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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

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.

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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.

Jeff Bryant’s Three Questions Wreaked Havoc at the US Department of Education… But Shine Light of Duncan’s and Devos’ Lax Oversight of Charters

April 9, 2019 Comments off

As noted in a previous blog post, Jeff Bryant co-authored a recent report demonstrating that billions of federal dollars were wasted on charter schools that never opened or operated for only a short period of time. One of Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism posts over the past weekend drew from one of Bryant’s recent articles in AlterNet describing how three questions he posed to several Department of Education bureaucrats reportedly “created havoc” in that department. It seems that during the Obama administration some of the charter schools that received large sums of money from the federal government basically took the money and ran. As a result a directive was issued requiring that some kind of audit be issued by any entity receiving funds for charter schools. That, in turn, led to Mr. Bryant’s recent inquiry at the Department of Education. He wrote:

This is to inquire about the current grant application review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities. Specifically, in 2015, the Department published an “Overview of the 2015 CSP SEA Review Process.” My questions:

  1. Can you provide a similar document describing how the grant review process is currently being conducted for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities?

  2. If not, can you briefly comment on how the grant review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities aligns with or varies from the Overview referenced above?

  3. Regarding a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to State Education Agencies in 2015 emphasizing the importance of financial accountability for charter schools receiving federal dollars, was there any follow-up by the Charter School Program to ascertain how many SEAs complied with this request and what was the nature of the new systems and processes put into place by SEAs to provide for greater accountability?

Send on March 8, the emails he received a voice mail in response on March 15. Here’s Mr. Bryant’s recounting of what happened (or more accurately what DIDN’T happen) next:

On March 15, I received a voicemail message from an official in the public affairs division of the department asking me to call her back. The message started out nice enough but then veered toward criticism. “Apparently you have sent his request to multiple people,” she said (emphasis original), “and that just creates havoc for everyone.”

When I immediately called her back, I explained I had merely sent my inquiry to the contacts provided on the relevant sections of the department’s website. “That’s understandable,” she replied, but for “future reference” I was told to send inquiries to “a director”—though I’m not sure who that is. And I was told again my questions had “created havoc” in the office but that department staff members were “working on it” and would “take a few days.”

As of this writing, I’ve yet to receive any other replies.

Mr. Bryant went on to report that this kind of stonewalling regarding the performance of charter schools is nothing new: it happened in the Obama administration as well as the Trump administration. The sentiment in favor of charters and opposed to “traditional” public schools seems to be baked into the DNA of the department. Here are the concluding paragraphs of Mr. Bryant’s report:

On the issue of how a federal agency could allow charter operators to rip off American taxpayers with impunity, and generally suffer no adverse consequences for their acts, DeVos acknowledged that waste and fraud in the charter grant program had been around for “some time.”

That much is true.

It was under Arne Duncan’s watch that the federal charter grants program was greatly expanded, states were required to lift caps on the numbers of charter schools in order to receive precious federal dollars, and the administration Duncan served in insulted public school teachers by proclaiming National Charter School Week on dates identical to what had always been observed as Teacher Appreciation Week.

And most of the wanton charter fraud we detailed in our report that ran rampant during the Duncan years is now simply continuing under DeVos, with little to no explanation of why this is allowed to occur.

So at least we have that clear.

When and will it change? That is a question every candidate for President in the Democratic party should be asked and their answer should be heeded… for if it isn’t the “waste and fraud in the charter grant program” that has been around for “some time” will certainly continue in perpetuity.

A Debate Over the word “Democracy” in Michigan’s Social Studies Curriculum Lays Bare Conservatives’ Opposition to the Term… and the Concept

April 8, 2019 Comments off

A front page article by Dana Goldstein in today’s NYTimes should give everyone in the nation pause. Titled “Is the US a Democracy? A Social Studies Battle Turns on the Nation’s Values“, the article describes a five-year battle over the definition of the government of our country. In a country where it is seemingly impossible to achieve consensus on the teaching of subjects like reading and mathematics— let alone evolution, climate change, and reproduction— it is not surprising that reaching a consensus on social studies is difficult. But unlike the debates where the facts are clear, social studies content focuses on shared values, and as one who worked in public education for four decades I would have thought that politicians, parents, teachers, and voters would readily agree that we live in a democracy. I write this knowing that I do not believe it is the case— but believing that no organized group would want to argue the fact. As Ms. Goldstein writes, though, I am off-base with that presumption: a proposed revision of Michigan’s standards drops the word “democratic” from “core democratic values,” and reduces the use of the word “democracy”. Why?

The changes were made after a group of prominent conservatives helped revise the standards. They drew attention to a long-simmering debate over whether “republic” is a better term than “democracy” to describe the American form of government.

That the two sides in that tussle tend to fall along party lines, each preferring the term that resembles their party name, plays no small part in the debate. But members of the conservative group also brought to the table the argument that K-12 social studies should be based on a close, originalist reading of the United States’ founding documents.

They contended that the curriculum ought to focus more on the nation’s triumphs than its sins.And they pushed for revisions that eliminated “climate change,” “Roe v. Wade” and references to gay and lesbian civil rights.

Given a desire to base social studies on “a close, originalist reading of the United States’ founding documents”  the elimination of the terms “…”climate change,” “Roe v. Wade” and references to gay and lesbian civil rights” makes perfect sense! After all, the founders didn’t want to allow anyone but white, male landowners to vote. And those who penned the original documents could not foresee the impact that industrialization, advances in medical science, and changing morays might have nearly 250 years in the future.  Indeed, the founders realized that they were not writing a set of commandments since they provided a means of amending their original document, probably because they realized that 250 years prior to the writing of the Constitution literacy was barely in place and the notion of democracy was fanciful given the monarchies and feudal economic systems in place.

The article describes the protracted process that carefully expanded the number of participants in the writing process as it attempted to draft a set of standards that would allow every student in the state to “see themselves” in the instruction. But despite all of the efforts to be inclusive, at this juncture the definition of our government remains elusive. Ms. Goldstein writes:

But in the days before the document was to be sent to the State Board of Education, fundamental questions about how to describe American government and citizenship had not been resolved.

It was not just that some Democratic-leaning committee members liked the term “democracy” while some Republican-leaning members preferred “republic.” The debate was really about bigger disagreements that transcended party lines: about how to deal with populism and protest, and about whether the United States is a unified entity of citizens or a conglomeration of groups divided by race, class, language and other identities.

On March 7, the heads of all the subcommittees gathered at the Historical Society of Michigan in Lansing to go through the draft one last time. The laptop screen of the head writer, a district social studies consultant named Dave Johnson, was projected onto the wall as he made last-minute revisions in a Google document.

It strikes me that process of developing the standards, something I called “management by rough draft” when I was leading schools and school districts, is an apt description of our governing model at it’s best. And when the process was complete, here’s how it ended up:

The list of core values that the standards writers eventually agreed on was “equality; liberty; justice and fairness; unalienable individual rights (including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness); consent of governed; truth; common good.”

And after months of sometimes bitter debate, the group decided these values could still be called “democratic.” As part of a compromise, the nation’s political system would be referred to primarily as “American government,” but also, in some instances, “constitutional government” and — yes — “democracy.”

But the conservative lawmaker who protested initially and whose protests led to the lengthy and contentious debate, was not pleased.

Mr. Colbeck, the former state senator who had helped write the previous draft, was displeased. Calling the nation a democracy was not “politically neutral and accurate,” he said.

As one who leans left, I agree. I believe we are now living in a plutocracy…. and I would have to believe that Mr. Colbeck and his anti-democratic colleagues who support an originalist interpretation of the Constitution would be OK with that. After all, Mr. Colbeck is a white male who owns land… HE would be able to participate in making decisions about the direction our country is headed.

In the end, Ms. Goldstein final sentence concludes that our debate about who we are will continue…. and implicitly agrees that the management-by-rough-draft will persist:

The process of retelling the nation’s history — deciding what gets left out and who is heard from — never ends.

I hope she is right… and that the pendulum that is now swung in the direction of the plutocrats who want to change the core values of our nation swings to the left.