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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

The Trump Administration’s Lunch Standards Pleases Large Food Companies, Will Create Large Children

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

In keeping with the Trump administration’s efforts to undo everything put in place by the Obama administration, the USDA is rolling back the standards set by his predecessor in 2010:

This week, the United States Department of Agriculture announced its final plans to lower nutrition standards for grains, flavored milks and sodium in school cafeterias that were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and that Michelle Obama, the former first lady, had advocated.

The changes, all of which will go into effect by July, apply to school meals that qualify for at least some federal reimbursement.

The changes include the restoration of white bread, flavored (and sweetened) milk products, and an allowance for higher sodium content. With no sense of irony, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue offered this reaction to the Obama era regulations on flavored milk products: “I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk”

And Mr. Perdue isn’t the only person who is happy:

The School Nutrition Association, an advocacy organization that represents school-food professionals, cheered the new regulations in a news release on Thursday, praising the Trump administration for its flexibility with the standards. The group counts many of the country’s largest food companies among its backers.

it is no surprise that profiteers love these changes to government regulations…. and no surprise that they are represented by an organization that has appropriated the term “Nutrition” to serve their ends.

Julia Jacobs NYTimes article on this subject concluded with these paragraphs:

Karen Perry Stillerman, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it was unclear why the Trump administration would backtrack when schools were in good standing with the nutritional goals. A 2016 news release from the U.S.D.A. said that more than 99 percent of schools in the country reported that they were meeting the Obama-era standards.

Ms. Stillerman said she would prefer that the government offer extra help to schools that were not meeting the nutritional requirements rather than lowering the standards across the country.

“It seems like a small thing,” she said. “But the behavioral research shows you have to offer nutritious food to kids over and over and be consistent.”

It may seem like a small thing, but that small thing could help mitigate the obesity epidemic that is creating large students and adults… large and unhealthy. And I have to believe that Ms. Stillerman knows exactly why “the Trump administration would backtrack”: it’s because his predecessor put the guidelines in place and the guidelines are a clear example of government regulations that can be readily mocked by his supporters.

 

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Elections Have Consequences… Unless the GOP Loses

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

This article by Ron French that appeared in “The Bridge – Michigan’s non-partisan news source”, describes how Michigan’s GOP Legislature, having lost the Statehouse, is now scrambling to pass legislation that dis-empowers the incoming Governor and undercuts the powers of the State Board of Education. The timing of this legislation to effectively change the governance of the state schools is bad enough, but the way the legislation is framed is even worse!

The effort to create a new education commission is tucked into Republican-backed education reform efforts. House Bill 5526 would create an A-to-F grading system for public schools. House Bills 6314 and 6315 would create Public Innovation Districts that wouldn’t have to comply with state regulations on classroom hours of instruction.

The reform bills are unrelated, but each mandates creation of a 13-member Education Accountability Policy Commission that would have broad power over schools.The commission would, for instance, determine the fate of schools that earn an A or an F. (Broadly speaking, Republicans have urged the closure or reduction of funds for low-performing schools while Democrats have pushed for more investment in struggling schools, which often are filled with low-income students who need more academic support.)

Under the… bills, the proposed commission would also determine just how far “public innovation districts” can stray from class-time regulations mandated for traditional public schools. The bill is meant to allow schools more freedom in how they approach education ‒ allowing, for example, students to get credit for internships that might otherwise keep them from meeting state requirements for the number of hours they must be in class….

Grabbing power away from the new Democratic administration “is the whole plan,” said Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, who serves on the House Education Reform Committee. “There are three weeks left in his (Snyder’s) term. And he’d be filling positions that would be filled through the end of Whitmer’s first term. It’s hard to argue you’re not doing it to take power away from the next individual.”

A commission with power over school accountability would look very different under the control of Republicans versus Democrats. A progressive commission would likely push for additional money to failing schools; a conservative commission might give bonuses to schools with high standardized test scores, and close schools with low marks, as Bill Schuette, the losing Republican candidate for governor, proposed during his campaign.

“The commission could shut down a whole host of schools across the state, and most citizens are going to blame the governor when in reality the next governor had no control over it,” Zemke said. “An unelected body that doesn’t report to the executive is … quite scary.”

Unsurprisingly both the current State Board and the incoming Governor are flagging these elements of the bill, protesting them, and threatening lawsuits. But should the legislation pass, the Democrats and the State Board will be hamstrung until their suits work their way through the courts and the GOP will achieve its REAL goal, which is to stymie any efforts to undo what they have wrought over the past several years.

There was a time when the will of the voters was respected… but that time ended when the GOP began to lose power. Senate leader Mitch McConnell set the course for his party when, after Barack Obama was elected, he stated that he would do everything in his power to make sure he was a one-term President,  a promise he kept as the GOP was unified in opposing every action President Obama undertook to improve the economy. Democracy depends on good sportsmanship whereby the losers graciously accept defeat and accede to the will of the voters. The GOP’s actions since 2008 are corroding democracy.

 

MarketWorld Billionaires Fund Campaigns, Frame the Debate on Public Education

December 2, 2018 Leave a comment

I highly recommend the book Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. The book describes the mindset of the billionaire plutocrats who contribute mightily to both parties as “MarketWorld”:

“These elites believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and vulture action, not public life and the law nd the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo’s reform”

So we have the tech billionaires who benefitted from the current system presenting themselves as “reformers” and contributing millions (chump change to them) to political campaigns to ensure that the system doesn’t change.

Over the past several weeks I gathered several articles describing how the billionaires have underwritten candidates who will, in all likelihood, buy into the notion that a combination of market-based reforms and philanthropic donations are the best means of improving public education.

Earlier this month David Callahan, the editor of Inside Philanthropy, offered his views on “reformers” in an article that described how the billionaires hoped to influence the direction of public education through their political donations.

And Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar described how billionaires are deciding elections. She took special note of the election for California State Superintendent where:

….billionaires bankrolled the campaign of Marshall Tuck, a corporate candidate for school superintendent who strongly supports the privatization of schools. The race between Tuck and his union-backed rival, Tony Thurmond, broke records for the millions of dollars that the candidates raised and the tens of millions that flowed in from outside groups—a shocking trend considering the down-ballot status of the race in a critical midterm election year. Among the deep-pocketed individuals who backed Tuck were members of the Walton family, the CEO of Netflix and Eli Broad, a wealthy philanthropist known for his pro-charter school agenda.

If voters knew that billionaires were spending ridiculous amounts of money to elect a pro-privatization candidate, surely teachers and the parents of public school students might be inclined to view them with distrust?

And Josh Hoxie of Truthdig offered some insights into how the changes in inheritance taxes are putting us on course to be run by the children of billionaires… a circumstance we already find ourselves in with our current President.

And last, but certainly not least, is the news report by Stephanie Saul and Rachel Shorey in the NYTImes that billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who led the so-called “reform” movement in NYC hen he was mayor, made pivotal contributions to the campaigns of 21 Democrats who won house races in the most recent election. While the article cited Mr. Bloomberg’s advocacy for gun control and climate change legislation, anyone who follows the public school privatization movement knows where the former mayor stands on that issue and would ind it hard to believe he would not expect his donations to help support that cause as well.

The only way to change the MarketWorld perspective is to take the money out of politics… and the best way to do that is to support candidates who refuse to take corporate donations or money from PACs like those operated by billionaires like Michael Bloomberg…

 

Chalkbeat: “Indiana’s War On Teachers Is Winning”

November 29, 2018 Leave a comment

“Reformers” can get legislators to suspend regulations but they can’t change the fundamental laws of supply and demand…. nor can they entice creative teachers to a state where teaching to the test is a de facto mandate. The teachers, though, aren’t the real losers in Indiana: the students are.

via Chalkbeat: “Indiana’s War On Teachers Is Winning”

China Moving Ahead with “Social Credit” Rating System

November 24, 2018 Comments off

We need to get a handle on how to address this problem ASAP. If the private sector “solves” it by censorship we could end up with news silos even worse than we have now and if the government intervenes we could all be receiving only Breitbart News feeds and being sorted into “good” and “bad” categories depending on which party is in power.

via China Moving Ahead with “Social Credit” Rating System

Detroit’s Schools: A Canary in the Coal Mine for Urban Schools Across the Country

November 22, 2018 Comments off

Crain’s Detroit Business News reported on an alarming– but wholly unsurprising— finding from Moody’s Investor’s Service: the Detroit Public Schools need a multi-million dollar influx of state funding to upgrade their facilities.

Without sufficient state support, the growing capital needs of Detroit’s public schools pose a potential threat to the city’s economic revitalization, Moody’s Investors Service said Tuesday.

“Two years after from a state bailout that staved off insolvency, the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) is again at a crossroads,” the Moody’s report said. “The bailout strengthened the district’s operations, but the state did not provide sufficient resources to address large and growing capital needs.”

A recent evaluation of the district’s facilities, along with the discovery of high lead levels in the district’s drinking water, has increased the urgency, Moody’s said.

The district cannot finance capital improvements on its own and the City of Detroit (Ba3 stable) has its own challenges, placing the burden on the State of Michigan (Aa1 stable) to potentially step in again,” Moody’s wrote in the report. “Absent state support, or sizable philanthropic donations, the deteriorating school facilities will hinder the City of Detroit’s post-bankruptcy economic revitalization.

From my perspective Detroit Public Schools are a canary in the coal mine. Shortchanged by a State intent on tax cuts for the wealthy, located in a city unable to provide services due to a declining population and loss of businesses, and full of aging facilities with crumbling infrastructure, the Detroit Public Schools cannot survive unless the state changes its thinking or some philanthropist steps in. But here’s what is especially sad about Detroit’s schools: they were under the control of the State who turned them over to the kind of privatized operators that philanthropists love to fund… and the privatization and state control went so badly that they have now restored the traditional model of governance. And the traditional model IS working. The operating budget management is under control but the newly elected board has inherited school facilities that require a huge investment, as outlined in Moody’s report:

 

  • The 2016 state bailout solved only part of the district’s problems. The state responded with a cash infusion and restructuring plan that contributed to surplus operations. However, the district’s financial health is at risk over the next decade due to the projected deterioration of its school facilities.

  • Facility needs are substantial with costs likely to rise. A recent facility assessment commissioned by the district depicts large-scale capital needs, which are poised to grow over the next decade. Needs vary across the district as buildings outside greater downtown more likely to be categorized as poor or unsatisfactory. In August, the district had to shut off drinking water due to unsafe lead levels.

  • Local funding solutions are limited, pointing to the need for another state bailout. The district lacks the resources to afford capital upgrades. Additionally, the district’s ability to access the capital markets at affordable rates is also limited. While the city of Detroit’s fiscal fortunes have improved, it is unlikely to offer meaningful assistance to the school district.

  • The state of Michigan is the most viable source of support for the district’s sizable capital needs, though political appetite so soon after the bailout is uncertain.

  • The district’s unmet capital needs are a potential threat to the city’s economic recovery. High levels of investment have revitalized the city’s downtown, although marked improvement in outer neighborhoods has lagged. Poor facility conditions have the potential to slow revitalization and further limit the prospect of reversing the city’s core credit challenges, rooted in low property values, poor socioeconomic characteristics and persistent out-migration.

The cost of the original bailout was $617,000,000… which reflected the impact of the diminished spending over a period of time due to underfunding by the state. But THAT underfunding was to the operating budget…. and the deferred maintenance and operations costs are even higher:

Moody’s cited a facility assessment commissioned by the districted and conducted in July by a third-party consulting firm, OHM Advisors. The assessment reported that the district’s 100-plus school buildings in operation have approximately $530 million in capital needs and deferred maintenance. The report projected that the figure could top $1.5 billion by 2023 if not addressed, the ratings agency said.

“Many of the district’s buildings are well past their useful lives,” Moody’s wrote, although it points out that most of the district’s students attend schools in buildings classified as “good” or “fair”. This could change if more capital investments are not made in the coming years, it said.

The GOP State legislators have deferred spending for years assuming that tax cuts to corporations would attract businesses and increase the tax base. That hasn’t happened in Michigan— and hasn’t happened anywhere… and the result in Detroit is likely to play out in urban areas across the nation in the years ahead.

 

Student Loans Redux: Navient Shareholders Profit; Borrowers AND the Economy Suffer; USDOE Ignores

November 21, 2018 Comments off

Our local newspaper featured an article by AP Business writer Ken Sweet that described the findings of a 2017 audit of private loan provider Navient performed by the USDOE, an audit that appears

…to support federal and state lawsuits that accuse Navient of boosting its profits by steering some borrowers into the high-cost plans without discussing options that would have been less costly in the long run.

While this sounds innocuous, as Mr. Sweet explains, it likely added millions in interest charges to student borrowers, money that might otherwise have been used to make purchases that would fuel the economy and enable student borrowers to move out of relative poverty into middle class status. These two paragraphs explain the financial and political ramifications of Navient’s behavior:

A 2017 study by the Government Accountability Office estimates that a typical borrower of a $30,000 student loan who places their loan into forbearance for three years — the maximum allowed for economic- hardship forbearance — would pay an additional $6,742 in interest on that loan.

“This finding is both tragic and infuriating, and the findings appear to validate the allegations that Navient boosted its profits by unfairly steering student borrowers into forbearance when that was often the worst financial option for them,” (Senator Elizabeth) Warren said in a letter to Navient last week.

However the USDOE, who launched the audit and presumably is supporting student borrowers, is doing nothing about this. Why? Because the USDOE agrees with Navenit’s defense that “…its contract with the education department doesn’t require its customer service representatives to mention all options available to the borrower.” And what compounds the USDOE’s concurrence is that it has no intention of re-working its agreement, a decision that led to one of USDOE’s officials to resign in protest:

Seth Frotman, who was the highest- ranking government official in charge of student loans until he quit in August in protest over how the Trump-controlled Department of Education and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were handling the issue of student loans, said Navient’s response was outrageous.

“In short, Navient, when confronted with evidence of its bad practices, is telling the government, ‘Pay us more money or take a hike.’ And it looks like the Department of Education took a hike,” Frotman said.

And the losers in all of this are the piled borrowers and the US economy.