This Just In: Trump Reinstates Gouging on Student Loans. DeVos and GOP are Silent

March 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Several media outlets, including The Hillannounced yesterday that President Trump issued a letter that rolled back Obama-era guidance that forbade student loan debt collectors from charging high fees to defaulted borrowers. This rollback was based on a technical argument that “…the initial guidance handed down by the Obama administration in 2015 should have been subjected to public comment before it was issued.” 7,000,000 people with loans through the Federal Family Education Loan Program that are held by guaranty agencies are affected by this decision. The last sentence of the article is chilling:

The amount owed in student loan debt has surpassed that of credit card debt — about $1.2 trillion.

So it is now conceivable that 7,000,000 voters are subject to fees that are as much as 16 percent of the loan’s principal and accrued interest should they fall behind in their loan payments for any reason. This means that when these borrowers are forced to choose between paying off credit cards or paying off student loans they might opt to defer the credit cards… or might skip a meal every day or so… or let their electricity be turned off. One thing is certain, they will be less able to buy goods and services, which will put a drag on the economy. And another certainty is that fewer students will plunge into debt making it increasingly difficult for our workforce to improve its skills.

And where are the voices of protest from the Department of Education? From the GOP? Or, for that matter, from the Democratic Party?

One hopes the Trump administration might seek public comment on this change… but it is unlikely to do so for they know that many of those who would protest it would be wearing those bright red hats that say “Make America Great Again”.

Trump/GOP Budget Ignores Scientific Findings and Students in Poverty— And the Planet— Pay the Price

March 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Guardian articlereporter Sam Thielman posted an decrying the Trump/GOP budget’s decision to cut funds for school lunches by $200,000,000 despite solid evidence that they are a cost effective way to improve student performance and health outcomes. In yet another case of the Trump administration’s ignorance of science (see the denial of climate change for countless other examples), the President’s budget director offered this explanation for the cuts:

When Mick Mulvaney, director of Donald Trump’s office of budget management, told press on Thursday that the administration’s attack on school meal programsbecause they “don’t work”, he did not mean that they don’t feed hungry children.

“Let’s talk about after-school programs generally: they’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence that they’re actually doing that,” Mulvaney said. “There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school.

This last statement got the attention of Dr. Michael Weitzman whose studies DID demonstrate that “kids who don’t get fed at home” do better in school when they receive a nutritious meal:

That statement is “an outrageous, fallacious comment that clearly reflects a lack of knowledge, or perhaps even worse, dishonesty”, said physician Michael Weitzman in an interview with the Guardian. Weitzman is the former chair of pediatrics at New York University, where he currently teaches, and this year’s recipient of the John Howland award, the highest honor bestowed by the American Pediatric Society.

And Guardian writer Thielman offers more evidence in case Dr. Weitzman’s word is insufficient:

The connection between childhood nutrition and hard educational metrics such as attendance and test performance has been documented repeatedly, by universities as well as government agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Weitzman and the other researchers who worked on the Boston study demonstrated explicitly that federally funded nutrition programs improve academic performance. That they help to alleviate poverty as well is simply a bonus.

So why would the Director of the Office of Budget and Management fly in the face of scientific findings and support cutting school lunch? For the same reason that the current administration and the GOP want to ignore the findings of climate science: the benefactors of scientific findings are not profiteering lobbyists with deep pockets. School children raised in poverty do not vote and do not have anyone with boatloads of money for political campaigns who can speak on their behalf. The planet earth has vocal supporters who generate petitions but there is no profit-making group advocating for clean air and clean water that compares with the auto and petroleum industries…. or the nascent water sellers.

So taxpayers save a few cents in order for corporations to save huge sums on their tax bills while children suffer and corporations no longer need to follow “stifling regulations” that help sustain planet earth. Welcome to the plutocracy.

GOP Budget Analysis: Housing and Urban Development Cuts Devastate Cities, Hurt Children

March 19, 2017 Leave a comment

With the GOP in control of the House, Senate, and White House, their President has an opportunity to advance a budget that accomplishes everything set forth the GOP platform, and, as NYTimes writer Yamiche Alcindor related in an article that appeared on Thursday, cities are going to suffer mightily as a result. Here’s Mr. Alcindor’s overview of the HUD budget cuts:

Mr. Trump spent months on the campaign trail promising to fix “broken” inner cities, appealing to African-Americans with the question, “What do you have to lose?”

In terms of money, the answer turns out to be: plenty. Mr. Trump would cut the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 13 percent and eliminate programs like the Community Development Block Grant, which cities have used to fund programs like Meals on Wheels as well as homeless shelters and neighborhood revitalization initiatives.

His budget proposal would eliminate the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency, the Education Department’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which run before- and after-school programs, as well as low-income heating assistance, community services block grants and the HOME Investment Partnership, which helps state and local governments build, buy and rehabilitate affordable housing.

It would cut funding for rental assistance and job training. In fact, the budget reaches deep into every agency to cut programs for the urban poor. Even the Department of Energy’s small weatherization program to help insulate the houses of the poor — obscure to even seasoned government watchers — would be eliminated.

Using the city of Baltimore as an example of the adverse impact, Mr. Alcindor offers some specific examples of the impact these cuts would have on one city. He quotes Karen D. Stokes, the chief executive officer of Strong City Baltimore, on the citizens who benefit from her program: “These are people who are trying to better themselves. They are here trying to become productive citizens. There is nobody here looking for a handout.”

Even GOP leaders are wary of these cuts, viewing them as contradictory to the message conservatives are trying to send and ultimately do not help solve some of the intractable problems he faced as the mayor of a small city:

Scott Smith, a Republican who was mayor of Mesa, Ariz., for six years, said the Community Development Block Grant program lined up with the ideals of small-government conservatives by providing communities flexible money. Mr. Smith said he used the funds to operate a shelter for dozens of homeless veterans with mental health issues.

“If you cut home grants, you still will have people struggling to get housing,” he said. “If you cut Community Development Block Grant programs, you will still have the homeless veteran.”

This just in, Mr. Smith: your political party no longer cares about “people struggling to get housing” or “the homeless veteran“… They are looking out for their donors who are “makers” and not those who are taking from them to enroll in programs that help those who “… are here trying to become productive citizens”. 

An Unsettling eSchool Article Describes What Happens When You Give A Kindergartener a Chromebook

March 18, 2017 Leave a comment

I am an an advocate for using technology to individualize and personalize instruction, but I fond myself getting a know in my stomach as I read Laura Ascione’s eSchool article titled “If You Give a Kindergartener a Chromebook”. The article described the experience Jamie Morgan, a Kindergarten teacher in Wichita Falls TX, has using Chromebooks in her classroom of children, many of whom had special needs. This paragraph gave me my first knot:

Because her class from the previous year was high-achieving, no one expected this new class to achieve the same test scores. And although Morgan’s new class entered with “scary” test scores, by the end of the year, their test scores surpassed the high scores of her previous class. Much of that achievement is due to the Chromebooks, Morgan said.

My reaction to this paragraph: TEST SCORES to determine “achievement” for Kindergarten students??!!! Have we lost our collective minds?

As I read on I learned that the students in Ms. Morgans class spend hours on end in front of a computer mastering the use of various Google applications. I have five grandchildren whose ages range from 4 to 11 and I cannot imagine wanting the to spend classroom time on a computer. They enjoy engaging with each other, playing pretend games, writing “plays” to present to us, and engaging in physical activities. My children do everything possible to keep the children off screens.

After reading the article I was more convinced than ever that the last thing Kindergartners need is a course based on Chromebooks. Far better for them to use their open minds to learn another language or, better yet, learn how to ride bikes, hit a tennis ball or baseball, or enjoy walking in the woods.

 

Calling a For Profit Cyber School Receiving Public Money a “Public School” is Misleading and Disingenuous

March 18, 2017 Leave a comment

On Thursday afternoon, Common Dreams posted education reporter Jeff Bryant’s latest Education Opportunity Network article, “What Betsy DeVos Means When She Says “Public Schools” on their website today… and it is an understatement to say her definition of “public schools” is misleading. As Mr. Bryant notes, there is an effort underway across the country to rebrand “…for-profit virtual charters and private school recipients of taxpayer-backed vouchers as public schools.” Such re-branding is misleading and disingenuous. These schools play by different rules. They are deregulated, not subject to the same accountability standards as public schools, and not governed by publicly elected officials. They are no more a public institution than a bouncer at a bar or a security guard at a department store are “policemen.” While the bouncer and security guard perform some of the same functions as a police officer, they have far less training, a far narrower scope of responsibility, and are not answerable to the public. If police departments heard that bouncers and security guards were “re-branded” as public policeman they’d be annoyed. Yet people seem to think public school teachers should be unperturbed when for profit institutions or virtual instruction enterprises are called “public schools.”

But, as Mr. Bryant notes, the public is generally unaware of the differences between charter schools and bona fide public schools, and this lack of understanding has created an opening for opportunistic charter profiteers:

These important differences between charter schools and traditional public schools are not generally understood or appreciated by even the most knowledgeable people, which is why charter advocates put so much energy and resources in marketing their operations as “public” schools.

Jeff Bryant concludes his article with this:

School choice proponents like DeVos often argue that all that matters is whether students who attend charters, online schools, and private academies do well on standardized tests and that parents are generally satisfied with these choices.

But this argument ignores the tax-paying public that deserves to know whether those outcomes are being achieved without wasting our public dollars, which more often than not, they probably are.

If a school is governed by a board elected by the voters, adheres to regulations developed by a state agency in accordance with laws passed by elected officials, and is held to standards set by elected officials or their appointees, it is a “public” school. Anything else is anti-democratic and private and should not receive any public funds from taxpayers.

The “Trump Effect” Could Devastate Colleges and Graduate Schools

March 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Steven Saul’s NYTimes article today describes a phenomenon being called “The Trump Effect”:

The president of Portland State University, Wim Wiewel, met last week with 10 prospective students in Hyderabad, India. But what started as a get-acquainted visit quickly turned into more of a counseling session, as the students expressed fears about coming to the United States this fall.

One student, who is Muslim, said his father was worried that America had an anti-Muslim attitude, Mr. Wiewel recounted. “Several others said they were concerned about the ‘Trump effect,’” he said in an email.

“I’d say the rhetoric and actual executive orders are definitely having a chilling effect,” Mr. Wiewel wrote, referring to the Trump administration’s travel ban.

Like many universities across the country, the Oregon university is getting fewer international applications.

Nearly 40 percent of colleges are reporting overall declines in applications from international students, according to a survey of 250 college and universities, released this week by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The biggest decline is in applications from the Middle East.

The article cites the financial impact this decline in foreign students could have on schools, especially on graduate programs where foreign students bring in $32,000,000,000 to the economy. Mr. Saul offers some data on graduate school enrollments:

Slumping graduate school applications can now be seen at universities ranging from giant Big Ten public universities like Ohio State and Indiana University to regional programs such as Portland State, with just over 27,000 students, including more than 1,900 international students.

At Indiana University, international applications for undergraduate programs increased 6 percent, but graduate applications for some programs are posting big drops, said David Zaret, vice president for international affairs.

Mr. Zaret said international applications to the masters program in business were down 20 percent, and down 30 percent in both the master of law program and at the School of Informatics and Computing. The university will not have problems filling the programs, but the drop might affect the overall quality of the applicant pool, he said.

Mr. Saul’s article included several quotes from graduate school officials who attributed the declines to other factors that “the Trump effect” and also cited grad school deans who were concerned that the “yield” of incoming foreign students might be lower than usual because many students who were accepted before the President issued his Executive Order on immigration might re-think attending college or grad school in the US.

Far worse than the loss of revenue is the loss of our country’s reputation one that welcomes individuals of all races and colors. As the college official above indicates, universities are unlikely to have problems filling their programs, but they might have a lower quality of applicants as a result. And as the quality of their applicant pool diminishes, so, too, does the quality of our work force in the long run. And so, too, does the quality of life. As President Trump would say: “Sad”….

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A Deeper Dive into the Trump-GOP Budget: $$$ for Wars, Cuts for Peace, Poverty Programs, and Children

March 17, 2017 Leave a comment

David IngoldChloe WhiteakerMichael Keller and Hannah Recht, three Bloomberg writers, posted an article Thursday that identified 19 agencies that would be completely eliminated and “at least 61 other programs” that would lose funding altogether in the Trump-GOP budget. They also identify those programs that stand to gain from the cuts. The verbiage in the article itself is as spare as the spending will be for social programs:

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal includes massive cuts across most of the federal government. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture face unprecedented discretionary funding cuts in excess of 25 percent, as Trump attempts to boost the military and national security.

Trump’s budget also proposes eliminating discretionary funding altogether for at least 19 agencies and 61 other programs. Plans for new NASA missions, climate change research, aid for low-income families and funding for commercial flights to rural airports would all be on the chopping block. Trump says many of these programs are inefficient or duplicative. All this could change; Trump will deliver a final budget in May and Congress would have to approve the cuts—something they have often resisted in the past.

The cuts to the EPA should be no surprise to anyone given the GOP platform. The GOP does not want anyone to sacrifice their truck or SUVs, their 72 degree homes, or the use of fossil fuels to provide electricity. The EPA, on the other hand, exists to defend the environment against degradation.

The cuts to agriculture seem surprising at first glance. But an examination of the programs listed in the Bloomberg article indicate three programs that will be eliminated as part those cuts:

Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program

◦ Provides funding for clean drinking water, sanitary sewage disposal and storm-water drainage programs in rural areas.

Rural Business and Cooperative Service’s discretionary programs

◦ Provides financial assistance for economic development programs in rural communities, including renewable energy and biofuel initiatives.

McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program

◦ Supports education, child development and food security initiatives in low-income, food-deficit countries around the world.

These cuts are consistent with the GOP’s desire to deregulate everything and oppose any federal efforts to move away from fossil fuels in favor of clean energy initiatives. They also show the GOPs desire to move away from any efforts toward international governance, towards sharing the largesse of our nation with other countries around the world in the same way the party opposes sharing the largesse of the wealthiest individuals with those who are most in need in our nation.

The cuts to education programs were described broadly in an earlier post. Here are some specific education programs that will be completely unfunded:

Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants

◦ Provides grants to non-profit organizations that recruit and provide professional enhancement for teachers and principals.

21st Century Community Learning Centers

◦ Supports community learning centers that provide before-and after-school programs for children, particularly those in high-poverty areas.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant

◦ Provides need-based grants of up to $4,000 to low-income undergraduates for postsecondary education.

Striving Readers

◦ Helps states fund literacy programs for children, birth through grade 12, including those with disabilities and limited English.

Teacher Quality Partnership

◦ Funds initiatives aimed at improving the quality of new teachers through better development and recruiting methods.

Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property

◦ Provides funding to school districts that have a diminished tax base due to federal property ownership in the district.

As the underscored and italicized sections indicate, three of these programs are targeted for low income and/or disabled and immigrant students with the other two targeted for new teachers who often serve those same students. The cuts to Health and Human Services programs reinforce the GOPs intent to move away from international governance and providing a safety net for those living in poverty:

Fogarty International Center

◦ Supports global health research initiatives, including infectious disease research in developing countries.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

◦ Provides assistance to low income families to help pay for their home’s energy bills and some energy-related maintenance.

Community Services Block Grant

◦ Funds projects aimed at reducing poverty in communities, including projects focused on education, nutrition, employment and housing.

And the Housing and Urban Development cuts amplify the GOPs intent to shred the safety net for those in poverty:

Community Development Block Grant Program

◦ Funds programs that assist low-income people with housing issues, including the elimination of urban blight and other community programs.

HOME Investment Partnerships Program

◦ Provides block grants to state and local governments to create affordable housing solutions for low-income households.

Choice Neighborhoods

◦ Funds programs to replace distressed public housing and promotes investment for neighborhood improvement.

Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program

◦ Funds nonprofit organizations that build new housing for low-income families through sweat equity and volunteer labor.

Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing

◦ Works with nonprofit groups to fund community development and affordable housing initiatives aimed at low-income families.

And wait… there are even MORE cuts that impact education and children raised in poverty.

  • NASA’s Office of Education a program that “Supports education in public elementary and secondary schools and informal settings, coordinates and disseminates findings of NASA research projects” is cut completely;
  • The National Endowment for the Arts, an agency that supports programs in public schools across the country;
  • The National Endowment for Humanities, an agency that provides grants to public school teachers and schools themselves;
  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services, an agency that “…supports libraries and museums through research, policy development and grant making”;
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service, an agency that funds “…thousands of volunteer organizations across the country and runs AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and the Social Innovation Fund”;
  • The Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation an agency that assists organizations who strive to revitalize rural, urban and suburban communities and help individuals secure access to affordable housing;
  • The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, an agency that “…coordinates with federal agencies to prevent and end homelessness.

And on top of all of those programs and agencies the budget completely eliminates four regional commissions, the Appalachian, Delta Regional, Denali, and Northern Border Regional, that offer support to those in those geographic areas who need government help to develop businesses in 24 states where jobs are difficult to find.

And low income individuals seeking legal assistance will no longer have the Legal Services Corporation to turn to… and last, but not least, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will no longer receive any federal support if this budget is adopted.

One only needs to look at the GOP platform to see the source of the thinking behind this budget. If more money needs to be spent on war and the budget needs to be balanced, something needs to be cut because it is a given in the GOP platform that taxes cannot be increased. Since the GOP is opposed to “handouts” for those in poverty, is opposed to international organizations who strive for peace, and is opposed to regulations of any kind—especially those that support clean air and clean water, this is what the GOP has to offer. And make no mistake: this IS the GOP’s budget, not President Trump’s.