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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

My Niece’s Son’s Picture on FaceBook Begging for Money at a Street Corner Worth a Thousand Words

October 7, 2019 Leave a comment

From everything I’ve witnessed on family vacations and FaceBook posts over the year, my niece’s son is a very gifted athlete. He’s a strong cross country runner, plays soccer well enough to make traveling teams, and seems to be a natural at every sport he takes on.

Like any student-athlete he has a full schedule with practices, homework, and family commitments. But because he is a student-athlete, he has one other responsibility: he needs to stand on a street corner to collect money to pay for his activity. Meanwhile, the state he lives in, Ohio, has lowered the support it receives from businesses though various tax sources and, because of lost revenues that resulted, not increased school spending in real dollars for over a decade.

I find his begging at intersections infuriating and demeaning. It appears to me that teaching children to beg at traffic signals now part of the hidden curriculum at schools just as subjecting themselves to surveillance cameras, metal detectors and shooter drills are part of the curriculum.

I guess Ohio voters think it’s more important for billionaires to get tax cuts than it is for x-c teams (and other organizations) to beg at street corners. More important to reward shareholders than it is to provide time for student-athletes to do their homework.

To paraphrase an old aphorism: it will be a good day when billionaires have to have bake sales to increase their wealth and schools receive largesse from the State governments…. and student-athletes no longer have to beg on street corners.

Yet ANOTHER Study Proves Poverty’s Power to Diminish Performance… and Desegregation is the Path Out of Poverty

September 24, 2019 Comments off

The Hechinger Report posted an analysis of research done by Stanford University Education Professor Sean Reardon that demonstrates the detrimental impact of poverty of student performance as measured by standardized achievement tests. Here are Reardon’s findings as described by Hechinger Report writer Jill Barshay:

In the study, Reardon finds that racial segregation is a very strong predictor of the gaps in academic achievement between white and black or Hispanic students, but it’s school poverty — not the student’s race — that accounts for these big gaps. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is larger, the achievement gaps between black and white students are larger. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is smaller, the achievement gaps are smaller. The two phenomena — racial segregation and economic inequality — are intertwined because students of color are concentrated in high-poverty schools.

“There’s a common argument these days that maybe we should stop worrying about segregation and just create high-quality schools everywhere,” said Reardon. “This study shows that it doesn’t seem to be possible.”

Reardon said he couldn’t find a single school district in the country where black and Hispanic students were learning apart from white students and performing well with test scores that weren’t lagging behind those of white students.  In the cases where achievement gaps were small, such as Detroit, achievement was low for both black and whites students. They’re not models to copy.

“It doesn’t seem that we have any knowledge about how to create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty,” said Reardon. “And if we can’t do that, then we have to do something about segregation. Otherwise we’re consigning black and Hispanic and low-income students to schools that we don’t know how to make as good as other schools. The implication is that you have got to address segregation.”

The nation’s failure to “create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty” is widely reported and applies to charter schools as well as public schools. But Ms. Barshay notes how Mr. Reardon’s findings amply and clarify this reality:

It’s well known that high-income students perform better on tests than low-income students. Higher income students tend to have better educated parents who not only may read and talk to their kids more but also convey the importance of an education and set high academic expectations for their kids. What’s interesting in this study is that not only does the level of school segregation predict the size of the achievement gap between white and black students, it also predicts the rate at which the achievement gap grows as students progress from third to eighth grade.

In the concluding paragraphs of Ms. Barshay’s report, she describes an interactive website, the “Opportunity Explorer,” “where anyone can see the test scores for every public school in the United States“.  Mr. Reardon offers this important insight on the data he used to determine student performance:

Reardon advises visitors to the website to avoid equating test scores with school quality. “The average test scores that kids have in schools or school districts are the results of all the opportunities these kids have had to learn their whole lives, at home, in the neighborhood, in preschool and in the school year,” Reardon said, “so it’s misleading to attribute average test scores solely to the school where they take the test.”

“If you want to know how good the schools are,” Reardon said, “a better but not perfect measure would be the learning rates because those are measuring how fast are kids learning while they’re in school, regardless of where they started.”

A tool like the Opportunity Explorer offers data geeks a chance to do some comparisons… but such a tool also implies that parents could shop for a school the same way they could shop for groceries… and while grocery stores will allow anyone to come inside and look around and buy what they can afford, schools are not the same because some schools are located in communities where housing prices effectively bar anyone with a low income. Until we figure out a way to encourage people of different social strata and different races to live together we will not be able to solve the problem of unequal opportunities based on wealth and race.

EdBuild Study Provides Evidence of the Persistence of Racism in Public Schools

September 20, 2019 Comments off

EdBuild, whose mission is to bring common sense and fairness to the way states fund public schools, issued a report indicating that black school districts receive $23,000,000,000 LESS revenue than all white districts despite serving the same number of students. Why? Because affluent families flock to districts where property taxes can underwrite higher quality schools leaving poorer non-white students segregated in property poor districts. As the authors of the report write:

The racial and economic segregation created by gerrymandered school district boundaries continues to divide our communities and rob our nation’s children of fundamental freedoms and opportunity. Families with money or status can retain both by drawing and upholding invisible lines. Many families do just that. This, in conjunction with housing segregation, ensures that—rather than a partial remedy—district geographies serve to further entrench society’s deep divisions of opportunity

Because our system relies so heavily on community wealth, this gap reflects both the prosperity divide in our country and the fragmented nature of school district borders, designed to exclude outside students and protect internal advantage.

This residential discrepancy cannot be fixed easily… but it might be possible for the students in poorer schools to receive the same level of funding if we worked at the state level to raise and allocate funds more fairly. And the racial disparities EdBuild flags are intolerable:

For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district.

Poor-white school districts receive about $150 less per student than the national average—an injustice all to itself. Yet they are still receiving nearly $1,500 more than poor-nonwhite school districts.

If we want to continue holding onto the belief that education can be a leveling force in our country, we cannot continue to use the same funding system in place today… and if we want racial and economic justice we need to face the fact that our current system is discriminatory. The report concludes with this:

Even after accounting for income, the average student in the U.S. inherits far more opportunity by attending a small, concentrated white school district. Because each state handles district boundaries and school funding differently, funding policies affect students in divergent areas in different ways.

But a single fact is clear—financially, it is far better in the United States to have the luck and lot to attend a school district that is predominantly white than one that enrolls a concentration of children of color. That is the inherent shame of the system we’ve built, and one we haven’t gone far enough to fix.

This Just In: The GOP Wants to Rip-Off Student Borrowers to Help For-Profit Colleges

September 14, 2019 Comments off

You don’t need to pass laws to help your your donors and to disestablish government agencies you don’t believe in. All you need to do is appoint a cabinet member who will revise regulations to minimize the strength of that agency and help your financial backers. And if the regulations can’t be revised, the cabinet member can slow down the process of implementing the regulations or make the process dysfunctional. In the end, the goal of making the government so small it can drown in a bathtub can be accomplished.

If you don’t believe this description of how to make a government agency dysfunctional is accurate, look no further than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. As noted in Adam Minsky’s Forbes article, Betsy DeVos is making a concerted effort to gut the student loan forgiveness program put in place when the Obama administration learned how for-profit schools were preying on unsuspecting students by encouraging them to take out student loans. He writes:

The Borrower Defense to Repayment program was established in 2016 following the high-profile collapse of for-profit schools like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes. The program was enacted to provide student loan relief for borrowers who had been defrauded by predatory schools.

The basic premise of the program is that students who were subjected to rampant fraud or misrepresentations by their  school, and who were saddled with debt and a useless degree, should have a mechanism to request student loan forgiveness. This, coupled with stricter federal oversight of for-profit schools and greater accountability for their educational and career outcomes, would hopefully diminish widespread abuse of federal aid by predatory institutions.

Since DeVos took over the Department of Education in 2017, her administration has made consistent efforts to eliminate or water down the program. The Department of Education initially tried to re-write the regulations governing the program, only to have those new rules thrown out by a federal court following legal challenges. Her office has also been effectively ignoring around 160,000 applications for loan forgiveness submitted by student loan borrowers, leaving them in limbo.

Mr. Minsky’s article then offers a description of the recently released rules that will go into effect, all of which put the burden of proof on the borrower and give the lenders an upper hand. The net effect is the diminishment of protection for students who have been bilked by profiteers. He concludes his article with this:

The chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Bobby Scott, accused the administration of “sending an alarming message [that] schools can cheat student loan borrowers and still reap the rewards of federal student aid.” And the Project on Predatory Student Lending announced that it intends to challenge the new rules in court.

One thing is clear: the Borrower Defense to Repayment program remains embattled and in legal limbo.

One more thing is clear: that “legal limbo” is hurting the pocketbooks of the borrowers at the expense of the shareholders of the private for profit colleges.

Underfunding in New Hampshire Will Continue Until Broad Based Taxes Replace Property Tax

August 30, 2019 Comments off

I accepted an assignment as Superintendent of Schools in New Hampshire in 1983, moving into the state from Maine where I served three years as Superintendent. When I accepted the position, a colleague of mine who had moved FROM New Hampshire TO Maine warned me that I was about to leave what was then one of the most robust State funding systems to the worst. He was right. Maine provided 90% reimbursement for bus purchases, transportation expenses, special education, and building aid. It also had a formula in place that supported schools based on their property wealth with property poor districts receiving substantial aid and wealthy districts getting less. In New Hampshire there was diminished aid across the board… to the extent that in one of the more affluent towns I served we got just over $25,000 in state aid.

At one of the first meetings I attended with my colleagues, most of whom led districts far more property poor than the six towns under my jurisdiction, I recall one of them saying that the current finance system was unsustainable and that he expected to see wholesale changes in the coming years. Surely the new GOP candidate, John Sununu who was an engineer, would see that more revenue was needed to ensure that schools in property poor districts across the state would need more state funds to provide equal opportunities. Now… 36 years later… nothing has changed. Lawsuits filed by property poor districts have been won and governors in both parties have done nothing to provide the revenues needed to help the struggling districts. And now, CHRIS Sununu, son of the engineer who could not see the need for more revenues, is governor and, like his father, sees no reason to increase the funds for schools. Worse, like his counterparts in the GOP, he DOES see a need to provide tax cuts for businesses on the theory that attracting businesses to the State will somehow bring more revenue to the property poor districts. But after decades of experience, he and his colleagues in the GOP should know that when businesses ARE attracted they tend to be attracted to the affluent communities that offer their employees good services, good schools, and good housing. Cuts to business taxes help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

So, in 2019, New Hampshire finds itself at an impasse. Their GOP governor vetoed the budget passed by the Democratically controlled legislature because he thought too much money was going to schools and not enough was being provided to business. The result: the state funds for school districts are the same in 2019-20 as they were in 2018-19. Consequently the towns who adopted budgets based on the legislator’s budget figures will be scrambling. Should they hire new staff based on the legislature’s budget or not? How about those bus purchases? How about the new technology they wanted to provide?

Our local paper reported on this situation and had this one poignant quote:

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier called Sununu’s proposal “unacceptable.” He begged lawmakers to hold fast to the funding they included in the budget and described the city’s struggles after it recently closed its elementary school and consolidated its middle and high schools.

Kindergarten students, including his grandson, are now in a building that was built as a high school in 1919, he said.

“That’s the legacy I’m leaving my grandson. I’m putting him in a building that was built before my father was even born,”he said. “There will come a point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment, further exacerbating the decline that poor communities are facing now.”

Sadly, the “point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment” came decades ago. When the paper mill closed in that community and the stores were shuttered there might have been a chance to entice a new business there… but the town is so forlorn and the schools so underfunded that it is highly unlikely that anyone would want to relocate there. 

What would help? An infusion of government funding from all levels is the only way to make dilapidated communities like Berlin come back to life… but as long as we are in the thrall of low taxes governments will never have the resources needed to help communities like Berlin.

It’s the beginning of the school year and teachers are once again opening up their wallets to buy school supplies | Economic Policy Institute

August 28, 2019 Comments off

It’s the beginning of the school year and teachers are once again opening up their wallets to buy school supplies | Economic Policy Institute. This isn’t news to anyone who has worked on school district budgets for the last three decades as taxpayers pushed costs away from themselves onto the “users” of this public service. Once the shift started there was no turning back
— Read on www.epi.org/blog/teachers-are-buying-school-supplies/

Flaws in Friedman’s Economic Theory on Shareholder Primacy Laid Bare

August 22, 2019 Comments off

This Atlantic article debunks the notion that corporations will behave in the public interest without regulations. Until voters understand that government regulations are beneficial to their self-interest we will continue to operate under Ayn Rand’s premise that selfishness is a virtue– a premise that is demonstrably false.

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