlier” than any of his opponent, but his can do methods worked effectively as mayor in many of the business-like functions associated with the city. But some aspects of public service, notably those involved with human beings, do not lend themselves to “business solutions”… with public education being one such service. In response to the column I left the following comment:

If we run the public sector “like a business” expect more outsourcing, more privatization, and less democracy. Look across the river to Newark public schools to see what “running schools like a business” looks like. The local board has no control, the CEO/Superintendent has unquestioned authority in oversight of the schools but complete obeisance to the Governor who appointed her, and the “customers” (in the parlance of school reformers) have no say over where their children attend school. So taxpayers have forfeited their democratic oversight of education and their neighborhood schools while privatized schools generate profits, some of which they use to “invest” in the election of businessmen who will help them earn even more.

As noted in my post earlier today, the State takeovers and privatization movement do not eliminate the endemic problem of patronage in public education. Instead the patronage increases the wealth of the 1% while diminishing good jobs for the 99%….

State Takeovers Don’t Work

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

This Public School $hakedown blog post by Jan Ressenger describes the American Enterprise Institute’s unwillingness to hear bad news about the impact of the two-decade-long takeover of Newark NJ public schools on the parents and students who reside in that city. The mismanagement of urban schools several decades ago combined with (or perhaps cause by) patronage by mayors and school board members made State takeovers a popular solution twenty years ago. The reasoning in the 1980s was that State Departments of Education had the expertise to operate underperforming school districts effectively and under their apolitical oversight the district’s would shed the patronage assignments and be organized more efficiently. Once the state intervened, so the thinking went, the State’s expertise would increase test scores and their administrative skill would reduce operational costs.  Twenty years later, as this post indicates, Newark still flounders academically and the patronage associated with locally elected officials has been replaced with state-level patronage (aka privatization). In the meantime, in the past thirty years the expertise of State Departments has diminished due to deep budget cuts making the whole notion of State control preposterous. And now instead of Newark being able to determine it’s own destiny with locally elected officials it is being privatized clumsily and dictatorially by the State appointed Superintendent who answers only to the Governor.

It would be good to see State legislatures who have “state takeovers” as a solution to underperforming schools either repeal those laws or provide the State with funds to oversee the schools they are mandated to operate. Instead, I expect the majority of states to move in the direction of “market based” solutions whereby an administrator is given the authority to oversee the dismantling of the public schools and their replacement with for-profit charters…. because we ALL know that making money is the primary reason people go into the field of education.

PA Joins the State Lawsuit Parade

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

When I was researching for the series of posts I wrote outlining a recommended platform for President, I determined that all but five states in the union had at one time been entangled in a lawsuit based on inequities in school funding. Earlier this week, six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide organizations filed a lawsuit against the State to change it’s funding formulas. As reported in Common Dreams post by Deirdre Fulton, the complaint states that:

“…state officials have adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.”

Among the districts filing the lawsuit is William Penn District, where I worked as Assistant HS Principal from 1975-78. At that time the school board had a critical mass of parochial school parents whose primary goal was to suppress property taxes based on the logic that they were not receiving any benefit from the schools and should therefore not be required to pay as much. Furthermore, at that time the William Penn District was a recently consolidated district. This meant that the affluent towns in the new district were effectively underwriting the budgets of the less affluent communities, and this redistribution of school funds rubbed some of the taxpayers the wrong way. Those dynamics are at play in PA to this day and are compounded by the rise of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party and the “reform” movement that seeks to convert as many schools as possible into for-profit charters. Any effort to redistribute funds to less affluent districts is characterized by conservative lawmakers as “throwing money at the problem” or, worse yet, kowtowing to teachers unions by giving undeserving and greedy teachers higher salaries and better benefits.

One lengthy quote from Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights underscores the reality that this is NOT a PA problem:

Pennsylvania is not alone in denying adequate funding for its students, especially those in high poverty school districts. But this case shows that Pennsylvania is one of the worst offenders in the nation. The disparity in education resources has created an educational caste system that the Commonwealth must eliminate. We will continue to take action to vindicate the state constitutional rights of all students to an education that prepares them for citizenship and the workforce. We also call on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Pennsylvania for the glaring inequity in essential education resources in schools serving poor and minority school children and to take decisive corrective action on the findings.

As noted above and in my earlier post on a proposed education platform for 2016, those seeking changes to funding in the courts have often prevailed but legislatures have not responded to the court orders in a timely fashion. In NH, for example, two lawsuits have mandated changes in State funding and to date only marginal changes have occurred and they are insufficient. Given this reality, I offered this idea as a plank to the 2016 presidential race:

  • Redirect all Federal funds to constitutionally underfunded districts: Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. If elected I will take steps to see that in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems, all federal funds, including funds for handicapped children in affluent districts, will be redirected to those districts that state courts identify as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so.

I believe the federal government SHOULD intercede meaningfully when the state fails to provide equitable funding and one way they could do so is to redistribute ALL their funds to those districts who sue for equity but fail to receive the relief the courts provided. Doing so would shine a bright light on this issue and compel voters to get their legislators to take action so that federal funds could be restored. If there is are no consequences to the state legislature for ignoring court orders the districts serving children in poverty will continue to get short-changed.