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Biden Proposing $130,000,000,000 Infusion to Help Open K-8 Schools in 100 Days… a Re-opening Decision that is Supported by Science

January 16, 2021 Leave a comment

President Elect Joe Biden put forth a $1,900,000,000,000 plan to keep the economy afloat through the pandemic, with $130,000,000,000 earmarked to as majority of K-8 schools within 100 days. This plan, characterized by NYTimes reporter Jeanne Smialek as “…a wish list of spending measures meant to help both people and the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic” includes money to reopen schools, as reported in this section of the article: 

The administration says it wants to make “the necessary investments to meet the president-elect’s goal of safely reopening a majority” of kindergarten-to-eighth-grade schools within Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office.

Administration officials are suggesting $170 billion for schools, supplemented by additional state and local funds. About $130 billion of that would go toward reopening, while much of the rest of the money would go to help colleges dealing with the shift to distance learning and other pandemic-tied problems.

Almost as important to schools is the fact that states and local government are slated to get funds as well: 

Mr. Biden’s plan would provide $440 billion in help to communities, according to the administration, in addition to the funds for school reopening. The relief plan would entail billions in grants and loan programs for small businesses (how those would work is not entirely clear), and $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments.

State and local governments have had revenues decline less as a whole than once anticipated, but have taken an uneven financial hit from the pandemic. They have significantly reduced payrolls, which is concerning because they employ about 13 percent of America’s workers.

This is important because without these funds local and state governments might supplant the funds they typically provide to schools with the federal funds coming as part of the pandemic relief. 

Will Congress support this proposal? it is evident that the House would do so, despite the fact that some of the progressives are carping that the $1400/person Biden is proposing is less than the $2,000 they hoped to provide on top of the $600 just distributed. The Senate is more problematic. Presumably the pro-Trump GOP members would be hard pressed to oppose the $1400/person measure because that is what their POTUS was looking for. But, in all probability, the party as a whole will oppose it for two reasons: it gives money to State and local governments with no strings and it gives money to public government schools.

An important footnote to the President-elect’s decision to promote the re-opening of K-8 schools. As noted in another NYTimes article by Apoorva Mandavilli this past week, research is showing that the COVID infection rates among K-8 children is half that of older children and much less than adults. In an interview with NYTimes Amelia Nierenberg Ms. Mandavilli offered this: 

“We already know how to make schools relatively safe,” Apoorva said.

A mask mandate is a must, she said, as is physical distancing. Good ventilation matters — open windows will get air circulating and even an inexpensive air filter can make a big difference. Extensive testing and contact tracing is key. The new variant will result in more infections in children unless schools shore up their precautions, experts told Apoorva.

 
And, despite reports to the contrary, the unions are willing to re-open provided the precautions Ms. Mandavilli heard from the experts are heeded:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed the need for mitigation (with masks, distancing, ventilation and cleaning), testing and appropriate quarantines. She also prioritized reasonable accommodations between teachers’ unions and districts, as well as vaccinating adults who work in school buildings.

“It requires people to actually act in the way that safety, not expediency, is foremost in their minds,” Weingarten said. “The mitigation strategies have to be embedded and have to be enforced. Not just on a piece of paper, but in reality in schools.”

 
After reading these two articles I am hopeful that we will have a POTUS who understands the need for public schools and State and local governments to get the financial help they need in this crisis and a willingness to heed the advice of scientists in making decisions about opening schools. 

NYTimes Andrew Sorkin Article Flatters IBM’s Political Engagement and Calls for Ban On Direct Donations to Politicians… but PILOTs Have HUGE Impact on State Local Politics… and Schools

January 13, 2021 Leave a comment

As the title of Andrew Sorkin’s NYTimes Deal Book article, “IBM Doesn’t Donate to Politicians. Other Firms Should Take Note“, implies, IBM is presented as an exemplar when it comes to making direct political donations. I know from experience that IBM uses its considerable clout to exact PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Tax) agreements from local communities and States, agreements that lower their taxes and shift the burden onto local homeowners. When IBM wants to locate a manufacturing plant in a community, it will set off a race-to-the-bottom bidding war between communities and States to get the sweetest deal possible on taxes. When one of the competitors in the bidding war is a community that IBM might abandon, it has the effect of creating a double whammy: if the community and the State do not pony up a sweetheart deal IBM will leave and take its jobs with it. 

IBM is far from the only corporation that does this… and as a school superintendent I found the whole process of “economic development” that accompanies the bidding for businesses repellant. In these bidding wars the business can’t lose. Businesses are, after all, trying to maximize its profits and, like every homeowner, trying to minimize paying taxes. If they don’t have to pay the going rate for State of local taxes they increase their bottom line. Many in the community accept PILOTs as the price one needs to pay to “attract and retain” good businesses and, as we witnessed in the Trump era, when a businessman/candidate avoids paying taxes they do not pay a price at the polls. The public expects businesses to gouge local and state governments. But in these bidding wars school districts, State and local governments, and— I would contend– local taxpayers lose. If the businesses strike their optimal bargain their infrastructure costs will be paid by the town and should they close down their business or fail to bring in the jobs they promised they pay no price. In the meantime, instead of tax funds being used to build or upgrade schools or roads, the funds are used to underwrite the costs of a gleaming office park or— worse— a massive warehouse that uses robot technology. In the meantime, in the “losing” community tax revenues are diminished and in the “winning” community costs are increased. In both cases, towns and school districts face the choice of cuts to service or tax increases to local homeowners: a lose-lose proposition. 

Sorkin’s call for decreased spending on political campaigns is welcome and would be a “win” for democracy.. But for schools and towns, getting out of the PILOT business would be even better. . 

 

What Happened Yesterday and What Should Happen Next

January 7, 2021 Leave a comment

I am taking the day off from writing about education policy to write about the uprising that occurred yesterday in our nation’s Capitol. Yesterday’s reprehensible display of demagoguery was the predictable result of the President’s refusal to accept reality and his efforts to stir up his supporters to rebel against the will of the majority of voters. The public’s support for an individual who offers easy solutions to complicated issues and leads followers who ARE entitled to rebel against government programs designed to help those who ARE NOT entitled is just one of the Alice-in-Wonderland elements of our country’s derangement and derailment. The bands of white males who invaded the offices of Congress look like the same white males who cheer loudly at Trump rallies when the Presidents complains about “entitlement programs”. That they do this with no awareness of their built in entitlement is maddening.

So… what should happen now? Here’s my thinking:

First, I believe President-elect Biden should stay out of the fray. in the coming weeks and during his tenure he should help restore credibility to the press by holding regular press conferences, praising the media for their accuracy and tenacity in covering politics, and underscoring the good work that government CAN do if it is fully staffed and funded. He needs to be a steadying influence, an advocate for democracy, and an advocate for government in general. I think he can pull off in a way that a rabble rousers like Warren, AOC or Sanders can’t.
Second, I believe the President’s use of Twitter contributed far more to the toxic media environment than FaceBook or any other social media outlets. President-elect Biden can’t control what people are going to post on social media and can’t control how various stations will spin the news…. nor should he or any government official attempt to do so But Biden CAN determine how or if he uses Twitter and how and when he interacts with the press. If he provides information in something more than 280-character soundbites he will go a long way toward uplifting the level of discourse in the media.
Third, I think that Merrick Garland, once he is appointed as Attorney General, should launch an investigation into the disparity between the treatment Trump’s followers received from the DC Police and the treatment, the protesters received in D.C. when Trump wanted to do his photo op with the Bible… or the treatment the protesters in Portland OR received when they were shunted off in SUVs by unnamed and unknown law enforcement agents dressed in camo… or the treatment protesters got in Kenosha WI when police allowed a 17-year-old armed with an automatic weapon to walk past them after a curfew was declared. We need to restore faith in law enforcement and that cannot happen if protesters are treated differently based on their skin color or the object of their protests.
Fourth, I think that the DNC should find and underwrite the campaigns of strong candidates to run against every single House member and Senator who supported the de facto overthrow of our government and our democracy. The DNC should identify and widely publicize the names of those who donate to the re-election campaigns of the House members and Senators who supported ignoring the will of the voters in other states who lawfully cast ballots. At the same time as they call out donors who support the re-election of anti-Democracy candidates, the DNC should seek the support of the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable for donations to support pro-Democracy candidates. They need to make it clear that a vote for someone opposing the overthrow sought by over 100 elected officials is a vote for democracy.
Finally everyone should also do what we can locally to restore sanity to politics. In NH we’re going to have to keep an eye on the crackpots with guns who have threatened GOP Governor Sununu for mandating mask wearing to the extent that he is calling off his inauguration ceremony! Those of us who favor voting access and other elements of democracy that some in the GOP oppose need to monitor the legislation that will be proposed this session and do whatever we can to make certain our State and local governments have the resources they need to be successful. Anyone whose State House member or Senator supported the Trump insurrection he should be vigorously opposed in 2022 and replaced with someone who values democracy.
There are things public schools can do to prepare students to thrive in and understand democracy, most crucial by empowering student governments to make decisions that affect them. More on that in a future post.