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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

This Just In: Bill Gates Has an Outsized Influence on State Education Policy. Why? Read On:

May 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday that had a link to an AP article by Salli Ho that described Bill Gates’ outsized influence in the development of State policy. I offered the following explanation for this evolution in a comment i left…. and here it is:

Here’s the way I see the shift in policy-making: The influence of billionaires is linked to the decimation of State Departments of Education. While many in public school employees bemoaned the regulations that emanated from the “bureaucrats” at the state capitals, there was a time when State legislators deferred to their expertise and allowed them to develop the policies and regulations that dictated what transpired in classrooms. As state $$$ became scarce, the “bureaucrats” were the first to go and when they were gone there was a void in “expert” policy making… a void filled by Blue Ribbon panels of businessmen who complained that the workforce was untrained and unprepared (at the same time as THEY cut back on in house training that formerly trained entry level employees). Eventually the tech moguls and Friedman-ites who saw an opportunity to make $$$ in the “education marketplace” got a foothold and… behold… we now have Bill Gates setting policy and Betsy DeVos promoting vouchers.

Bottom line: if you want educator to set educational policy at any level, you need to provide the funds for high quality staff… which some might interpret as “diverting money away from the classroom”. But now that we’ve witnessed the benefits of having education policy written and implemented by educators, we might re-think that assertion.

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Gates and Zuckerberg ALMOST Have it Right This Time… Bottom Up is Better Than Top Down… BUT… $$$ Still Matters

May 18, 2018 Leave a comment

A recent Fast Company article by Jim Shelton, president for education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Bob Hughes, director of K–12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shows that both tech entrepreneurs are on the right track… but they are still missing one key point. In the article, Mr. Shelton and Mr. Hughes are reaching out to educators and parents seeking specific examples of programs that are working to help students learn three key skills for success: mathematics; non-fiction writing; and executive function, the skill set concerning memory, self-control, attention, and flexible thinking. They hope that by identifying practices that work in these areas they will be able to establish an R and D element to education that is lacking. And… if their concluding paragraphs are any indication, they realize that hands-on grassroots approaches identified by actual teachers are better than top-down technological approaches devised by code writers:

The purpose of the initiative is not to mandate anything. It’s to learn from the work that’s currently happening in classrooms, universities, entrepreneurial efforts, and research centers throughout the country. We hope to see a wide range of approaches and ideas; technology is not a primary focus, but we recognize the role it can play in affordable access to high-quality education for all. No personally identifiable student data will be collected in this RFI.

In the months ahead, we’ll share what we learn about the crucial work being done in the three named areas, along with ideas for how to accelerate progress, breakthroughs, and scale. We believe these findings can guide potential grant making as well as bolster the entire field through a better understanding of breakthroughs now taking place in and out of traditional education. We’re excited to find ways to increase collaboration and lift those breakthroughs out of isolation so that everyone can benefit.

I wish that politics and money didn’t matter in public education… but both will undoubtedly play a role when the time comes to apply research and collaborate. As long as politics is in the picture, though, students flexible thinking skills might be students if they want to question the history being presented to them, the science behind climate change and (ahem) even evolution, and the notion that all students learn at the same rate of speed in all content areas. And as long as money is part of the equation, the affluent districts will be able to accelerate progress, introduce breakthroughs, and move to scale much quicker than their poorer colleagues in districts that are strapped for money.

Paul Buchheit’s Post Reveals Astonishing Fact: Only ONE Bank Lost $$$ in Recession… and They Only Lost It for One Year!

May 15, 2018 Leave a comment

While I follow the news on the economy closely, I am not an expert on the technical aspects of how businesses use the tax codes to define profits and losses nor am I entirely clear on the nuances of the recent  tax bill passed in Congress. Consequently, when it comes to unravelling the impact of changes in tax laws and analyzing profits and losses I find myself relying on bloggers who DO understand this for my information, and one of the writers whose knowledge I trust and respect is Common Dreams contributor Paul Buchheit, a college teacher who is also the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of several books. In his post yesterday titled “The Kindly 87-Year Old Man Who Took All the Schoolkids’ Lunch Money“, Mr. Buchheit notes that Warren Buffett, “the one beloved billionaire among us“, has accepted the government’s largesse and will be increasing his company’s bottom line by $23,000,000— which is coincidentally the same amount needed to provide lunches to all children raised in poverty, a program that has not been cut to date but one that will clearly be on the chopping block when the GOP legislators discover that the lost tax revenues prevent them from balancing the budget.

But the main point of Mr. Buchheit’s column was not Mr. Buffett’s hypocrisy. It was the fact that despite the public’s belief to the contrary, only one bank suffered ANY loss of profits during the so-called Great Recession making any argument that they need to beef-up their balance sheets due to “losses” suffered during the past decade completely bogus. Here’s Mr. Buchheit’s explanation of how deferred tax assets works for the billionaire bankers:

Here’s the bankers’ excuse for tax trickery: Deferred Tax Assets, which are write-offs against previous losses (specifically due to the 2008 recession) or advance payments on their tax bills. But an examination of their 10-Ks over the past 12 years shows that both companies made profits every year since 2006 (with the exception of relatively small losses for Bank of America between 2010-11), and that they never paid more than the required 35% tax rate, and sometimes paid much less. Goldman Sachs reported a 61% tax rate for 2017, but almost all of it was deferred, and their announced tax was grossly inflated by a one-time (and relatively small) tax expense on a very large repatriation of offshore money.

As for any mysterious writeoffs against recession-related losses, Business Insider notes: “The banks did not actually lose money during the crisis. [It] is the difference between what the banks made during the last five-year crisis period compared to what they would have made if they would have continued to make money at the rate they did prior to the crisis.” Any losses that might be claimed by these financial institutions are imaginary losses, according to their own SEC filings.

But it isn’t the use of the tax code that galls Mr. Buchheit the most. It’s the failure of businesses to acknowledge how much they benefit from the services the government provides for them:

There seems to be no corporate recognition of the shameful act of taking decades of societal largesse and then doing everything possible to avoid paying for any of it. Financial institutions are the beneficiaries of decades of public support:

  • Technology: Internet-related stock market trading and communications.

  • Finance and Law: Patent and copyright systems, intellectual property, contract law.

  • The Military: National defense, local police forces, the National Guard.

  • Infrastructure: In the physical form of highways, railroads, airports; the energy grid; the communications grid.

  • Federal Agencies: The Federal Reserve, SEC, FTC, SBA, FAA.

All of the underscore the fact that from a business CEO’s perspective, government ISN’T the problem. It provides not only the federal services cited above, but also local services like fire and police protection, roads to and from their business venues, and outstanding schools that serve the affluent communities where their corporate leaders reside. And since most of the large corporations get these services at a discounted rate thanks to PILOT agreements they should be even more grateful for government. But, as Mr. Buchheit concludes, that is not the case… and the school children suffer as a result:

Taxes are long overdue on tens of billions in profits, but they remain unpaid, or deferred to some unknown time in the future.

But food for the children can’t be deferred.

 

Caveat Emptor Replaces Student Support at USDOE

May 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes has a lengthy article in today’s paper on the unwinding of a special team of USDOE investigators who were aggressively pursuing profiteers preying on unwitting students seeking to better their lot in life by getting college degrees. Among the for-profit enterprises under investigation for misleading college applicants was DeVry Education Group. Those investigations were recently suspended, which should come as no surprise since Secretary of Education DeVos has appointed a former dean at DeVry, as the team’s new supervisor. But it doesn’t end there:

In addition to DeVry, now known as Adtalem Global Education, investigations into Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corporation, which also operate large for-profit colleges, went dark.

Former employees of those institutions now work for Ms. DeVos as well, including Robert S. Eitel, her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a senior adviser on postsecondary education. Last month, Congress confirmed the appointment of a lawyer who provided consulting services to Career Education, Carlos G. Muñiz, as the department’s general counsel.

The USDOE’s decision to change it’s priorities away from aggressively investigating for profits has nothing to do with Ms DeVos’ appointments…. at least that’s what the USDOE’s communications team  reports:

Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, attributed the reduction of the group to attrition and said that “conducting investigations is but one way the investigations team contributes to the department’s broad effort to provide oversight.” She said that none of the new employees who had previously worked in the for-profit education industry had influenced the unit’s work.

She also said the team’s deployment on student loan forgiveness applications was an “operational decision” that “neither points to a curtailment of our school oversight efforts nor indicates a conscious effort to ignore ‘large-scale’ investigations.”

As is always true in politics and life, actions speak louder than words… and the actions make it abundantly clear that a curtailment is underway and the students enticed to take out loans by false advertisements are the ones who will suffer.

If You Have a Student Loan, You Just Lost Your Watchdog

May 11, 2018 Leave a comment

I heard a report yesterday morning on NPR that the new acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was shutting down the student loan office of that agency, an agency that intervened on loans to unwitting veterans and first generation college students who entered into agreements that left them close to or in bankruptcy. This AP story describes the rationale for the change, which will clearly benefit only those schools  and affiliated lending agencies that offer the loans to the detriment of students who took them on. How much did the student loan office claw back from fraudulent schools and loaners?

The student loan office at the CFPB had been responsible for returning $750 million in relief.

As the story reports, most of that came from aggressive regulatory action taken on behalf of students who were bilked by Corinthian College and “…the troubled student lender Navient“. In a nation that pays lip service to the importance of a higher education and fair play, it is sad to see needed regulatory oversight reduced in the name of free enterprise. As the article indicates, tens of thousands of individuals are impacted by student loans, individuals whose spending and ability to receive credit is curtailed or imperiled:

Roughly 4.6 million Americans are in default on their student loans as of December 31, 2017, according to the Department of Education, more than double what it was four years ago. That’s more than 10 percent of the total 42.8 million Americans who currently have a student loan outstanding backed by the Department of Education.

Consumer advocates immediately denounced the change, saying the CFPB should be conducting tough oversight of the student loan industry, given its size and number of borrowers impacted, particularly young people.

“Education alone cannot stop predatory behaviors on the part of for-profit schools and servicers, nor can it help hundreds of thousands of Americans in serious debt because of these practices,” said Whitney Barkley-Denney, senior policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending.

Good government oversight could stop the predatory behaviors through regulation… but only if the agencies responsible for enforcement are funded. Alas, in the current administration the funds that could help underwrite the enforcement are being redirected to the profiteers.

My Letter to the Editor in Response to the “Teacher Revolt”

May 9, 2018 Leave a comment

A few days ago I wrote a post in response to an editorial that appeared in our local newspaper, the Valley News. Today the newspaper published this letter I wrote, drawing from some of the points I made in that post:

I applaud the Valley News for writing an editorial in support of the public employees who are funded by taxes. The concluding paragraph of the editorial calling for public employees to wrench funds from “politicians who want to maintain a stranglehold” on “pay raises and more resources”, however, overlooks one crucial point. Voters who elect austerity minded politicians do so because they are convinced that all government spending is bad and that all taxes are confiscatory.

Voters who lost jobs when mills closed, who lost benefits and pensions when their former employers were bought by a larger conglomerate, and who are struggling to make ends meet are generally not sympathetic to public sector employees who are fully employed and hold jobs that offer good wages, benefits, and pensions. And their sympathy for public sector workers is even more diminished when those employees are funded by their taxes.

Many voters who work in the private sector want to see government run like a business, and most of the major donors to both political parties see “privatization” as the ultimate solution to the problem of “government inefficiency”. Both conservatives and neo-liberals believe that deregulated for-profit businesses could do a better job of providing education, police protection, fire-fighting, and road maintenance because competition will result in those tasks being done at the lowest cost possible. The resulting race-to-the-bottom in wages and benefits will benefit the businesses who assume responsibility for these functions and it might save the taxpayers some money, but it will also result in a further hollowing out of the middle class.

If public sector employees want to elect officials who support more government spending or “wrench” more funds from politicians, they will first need to convince a majority of voters that government ISN’T the problem and their taxes are being well spent.

“Bait and Cut” Plan Goes Into Effect as POTUS and GOP Begin “Necessary” Budget Recissions

May 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday Common Dreams writer Jake Johnson wrote an article describing President Trump’s request to cut the budget adopted by Congress by $15 billion dollars, $7 billion on which will come from CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Anyone with a background in basic mathematics, accounting, and economics knew budget cuts were inevitable and anyone who follows the news knew it would likely come from social services. As Mr. Johnson notes, the request will require only a majority vote by the House and the Senate. The question is: will ANY GOP member deny the request? If they don’t, get ready for even more assaults on the safety net. And here’s an even tougher question: will ANY Democratic candidate for POTUS run on a platform to undo the horrible tax bill that fattened the wallets of the plutocrats while “requiring” these “tough decisions” to be made by the GOP to “avoid a financial disaster” that would result from deficits.