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Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

I Think I Love Lily Eskelsen

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

I Think I Love Lily Eskelsen.

The new NEA President is speaking truth to power. I wish the American Association of School Administrators and National School Board Association would support the NEA’s position on this issue. Associations representing “management” have planks in their platforms that mirror the NEA’s. We ALL want full funding for special education and support legislation that provides more funding and social services for children, for example.  This isn’t about being “pro-union”, this is about rejecting practices that are not research-based and corrode the public’s support for public education.

Tax Dodgers and Schools

July 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s column in this morning’s NYTimes describes the latest development in profiteering:

…the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion:”… a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.

Readers of this blog should recognize this as the same strategy that corporate tax dodgers use to pit town-against-town and state-against-state in their efforts to race-to-the-bottom on employee compensation… and local and state property taxes.

I believe two underlying principles that “everyone agrees with” make it impossible to change our attitude toward taxation. The first principle, repeated over and over again by BOTH parties in various shades, is the Reagan mantra: GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM. If “everyone agrees” that government is the problem then all taxes are confiscatory and those of us who are being “robbed” by the government taking OUR money have sympathy with the government taking, say, the Koch brothers’ or the Walton’s money… and we don’t begrudge a company for taking steps to avoid paying these onerous taxes.

The second principle is that of shareholder primacy, whereby profit-making trumps any sense of corporate public responsibility. As noted above, this plays out in local and State governments as well as at the Federal level. Pull the curtain back behind any announcement of a corporation locating in a community and you’ll see a sweetheart tax deal.

Both of these principles effect public education. Over the past decades the term “government run schools” was coined, repeated, and entered into the lexicon as evidence that PUBLIC education can’t work because it is run by the government… and we “all know” that government is the problem. And when local corporate taxes are rolled back or limited the burden is shifted to either state sales and/or income taxes or local property taxes and when they start increasing the push back is inevitable… and is often to the detriment of schools, roads, and publicly funded services.

I keep waiting for some politician to make the point that we are all in this together and we need to share in the responsibility for improving our country by paying our fair share of taxes. Doing so would not hurt 99% of the taxpayers…. but for the time being, it appears that the majority of Americans don’t see it that way, in part because no one has taken the time to explain how the system works.

Liberty vs Compassion

July 21, 2014 Leave a comment

I read a recent Huffington Post essay titled “Koch High: How the Koch Brothers are Buying Their Way Into the  Minds of Public School Students” with a combination of revulsion, horror, and fascination. The extended article describes the evolution of the Young Entrepreneurs (YE) program, a program ostensibly designed to help disadvantaged teenagers learn and apply entrepreneurial skills but explicitly designed to counter the “left’s” efforts to “infiltrate” public schools.

I was revolted by the Young Entrepreneurs program because, at its root, it is brainwashing. Here are some paragraphs that support this assertion:

The focus on high school students is a key part of the Kochs’ long-term effort to create a libertarian-minded society from the ground up.

“We hope to develop students’ appreciation of liberty by improving free-market education,” the Koch associates wrote during the program’s initial planning stages. “Ultimately, we hope this will change the behavior of students who will apply these principles later on in life.”

“We are operating under the assumption that high-school students do not receive an education that gives them an understanding and an affinity toward free markets… Without the knowledge or affinity for free markets, students cannot appreciate the role that free markets play in laying the foundations for prosperity and freedom in society.”

The article details the kinds of recruiting and training conducted by the Koch brothers. The organization uses libertarian listservs to identify teachers who will be sympathetic to the training and provided an examples of the videos and “textbooks” (including ones written by the Koch brothers themselves) that were required reading. and offered examples of quiz questions like:

  • “If people who make very little money have modern conveniences, are they really poor?”
  • “True or False: International trade should be heavily regulated for the good of a country’s economy”

And the article is sprinkled with examples of Newspeak from the libertarians, two of which are highlighted in the following paragraph describing the YE curriculum:

Today, to teach its most controversial lessons, YE often relies on videos provided by the Charles Koch-chaired Institute for Humane Studies, which operates out of George Mason University in Virginia. The videos are produced and marketed under an institute arm called Learn Liberty, which offers dozens of educational videos on libertarian and conservative topics

Who could possibly oppose “Humane Studies” or a course that advocates “liberty”?

I reacted with horror because the underlying economics echo a prediction I made regarding the ultimate effects of the private-public partnerships now advocated and embraced by the President… and echoed statements I might have made as School superintendent in the 1990s when school-business partnerships seemed like an innocuous win-win opportunity. Here’s a description of how YE got its foothold in Kansas:

Kansas is a particularly ripe state for YE to target. In addition to serving as Koch Industries’ home base, the state has a public school system hungry for extra help: It’s so underfunded that a few months ago the state’s Supreme Court deemed school funding levels unconstitutionally low. (see earlier posts on this topic) 

(Topeka School superintendent) Singer saw YE as a welcome boon to the ailing school system — the latest in a long string of partnerships that turned to outsiders to increase school resources for free. He came across the organization when teachers involved in an entrepreneurial club brought YE materials to his attention.

“If you can generate revenue outside of taxation, that’s a positive thing,” said Singer… “We couldn’t have done what we did in Topeka, in giving opportunities for kids, had we not had our business partners.”

So… starve the schools of resources so that they cannot offer elective courses in, say, business education… or afford to operate after school clubs in, say, entrepreneurship and then provide stipends to teachers and “grants” to disadvantaged students to offset the programs formerly funded and overseen by the schools. The whole scheme puts superintendents and school boards in political peril if they refuse the “opportunity” to offer a program that describes “the benefits of the free enterprise system” and gives hard-working and diligent students an opportunity for success. But as this article indicates, if you accept the money you need to accept the  content of the curriculum… and Koch’s curriculum is far from “fair and balanced”.

I was fascinated with the Koch brother’s techniques in the same way that I am fascinated with the techniques of propagandists and advertisers. Like the technology corporations that gather information about us without our knowledge or explicit approval, the Koch brothers are developing ways of inculcating values into public schools and teenagers… and they are casting “liberty” as being more important than “compassion”. When a quiz includes a question like “If people who make very little money have modern conveniences, are they really poor?” they are feeding into the idea that you can’t claim to be poor if you have a flush toilet and a flat-screen television. They are, in effect, reinforcing the notion that the possession of “things” is sufficient and one should not feel compassion for those individuals who can afford “modern conveniences” because they have everything they need.

We need liberty and we need compassion. Liberty, to me, means the opportunity to understand the strengths and weaknesses of every form of economics and governance— and yes, capitalism and democracy have weaknesses as well as strengths… and one of the strengths when both are working in harmony is the provision of a sound infrastructure through taxes. Compassion, to me, means empathizing with and providing for those less fortunate, even if those less fortunate have “modern conveniences”.