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This Just In: USDA Study Shows That Students Like Nutritious Food!… And THIS Just In: The USDA Findings Were Buried

June 11, 2019 Leave a comment

The Washington Post’s Laura Reiley recently wrote a story describing the findings of a USDA study that effectively supported the reforms to the lunch program introduced by the Obama administration, reforms that increased the nutritional content of the meals without increasing the waste. The findings themselves are compelling:

The best news was that the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), a multi-component measure of diet quality, shot up dramatically for both school-provided breakfasts and lunches.

For the 2009-2010 school year, the score for breakfast was an abysmal 49.6 out of 100 (even lower than the overall American average of 59), rising to 71.3 by the 2014-2015 school year. In that same time frame, the lunch score went from 57.9 to 81.5. The score for whole grains in school meals went from 25 to 95 percent of the maximum score, and the score for greens and beans rose from 21 to 72 percent.

In addition, there was greater participation in school meal programs at schools with the highest healthy food standards. And the study found food waste, a troubling national problem in the lunchroom, remained relatively unchanged.

Better nutrition: check… greater participation: check… food waste unchanged: check. Mission accomplished in terms of achieving nutrition and participation and no increase in food waste. This seems like a story that illustrates how government can work! This seems like a story that warrants wide coverage! But, alas, nutrition, like everything else, is driven by politics and politics is driven by money so this report was effectively buried and ignored. Here’s Ms. Reiley’s opening paragraphs:

The U.S. Agriculture Department has good news it seemingly wants nobody to know about.

On April 23, the USDA released its “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study,” with no news release, no fanfare. The link on the USDA website disappeared for several days after that and was altogether inaccessible before reappearing under a different URL.

Later in the article Ms. Reiley offers an additional explanation about the (ahem) understated release:

It seems fairly outside of the norm for a federal agency to release a study that directly contradicts what the administration’s position is,” explained Elizabeth Balkan, food waste director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s why it was released very quietly.”

But the current administration is obsessed with deregulation, and loosening the relatively tighter requirements necessary to ensure a healthy meal fulfills their overarching goal:

“The Trump administration wants to tick off the maximum number of regulations it can say it rolled back,” Margo Wootan, vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said. “It’s another tick mark on the deregulatory agenda.”

And the deregulation of nutritious meals is only one of the deregulatory efforts that undercuts the well-being of citizens. The NYTimes reported recently on 83 EPA rules the administration modified, many of which will increase air and water pollution and almost all of which ignore climate science.

And if the voters and children suffer as a result of deregulation, who benefits? I think anyone who reads this blog knows the answer: shareholders and the plutocrats.

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No Surprise: NH Supreme Court Finds Funding Levels Unconstitutional… A HUGE Surprise Would Be Having Anything Happen as a Result

June 7, 2019 Leave a comment

The Advancing New Hampshire Public Education (ANHPE) blog posted a synopsis of NH Superior Court Judge Ruoff’s 98-page decision on the constitutionality of the current funding in NH and once again it was determined to be unconstitutional. Here are a few choice tidbits from the judge’s decision as gleaned from the ANHPE post:

  • “RSA 198:40-a,II(a) sets the current base adequacy aid award for all schools at $3,562.71 per student, based on a formula determined by a legislative committee in 2008. The parties agree that not a single school in the State of New Hampshire could or does function at $3,562.71 per student. ”Because of the dearth of evidence in the legislative record to support such a
    determination, the Court finds RSA 198:40-a,II(a)—which is essentially the gateway to an adequate education in New Hampshire—unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts.”
  • “Labels aside, we are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record…”
  • The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness of such a system.
  • “As repeatedly found above, the Joint Committee’s [that determined the adequacy funding formula] conclusions were not only unsupported by the legislative record but were clearly or demonstrably inadequate according to the Legislature’s own definition of an adequate education.”
  •  “As every court decision on the matter has recognized, school funding is no small task, and the burden on the Legislature is great. Yet, as every court decision has similarly recognized, the Legislature is the proper governmental body to complete it. As has been the result in the past, the Court expects the Legislature to respond thoughtfully and enthusiastically to funding public education according to its constitutional obligation.”

The Governor’s reaction was as unsurprising as the judge’s decision… and completely contradicts the findings in bold red italics above:

Governor Sununu issued a statement saying, “”The state is reviewing the order, but we continue to believe these critical funding decisions are best left to local elected leaders — who represent the people of New Hampshire — not judges in a courtroom.”

There is no way that “local elected leaders” in property poor communities can EVER provide adequate funds… but the Governor knows enough math to also realize that there is no way the Legislature, “the prosper governmental body” to devise an equitable formula, can accomplish the feat without getting more revenues… which, of course, means higher taxes or more “tricks” like the expansion of the lottery. Will this ever happen in my home state? It’s been over thirty years since the first lawsuit was “won” and it hasn’t happened yet. I’m not at all encouraged.

 

According to Politicians and Pundits, the Road to Riches is the Road to Fulfillment

May 23, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an Upshot article by Kevin Carey titled “Can Data Ward Off College Debt? New Strategy Focuses on Results”. Unsurprisingly given the avariciousness of the current POTUS, the pro-privatization tilt of his Secretary of State, the GOP, and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the unfailing faith in Capitalism on the part of many voters, the EARNINGS are the “results” the “new strategy” intends to measure. Need evidence of this assertion? Here are two paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s essay, describing the “new accountability system” proposed by Senator Lamar Alexander:

Mr. Alexander proposed a “new accountability system” based on loan repayment rates for individual programs within colleges. This, said Mr. Alexander, “should provide colleges with an incentive to lower tuition and help their students finish their degrees and find jobs so they can repay their loans.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Alexander, despite their strong criticism of President Obama on education, are following in the footsteps of his regulatory crackdown on for-profit colleges and short-term certificate programs. Rather than evaluate sprawling educational conglomerates based on the average results of hundreds of programs, the Obama rules disqualified specific programs whose graduates didn’t earn enough money to pay back their loans.

In earlier blog posts I railed against President Obama’s metrics because, like those of Mr. Alexander and the POTUS, they assumed that the purpose of college was to land a job that pays enough to allow the student to pay back loans for college. In effect, college exists to make certain banks collect enough interest to remain profitable.

Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos know the facts about debt… and presumably Mr. Carey does as well. While only 6% of college students in NYS attended for-profit schools, 41% of those who defaulted came from those schools. Discussions that link earnings to majors sidestep this issue. The founder of Trump University, his Secretary of Education, and the many legislators who receive donations from profiteers who want less regulation are banding together to divert our collective attention away from the real problem and, at the same time, reinforcing the idea that college is about getting a high paying job and not “guiding people toward more enlightened, fulfilling lives.”

And here’s the bottom line: the policies promulgated by our legislators and pundits, assume our lives can only be fulfilled if we make a lot of money… and the more we earn the more we will be fulfilled.

A Billionaire’s Generous Offer Put Into Perspective

May 20, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes and virtually every major news outlet in America featured an article describing billionaire Robert F. Smith’s decision to pay off the debts of every single graduate of Morehouse College, the historically black institution that invited him to speak at their commencement. Described as ” the richest black man in America”, Mr. Black made his fortune in investments and he characterized this generous donation as an investment in the future of the graduating class at this college, a donation he hoped the graduates would replicate in the future.

Mr. Smith’s donation of roughly $11,000,000 is heartwarming and exemplary, but it is a relatively inconsequential donation to a billionaire. According to a related NYTimes article, Mr. Smith “…has amassed a fortune that Forbes estimates to be worth $5 billion”, which means that his $11,000,000 donation is analogous to a $220 gift by an individual who has “amassed a fortune” worth $100,000.

As readers of this blog realize, I read and was blown away by Anand Giridharadas’ book “Winners Take All” which described how billionaires are slowly but surely taking control of our country and how many billionaires use their largesse to mask the fact that their business practices are the underlying cause of the problems they are “solving”. Here was his take on Mr. Smith’s donation:

“This is generous, no doubt,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All” and a frequent critic of large-scale philanthropy. “But a gift like this can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems, and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems like student debt, or the subprime crisis, on an epically greater scale than this gift.”

Mr. Smith’s donation also illustrates the flaw in allowing a small number of individuals to amass huge sums of money and allowing them to spend it in a way they see fit. Based on what the NYTimes reported Mr. Smith’s donations are all worthy but they are somewhat idiosyncratic. For example he’s made large donations to relatively conventional causes: colleges and universities; museums; the arts; and, as was the case at Morehouse, scholarships. But he also made donations to organizations that mirror his personal interests in music:

He bought and restored a storied resort, Lincoln Hills, outside Denver, where black jazz musicians like Duke Ellington once played. And he has founded programs to support music education and minority entrepreneurship in Austin, Tex., where he lives, and Chicago, where Vista has an office.

Mr. Smith’s story is especially compelling because he accrued his wealth on his own, moving from a comfortably middle class background in Denver to that of an individual who could invite John Legend, Seal, and a youth orchestra to perform at his wedding on the Amalfi Coast.

But many billionaires spend their money in ways that are counterproductive to the well-being of our country. The Koch brothers, for example, spend millions to elect anti-environmental and pro-fossil fuel politicians at all levels of government. The also spend millions to create think tanks that issue reports that reflect their libertarian views and join forces with other like-minded billionaires to acquire media outlets to champion the findings of those reports. The messages about “government being the problem”, “welfare queens”, “Willie Horton”; “failing public schools”, and “taxes that are too high” are all the legacy of well heeled donors who are interested in maintaining a status quo that provides them with economic and political leverage…. a status quo that is debilitating to democracy.

 

 

Loss of Federal Corporate Taxes is Small Potatoes Compared to Local Property Taxes

April 30, 2019 Comments off

Profitable Giants Like Amazon Pay $0 in Taxes. Some Voters Are Sick of It“, a recent NYTimes article by Stephanie Saul and Patricia Cohen, provides a series of human interest stories that reflect the way members of the public view the impact of corporate tax loopholes. Unsurprisingly, the majority of voters find it appalling that they are required to pay their fair share of taxes while a long list of corporations not only avoid taxes altogether, but also receive rebates. Amazon, the poster child for this reality, issued a factual but appalling fact to defend themselves:

In a statement, the company said it “pays all the taxes we are required to pay in the U.S. and every country where we operate.”

Left unsaid is that Amazon also works hard to ensure that the taxes they are “required to pay” are as low as possible. Mss. Saul and Cohen also offered this tidbit on GM, another company that paid no taxes, a tidbit that perfectly displays the deep flaws of the concept of shareholder primacy:

General Motors, one of the companies on the zero-tax list, recently idled a large plant near Youngstown that produced the Chevrolet Cruze, a decision that helped increase the company’s stock price even as G.M. paid no federal taxes on $4.32 billion in income.

The article makes no explicit mention of another problem of corporate taxes: not only do these large profitable corporations like Amazon and GM avoid paying FEDERAL taxes, they also receive huge tax breaks to locate their operations in cities that are struggling to fund basic services but who need the low-wage high-stress jobs to keep their cities and towns afloat. Here’s a paragraph on Akron, Ohio, whose mayor is taking to keep unemployment low and attract business:

Akron, about an hour west, is faring better economically. Mayor Daniel Horrigan won’t confirm or deny it, but Amazon is believed to be the company he has recruited to move into the old Rolling Acres Mall, which closed in 2008. Amazon would not comment on whether it planned to open a facility there.

An article by Doug Livingston in the Akron Beacon Journal describes some background on the deal struck by the mayor to secure Amazon, a deal that is described as “shrouded in secrecy“:

To acquire the land, the project developer used a private equity firm to pay $600,000 for 40 acres owned by the city and $16.5 million for seven privately owned lots, some of which sold for as much as $3 million an acre, according to county property records. In a deal negotiated by Mayor Dan Horrigan’s economic development team and approved by everyone on City Council but Zack Milkovich, Akron has agreed to refund the developer the $17.1 million cost for all the land through property tax rebates.

The net impact on taxpayers and government services is difficult to calculate. Essentially, the developer would be made whole over the next 30 years with reduced tax revenue from the property for the city’s schools and diverted tax revenue for the county’s libraries, developmental disability board, children’s services, metro parks, zoo and more.In exchange, Amazon promises $30 million in annual payroll for at least 10 years. The Beacon Journal/Ohio.com calculates that it would take 24 years to amass $17.1 million in income taxes from that minimum level of payroll, assuming Amazon’s corporate profits are paid somewhere other than Akron.

In the end, it’s a trade of property taxes supporting countywide services for income taxes and new jobs directly benefiting the city, plus the revitalization of a once bustling mall that sat empty and blighted for a decade.

Readers of this blog know that FoxConn offered essentially the same kind of “deal” in Wisconsin and after receiving the deeply discounted property prices and property tax cuts decided it wouldn’t be brining in the jobs it promised. And this seems to be standard operating procedure for corporations: they secure tax breaks in exchange for jobs and when those jobs don’t materialize the tax breaks remain in place.

I hope Akron has a different experience in the long run… but it is evident that for the short run they will have a spiffy new Amazon warehouse where a shopping mall once stood and less money for their “…city’s schools and diverted tax revenue for the county’s libraries, developmental disability board, children’s services, metro parks, zoo and more. Maybe the schoolchildren can take field trips to the warehouse and play in the empty parking lots when the jobs fail to materialize.

A Lesson in Economics 101: Teacher Pay Diminishes as Teacher Shortages Increase

April 27, 2019 Comments off

The Economic Policy Institute’s Sylvia Allegretto and Laurence Mishel just issued a report on teacher compensation that indicated the disparity between teacher’s wages and those of other college graduates just hit an all time high and appears to be widening. The result is unsurprising to anyone who took a basic economics course in high school or college:

The deepening teacher wage and compensation penalty over the recovery parallels a growing shortage of teachers. Every state headed into the 2017–2018 school year facing a teacher shortage (Strauss 2017). New research by García and Weiss (2019) indicates the persistence and magnitude of the teacher shortage nationwide:

The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers. (1)

And, as Ms. Allegretto and Mr. Mishel indicate, the states are not short of money:

Spending cuts over the recovery were not the result of weak state economies. Rather, many state legislatures and governors cut spending in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

As corporate taxes diminish so do the revenues for public services and, again unsurprisingly, so does the quality of those services. Sadly, for children, education is no exception and so the quality and depth of the teaching pool is diminished.

Providing teachers with a decent middle-class living commensurate with other professionals with similar education is not simply a matter of fairness. Effective teachers are the most important school-based determinant of student educational performance.1 To promote children’s success in school, schools must retain credentialed teachers and ensure that teaching remains an attractive career option for college-bound students. Pay is an important component of retention and recruitment.

The report notes that teachers across the country are uniting and demanding higher pay, particularly in those states where the wage disparity is the highest. The report also examines the benefits teachers receive as compared to other college graduates and acknowledges that there is a favorable gap in that area. But even with that taken into consideration, the total compensation gap is wider now than it has been in any year since 1960!

In their concluding paragraphs, Allegretto and Mishel describe the compensation gap and its consequences, and note that any alternative compensation plans like performance pay will not solve the problem unless total compensation is increased:

It is good news that teachers are able to bargain for a total compensation package—though it seems they may have forgone wage increases for benefits recently: As we’ve documented, teacher wages have been stagnant since the mid-1990s; public school teacher weekly wages have not grown in the 22-year period from 1996 to 2018! This makes the wage penalty, on its own, critically important, as it is only wages that families can put toward making ends meet—only wages can pay for expenses such as rent, food, and student loan payments.

Raising the level of teacher compensation, including wages, is critical to recruiting and retaining teachers who have the qualifications associated with teacher effectiveness in the classroom. Policies that focus solely on changing the composition of current compensation (e.g., merit or pay-for-performance schemes) without actually increasing compensation levels are unlikely to be effective. Simply put, improving public education in this country—by preventing teacher turnover, strengthening retention of credentialed teachers, and attracting young people to the teaching profession—requires eliminating the teacher weekly wage and compensation penalty.

EPI’s research is thorough and even handed… and it’s results prove the laws of supply and demand. If you demean a profession, lower the compensation for that profession, and limit job security in that profession it is difficult to find employees.

Tennessee’s ESA Shenanigans Illustrate Why Delegating Education Policy to States is a BAD Idea

April 25, 2019 Comments off

A friend on Facebook shared a blog post from Momma Bear, a group of concerned Tennessee parents, grandparents, citizens, and– in a ll probability— teachers who are appalled at what is taking place in Tennessee. It seems that the Governor wants to get a voucher bill passed and in order to secure the votes he needed to do so was offering enticements to legislators if they voted in favor of his plan and threatening funding shortfalls for those who didn’t. The post describes how the House went from a 49-49 deadlock to a tie-breaking 50-48 vote on the voucher bill… and it seems that very few of the votes were cast in favor of the voucher policy itself… rather they were cast to secure funding for better roads and avoiding vengeance.

This is Lamar Alexander’s legacy for weakening the Federal policy guidelines and handing them off to the states…. and I rest my case for the flaws in the ESA legislation.