08.22.14

The Latest “Free Market” Scam – Charter Schools

Posted in Around The State, Education, Poverty at 1:11 pm by wcnews

Just like toll roads are to “pay as you go” roads, charter schools are to public education.  In the long run they will only wind up costing mor and not producing a better product.  Oh, and only those running the con will make money.  Via In These Times (tip to Crooks and Liars, Did You Know The FBI Has Been Raiding Charter Schools?), The Con Artistry of Charter Schools.

Charter schools are such a racket, across the nation they are attracting special attention from the FBI, which is working with the Department of Education’s inspector general to look into allegations of charter-school fraud.

One target, covered in an August 12 story in The Atlantic, is the secretive Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who runs the largest charter-school chain in the United States.

The Atlantic felt compelled to note, repeatedly, that it would be xenophobic to single out the Gulen schools and their mysterious Muslim founder for lack of transparency and the misuse of public funds.

“It isn’t the Gulen movement that makes Gulen charters so secretive,” writes The Atlantic’s Scott Beauchamp, “it’s the charter movement itself.”

Kristen Buras, associate professor of education policies at Georgia State University, agrees.

“Originally, charter schools were conceived as a way to improve public education,” Buras says. “Over time, however, the charter school movement has developed into a money-making venture.”

Over the last decade, the charter school movement has morphed from a small, community-based effort to foster alternative education into a national push to privatize public schools, pushed by free-market foundations and big education-management companies. This transformation opened the door to profit-seekers looking for a way to cash in on public funds.

In 2010, Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. has been an ALEC member, declared for-profit K-12 public education “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

The transformation has begun.

Anyone who’s willing to pay can find out the best way to fix education in the US. And it has nothing to do with teachers, or teachers unions. It’s poverty. Many think that if we fix education we fix poverty. Well actually it’s the other way around. Fix poverty and we’ll fix education. And that helps she a light on why the charter schools are such a scam. Because they’re doing nothing to fix poverty.

And neither is the school “reform” movement, Michelle Rhee’s real legacy: Here’s what’s most shameful about her reign.

In debates about education reform, one very common pattern of arguments has emerged. Education reformers like Rhee jump into the forum and confidently proclaim that poor students are failing to acquire good educations because of bad schools and bad teachers. Then, those who actually know things about child poverty respond that poverty, by itself, is a massive impediment to educational attainment because of its damaging effects on human functioning.

On its face, this response should pose no particular problem for education reformers. If they want, they can synthesize these two points by saying that both poverty and bad schools drag down educational attainment, and that we should therefore target both. Under such a synthesis, the reformers would come out in favor of very simple and empirically proven ways (they love data!) to dramatically reduce child poverty, and also make the case for their specific education reforms. But, with few exceptions, they don’t do that.

Instead, would-be reformers like Michelle Rhee totally abandon advocating for poverty reduction in favor of flavorless, politically neutral policies that don’t offend big donors. Generally, the refusal to recognize the role poverty plays in diminishing educational attainment forms three themes. In the first, reformers claim that people who chalk up low educational attainment to poverty are just excuse-making. This is, of course, manifestly absurd: Someone who says educational outcomes are harmed by poverty is not making an excuse out of poverty; they are identifying it as the (or a) cause. To argue such explanations are really excuses is as absurd as saying that Michelle Rhee is using “bad schools” as an excuse for low educational attainment. In other words, the “excuse” gambit is both false and nonsensical.

It’s much easier to fix our road problem then our education problem.  But, as with so much in Texas, it’s likely going to get worse before it get’s better.  But nothing’s going to change with education until we re-start the war on poverty, and get rid of the con artists.

01.28.13

The Lege is in a holding pattern on school funding

Posted in Around The State, Education, Health Care, Poverty, The Lege at 2:53 pm by wcnews

It’s not just education. There’s an inter-connectedness of education, poverty, and the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The GOP members of The Lege have a mixed message on school finance. From an article by Peggy Fikac over the weekend, GOP waits and sees on school funding. When reading this keep in mind that schools talked to The Lege and lobbied hard to keep their funding in 2011.

A state judge is expected to rule next week on whether the school finance system is broken, but lawmakers aren’t anywhere near ready to launch repairs.

Instead, Republican leaders plan to wait for an appeal and a final Texas Supreme Court ruling so they know exactly what they are forced to do.

In a twist, some of their rhetoric seems to suggest school districts have only themselves to blame for the postponement of hopes of restoring funds cut back from education two years ago.

The delay in acting is business-as-usual for the Legislature, which as an institution typically waits as education funding problems get bad enough to prompt a lawsuit by school districts. Then lawmakers wait some more, until the state’s highest court outlines the parameters of the mess they must fix.

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said at a hearing last week that lawmakers should pay attention to those who want funding restored for key education programs.

But Williams also stressed the need to weigh that against other education-related funding demands, and he repeated his belief that the ongoing lawsuit makes it difficult for lawmakers to put in additional money for anything other than enrollment growth.

He also seemed to suggest that school districts used the courthouse as an alternative to discussion, odd to those who remember quite a school funding debate in the 2011 legislative session.

“I wish the school districts would sit down and talk to us,” Williams said. “It really ties our hands when they file a lawsuit.”

The reality is, and everyone involved knows it, is that The Lege will not act on school finance unless they’re forced to by the courts. One only has to go back to 2006, the last time they acted on this issue.  It’s not in their political interest to act unless they can use the excuse that they were forced to by the courts.

And not taking care of education will just exacerbate the problem, Poorer Texas kids lead to higher education costs.

Texas’ high child poverty rate is beginning to make demands on the state’s budget, and experts warn the state needs to spend more on education or the state’s economy could slow.

About 60 percent of Texas children live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census, and many of those children are unprepared and need extra attention when they start school. If they do eventually get into college, the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board says they are relying on a shrinking pool of financial aid.

Public schools and state universities are calling for more money as the state’s Republican leadership pledges to dramatically limit government spending. In 2011, the Legislature reduced funding for public education by $5.4 billion, cut pre-Kindergarten programs and cut funding for college scholarships.

Conservatives argue that low taxes and low government spending have helped the Texas economy grow by leaps and bounds since 2000, but the percentage of Texans living in poverty has grown also. According to 2010 Census data, 15.3 percent of Texans live in poverty and most are under 40 and Hispanic, the fastest growing segment of the Texas population. The poverty rate among Hispanics is 26.8 percent.

Hispanics account for 38 percent of the population and 48.3 percent of Texas children. This same group has the highest percentage of people aged 25 years or older without high school diplomas, at 40.4 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of poor students has gone up 45.9 percent to 2.85 million children.

Poverty and education inextricably linked.  There’s also a report out today on the positive effects Medicaid expansion would have in Texas, New Report Shows Local Tax Impacts from Offering Medicaid Coverage to Low-Income Adults.

A report issued today provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the costs and benefits to local taxing authorities (including cities, counties and hospital districts) and state government if the Legislature chooses to extend Medicaid benefits to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Click here to read the full report.

Billy Hamilton Consulting prepared the report, titled Smart, Affordable and Fair: Why Texas Should Extend Medicaid Coverage to Low-Income Adults, for Texas Impact and Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. An Executive Summary of the report is also available.

Texas Impact Executive Director Bee Moorhead said, “Our analysis shows conclusively that extending Medicaid to low-income adults is the smart, affordable and fair choice for the state–and that passing up this opportunity will place local taxpayers, low-income Texans, and the entire state health care system at a significant disadvantage going forward.”

The report demonstrates that local property taxpayers and hospital charity programs already spend about six times as much on low-income health care as it would cost the state to extend Medicaid coverage to adults who have incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL)–$15,415 for a single adult and $31,809 for a family of four. Under the Affordable Care Act, Texas could cover adults aged 18 to 64 whose incomes are below 138 percent FPL, with the federal government paying an average of 90 percent of the cost of coverage for low-income adults over the next ten years.

“For years, Texas has had the highest uninsured rate in the country, with 6 million Texans lacking health insurance. Now we have a chance to change that, and there is no excuse for any other course of action than extending Medicaid to low-income adults,” said Kevin C. Moriarty, President and CEO, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.

Certainly bringing down the amount of children, and adults, without health care would lower the number of Texans in poverty. Which will in turn improve the education of Texas children.  It’s time for Texas, for all it’s boasting of prosperity, to make sure that all Texans are prospering.

01.18.13

Debunking the deficit “crisis”

Posted in Around The Nation, Media, Poverty, The Budget at 2:55 pm by wcnews

In his column today Paul Krugman does his usual excellent job of showing whey the deficit is such a non issue, The Dwindling Deficit.

It’s hard to turn on your TV or read an editorial page these days without encountering someone declaring, with an air of great seriousness, that excessive spending and the resulting budget deficit is our biggest problem. Such declarations are rarely accompanied by any argument about why we should believe this; it’s supposed to be part of what everyone knows.

This is, however, a case in which what everyone knows just ain’t so. The budget deficit isn’t our biggest problem, by a long shot. Furthermore, it’s a problem that is already, to a large degree, solved. The medium-term budget outlook isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either — and the long-term outlook gets much more attention than it should.

It’s true that right now we have a large federal budget deficit. But that deficit is mainly the result of a depressed economy — and you’re actually supposed to run deficits in a depressed economy to help support overall demand. The deficit will come down as the economy recovers: Revenue will rise while some categories of spending, such as unemployment benefits, will fall. Indeed, that’s already happening. (And similar things are happening at the state and local levels — for example, California appears to be back in budget surplus.)

Still, will economic recovery be enough to stabilize the fiscal outlook? The answer is, pretty much.

[...]

The deficit scolds dominating policy debate will, of course, fiercely resist any attempt to downgrade their favorite issue. They love living in an atmosphere of fiscal crisis: It lets them stroke their chins and sound serious, and it also provides an excuse for slashing social programs, which often seems to be their real objective.

But neither the current deficit nor projected future spending deserve to be anywhere near the top of our political agenda. It’s time to focus on other stuff — like the still-depressed state of the economy and the still-terrible problem of long-term unemployment.

There’s is a reason why such a non issue dominates the discussion of our economic politics. And this article from Remapping the Debate shows why, Journalists in the service of Pete Peterson.

anuary 16, 2013 — Each spring since 2010, some of Washington’s A-list politicians assemble in the capital to submit to questions from some of the media’s A-list journalists on the future of the federal fiscal policy.

These interviews, though, aren’t conducted on the steps of Congress, in the Washington bureaus of the nation’s newspapers, or in the television studios of major networks, but rather at private “Fiscal Summits” convened by Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire former commerce secretary and co-founder of the Blackstone private equity group.

Peterson, however, is hardly a disinterested and dispassionate observer of such discussions. In fact, he is now beginning his fourth decade of arguing that there is no alternative to enacting “entitlement reform” (read: cut Social Security and Medicare) and “tax reform” (read: raise regressive taxes and lower progressive ones) in the name of curbing the country’s “unsustainable” debt and deficits.

An essential and successful element of the Peterson strategy is to create an environment where it is widely if not universally believed that there is no alternative to his vision. In this view, it’s “not realistic” to believe the country can afford the same programs it once did. Those who are prepared to be “adults” will look at these “hard truths” without flinching and recognize that it is time to take citizens-have-to-do-with-less medicine.

The conceit is that those with “courage” will see past narrow, partisan concerns and embrace an ideal: a bipartisan consensus that has the strength to demand “shared sacrifice” from a childish and selfish populace.

A review of the proceedings of the Fiscal Summits of the last three years makes agonizingly clear that most of the journalists who conducted interviews or moderated panel discussions both reflected and amplified the Peterson worldview — entirely unselfconsciously, it would seem.

So, for example, Lesley Stahl, the CBS “60 Minutes” reporter, was fully a part of the Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson deficit-cutting team during her interview with both men: “You are going to have to raise taxes and cut things, big things, put restrictions on Social Security. Everybody knows that.”

Virtually none of the reporters thought to ask about or suggest an alternative path, such as preserving Social Security benefits and bolstering the system’s reserve by raising the cap of wages subject to Social Security taxes (currently annual wages above approximately $110,000 are not subject to any Social Security tax).

And most questioning proceeded either on the false assumption that deficits were derived from excessive spending on entitlements or as though they had mysteriously, but inevitably, come to pass.

Click the link above where specific journalist’s service to Peterson are pointed out. But to Krugman’s point about wondering why everyone believes the deficit is such a problem, is because almost everyone is telling theme it is a problem.

And as David Cay Johnston points we’re not even talking about attacking the things that are creating so much debt, Deficits, Schmeficits.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., put the situation into perspective on the first Sunday of the year. On ABC’s This Week, he told us that any thought of further tax increases is over. Put another way, tax reform is dead, at least in the 113th Congress. That means we are in an Alice-in-Wonderland debate about taxes and federal debt — reality be damned.

President Obama and congressional Republicans have announced that the first stop in this fiscal twilight zone will be an assault on Social Security.

Policymakers seem determined to ignore the fact that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit or federal debt. The vast majority of the public loves Social Security, according to polls. So if they can’t kill it, Social Security’s enemies plan to wound it, and Obama is happy to oblige them in his quest to go down in history as a post-partisan peacemaker.

Two areas that do increase the debt will get less attention.

One is national security spending, now larger than all the revenue from individual income taxes. Because of a World War II-era doctrine that America must be prepared to fight two full-scale wars simultaneously against traditional enemy states, we employ a vast standing army overseas and pay for 71 nuclear submarines and 10 aircraft carriers with their multiship support fleets.

Of all military spending worldwide, measured in purchasing power parity dollars, the Pentagon alone spends 44 percent. Much of that money is spent overseas, a greenback spigot that drains the domestic economy.

Republicans are not happy with the idea of cutting defense spending. They say the Pentagon needs more. So much for their rhetoric about government spending too much.

The second debt contributor is healthcare. Solving the healthcare cost problem would put the federal budget in balance. So why is this not the issue Congress puts the most time and effort into, especially since we are endlessly told that the growing federal debt is our biggest economic problem?

The answer is that Dick Cheney was right, at least as a political matter — deficits don’t matter. What we will see is an assault on Medicare. Polls show that the public does not want Medicare cut, but Congress is sure to do just that because Obama has said cuts are required. That is true, assuming you do not reform healthcare overall.

There will also be cuts to Medicaid, which serves the poor. Numerous Republican congressional leaders have said that America cannot afford to spend as much as it does on Medicaid.

How is it that Portugal, with less than half the per-capita income of America, can afford universal healthcare and America cannot?

The reason is that we spend too much on healthcare through tax expenditures like fringe benefits for health insurance premiums and through private spending. However, universal care on a public service model would reduce costs and burdens on business — especially small business.

America cannot afford to continue denying all but emergency room care to 50 million people, some of whom move from working taxpayers to disabled tax-eaters because they lack proper medical care for injuries or chronic conditions. A healthy and productive worker is a terrible thing to waste.

Reducing defense spending and single-payer health care would do wonders and getting rid of the deficit. The other is to put people back to work, and then it’s all gone.

Of course the best thing we could do for our country is end poverty.

11.30.12

This is what happens when people who hate government are put in charge of it

Posted in Around The State, Had Enough Yet?, Health Care, Poverty, Right Wing Lies at 12:41 pm by wcnews

Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek is bringing right wing ideology to the HHSC.  A recent personnel move highlights this, Conservative health care expert is Janek’s ‘special adviser’.

The former vice president for health care policy at an Austin-based, conservative think tank has become Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek’s “special adviser,” concentrating on two urgent and thorny social services issues.

Mary Katherine Stout, who also served as budget and policy director to Gov. Rick Perry in recent years, is working for Janek on ideas for overhauling the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled, Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, said Thursday.

From Stout’s work history of the announcement about her joining Gov. Rick Perry’s staff in 2008.

Prior to joining the Foundation in February 2005, Stout worked for then-Chair Diane Rath at the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), where Stout served as policy analyst and handled issues among the two-dozen TWC programs including TANF and child care.

Stout previously worked for the Texas Conservative Coalition and the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI), working closely with the TCCRI task forces on fiscal policy, health and human services, and school finance reform.

Additionally, Stout worked as a policy analyst at the Texas Legislative Council and in the office of former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster.

Stout received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Texas A&M University.

In other words she bounced back-and-forth between the government bureaucracy and the corporate bureaucracy of right-wing think tanks her whole career.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se.  Her expertise is in gutting government as a ideological political hack.  This Andrea Grimes post points out, referenced in the above DMN article, Stout’s boss Kyle Janek is trying to use his best political spin, in a misguided attempt  to discredit the how many uninsured adults there are in Texas.

Because Kyle Janek doesn’t believe—despite credible, widely accepted evidence to the contrary—that one of Texas’ most pressing health problems, its high number of uninsured adults, is real.He doesn’t believe that more than a quarter of Texans are uninsured, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. He told a Texas Tribune reporter in early October that he believed that number to be “inflated,” and then reiterated his point in an extended interview with Tribune editor Evan Smith on October 31st. (Through his press representatives, he refused an interview with RH Reality Check.) Here’s his most recent take via the Tribune:

“It’s not that I don’t believe those numbers. I don’t believe the reasoning for those numbers.”

Janek’s problem: he said the Census Bureau only takes a “snapshot” by asking people if they’re uninsured, and doesn’t ask them if they had insurance in the past or if they think they have a job lined up with insurance in the future. Janek must not be aware that for nearly 25 years, the Census Bureau’s “snapshot” has shown practically the same thing: since 1987, Texas repeatedly has one of the highest, or the very highest, number of uninsured adults in the country. That rate has not been below 1987’s 23 percent; it peaked at 26.8 percent in 2009 and is currently estimated at 26.2 percent.

That’s a remarkably consistent snapshot of something that Janek seems to believe changes for millions of people by the day. Janek says he isn’t sure why Texas “is different” when it comes to health care, but he told the Tribune it could be because the weather here is nice.

“Do we have so many people that are temporarily uninsured? Or is it the general climate of better weather and glorious place to live? Folks come here, and that attracts more folks with health care needs or disabilities?” he wondered during the interview. Surely our high uninsured numbers couldn’t be due to the fact that Texas jobs generally don’t provide health insurance, that Medicaid in the state is limited, that insurance rates are unregulated or that Texas has a large immigrant population, as the Washington Postreported last year. No, it’s probably just the purty weather.

I called Dr. John Holcomb, a pulmonologist who chairs the Texas Medical Association’s committee on Medicaid, to find out what he makes of Janek’s stance. (Spoiler alert: the TMA’s official position is that “Texas is the uninsured capital of the United States.”) Holcomb told me that Janek’s comments are “a perfect example of how Dr. Janek is not ready for prime time.”

Holcomb told me that while Janek is a “very good speaker” and “very articulate,” when it comes to uninsured rates in Texas, “everyone knows exactly what those numbers are.” They aren’t inflated. They’re real. They’re accepted by public health professionals all over the state, including Dr. Janet Realini, the president of unplanned pregnancy prevention group Healthy Futures of Texas. Realini has been a vocal supporter of maintaining the Medicaid Women’s Health Program and a critic of the state’s and the HHSC’s cuts and changes to money-saving family planning programs.

And Grimes goes on to say this about Stout’s new position.

Her name is Mary Katherine Stout, and for $150,000 per year, the former Perry staffer, Wal-Mart defender and far-right Texas Public Policy Foundation economics “expert” will act as a “special advisor,” “involved in a number of policy and planning issues,” according to HHSC spokesperson Stephanie Goodman. Goodman toldRH Reality Check that Stout will be “looking at ways [Texas HHSC] can work with medical schools to support their efforts to make sure Texas has enough health professionals.”

In the past, Stout has particularly focused her efforts on criticizing Medicaid and especially CHIP, the popular children’s Medicaid program, which she has said is rife with luxury car-driving freeloaders and should be closed to people who are verily rolling in cash and furs, like “those making as much as $40,000 annually for a family of four.” Stout’s coldness is unusual even for Texas right-wingers, and her cruel preoccupation with making sure as few Texas children as possible receive needed aid borders on the bizarre. To that end, this was her 2007 proposal for fighting “The Left” in the National Review:

Perhaps we should fight their strategy with our own campaign to tell stories of success, of people working hard and making good decisions for their family, of people who made something out of nothing, or who turned something into more. Yes, send me your stories of success, of personal responsibility, and of government’s depredations on a family trying to make ends meet.

These are the words of a “special advisor” on Texas public health care policy, who’ll be whispering in the ear of a man who believes the state has “inflated” uninsured numbers because hey, poor people can always go walk in and get some open heart surgery at a public hospital or amorphous medical school of dubious funding origin.

That’s all just the same 40 year old false right wing rhetoric regarding people in poverty.  To see why that tired rhetoric is so wrong see this recent post, The tough choices families must make on a daily basis.

No one should fool themselves that the current leaders of our government in Texas, the far right of the Texas GOP, is going to use government to help the people of Texas. They want to privatize government and make sure their campaign donors can profit from taxpayers. That’s what their version of the “free market” ideology has become. This is just more of the same.  People like this who think government is the problem, will never come up with government solutions to help people.  And if we keep electing them nothing is going to change.

11.28.12

The tough choices families must make on a daily basis

Posted in Around The State, Had Enough Yet?, Inequality, Poverty, Take Action at 4:09 pm by wcnews

There are so many families in Texas who are living in poverty through no fault of their own – because of unforeseen medical bills or a layoff. People that are victims of circumstance, and are working hard to get out of their situation but can’t. Far too many of us are just a job loss or a medical emergency away from being in the same situation. That’s what this trailer for a documentary called A Fighting Chance brings to light.

Anyone who want to learn more can check out this free screening and discussion of the documentary on December 6th, via the CPPP, A Fighting Chance.

We are thrilled to share the two-minute trailer of our 30-minute documentary A Fighting Chance, which sheds light on what it really takes for families to survive and thrive in Texas and exposes the tough choices families must make on a daily basis.

The film will chronicle every step of their journey as they fight to meet their most basic needs. Thanks to the generosity of Methodist Health Care Ministries, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Citi Foundation, we hope to touch the hearts and minds of Texans by exposing the harsh reality of poverty and challenging our common assumptions.

A Fighting Chance will air on KLRU Austin, the local PBS station, and others statewide in a few weeks.  If you are in Austin, please join us next week for a premiere screening of the film followed by a panel discussion:

Civic Summit: What It Takes for Texas Families

Documentary Screening and Discussion

Thursday, December 6, 2012
KLRU’s Studio 6A
Doors at 6:30 p.m.
Documentary Screening at 7:00 p.m.
Townhall Discussion/Video Taping at 7:30 p.m

The event is free, but seating is limited so be sure to RSVP!

11.14.12

Left out of the discussion

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Poverty, Speakers Race, Williamson County at 1:01 pm by wcnews

I remember someone saying a few years back, around 2004 or so, that Texas is usually a few election cycles behind national trends. Lets hope that explains what’s going on. That is why this report in the recent Round Rock Leader, on a post-election forum in Williamson County caught my eye, Republicans dissect Romney defeat. The day after the election “100 GOP faithful” and “a panel of journalists and consultants” discussed Romney’s defeat.

It’s a tricky riddle, for those who take their party affiliation seriously.

On the one hand, panelist Mike Hailey – editor of the Capitol Insider newsletter – had this to say: “The independent voters, they’re turned off by the extremes of both sides, the right or the left.”

But on the other hand, forum moderator Peggy Venable countered with this: “If the race is won in the middle, I think many of us in this room would think of Obama as being on the far left.”

That explains what’s going on in Texas and Williamson County pretty well. While most who are to the left of President Obama see him as a centrist Democrat, those on the far right see him as being on the extreme, far left.  (Anyone who wants to see what someone on the “far left” really thinks of Obama’s reelection should read this, Once Again—Death of the Liberal Class.)  What this shows is that when the far left is the center it skews everything, and what’s left of center gets ignored and left out of the conversation.

And that’s a big part of why Democrats are struggling in Texas and Williamson County.  There is no serious discussion of how to try and lower the poverty rate in Texas, which is key to fixing our health and education problems.  Instead these problems fester as our state leaders hoard billions of dollars that could be used to help many who are suffering in Texas.

The recent reporting on the race for Speaker in the Texas House of Representatives does a good job of showing where the discussion stands in Texas right now. A fight between a right-leaning Republican and a far right Republican.  And it’s clear the Speaker’s race is a lesser of two evils choice for Democrats, and their issues will not be taken into account. Via the HChron, Straus faces tea party-backed challenge for Texas House speakership.

Unlike the governor and lieutenant governor, who are elected by Texas voters, the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives is chosen by members during the first day of each legislative session. It takes at least 76 votes to win the highly prized speakership.

The speaker appoints legislative committees and their leaders and also controls the flow of legislation.

Straus is counting on support from a solid chunk of the chamber’s 95 GOP members along with most Democrats, who have supported him in the past, particularly in 2009 when he upset incumbent Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

However, during a Democratic caucus meeting on Thursday, members decided to temporarily withhold support for anyone.

“We’re not in any hurry,” said Democratic Caucus Chair Jessica Farrar, D-Houston.

[...]

Farrar said Democrats, generally, could not back Hughes because his support from the most conservative Texans conflicts with the state’s need to invest in education, health care, water, transportation and other infrastructure.

“I don’t really have much of a choice, quite frankly. I am not excited about Joe Straus,” she said.

Straus’ standing among many minority lawmakers diminished during the 2011 legislative session following good reviews of his leadership two years earlier. Many remain upset with Straus’ handling of redistricting, voter ID, immigration and cuts to public education funding, including a $300 million cut to kill the state’s full-day pre-K program.

“Joe Straus seemed to be very uncaring when he cut public education by $5.4 billion for a statewide system that’s 51 percent Hispanic,” Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said. “He had no problem trying to curtail and take away minority voting rights (voter ID), and he participated in a scheme to intentionally discriminate against minority voters when it came to redistricting.” [Emphasis added]

This is what the far right sees as “mainstream issues”.

“The issues that matter to voters are mainstream issues that Straus was unable to accomplish,” [Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams] said, citing “balancing the budget without gimmicks and TSA (Transportation Security Administration) groping were two of them. Sanctuary cities were another.”

And Straus just wants the “same old, same old”, that hasn’t gotten accomplished in a decade.

The speaker said most legislators agree with him that Texas needs to focus on such priorities as education, water, energy, transportation and budget transparency and not get sidetracked with divisive speaker politics.

While Straus is the only choice between these two for House Democrats, no one should be left with the impression that he’s an ally of Texas Democrats. Texas cannot turn purple, much less blue, until there is much more push back from the left to get issues that aren’t being discussed back into the discussion.  Changing the discussion and doing the much needed work is what will get Texas, and areas like Williamson County, “back to blue” sooner, rather than later.

Further Reading:
Brains and Eggs thinks it’s all “kabuki theatre” and Straus is a shoo-in for relection, Texas House speaker politics begins.
And Texas Monitor on more crazy talk from the far right, Secession? Andale pues…

11.02.12

Poverty and public education

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Education, Poverty, Public Schools at 12:12 pm by wcnews

As the school finance case over public education funding in Texas continues, we need to take a reasoned look at the root cause of problems for public education.  To do that I would recommend watching this conversation between Evan Smith and Diane Ravitch.  In listening to the conversation it’s not that anything is wrong with the education system.  Ravitch says that, “The great lie is that our public education system is failing”.  She says the main problem is the fact that 25% of children live in poverty, and schools are no to blame for that.

She  discussed poverty in the context of improving test scores and learning, and the best way to do that  is to make sure children show up ready to learn.  But for that we must go back to the beginning.  She stated that while we need to spend more money, it’s more important what we’re spending the money on. She singled out three things:  early childhood education, pre-natal care, and having a school nurse and health clinic on site.  Being healthy and prepared is necessary for quality learning once they get to public school.  But the need to reduce poverty was evident she said, “To the extent we can reduce poverty we will see test scores go up”, and that, “Test scores mirror socio-economic disparity”.  And last that, “Kids aren’t learning because they’re sick, homeless, hungry, or a parent is in jail…we ignore all those problems and blame the schools”.

In Texas  26% of children live in poverty and Texas ranks 44th among the states in overall child health and well-being.  So it’s no wonder that we are having problems educating our children in Texas.  Ravitch’s overriding point was that the problem isn’t with our public education system, but it’s with the rising number of our citizens that are living in poverty.  It’s a societal issue, rather then an education issue, and that’s much harder for Texans and Americans to admit and fix then just blaming schools.

She goes on to discuss how test scores and graduation rates are higher then they’ve ever been.  And that most of the reason people think that the education system is failing is because the “echo chamber” has been repeating that for 20-plus years, and that too many have now come to believe that falsehood.  She also pointed out that teachers are overworked, and for the most part under paid.  And that where the education is the best in our country is where the teacher’s unions are the strongest.

On the subject of choice and charter schools, which she was once for, she now is against. Here are her reasons:

  • They don’t on average get better results than public schools.
  • They keep out special education students and the disabled.
  • They keep out English language learners, skimming.
  • It’s developing an dual school system based on class.

She goes on to say that choice advocates are the biggest proponents of the system if failing lie.  And some are in it to make money, and others for ideological reasons and/or idealistic reasons.  But her strongest argument was that school privatization can destroy public education which is an “essential democratic institution of our society”.

This is an extremely large amount of information, and maybe new information for some, to take in.  It really lays out the extent of the societal problems we face in educating our children.  And poverty is rarely talked about when discussing the problems with education in our society.  While taxes and per student spending need to be fixed, fixing poverty is the most important issue, and needs to be fixed first when discussing the problem we face in public education.

Further Reading:
The Myth of Charter Schools.

09.25.12

Here we go again

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Education, Inequality, Poverty, Taxes, The Budget at 3:22 pm by wcnews

Here we go again.  We’re about to spin back into the biennial vortex in Texas there’s talk about taxes, loopholes, and reform but nothing gets done. The reason nothing gets done is because the regressives that run our state don’t want anything to get done.  They see little, if anything, wrong with out current tax and revenue system in Texas.  That shouldn’t shock anyone, since they’re responsible for setting it up.

To get up to speed with what’s being discussed check out Kuff’s post, It’s usually a bad idea to bet on any kind of overhaul in the Lege.

I agree that it’s a sucker’s bet to think that the Lege will try to fix Texas’ tax code in any meaningful way. Nobody likes having to take votes that may later be used as clubs against them in a campaign, and the lobbyists swarm like no other time when someone’s tax break is on the line. But such an overhaul has to happen eventually.

[...]

As I’ve said many times before, nothing will change until the state’s leadership changes.

What I’ve said many times is that we can’t expect our current leaders who believe government is the problem, to know how, or even try for that matter, to use government for, or as part of, a solution.  The regressives don’t think there’s a problem, and the Democrats and progressives try to nibble around the edges in the austerity frame of the regressives.  This article from George Lakoff, from 2011 during the Wisconsin public pension fight, makes the case pretty good sums it up pretty good, What Conservatives Really Want.

The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.

The individual issues are all too real: assaults on unions, public employees, women’s rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, voting rights, food safety, pensions, prenatal care, science, public broadcasting, and on and on.  Budget deficits are a ruse, as we’ve seen in Wisconsin, where the Governor turned a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions, not just in Wisconsin, but seeking to be the first domino in a nationwide conservative movement.

Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the President has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives.

Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.

In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy: Empathy — citizens caring for each other, both social and personal responsibility—acting on that care, and an ethic of excellence. From these, our freedoms and our way of life follow, as does the role of government: to protect and empower everyone equally. Protection includes safety, health, the environment, pensions and empowerment starts with education and infrastructure. No one can be free without these, and without a commitment to care and act on that care by one’s fellow citizens.

The conservative worldview rejects all of that.

Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have over 800** military bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility.

He then discusses what needs to change.

What is saddest of all is to see Democrats helping them.

Democrats help radical conservatives by accepting the deficit frame and arguing about what to cut. Even arguing against specific “cuts” is working within the conservative frame. What is the alternative? Pointing out what conservatives really want. Point out that there is plenty of money in America, and in Wisconsin. It is at the top. The disparity in financial assets is un-American — the top one percent has more financial assets than the bottom 95 percent. Middle class wages have been flat for 30 years, while the wealth has floated to the top. This fits the conservative way of life, but not the American way of life.

Democrats help conservatives by not shouting out loud over and over that it was conservative values that caused the global economic collapse: lack of regulation and a greed-is-good ethic.

Democrats also help conservatives by what a friend has called Democratic Communication Disorder. Republican conservatives have constructed a vast and effective communication system, with think tanks, framing experts, training institutes, a system of trained speakers, vast holdings of media, and booking agents. Eighty percent of the talking heads on tv are conservatives. Talk matters because language heard over and over changes brains. Democrats have not built the communication system they need, and many are relatively clueless about how to frame their deepest values and complex truths.

And Democrats help conservatives when they function as policy wonks — talking policy without communicating the moral values behind the policies. They help conservatives when they neglect to remind us that pensions are deferred payments for work done. “Benefits” are pay for work, not a handout. Pensions and benefits are arranged by contract. If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them.

Democrats help conservatives when they use conservative words like “entitlements” instead of “earnings” and speak of government as providing “services” instead of “necessities.”  [Emphasis added]

In Texas we’re going to be looking at billions in surplus and likely over $10 in the Rainy Day Fund. In other words, Texas is not broke!  What we should be focusing on are the issues of poverty and education.  As well as what keeps people out of poverty – health care, a living wage, food, and a roof over their head.

It’s long past time Democrats and Progressives in Texas went about creating that long-term plan and began hammering home the message.  And the CPPP’s updated report, Who Pays Taxes in Texas?, is the perfect template.

Our quality of life in Texas depends on our public structures—including public education, child health services, and transportation infrastructure—maintained by Texas tax dollars. A good tax system would not only provide adequate revenue to maintain these structures, but would also  match the share of taxes paid with the share of income earned by each Texas family. The Comptroller’s 2011 study of the fairness  of the Texas state and local tax system,  Tax Exemptions and  Tax Incidence,idemonstrates conclusively that low-and moderate-income Texas families bear a disproportionate share of state and local taxes. We need a fairer system to fund public structures so we can improve and maintain Texas families’ quality of life.

Offering the people of Texas a clear alternative to what we currently have should be the focus for the future.  This cannot and will not change until we change the leadership of our state.

Further Reading & Viewing:
Senator pitches new state property tax for schools.
Teddy Roosevelt on a R living wage.

We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living–a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age.

FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.
The CBPP, Misconceptions and Realities About Who Pays Taxes.

04.08.12

The Texas Model – low wages, poverty, wrecked safety net, crumbling infrastructure, while the rich prosper

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Inequality, Poverty, The Budget, The Economy at 9:21 pm by wcnews

This recent Center for Budget and Policy Priorities paper on the “Texas Model” tells the tale pretty well, The Texas Economic Model: Hard for Other States to Follow and Not All It Seems. As it states Texas just has some built-in advantages that most states don’t have.  From the introduction:

Whatever its boosters may say, Texas is not a helpful model for economic growth for the rest of the country. True, the number of people and jobs in Texas has been expanding, causing other states to wonder whether Texas holds important lessons for state policies that can generate similar growth elsewhere. The answer is no.

  • Texas has unique geographic and demographic characteristics that have helped lift its economy in recent years. Its border location encourages trade and immigration and helps fuel population and job growth.
  • A combination of available land and lending regulations have kept housing prices comparatively low and helped Texas avoid the real estate depression that dragged down many other state economies.
  • Though Texas’ economy has diversified in recent decades, the state’s abundant oil and gas resources remain a valuable asset - especially when prices for those commodities are high - that most other states lack.
  • Even if it were possible for other states to replicate these features, the fact that so many Texans have failed to benefit from them - with poverty, low-wage jobs and lack of health insurance all above the national average - makes Texas a less-than-desirable model to follow.

The Texas growth narrative is well-known by now. Texas’ population grew by 11 million people (79 percent) between 1980 and 2011, more than double the rate of growth of the nation as a whole. (See figure 1.) With that population growth came job growth. Since the 1990s, the rate of Texas job growth has been a full percentage point or more above the national average most years.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, among others, has suggested that other states should adopt policies that will make them more like Texas in order to grow their economies. One example from the introduction to ALEC’s recent Rich States, Poor States report: “[M]any governors are looking at Texas, which has led the nation in job growth over the past three years, as the state with the best policy to emulate.” [1] In particular, ALEC notes the state’s tax policy as a plus.

But if those governors look closely, they won’t find much they can emulate. The reality is that much of Texas’ growth results not from its policies but rather from factors that state officials cannot control. For example, Texas has been benefiting from cheap and plentiful land, a location that enables international immigration and trade, abundant natural resources such as oil and gas, and other advantages that cannot be exported.

Even with all those natural advantages, Texas’ economic picture is not entirely rosy, and it may not be able to retain the advantage it currently holds over other states for much longer. Beyond population and job growth, Texas continues to lag behind the rest of the country in other important measures of economic success. About one in ten hourly wage jobs in Texas pays at or below the minimum wage ($7.25 per hour), more than in any other state, and Texas has the nation’s 11th-highest poverty rate. Such high levels of poverty and low-wage employment make the Texas economy a dubious model for the nation. [Emphasis added]

In other words, regulation kept Texas from having a housing bubble.  It’s geography, placement on the map, not the austerity measures of our politicians, are responsible for Texas’ current economic situation.

Texas invests less than other states in its infrastructure and in educating its workforce. This, too, could cause problems for the Texas economy in the future.

Other states should think twice before they make major changes in their tax and budget policies in an effort to generate the growth that Texas has seen in recent years. This growth is a result of the interaction of a host of factors that cannot be replicated by other states, and perhaps should not be replicated even if they can be. In addition, there are many reasons to believe that Texas’ economy will not continue to shine so brightly relative to other states.

That’s similar to the harsh reality Harvey Kronberg wrote about in his recent YNN column, Legislative candidates avoid issues that matter to Texas economic growth.

There isn’t much good news in all of this for the voters.

Although our economy is reviving and revenue is pouring into state coffers, most of it will have to cover the billions in hot checks written by the last Legislature.

Meanwhile, the things that make Texas so attractive for luring business are all quickly eroding.

We don’t have enough electric power to support a growing economy. Electric deregulation had the unintended consequence of increasing the financial risk for investors to build new power generation plants. So for the most part they didn’t. Brownouts are likely to become depressingly routine if next summer is as hot as the last one.

Our road infrastructure is a mess. The Legislature won’t find the money to repair current roads much less build new ones. If business can’t move goods and services efficiently, it will eventually go somewhere else.

Our construction industry is fueled by residential and commercial building. But new development needs water. The Legislature has actually devised a good water plan including new reservoirs, but our politicians refuse to pay for it.

Our biggest growth is coming from our newly revived oil and gas industry. The problem is that it has been so effective it is driving the price of natural gas down so far it is now increasingly not profitable to produce.

And that’s before we even talk about the seed corn for business — Public schools and higher education.

Voters will be hard pressed to find a single candidate talking about these threats to Texas business in the primary. Not when it is so much easier to talk about Washington — an issue over which state senators and representatives have absolutely no control.

Today the Center for Public Policy Priorities released their annual report Kids Count, and the news isn’t good, 25% TX children live in poverty.

Here’s the link to the data and report.

But things aren’t bad for everyone, In Texas and U.S., income inequality is growing as the rich get richer.

In these mean economic times, it’s no surprise that a lot of people are worse off than they were several years ago. The surprising part comes from the most affluent segments of society, who seem to be richer than ever.

New federal reports show that the top 20 percent of earners made more in after-tax income between 2005 and 2007 than the other 80 percent combined, with the gulf between rich and poor growing ever wider.

Texas and other states with very diverse populations stand at the head of the lists comparing the nation’s haves and have-nots.

None of this is likely to change in the next legislative session. But that’s not a reason sit on the sidelines. Much of the work that needs to be done to reverse this will take years, and can’t be fixed in one election cycle.  This didn’t get this way overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight.  Get involved, check out Progress Texas, the Texas Democratic Party and Save Texas Schools, just to name a few.

01.26.12

It’s time for Texas to become a top 10 state for the rest of us

Posted in Around The State, Inequality, Money In Politics, Poverty, Taxes at 3:40 pm by wcnews

There was a report mentioned yesterday at the Postcards that the Texas tax climate good for business. We don’t need another report to remind us that corporations and businesses pay little in taxes in Texas.  We already know the tax burden in Texas rests overwhelmingly on those at the lower end of the wage scale.  Certainly that makes corporations and the 1% happy, but there are much more pressing needs and issues in Texas then those.

Poverty, child poverty in particular, and lack of health care,  Texas’ poverty rate rises for second year in a row.

The number of Texans living in poverty jumped to more than 4.6 million last year, an increase of nearly 9 percent, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

For the second consecutive year, Texas’ poverty rate grew — to 18.4 percent, well above the national average of 15.1 percent.

Texas’ rate was sixth-highest among the states last year, trailing only Mississippi, Louisiana , Georgia, Arizona and New Mexico. Texas also ranked sixth in poverty in 2008 and 2009.

Once again, Texas led all states in the share of its population that lacks health insurance, at 24.6 percent. The national uninsured rate is 16.3 percent.

[...]

In child poverty, Texas moved up a notch. In 2009, the rate among state residents younger than 18 was 25.6 percent, or seventh-highest among states. Last year, at 27 percent, Texas came in No. 6, edging out Indiana.

Texas had 1.9 million poor children, the study found.

It’s not a great state for wage earners, Low Wages in Texas.

And for needy Texans there’s little help.

For residents living in poverty, the state doesn’t offer many services or even make federally-funded benefits easily accessible.

For instance, it has one of the tightest income limits — less than 12% of the poverty level — to qualify for federal cash assistance payments and one of the most meager benefits, a maximum of about $260 a month for a family of three, said Celia Cole, senior research analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income residents. The program serves less than 6% of poor children in the state.

Texas’ Medicaid program covers few non-disabled adults, instead providing health insurance mainly for children and senior citizens. And only an estimated 55% of those eligible for food stamps had signed up for the program in 2008, among the lowest participation rates in the country.

Enrollment has since improved after the state legislature allocated more money for administering the system after coming under pressure from the federal government and being hit with a class action lawsuit. However, Cole says, need has greatly increased as well.

And there’s little to no recourse for poor, working, and middle class Texans. Especially since corporations own the Texas Supreme Court, Report: Decade-Long Review Shows Texas Supreme Court Is Activist, Ideological.

The Texas Supreme Court has a long history of favoring corporate defendants over families and small businesses, according to a decade-long review of the Court’s decision making by Court Watch, a project of the non-profit Texas Watch Foundation.

Court Watch reviewed the 624 cases involving consumers decided by the Court between 2000 and 2010. The report, “Thumbs on the Scale: A Retrospective of the Texas Supreme Court, 2000-2010,” finds that the state’s high court for civil matters “has marched in lock-step to consistently and overwhelmingly reward corporate defendants and the government at the expense of Texas families.”

It’s long past time for Texas to become a top 10 state for the rest of us.

Further Reading:
Texas Poverty 101.
How Fracking is Changing the Face of South Texas.
The Texas Unmiracle.
More Regressive Tax Code Contributed To Growing Income Inequality Before Crisis: Report.

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