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Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Elizabeth Warren’s Taxes on Ultra-Millionaire’s Wealth is a Good Start… but Not Enough

January 25, 2019 Comments off

Common Dreams writer Julia Conley wrote a post yesterday outlining Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to levy higher taxes on “ultra-millionaires”. Here’s her synopsis of the proposal:

Two economists who are advising Warren, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of University of California at Berkeley, announced to the Washington Post that the senator is proposing an annual tax of two percent for assets over $50 million, as well as a three percent tax for assets above $1 billion. The proposal, the economists estimate, would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years and would affect just .1 percent of American households—raising the percentage at which their wealth is taxed to just 4.3 percent from 3.2 percent.

The “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” would apply to “all household assets…including residences, closely held businesses, assets held in trust, retirement assets, assets held by minor children, and personal property with a value of $50,000 or more,” according to a paper by the economists.

If I am reading this in Peoria or Dubuque I am not at all unsettled…. though based on some comments by Common Dreams it appears that there was a misunderstanding that the proposed taxes on “…personal property with a value of $50,000 or more” would apply to everyone and not just those who have assets over $50,000,000. Most taxpayers will look at this proposal and see that it has no impact on them and, therefore, be willing to endorse it.

From my perspective, this is a good start… but not nearly enough. Taxing only the ultra-rich is another way of dividing us. I hope that some candidate will advocate SLIGHTLY higher tax rates for the top 20% of wage earners and an even higher tax rate for the top 5%. Governments at all levels are starved of revenues and, consequently, are unable to perform effectively. Moreover, if we want to solve the projected shortfall for social security we should eliminate the maximum taxable limit so that those earning more than $128,400/year contribute… another campaign pledge I hope a candidate will advance. If we want better services from our governments and a secure future for social security more than the top .1% will need to dig a little deeper into their pockets.

Finally, someone running for national office needs to make it clear that the change to the tax code which limits deductions for state and local taxes to $10,000 needs to be overturned. This provision effectively penalizes residents of states and localities that make an effort to provide better government funded services to their citizens. It is THIS provision that in the long run will undercut government services like schools, police, and fire services and make them all private fee-for-service enterprises. I hope that Democrats seeking to replace our current President will make it clear that this provision of the tax code needs to be repealed.

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California’s Proposition 13 and New Hampshire’s “Pledge” Have the Same Result

January 24, 2019 Comments off

In “California Schools Were Once the Nation’s Envy. What Went Wrong?”, in a recent article on the LA teachers strike in The Guardian, Andrew Gumbels’ answers the question in two words: Proposition 13.

Ask any public policy expert what single factor contributed most to the decline of California’s schools, and the answer will invariably be the state’s retro version of Brexit: a referendum, passed in 1978 on a wave of populist anger, that was earth-shattering in its impactand has proven enduringly divisive.

Proposition 13 drastically cut and capped property taxes and hobbled the ability of California counties – and, indirectly, the state – to raise money for schools and other key social programs. The initiative, which passed with close to 65% support, was billed as a grassroots tax revolt against a backdrop of high inflation, rising interest rates and a perception of out-of-control public spending. Overnight, the tax revenue available to pay for public schooling was slashed by one-third, forcing the state to step in and make up some – but not all – of the shortfall.

The school system was already in a modest decline – California had fallen from fifth in the country in per-pupil spending in 1965 to 14th – but the decline now accelerated markedly. Within a decade, California was below the national average. It currently ranks 43rd out of 50 states.

“People always come back to Prop 13 because a lot of the other changes since are a result, either direct or indirect, of that vote,” said Jennifer Imazeki, an economist and education specialist at San Diego State University. “It changed the amount of money districts could raise through property taxes and cut revenue dramatically. And the money’s a big part of it.”

Proposition 13, like many populist ideas, was a simple and blunt method for dealing with a complicated problem… and like most simple solutions had several adverse unintended consequences. The schools were predominantly funded by property taxes which meant that property rich communities had great schools and property poor districts had poor schools. When the California Supreme Court passed legislation requiring more resources for underfunded schools, taxpayers rebelled.  A conservative activist, Howard Jarvis, wrote a referendum that was easy to understand— your property taxes will be lower!— and it passed overwhelmingly and forty years later has become sacrosanct: a law that no politician wanted to challenge under any circumstances even though the majority of taxpayers would benefit from a thoughtfully crafted method of funding public education.

New Hampshire, like California, relies exclusively on property taxes and in many jurisdictions, especially those with a limited tax base, the property taxes are onerous even though the schools in those underfunded communities are poor in comparison. And like California, New Hampshire has been sued on several occasions and lost in court on several occasions, but so far no Howard Jarvis has emerged because no Democrat or Republican has ever run for office based on a platform that would replace the property taxes with a broad based and less regressive income tax…. The candidates for Governor take “the pledge” to never impose a broad based tax and, as a result, no legislature in NH has ever voted to impose any kind of broad based tax. So…. after the legislators ignore court decisions for 10-15 years, a new lawsuit if filed by a different set of aggrieved districts and the cycle begins again.

And NH and CA have the same problems: inequitable and generally underfunded schools and a public that doesn’t want to see its taxes go up. The challenge going forward for public education is daunting: to soften the anger directed toward tax recipients that is at the root of the tax-caps. Part of the conservatives pitch to lower taxes invariably includes an undeserving welfare queen, a “greedy teacher” who earns wages and has benefits and pensions in excess of others in the town, or a weak veteran teacher who draws a high wage “because the union protects them”. Today, the conservatives add “inefficient” to the list and seek a moral high ground by offering every child the chance to attend any school they wish without providing enough money to make that assertion a reality. In sum, as it stands now, there is a long list of reasons to oppose a tax hike and a very short list to support it… and few people who seek social and economic justice are willing to link that with tax increases for those in the top 10-20%— which would need to happen if there is any hope of equity of opportunity in the future.

Gap Between Billionaires and Everyone Else on Earth Widens… Welcome to the Plutocracy

January 22, 2019 Comments off

Davos is convening this week, and as a result outlets like Common Dreams are publishing posts highlighting studies that show how the gap between the extraordinarily wealthy and the rest of the world are widening… and the gap is unimaginably immense!

Paul Buchheit, a blogger whose writings are often featured here, wrote a post with the sobering title “Capitalist-Style Wealth Gap: 1 Tech Guy = 1,000,000 Teachers” The “one tech guy” is none other than Jeff Bezos, who recently compelled hundreds of American cities to throw incentives his way for a second HQ for Amazon, incentives whose impact is not even a factor in Mr. Buchheit’s equation! But, as Mr. Buchheit highlights in his article, Mr. Bezos is hardly the only tech titian who’s made a billion dollars… and hardly the only one who’s earned it on the backs of his employees and thanks to the largesse of government policies.

An unapologetic Democratic Socialist, Mr. Buchheit concludes his essay with this:

Why Do Billionaires Want Even More Money? 

Harvard studies indicate that very rich people are likely to base their life satisfaction on the question “Am I doing better than other people?” A survey of 2,000 millionaires and multi-millionaires, who were asked how much money would provide perfect happiness, found that “basically everyone says [they’d need] two or three times as much.” 

Another insight comes from the “ultimatum game,” in which one player divides a pot of money between himself and another, and the second player can choose whether or not to accept the offer. If the offer is rejected, neither player gets anything. Offers below 30 percent are usually rejected. Even at the cost of losing money himself, a player apparently can’t bear to see another person outgain him.

Capitalism is a perfect system for people like this, who care only about making more money than everyone else, and fail to grasp the importance of a healthy, working society. It’s a game of winner-take-all. As Charles Koch said, “I want my fair share and that’s all of it.”

Common Dreams staff writer Jake Johnson used a slightly different data point to title his article on the economic divide: “A ‘Fundamentally Inhuman’ Economy: 26 Billionaires Own as Much as World’s 3.8 Billion Poorest People“. Mr. Johnson drew his facts from a recent Oxfam report on world poverty, which the billionaires attending Davos report is on the decline but only because the poorest-of-the-poor are earning slightly more than in years past. The reason for the expanding divide? Cuts to cooperate taxes. And who’s winning? Paul O’Brien, vice president for policy and campaigns at Oxfam America, has the answer:

“The only winners in the race to the bottom on corporate tax are the wealthiest among us. Now is the time to work towards a new set of tax rules that work for the many, not the few,” he continued, echoing the popular slogans of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “We need economic, political, and tax reform to level the playing field if we want to restore prosperity and opportunity for all, including women, girls whose needs are so often overlooked.”

The endless wars in the Middle East, the political bickering over a needless wall in our country, and the perpetual coverage of our President’s tweets are distracting us from the real problems in our country and the world… and those problems are the result of a mindset that believes “my fair share is all of it”.

Maryland’s Latest Commission Calls for More Spending, More Responsibilities for Public Education

January 20, 2019 Comments off

As a former member of a State “Blue Ribbon” Commission on school funding in the State of Maryland, a commission whose report was immediately set aside because it required higher spending levels, I was interested to read Liz Bowies’s report on the most recent State Commission report in the Baltimore Sun… a report that I believe will quickly be cast aside.

The Kirwan Commission, named for the former Chancellor of the University of Maryland who chaired the group, has ambitious goals:

  • an overhaul of curriculum
  • raising professional standards for teaching
  • a redesign of high schools to include career paths for students that would certify them to be ready for specific jobs after graduation.
  • pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds
  • pre-school for 3-year-olds from low-income families
  • more spending to enhance special education programs
  • new spending for school-based health centers
  • new spending for initiatives to support community schools with large numbers of poor students

And these initiatives require one thing legislators hate to see: a large price tag— $3,800,000,000 over 10 years.

From where I sit, each of these initiatives is worthwhile and, taken together, they would  greatly improve the opportunities for children born into poverty. But from where I sit, I do not believe there is a snowball’s chance in hell that they will be funded. As Ms. Bowie notes, the issuance of the report was delayed from its slated December 2018 release because “….it was too late to get such comprehensive education legislation through this year’s 90-day Assembly session“. Some spending advocates insist that the issuance now will not be a problem:

Maggie McIntosh, a commission member, said that despite the delay, legislative leaders are committed to seeing more funding for education in that budget.

State school funding will increase by at least $236 million next year, McIntosh said, with $200 million set aside by the legislature last year and $36 million added by the governor.

McIntosh said legislators will have to cut from the governor’s proposed budget to identify additional money for public schools.

Whether the legislature will be able to find enough money in the proposed operating budget to fund all of the commission’s 2020 priorities is unclear.

The commission also suggests that the legislature set aside $750 million this session for additional funding for schools in the 2021 budget year.

But… as the blog-faced and underlined sections of Ms. Bowie’s report imply, Ms.McIntosh’s “commitment” to more funding is contingent on cutting the governor’s budget and redirecting this cuts to education… and… even if the happens, the $236,000,000 will fall short of the amount needed to achieve the $3,800,000,000 the Kirwan Commission calls for.

And here’s the real problem: the “reformers” will be able to tout their “solution” of choice and deregulation as the best road forward because it won’t require billions of new dollars and they will satisfy the evangelicals because their “reforms” won’t increase the scope of government interference with parenting by insisting that 4 year olds be placed in school and social services be provided in school.

And the beat will go on….

Bernie Sanders Gets It— His Letter Supporting Teachers in LA Says So

January 18, 2019 Comments off

I’m sure readers of this blog are not surprised that I am on Bernie Sanders email list and may also sense (accurately) that I was somewhat disappointed that he did not make his loathing of privatization as clear as he should have in 2016. This email I received yesterday indicates that he is all in for 2020— assuming he wants to run again. I await similar unequivocal support from others part form Robert Ojeda who was scheduled to walk the picket lines. It would be good if some CA legislators donned some red apparel and joined in! Here’s Bernie Sanders’ letter:

Wayne –

There is something happening in Los Angeles that you need to know about and that we all need to do something about.

Today, for the first time in 30 years, more than 30,000 Los Angeles public school teachers are on strike fighting for smaller class sizes and decent wages, for nurses, counselors and librarians in their schools, and against a coordinated effort from billionaires on the right to make money privatizing public education.

Public education is fundamental to any functioning democracy, and teaching is one of its most valuable and indispensable professions.

So how is it that the top 25 hedge fund managers in this country make more money than the combined salaries of every kindergarten teacher?

How is it that the billionaires of this country get huge tax breaks, but our teachers and children get broken chairs, flooded classrooms and inadequate support staff in their schools?

That is what a rigged economy looks like.

In the richest country in the history of the world, our teachers should be the best-paid in the developed world, not among the worst-paid.

So I stand in solidarity with the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Because a nation that does not educate its children properly will fail, and I applaud these teachers for leading this country in the fight to change our national priorities. Today, I am asking you to do the same:

Add Your Name: Tell the striking teachers in Los Angeles that you are following their struggle and stand in solidarity with them. We will make sure your messages of support get to these teachers.

But what we really need in this country is a revolution in public education.

What we accept as normal today with regards to education, I want your grandchildren to tell you that you were crazy to accept.

And in my view, that conversation starts, but does not end, with early-childhood education.

That is not just my opinion. Research tells us that the “most efficient means to boost the productivity of the workforce 15 to 20 years down the road is to invest in today’s youngest children.”

So it is not a radical idea to say that we need to provide free, full-day, high-quality child care for every child, starting at age three, so that they will be guaranteed a pre-kindergarten education regardless of family income.

That is common sense.

But in the twenty-first century, a public education system that goes from early childhood education through high school is not good enough.

The world is changing, technology is changing, our economy is changing. If we are to succeed in the highly competitive global economy and have the best-educated workforce in the world, I believe that higher education in America should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few.

That means that everyone, regardless of their station in life, should be able to get all of the education they need.

Today in America, hundreds of thousands of bright young people who have the desire and the ability to get a college education will not be able to do so because their families lack the money. This is a tragedy for those young people and their families, but it is also a tragedy for our nation.

Our mission must be to give hope to those young people. If every parent in this country, every teacher in this country, and every student in this country understands that if kids study hard and do well in school they will be able to go to college, regardless of the income of their family, that will have a radical impact on primary and secondary education in the United States—and on the lives of millions of families.

That is what we can accomplish by making public colleges and universities tuition-free, because every American, no matter his or her economic status, should have the opportunity for a higher education. And, at the same time, we must substantially lower student debt.

But getting there will take a political revolution in this country, and a radical change in national priorities.

Instead of giving huge tax breaks to billionaires and profitable corporations, we must create the best public educational system in the country. Instead of major increases in military spending, we must invest in our kids.

And today, the most important step in that direction starts with standing in solidarity with the teachers in Los Angeles.

Add Your Name: Tell the striking teachers in Los Angeles that you are following their struggle and stand in solidarity with them. We will make sure your messages of support get to these teachers.

Through our support for these teachers, we have a chance to reaffirm our support for quality public education and the right of all children to receive the best education possible.

Thank you for standing with them.

In solidarity,

Bernie Sanders

ADD YOUR NAME

Arkansas Blogger Connects Dots Between Los Angeles and Little Rock… Profiteering Billionaires

January 17, 2019 Comments off

Arkansas Times blogger Max Brantley wrote a post yesterday linking the strikes in Los Angeles with the takeover over Little Rock Public Schools that drew on an article in Jacobin to help connect the dots. He opened his article with this quote from Jacobin describing the real goal of the strike in Los Angeles:

The plan of these business leaders is simple: break-up the school district into thirty-two competing “portfolio” networks, in order to replace public schools with privately run charters. As firm believers in the dogmas of market fundamentalism, these influential downsizers truly believe that it’s possible to improve education by running it like a private business.Not coincidentally, privatization would also open up huge avenues for profit-making — and deal a potentially fatal blow to one of the most well-organized and militant unions in the country, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). As union leader Arlene Inouye explains, “This is a struggle to save public education; the existence of public education in our city is on the line.”

As always, the privatizers adhere to the belief that running ANY public enterprise– be it a school, sanitation department, or tax collection– like a business will reduce costs which will simultaneously add to their bottom line AND provide them with a business opportunity. Its “win-win” for the taxpayers AND the businessmen… the children raised in poverty who no longer have an opportunity to attend a quality school and the middle class city employees who lose their jobs are collateral damage.

Mr. Brantley then describes how recently passed laws in Arkansas are giving deregulated for-profit charter schools free reign in Little Rock and, being a blogger in Arkansas, Mr. Brantley warns people across the country to be on the lookout for bills that are headed their direction to do the same things as happened in HIS state AND Los Angeles:

Those of you around Arkansas who think this is just a Little Rock story best think again. This could happen to you, too.

From Jacobin’s enemies list:

The Walton Family

In a watershed moment for the drive to take over Los Angeles public education, pro-charter billionaires spent an unprecedented $9.7 million to buy the 2017 Los Angeles school board elections. A key funder of this campaign to elect charter school acolytes was none other than the Walton Family, best known as the founders of Walmart.

Having made their fortune through union-busting and infamously low wages, the Arkansas-based Waltons — now the richest family in the world — have spent much of the last two decades bankrolling the privatization of public education. Nominally, this philanthropy is dedicated to improving life prospects for low-income families. Yet as journalist Harold Meyerson notes, “a more direct way to help them would be to give workers at Walmart . . . a raise and to give them more hours.”

For the Waltons, their $2.2 million contribution to the 2017 school board election was just a drop in the bucket. Over recent years, the Walton Family Foundation has given $84 million to Los Angeles charter schools and it has spent $1.3 billion on “school reform” efforts nationwide. And in a further effort to capture the hearts and minds of Angelinos, a Walton-funded media outlet, The 74, took over the well-respected LA Schools Report in 2016.

These initiatives have already had a major impact on Los Angeles. About 18 percent of students now attend charter schools, a rate far higher than in the rest of the country.

As Mr. Meyerson notes, the Waltons could provide living wages to their employees if they wanted to help the needy. And if they wanted to help fund public schools across the country they could stop seeking tax breaks when they locate stores in local communities. And if they wanted to help make our country great again they could sell only products made in our country. But if they did take those actions, their profits would plummet and their art museum in Arkansas would only feature the works of local artists…. which would provide them with support but would not attract national attention.

Has the NYTimes Seen the Light? Diane Ravitch Sees Progress in Op Ed by Miriam Pawel

January 16, 2019 Comments off

From my perspective, it is heartening to see the LA teachers strike making national news despite the headline grabbing government shutdown and the ongoing political bickering that accompanies it. But, as noted in earlier posts on this issue, the LA strike HAS national ramifications for it ISN’T about wages and working conditions in a lone district. The LA strike is about an ongoing battle within the Democratic Party about privatization of public services: between the “Reform/Reinventing Government” wing of the party that has embraced the idea that the private sector should take over more and more government functions and the “Roosevelt” wing of the party who sees a strong government as necessary to eliminate poverty and racism and eliminate the distortions in our economy that have emerged since Reagan proposed that “government is the problem”.

Thus far, the NYTimes has reliably taken the side of the “Reform/Reinventing Government” wing of the democrats, going so far as to reject countless articles on the ills of privatization from Diane Ravitch. But in a post yesterday, Ms. Ravitch pointed to an op ed article by fellow education historian Miriam Pawel as evidence that MAYBE the Times has seen the light! In “Whats Really at Stake in the Los Angeles Teachers Strike”, Ms. Pawel describes the recent history of public education in California in general and Los Angeles in particular, tracing the decline in public school quality to the passage of Proposition 13… and tracing the passage of THAT law to racism:

In the fall of 1978, after years of bitter battles to desegregate Los Angeles classrooms, 1,000 buses carried more than 40,000 students to new schools. Within six months, the nation’s second-largest school district lost 30,000 students, a good chunk of its white enrollment. The busing stopped; the divisions deepened.

Those racial fault lines had helped fuel the tax revolt that led to Proposition 13, the sweeping tax-cut measure that passed overwhelmingly in June 1978. The state lost more than a quarter of its total revenue.School districts’ ability to raise funds was crippled; their budgets shrank for the first time since the Depression. State government assumed control of allocating money to schools, which centralized decision-making in Sacramento.

Public education in California has never recovered, nowhere with more devastating impact than in Los Angeles, where a district now mostly low-income and Latino has failed generations of children most in need of help.The decades of frustration and impotence have boiled over in a strike with no clear endgame and huge long-term implications. The underlying question is: Can California ever have great public schools again?

As Ms. Pawel goes on to note, the problems whose roots can be found in Proposition 13 got even worse when deregulated charter schools were offered as the “solution”. These schools siphon funds away from public schools, which creates a cycle Ms. Powell describes in one paragraph:

It’s a vicious cycle: The more overcrowded and burdened the regular schools, the easier for charters to recruit students. The more students the district loses, the less money, and the worse its finances. The more the district gives charters space in traditional schools, the more overcrowded the regular classrooms.

And because billionaire Eli Broad spent millions to elect a pro-charter school board who, in turn, appointed a business-minded Superintendent with no experience, LA finds itself mired in a strike… a strike unlike any witnessed by a veteran mediator:

“In my 17 years working with labor unions, I have been called on to help settle countless bargaining disputes in mediation,” wrote Vern Gates, the union-appointed member of the fact-finding panel called in to help mediate the Los Angeles stalemate last month. “I have never seen an employer that was intent on its own demise.”

Like President Trump and the Tea Party wing who want to diminish the effectiveness of government, the LA school board seems to be intent on ruining what is left of the public school system in Los Angeles. Ms. Pawel concludes her op ed with this sobering description of what is at stake:

This strike comes at a pivotal moment for California schools, amid recent glimmers of hope. Demographic shifts have realigned those who vote with those who rely on public services like schools. Voters approved state tax increases to support education in 2012, and again in 2016. In the most recent election, 95 of 112 school bond issues passed, a total of over $15 billion. The revised state formula drives more money into districts with more low-income students and English learners. Total state school aid increased by $23 billion over the past five years, and Governor Newsom has proposed another increase.

If Los Angeles teachers can build on those gains, the victory will embolden others to push for more, just as teachers on the rainy picket lines this week draw inspiration from the successful #RedforEd movements around the country. The high stakes have drawn support from so many quarters, from the Rev. James Lawson, the 90-year-old civil rights icon, to a “Tacos for Teachers” campaign to fund food on the picket lines.

If this fight for public education in Los Angeles fails, it will consign the luster of California schools to an ever more distant memory.

From my perspective, it IS heartening that voters in California have supported tax increases to upgrade their schools and their legislature is sending more of those funds to economically deprived districts. But if those districts, like LA, use their funds to expand privatization Los Angeles schools will lose their luster forever… and the billionaires will prevail… the Winners WILL Take All.