Archives for the month of: November, 2017

Bill Becker is an internationally recognized expert on climate change and the environment.

In this article, he demonstrates how Republicans are pullling the wool over the eyes of the public.

Start with the graphic at the top of the article:

Of the 30 richest nations in the world, the U.S. ranks:

*29th in net income inequality
*29th in wealth inequality
*28th in poverty rate
*29th in life expectancy

Correlate those data with test scores on PISA and TIMSS. Amazing.

Becker writes:

“Question: As Republican leaders have described it, the central promise of tax reform is to put more money in the pockets of middle-class Americans and to provide more money for corporations to create jobs. Can we be confident of that result?

“Background: The answer is no. Earlier this month, CNN broadcast a meeting in which Donald Trump’s economic advisor, Bary Cohn, met with a group of CEOs. The meeting’s moderator asked for a show of hands on how many of the companies in the room would use their savings for capital investment in the economy if Congress reduced their taxes. Only two CEOs raised their hands. “Why aren’t the other hands up?” Cohn asked.

“Past experience provides the answer. Our bigger corporations have demonstrated that when they have extra cash, they don’t use it to create jobs; they use it to increase the value of their stock by raising dividends and buying back shares. CEOs and shareholders benefit, but not most middle- and lower-class households. They usually don’t own stocks. Eighty percent of stocks today are owned by the top 20% of income earners.

“Question: Republicans want to lure trillions of dollars back into the United States by giving a tax break to companies that repatriate the profits they have stashed overseas. By one estimate, the tax break would amount to a half-trillion dollars. Is it realistic to expect that these funds would be used to create jobs and to benefit middle-America?

“Background: Again, experience provides an answer. Congress gave a similar “tax holiday” in 2004 to companies that repatriated their overseas money. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that CEOs again used their money to repurchase and raise the value of their stock and to pay dividends to shareholders. “Moreover, many firms laid off large numbers of U.S. workers even as they reaped multi-billion-dollar benefits from the tax holiday and passed them on to shareholders,” the Center found.

“What about today? Our big corporations are flush with cash and their earnings are healthy. They already could be investing their profits to create more jobs, if they wanted to. But when more than 300 business executives were polled over the summer, they said they would use repatriated money to pay down their debt, buy back their own stock to drive up its price, and engage in mergers, in that order.”

Oh, and by the way, Senator McCain announced that he would vote for the tax bill. The last possible independent has fallen in line with the party.

I am delighted to share the good news that Sara Goldrick-Rab won the Grawemeyer Award for her outstanding book on the spiraling cost of college. The award is presented every year by the University of Louisville for exemplary achievements in five fields of endeavor.

Her book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream.”

Goldrick-Rab wrote that she is donating the entire $100,000 that goes with the award to a fund she created.

She writes:

“When I heard that I would receive this year’s Grawemeyer Award for Education, I was honored. When I learned the Award came with a $100,000 prize, I was energized. The big news: I will be matching all donations to the FAST Fund at a rate of three-to-one starting today and I will continue to match your donations until I have spent down the entire $100,000 prize that comes with the award.

“I started the FAST Fund in 2016 after publishing the book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. The book revealed for the first time the extent to which the college financial aid system does not help most students in need. Instead, young people are often forced to drop out of college before receiving a degree, saddling them with mountains of debt but nothing to show for it. And increasingly common challenges such as homelessness and hunger are never addressed through traditional financial aid routes.

“The Faculty And Students Together (FAST) Fund cuts out the bureaucracy and puts money in the hands of teachers around the country — the people on the front line of this fight — in order to get emergency dollars to students swiftly. My research team and I have studied emergency aid like this for years, and found that often it’s a smaller amount of money given at the right time that makes the difference between a student staying in college or dropping out. This money can help make students’ immediate survival possible, while we also work to create the systemic change to solve the root causes of this problem.”

With Congress set to impose deep cuts on financial aid, Goldrick-Rab’s book is very timely. We are both insisting that everyone should be college-ready, even as states and the federal government reduce student financial aid.

Thanks to Sara G-R for her generosity and her scholarship!

And thanks to the Grawemeyer selection committee for its wise choice.

Karen Wolfe, parent activist in Los Angeles, writes here in response to an ill-informed article in the Napa Valley Register by columnist Dan Walters. I read Walters’ article and it did not reflect what I knew about California. He thinks that the angels of light are on the side of privatization, battling the mighty “education establishment.” He thinks that “civil rights groups” support the privatization of public schools. This doesn’t make sense, inasmuch as the billionaires and privatizers are out to destroy public education in California. Rather than say so myself, from a distance of 3,000 miles, I turned to someone, Karen Wolfe, who is up to date on the state of the “school wars,” to respond to Dan Walters’ views.

She wrote:

California’s school war flares up on three fronts

Dan Walters is right that there is a fierce battle over public education in the state of California that is sure to heat up as the 2018 elections draw nearer. However, the framing of an entrenched establishment pitted against altruistic reformers is naive or misleading.

The real fight is over who gets the money in the state’s second largest budget line and what that means for our notion of government.

Do we update our public school system around the protections and oversight built into its foundation? Or do we privatize the system, handing over money and children to a free-market of charter school choices on little more than a promise to be responsible and effective?

Setting aside for the moment that the purpose of public school is more than achievement on standardized tests, one factor to consider is that the charters aren’t doing any better than the traditional public schools, according to the often-cited CREDO study (Urban Charter Schools in California, 2015).

Cal State Sacramento’s Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Julian Vasquez Heilig, told me that in many cases California charters have a negative impact on student learning. Even where any impact is positive, it is minuscule, he said. This is especially important when the push for more charters is compared to other education reforms like universal pre-kindergarten or class size reduction. Both of these have been found to show far larger positive impacts.

In fact, those are among the reforms sought by the Equity Coalition, a group referred to in the op ed. But the author doesn’t mention those reforms. Nor does he tell readers the primary objective of the group’s lawsuit: A larger overall education budget.

It seems no matter the topic of education policy, the so-called reformers claim that charter schools are the only answer.

This view puts them in close alignment with US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Her home state provides a stark example of the failure of privatization. Education historian and author Diane Ravitch writes, “Since Michigan embraced the DeVos family’s ideas about choice, Michigan has steadily declined on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.” From 2003 to 2015, the state’s NAEP rankings on fourth grade reading and math have dropped from 28th to 41st, and from 27th to 42nd, respectively, she writes.

And what about the money?

Every day, new reports of financial scandals at charters are posted by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education. A study last year by consumer watchdog In the Public Interest, found that California taxpayers have paid $2.5 billion for charter school facilities alone. Much of that went for buying or leasing facilities in areas that already had surplus classrooms. The Spending Blind report also underscored the CREDO findings, stating that the education offered at three fourths of the charters was worse than that provided at nearby district schools.

Walters also asserts that civil rights groups are behind the push for more charters. This, too, is a talking point of the privatizers. While it’s true that there is an affinity for charters among many civil rights groups, the nation’s oldest and foremost civil rights organization, the NAACP, has called for a moratorium on new charter schools. Following a nationwide series of public hearings, the NAACP said it “rejects the emphasis on charter schools as the vanguard approach for the education of children, instead of focusing attention, funding, and policy advocacy on improving existing, low performing public schools…”

In any discussion about education policy or politics, the well-informed will recognize the talking points in the carefully constructed narrative meant to accelerate the transfer of one of the most important functions of government into a market-based enterprise.

California’s election of a new State Superintendent next year will amplify the school wars. That race pits Tony Thurmond, a former school board member on the pro-public schools side, against Marshall Tuck, formerly of Bain Capital, on the privatizers side.

There is even more at stake in the race for Governor. Both front runners, Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsom, have ties to charter funders. Villaraigosa has a long track record of trying to advance the corporate reform agenda and Newsom’s education platform is less clear. Current State Treasurer John Chiang has called for greater transparency and accountability for charters to even the playing field with pure public schools.

The future of public education is at stake in the 2018 elections. Underneath the stories the candidates tell, the issue is, who do we trust more with California students: profit-seeking corporations or locally elected school boards?

Karen Wolfe is the Director of PSconnect, a community engagement program for public schools in Los Angeles.

Daniel Katz reviews the many ways in which the tax plan now being debated and being pushed to an early vote without hearings will have deleterious effects on students in higher education and in K-12.

He writes:

“A great deal of ink has been spilled on how the Republican tax bill working through Congress would impact higher education for the worse. The highest profile item is the plan in the House bill to tax graduate student tuition waivers as income, effectively making the young people who are helping the nation move forward with critical research pay taxes on “incomes” that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than they actually get paid. However, higher education takes multiple hits in the House bill such as taxing endowment earnings that go towards school advancement, reducing incentives for charitable giving, and eliminating student loan interest deductions that benefited 12 million borrowers in 2014.

“For a bill that the G.O.P. is trying to market as a “boon” to the middle class, the House bill does not just tax graduate student tuition waivers, but also it takes aim at tuition benefits for higher education employees and their children. The New York Times portrayed a 64 year old night custodian at Boston College who managed to send all five of his children to college using such a benefit and who would never have been able to do so under the House bill. Assurances from House leaders that their bill would grant most Americans so much tax relief that they would not need those benefits ring hollow as analyses show that various provisions in the bills could result in $1.6 trillion dollars of tax INCREASES on middle class earners over the next decade.

“So while the House and Senate bills are not friendly to higher education (the Senate bill somewhat less so), there has been little talk about the potential impact on K-12 education if the Senate bill passes, is reconciled with the House bill, and sent to the Oval Office for splashy signing ceremony. There are several provisions in both pieces of legislation that would take serious aim at K-12 education at the state and local funding levels. Reporters and editorials have stressed that eliminating the deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) including property taxes, as in the Senate bill, will heavily impact Democratic leaning states with higher tax burdens, but the Governmental Finance Officers Association (GFOA) reports that eliminating SALT deductions from the tax code will have a broadly negative impact on tax payers in all states. According to the GFOA findings:

*30% of tax units use the SALT deduction.
*60% of deductions for earners under $50,000 a year come from property taxes and the loss of the deduction would negatively impact home ownership and price stability.
*30% of earners between $50,000 and $75,000 a year use the SALT deduction. 53% of earners between $75,000 and $100,000 a year use it.

“Income earners at all levels would see their taxes go up if the SALT deduction is eliminated.
More importantly from a public school perspective: the loss of the SALT deduction would apply significant pressure on states and municipalities to reduce taxes in order to offset the increases in federal taxes paid by their constituents. Using the 8th Congressional District in Texas north of Houston as a model, the GFOA estimates that the district would see an increase in federal taxes of $306 million dollars. Offsetting that with state and local tax decreases could impact $125 million in school funding. Simply put: education funding is an enormous local and state expenditure, and it would have to be cut in order to provide any relief to tax payers who lost SALT.”

This, it is wrong to assume that the removal of the SALT deduction would harm only blue states. As Katz shows, it will cut funding to most schools.

Read on to learn the many ways that education funding will be slashed because of this tax bill that fattens the bank accounts of the richest.

The Republican Tax Plan will have devastating impact in many sectors of society, including education and healthcare. It will dramatically increase income inequality, by reducing taxes on the wealthiest and on corporations. The Republicans blithely assume that cutting corporate tax rates will lead to more job creation and economic growth, but past experience suggests that the bonuses for corporations will fatten profits for investors and have minimal impact on jobs.

“The tax plan has been marketed by President Trump and Republican leaders as a straightforward if enormous rebate for the masses, a $1.5 trillion package of cuts to spur hiring and economic growth. But as the bill has been rushed through Congress with scant debate, its far broader ramifications have come into focus, revealing a catchall legislative creation that could reshape major areas of American life, from education to health care.

“Some of this re-engineering is straight out of the traditional Republican playbook. Corporate taxes, along with those on wealthy Americans, would be slashed on the presumption that when people in penthouses get relief, the benefits flow down to basement tenements.

“Some measures are barely connected to the realm of taxation, such as the lifting of a 1954 ban on political activism by churches and the conferring of a new legal right for fetuses in the House bill — both on the wish list of the evangelical right.

“With a potentially far-reaching dimension, elements in both the House and Senate bills could constrain the ability of states and local governments to levy their own taxes, pressuring them to limit spending on health care, education, public transportation and social services. In their longstanding battle to shrink government, Republicans have found in the tax bill a vehicle to broaden the fight beyond Washington.

“The result is a behemoth piece of legislation that could widen American economic inequality while diminishing the power of local communities to marshal relief for vulnerable people — especially in high-tax states like California and New York, which, not coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic.

“All of this is taking shape at such extraordinary velocity, absent the usual analyses and hearings, that even the most savvy Washington lobbyist cannot be fully certain of the implications.

“Mr. Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress — stymied in their efforts to repeal Obamacare, and short of legislative achievements — have signaled absolute resolve to get a tax bill passed by the end of the year. As the sense has taken hold that Washington is now a trading floor where any deal is worth entertaining so long as it brings votes, interest groups have fixed on the tax bill as a unique opportunity to further their agendas.

“There’s a Christmas-tree aspect to the bill,” said C. Eugene Steuerle, a Treasury official during the Reagan administration and now a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. As an example, he cited the provisions in the House bill designed to appeal to the religious right…

“Economists and tax experts are overwhelmingly skeptical that the bills in the House and Senate can generate meaningful job growth and economic expansion. Many view the legislation not as a product of genuine deliberation, but as a transfer of wealth to corporations and affluent individuals — both generous purveyors of campaign contributions. By 2027, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office.

“When you put all these pieces together, what you’re left with is we are squandering a giant sum of money,” said Edward D. Kleinbard, a former chief of staff at the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation who teaches law at the University of Southern California. “It’s not aimed at growth. It is not aimed at the middle class. It is at every turn carefully engineered to deliver a kiss to the donor class.”

“In a recent University of Chicago survey of 38 prominent economists across the ideological spectrum, only one said the proposed tax cuts would yield substantial economic growth. Unanimously, the economists said the tax cuts would add to the long-term federal debt burden, now estimated at more than $20 trillion.”

The basic idea of trickle-down economics is that enriching those with the most will encourage them to invest in productive industries, create jobs, and thus help those at the bottom, as Money trickles down from the top.

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described this as feeding the horses to feed the sparrows.

The New York Civil Liberties Union recently filed a suit against East Ramapo, New York. The town school board has been almost completely captured by members of the Orthodox Jewish Community, whose children attend private religious schools. The school board uses its power to strip the budget for the students who attend public schools, who are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic.

Teacher Bianca Tanis, a member of the board of directors of New York State Allies for Public Education, here describes this shameful situation and calls on the Nee York State United Teachers to take action to protect the children of the East Ramapo District.

She writes:

“96% of public school students in the East Ramapo Central School District are Black and Latino while 98% of the students attending private schools are white with most attending private religious schools. Only one of the nine Board of Education seats is held by a public school parent. Needless to say, the Board of Education has NOT acted in the best interest of East Ramapo’s 8,500 public school students.

“The New York Civil Liberties union found that between 2009 and 2014 the East Ramapo Board of Education slashed funding to public schools and eliminated 200 teaching positions in addition to cutting numerous social workers and other key personnel.

“According the the NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman, “The East Ramapo school district has effectively disenfranchised the Black and Latino community and allowed white residents to hijack the school board in service of the lily-white private schools. The East Ramapo school board has brazenly diverted taxpayer funds to bankroll white private schools and destabilize public schools. Their policies have compromised the education and well-being of thousands of Black and Latino children. The disenfranchisement and degradation must end.”

“What is happening in East Ramapo is tragic. I have seen it with my own eyes…

“The NYCLU lawsuit demands that the board stop holding elections until a “ward” system is adopted. This would introduce voting on the basis of geographic districts; there would be nine individual districts, with one member elected to the board from each district.”

This situation did not develop overnight. The Regents and the legislature have allowed it to fester, while the children of East Ramapo are cheated.

This is an outstanding article by Best-selling author Michael Lewis.

It will give you a scary insight into the Trump administration’s determination to stamp out any reference to climate change and to turn the basic functions of government over to the industries that are supposed to be regulated.

Here is a small snippet. The USDA staff waited to greet the transition team with briefing books.

“More than a month after the election, the Trump transition team finally appeared. But it wasn’t a team: it was just one guy, named Brian Klippenstein. He came from his job running an organization called Protect the Harvest. Protect the Harvest was founded by a Trump supporter, an Indiana oilman and rancher named Forrest Lucas. Its stated purpose was “to protect your right to hunt, fish, farm, eat meat, and own animals.” In practice it mainly demonized organizations, like the Humane Society, that sought to prevent people who owned animals from doing terrible things to them. They worried, apparently, that if people were forced to be kind to animals they might one day cease to eat them. “This is a weird group,” says Rachael Bale, who writes often about animal welfare for National Geographic.”

The man chosen as Secretary of Agriculture was Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia.

“One week after being sworn in, Sonny Perdue staged a public event at a school in Leesburg, Virginia. The Obama administration had pushed successfully to raise the nutritional requirements of school meals fed to 30 million American schoolchildren, for the first time in 20 years. To receive federal subsidies for the meals they serve, schools are now required to behave more like responsible parents than indifferent ones: more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, less sodium, no artificially sweetened whole milk, etc. Concannon expanded the breakfast programs for kids who did not get fed at home—and that meal, too, became more nutritious. “You can’t just serve them pancakes and hot dogs,” he says.

“Big companies that provided the schools with meals fought back: it was more profitable for them to serve pancakes and hot dogs than fruits and vegetables. But by the end of 2016, America’s children were eating better than they had been in 2008. “Ninety-eight percent of the schools were meeting the new standards,” says Concannon, “and to those that weren’t, that had some problem, we’d say, ‘We’ll work with you!’”

“At the school in Leesburg, Perdue announced that the U.S.D.A. would no longer require schools to meet the whole-grain standard, or the new sodium standard, or ban fat in artificially sweetened milk. Those changes sound trivial, but the stakes are huge. This is a matter not just of what kind of milk America’s schoolchildren drink but also of the process by which we as a society decide which milk they will drink: will it be driven by the dairy industry and the snack-food industry, or by nutritionists?”

We have heard for years about the alleged superiority of Chinese education, based almost entirely on test scores on international assessments in which Shanghai comes out on top. Chinese-American scholar Yong Zhao warns in his books that Chinese education is not the paradigm that the Western media has fallen for. One scholar, Tom Loveless of Brookings, warned that Shanghai’s test-taking students were not representative of China. But they were ignored, and so we have been deluged with books and articles about why we should retool our education system so we could “surpass Shanghai” and why American mothers should get Tough and become “tiger moms.”

But wait!

Education in China, Christopher Balding writes, is so underdeveloped that it is a threat to the nation’s economic goals.

He writes:

“A widely held view in the West is that China’s schools are brimming with math and science whizzes, just the kind of students that companies of the future will need. But this is misleading: For years, headline-grabbing studies showing China’s prowess on standardized tests evaluated only kids in rich and unrepresentative areas. When its broader population was included, China’s ranking dropped across all subject areas.

“Official data bears out this dynamic. According to the 2010 census, less than 9 percent of Chinese had attended school beyond the secondary level. More than 65 percent had gone no further than junior high. From 2008 to 2016, China’s total number of graduate students actually decreased by 1 percent. Outside the richest areas, much of China’s population lacks even the basic skills required in a high-income economy.”

Outside of its prosperous urban centers, Chinese education is sharply restricted. Rote memorization continues to dominate even the classrooms in urban centers.

Time to stop mythologizing Chinese education and deal with our own realities.

The more you learn about the tax bill, the worse it is.

To win Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s vote, Republican leaders added a provision to allow drilling for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Members of the Senate of both parties used to be protective of this pristine area.

What a disaster. All for one vote.

This is our president. This is the candidate who told blue collar workers he cared about them and would fight for them.

“In 1980, under pressure to begin construction on what would become his signature project, Donald J. Trump employed a crew of 200 undocumented Polish workers who worked in 12-hour shifts, without gloves, hard hats or masks, to demolish the Bonwit Teller building on Fifth Avenue, where the 58-story, golden-hued Trump Tower now stands.

“The workers were paid as little as $4 an hour for their dangerous labor, less than half the union wage, if they got paid at all.

“Their treatment led to years of litigation over Mr. Trump’s labor practices, and in 1998, despite frequent claims that he never settles lawsuits, Mr. Trump quietly reached an agreement to end a class-action suit over the Bonwit Teller demolition in which he was a defendant.

“For almost 20 years, the terms of that settlement have remained a secret. But last week, the settlement documents were unsealed by Loretta A. Preska, a United States District Court judge for the Southern District, in response to a 2016 motion filed by Time Inc. and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Judge Preska found that the public’s right to know of court proceedings in a class-action case was strengthened by the involvement of the “now-president of the United States.”