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This Just In: Half of the States Spending Less On Schools Now Than in 2008

August 29, 2016 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes editorial, “Back to School With Budgets Still Tight“, opens with these sobering paragraphs:

The children entering kindergarten and first grade this school year were not yet born when the Great Recession ended in mid-2009. Incoming high school seniors were not yet in middle school.

But in many states and localities, the wounds to school budgets from recession-era cutbacks are still large, leaving schools with more students and less money. Recent data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that as of last year, 25 states were still spending less per student than before the recession, adjusted for inflation, and cuts in seven states exceeded 10 percent. In 31 states, local government spending per student fell between 2008 and 2014, the latest data available (adjusted for inflation). It is safe to assume some improvement in recent years, but even so, there is clearly a long way to go before overall spending catches up with enrollment and inflation.

The editorial then describes the especially egregious instances of slashed spending (Oklahoma and Kansas) and praises the efforts of two states, California and Minnesota.

It is interesting— and not at all surprising— to note that the parsimonious states are all led by Republicans who refer to public schools as “government schools” and the two states singled out for their expansive and future oriented spending are led by progressive Democrats. I’m sure if you dig into the data you’d find that the DISTRICTS who recovered from the Great Recession are those serving affluent children whose local taxpayers can dig deeper into their pockets and those who remain stuck are the ones serving children raised in poverty. In the meantime, we continue to read that “choice”— NOT more funding— is the solution to fixing the “failing” schools serving poverty stricken children. If parents who can afford to spend more on their child’s education are doing so money MUST make a difference. In the meantime, parents who reside in communities who cannot raise more money and cannot afford to spend more themselves are left to choose from a list of substandard schools with programs that do not begin to match those offered to affluent children. And we wonder why it is increasingly difficult to move from one socio-economic start to a higher one.

Takeovers Destroy Democracy… But Persist as Cheap, Easy, Fast “Solution” of Reformers, Politicians

August 28, 2016 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday that included a link to a comprehensive TV report on voting rights by News21, a national initiative to train a new generation of journalists capable of reshaping the news industry.” Based on their reporting on the impact of school takeovers they are doing an excellent job of achieving their mission, for the overview of takeovers and the reports on four communities affected by takeovers are comprehensive and compelling.

The data on school districts that do get taken over is unsurprising: they are mostly poor and mostly black and brown children:

More than 5.6 million people live in places where state officials took over entire districts or individual schools in the past six years, according to News21 data collected from state government agencies. About 43 percent are African-American and around 20 percent are Hispanic. On average 29.2 percent of people in those areas are living below the poverty level. The U.S. average is 15.5 percent.

The profiles on Highland Park MI, Drew MS, Little Rock AR, and New Orleans LA describe the frustrations of parents and citizens who no longer have a voice in how their schools are operated because the districts their children attend are now operated by the State and, in most cases, a private for profit educational management company. The reasons for the takeovers are varied, but the results are always the same: the community has no voice in how its schools function and no ability whatsoever to gain back control of the schools they pay taxes for. The News21 team doesn’t look at these takeovers from an educational perspective but having read articles about three of the four I know that the schools are no better off under the takeovers and it’s clear the voters in the towns where schools are taken over are far worse off. So who DOES win?

The politicians win because they can declare victory by virtue of containing costs and thereby saving the taxpayers money. They can also claim that their actions “rescued” children from substandard schools— even though their poor conditions were invariably cause by the underfunding of public schools by the legislators and governors themselves. In the case of New Orleans, the politicians can point at the district as a model of “choice” since parents can choose to send their child to any school in the district— even though all the schools are no better than the ones they replaced when Hurricane Katrina decimated the city.

The education management industry and their shareholders are also big winners. They can operate schools with low overhead and pocket the “savings”.

The affluent taxpayers, who don’t have to dig deep in their pockets to provide the necessary funds for children raised in poverty and can rest assured that the public schools are now under the competent leadership of the private sector.

The big losers, as the article shows, are parents, voters…. and children.

The Nexus Between Epi Pen Pricing Scandal and Public Education: A Mandate Without Money that Enriches Shareholders

August 27, 2016 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes has a follow up article on the ongoing controversy surrounding the decision of the CEO of Mylan to increase the price of Epi-pens, a life-saving device that mitigates allergic reactions to foods like peanuts and a device that is mandated in public schools in 11 states. It seems that Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, received a huge pay raise while overseeing a fourfold increase in the cost of Epi-pens, a product that was not developed by Mylan but WAS developed by (drum roll, please) the federal government. And to make matters even worse Mylan spent over $4,000,000 advocating the passage of a Federal bill that encouraged public schools to stock the epi-pens and then relocated its HQ overseas. Its telling that the Times didn’t go into the details on all of this nearly as much as Alternet, which cross-posted Travis Gettys’ Raw Story article that included these gems:

Mylan completed a corporate inversion to change its legal residence to the Netherlands, a tax haven, while keeping its headquarters and most of its employees in the Pittsburgh area.

The move allowed Mylan to cut its U.S. effective tax rate from 9.4 percent in 2013, the year Congress helped protect its market dominance, to negative 4.7 percent in 2015, according the group Americans For Tax Fairness.

Mylan’s worldwide effective tax rate fell after moving to the Netherlands from 16.2 percent to 7.4 percent—even as its global profits shot up by 22.5 percent between 2013 and 2015.

The company receives millions in U.S. taxpayer funding through federal programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has helped offset consumer costs as Mylan has jacked up EpiPen prices.

EpiPens now cost $609, more than twice the $265 rate in 2013 and more than five times higher than their $104 cost in 2009, not long after the company acquired the drug from the German drugmaker Merck.

The company’s CEO, Heather Bresch, has raised her own pay at similar rates to the drug she lobbied Congress to promote through federal law.

Bresch took home $4.9 million in 2009, but last year she made $13.1 million—and the year before, when she moved Mylan overseas after securing the Emergency Epinephrine Act, she made a whopping $25.8 million…

The pharmaceutical company’s “EpiPen4Schools” program, which started in August 2012, before the bill was passed but after it was introduced, offers free or discounted EpiPens to schools with one catch.

To qualify for the discounted $112.10 price, schools must agree not to purchase similar products—such as the lesser known Adrenaclick—from Mylan’s competitors.

So Mylan “generously” offered public schools a discount on Epi-pens in 2012 if and only if they agreed to purchase their pens exclusively and then jacked up the price fourfold. And the loser in all of this: taxpayers. We paid for the research and development that led to the development of epi-pens, we’re losing the taxes Mylan used to pay, and we’re paying more for the product Mylan now owns and sells to our publicly funded institutions. Any way you look at it we, the taxpayers, lose and Mylan shareholders win. If there is any justice in the free market this scandal will result in a lowering in Mylan’s stock.