Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

A Connecticut Neo-Liberal in the Koch Brothers’ Court: A Cautionary Tale for 2020

February 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Whenever I read about “Centrist Democrats” who might be plausible candidates to oppose Donald Trump I get a chill because many of them, like “Centrist” Governor Daniel Malloy of Connecticut, are often willing to adopt the positions of the Koch Brothers if it suits their “reform” agenda. Yesterday’s post by Diane Ravitch describing Governor Malloy’s advocacy for the expansion of 529 plans is a case in point. Quoting at length from a retired Connecticut school teacher who is calling out the Governor in her state, Ms. Ravitch offers a detailed explanation of how the expansion of “Education Savings Accounts” will draw funds from the public school coffers and redirect them into the coffers of private sectarian and private for profit schools.

As I noted in a comment I left at the conclusion of the post:

The ALEC playbook is not read only by libertarians… the neoliberal “reformers” like Malloy, Cuomo, Booker, HRC, and– yes, Obama— all like any gambits that undercut unions and empower privatizers… in 2020 those of us who want to take public education in a different direction need to avoid supporting ANY Democrat, particularly those who are good public speakers strike a seemingly sane alternative to our current Prevaricator…

I haven’t witnessed anyone emerging from the pack who will stand up for public schools or the need for us to expand government regulations. Instead Democrats seem content to run on the “Not Trump” platform and hope that they can retain the support of the billionaires who favor deregulation and privatization while activating their base voters who loathe the divisiveness of our current leadership. We need more than an anti-Trump if we hope to restore faith in government and democracy. We need someone who will give full throated support for the rule of law, for re-regulating Wall Street and the environment, and for restoring the social justice that has unravelled. Anyone who supports the expansion of 529 plans should not receive the support of any thoughtful progressive.


More Evidence of GOP and Trump Administration Hypocrisy… As If More Were Needed

February 18, 2018 Leave a comment

President Trump’s thoughts and prayers may well be with the grieving families in Florida, but his budget proposal speaks louder than his words. As reported in ThinkProgress, the Trump/DeVos budget proposal cuts school safety funding by 25% and completely eliminates a program that would have provided counseling support for the families and students at the Florida High School where 17 were killed on Valentines Day.

To compound matters, Mr. Trump joined Florida Governor Scott in criticizing the FBI for it’s mishandling of tips it got on the potential for the shooter to engage in the carnage at the high school. As he always does in these circumstances, Mr. Trump focused on the mental health issues… conveniently overlooking the fact that he signed a measure that made it possible for someone with mental health issues— like the shooter— to acquire a high powered gun. I am waiting for someone in the media to ask both Mr. Scott and Mr. Trump what they thought the FBI would have been able to do. Would they have been empowered to seize the shooter’s weapons? Would they have been empowered to place him in a mental health facility? Those who question the FBI’s failure to intervene should be prepared to explain exactly how the FBI might have done so.

As for those politicians who want to “address the mental health issue”, I await a substantive proposal on how this might be done without raising additional funding. If “throwing money at the problem” won’t help, I wonder what will… and building more prisons and encouraging schools to hire more guards or put in more surveillance cameras is “throwing money at the problem” as surely as hiring more counselors is.

And for those who claim “this is not the time to talk about this issue”, someone needs to ask them when the right time is to talk about it… and schedule a meeting on that day. We can’t keep on indefinitely postponing this uncomfortable conversation. The lives of innocent children depends on us resolving this issue.

Kansas Legislators’ Resentment for Public Schools Grossly Inappropriate

February 17, 2018 Leave a comment

An article by AP reporter John Hannah appeared in the Virginian-Pilot with this headline: “Kansas Public Schools Face Backlash on Endless Money Crisis”. The article describes the resentment Kansas legislators feel toward public schools for their insistence that they get the lions share of funding, which is forcing them to abandon their “pro-business” low taxation stance in order to fund things like schools, prisons, and infrastructure. As one legislator complained:

“It’s like the schools are the grain truck. Instead of sharing the grain, they just keep raising the sides on the bed and keeping it all for themselves,” said state Sen. Ty Masterson, a conservative Wichita-area Republican. “They’ve been able to keep themselves at the front of the line for a long time.”

What Mr. Masterson knows, I believe, is that the grain truck was replaced by a pick-up truck for years and the result if a long-standing deficiency in funds. As a public school advocate noted:

“You can’t blame schools,” said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers union. “You can lament it all you want, but it’s a problem of your own making.”

And the problem will require lots of money to fix because Kansas avoided spending nearly enough money for decades. As Mr. Hanna reported:

Kansas spends more than $4 billion a year — more than half of its general revenues — on its public schools. But the state Supreme Court ruled in October that even with a funding increase approved last year, it’s not sufficient under the state constitution.

The state has been in and out of lawsuits over education funding for decades, and the current one was filed in 2010 by four school districts. The Supreme Court has issued five rulings in the past four years requiring new spending on public schools.

In its last ruling in October, the court did not set a specific spending target but hinted that it could be $650 million more a year.

According to the GOP who passed the pro-business tax package that slashed spending in all areas, Kansas was supposed to be rolling in revenue by now since the new businesses they attracted would increase the tax base everywhere. Unsurprisingly, the tax cuts did nothing of the sort and so schools— especially schools serving low income children— suffered deep cuts and compromised programs. And now, the legislators who created this problem, are trying to turn taxpayers against the “greedy” schools who only want what is best for their students. The main reason for this desire to stir up resentment is the unflagging faith that taxes and government are bad… which means that any notion of increasing either is off the table.

“Maybe we say, ‘We’ve got to live within our means,'” said Senate budget committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a moderate Wichita-area Republican. “Maybe we need to reassess the direction we’re going.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a conservative Kansas City-area Republican, said lawmakers are right to expect to squeeze other parts of state government if they increase spending on schools.

“That is the math of it,” he said. “There’s only so much taxpayer money.”

If the legislature is unwilling to contemplate higher taxes even though the lower taxes did not result in the anticipated stimulus to the businesses in the State, “the math of it” is immutable. But if the reassessment in the direction Kansas is going included an openness to higher taxes to provide superior government services, there would be more taxpayer money to spend and the schools, prisons, and infrastructure in the state would improve. And who knows? If those improved maybe some businesses might consider locating to their state. Lower taxes and crappy services didn’t work… Maybe it’s time to try something different.


The Trump Infrastructure Plan Privatizes Public Services, Relies on Profit Motive to Define Projects

February 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Over the past several days, countless articles have appeared either touting President Trump’s so-called “Infra-structure Plan” or calling it out as flim-flam. Whether one views it favorably or not depends in large measure on how one views the notion of the market as a force for good… and whether one believes that market forces have applicability to public projects. As anyone who reads this blog regularly realizes, I am skeptical about the marketplace as a positive force and I see some huge limitations to the proposal… especially as it applies to public schools.

First and foremost, as Valerie Strauss notes in her blog post, the reporting on the Trump administration’s “Plan” has downplayed one key fact: the Democrats assessment of the 2019 proposed budget indicates that it “calls for more than $240 billion in federal funding cuts to current infrastructure programs, which is more than he proposes spending on new infrastructure.” 

Secondly, the recent tax bill will make it increasingly difficult for state and local governments to raise the matching funds envisioned by the federal government.

Thirdly, if private funds are the source, there must be a means of making a profit in order to attract investors. While road and/or bridge repairs could be funded by tolls, it is hard to fathom how school facilities could be upgraded while collecting an analogous “user fee” from students or parents.

Finally, no one in either party seems to be wiling to tell American voters the truth: if we ever hope to find the estimated $2,000,000,000,000 needed for infrastructure upgrades in the next decade we will need to raise taxes… and the public seems unwilling to do so. Better for them to believe that by cutting “waste fraud and abuse” it will be possible to fix the roads, repair the dilapidated schools, and replace the crumbling bridges.

Virginia Superintendent Describes Plight of School Districts Across America: High Needs and Lower Funding

February 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Earlier this week I read a Virginia Pilot Online column written by James Roberts, the Chesapeake (VA) Superintendent of Schools, that could have been written by any superintendent in our nation. The specifics of Mr. Roberts’ plight might vary from state to state, but the basic outline of his description of the funding challenges his district faces are the same anywhere. Here’s the problem he faces in Virginia:

=> From 2009 to 2017, the total state operating budget increased by 40 percent. During the same period, the funding Chesapeake Public Schools received from the state decreased by 2.7 percent.

=> Thanks to the recession, we have a backlog of capital projects — HVAC projects, roof replacements, other modernizations and replacements, new tracks, and yes, stadiums.

=> The state doesn’t provide any money for capital needs to school divisions. That funding falls completely on each locality.

=> Now that there is some recovery in local funding, we can work on some capital improvement projects, but we must prioritize. We can’t put the need for a new football stadium ahead of the large backlog of HVAC repairs and roof replacements. That wouldn’t be the best use of the money we have available. However, as long as we depend only on local funding, we will never catch up with all our needs.

=> Now local school divisions, including Chesapeake, are facing a major shortage of teachers. Competition among divisions is fierce. We have had only minimal solutions at best. The real problem with low pay for teachers in Virginia lies with state funding. Without realistic, sustainable state funding, our teacher pay won’t attract quality candidates into the profession, and good teachers are key to the success of our core responsibility.

=> And…. competition between our own operating needs (mainly pay for teaching and support staff) and our capital needs (such as roof, HVAC systems and stadiums) will only increase.

Unfortunately, this algorithm for internal competition among local needs is nothing new. I wrote a similar column to this when I was Superintendent in rural Maine in the early 1980s, in the Seacoast region of NH in the mid-1980s, in Western MD in the late 1980s through the late 1990s, in Upstate NY in the late 1990s though early 2000s, and in the Upper Connecticut River Valley in the early 200os. But I did see a major difference among the districts I led. The districts I led in NH and the one in Upstate NY I led were more affluent than those in ME and MD. Consequently the operating needs (pay for teaching and support staff) were not as urgent and, as a result, the districts did not have the same kinds of staffing shortages as many of my colleagues encountered. Moreover, as the burden for facilities upgrades fell increasingly to local districts, the tax base in the relatively affluent districts was able to fund building improvements for more easily than the less affluent districts. Finally, in the affluent districts there was a core of parents and community members who rallied the importance of maintaining high-quality schools, and that cadre would help the local board persuade voters to support bond referenda when they were needed to ensure that facilities were kept in good shape and support budgets that kept our operating costs relatively high on a per pupil basis. This phenomenon of local support for schools in affluent districts being greater than local support in less affluent districts results in the rich getting richer and the poor falling further behind. And when the state fails to offset this phenomenon, the result is an ever widening economic disparity.

There was a time when state legislatures and the Federal government took steps to address this by adjusting state formulas for the distribution of funds and by providing “compensatory education” funds. But as money for public education diminished at the state and federal level, the funding formulas did not have the same impact. And once President Reagan’s declaration that “government is the problem” and “taxes are confiscatory” took hold in both political parties, funding equity was no longer seen as a priority… and the algorithm for internal competition among local needs became a reality for all districts in our country.

Mr. Roberts’ solution to this is to call for an increase in state funding for the infrastructure needs his district has. It seems obvious to me that there is another solution: an influx of federal dollars to help districts address unarguable needs like the upgrade of HVAC systems, the replacement of roofs, and the installation of the infrastructure required to provide all students with equitable access to technology. If a local or national business wants to make a name for themselves, they can offer to fund tracks, stadiums, and gymnasiums. But the notion that a local or national business will offer to fund core infrastructure needs is far-fetched at best…. and the notion that local taxpayers in poor districts will ever be able to find local funds to fix their facilities is downright delusional…. and the panacea of “choice”? Don’t get me started!

Someone Explain How the Last Sentence in this Article will Help Make America Great

February 8, 2018 Leave a comment

The NYTimes reports that Congress has, at last, passed a budget… and it is not without some good things. CHIP, for example, would be funded for 10 years… and it would reauthorize funding for community health centers for two years with a $600 million increase as part of a new budget deal… and it provides money to help communities ravaged by the results of climate change… and gives $6 billion in new funding to states to use fighting the opioid epidemic…. but the last sentence confuses me. How does extending funding for abstinence-only sex education programs hep make America Great again?

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Another Sign of the ESSA Apocalypse: States Adopt Science Standards that Contradict Reality

February 7, 2018 Leave a comment

I am no fan of the common core, but I do believe that Bill Gates understood the need to nationalize standards in order to ensure that every child in the nation was learning a uniform set of facts. From my perspective, it is understandable that some topics might be contentious when trying to achieve a consensus. The causes of the Civil War, for example, are nuanced and complicated and agreeing on what to present to 5th graders on that topic might lead to heated disputes. But legislatures have no rational basis to overturn scientific consensus… and that is what the Idaho legislature did last year in response to the Heartland Institute’s desire to change the facts about global warming. As a result, the curriculum director for the state crafted a set of standards that thread the needle on the issue, making it certain that Idaho children will learn about global warming even though they might not learn the real causes of it. NYTimes reporter Livia Albeck-Ripka writes:

The battle started in early 2016, when Idaho was working to update its decade-old science standards for kindergarten through 12th grade, which outside education groups said were out of date. Lawmakers rejected a new set of standards, which were closely modeled after national guidelines developed by a consortium of states and science organizations and included information on climate change, saying more input from the public was needed.

Last year, the House education committee accepted the new standards, but only after scrubbing five sections related to climate change. The passages about climate change were “surgically removed,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, which monitors anti-science legislation.

Now, (Scott Cook, the director of academics at the Idaho State Department of Education, who helps lead a committee of teachers, parents and scientists urging that climate change be included in the standards) has reworked those passages in an effort to win approval from lawmakers. The revised standards include natural causes of climate change alongside those driven by humans, and, in response to lawmakers’ requests, they emphasize potential solutions to climate change.

“The committee took a true course between the rocks on one side and the whirlpool on the other,” Mr. Cook said, describing how it had been difficult to strike a balance between language that was scientifically accurate but was satisfying to lawmakers. Where the original standards placed a stronger emphasis on human activity as the primary cause of climate change, the revised standards note that both “human activities” and “natural processes” can affect the Earth’s temperature.

“Although this is not exactly untrue, to say this in the context of a discussion of ‘current changes in climate’ is to suggest a significant role of natural activities in current climate change, which is misleading,” Mr. Branch said in an email. Still, he said he hoped the revised standards would be approved.

Historians could argue over the root causes of the Civil War, but there are some hard cold facts that are unalterable: the dates of battles, the generals who led their respective troops, and the ultimate victor. But when it comes to science, there IS no debate over the existence and cause of global warming except on the fringes. Those causes may well be an inconvenient truth and they may be championed by environmentalists who tend to be “liberal”, but the causes are unarguable— except in legislatures where denial seems to be the order of the day.

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