Education For We, The People Or For Private Profit?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
In his press conference this week President Obama said the economic focus is no longer saving the economy from crisis, but “jumpstarting” it to make a dent in unemployment. He listed education as one of the pillars of that effort. Later in the press conference he talked about making colleges and universities being open not just to people who are well-to-do, but to all of us.
Progressives For A We, The People Economy
Progressives believe that a We, the People economy works best when we act as a community where “we are all in this together,” and watch out and take care of each other. We mutually benefit from this approach: the better off we all are, the better off we all are. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe we should all be on our own, looking out for only ourselves and our families, and it is up to each of us, alone, to take “personal responsibility” for our own success.
Our differing approaches to education reflect these different philosophies. Progressives believe that education is good for all of us, and should be available to all of us. We believe that the economy does better when more of us can receive a good education, whether this brings a vocational or advanced degree, in a community college or a university. We try to enact policies that make this education affordable for everyone.
Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that “the government” (We, the People) has no business helping people. So they resist providing free public or university education. They call this “socialism.”
And so America’s conflict continues, one side asking for public investment in all of us for the long-term benefit of We, the People while the other side tries to harvest the public good for the short-term benefit of a few.
Compromise With Conservatives
A compromise of sorts has existed in recent decades in which the government helps students get loans, enabling them to go to more expensive schools. But these loans increasingly leave students with a very high debt to pay off after they graduate. In recent years students are graduating with more student loan debt than they can reasonably be expected to pay off.
Result: Increasing Debt
CNBC reports: Student loans leave crushing debt burden

The cost of a college education is rising faster than the cost of medical care and as much as three times as fast as consumer prices in general. But that’s just the beginning of the price of admission. This is the story of a debt crisis few are talking about.
Americans now owe more on their student loans than they do on their credit cards — a debt fast approaching $1 trillion with no end in sight.

Please read the entire CNBC report on the crushing debt load that students are taking on, just to get an education that will help our economy. Here is a clip of the video available at the link:

USA Today reports: Student loan debt exceeds credit card debt in USA,

Total student loan debt exceeds total credit card debt in this country, with $850 billion outstanding, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com, websites that provide information about student aid and scholarships.
Consumers owe about $828 billion in revolving credit, including credit card debt, according to seasonally adjusted numbers in a report on July credit from the Federal Reserve.

Result: Increasing Defaults
With the increasing debt load and the resulting crushing monthly payments come increasing defaults. From the Dept. of Education, Student Loan Default Rates Increase,

“This data confirms what we already know: that many students are struggling to pay back their student loans during very difficult economic times. That’s why the Administration has expanded programs like income based repayment and Pell grants to help students in financial need,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

And, of course, along with the for-profit privatization of what should be a public function, and the compromise of federal help for loans comes the companies profiting from federal dollars.

“The data also tells us that students attending for-profit schools are the most likely to default,” Duncan continued. “While for-profit schools have profited and prospered thanks to federal dollars, some of their students have not. Far too many for-profit schools are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use. This is a disservice to students and taxpayers, and undermines the valuable work being done by the for-profit education industry as a whole,” Duncan continued.

Result: Increasing Quick-Buck For-Profit Scams
Along with increasing and crushing debt and defaults another problem has cropped up. Just like with the housing bubble, the private predators have arrived to prey on the public. Private schools like Kaplan University are increasingly scamming their students with schemes reminiscent of the worst of the housing bubble, running up loan debt greater than any job they would ever get could pay, even hitting them with excessive fees and outright fraudulent charges. A Huffington Post report of their investigation of Kaplan University, At Kaplan University, ‘Guerilla Registration’ Leaves Students Deep In Debt, exposes Kaplan’s practice of “guerilla registration” in which they register students and charge them tuition for classes they don’t want or take, even in some cases after they have withdrawn from the school. And then they send the debt collectors after them for the money.

Despite having attended only two online sessions, Castillo had remained officially enrolled at Kaplan for nearly a year after her withdrawal.
Far from an aberration, Castillo’s experience typifies the results of a practice known informally inside Kaplan as “guerilla registration”: academic advisors have long enrolled students in classes they never take, without their consent and sometimes even after they have sought to withdraw from the university, in order to maximize the company’s revenues, according to interviews with former employees.

Please read the whole Huffington Post report, there is much, much more there. Kaplan University, by the way, is owned by The Washington Post company.
Speaking of Kaplan, this is also in the news: NY Times, E.E.O.C. Sues Kaplan Over Hiring,

Sending a sharp warning to employers nationwide, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the Kaplan Higher Education Corporation on Tuesday, accusing it of discriminating against black job applicants through the way it uses credit histories in its hiring process.
. . . In the E.E.O.C.’s suit, which was filed in federal district court in Cleveland, the agency said that since at least January 2008, Kaplan had rejected job applicants based on their credit history, with a “significant disparate impact” on blacks.
. . . The E.E.O.C. typically brings discrimination cases only when it is convinced that serious abuse has occurred.

Resources:
Demos: Student Loans and Student Loan Debt, links to Demos resources and research on this issue.
The Project On Student Debt
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A Dialog On California State Spending

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Over at Calitics there is an interesting diary from ‘zeroh8′ asking “Why Are We Spending So Much More?”  zeroh8 looked at the changes over the last ten years in how the state spends money.  The result, according to the diary, is a per-capita increase of $1088 as follows:

California Government Department
2007-08 less 1997-98 Per Capita Spending

Criminal Justice $185
General Government $14
Health $265
Higher
Education $109
K-12 Education $399
Resources & Environmental
Protection $27
Social Services $59
Transportation $30
Total $1,088 

Robert Cruikshank commented that the appearance of an education spending increase is an illusion, (sadly California still ranks 47th in education spending-per-pupil)

Much of the “increase” in K-12 funds is illusory. When Arnold cut the VLF in
2003 that money had to be backfilled by the state. That backfilling is listed on
the books as “spending” and so it appears as a huge “spending increase” when in
fact it is no such thing. Schools didn’t actually get more money. It’s an
accounting trick.

Robert is pointing out that this appearance of a large increase in education spending is actually just replacing spending that was already there, but that was cut from local budgets when Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle License Fee, so the state had to make up (backfill) the loss.  The state is spending more because local governments are spending less, but the total hasn’t increased.  Lesson: you have to look at the whole picture including local budgets to see the whole story because the state has to step in when local governments lose their funding sources.

Health care spending increases are certainly not isolated to California state government.  This is the health care crisis that is eating up government, business and family budgets around the country.  So far We, the People, in our wisdom, had avoided the kind of “socialized medicine” that the rest of the world has, which means we spend vastly more for health care with vastly worse results.  There is little California can do about it, except to further deny health care to people.  Is that the kind of people we will decide to be? 

Then there is that huge increase in criminal justice (prison) spending.  Was that necessary?  Well, we decided to pass laws that put people in prison for life for stealing a pizza or for years for smoking a joint.  And in the last few decades we have cut education spending, which to some extent has necessitated the increases in prison spending, because we know where that inevitably leads,

“18-to-24-year-old male high school dropouts have an incarceration rate 31 times
that of males who graduated from a four-year college”      

We’re seeing the health care crisis eating the state budget, and the problem of the prison costs.  Part of our problems today are because yesterday we were “penny wise
and pound foolish,” saving some money by cutting education only to
spend it on prisons (and who knows how many other ways) later.  Along with foolish tax cuts like cutting the VLF, and cutting property taxes for big corporations, and instead borrowing which has led to huge interest payments, those are the spending problems that brought about the budget crisis and that keep our government from being able to spend more on things We, the People need.

About those choices:  zeroh8 did a ton of research because no California citizen would know any of this from sources available to most of us.  The corporate media is not explaining the state budget and the functions of government to the public.  The example of the state making up local revenue losses in order to save our schools is a great example — instead it is just presented to people that the state is “spending even more”.

So what is the point of this exercise? To give the people the facts, not the phony sound-bites designed to further anger people against government and rail even further about having to pay taxes to fund the programs and services. The goal of the conservatives is to simply unfund government, thus making “We the People” powerless against the big moneyed interests — the people who brought you the sub-prime fiasco, the Wall Street boondogles, the Haliburton no-bid contracts and the Blackwater mercenaries.  As long as the bucks are flowing, what do they care if government can’t do its job…. what do they care about long lines at the DMV, wildfires that burn down communities, gangs that take over our streets and oh, yes……swine flu epidemics that kill millions?  They can just fly away in their private jets or sail away on their yachts — that California won’t tax.
Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Don’t Blame Me, I Didn’t Vote For Anything

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

The Republicans in Sacramento refused to vote for any budget, saying each budget didn’t cut spending enough, while also refusing to specify what items they wanted to cut and by how much.  The result was that the Democrats in the legislature had to vote to dramatically cut the school budget — along with everything else the state does.  And then after the legislature came up with those cuts, the Republicans voted against them, too

Now citizens are weighing in expressing their anger over these massive budget cuts, and the same Republicans are sending letters saying “don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for the cuts.”  A recent letter to constituents from State Senator Tony Strickland is most likely a standardized “boilerplate” budget statement that has been provided to Republicans to send out.  Let’s see if we can translate it into English:

As your Senator, I voted against the budget and the education cuts included in the proposal.  To answer your questions, I would like to share my reasons for opposing the budget and education cuts as well as why the Legislature decreased spending on K-14 education. 

Translation: don’t blame me for budget cuts, I voted against them.  I voted against everything you don’t like, and will claim to support everything you did like.  Whatever it was.  I can do that because I didn’t vote for anything.

In order to ease the impact of the funding decreases, the budget has granted local educational agencies unprecedented funding flexibility, which is the authority to move state funding for most categorical (special-purpose, such as principal training, English learner programs, and the arts) programs to supporting the highest locally-determined priorities through 2010-2011.  The spending flexibility should provide local agencies significant relief during this economic downturn.  However, if the agencies abuse the funding, then they have missed the opportunity to demonstrate that local communities are superior to managing their education funds than the bureaucrats in Sacramento. 

Sorry, I can’t figure out what this means.  Leave a comment if you can figure out what it says.

I will continue to support protecting education and providing local communities the flexibility to determine how to invest in their children.  Please be assured I will continue to oppose cuts to education because the state’s greatest asset – our children – will be the future workforce essential in reviving our economy.  Thank you, again, for contacting my office and sharing your concerns.  It is citizens like you who make the difference.

Translation: While voting against every budget, and being against any form of revenues — especially if they would be collected from the large corporations that funded my campaign — I now claim to support not cutting the education budget. 

This is an interesting strategy: Just vote against everything, and leave it to the responsible people to come up with ways to get around this obstruction.  And then, when citizens are angry about the huge mess this creates, send them letters saying you supported whatever spending they wanted, and that’s why you voted against everything.  Meanwhile, you collect your state paycheck, and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate “contributions.”  Nice work, if you can get it.

This is a dilemma for responsible legislators.  When you face an extremist group with just enough votes to block everything, how can you keep the kids in schools, provide oxygen tanks and other necessities to the elderly, provide police and fire protection and continue other essential government services?  When the state’s major media just won’t inform the public of the facts and makes this budget standoff seem as though government is little more than children squabbling over some cookies, with “both sides” refusing to compromise, the state slides toward becoming ungovernable.

What you you do about this?  There will be a ballot initiative tp roll back the rule that any revenue increases require a 2/3 majority to pass.  This initiative is currently named Restore Majority Rule, and you can visit the early website at ca.restoremajorityrule.com. Please sign up to help pass this initiative, and tell your legislators, friends and family that you support this change.

Visit Speak Out California and leave a comment.

California Republicans Admit Taxes Needed – Still Refuse To Allow Them

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
California Republicans finally, finally submitted what they claim is a plan to attack the budget deficits, detailing specifics of the cuts they are demanding. The plan they submitted only cuts the deficit in half, thereby admitting (but not admitting) the urgent need to raise taxes to cover the other half of the deficit.
The Republican plan guts public schools, community colleges, Medi-Cal, transit, mental health and many other programs. And yet it still leaves half of the deficit in place. So it isn’t really a “plan” at all. It is just one more extremist demand that we gut public schools.
A phrase like “guts schools and programs” becomes abstract when it is heard often enough. So what does this mean to the average Californian? What kind of education will children receive as we push to 40 or more students per classroom? Will they be safe if the district cannot afford crossing guards or buses? Will any of us be safe after police and firefighters are cut back? Do we go another decade without improving mass transit or even repairing roads and bridges? Will epidemics spread as health care is cut back? What about three-hour lines at the DMV? And what happens to people’s ability to train for jobs when community colleges are cut way back?
The Republicans demand that we sacrifice the education of an entire generation of school-aged Californians, so that a few wealthy people and corporations can become even wealthier! Their benefactors are covered — with their kids are in $20,000-a-year private academies. But what will this do to the economic future of the rest of this generation, and to the future of California? They don’t care.
This process as it has unfolded over so many years has shown us that California is ungovernable until we remove the current 2/3-requirement system that allows a small group of extremists to hold the state hostage.
Click through to Speak Out California.

Conservatives Opposed To Rule Of Law, Our Constitution And Good Education

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Conservative leader and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich writes about the California court ruling that children – even home-schooled children – must be educated by credentialed teachers, saying it is an example of “Judicial Supremacy.” In his article he quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial calling the ruling a “strange new chapter” in the “annals of judicial imperialism.” Later in the piece he writes,

The decision represents yet another case of a special interest — in this case, the education unions and bureaucracy — using the courts to get what they can’t get through the popular vote.
This is yet another example of judicial supremacy: Rule by an out-of-control judiciary rather than the will of the people. It joins court rulings such as the removal of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance on a long list of usurpations of the freedom and self-determination of the American people.

Lets take a moment to examine what Gingrich is really complaining about here.
Here’s how the American system of law and justice is supposed to work: We have a Constitution and we have laws that we are all supposed to follow by mutual agreement. And we have in place a judicial system for interpreting our Constitution and laws, again by mutual agreement. So when there is a dispute we take that dispute to the courts, and the judges rule according to the Constitution and laws. And then we agree to follow their rulings.
Newt Gingrich and the conservatives complain that this is “Judicial Supremacy” and “judicial imperialism.” Wow, this sounds pretty bad! But look at the meaning of these negative-sounding words. Isn’t “Judicial Supremacy” really just another way of saying that we agree to follow “rule of law?” When Gingrich uses language that casts a negative frame on the concept, isn’t he undermining public respect for the rule of law? Gingrich and other conservatives are happy enough with our American system when it works in their favor but when it rules against their agenda they launch another anti-government screed.
This post is not written in opposition to home or private schooling, but to point out the importance to all of us that we all operate under the same set of agreed-upon rules. At least in California, another agreed-upon rule is that our children should receive the best possible education. Article 9 of our California Constitution states that a good education is “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.” The wording at the beginning of Article 9 is as follows:

A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.

To this end Article 9 describes how California will manage a system of free, public schools. And Article 9 makes it clear that to this end our children deserve qualified, “credentialed” teachers.
Once again, We, the People of California have decided that a good education is “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.” This is what we want. Just what is it that Gingrich and other conservatives want instead if it doesn’t involve qualified teachers providing education to our state’s children?
Click to continue.

Choices on Taking and Giving Back

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
In Dubai, people get free housing, free medical care, AND $5,000 per month. The people of Dubai share in the country’s oil wealth.
In Alaska, people not only do not pay state taxes, the state government writes every state resident a check every year. The people of the state of Alaska share in the state’s oil wealth.

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A Line In The Sand — Stop Cutting School Budgets

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a “fiscal emergency” and is asking the legislature to solve the problem entirely with budget cuts. He has asked for 10% “across-the-board” cuts which at first glance seems to sound fair, but really means avoiding decisions about what budget items are the most important. It means cutting schools 10%. And law enforcement. And medical care. (Of course, they can’t cut the interest owed on Governor Schwarzenegger’s past borrowing.)
And more than that — much, much more than that — it is a trick that leaves out the fact that the state is not collecting needed tax revenue because of loopholes that let big corporations and the wealthy off the hook while the rest of us make up the difference.
It’s time to draw a line in the sand and demand that our state government not cut the budget for our children’s education any more.
Isn’t there a lot of “fat” in the budget, just waiting to be cut? Most people think so. But think about this — every time the state has a shortfall they cut spending, saying they are cutting out the “fat.” As a result, in the decades since Proposition 13 passed they have trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, and we now are long past the point where there is anything left to cut. In fact, today California schools have the lowest number of administrators per student of any state. Our schools have squeezed and squeezed and dropped programs and forgone pay raises and they can’t operate any more efficiently.
I was listening to a radio show the other night, someone from the San Francisco schools said this budget cut could mean they have to have 61 students per classroom.
But the Republicans in the legislature won’t let us talk about taxes — not even the yacht tax loophole. You and I have to pay sales taxes but people who buy yachts and private jets do not. They keep California as the only state that won’t tax the oil companies for the oil they pump out from our state. They won’t find a way to make commercial property owners pay market-rate property taxes.
The Governor and a Republican minority in the Assembly and Senate are still willing to block all alternatives to cutting teachers and health care and roads and parks and those things that We, the People call our government.
So it is time to draw a line in the sand. No more cuts. It is time to ask the corporations and wealthy to start giving back some of the incredible wealth they have made off of the physical, legal and financial infrastructure that We, the People of California put in place that enabled their gains in the first place.
Here are steps you can take to help fight back:
First, join us. Click this link and join Speak Out California. This way we can keep you up to date on our activities, including our activities to help keep our schools funded.
Next, start Speaking Out yourself, writing letters to the editor and contacting your legislators, demanding that the state enact alternatives to budget cuts, like closing tax loopholes and making wealthy people pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us pay.
The California Teachers Association provides a web page that helps you find the correct contact information for your state legislators. Please write to your legislators.
The Education Coalition has a website with facts to help you make your points. Give them a visit, too.
And finally, this is Speak Out California’s fundraising month. Help us out so we can continue the work we are doing. Help us keep the progressive voice alive.

Getting Rid Of Public Schools – They MEAN It

I’ve said before that when you try to tell people about the right’s agenda, they think YOU are the crazy person.

I’ve said before that when I try to talk about the stuff that the Republicans are up to, to people who don’t really follow the news, they think I’M the crazy person!

I remember a few years ago telling my liberal aunt that the right wants to get rid of public schools. She’s STILL mad at me for saying such an extremist, ridiculous thing. I MUST be an exaggerator, making up these things I say about the conservatives…
Today, another example. In the LA Times: Do away with public schools talks about “government-lovers” and “political correctness” and “bureaucrats” and mocks public schools for teaching about the civil rights movement. And there it is in the LA Times.
The right uses a tactic called “The Overton Window“. This is the Overton Window at work. In a talk to an education group recently I discussed how this works:

The Overton Window is a sophisticated tactic to help move the Right’s self-described “unthinkable” ideas all the way to becoming policy.
The strategy is to make radical ideas seem acceptable and comfortable.
They describe a “ladder” of steps – degrees of public acceptance. They say they work to walk the public up this ladder step by step.
According to the Overton Window concept, when the public FIRST hears ideas like getting rid of public schools, they consider them unthinkable, but with time and repetition, these ideas begin to be considered only radical, then with familiarity they become acceptable, and eventually sensible and worth putting into policy.

This is another example of the use of this tactic. It is intended to shock us. Then, we get used to it. Watch this video clip I used in my talk to introduce the topic. As I said in my talk,

Anything LESS extreme sounds almost moderate by comparison – in the window of “thinkable.” THIS is why they say those outrageous things. They’re walking people up the ladder. It’s part of the long-term strategy.

These people are serious.
A few years ago I worked on a report titled, Responding to the Attack on Public Education and Teacher Unions, describing the organized effort to attack public education, and making some suggestions for countering this effort. Countering this effort requires more than just informing some people about facts and issues. The effort to privatize schools is part of a larger, coordinated attack on community and government itself. They MEAN it. It is past time that we understand what we are up against here.