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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

According to Politicians and Pundits, the Road to Riches is the Road to Fulfillment

May 23, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an Upshot article by Kevin Carey titled “Can Data Ward Off College Debt? New Strategy Focuses on Results”. Unsurprisingly given the avariciousness of the current POTUS, the pro-privatization tilt of his Secretary of State, the GOP, and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the unfailing faith in Capitalism on the part of many voters, the EARNINGS are the “results” the “new strategy” intends to measure. Need evidence of this assertion? Here are two paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s essay, describing the “new accountability system” proposed by Senator Lamar Alexander:

Mr. Alexander proposed a “new accountability system” based on loan repayment rates for individual programs within colleges. This, said Mr. Alexander, “should provide colleges with an incentive to lower tuition and help their students finish their degrees and find jobs so they can repay their loans.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Alexander, despite their strong criticism of President Obama on education, are following in the footsteps of his regulatory crackdown on for-profit colleges and short-term certificate programs. Rather than evaluate sprawling educational conglomerates based on the average results of hundreds of programs, the Obama rules disqualified specific programs whose graduates didn’t earn enough money to pay back their loans.

In earlier blog posts I railed against President Obama’s metrics because, like those of Mr. Alexander and the POTUS, they assumed that the purpose of college was to land a job that pays enough to allow the student to pay back loans for college. In effect, college exists to make certain banks collect enough interest to remain profitable.

Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos know the facts about debt… and presumably Mr. Carey does as well. While only 6% of college students in NYS attended for-profit schools, 41% of those who defaulted came from those schools. Discussions that link earnings to majors sidestep this issue. The founder of Trump University, his Secretary of Education, and the many legislators who receive donations from profiteers who want less regulation are banding together to divert our collective attention away from the real problem and, at the same time, reinforcing the idea that college is about getting a high paying job and not “guiding people toward more enlightened, fulfilling lives.”

And here’s the bottom line: the policies promulgated by our legislators and pundits, assume our lives can only be fulfilled if we make a lot of money… and the more we earn the more we will be fulfilled.

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Bible Bills Proliferate… Can Bills Mandating Christianity as a State Religion Be Far Behind?

May 21, 2019 Comments off

Washington Post writer Julie Zausmer reports that several states are considering laws that would mandate that high schools offer courses on the Bible, using a law recently passed by Kentucky as the model. From Ms. Zausner’s article it is evident that “Project Blitz”, a nationwide effort by “activists on the religious right” is using an ALEC-like model to promote these bills.

I usually try to avoid “slippery slope” arguments, but the recent abortion laws adopted by at least eight states make me think that “Project Blitz” is an effort to slip the nose of the camel under a tent, and the camel in this case is an effort to make Christianity a State religion. It is noteworthy that only BIBLE instruction is mandated, in effect ensuring that public schools offer only Bible instruction in the same way madrases in the Middle East offer exclusive instruction in the Koran.

I found Ms. Zauzmer’s report chilling. I was unsettled to reading about students who analogized Bible reading to shooting hoops in the gym, who read the Bible from cover to cover, who believe that the Bible is “…more important than any other book I could be reading”, and who feel comforted that the schools are offering the creation story as opposed to “evolution and the big bang”. I recall that when I was a teenager in the early 1960s our teachers— and even our minister— encouraged us to question things for by questioning we would expand our knowledge and shore up our understanding.

The wall between church and state is a mental construct, one that can be erased by zealous legislators or legislators who fear being displaced by candidates whose beliefs and convictions are stronger and more passionate. We need to keep that figurative wall in place if we hope to retain our democracy.

Defunding of Oregon Schools Good Proxy for National Phenomenon, a Phenomenon that Ultimately Destroys Democracy

April 24, 2019 Comments off

Beaverton OR Visual Arts Teacher Belle Chesler wrote an excellent op ed that appeared in Tom Dispatch titled “Defunding Children, A National Crisis of the Soul“. In the article Ms. Chesler provides mounds of compelling evidence supporting her thesis that the defending of public education is a national phenomenon that is eroding public education, one of our country’s bedrock institutions. Midway through her essay, Ms. Chesler homes in on the heart argument for defunding schools: money is not the solution.

There is a large disconnect between the lip service paid to supporting public schools and teachers and a visible reticence to adequately fund them. Ask almost anyone — save Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — if they support teachers and schools and the answer is probably “yes.” Bring up the question of how to actually provide adequate financial support for education, however, and you’ll quickly find yourself mired in arguments about wasteful school spending, pension funds that drain resources, sub-par teachers, and bureaucratic bloat, as well as claims that you can’t just continue to throw money at a problem, that money is not the solution.

The next paragraph, Ms. Chesler offers this rejoinder, a response that resonated with me:

I’d argue that money certainly is part of the solution. In a capitalist society, money represents value and power. In America, when you put money into something, you give it meaning. Students are more than capable of grasping that when school funding is being cut, it’s because we as a society have decided that investing in public education doesn’t carry enough value or meaning.

As one who grew up in the post-World War II boom, I had a sense that the public DID support public education and DID hold out high hopes for our generation. I had this sense because new schools and additions were being constructed everywhere, we seemed to get new textbooks every year, there seemed to be new classes added to help us get into college, and we had more and more extra-curricular offerings. Education was clearly valued and was clearly meaningful to our parents and our community.

When I became a school superintendent in several Northeastern states, it was evident that my experiences in West Chester PA were not limited to that region. Regional High Schools sprung up throughout New England, New York, and Maryland during that same time frame and state colleges and junior colleges expanded shortly thereafter as our generation moved through the school systems. The message we got as students was that we mattered, that school was important, and people in the community cared about us.

Now that we can vote, though, my generation is not lending a helping hand to those behind us…. and, as Ms. Chesler notes, that is having a corrosive effect on the institution that drives democracy: the public schools. She concludes her essay with this call to arms to her colleagues in Oregon:

Public schools represent one of the bedrock institutions of American democracy. Yet as a society we’ve stood aside as the very institutions that actually made America great were gutted and undermined by short-term thinking, corporate greed, and unconscionable disrespect for our collective future.

The truth is that thereis money for education, for schools, for teachers, and for students. We just don’t choose to prioritize education spending and so send a loud-and-clear message to students that education doesn’t truly matter. And when you essentially defund education for more than 40 years, you leave kids with ever less faithin American institutions, which is a genuine tragedy.

On May 8th, educators across the state of Oregon are planning to walk out of schools. The action, a precursor to a strike, is a direct response to the inadequate funding in the upcoming state budget and a referendum on the continuing divestment in public education. Teachers like me will be stepping out of our classrooms not because we don’t want to teach, but because we do.

Already Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Arizona teachers have staged similar walkouts to good effect. MAYBE my generation is feeling some pangs of guilt and is ready to step forward to offer more financial support for schools. Time will tell.

Millions of Federal $$$ for Charters Wasted Since 2006. Note the Date, Please!

April 23, 2019 Comments off

Jeff Bryant, co-author of a recently released report from the Network for Public Education (NPE), wrote a post for Common Dreams describing Betsy DeVos’ most recent reaction to the report, which was an ad hominem attack of the writers. Mr. Bryant’s summarized Ms. DeVos’ reaction and the NPE’s response in this paragraph:

By denying, distracting, and personally attacking the report authors, she encouraged us to delve further into the evidence that much of the money awarded by the program went to charter schools that are, at best, bungling attempts to start up education businesses that should never have been financed to begin with or, at worst, scam operations that willfully intended to make off with taxpayer money and not suffer any negative consequences.

What I find particularly alarming after reading this post is that the easiest defense of DeVos COULD have been: “The waste, fraud, and abuse happened under the watch of previous administrations and I will be taking the following steps to correct this problem”… because almost all of the documented cases in the NPE report come from actions taken by the DOE under the Obama administration.

She didn’t say that… which means she does not care at all about the need to regulate for profit charter schools or the impact those schools have on the lives of parents, children, and community members.

But here’s what I find even MORE alarming: there are probably at least a dozen Democratic candidates who WILL defend charter schools using that line of reasoning.

My bottom line on charters is that they should be governed by democratically elected boards and subject to the same regulations as public schools.

Borderless Transnational Corporations are Ultimate Source of international Inequality, Demise of Democracy

April 22, 2019 Comments off

A few days ago I wrote a post decrying the 56 corporations that avoided paying taxes altogether. Shortly after writing that post, Common Dreams blogger Patti Lynn wrote a post underscoring that these corporations are part of a small group of multi-national enterprises whose allegiance is not to any country or any form of government— only to themselves and to profits. And in a series of paragraphs undertake heading “Abandoning the Common Good” she describes the impact of our government’s policy that kowtows to the demands of these companies:

It’s becoming more and more clear how our current economic and political system is failing to provide, take care of, and manage the resources and services we all need. Our aging water infrastructure is in dire need of public reinvestment. Public schools struggle mightily around the country. And in most places in the U.S. public transportation is not equitable, in need of major reinvestment, or doesn’t even exist.

Who bears the brunt of these failures? Well, certainly not super wealthy corporate and mostly white CEOs being driven in limos stocked with bottled water. Or celebrities and hedge fund managers bribing college coaches to get their children into Ivy League and other prestige-bestowing schools.

It’s the mostly Black folks in Flint and Detroit whose water is poisoned or shut off who are experiencing these systemic failures to the greatest degree. It’s people who rely on public transportation to get them to their hourly wage jobs—and who get docked pay or fired if they come in late because of a broken-down subway. It’s low-income families who do the best they can by their kids in resource-starved public K-12 schools.

Ms. Lynn goes on to note that “taxing the rich” will only get us part of the way toward our goal: we need to also examine the tax policies we have in place for these multi-national corporations. And, as the third paragraph below emphasizes, the recent tax laws are only making things worse:

But taxing the ultra-wealthy is only addressing half the solution. We must also apply the same scrutiny to corporations and enact policies that ensure corporations pay what they owe in taxes (not to mention what they owe in externalized costs). Sen. Warren’s new proposal is a welcome policy proposal in that direction.

The argument against doing so is that the U.S. already has too high of a corporate tax rate, and if we actually make corporations pay their fair share, more of them will move their headquarters somewhere else with lenient tax laws, offshore their profits, and/or take jobs elsewhere.

But the truth is, without effective regulation and enforcement, transnational corporations will keep gaming the system, no matter what. Today, few corporations paythe actual tax rate, which is now at 21 percent, down from 35 thanks to the 2017 law…

That’s why we need to take the system back. We need transformative, deep-seated changes where corporations do not get to write the rules and where people and our government hold them accountable.

This is the right time for this vision and demand for change. People across the political spectrum are outraged at our rigged system that is leaving them behind. To unrig the system we need to not only tax the ultra-wealthy. We also need to tax and hold accountable the driving force behind their wealth and our nation’s overall income inequality: transnational corporations.

If we want to provide the schools children needs, the clean air and water we all need, and the job security that makes for a strong democracy we need to reverse the actions of the past several months.

 

Billionaires Philanthropists NOT the Solution to Improving Public Services

April 10, 2019 Comments off

Business Insider recently published Anand Giradhardas’ reaction to billionaire investor Ray Dalio’s acknowledgement on 60 Minutes that his cohort should be paying more taxes… and it was pointed without being scathing. The one section of Giradharadas’ critique that resonated with me was his reaction to the news that Dalio and his wife donated $100,000,000 to Connecticut public schools:

“It is fine to donate money to Connecticut. But Dalio’s personal preferences should have zero influence on how the money is spent. This is the problem with the public-private-partnership model he venerates: It puts some rich guy and the State of Connecticut on an equal footing to negotiate a plan to enhance the general welfare. Why? You wouldn’t ask an arsonist to lead the firefighting brigade, and you shouldn’t ask those who have benefited most from a rigged system, and who have the most to lose from genuine reform, to lead the reformation of the system.”

While Mr. Dalio’s $100,000,000 “donation” to public education is commendable, it is roughly 15% of what is needed to close the gap in needed capital outlay if that state hoped to close the gap as determined in a 2016 study by a consortium of school construction organizations. As noted frequently in this post, the targeted contributions by philanthropists usually DON’T match those identified by state or local school boards. They are appreciated… but having every billionaire pay their fair share of taxes would be even more appreciated and beneficial to public education.

And here’s the ultimate bottom line: we will never reform schools until we reform the economic system that created them.

 

Washington Post’s Explains DeVos’ Complicated Shell Game Involving ESAs, Justifiably Awards Her 3 Pinocchios for Lying

April 9, 2019 Comments off

As Washington Post writer Salvador Rizzo’s article on Betsy DeVos’ latest budget illustrates, the ALEC gambit of Education Savings Accounts is easy to sell to voters under the rubric of “choice” and complicated to explain as a device to siphon scarce tax dollars out of the pockets of public employees and into the pockets of billionaires. Here’s the way the gambit works:

Billionaires donate a large sum of tax deductible money to a charitable “Education Savings Account” that a presumably “needy” family can use as a de facto voucher to attend a school of their choice if their child has the misfortune of being assigned to a “failing school.” The effect of this writ large is that the federal government loses income— in the case of the DeVos budget $5,000,000,000 worth— and local districts are “held harmless”. The fact that the funds lost at the federal level are not necessarily those earmarked for schools is offset by the fact that at the same time as Ms. DeVos is advocating for this income loss at the Federal level she is also proposing a budget that cuts $8,800,000,000! In the words of Mr. Rizzo: “A clever bureaucratic design cannot paper over the reality of money going in and out.” 

If this concept were floated in a world where the use of these funds for sectarian schools or unregulated for-profit schools was prohibited it might be a means of helping “needy” children escape from “failing” schools. But the world we live in isn’t set up that way. In the world we live in STATES get to define which schools are deemed to be “failing” and too often they base that determination on flawed metrics that identify over 70% of the public schools as deficient. In the world we live in STATES get to define which students are deemed to be “needy” and too often they base that determination on income levels that identify over 70% of the families as requiring subsidies to attend non-public schools— including those families who are already enrolling their children in those schools. In the world we live in STATES get to pass legislation based on the same kind of “clever bureaucratic design” and end up diminishing STATE funds away from their budgets while diminishing funds for public schools since most state funding formulas are based on enrollments.

Long story short: if this kind of “clever bureaucratic design” was limited to the federal government it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as it is if STATES were not using the same “clever bureaucratic design” to cut public school funding. As Woodward and Bernstein learned decades ago when they were unravelling the Watergate scandal, if you want to find the source of a problem… follow the money. And in this case the money is leaving the pockets of teachers and going into the pockets of the billionaires who get tax deductions when they make contributions to Education Savings Accounts.