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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

In the World of Economic Development, Parents are on a Par with Criminals

July 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Blogger Jeff Bryant seems to find especially egregious examples of government leaders’ declarations about the value of public education. In a post published by the Education Opportunity Network and picked up by Common Dreams Mr. Bryant reports on a presentation given by alderman Joe Roddy in St. Louis Mo. advocating the construction of a new high-end apartment building in that city:

In a slide show titled “How the City Makes & Spends Money,” Roddy, a Democrat mind you, laid out a hierarchy of those who “make money” for the city at the top and those who cause the city to “spend money” at the bottom. At the top of his slide were businesses. In the middle were residents with no children and retirees. And at the very bottom – in the tier of city dwellers who place the biggest financial burden on government – were “criminals and residents with children in public school.”

When told that some might take offense at equating families with children needing free public schools to criminals, Roddy countered that the project would “target tenants who are young professionals without children. Attracting that demographic to the city is crucial, he says, and after the tax abatement ends, the revenue windfall for the city will be significant.

As Mr. Bryant notes, Mr. Roddy is not the only local politician in a city or town with a diminished tax base who views economic development as the way out of the woods and simultaneously views children as a drain on their budgets. But Mr. Roddy and his counterparts across the country should face an economic reality: the significant windfall that they expect to occur never happens! After decades of tax cuts for businesses, one would hope that politicians would recognize that as soon as a tax abatement expires the business receiving that abatement will leave the area if the abatement is not extended. Walmart, for example, has no stake in a community where they locate their store, and neither does a huge corporation. Businesses do not answer to voters, they answer to shareholders and shareholders in, say, Los Angeles or New York City— or China— do not care about the taxpayers in St. Louis and certainly don’t care about the parents and children in that state. So as tax revenue diminishes in these revenue starved cities and towns, who picks up the bill? Parents! Mr. Bryant highlights some of the worst cases of cost shifting to parents, and it is far worse than I would have guessed:

According to an annual report, known as the Backpack Index, that calculates the average cost of school supplies and school fees, parents will have to pick up more of the tab if they want their children to participate fully in school.

The annual cost to parents is significant at a time when the majority of school childrencome from households in poverty: $662 for elementary school children, $1,001 for middle school children, and $1,489 for high school students.

A detail highlighted by NBC’s report on the Backpack Index notes that the biggest spike in direct costs to parents comes from fees charged for activities like school fieldtrips, art and music programs, and athletics. These fees far exceed costs for items like backpacks, pens, and graphing calculators.

Families with children in elementary schools can expect over $30 on average in school fees. For children in middle school, the average cost of fees climbs to $195 for athletics $75 for field trips, and $42 for other school fees. In high school, the fees spike much higher to $375 for athletic (often called “pay to play fees”), $285 for musical instrumentals, $80 to participate in band, and $60 in other school fees. Also in high school, the fees extend to academic courses including participating in Advanced Placement classes, which more schools emphasize students participate in. The average fee for testing related to these courses is $92 and the costs of materials to prepare for these tests, as well as SAT tests, tops $52.

I highlighted the phrase “if they want their children to participate fully in school” because it is a major contributor to the economic divide that has emerged in the past decades. State and local taxpayers are loathe to see their “hard-earned dollars” underwrite “frills” like field trips, extra-curricular activities, and athletics…. and as Mr. Bryant’s analysis intimates the list of “frills” can go on and on. School districts in affluent communities can cut these “frills” and the parents in those communities who invariably have the economic wherewithal to do so and who “want their children to participate fully in school” will willingly chip in to cover the costs of these frills.  Parents in communities like St. Louis, where 68% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, though, will not be able to pay the fees required to have their children participate fully in school. Sadly, many politicians and voters will blame those same parents for their unwillingness to help their children succeed.

Mr. Bryant concludes his article with a description of the NC legislature’ recent budget, which “…set aside millions for a massive expansion of a private school voucher program” while continuing to starve public education of the funding it requires to allow children to participate fully in school. When 27 states spend less on education than they did in 2008 it’s not hard to understand why our schools “are failing”… but its very hard to believe that we are “throwing money” at the problem!

 

David Brooks’ Assessment of Donald Trump Jr and the Trump Family’s History Unwittingly Undercuts the Notion of Running Schools Like a Business

July 14, 2017 Leave a comment

David Brooks, a GOP loyalist, has long supported his party’s notion (and that of neo-liberals) that public services should run like a business and, whenever possible, outsourced to private enterprise. I find it difficult to believe that he, his GOP colleagues, and neo-liberals in the Democratic party can hold that view after they read and digest the column Mr. Brooks wrote in today’s NYTimes. Titled “Moral Vacuum in the House of Trump”, 3/4 of the column recounts a history of the Trump family beginning with Donald Trump’s grandfather who made a small fortune operating hotels in the Pacific Northwest and ending with Donald Trump’s son who obliviously scheduled a meeting with a Russian attorney who offered to give him some compromising information about Hillary Clinton.

After recounting the questionable “offerings” available in Grandfather Trump’s hotels, the questionable financial practices that enabled Father Trump to earn a huge fortune building and selling modestly priced homes in New York, Mr. Brooks concludes that from the Trump family’s perspective, ethics are immaterial. The Trump family has “…no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code. There is just naked capitalism.” 

After reading the column, two quotes jumped out at me:

One from Donald Trump, Jr. that read: ““That’s what we do in business. If there’s information out there, you want it.”

And, one from David Brooks that read: “Successful business people, like successful politicians, are very ambitious, but they generally have some complementary moral code that checks their greed and channels their drive.”

As I noted in a comment I submitted, I find it hard to believe that David Brooks (and his GOP and neoliberal compatriots) can continue to advocate that public services like infrastructure, schools, and health care be outsourced to businesses believing— against all evidence— that successful business people “…have some complementary moral code that checks their greed and channels their drive.” When public enterprises are “run like a business” corruption will follow… and if public enterprises are outsourced to businesses shareholders will win and the public will lose. Publicly operations overseen by democratically elected officials may not result in profit for the top .01%, but it will result in higher levels of trust among members of the public and better services for all.

Do Poor and Minority Parents Want Socio-Economic and Racial Diversity or Equal Opportunity?

July 14, 2017 Leave a comment

The question posed in the title of this posed emerged after reading two thought provoking articles this morning, both of which offered NYC’s tepid efforts at integration as exemplary.

Americans Oppose School Segregation in Theory- But Not in Practice” Perpetual Baffour’s post in The Nation, describes the two year battle to integrate a public school on the Upper West Side, a contentious effort profiled in earlier posts on this blog. Ms. Baffour’s post includes some heartbreaking quotes from affluent parents who philosophically support integration but don’t want to see it happen in their back yard because they fear for their child’s safety… and a decline in their property values:

 ….affluent parents… may feel territorial over the high-flying success of their school. And property values, neighborhood identity, and a sense of safety feel as though they are at stake.

“A school belongs to the neighborhood where it resides,” said one parent at PS 199.

“It’s not that I don’t want my children to go to school in a mixed school,” said another. “But at the same time we want the best for our children. We want the best for our property value.”

But, as Ms. Baffour notes, it is not only the affluent who have misgivings. In focus groups she conducted in Baltimore and Washington she found that parents of economically disadvantaged white children did not seek to enroll their children in more affluent schools:

For instance, low-income white parents spoke of being looked down upon by the “rich kids.” As one parent put it: “They don’t want us there, so why should we go there?” They pictured affluent families throwing lavish birthday parties, showering the higher-income kids with fancy cars and expensive gifts, making their own children feel insecure.

Having recently read several articles from progressive New York City pundits chastising Mayor De Blasio’s lukewarm effort to integrate schools, it was somewhat surprising to see a progressive national publication posting an article that concluded with paragraphs singling out his efforts as praiseworthy:

The New York City Department of Education recently unveiled its citywide plan for integration, pledging to increase diversity across their entire public-school system.

These changes are promising. Despite rapidly changing demographics in this country, school diversity has barely kept pace, and research shows that all students perform better academically and socially when they learn in diverse classrooms.

Many Americans do believe the time is ripe for change, but it remains to be seen whether all Americans will embrace this change when it arrives in their own communities.

Our Schools Are Becoming More Segregated. Do Parents Care?“, Maureen Downey’s recent op ed article for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, tills the same ground as Ms. Baffour and comes to the same ambiguous conclusion. Her opening paragraphs set the stage:

The resegregation of public schools in the South troubles academics, civil rights activists and researchers. It’s been on the agenda of every major education conference or seminar I’ve attended in the last three years.

However, it doesn’t seem to be on the minds of parents.

Parents worry about whether class sizes are too large, whether math and science courses are advanced enough and whether their kids are competitive for Georgia Tech or the University of Georgia. They don’t seem to fret about whether their child sits next to a child of a different race or ethnicity — and fewer students do, a byproduct of growing residential segregation and school choice programs.

Yes, parents endorse diversity in principle, but not enough to pester the school board or push for rezoning to achieve racial balance.

Her piece is not an apologia for those who want to see schools segregated. Rather, like Ms. Baffour, she describes the conundrum that results when parents’ actions do not match their intentions. She draws extensively from a Penn State University study by researcher Erica Frankenberg, an Alabama native who studies segregation.

In a recent study, Pennsylvania State University looked at the decisions of public school students transferring to charter schools when given the option of schools with different racial compositions. The finding: Black and Latino students tended to choose charters more racially isolated than the public schools they left….

Among the report’s conclusions and warnings:

•From 1954 to 1988 there was an increase in the interracial contact between whites and black students in the South as a result of court-ordered integration. However, resegregation began to re-emerge in 1990.

•The South has a small but rapidly growing share of charter schools, which in the region—as in the country—are even more segregated for black students than the traditional public schools.

Private schools represent about 7 percent of the region’s enrollment and are disproportionately white. In some states, including Georgia, legislatures have provide subsidies to private schools through the tax system. (Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship allows taxpayers to donate money to a private school for student scholarships in exchange for a state income tax credit. The program diverts $58 million a year in income tax from state coffers to private school scholarships.)

The days of court-ordered mandatory reassignment are over; today’s integration efforts almost always involve carefully designed school choice

Ms. Frankenberg does not believe that diversity and quality need to be trade-offs, but she also flags an important underlying factor:

Parents may not place a premium on classroom diversity because most accountability measures don’t. “We’ve narrowed this understanding of what a good school is to something measured only by test scores.” said Frankenberg.

And Ms. Frankenberg, like Ms. Baffour, sees NYC’s efforts as heartening:

Frankenberg sees some communities resisting segregation, citing the new diversity efforts n New York City where white students represent only 15 percent of the public school enrollment, yet a third attend majority white schools. Those diversity policies have been enabled in part by increased flexibility granted from the federal government.

In the end, though, Ms. Frankenberg, and presumably the op ed writer Maureen Downey, draws the same conclusion as Perpetual Baffour:

While New York and Massachusetts are using this new flexibility to further diversity, the easing of federal oversight could go the other way in some states. “Flexibility might be good for those states,” said Frankenberg, “but is it good for states where diversity is not necessarily on the table?”

Editorialists away from NYC see De Blasio’s incremental approach as the way forward. But if research shows that integration benefits both races and everyone on the socio-economic spectrum and the majority of voters view resegregation unfavorably, bemoan the economic divide, and find the current divisiveness in our politics distasteful, it seems that our nation would benefit from schools that are socio-economically and racially diverse. The question is, can anyone develop a plan to make that happen?

ESSA Creates Opportunity for ESAs and Koch Brothers Network is Ready to Seize the Opportunity

July 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the past eight years, Congress reached a bi-partisan agreement that NCLB and its progeny, RTTT were unmitigated disasters. While the basis for this agreement differed from State-to-State, there was an underlying consensus that both RTTT and NCLB took power away from the states and placed too much power at the federal level. The solution to this was ESSA, which returned decision making authority for accountability to the states. As noted in several earlier blog posts, since the election of Donald Trump and his appointment of Betsy DeVos to head USDOE, the federal influence on education has declined markedly thanks to Ms. DeVos’ efforts to repeal regulations on an array of fronts including civil rights, gender equity, and desegregation.

But a more chilling development associated with ESSA was reported earlier this week in an article written by John Frank for the Denver Post: the Koch brothers intend to use Colorado as a testing ground for school choice and vouchers by diverting public funds to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), thereby de-funding public education. His report on an annual meeting of the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation described the strategy:

The effort in Colorado involves the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and the Libre Initiative, a group focused on Hispanic community outreach. Together the organizations are making calls and sending flyers to voters this summer, two of which promote ESAs as a way to “give families the freedom to select schools, classes and services that fit the unique needs of their kids.”

…The summertime effort in a nonelection year demonstrates the Koch network’s permanent apparatus in Colorado and how it can mobilize like-minded volunteers into action.

“When there’s not an election, there’s not a lot of noise and you can have a lot of impact,” said Michael Fields, the senior director for issue education at the national Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

The ESA model is relatively novel in Colorado, and Fields sees his team’s work as a “race to who defines the issue first.”

If the persuasion effort is successful in Colorado, the Koch network’s political groups could push it forward as soon as the 2018 legislative session or possibly onto the ballot for voter approval.

Fields is optimistic: “I think we can get something across in the next few years.”

Stripped of its anti-Government libertarian philosophical basis, ESAs would be an easy sell for the “middle-of-the-road” voters in Colorado, a state the Koch Brothers began grooming a few years ago when they helped underwrite the bi-artisan effort in that state that resulted in legislation that provides equal state funding for charter schools. Framed as an opportunity for parents to “select the schools their children can attend”, using funds drawn from donations made in lieu of taxes to a state-wide savings account it is hard to elicit a negative response. If the Koch Brothers are making calls to elicit support from middle-of-the-road” voters, here’s the pitch they can make:

  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter has children in school and is happy, tell the voter that ESA legislation would allow their child to remain in that school and they would pay lower State taxes.
  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter has children in school and is unhappy, ESA legislation would offer them a chance to send their child to a different school that meets their needs…. even if that school was affiliated with a church or was an on-line school.
  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter has no children in school, promote the notion that parent-consumers can “choose the school for their child”… and emphasize that ESA legislation will result in a reduction in their taxes.
  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter sends their child to a religiously affiliated school note that ESA legislation will substantially defray their tuition costs and reduce their taxes.
  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter either attends a church that offers schooling for children who desire religious training, note that ESA legislation will help support their church’s efforts.

The advocates for ESAs have an easy sell. Those who support public education, on the other hand, cannot assure more choices for parents or lower taxes. The need to appeal to more abstract notions like “fairness” and “equal opportunities” for all and need to counter the negative arguments that disaffected and resentful voters will voice, arguments like:

  • The only people who support public schools are the unions
  • The money for public education goes to teachers who have better wages and benefits than I do
  • We’ve spent millions of dollars for schools and they haven’t improved a bit
  • When my kids went to school we didn’t have all these fancy programs and social services. Why should I pay higher taxes for these frills?
  • I already pay tuition for my children to go to a private school that has Christian values, why should I pay higher taxes for a school that promotes secular humanism?

The list could go on and will be expanded and amplified as the pro-ESA messages from the Koch Brothers permeate the airwaves and phone lines in the months ahead.

The problem for those of us who support public education is journalists like Mr. Frank and news outlets like the Denver Post are framing the debate as one between unions (which are implicitly “self-serving”) and “reformers”, who are seeking the best solutions for parents and children. The astro-turf organizations funded by billionaires will issue white papers and organize and populate rallies in support of ESAs while those who oppose them will be left on the sidelines. And since school choice is now a bi-partisan issue, the lonely voices in the wilderness don’t even have a political party to advocate for economic justice. Someone who is not a union member needs to compete in the “race to who defines the issue first” in the words of Michael Fields, the senior director for issue education at the national Americans for Prosperity Foundation. In my way of thinking, we need to assert the high-minded purpose of public schooling. Here’s a 15 minute effort to define the over-arching purpose of public education, a purpose that ESAs undercuts:

  • Every child is entitled to a high quality education. Since ESAs only provide partial funding for schooling parents are expected to supplement the costs for their children who do not attend public schools. This means that parents with lower incomes will not have the same choices or same opportunities as more affluent parents.
  • In order for democracy to thrive, all students need to attend high quality schools where the values of the community, state, and nation are taught. ESAs fragment the community of learners and will reinforce the divisiveness that is poisoning discourse in our democracy today.
  • Locally elected school boards, not individual “consumers”, should set the priorities for how your school funds are spent and what values are inculcated in the schools. ESAs will undercut the power of local democracy.

These arguments are harder to sell than “choice” and “lower taxes”. But if we cannot get agreement on these issue, it will be difficult to sustain our democratic form of government in the future.

 

Conservative Conundrum: If Culture Causes Poverty, How Can LESS Government be the Solution?

July 8, 2017 Leave a comment

Conservative columnist George Will’s recent op ed essay, Sequence to Success, describes the findings of researchers in both conservative and liberal camps that conclude that economic success if more likely when parents are married before they have children. He summarizes this formula as follows:

First get at least a high school diploma, then get a job, then get married, and only then have children. Wang and Wilcox (of the conservative American Enterprise Institute), focusing on millennials ages 28 to 34, the oldest members of the nation’s largest generation, have found that only 3 percent who follow this sequence are poor.

Predictably, Mr. Will and the AEI researchers attribute this to a cultural decline which they link to “the “intelligensia” and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. How was this link established, you ask? Here’s why the “intelligensia” are responsible for this problem:

…the intelligentsia see the success sequence as middle-class norms to be disparaged for being middle-class norms. And as AEI social scientist Charles Murray says, too many of the successful classes, who followed the success sequence, do not preach what they practice, preferring “ecumenical niceness” to being judgmental.

And how, exactly, did LBJ’s Wr on Poverty contribute?

In healthy societies, basic values and social arrangements are not much thought about. They are “of course” matters expressing what sociologists call a society’s “world-taken-for-granted.” They have, however, changed since President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed “unconditional” war on poverty. This word suggested a fallacious assumption: Poverty persisted only because of hitherto weak government resolve regarding the essence of war — marshaling material resources.

So… what are the solutions Mr. Will’s friends at AEI offers

Wang and Wilcox recommend education focused on high-level occupational skills, subsidizing low-paying jobs, and “public and private social marketing campaigns,” from public schools to popular media, promoting marriage toward the end of the success sequence.

Which leads to several questions:

  • What, exactly are the “high level occupational skills” education should focus on? Won’t the government need to decide this?
  • If these “high level occupational skills” require post secondary education and, if so, how will those who are raised in poverty afford them? Won’t the government need to provide funds?
  • As for subsidizing low-paying jobs, won’t the government need to provide those funds? And where, I wonder, will those funds for the necessary subsidies come from? Higher taxes?
  • Who will develop and write the “public” social marketing campaigns? It would seem to be a role the government would play!
  • And how will the government handle the fact that not all married couples are heterosexual?

As a conservative, I cannot imagine Mr. Will would endorse having the government defining the “high level skills” education should focus on— that would be socialist! Nor can I imagine him endorsing the need for more government funds for scholarships for those children struggling in school… and I certainly couldn’t imagine him ever supporting a government program that would subsidize low paying jobs. As for the government launching social marketing campaigns that promote social values… unless they are rooted in the Bible I doubt that any GOP conservative would endorse them!

As a conservative, I imagine Mr. Will and his AEI think tank colleagues would advocate for some sort of market-based solution that involves cutting taxes on businesses by developing incentives for them to make contributions into scholarship funds or offering some kind of bonuses to low-wage employees. As for setting the norms on marriage, I cannot imagine ANY way ANY conservative would willingly cede this to government.  All of the questions above and the paragraphs that follow describe a conundrum conservatives face when they try to address the seemingly intractable problem of “the intergenerational transmission of poverty” WITHOUT the government.

As a progressive democratic socialist I have no qualms about the government assuming the roles outlined above so long as they are responsive to an informed electorate and not a group of plutocratic campaign donors. My only conundrum is how to inform the electorate that a problem exists and to activate them to see that the problem cannot be solved without help from the government.

 

Standardized Tests and Smart Fools Redux

July 2, 2017 Leave a comment

As noted in a post earlier today, I was captivated by a Scientific American interview with eminent psychologist Robert Sternberg. After reading the article and writing my blog post, I left the following comment on her blog, a comment that was largely derived from my earlier blog post:

Great article! Thanks for sharing. My take:

Dr. Sternberg didn’t say so explicitly, but the kind of tribalism that sets todays ethical standards comes from “cultures” that celebrate “outlaws” and anti-establishment behavior. Voters knew that Donald Trump was a misogynist who cheated on his wife, a ruthless businessman who viewed cheating on his taxes as a shrewd business move, and an anti-intellectual who loved “the uneducated” and despised the “intellectual elites”. The tribal cultures that hold Mr. Trump in high esteem, the tribal evangelical culture, and the tribal gun culture ultimately elected a man who opposed the rule of law and the establishment. And Dr. Sternberg sees this tribalism as a by-product of our test culture that places a premium on teaching individual test-taking skills at the expense of “teaching good values and good ethics and good citizenship”.

I concur with Dr. Sternberg. What gets tested gets taught, and we have ignored testing for the complicated and relatively difficult to measure inter-personal and intra-personal skills that lead to “good values and good ethics and good citizenship”. Instead our schools have placed a premium on the relatively inexpensive and easy to measure analytic skills associated with reading and arithmetic. We haven’t taught the important skills and we are witnessing the by-product when those who do not possess the skills needed to thrive in our new economy band together in tribes with like-minded world views.

In a world that increasingly operates in echo chambers and a world where “choice” may result in children focusing even more on test-taking skills and attending schools with fellow tribal members, it may be difficult to encourage the kind of curriculum Dr. Sternberg espouses… a curriculum that values creative, independent thinking that “defies the crowd and defies the Zeitgeist”. We face an uphill battle in getting back to common ground where all of our citizens agree on what constitutes “good values and good ethics and good citizenship”… and “choice” will ultimately make that uphill battle even steeper!

That comment elicited some additional comments from Diane Ravitch’s readers, including this one from “NYC Public School Parent” who wrote:

This sounds good except….

This mis-use of standardized testing and teaching to the test is a more recent phenomenon. It wasn’t the youngest voters who elected Trump.

Trump’s core support was among voters who are older and whose education was before standardized testing became the measure of all.

I agree with critics of the test-taking culture but is Sternberg talking about that culture from 40 years ago or today?

After reading this and reflecting on it, I wrote the following response:

Thank you for providing me some food for thought… and while I can’t speak for Dr. Sternberg, I can share my take on the roots of the “test-taking culture”… I’m 70 years old… and in the OK and PA public schools I attended in the 50s and 60s standardized tests were one of the bases (if not the PRIMARY basis) for assigning students to homogeneously groupings… “Back in the day” they were mostly used for sorting STUDENTS (as opposed to SCHOOLS)… and many of my classmates in JHS who were relegated to the “low sections” weren’t around when I graduated… Moreover, PSATs and SATs were routinely used to determine which non-legacy students got to attend “elite” colleges… I also worked as an administrator in public education from 1975 through 2011 where I witnessed a movement to use tests to identify the “gifted and talented” students, a notion I could not support because it ultimately identified a large segment as “UN-gifted and UN-talented”

My thought: those kids shunted aside in the 1960s and 70s and the so-called “UN-gifted and UN-talented” are the “core support” for Mr. Trump… Mr. Trump’s opposition to “liberal elites” resonates with them because it was the “elites” who designed and administered the tests that made them feel like second class citizens throughout their education.

While I sincerely wish the mis-use of standardized tests was a recent phenomenon, my experience as a student and a public school administrator tell me otherwise… Here’s hoping we can free ourselves from this paradigm in the near future.

The Collateral Damage of Obamacare Repeal: Public Schools Lose Their 3rd Largest Federal Revenue Stream… and Stand to Lose Even More!

June 29, 2017 Leave a comment

One fact that has been lost in the reporting on Obamacare is the devastating impact it would have on public school budgets across the country. As reported by Emma Brown in yesterday’s Washington Post, the current bill repealing Obamacare would eliminate the Medicaid funding earmarked for public schools and include it in a block grant that would be given directly to States… a block grant that would be considerably smaller than the amount currently provided for ALL Medicare services. Unsurprisingly, school superintendents and school boards are alarmed at this prospect. Here’s the background on how Medicaid funds have helped public education:

For the past three decades, Medicaid has helped pay for services and equipment that schools provide to special-education students, as well as school-based health screening and treatment for children from low-income families. Now, educators from rural red states to the blue coasts are warning that the GOP push to shrink Medicaid spending will strip schools of what a national superintendents association estimates at up to $4 billion per year.

That money pays for nurses, social workers, physical, occupational and speech therapists and medical equipment like walkers and wheelchairs. It also pays for preventive and comprehensive health services for poor children, including immunizations, screening for hearing and vision problems and management of chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes…

Schools have been able to register as Medicaid providers and seek reimbursement, as doctors and hospitals do, since 1988. Two-thirds of districts that bill Medicaid use the money to pay the salaries of employees who work directly with children, such as school nurses and therapists, according to a January survey by AASA, the superintendents’ association.

And here’s the problem that will face public schools: many of the personnel currently funded by Medicaid provide mandated services to special needs children who are raised in poverty. That is, the physical and occupational therapy services, screening services, and medical services funded by Medicaid are required by IEPs or required to ensure that children are screened for special education services. Those needs, along with the requirements for “…medical equipment like walkers and wheelchairs” will need to be funded first when school districts put their budgets together, budgets that are likely to be tighter than ever since public education funds will be competing against medical costs at the State level. An AASA policy director described the “trickle down” effect of the Obamacare repeal:

The Republican plan for Medicaid is likely to hurt schools in several ways, said Sasha Pudelski, who tracks healthcare policy for AASA. Most directly, states may decide to prohibit schools from receiving Medicaid dollars because of what is likely to be stiff competition against doctors and hospitals for limited resources, she said.

Less directly, states struggling to cover healthcare costs now covered by the federal government would have to seek cuts elsewhere in their budgets, including in education, which accounts for a large share of many states’ spending.

“The kids who will be hurt first and foremost are special ed kids and kids in poverty, but then everybody will be hurt, because we’ll have to shift dollars from the general education budget,” she said.

But the GOP’s desire to limit spending knows no boundaries and is predicated on magical thinking that “…controlling federal spending would force the healthcare system to become more efficient in providing services” and the punitive notion that bending “…the cost curve on federal entitlement programs (would) encourage states that tend to spend beyond their means to actually stay within their budget.” 

And making matters even worse for school districts is the fact that even though their share of the Medicaid budget is small, their needs for those funds are high and consequential:

Schools receive less than 1 percent of federal Medicaid spending, according to the National Alliance for Medicaid in Schools. But federal Medicaid reimbursements constitute the third-largest federal funding stream to public schools, behind $15 billion they receive each year for educating poor children and $13 billion they receive to educate students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

The federal government initially promised far more financial support for IDEA, the four-decade-old law that outlines schools’ obligations to educate students with disabilities. Congress pledged to pick up 40 percent of the cost of special-education services under the law, yet has never come close. It now pays only about 15 percent.

Medicaid payments have helped fill that gap. Without those dollars — and facing a recent Supreme Court decision that raised the bar for the services school districts owe students with disabilities — many districts wonder how they will pay for services they now provide.

And here’s the budget reality for school districts: by the time schools begin developing their 2018-19 budgets, most taxpayers will not realize how much Medicaid funding their districts received in previous years and many will buy into the notion that school districts can trim “fat” from their budgets to offset the lost funds… an example of magical thinking that permeates the electorate. And when they learn that such cuts are impossible due to teacher contracts, the punitive thinking will kick in and be fueled by the resentment stirred up by politicians of both parties who will rail against the “fat paychecks” and “Cadillac health plans” the “greedy” teachers receive. Meanwhile, the .1% who receive a tax break as part of this repeal will remain silent on the sidelines… or invest in for-profit charter schools who can operate much more “efficiently” by employing teachers who receive less compensation. Welcome to the plutocracy.