Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

“#TaxMe” Movement is Needed if We Ever Expect to Stem Inequality

May 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Five years ago I attended a week-long session at Chataqua on the impact of technology on our culture. The talks were compelling, the music performed by symphony was beautiful, and the environment was reminiscent of the campus at Penn where I attended graduate school. One of the souvenirs I brought back from the week was a pin that read “Tax Me”. It conveyed a powerful message: it showed that the wearer was willing to have their taxes increased in order to provide the government services needed to ensure that all citizens had an equal opportunity: that children would no longer be raised in poverty; that everyone would have the health care they need; that everyone would experience the same services as those who lived in the most affluent communities.

Our local newspaper, the Valley News, features an article by Megan McCardle titled “A Reckoning is Coming for the Blue States” that describes the need for a “Tax Me” movement among idealistic liberal voters. In the article, which originally appeared in the Washington Post, Ms. McCardle describes how our tax policies before the GOP passed its reform package a few months ago favored the upper middle class, a structure that was effectively reinforced by both political parties. She writes:

Over the past few decades, the United States has undergone “the Big Sort,” the clumping of the electorate into demographically, professionally and politically homogenous neighborhoods. Clinton voters have their ZIP codes, and Donald Trump voters theirs, and ever more rarely do the twain meet. Democratic voters have crammed themselves into a handful of the most economically successful counties, heavily concentrated in narrow strips along the coasts. There they’ve formed a coalition of affluent, educated professionals and lower-income minorities. That coalition used its prosperity to fund expensive, intensive state and local governments.

Ms. McCardle doesn’t explain how the tax code enabled the “affluent, educated professionals” to deduct state and local taxes helped them use their “…prosperity to fund expensive, intensive state and local governments”, but when the tax reform package was being considered the impact of the cap on state and local tax deductions was widely covered in the media. Here’s the way it works for the “affluent, educated professionals“: when those who earn in the top 20% pay higher state and local taxes to provide themselves with better schools, better parks, smoother roads, and better police and fire protection, those tax payments were deducted from their gross earnings when they calculated their federal taxes. This lowered the federal taxes they needed to pay and that, in turn, reduced the federal funds available. Those federal funds could arguably be used to help underwrite the kinds of expansive government programs the “affluent, educated professionals” who live in Blue states desire, programs like single payer health insurance, a more secure safety net for those who are disadvantaged, and improvements to the national infrastructure. Thus, progressives, all of whom are presumably “affluent, educated professionals“, are in a bind: 

Thanks to the Big Sort, those folks are now concentrated in coastal cities where competition from others like themselves, and blue-state taxes, raise the cost of living sky-high. Compared with their neighbors, they don’t feel especially rich; they feel as though they’re struggling just to pay for the basics. Eventually, however, Democrats are going to have to either give up their big dreams or hand those voters the bill, because they’re the ones with most of the money. This creates a certain cognitive dissonance for progressives.

I know I would need to pay more taxes if a progressive tax plan like Bernie Sanders advocates was put in place. Based on my personal income and the amount I currently pay for health insurance and based on an algorithm on Bernie Sanders’ web page the amount would be somewhere between $700 and $1500. I’m OK with that if it results in everyone getting health care.

In the past several months, we’ve seen the emergence of the #MeToo movement by women who have experienced discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. At some juncture those of us who are willing to pay more for better government services, which includes those of us who have sorted ourselves into “economically successful counties” need to launch a #TaxMe movement, for, as Bernie Sanders acknowledged, everyone is going to have to chip in a little bit in order for us to gain a lot as a nation. 


Privatization of Pre-Schools Decried Now… and in 2012!

May 11, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday Diane Ravitch posted a 2 minute documentary describing the privatization of pre-school.

In December 2012 I wrote a post in response to an NYTimes article on the same topic, which compelled me to leave this comment:

It seems that special needs preschools were privatized in NYS… and unsurprisingly it resulted in a situation where private pre-school operators “…stole or misspent millions of dollars, piled relatives onto the payroll, billed for no-show jobs and charged for special education services that were never provided.” But that was 5 1/2 years ago. I wish I believed that the situation has improved… but I fear that as funding for pre-school expands the privatization of those services will expand.

The privatization of preschools is likely to occur for three reasons: the charter chains will seize the opportunity to enter into a nearly completely unregulated market; and, the small scale entrepreneurs who offer preschool programs in their homes are a potent force in state legislatures; and finally, there are many who believe that public preschool should be stopped entirely… unless there is funding for preschool “homeschoolers”— a mechanism that libertarians and Evangelicals in the GOP would LOVE to establish in a publicly funded school at ANY level.

This lurking privatization should make anyone who advocates universal preschools wary… especially when so many existing K-12 schools are drastically underfunded.

“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.

John Merrow’s Idea to Rid Schools of Standardized Tests is Compelling and Saves Millions of Dollars!

May 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday that was click-bait. It was titled “If you could could make one change…“, the titled derived from a question John Merrow asked some dinner guests, which was this:

If YOU had the power to make ONE major change in American public education immediately, what would you choose to do?”

In Mr. Merrow’s post that posed this question his dinner guest gave responses like doubling spending on public schools, making spending more equitable, expanding early childhood programs, and a commitment to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And what was Mr. Merrow’s response?

At that point everyone turned to me, and, even though I am much more comfortable asking questions than answering them, I plunged ahead. “I would eliminate standardized testing.”

Everyone seemed shocked.  Including me.  Never before had I expressed that thought. To the contrary, like most critics of testing, I have always argued for ‘multiple measures’ that included–but minimized the importance of–standardized, machine-scored ‘bubble’ tests.

“Get rid of them completely,” one asked?  “Yes,” I said, “because about 75% of what they do is destructive: dumbing down the curriculum, making school a pressure-cooker, equating a person’s worth with his or her scores, falsely evaluating teacher quality based on a single number, and so on.”

I continued.  “Maybe about 25% of what they do is worth-while, but, if we got rid of them completely, we would be forced to develop alternative ways of assessing learning, and we could come up with approaches that weren’t inherently destructive.”

John Merrow got this one right… if testing remains in place as it is now any new resources no matter how they are distributed will be spent preparing kids to pass them. The standardized tests we administer to children today insidiously create the comparison of children within an age cohort. This, in turn, leads to developmentally inappropriate instruction for many children and needless competition among students and schools to “succeed” on test-taking. Worse yet it reinforces the notion that schools are designed to sort and select students.

And here’s the best thing about Mr. Merrow’s idea: unlike the ideas of his dinner friends it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime! Indeed…. it would SAVE millions of dollars!

So why aren’t we all jumping on board? Two possibilities: maybe our politicians are among those who are on the receiving end of the money going to “…the big bureaucracies that want more control over classrooms and the big corporations that provide the tests” OR maybe most voters, parents, and teachers cannot envision a system that doesn’t group children based on age and test them accordingly.

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Driving a Stake Through the Heart of the ESA Vampire is Tough in New Hampshire

May 6, 2018 Leave a comment

On Thursday our local newspaper reported on it’s front page that SB 193, the Education Savings Account bill was dead. But as Advancing New Hampshire Public Education’s (ANHPE) blog reported on Friday, the bill has been resuscitated by diehards in the Senate by appending the bill to an unrelated piece of legislation. Here’s the labyrinthine process that is underway as described in ANHPE:

The expectation at this point is that the House Education Committee will recommend that the amended HB 1636 be sent to a committee of conference and that the House will vote on that on May 10.  Here is the amendment adding SB 193 to HB 1636.  (This amendment, “Death Benefit for School Employee Killed in Line of Duty” was also added to HB 1636)

The House could kill the bill then and there but if it agrees to the committee of conference, the Speaker will name the committee members, probably then and there, and the committee will prepare its report.  The version of SB 193 added to HB 1636 is a version that the Senate passed in March, 2017 and that no one considers viable at this point.  The committee of conference will probably replace it with a version much like the one the House voted down this week.

The House would vote on the committee of conference report at the May 23 session.  If it passes, it will go immediately to the Senate.  If it fails, it is dead at that point.  The last day of the current legislative session is scheduled to be May 24.

Based on earlier ANHPE accounts it is evident that not only the Governor but also Catholic leaders want to see this bill passed. The tactic of wearing down the opposition and strong-arming GOP legislators to switch their votes is underway. Here’s hoping the 17 GOP legislators who sided with the Democrats will stay in the opposition column. Otherwise, the future of public education in NH will be in peril.


Florida Legislator’s “Vision” Results in Mandate: “In God We Trust” Must Be Displayed In Exchange for Cash

May 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Several years ago, one of Jean Shepherd’s books of essays was titled “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”. That title might have been the inspiration for an amendment passed as part of a recent piece of legislation introduced by Florida legislator Kimberly Daniels. Here’s the way WUFT, an NPR affiliate, describes Ms. Daniels amendment:

A new state law set to take effect July 1 will redirect millions from sales taxes to fund vouchers for literacy tutors and increase the percentage of teachers’ union members required to pay dues. Section 22 of HB 7705 also requires school boards to display “In God We Trust” in all schools and associated buildings. It was amended to add language from another bill Daniels sponsored: HB 839.

“When we remove God,” she said in a February house session, “we remove hope.”

What inspired Ms. Daniels to add this language, which she belied would unify the state?

The day before a Florida House of Representatives session, Rep. Kimberly Daniels was visiting state prisons. The gate on one read: “In God We Trust.”

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow, does a child have to wait until they get to prison to see “In God We Trust”’?” said State Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat.

WUFT’s reporting on this legislation underscored the preposterousness and superfluous nature of this amendment, noting that in Florida there are far more pressing issues than whether a phrase that appears on the State flag and all US Currency needs to be “prominently displayed” in public schools. Using a serious plumbing problem at one of the schools in the station’s broadcasting area as an example, the station underscored a clear facilities problem that trusting in God will not fix. The report also emphasized the potential divisiveness of this amendment:

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation in Florida is studying the law and looking for ways to protect Floridians’ rights, said Kara Gross, the organization’s legislative counsel.

“Public schools are for secular learning,” Gross said. “The concern is that mandating a religious enforcement goes against the very crux of church and state.”

Gross also said the new law endorses one set of religious beliefs, which she said sends a thinly veiled message: Only students who believe in God are welcome.

“It makes some people feel welcome and makes others feel like they’re not welcome,” Gross said. “That’s why this is so concerning.”

The station also noted how this might impact God-fearing religious practitioners who are NOT Christian, citing the conundrum that Muslims, who trust in God as much as Christians, do not get time off from school to celebrate their Holy Days.

Ms. Daniels’ amendment WILL achieve one result, though: it will shift the conversation away from two issues that are especially problematic for Florida public schools: funding inequities and safety problems caused by the prevalence of guns.


No One Speaks for the School Buildings… and So They Deteriorate… Especially in Poverty Stricken School Districts

May 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote a post on a recent study that indicated Arizona public schools will require an investment of $2,000,000,000 in its facilities to meet the goals set for its schools. The report itemized the funding needs as follows:

  • Early Childhood Education — $200 million to meet the needs of children under the poverty line to improve their success in school
  • Teacher Salaries — $686 million to provide a $10,000 flat raise to Arizona’s teachers to address what may be the worst teacher shortage in the country and maximize the recruitment and retention of young teaching professionals
  • Added Interventions—$250 million to achieve goals for third grade reaching, eighth-grade math and high school graduation
  • Refilling prior state investments: $991.million:
    • District Additional Assistance: $352 million
    • All-day Kindergarten: $265 million
    • New School Construction: $284 million
    • Building Renewal Funds: $90 million

The recent teacher walkouts in that state and others have flagged the need to increase teacher compensation, which constitutes slightly more than a third of the needed funds, and this blog and many other editorials have flagged the need for intervention programs, which constitute another 35+% of the two billion needed, but not too many words have been written about the need for upgrades in facilities, which constitute nearly 20% of the shortfall in funding.

When districts encounter funding crises, like the ones that have plagued public education since the outset of the Great Recession, the first thing that gets cut is maintenance. As a former business manager who worked in one of the districts I led said, kids have vocal parents as constituents, taxpayers are always vocal constituents, but no one speaks up for the buildings. As a result, the buildings suffer, the deferred maintenance costs accumulate, and taxpayers ultimately face a higher cost for repairs than they would have faced if the preventative maintenance costs were funded. This cycle of deferring maintenance expenditures, in turn, is characterized as “neglect” by State and federal politicians whose shortchanging of funding for schools diminished the resources as the local level that forced districts to make the decision to defer maintenance instead of cutting classroom teachers.

This vicious cycle COULD be stopped if state and federal politicians perceived investments in school facilities as an economic development opportunity instead of a drain on taxpayers. By engaging in renovation and construction projects the politicians could create jobs for people that would benefit their communities in two ways: it would improve the local economy and simultaneously improve the learning opportunities for the children. But when politicians talk about the need for “improving infrastructure” public schools do not make the list. Instead “infrastructure” projects are defined as roads, bridges, and utilities. Why? Because the funding for schools is viewed as a local issue. And the result? Affluent districts have far superior facilities to poverty stricken ones. And facilities do not make the list of improvements “reformers”seek when they want improve  “failing schools”. Instead they go after “bloated salaries”. Why? Because the largest percentage of funds are spent on the compensation of personnel. Instead of seeking to improve the brick-and-mortar schools too many reformers– especially those seeking high profits— seek to replace decrepit facilities with on-line “learning opportunities.”

And so the vicious cycle continues… and the divide between affluent schools and those schools serving children in poverty stricken areas widens.