Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

US Raises Social Security Taxes for “Higher Income” Americans… but not NEARLY Enough!

October 19, 2016 Leave a comment

The Wall Street Journal today reported that the social security tax “cap” from its current level of $118,500 to $127,200. It’s about time! As the NYTimes noted in an editorial on the difference between the candidate’s positions on this issue, In recent decades, “…the wage ceiling has not kept up with the income gains of high earners; if it had, it would be about $250,000 today.” And here’s a mathematical reality: someone who makes a billion dollars a year makes $2,739,726 a DAY…. or over $340,000 per HOUR if they worked an 8 hour day or just over $170,000 per HOUR if they worked 16 hours every day of the year… In effect after working just under an hour a billionaire hits the cap on social security… that is IF the billionaire even works in the sense that, say, a school teacher works…. But, according to Fox news and most Republicans we don’t want to get into this argument because it might start a class war… better we should argue about race, transgender bathrooms, and the infidelities of candidates… MAYBE in the last debate and in the final weeks of this campaign we will get into a substantive analysis of the economy and the wealth disparity that is making a mockery of the notion that everyone has an equal opportunity for success in this country… or maybe that unicorn will come to my bird feeder…


Another Sign of the Apocalypse for Public Education: Public School Police Chiefs

October 15, 2016 Leave a comment

I thought I read the headline on my Google news link incorrectly… it said “McAlester Public Schools Hire New Police Chief”… but, alas, the article was NOT from the Onion but from the McAlester News Capital and it detailed the goals of the newly appointed chief, Chris Comer:

“I am going to implement In-Service training,” Comer said. “I am (a) certified instructor through CLEET (Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training). I will focus on school safety, security and first aid. I will specialize the training and require training yearly.”

Comer says he is going to spend time building relationships with students to help build trust and also be involved in other law enforcement programs.

“You have to build that trust early on, so when they do get older they know that they can come to you if there is a problem,” Comer said. “It’s not just a one person job… We have to use all our resources we have and work together as a team, not just with other law enforcement, but other resources in the community as well.”
These are noble and well intentioned goals, but in examining spending priorities in the school and community I find it hard to believe that the limited money taxpayers raise might be better spent on prevention programs like social workers and early childhood education than on “…school safety, security and first aid” training for a cadre of police officers charged with keeping order in schools. Unfortunately, priorities at the local level are increasingly mirroring the priorities at the national level where spending on defense to protect us from terrorists is wildly disproportional to the spending on services that protect us from erosion from within.

School Business Partnerships: Who Wins in the End?

October 6, 2016 Leave a comment

I read a recent ThinkProgress blog post by Casey Quinlan and had a flashback to my years as Superintendent in Western Maryland where we worked with local businesses to forge partnerships that we saw as win-win for us, for our students, and for the business partners. The ThinkProgress post was particularly pointed since it featured the McDonald’s Golden Arches and the partnership we forged with McDonald’s was one that gained us favorable press. At a luncheon with local businessmen I struck up a conversation with the owner of several McDonald’s “stores” in our region and lamented that many of our students were sacrificing their studies in order to earn money to buy a car, get clothes their parents couldn’t afford, and— in some cases— save for college. In the course of the conversation we came up with an idea: what if McDonald’s gave our students who worked a “bonus” if they made the honor roll at school? Over the course of the next few weeks we set up a mechanism to make this work and before long the radio stations were touting this initiative. I got some pushback from parents and teachers who thought we were promoting part-time work. But as one who mowed lawns, delivered newspapers, and did numerous odd jobs to pay for my freshman year at a five-year cooperative work-study college I saw working while in school as a necessity. Moreover, I felt it was wrongheaded for schools to look down on those students who need to work to help make ends meet while lionizing student-athletes, drama club members, and musicians who spend hours outside of the classroom on activities that are voluntary and arguably purely recreational. There were others who pushed back because— well— because it was McDonalds! It seemed crass or somehow immoral to work collaboratively with an organization that plundered the environment and served high calorie junk food.

The ThinkProgress blog describes a different kind of partnership between McDonald’s and schools: one that involves teachers working for free on an evening shift at McDonalds and using their earnings that evening to fund field trips. I can imagine a McDonald’s executive arguing that this is no different than having the teachers be targets at a dunking booth at a local fair where fried dough is the primary food source because McDonald’s is, after all, the local gathering place in some communities the way the county fair was at one time. But the difference is that in Western Maryland McDonalds was showing student-employees that they valued classroom achievement and were paying more from their coffers to do so. In the ThinkProgress example, the McDonald’s is trying to lure customers into their establishment, reduce their costs, and arguably demean the teaching profession.

While I am unalterably opposed to businesses eroding the revenue stream for schools by seeking sweetheart deals on property taxes, I DO think there are opportunities for win-win partnerships.

Maine’s Governor LePage Uses Bad Data to Make Wrongheaded Recommendation

October 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Roughly 35 years ago I developed my first budget as a school superintendent in SAD #44 in Maine… and shortly thereafter read the first letter criticizing my budget proposal. The letter, from an irascible resident of the smallest town in the district, complained that the budget included way too much “administrative fat” for the “bloated bureaucracy” that managed the 7 schools housing 1400 students. Upon reading the letter, I turned to my administrative assistant and half-time bookkeeper and asked rhetorically how we could get any thinner. During the budget process I had presented the Board with an Education Research Service (ERS) analysis of our cost/pupil for administration, which was among the smallest in the State and nationally, and provided as many analytics as possible supporting the additional funding needed to move the district forward— a practice I continued for 29 years thereafter. But that year I learned that facts don’t matter to some voters: the only thing that counts to them is the fact that there taxes are going up and there only means of controlling it is to vote NO for anything that adds to the bottom line.

Based on a recent article in the Portland Press Herald, had Paul LePage resided in one of the five towns that comprised SAD #44 he would have undoubtedly sided with the cantankerous anti-spending faction in town and, facts notwithstanding, sought a cut of the “bloated bureaucracy”. Mr. LePage, who never once supported spending on public schools, is calling for a reduction in administrative spending in the State and seeking a reduction in the number of school districts through a top-down consolidation in order to accomplish that end. The Press Herald outlines Mr. LePage’s “case” in its introductory paragraphs:

Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that Maine has too many school superintendents and he plans to pressure school districts to consolidate administrations in the two-year state budget he will propose to the Legislature in early 2017.

“The issue is not the money in education, the issue is how the money in education is being spent,” LePage said during a talk show on WVOM radio in Bangor. LePage reiterated his dissatisfaction with the number of public school superintendents in Maine, comparing the state with Florida.

“We have 127 superintendents for 177,000 kids,” LePage said. “The state of Florida, who ranks number seventh in the best education system in America, has 3 million kids and 64 superintendents. That’s where the problem is. We are spending the money on the administration of our schools and not in the classrooms.”

The governor went on to say he believed teachers and students in Maine “are the two victims of our school system.” He said the state’s teachers union and the superintendents association “are the two winners.”

It’s not clear how LePage could force school systems to combine administrative functions. He did not offer any details of the plan. His staff did not respond to a question about the source of his information on Maine’s or Florida’s educational performance and ranking.

Mr. LePage, whose voting base is analogous to that of Donald Trump, is clearly disinterested in the facts. The Maine School Board Association and Maine Superintendent’s Association both noted that administrative costs have declined over the past few years and constitute less than 1% of the educational spending in the state. And his assertion that Maine ranked poorly in “educational performance” as compared to Florida defies all rankings issued over the past several years. When you believe any government spending is bad and any spending on administrative fat cats is wasteful the facts can often be an inconvenient truth. That was true 35 years ago and it is true today….

In the Face of 6.8 Million Hungry Adolescents We Worry About Test Scores

October 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Earlier this week Nation writer Michele Chen posted an article reporting on the finding that 6,800,000 American teenagers are “food insecure”. Surveys conducted by the Urban Institute indicate that millions of youngsters between the ages of 10 and 17 cannot secure adequate food on a daily basis, a situation that is difficult to fathom for the school “reformers” who assume that all children’s basic needs are being met and politicians who somehow think that cutting welfare for adults has no impact on children and families.

Ms. Chen describes how food deprived teenagers cope with their hunger… and it isn’t a pretty picture. Some sacrifice eating well to make sure their longer siblings get sufficient food, and some seek employment that takes away from their ability to participate in school activities or study. Others, though, engage in activities like dumpster diving and petty theft. And still others engage in serious crimes, selling their bodies to adults or selling drugs to peers.

Ms. Chen reports the role schools could play in this problem, especially in those cases where criminal behavior is rooted in the lack of predictable food:

Schools and law enforcement authorities, researchers say, could provide those who run afoul of the law with supportive outreach instead of arrest and detention, to avoid pushing them into the racially segregated school-to-prison-pipeline. For sexually exploited girls, especially, authorities “should be trained to recognize the trauma experienced by girls who are sexually exploited and provide counseling or referrals rather than treating them like offenders.”

But in the end, schools can only do so much. They can offer free or reduced meals when school is in session and could be hubs for services. But in the end, the problem of food insecurity for families can only be addressed at a higher level:

A deprived adolescence, however, is a window into a family affair, so government intervention should address the poverty of the whole household.Parents need living wage jobs and basic social assistance to cover day-to-day needs. Since food insecurity is often linked to housing instability, aid programs such as rental subsidies would help alleviate immediate financial pressures so families do not have to choose between a stocked pantry and monthly rent.

Hunger in adolescence marks a demographic turning point for the post-welfare-reform generation, reflecting two decades of government shoving poor parents off of federal benefits and into low-wage jobs and “personal responsibility.” The results of those Clinton-era policies are embodied in the empty stomachs of America’s hungry teenagers, who display just how much responsibility they shoulder, with no choice but to scrounge and hustle to survive. But teenagers should have more to dream about today than a hot meal tomorrow. 

When teenagers show up for school with empty stomachs it is hard to get them motivated to pass a test… but if you are a “reformer” if you see a school full of hungry children doing poorly on a test you believe the school and the teachers should be held accountable and the solution is to fire the teachers, close that school, and open a new one that offers shareholders an opportunity to make a profit. Maybe the better solution would be to fill the stomachs of the children so they can dream about more than a hot meal.

“Watchdogs that don’t bark” Mislead Students, Add to Loan Defaults, Rip-Off Taxpayers, Reward Shareholders

September 23, 2016 Leave a comment

A New York Times article by Patricia Cohen describes an ongoing scam in the issuance of student loans that has an eerie resemblance to the scams that led to the meltdown of banks in 2008. Here’s the way it works: a bunch of shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions get together and create an accrediting agency whose “seal of approval” the pro-privatization US Education Department accepts as evidence that an institution is providing a quality education. The Department’s acceptance means that students attending the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institution can receive student loans from the US Government. A deregulation minded Congress supports this cycle of corruption because the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions make campaign contributions to them and, in addition to favoring deregulation, they love the idea of privatization.

But here’s where the problem occur: the students who receive loans to these shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions do not get a good education and they are unable to pay back their loans. In the meantime, the government has guaranteed the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions that they will be paid in full. So… where does the money to the the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions come from? If you guessed “the taxpayers” you win a higher deficit that your grandchildren will pay for. If you guessed the shareholders of the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions you must also believe in trickle down economics and maybe even unicorns.

Neuroscience Demonstrating What We Already Know: Poverty Impacts Learning and Early Intervention is Essential

September 22, 2016 1 comment

A cover story by Mike Kemp in Newsweek earlier this month reported on the findings of neuroscience researchers in CA who found that “…children with parents who had lower incomes had reduced brain surface areas in comparison to children from families bringing home $150,000 or more a year.” Given that test results have manifested this for decades, the results are unsurprising. But here’s what researchers MAY be able to impress on policy-makers IF the policy-makers are swayed by science:

“We have [long] known about the social class differences in health and learning outcomes,” says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. But neuroscience has now linked the environment, behavior and brain activity—and that could lead to a stunning overhaul of both educational and social policies, like rethinking Head Start–style programs that have traditionally emphasized early literacy. New approaches, he says, could focus on social and emotional development as well, since science now tells us that relationships and interactions with the environment sculpt the areas of the brain that control behavior (like the ability to concentrate), which also can affect academic achievement (like learning to read). “We are living in a revolution in biology now,” Shonkoff says, one in which new findings are finally giving us a real understanding of the interaction between nature and nurture.

For decades educators have attempted to offset the effects of poverty by immersing disadvantaged children with books and manipulative and engaging them in intellectual activities analogous to those that more affluent children experience on a daily basis. But researchers are finding that the intellectual stimulation is less important that the social and emotional stimulation. After recounting the trend toward oversimplification of the research findings, Mike Kemp concludes with this potential means of addressing the impacts of poverty on the development of a child’s brain:

Schools could add social and emotional learning courses to their elementary through high school curricula, designed to help children recognize and pay attention to their feelings, especially while coping with trauma and stress. Such courses could become requirements, like reading and math. That would require a massive re-evaluation of the priorities of our educational and development institutions—and some way of funding any new programs and tools deemed necessary.

Getting that to happen could take the kind of power wielded by Congress, local governments, school boards or the U.S. legal system. In 2013, Clancy Blair of the New York University Neuroscience and Education Lab, led a study that found the time a child spent in poverty, and in a household filled with chaos, was significantly related to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Blair says similar findings could be leveraged the way research in the past linked detrimental health outcomes to tobacco, sugar-filled drinks and junk food, and ultimately changed policies and regulation of those industries. Similarly, findings like those in Blair’s study could be used support legislation or even a landmark lawsuit targeting overcrowded living conditions, or unaffordable housing and child care.

Other systems that reinforce the cycle of poverty—inferior schools and community infrastructure; poorly protected neighborhoods and unchecked child abuse; environmental pollution; or lack of health care, public transportation and green space—could face legal challenges or new laws.

As one who is swayed by research findings and who believes that public education can make a difference, I would readily support any legislation that addressed the findings of researchers like Clancy Blair. But as one who witnesses legislators who deny climate change, who demonize teachers instead of making investments of any kind in public schools, and who want cheap, fast, and easy fixes to the complicated problems cited in this article, I fear that nothing will happen…. and the results of doing nothing will be an increase in the kind of heartless children like those described at the beginning of the article: ones who can witness a videotape of Malala Yousafzai and feel “nothing”. If we spend nothing on the improvement of social development we will get children who feel nothing.