Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

Eduardo Porter Calls Out Our Unwillingness to Invest in the Future

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

In “Considering the Cost of Lower Taxes”, a NYTimes article published earlier this week, columnist Eduardo Porter effectively calls out our nation and voters for their unwillingness to raise taxes to ensure that future generations will have the same level of well being as my generation– the baby-boomers– experienced. Here’s the scene Mr. Porter sets in his opening paragraphs:

In 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, and federal, state and local governments in the United States raised about the same in taxes, as a share of the economy, as the government of the average industrialized country: 26.6 percent of gross domestic product, against 27 percent among the nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Nearly 50 years later, the tax picture has changed little in the United States. By 2015, the last year for which the O.E.C.D. has comparable data, the figure was 26.4 percent of G.D.P. But across the market democracies of the O.E.C.D., the share had climbed by an average of more than seven percentage points.

Mr. Porter notes that these other developed countries’ spending was to be expected given Wagner’s Law, which posits that “…government spending as a share of the economy will increase as nations get richer and their citizens demand more and better public services.” In countries that increased their government spending, their citizens are getting “…more and better public services”. In our country, we are not ony getting what we pay for– which is poor health care, an infrastructure that is in disrepair, and widening disparities between the rich and poor— but we are leaving our children and grandchildren with debts that could require them to pay even higher taxes than other developed nations in the future.

Mr. Porter devotes much of his column offering evidence that the US Government’s efforts to change the tax code mirror what is happening in other nations… but he notes that the reforms enacted in other nations are designed to narrow the gap between the plutocrats and the middle class and lower class citizens. This leads him to these conclusions:

I have written about this country’s uniquely stingy tax policy before. Small government, I believe, has proved to be no match for its social ills, too puny to offer much resistance to rampant inequality, stubborn infant mortality or off-the-charts opioid addiction. American voters’ uniquely intense hostility toward trade can, in the same way, be traced back to the government’s ineffectiveness in mitigating trade’s disruptions.

Republicans seem to believe that the best prescription to address the nation’s ills is to slash some $50,000 from the taxes of people earning a million or more. As Isabel V. Sawhill and Eleanor Krause of the Brookings Institution note, the estate tax could generate $1 trillion over a decade just by raising the rate and cutting the exemptions to where they were in the 1970s. Raising the exemption on the estate tax to $11 million, as Republicans propose, will help only a narrow sliver of ultrarich Americans.

It is hard to conclude that the Republican proposal is about anything but that narrow sliver. If it succeeds, it will transform the United States from a low-tax country to a lower-tax one. And the mystery will persist: In cutting taxes as babies die and adults waste away in addiction, what do Americans mean by nation?

Mr. Porter’s closing question is one we must ponder as we review the GOP’s tax bills coming out of Washington. We now know what the GOP vision for the future is… what will the Democratic Party offer as an alternative? 


The Mass Firing of Teachers After Hurricane Katrina Demonstrates TFA’s Achilles Heel… But a Recent USDOE Grant Demonstrates Their Connections

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2004, President Bush and the GOP leadership in Louisiana seized a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-make the public education system in one urban area. As Mercedes Schneider describes in her blog post from earlier this week, following the hurricane the political leaders at the local level fired all the teachers in the city, allowed the collective bargaining agreement for the teachers to expire, and as a consequence, their public schools today have a:

  • Decrease in NOLA teachers with local roots;
  • Increase in teachers with 5 or fewer years of teaching experience;
  • Decrease in teachers with 20 or more years of teaching experience, and
  • Annual rate of teachers exiting Louisiana’s public school classrooms doubling in the decade post-Katrina, with teachers from alternative teacher prep programs and less experience demonstrating higher turnover rates.

And why does NOLA have so many inexperienced teachers? Teach For America (TFA)! As Ms. Schneider explains in her post, after the politicians fired the NOLA teachers, TFA filled their vacancies with their signature short-term staff, and that model increases turnover by design:

TFA promotes teacher attrition.

It asks its recruits to remain in the classroom for two years.

TFA sells its alumni as *educators,* but it does not dare call them “career teachers.” TFA plays a shell game with the American public by making it seem that those who receive temporary training and agree to temporary classroom service are actually benefiting students and their communities. But all that TFA does is guarantee that teacher churn becomes a never-ending reality for the districts that utilize TFA year after year.

So when the USDOE acknowledged there was a problem in NOLA, they decided to offer the school district a $13.1 million dollar grant to solve it. And who received a large chunk of the grant funds? A article about the $13 million USDOE grant has the answer:

Approximately $3 million of the grant will be used by Teach For America to bring “300 teachers or more” to the city over three years. Teach For America members are required to teach for two years, but (TFA’s interim regional executive director Joy) Okoro said they will “hopefully commit to a lifetime of educational advocacy” in the region.

An organization that requires a two year commitment from teachers and can offer ONLY hope for a commitment to a career in teaching does not seem like a good choice to address turnover, to address the lack of teachers with local roots, or to address the lack of qualified African American teachers. But TFA does assure that the new hires will be unlikely to unionize, will be more likely to follow whatever teach-to-the-test curriculum TFA provides, and will be far less costly in the long run because— well, they’ll leave before they gain seniority or require legacy costs like retirement and health costs.

While TFA is getting $3 million, Relay Graduate School of Education– an TFA spin-off organization designed to provide alternative certification for inexperienced teachers– is getting another $2 million of the grant. As Ms. Schneider explains in her post, Relay barely qualifies as a bona fide graduate program and has a reputation for turning out high-turnover “graduates”. The result of this USDOE decision to give $5 million to TFA and Relay is summarized in Ms. Schneider’s closing paragraphs:

So, one might think of TFA getting a $3 million USDOE teacher-training grant and TFA cousin, Relay, garnering another $2 million.

According to the New Orleans Advocate, “Relay Graduate School will use $2 million of the grant to recruit and develop novice teachers through a teaching residency. Residents serve as apprentice teachers in the first year and transition into lead teachers in the second.”

ERA notes that higher teacher attrition in New Orleans is associated with alt-cert training and less teaching experience. And here we have a teacher temp agency pretending to address teacher retention and a related graduate school that is not a graduate school offering alt-cert.

Add to that the fact that neither TFA nor Relay originate with New Orleans. Both are ed reform transplants that must work to make themselves appear local.

It’s just too good, like paying Chinet to replace heirloom china.

And many of the heirloom teachers with deep roots in NOLA remain out of work…

Navigating the Health Care Market Requires “Agents”… Navigating “Choice” in Schools Will Require the Same

November 12, 2017 Leave a comment

An article in today’s NYTimes by Robert Pear describes an emerging market niche in the health care industry: “…insurance agents and brokers who are often paid by insurers when they help people sign up.” It seems that with the Trump administration’s cuts to support the enrollment process, many people seeking information about health insurance options are turning to consultants, many of whom receive commissions from some of the health insurers. Mr. Pear writes:

The administration said in a recent bulletin that it was “increasing partnerships” with insurance agents and viewed them as “important stakeholders” in the federal marketplace, where consumers are now shopping for insurance. But some health policy experts warned that a shift from nonprofit groups, which are supposed to provide impartial information, to brokers and agents, who may receive commissions for the plans they recommend, carries risks for consumers.

“Insurance agents can educate consumers about the marketplace, and that is a good thing,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “But I worry that they work on a commission and therefore have a financial incentive to steer consumers to particular products, which may or may not be in the consumer’s best interest.”

In its bulletin, the administration said agents and brokers who are registered with the federal marketplace can “get sales leads” and new clients. And it offered them tips for “making the most of your marketplace participation during this open enrollment period…”

Buying health insurance is unquestionably complicated, which is one reason why Medicare was put in place. It ensures that the elderly will not be unwittingly taken advantage of by insurance companies and also ensures that the elderly will receive baseline health care. Medicare is also an illustration of how a well functioning and well funded government program can help citizens receive essential– and complex needs– at a relatively low cost since those administering the program have no stake in making a profit. Indeed, the cost-effective operation of Medicare makes many voters question why “the marketplace” is a valid mechanism for funding health care for those under 65!

My daughter lives in NYC where parents are provided with the opportunity to enroll their children in the school of their choice. Witnessing her experiences with the “opportunity”, it is clear to me that providing public schooling is as complicated as providing health care. Indeed, there are a number of parents who seek the advice and counsel of consultants who are familiar with the complicated system needed to navigate the application process and to sift through the schools that are available so that the child can get the optimal experience out of their schooling.

In reading Mr. Pear’s article, it strikes me that public education is like “Medicare for All” with one key difference: where we have effectively defined and funded a baseline of medical care that we, as a society, agree we should provide for all citizens over the age of 65, we have not agreed upon and funded a baseline of education that we, as a society, should provide for the children in our nation. At this writing a majority of states in this country, including my home state of New Hampshire, have pending litigation on the funding formulas for their schools because we are failing to meet the baseline standards set forth in the State’s constitutions. But instead of addressing the root problem with the funding mechanisms, which is the lack of insufficient revenues earmarked for public schools, many states— including my home state– are developing “choice” mechanisms that will presumably address the inequities by allowing parents to “shop for schools” the same way we can now “shop for health insurance”.

The failure of the ACA is a failure of the marketplace. Free markets cannot provide universal services in a fair and equitable fashion. The free market will not, for example, provide access to high speed internet in my relatively isolated part of the community I live in. The free market would not maintain the road I live on or the electric service I receive at an affordable rate. And if I was shopping for health care as a 70 year old I might not be able to afford it in the marketplace.

If the marketplace is incapable of assuring adequate and equitable health care for all of its citizens, why do we think that the marketplace will solve the dilemma of providing adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all of the children in a state?

The bottom line is this: we need to restore our faith in the ability of government to assure the delivery of fair and equitable public services and recognize that unregulated free markets will fail to do so. We need to acknowledge that some basic services and needs can only be met by the government and engage in a debate over which level of government can do it most effectively. And last, but not least, we need to acknowledge that the taxes we pay to the government at any level are the price we pay to live in a safe and healthy world.


PAY ATTENTION MASSACHUSETTS! Dark Money Funding School Board Races in Smaller Districts

November 2, 2017 Leave a comment

In earlier blog posts I’ve written about the money spent by “reformers” on urban elections and referenda, and many of these elections (i.e. Los Angeles, Chicago) and referenda (i.e. Massachusetts and California) garnered national attention. But Maurice Cunningham’s recent WGBH blog post Diane Ravitch linked to in one of her posts yesterday has chilling news for small towns across Massachusetts: the groups that underwrote their failed initiative to expand the number of charter schools is still in place and it is making donations to smaller districts. Having worked in a NY district where the community was divided over the role of unions and the “overpayment” of teachers compared to the general populous, I can only imagine that this will lead to more and more divisiveness at the board level and, consequently, less and less of a focus on the kinds of policies that affect children in schools. When the Malden Ward 3 school board race and the Framingham Town meeting delegate race are attracting thousands of dollars in donations, there is no way democracy or free speech is being served. Privatization, though, just might be benefiting.

Betsy DeVos Takes the Side of Private College Scammers: Is Anyone Surprised?

October 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Late last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the USDOE was changing its stance on the forgiveness of loans to students who were scammed by private for-profit colleges. Instead of the virtual blanket forgiveness provided by the Obama administration, Ms. DeVos was limiting the number of bilked students whose loans wold be forgiven. As reported in the New York Post by the AP:

The Education Department is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, according to department officials, abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.

Under President Barack Obama, tens of thousands of students deceived by now-defunct for-profit schools had over $550 million in such loans canceled.

But President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief, according to department officials. The department may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away.

The consequences of this decision will be favorable for the profiteers and the banks that issued the loans, but deleterious to the borrowers who were misled by the fraudulent schools. It is particularly problematic since some students have already received complete forgiveness for their loans while 65,000 others, whose reviews were underway, might get only partial forgiveness… or MAYBE the full forgiveness will be rescinded! The AP report indicates USDOE indicated to a contractor trying to resolve the loan repayments that “policy changes may necessitate certain claims already processed be revisited to assess other attributes”. It went on to say that “The department would not further clarify the meaning of that notice.

This whole episode was  lampooned by Gail Collins in NYTimes, who noted throughout her column the fact that Trump University was one of the many for-profit colleges forced to pay millions of dollars in fines for misleading advertising, excessive tuition costs, and usurious loans. She concluded her column noting that Mr. DeVos’ suspension of loan forgiveness would provide the public with a constant reminder of Mr. Trump’s mismanagement of his “University”:

For instance, the Department of Education has stopped approving new fraud claims against for-profits, leaving a backlog of more than 87,000. Every time the number goes up, we could say, “This is even more than the number of students who complained about their loans for Trump University.”

If DeVos says what the country needs now is less regulation, we can recall that Trump University had instructors allegedly handpicked by Donald Trump himself, although it turned out that he’d never even met them.

Consider it a teaching moment.

It is a teaching moment for anyone in “class” that is paying attention. The question is: are the voters paying attention… or are they distracted by tweets about the NFL players who continue to protest the treatment of African Americans by the police?

This Just In: Internet Applications Leave 5,000,000 Students Unable to Learn

October 28, 2017 Leave a comment

At a time when “reformers” are touting on-line learning and on-line applications as a means of teaching students and engaging parents, there is a literal disconnect. According to a Hechinger Report article authored by John Branam, executive director of the 1Million Project, a national effort to help one million high school students who do not have internet access at home reach their full potential by giving them devices and free high-speed internet access, the digital divide first identified over a decade ago has not closed. He notes that even though 70% of the teachers give assignments to students that require the use of the internet, more than five million families with school-age children do not have internet connectivity at home. While his article doesn’t say so, it is probable that the 30% of teachers who do NOT require the intent for homework do so because they know that their students do not have access, and that adds to the learning gaps that exist between those raised in affluence and those raised in poverty. Mr. Branam writes about this divide with passion, concluding with these paragraphs::

This disconnect leads to dramatic – and unfortunate – effects on kids’ daily lives. Arguably the most profound effects, however, are felt by high school students whose challenge to complete homework in safe, predictable and productive environments can have lifelong impacts on their ability to achieve their full potential.

With few exceptions, all students are curious, want a bright future and are willing to work hard to earn it. Regardless of the color of their skin or their family’s income level, all high school students deserve access to the internet at home so that they can translate their potential into meaningful achievements.

During the last many years, governments and non-profits have made terrific progress wiring America’s classrooms, but learning should not end when a student leaves the school building. Students should be able to continue learning wherever and whenever works best for them.

A lack of internet access at home should not be a locked gate that prevents students from achieving success in high school and life. Potential is everywhere. Opportunity not.

And what is frustrating is to witness the complete about face that has taken place at the federal level on this issue. A year ago the head of the FCC effectively declared that the internet was a utility: that everyone in the country was as entitled to internet access as they are to electricity, water, and indoor plumbing. The FCC today is vowing the internet as a commodity that can be divided into sectors that are more costly for some services than for others, an action that will exacerbate the divide in place already. And the notion that the federal government will provide the necessary access for all Americans as part of a grand infrastructure upgrade is completely out the window.

If we hope to unite our country and strengthen our democracy, step one should be to provide everyone with the same level of access to information. The goals of unification and a strong democracy, though, seem to have moved down on the priority list of late.


Paul Krugman’s Analysis of “Tax Reform” Reveals Who the Shareholders Are… and It’s No Surprise!

October 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s blunt analysis of the proposed GOP tax cut included this nugget:

…the benefits from cutting corporate taxes would overwhelmingly flow into after-tax profits rather than wages, especially in the first few years and probably for a decade or more. And this in turn means that the main beneficiaries would be stockholders, not workers.

So who are these stockholders, exactly? You can guess part of the answer: We’re talking mainly about the very affluent. Even if we count indirect holdings in retirement accounts and mutual funds, the richest 10 percent of U.S. residents account for about 80 percent of American-owned stocks, and the richest 1 percent own about 40 percent. So we’re talking, as always when it comes to Republican plans, about tax cuts heavily tilted toward the wealthy.

Is it any mystery why privatization of public services is advocated by the GOP and the neoliberals? Their donor base is not the 90% of Americans who don’t own shares in private enterprise, it is from the 1% who own about 40% of the stocks…. and, alas, those who own stocks are not interested in the well being of our poorest citizens: they are only interested in the bottom line.