Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Heartwarming Stories About Individuals Helping the Homeless, Churches Paying Medical Debts, and Gritty Students Undercut the Need for Government Aid

December 29, 2019 Comments off

I read a recent Rolling Stone article by Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren that described how Russian trolls are planting “heartwarming stories” that attract liberals who are later fed stories and memes that are divisive. In analyzing how the Russian trolls work, they offered the story of former pro football player Warrick Dunn and his inspiring charity work building houses for single mothers, which was uplifting and inspirational. What Mr. Linvill and Mr. Warren failed to note, though, was that the story itself insidiously reinforces the notion that tough problems like homelessness among single parents can be addressed by big-hearted individuals. That is, tough social problems do not need any government intervention because there are virtuous individuals who will step in to solve the problem. The story may well entice people to follow the “individual” who posted it, but the content of the story effectively undercuts the role of government in providing housing assistance as do the “heartwarming stories” like the recent one I read about a mega church paying off the medical debts of people in LA.

And there is a subset of “heartwarming stories” that pro-school-choice and pro-privatization advocates promote. Stories that tout “gritty” students who overcome the deficient homes they are raised in. Stories that talk about heroic teachers like Jamie Escalante who can help disadvantaged children score high on AP Calculus tests despite gaps in their schooling they experienced prior to entering his classroom. Stories that champion the success of “start up” charter schools whose students score higher than their cohorts who remain in “failing public schools”. All of these stories reinforce the idea that there is sufficient funding for public schools and social services. If one student with grit can succeed then ALL children could succeed “if they put their minds to it”. If one teacher can teach calculus to disadvantaged urban students then ALL teachers could do so if they replicated the methods used by one. If one shiny new “start-up” charter school was able to succeed because it was freed from regulations and “competed in the marketplace” then ALL public schools should be able to do the same.

And these “heartwarming stories” contribute to divisiveness in communities and district in government as surely as the story about Warrick Dunn does. And the real message that these “heartwarming stories” reinforce is that there are cheap, easy and fast solutions to complicated problems. Unfortunately, even if such cheap, easy, and fast solutions exist, arriving at them requires a democratic process that is often more costly, slower, and more complicated.

The apocryphal story about the demise of democracy in Italy is that the voters got behind Mussolini because he was able to get the government operated trains to run on time. The fact is that Mussolini got the trains that served well-heeled tourists and affluent Italians to run on time knowing that by doing so he would generate positive publicity in the West and the support of the plutocrats in his own country. He also spent millions of dollars upgrading roads for the few Italians who had cars and airports for those who could afford to fly. If 100 people were killed building a train tunnel in the Alps and hundreds of poverty stricken residents were displaced to build roads and airports that was not at all problematic. After all, there would be jobs for them in the military, the police force, and guarding dissidents who were placed in prisons.

Our democracy is in peril because we are willing to ignore the costs or providing a sound government. We have elected a President and political party that favors deregulation and the dismantling of agencies that enforce whatever regulations remain in place. We have elected a President and political party that favors the privatization of public services even if it means diminishing compensation for a whole set of workers and diminishing levels of service for the majority of people. We have elected a President and political party who have lowered taxes for the most affluent based on the false promise that— like Warrick Dunn and the Los Angeles mega-church— they will share their largesse and expertise to ensure that everyone else benefits. I hope that voters will examine that premise carefully when they cast their ballots in 2020.

No Cheap or Easy Way to Provide Funding Equity

December 23, 2019 Comments off

This article from In the National Interest examines all of the federal initiatives for improving public schools and the flawed analyses indicating that we are spending too much and getting too little. In the end it rightly concludes that we are spending far too little on the schools that need it most and the remedy will require MORE money and/or tough decisions regarding the redistribution of money already earmarked for schools.

NY Post Editorial Opposing Full Funding Illustrates Conundrum of Achieving Equity

December 18, 2019 Comments off

When I initially read the headline of the NY Daily News’ editorial I was appalled! Titled “The Insane, Dishonest Drive for a “Full Funding”  Boost to State Aid“, the article enumerated all of the reasons such an idea was wrongheaded. Unfortunately the logic used to defend less than full funding was flawed…. until the closing point.

First and foremost, the editorial board asserted:

It is up to the governor and the Legislature to decide state spending, period full stop. The state Constitution and the entire American system of government doesn’t let even New York’s highest court horn in. 

Clearly the editors overlooked the role of the courts when laws fly in the face of the constitution. If the courts had not “horned in” in 1954 school segregation would still be the law of the land and the constitutional rights of minority students would be abrogated.

Continuing on the path of illogic, the editors write

…then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer used the CFE rulings as an excuse to budget even more school aid starting in 2007. Yet lawmakers can’t bind future lawmakers, and the 2008 fiscal crisis forced some cuts. Then Cuomo in 2011, his first year in office, junked the still-“scheduled” Spitzer hikes.

Court orders dealing with funding equity issues are not “an excuse” to budget more school funding but they DO bind legislators to follow through with adjustments to funding formulas even if that flow is diminished due to recessions.

But in the end, the editorial board DID make one valid point:

Is the aid distributed fairly? Probably not: Long Island districts, for example, get vastly more than most analysts think they should — because “swing” districts in Nassau and Suffolk have long decided control of the state Senate. For years, Republican senators used to bring home the school bacon; now that Democrats have swept most of those seats, they’re doing the same thing.

That’s the sausage factory that is lawmaking in a democracy.

And therein lies the problem— and the conundrum of equitable funding: it is impossible to redistribute funds equitably without provide more funding to all school districts… and so governors like Eliot Spitzer are forced to raise spending across the board for education in order to provide MORE funds for property poor districts. And the editorial board should realize that this is not a new problem. Lyndon Johnson faced this when he instituted Title One funding. Instead of providing federal funds exclusively to districts who served predominantly poor children, Congress devised a system where the money followed the child, which meant that districts with ANY needy children received SOME federal money. In this way, wealthy suburban districts received a marginal sum of federal dollars, dollars that arguably could have been earmarked to help neighboring districts that served a larger percentage of needy families. Was this aid distributed fairly? Probably not… but it DID help mitigate the inability of property poor districts to provide adequate funding to children raised in poverty.

This Just In! A Rise in Family Income Results in a Rise in the Well Being of Children

December 17, 2019 Comments off

Jason DeParis’s NYTimes article today, “Tax Break for Children, Except the Ones Who Need it Most“, describes how the recently enacted tax cuts benefit all but the neediest 35% of children in the country. How could this be? Well… it seems that you only qualify for a tax break if you pay taxes. Therefore those who don’t earn enough to pay taxes are not qualified for a full benefit:

The 2017 tax bill, President Trump’s main domestic achievement, doubled the maximum credit in the two-decade-old program and extended it to families earning as much as $400,000 a year (up from $110,000). The credit now costs the federal government $127 billion a year — far more than better-known programs like the earned-income tax credit ($65 billion) and food stamps ($60 billion).

But children with the greatest economic needs are least likely to benefit.

While Republicans say the increase shows concern for ordinary families, 35 percent of children fail to receive the full $2,000 because their parents earn too little, researchers at Columbia University found. A quarter get a partial sum and 10 percent get nothing. Among those excluded from the full credit are half of Latinos, 53 percent of blacks and 70 percent of children with single mothers.

The article describes the convoluted logic that provides affluent families with large sums of federal funding for their children while denying funds for children raised in poverty— especially children of color raised by single parents. All of this flies in the face of the seemingly self-evident but nevertheless proven fact that children raised in poor families whose income increases have corresponding increases in their well being. As Mr. DeParie reports:

The National Academy of Sciences, a group created to convey the scholarly consensus, recently concluded that raising incomes of poor families has “been shown to improve child well-being.” Reviewing dozens of studies, it found child benefits as varied as better test scores and graduation rates, less drug use, and higher earnings and employment as adults.

Conservatives argue that giving poor parents money is a disincentive to work. But those on the left look at what money can buy and argue that more is needed if children hope to have an equal opportunity. De Parie uses the example of Letha Bradford, a Louisiana teacher’s aide, as an example:

Money helps children in part because of what it can buy — more goods (cheesy chicken spaghetti) and services (gymnastics classes or tutors). Ms. Bradford, the teacher’s aide, is so eager to invest in her sons that she has used tax refunds to send them on Boy Scout trips to 42 states — even when a flood left them living in her car. “I’m trying to instill in them that it’s education that gives you knowledge and power, not cars or clothes,” she said….

Money also helps children by relieving stress, which can reach toxic levels in poor families. Earning just $16,000 despite 15 years in the public schools, Ms. Bradford is an accomplished penny-pincher. Still, food often runs short, and the power company recently shut off the lights, leaving Ms. Bradford so upset that the boys could not focus in school.

The GOP can claim it cares about those struggling to make ends meet… but the facts on the tax bill undercut that notion:

While the 2017 law made millions of upper-income families eligible for the $2,000 credit (in part to offset the loss of other tax benefits), it gave a boost of just $75 to most full-time workers at the minimum wage.

It left out 26 million kids” from the full sum, said Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who has helped write a bill to raise the credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for those under 6) and pay a portion monthly. “It’s critical that we don’t leave it as a half measure. Our entire conception of ourselves as a land of opportunity is diminished by the fact that our child poverty rates are as high as they are.”…

Of the $73 billion of increased spending on the credit, 39 percent went to families in the top quintile and 2 percent to those at the bottom, according to Elaine Maag of the bipartisan Tax Policy Center.

One fix that is obvious: boosting the minimum wage so that “the bottom” is higher and fewer of those individuals who ARE working qualify for programs for “the needy”. If the idea behind welfare is to get people working, those who ARE working should not have to seek benefits. The easiest way to accomplish that? Boost wages!

While Impeachment Captures Headlines, DeVos Defies Courts, Denies Relief to Debtors, Is Fined

October 29, 2019 Comments off

The entire for-profit post secondary schooling program has been in a shambles for years, a reality that always made it hard for me to understand why either party thought the privatization of public schools would be a good idea. At some juncture near the end of the Obama administration, the Department of Education decided it was time to clamp down on the schools who were bilking students out of money and driving up debt. To show the for profit schools that they meant business, USDOE went to suspended the debts accumulated by students who attended an especially egregious profiteering school, the Corinthian Colleges.  The Trump administration decided to reverse the Obama era’s ruling and re-imposed the debts. The student debtors went to court and the courts mandated that the debts be suspended. When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pushed back, USDOE was held in contempt of court and fined $100,000.

On the day the court made this ruling, Democracy Now reported that the USDOE’s top loan official, A. Wayne Johnson, resigned in disgust and pledged to do whatever it takes to relieve students of over $1,000,000,000,000 in onerous debt. After his resignation, Mr. Johnson told the Wall Street Journal,

We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody … but it rides on their credit files — it rides on their back — for decades. The time has come for us to end and stop the insanity.”

The insanity reigns in every department in the US Government as anti-regulatory appointees in each department wreak havoc on consumer protection, environmental protection, and workers rights. And as regulations are slashed, the staffing positions required to enforce those regulations are cut. As science is ignored, civic minded scientists are leaving departments in droves and research on medicine, climate, and nutrition are abandoning positions that remain unfilled. Inevitably, when the budget is put together for the next fiscal year and the ones thereafter, the lost tax revenues will “require” that unfilled staffing positions be cut, that “revenue sources” like student loans be retained, and that cuts that are “making the economy grow” be kept in place. The inevitable result: the rich will get richer and the poor will become intractably mired at the bottom of the economic ladder.

This was a great country when I was growing up. Making it “great again” requires not more de-regulation…. but more help for those who need it.

GOP Proposed that Public School Spend Millions on Unproven and Invasive Surveillance Technology

October 24, 2019 Comments off

How can any members of the GOP support this mandate without money for surveillance technology that will cost local taxpayers millions and won’t do anything to help school children get the services they need. Why? Because the NRA likes it!

Bernie Sanders Tries to Keep 500,000 Hungry Children in the Limelight

September 28, 2019 Comments off

With everything else garnering headlines in Washington DC and on the campaign trail, I’m glad to see at least one candidate hammering home the importance of providing children with the nutritious meals they need to succeed in school. Common Dreams writer Jake Johnson describes how the Trump administration sidestepped Congress by issuing a rule change that diverted funds intended for school children to… well… who knows?

Congress last year approved a farm bill that excluded SNAP changes sought by the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers, so the president and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have worked to unilaterally slash eligibility for the program, which is widely recognized by policy experts as an effective way to reduce hunger.

As Mr. Sanders notes, the notion of providing food to hungry children hardly seems like a radical idea:

“In America today, one in every six kids goes hungry,” Sanders states on his website. “Instead of addressing this crisis, students with lunch debt are sometimes denied meals, have debt collectors sent after their families, and are even denied their diplomas. Unacceptable. It is not a radical idea that no child in this country should go hungry. We must ensure that all students have access to healthy school meals.”

It evidently is not a radical idea that funds Congress wanted to send to school districts to feed hungry children can be unilaterally diverted for other uses…. We are truly living in an upside down world.