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The Question NEITHER Party Wants to Answer: Why are We Spending $649,000,000 to Subsidize on Fossil Fuel?

July 14, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday I read a CNN headline (that could have appeared in any mainstream media outlet) reporting that Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin is alarmed that the US is experiencing a ballooning deficit. This is not a surprise to anyone who passed basic Economics class.  There is no real world evidence that the trickle down theory of economics, the beloved paradigm of the libertarian wing of the GOP, results in economic growth and lots of real world evidence showing that it inevitably leads to a point where politicians must choose between cuts to government programs or cuts to the safety net.

Today I read a June 12 article by Forbes writer James Ellsmore, an article I wrote about a few weeks ago from a purely educational perspective. Titled “US Spends Ten Times More on Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education”, Ellsmore’s article has a clear link to schooling. But upon re-reading the article it is evident that the US is not alone in making this subsidy and underspending on education is the least of the problem:

A new International Monetary Fund (IMF) study shows that USD $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017. The equivalent of over 6.5% of global GDP of that year, it also represented a half-trillion dollar increase since 2015 when China ($1.4 trillion), the United States ($649 billion) and Russia ($551 billion) were the largest subsidizers.

The largest governments in the world are spending more and more money subsidizing an industry that marketed a de facto drug— fossil fuel— to the world knowing that in doing so it was damaging the planet possibly beyond repair. At the same time, these same nations supported environmental deregulation that enabled these fossil fuel pushers  to pollute the air and waters with impunity while enacting labor “reforms” that stripped workers in all parts of the economy of benefits, suppressed their wages, and prevented them from banding together.

China and Russia are not democracies and never have been. It is not news that their governments are operating at the behest of a small group of oligarchs. The US has been a highly functioning democracy, one that has balanced the needs of consumers and citizens with the needs for profits. But instead of marketing democracy to the world, we are marketing capitalism. We are willing to see China and Russia as “trading partners” in order to ensure that our businesses can “compete in the global marketplace”… and we’ve been willing to bargain away our democracy in order to satisfy the needs of a small group of businessmen who promote expansion of their businesses at the expense of civilization and the health of the planet.

And what would happen if the money spent on fossil fuel subsidies disappeared? Where could that money be spent?

IMF leader Christine Lagarde has noted that the investments made into fossil fuels could be better spent elsewhere, and could have far reaching positive impacts: “There would be more public spending available to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people. We believe that removing fossil fuel subsidies is the right way to go.

And if what if that money had been spent on subsidies for renewable energy instead of fossil fuel?

Had nations reduced subsidies in a way to create efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015, the International Monetary Fund believes that it “would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.”

So.. why isn’t our country debating these subsidies? The GOP is clearly and unequivocally in support of the status quo in terms of energy use and the Democratic National Committee has declared the topic of climate change as “of limits” in their debates. Why?

Readers can draw their own conclusion. When I am try to answer this question through an optimistic lens, I believe that both political parties are focussed too much on the sacrifices we might have to make as a nation if we shift away from fossil fuel and not emphasizing the opportunities that would be available if we made such a decision. The fossil fuel industry, who wants to maintain the status quo in our energy policies and spending patterns, promotes the notion that any rapid shift away from their products will destabilize the economy and require the imposition of more government regulations and higher taxes on carbon products. Meanwhile, those who want seek to expand the use of renewable energy try to “out-fear” the fossil fuel promoters, emphasizing a future of weather catastrophes and hardship. As long as the arguments are framed in this fashion there is no upside to debating climate change. In my optimistic moments, I want to believe that some Presidential candidate will re-frame the debate and focus on the potential benefits of addressing climate change. The funds that would be available for public spending to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people, the jobs that would be created if we subsidized renewable energy over fossil fuel, and the clean air and water that would be sustained if we continued enforcing the environmental regulations put in place. When I answer this question through an optimistic lens I believe that given the facts voters will support a shift of our subsidies away from fossil fuel toward renewable energy and democracy will prevail.

When I try to answer this question through a pessimistic lens, though, I believe that both parties are beholden to the fossil fuel donors who have made it abundantly clear that climate change needs to remain off limits in debates and subsidies need to remain in place at all costs– even if those costs are to the well being of the planet. When I try to answer this question through a pessimistic lens, I see that democracy is in peril as well as the planet.

I hope that as voters realize that our country spent $649,000,000 on fossil fuel they might ask leaders in both parties why this is happening and think of ways this money could have been spent elsewhere without raising any taxes whatsoever.

Charter Schools Acknowledge Flaws, Flaws that Prove “No Excuses” Approach to Discipline Fails

July 6, 2019 Comments off

After reading Eliza Shapiro’s article this morning in the NYTimes I came away with the sense that MAYBE the tide is turning against charter schools in NYC and, if so, it could be a harbinger of a shift everywhere. The article’s title, “Why Some of the Country’s Best Urban Schools Face a Reckoning”, is misleading at best. It implies that the charter schools who are facing “a reckoning” are “some of the country’s best urban schools”, which perpetuates the NYTImes narrative that charter schools are better than traditional public schools. The article, though, pulls no punches because the data on charter schools indicted that while many of the charters flagged in the article have trumpeted their successes they have papered over their failures. The first two paragraphs set the stage:

When the charter school movement first burst on to the scene, its founders pledged to transform big urban school districts by offering low-income and minority families something they believed was missing: safe, orderly schools with rigorous academics.

But now, several decades later, as the movement has expanded, questions about whether its leaders were fulfilling their original promise to educate vulnerable children better than neighborhood public schools have mounted.

From there, Ms. Shapiro describes how zero tolerance discipline policies ended up emphasizing conduct at the expense of academics, demonstrates that many of the criticisms leveled against the charter schools were warranted, and indicates that both the Governor of NY and the legislature have resisted any further expansion of charters in NYC because of the deficiencies in the programs. Ms. Shapiro describes the new political reality in this paragraph:

Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who has been a crucial supporter of charters, declared that the State Legislature would not lift a cap on the number of new charters issued citywide. By halting charter growth indefinitely, Albany lawmakers have begun to erode the schools’ foothold in the country’s biggest school system.

Will the charter’s loosening foothold in Albany and NYC have an impact on their expansion elsewhere? My belief is that it will except in those parts of the country where charters are unapologetically used to segregate children based on race, religion, and wealth…. and as long as Betsy DeVos has her hand on the tiller and neoliberalism reigns in the Democratic party the resegregation and monetization of public schools will continue and charters will be the vehicle for that trend.

The “Downshifting Dilemma” Described for New Hampshire Residents is a National Phenomenon

July 1, 2019 Comments off

For decades public school administrators and school board members have hit their heads against the wall trying to explain to property owners that every tax cut that occurs at the Federal and State level has an adverse impact on local property taxes… and as a a result the most regressive and inequitable tax of all has the highest burden.

In New Hampshire this legislative session, the Democrats who controlled the House and Senate approved a budget that shifted the tax burden away from property taxes. Alas, the GOP Governor, Chris Sununu, vetoed the bill. The results of the veto were described in a Advancing New Hampshire Public Education (ANHPE) blog post as follows:

As you may have heard, on Friday Governor Sununu vetoed the budget proposed by the Committee of Conference (“CofC”), which had passed the House and Senate on purely party lines.  Unfortunately, this means that everything the CofC put in the budget is back on the table and potentially on the chopping block – including the $138 million in new school aid and $40 M in municipal aid that districts and towns were hoping to see.  The veto leaves school districts in a quandary as they make staffing and other decisions for the school year ahead.

The quandary they face is that IF they proceed to implement the budgets they adopted this Spring in anticipation of some consistent level of funding they could end up shifting the more of the cost for operating schools onto the shoulders of taxpayers since the continuing resolution passed to keep the State government operational includes a 4% CUT to state funds. 2/3 of the districts in the state face this dilemma… and the property poor districts, who have the most to gain from the passage of the funding, have the most to lose as a result. And here’s the kicker: voters in those districts who stand to lose the most often fail to recognize that the tax limitations they seek at the State level translate into higher property taxes. ANHPE describes this as “the downshifting dilemma”:

The Governor has justified his veto in part by saying that he doesn’t want to raise taxes on businesses.  Those who crafted the CofC budget dispute this characterization and argue that they’re simply blocking an additional decrease in business profits taxes, which were already reduced last year.  Whichever way you view it, the fact remains that the State’s chronic underfunding of schools results in a downshifting of costs to the local level, leaving property taxpayers to pick up the tab.  When districts take an additional hit (like the 4% reduction in stabilization funding), property taxes will most likely rise.

But this kind of downshifting is not limited to the New Hampshire. The federal special education law has NEVER been fully funded. That means that State’s have been asked to cover the difference in the federal funds promised to implement the mandate for special education and the federal funds allocated for that purpose. Here’s an excerpt from a cover letter to a February 2018 report by the National Council on Disability (NCD) describing how this shifts costs downward:

Over the past 42 years, the Federal Government has recognized and supported this right through providing billions of dollars in special education funding to assist the states in meeting their responsibilities in this area. NCD has repeatedly called on Congress to fully fund IDEA. The Federal Government’s failure to meet its promised funding obligation has stressed many state and local budgets to the point where many districts routinely struggle to meet student needs. In 1975, Congress promised to cover 40 percent of the average cost to educate a child with disabilities. Congress later amended the law to say that the Federal Government would pay a “maximum” of 40 percent of per-pupil costs. Today, the Federal Government pays less than half of what it originally promised in 1975.

And what happens when a state or school district does not get the funding promised at the federal level? They need to look elsewhere for cuts because special education funding is mandatory. Here’s how the NCD report describes what happens:

The lack of federal support to meet the original commitment Congress made to meet the excess cost of special education places considerable pressure on state and local budgets, resulting in a range of actions including:

  • ■  One state placing an illegal cap on IDEA identi cation of students
  • ■  Districts and schools limiting hiring of personnel and providers, which contributes to high turnover and shortages in the eld
  • ■  Districts and schools restricting service hours
  • ■  Districts and schools reducing or eliminating other general programs

In effect, we are willing to diminish and/or compromise services and standards to special education students or reduce services and standards to ALL students in order to avoid paying higher taxes.

But special education is not the only place where FEDERAL cuts result in downshifting. If federal spending is reduced in roads, or oversight of environmental regulations, or oversight of consumer safety, the needs associated with those expenditures do not disappear… and the costs for those expenditures face the same pressures.

Would we want to loosen our safety standards for roads, the environment, or consumer safety in order to save money? I fear that we are heating an affirmative answer to that question at all levels of government… and I fear that our quality of life is diminishing as a result of the affirmative answer we are hearing.

 

Where’s The Money For “X”? Jesse Jackson Has the Answer: Cut the Defense Budget!

June 16, 2019 Comments off

Jesse Jackson’s recent Common Dreams op ed article offers the solution to the never-ending questions about lowering costs for college, funding Universal Pre-K, providing more resources for urban and rural districts whose tax bases have eroded, and upgrading our infrastructure. The title of the article, “Bring the Troops Home and Send More Kids to College“, gives the solution.

While Mr. Jackson’s article is narrower in scope than the list of needs in the opening paragraph of this post— he’s focussing on cuts to Pell grants that help low income students attend colleges— the fact is that defense spending is increasing while the costs for the safety net services are decreasing… and as I am writing this post it appears that President Trump’s cabinet members are ginning up a need for us to send troops (and, consequently even MORE money) to Iran.

I we REALLY want to make our nation stronger and our economy more vibrant, we need to pay workers more and provide an equitable opportunity for students of all backgrounds to make their lives better. Increasing spending on defense is not the best way to accomplish that.

Pennsylvania’s Charter Law Overreach FINALLY Gets Charter Scams on National Radar

June 14, 2019 Comments off

The original idea of charter schools, the one conditionally proposed by Albert Shanker who has undoubtedly turned over several times in his grave when his name is invoked by privatizers, was to allow public school teachers to create alternative programs within the context of the existing governance structure of public education law. The schools would use public funds to operate their schools, but the funds would flow through public schools boards governed in conformance with existing legislation.

Those who viewed “government regulations” and “union red tape” as the primary problems in public education, and especially members of that subset who also saw an opportunity to make a great profit with a small investment, began beating the drum for charter schools and helped enact NCLB, the biggest door-opener for their business model since it called for the creation of choices for parents who attend “failing” public schools.

No state did more to open the door to profiteers than Pennsylvania and, as Jeff Bryant writes in Common Dreams, no state has more scammers in the “virtual school” market. Mr. Bryant carefully researches his articles and does an excellent job of describing exactly how the profiteers passed seemingly innocuous legislation that enabled Pennsylvania charter schools to now collect “…over $1.8 billion annually and account for over 25 percent of the state’s basic education funding.” Like all state funding formulas, Pennsylvania’s is opaque… but with the help of fellow blogger Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman) he describes the way current laws siphon money away from public schools who must education every child to charters who can exclude, say, special education students that public schools must education.

And how are those charter schools doing, you ask? Here’s Mr. Bryant’s answer:

If charter schools guaranteed some kind of education premium—a significant boost in test scores or other measure of academic achievement—then perhaps that could justify the extra costs public schools incur to provide some parents a choice. But in Pennsylvania, that’s hardly the case.

According to a recent study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, charter school students in Pennsylvania, when compared with their counterparts in traditional public schools, make similar progress on reading exams but fare worse in math. The study also found significant variation in performance within the charter industry—with cyber charters performing especially poorly and urban brick-and-mortar charters perhaps providing some academic benefits to African American and Hispanic students.

There is a silver lining to this outrageous example of greed, though, and it is described in the final paragraph:

In states like Pennsylvania, the upward spiraling costs are now fueling “a growing resistance to charters as any kind of answer to education problems,” Dan Doubet, executive director of Keystone Progress says. “People are catching on that inserting a private middleman into public services doesn’t diminish the costs of government.”

And since Pennsylvania is hardly the only state that opened the door to scammers (Ohio, for example might be even worse!), it’s embarrassing headlines combined with current Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ shilling for charters is compelling several Democratic Party candidates to speak out against profiteering in public education in particular ad the public sector in general. Hopefully, thing have gotten so bad they can’t get any worse…

A Billionaire Who Gets It: Our Education System Cannot Compensate for the Injustices of Our Economic System

June 12, 2019 Comments off

Billionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer offers a mea culpa in an Atlantic article that appeared inCommon Dreams titled “Sorry, But Just Having Better Public Schools Will Not Fix America”. He opens the post with this confession:

Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy.As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

But Mr. Hanauer came to understand that this narrative lays the blame for all of society’s ills on public education without acknowledging the impact of those same ills on the schools…. and he came to conclude that the “egg” of economic dysfunction led to “chicken” of “failing schools”.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000…

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

And educationism has distracted us mightily with its efficiency driven spreadsheet mentality whereby schools are “measured” and rank-ordered using seemingly precise standardized tests and other cheap and easy metrics and penalizing those schools that fall short for reasons that have nothing to do with their effectiveness and everything to do with the socio-economic factors of the children attending them. Mr. Hanauer goes on to burst other bubbles of his billionaire brethren, undercutting the narrative of the “skills gap”, the “under-educated workforce”, the need for more STEM, and the underlying belief that better schools will take care of the unarguable economic divide. And Mr. Hanauer does so with facts and data that counter the story lines embraced by the edu-philanthropists. His solution for improving public schools is one that is unsettling… and one rooted in de facto redistribution:

All of which suggests that income inequality has exploded not because of our country’s educational failings but despite its educational progress. Make no mistake: Education is an unalloyed good. We should advocate for more of it, so long as it’s of high quality. But the longer we pretend that education is the answer to economic inequality, the harder it will be to escape our new Gilded Age.

However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

Mr. Hanauer then lays out a series of facts his counterparts will, alas, be unlikely to accept and ideas they will also be unlikely to embrace:

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

His idea that employers could find qualified workers if they paid them more seems obvious to any student of Economics 101 in college… but in our era of outsourcing, robotics, and downsizing the profiteers seem content to displace workers in favor of accumulating profits.

Mr. Hanauer concludes his article with this Big Idea which no billionaire is likely to accept and only a handful of politicians are willing to talk about:

Educationism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power. As Anand Giridharadas explains in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, narratives like this one let the wealthy feel good about ourselves. By distracting from the true causes of economic inequality, they also defend America’s grossly unequal status quo.

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth. Fixing that problem will require wealthy people to not merely give more, but take less.

And fixing the problem will require people like me who are comfortable but not billionaires, to accept a reality described in a pin that reads: “End Economic Inequality: Tax Me”.

No Surprise: NH Supreme Court Finds Funding Levels Unconstitutional… A HUGE Surprise Would Be Having Anything Happen as a Result

June 7, 2019 Comments off

The Advancing New Hampshire Public Education (ANHPE) blog posted a synopsis of NH Superior Court Judge Ruoff’s 98-page decision on the constitutionality of the current funding in NH and once again it was determined to be unconstitutional. Here are a few choice tidbits from the judge’s decision as gleaned from the ANHPE post:

  • “RSA 198:40-a,II(a) sets the current base adequacy aid award for all schools at $3,562.71 per student, based on a formula determined by a legislative committee in 2008. The parties agree that not a single school in the State of New Hampshire could or does function at $3,562.71 per student. ”Because of the dearth of evidence in the legislative record to support such a
    determination, the Court finds RSA 198:40-a,II(a)—which is essentially the gateway to an adequate education in New Hampshire—unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts.”
  • “Labels aside, we are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record…”
  • The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness of such a system.
  • “As repeatedly found above, the Joint Committee’s [that determined the adequacy funding formula] conclusions were not only unsupported by the legislative record but were clearly or demonstrably inadequate according to the Legislature’s own definition of an adequate education.”
  •  “As every court decision on the matter has recognized, school funding is no small task, and the burden on the Legislature is great. Yet, as every court decision has similarly recognized, the Legislature is the proper governmental body to complete it. As has been the result in the past, the Court expects the Legislature to respond thoughtfully and enthusiastically to funding public education according to its constitutional obligation.”

The Governor’s reaction was as unsurprising as the judge’s decision… and completely contradicts the findings in bold red italics above:

Governor Sununu issued a statement saying, “”The state is reviewing the order, but we continue to believe these critical funding decisions are best left to local elected leaders — who represent the people of New Hampshire — not judges in a courtroom.”

There is no way that “local elected leaders” in property poor communities can EVER provide adequate funds… but the Governor knows enough math to also realize that there is no way the Legislature, “the prosper governmental body” to devise an equitable formula, can accomplish the feat without getting more revenues… which, of course, means higher taxes or more “tricks” like the expansion of the lottery. Will this ever happen in my home state? It’s been over thirty years since the first lawsuit was “won” and it hasn’t happened yet. I’m not at all encouraged.