Educate All Students, Support Public Education

May 29, 2015

Nation Watching Wisconsin’s Education Debacle

Filed under: ALEC,Education Policy,Republicans — millerlf @ 10:57 am

Valerie Strauss Washington Post Education Blog May 28,2015

What is the Wisconsin Legislature trying to do to public education in Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s state?

State Superintendent Tony Evers has gone on record accusing lawmakers of moving toward new legislation “that erodes the basic foundation of Wisconsin’s public school system.” How? By legislature efforts that include refusing to spend more money on public education for the first time in more than 20 years while while giving millions of dollars more to expand a private voucher program, slashing higher education funding, and weakening licensing rules for teachers.

Evers said in a statement:
“Wisconsin is nationally renowned for its quality public schools. We are a leader among the states in graduation rates, Advanced Placement participation, and ACT scores because of our highly trained educators and the support of families and local communities. The citizens of Wisconsin — measured by budget hearings, local advocacy, and recent polls — voiced their overwhelming support for our public schools and increasing funding in this budget.

“I am troubled that the Joint Finance Committee spent its time and effort designing a plan that erodes the basic foundation of Wisconsin’s public school system. If we want all students to achieve, we cannot continue to ask our public schools to do more with less. The eventual outcome of that exercise will be two systems of public schools: those in local communities that can afford to provide a quality education through referendum and those that cannot.”

Education proposals by the Joint Committee on Finance largely reflect the broad agenda set by Walker, who is considered a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Lawmakers have expanded on some of the more general language in his budget proposal (such as by spelling out how teacher licensure should be changed) and added a few things of their own.

Walker, in fact, had proposed a $127 million cut in K-12 funding and lawmakers restored the cut in their proposal — though they are not giving more money to public school districts for the first time in more than 20 years next year while at the same time spending millions more to expand to expand a school voucher program that uses public money to fund private education. The plan includes a voucher program for special-needs students, which critics say would reduce resources that public schools have for special-needs students.

It is worth noting that for the current school year, 75 percent of the applications to the voucher program were already in private school, according to the education department, and for the 2015-16 school year, 79.9 percent. Doesn’t that sound like a subsidy for the private school population?

There’s more: Lawmakers are pushing for budget cuts in the University of Wisconsin higher education system — possibly $150 million for each of the next two years. That makes Wisconsin one of only six states that have approved or are considering reducing higher education funding for the next fiscal year, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The paper notes that Wisconsin now spends less on higher education than all of its neighbors: Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

[Wisconsin Gov. Walker sued for withholding public documents on secret bid to change university’s mission]

What is on the education agenda of the Joint Committee on Finance of the state legislature?
From the Department of Public Instruction:
•For the first time ever, there is no increase in state imposed revenue limits over the next two school years, while voucher and independent charter school payments are increased in each year.
•State general equalization aid to public schools is cut in the first year to pay for voucher expansion and increased independent charter school payments. This leaves public schools with less state general aid than in 2010.
•Continues the freeze on state special education aid for what will be the eighth consecutive year, covering roughly a quarter of district special education costs while creating a new voucher program that drains funds from public schools.
•Essentially eliminates teacher licensing standards by allowing public and private schools to hire anyone to teach, even those without a bachelor’s degree, planting Wisconsin at the bottom nationally, below states with the lowest student achievement levels.
•Imposes a new state test on today’s 10th-graders in all public schools and private school students receiving vouchers that they must pass to graduate in two years.

Here’s part of a May 27 news release from the department on proposed changes to he way teachers are licensed:

Major changes to teacher licensing voted into the 2015-17 state budget, without a hearing, puts Wisconsin on a path toward the bottom, compared to the nation, for standards required of those who teach at the middle and high school level.

Adopted as a K-12 omnibus motion by the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), the education package deregulates licensing standards for middle and high school teachers across the state. The legislation being rolled into the biennial budget would require the Department of Public Instruction to license anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any subject to teach English, social studies, mathematics, and science. The only requirement is that a public school or school district or a private choice school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in each subject they teach. Traditional licensure requires educators in middle and high school to have a bachelor’s degree and a major or minor in the subject they teach, plus completion of intensive training on skills required to be a teacher, and successful passage of skills and subject content assessments.

That’s not all. The proposal would require the education department to issue a teaching permit to people who have not — repeat have not — earned a bachelor’s degree, or potentially a high school diploma, to teach in any subject area, excluding the core subjects of mathematics, English, science, and social studies. “The only requirement would be that the public school or district or private voucher school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in the subject they intend to teach. And, the department would not be permitted to add requirements.

Evers is quoted as saying:
“We are sliding toward the bottom in standards for those who teach our students. It doesn’t make sense. We have spent years developing licensing standards to improve the quality of the teacher in the classroom, which is the most important school-based factor in improving student achievement. Now we’re throwing out those standards.”

Meanwhile, Walker hasn’t said anything publicly that would make anyone think he doesn’t agree with the education path on which the legislature has embarked.

Walker was recently sued by a nonprofit watchdog group alleging that he is refusing to make public documents relating to an effort by his office to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin that is embedded in state law. Earlier this year, Walker submitted a budget proposal that included language that would have changed the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system — known as the “Wisconsin Idea” and embedded in the state code — by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

If the language had become law, it would have created a fundamental change in the University of Wisconsin. The traditional mission is to broadly educate students to be active, productive citizens in the U.S. democracy, while Walker’s language would have turned the school into more of a training ground for workers to populate the American work force. Walker failed to mention the suggested change in a speech he gave about the budget, but after it was discovered by the nonprofit Madison- -based Center for Media and Democracy, the governor withdrew the language and said it was a “drafting error.” The center tried to get documents related to the episode under the Freedom of Information Act and sued when Walker’s administration refused to release some of them, claiming they are protected by “deliberative process privilege.”
(Correction: The Center for Media and Democracy is based in Madison, not Washington, as an earlier version said.)

A Voucher in Every Backpack Goal Could Lead to a Loss of $600-$800 Million From Public Schools in the Next Decade

Filed under: Republicans,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:36 am

Vouchers could shift at least $600-$800 million from districts through 2025
By Erin Richards and Andrew Hahn of the Journal Sentinel May 28, 2015

Sending thousands more students to private, religious schools under an expansion of Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program could shift $600 million to $800 million out of public schools over the next decade, according to an analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains) unveiled the memo Thursday to underscore their concerns about how the expansion could deplete funds available for public schools.
“It is so clear that Republicans in the state Legislature are selling out Wisconsin kids, families and neighborhoods to support Gov. Walker’s presidential ambitions and reward the out-of-state special interests that give millions to Republican campaigns,” Pope said.

But a voucher-school advocate countered that it’s impossible to forecast the cost of the school choice program expansion over the next decade, because schools cannot predict how many students will participate, and how many seats private schools could offer them.

“I’m a little bit surprised the fiscal bureau put this memo out,” said Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin. “Normally, they don’t say, ‘We’re going to take a purely speculative run and just guess at the numbers.'”
The back-and-forth comes after the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee last week approved an expansion of the statewide voucher program, and a mechanism for funding it, as an amendment in the state budget. Gov. Scott Walker had proposed expanding the 2-year-old statewide voucher program in his initial budget request.

The budget still has to pass both houses of the Legislature and be signed into law by Walker.

The fiscal bureau memo predicts that approximately 2,000 incoming pupils would participate in the statewide voucher program in 2015-’16, and about 3,000 would participate in 2016-’17.

Payments for those pupils over the next two years would be paid for with about $37 million from the state’s general purpose fund, with payments fully offset by aid reductions to the pupils’ districts of residence, according to the memo.

The expansion plan calls for allowing more students to obtain vouchers beyond the next biennial budget — with the cap increasing each year until it’s removed entirely after about a decade.

That’s why Democrats asked the fiscal bureau for a projection of what the expansion would cost through 2025.
The statewide voucher program currently caps enrollment at 1,000 students.

Vouchers contentious
Expanding the program has been hotly debated.

Democrats, teachers unions and others say expanding vouchers threatens the quality of public schools by depleting the finite pool of funds available for them.

They also point out that private schools are not required to be transparent with records and data in the same way as public schools, nor meet the same federal requirements to serve children with disabilities.

Many Republicans and voucher-school advocacy groups believe public money should be allowed to follow children to the school of their parents’ choice, even if it’s a private institution.

They say that is especially important for low-income students who may not have the means to attend a high-performing, private and religious school.

But since the inception of the statewide voucher program two years ago, the majority of children who applied for vouchers were already attending private schools without public assistance. New restrictions in the expansion plan would lower the number of children switching to use a voucher to continue attending the same private school.
Bender, from School Choice Wisconsin, said the total cost outlined in the memo was misleading because the funding for a public school student would follow that individual if they open-enrolled in a voucher school.

“These students are part of the funding base already,” Bender said. “There’s no new cost to the taxpayers. … There’s a small percentage of students that will be entering the system that weren’t there before, but that’s nothing that comes even close to $800 million.”

Specifics of plan
According to the voucher expansion plan approved by the finance committee, pupils who begin participating in the Racine or statewide voucher programs in the 2015-’16 school year would be counted by their home school district for the purposes of general aid and revenue limits. A district would then see a reduction in its state aid payment for any participating pupils, in the amount of $7,210 for a K-8 student and $7,856 for a high school student.
Districts could not raise taxes to compensate for the aid reduction.

Enrollment in the statewide program is capped at 1% of a district’s total enrollment in the first two years of the budget, then would rise by 1 percentage point each year until enrollment reaches 10% of the district’s prior year enrollment. After that, there will be no enrollment cap on the number of kids using publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools.

To qualify for a voucher, students entering the statewide program have to come from families earning no more than 185% of the federal poverty limit, or $44,828 for a family of four.

December 7, 2012

Hartford’s Rep. Don Pridemore Named to Chair Assembly Urban Education Committee

Filed under: Republicans,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 9:36 am

The “urban” center of Pridemore’s district is Hartford, a town with 14,000 residents. Following is a posting by Barbara Miner whose blog is View From the Heartland.

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 By Barbara J. Miner

This article is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

Dark days are ahead in Wisconsin politics. The Republican legislative majority has made clear it plans to ram through backward legislation in any number of areas, from the environment to education to democratic fundamentals such as the right to vote.
One of the many recent embarrassments (there are so many, it’s difficult to choose): On Tuesday, arch-Republican and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker-elect Robin Vos named Rep. Don Pridemore as head of the urban education committee.
Yes, this is the same Pridemore who, in announcing his candidacy last month for the job of state superintendent of education, mis-spelled the word “superintendent.” The same Pridemore who has said that single parents are a leading cause of child abuse by the mere fact they are single parents. The same Pridemore who has praised Arizona’s anti-immigration, anti-Latino legislation as a model for Wisconsin. The same Pridemore who hails from anything-but-urban Hartford, which has a population of about 15,000 people, about 90% of whom are white.
It’s easy to get discouraged. But it’s also easy to look at the past through rose-colored glasses. Remember: Wisconsin survived Joe McCarthy.
It’s also easy to forget that Wisconsin has a number of young, energetic and committed progressive leaders who are getting well-deserved attention nationally.
Thus it was refreshing news when Huffington Post recently named Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Milwaukee as one of “50 young progressive activists who are changing America.” As the article notes:
Born in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, these 50 people inherited an America that seems to be holding its breath, trying to decide what kind of country it wants to be. …
The 50 individuals listed here represent a new generation of activists, artists, thinkers, and politicians who have already become leaders of exciting movements for social justice. They offer hope that the 21st century will witness dramatic changes toward greater equality and democracy.
The Dec. 2 article was written by Peter Dreier, a professor of politics at Occidental College and the author of The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.
For more than a decade, Neumann-Ortiz has been the leading force in Milwaukee’s Voces de la Frontera, nationally recognized as a grass-roots voice for immigrant and workers’ rights. Most recently, the organization was in the news for its support of workers trying to unionize Palermo’s Pizza.
Both Neumann-Ortiz and Voces have long been vilified by the right wing. Mark Belling recently went after the United Way of Racine County because —horror of horrors!—it gave Voces money to help organize a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration at the Racine public schools. Former Republican state Sen. Cathy Stepp, meanwhile, once called Neumann-Ortiz a terrorist after she tried to talk to Stepp at her home about immigrant rights.
Georgia Pabst, who does an admirable job covering the Latino community despite the Journal Company’s tendency to ignore low-income communities except when there are issues of crime or dysfunctionality, did a good feature on Neumann-Ortiz on in 2010. Quoting both critics and supporters of Neumann-Ortiz, Pabst’s article was a welcome counterpoint to right-wing radio’s one-sided punditry.
Some people have likened Neumann-Ortiz to Father Groppi, the white priest who led the open housing marches of the 1960s and who is now recognized as one of Milwaukee’s seminal leaders of the 20th Century. Both believed in the power of grass-roots organizing and took up an issue based on its merits, not whether it would be controversial.
Watching the right’s denigration of Neumann-Ortiz and the call to boycott Palermo’s pizza reminds me of a comment by Frank A. Aukofer, a Milwaukee Journal reporter in the 1960s who later wrote a book on Milwaukee’s civil rights movement.
In his book, Aukofer describes how the city’s media and power elite repeatedly decried a 1964 school boycott designed to highlight segregation in the city’s schools. They labeled the boycott illegal, or mere truancy, or a “goofy stunt.” The criticisms, Aukofer writes, were typical of the white majority’s response “to every civil rights protest before and since. Instead of focusing on the issue the boycott was intended to dramatize, the boycott itself became the issue.”
Think of establishment reactions to the boycott of Palermo’s Pizza. Sound familiar?
At a time when arch-conservative Republicans are poised to attack on any number of fronts, we need one, two, many Voces. The Huffington Post article is a welcome acknowledgement that progressive activism matters.
— — —
This article is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

February 29, 2012

MATC Is Under Attack From Republicans

Filed under: Grothman,Republicans,Wisconsin Class Warfare — millerlf @ 12:36 pm

Last week a Wisconsin senate committee passed SB 275 that will remove all nine members of the MATC district board and replace them with a board selected by a new, less democratic and representative appointment committee composed of the Washington, Ozaukee and Milwaukee County Executives and the Milwaukee County Board Chair.

The bill is an outrageous power play by Republican politicians who have never supported MATC or its students and who slashed their funding by 30% last year. It was bottled up in committee until it was amended to be exclusively about MATC.

There was no public hearing on the bill. Nor did its authors, Senator Glen Grothman (R) and State Representative Mark Honadel (R)  discuss the proposal with the MATC board chair, Melanie Holmes, MATC’s President Dr. Michael Burke or the appointment committee chair, Dr. Michael Bonds.

The bill eliminates the current board including all four minority members, none of whom are even eligible to reapply under the new criteria established by the bill.

The proposal gives Washington County 25% of the board appointment committee’s authority even though only 2.4% of MATC’s students come from Washington County and its investment in the college, 4.3% of total funding, is minimal.

Ozaukee County which provides the college with 14.4% of its funding will also be empowered with 25% of the board appointment authority. So, two counties that provide MATC with 18.7% of its funding will control 50% of the appointment authority, while the city of Milwaukee home to 57% of our students gets no representation.  And Milwaukee County which contributes 84% of our funding gets only 50% of the appointment authority.

The bill destroys the college’s historic commitment to shared governance by eliminating the employee representative seats on the board.

The legislation was clearly designed to remove particular board members, including attorney Peter Earle, the lead attorney challenging the manipulative Republican redistricting maps that were developed in secret and in probable violation of the United States Constitution; Ann Wilson, who directs a non-profit agency; and Alderman Tom Michalski of Oak Creek.

Lauren Baker, the Director of Career and Technical Education for the Milwaukee Public Schools, will also be removed despite being featured in the latest issue of the Milwaukee Business Journal for being a great bridge between industry and education. Fred Royal, the Secretary of the Wisconsin Technical College Board’s Association would also be dismissed.

This bill is an assault on the democratic process and on the college. If passed, the governing body of the college will be people with no experience or knowledge of the college or its students. That’s like putting someone with no flying experience in the cockpit of a transatlantic flight!

Why is the board being dismissed?

MATC, unlike the state of Wisconsin, has been a model of fiscal responsibility, maintaining its AA1 bond rating while the state’s was reduced. MATC has a reserve find of 22%. The state barely has one. MATC’s costs per student are the state’s average despite running 25% more programs than any other technical college. This is nothing more than a power play by power hungry politicians that will hurt our students.

You can help stop this bill by calling your state representative and politely urging them to kill this bill.

If you don’t know your state representative’s contact information you can find it here:

For more information on the bill see:

October 6, 2011

Brennan Center for Justice Report on Voting Law Disenfranchisement of 5 Million Americans: Students, the Elderly, Communities of Color and the Poor are Targeted

 Brennan Center for Justice: at New York University School of Law

Voting Law Changes in 2012

By Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden
– 10/03/11

Ahead of the 2012 elections, a wave of legislation tightening restrictions on voting has suddenly swept across the country. More than five million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year — a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.

This report is the first full accounting and analysis of this year’s voting cutbacks. It details both the bills that have been proposed and the legislation that has been passed since the beginning of 2011.

Download the Report (PDF)

Download the Appendix (PDF), a compilation of potentially vote-suppressing legislation proposed in the 2011 legislative sessions.

Download the Overview (PDF), a four-page summary with key findings.

Read the Executive Summary

View the Report

Executive Summary

Over the past century, our nation expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation. In 2011, however, that momentum abruptly shifted.

State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws making it harder to register or to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Two states reversed earlier reforms and once again disenfranchised millions who have past criminal convictions but who are now taxpaying members of the community. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting.

These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:

  • These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
  • The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
  • Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.

States have changed their laws so rapidly that no single analysis has assessed the overall impact of such moves. Although it is too early to quantify how the changes will impact voter turnout, they will be a hindrance to many voters at a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections.

This study is the first comprehensive roundup of all state legislative action thus far in 2011 on voting rights, focusing on new laws as well as state legislation that has not yet passed or that failed. This snapshot may soon be incomplete: the second halves of some state legislative sessions have begun.

August 4, 2011

Stock Market Nose Dive: Response to Republican Policies Cause Markets to take Worst Dive Since 2008

Filed under: Economy,Republicans,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 3:31 pm
“…uncertainty created by the debate in the United States to raise the debt ceiling had unnerved European markets as United States investors had become increasingly reluctant to lend to European banks.

Stocks Dive on Fears of Global Slowdown

By Published: August 4, 2011 NYTimes

Stocks around the world fell sharply Thursday on intensifying investor fears about a slowdown in global economic growth and worries about Europe’s ongoing debt crisis, which is centered now on Italy and Spain.

Stock market indexes in the United States and Europe dropped more than 4 percent as Japan intervened to weaken its currency and the European Central Bank began buying bonds to try to calm markets.

At the close, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 60.27 points, or 4.78 percent, to 1,200.07. The Dow Jones industrial average was off 512.76 points, or 4.31 percent, to 11,383.68, and the Nasdaq was down 136.68, or 5.08 percent, to 2,556.39.

There have been 17 days since the beginning of 2008 with single-day drops of 4 percent or more – 13 in 2008 and 4 in 2009.

Following accelerating falls over the past two weeks, the stock market is now officially in “correction” territory, defined as a drop of 10 percent to 20 percent since the latest peak.

The S.&P. 500 has fallen 10.6 percent since its recent high of 1,363.61 on April 29, underlining the new negative investment sentiment about the economy and Europe.

“We are now in correction mode,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor’s. “We could have another couple of weeks to go before it bottoms.”

The last time the market was in a correction was last summer, when it fell 16 percent before recovering.

A fear haunting markets is that the United States economy may be heading for a double-dip recession. And even after a second major rescue package for Greece and the agreement to raise the debt ceiling in the United States, investors are concerned that world leaders have not done enough to address fragile underlying economic growth, while Europe’s debt problems have moved on to the much bigger economies of Italy and Spain.

Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of the bond giant Pimco, said investors were selling risky assets like stocks “globally prompted by concerns about the weakening economic outlook, spreading contagion in Europe and insufficient policy responses.”

With Thursday’s dive, the three major American indexes had erased all of the gains made so far in 2011, with the S.&P. and Nasdaq markedly below the start of the year.

In afternoon trading, the Dow, an index of 30 blue-chip stocks, was about 9.4 percent off of its most recent closing high of 12,810.54, reached on April 29. But it was 18 percent below its all-time high of 14,164.53, on Oct. 9, 2007.

Unnerved by policymakers’ apparent inability to get ahead of Europe’s festering debt crisis, European stock markets turned sharply negative across the board.

In Britain, stocks closed down 3.43 percent. In Germany, the DAX index dropped 3.4 percent. In France, the CAC 40 closed down 3.9 percent.

“This is the worst it has been in Europe,” said Jens Nordvig, currency economist at Nomura Securities in New York. “The current rescue package was not enough to cope with the size of the problems posed by Italy and Spain. We need a new framework that can cope with those two countries, and without it markets are on their own and are falling.”

Major indexes in Italy, Spain, France and Switzerland all closed Thursday more than 20 percent below their 2011 highs, while Germany was off nearly 15 percent and Britain’s decline was more than 11 percent.

The selling has extended to many other markets. Mexican stocks are off almost 14 percent from their highs earlier this year, and Brazil’s major index has lost more than a quarter of its value.

Yields on Italian government bonds, already above 6 percent, rose sharply, adding to concerns that the nation’s current debt position is unsustainable. Yields on Spanish debt also increased. This was despite large-scale intervention by the European Central Bank, which for the first time since March began buying bonds in an apparent attempt to prevent the region’s sovereign debt crisis from engulfing Italy.

The markets had expected some concrete action from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Italian’s worsening debt situation in public remarks late Wednesday. But they were disappointed when he defended the country’s fundamentals and said current packages were enough to foster economic growth. The Italian stock market opened up but then slipped sharply.

Since many of Europe’s banks hold the bonds of countries like Italy and Spain, concern is turning to the health of the banking system as these bonds drop in value. With warning signs flashing that some European banks are struggling to fund themselves in increasingly expensive credit markets, the E.C.B. also moved to help weaker banks by expanding its lending to institutions in the euro area at the benchmark interest rate. Bank stocks nevertheless fell sharply in Europe.

Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the E.C.B., said the bank had acted in response to “renewed tensions in some financial markets in the euro area.”

He said that uncertainty created by the debate in the United States to raise the debt ceiling had unnerved European markets as United States investors had become increasingly reluctant to lend to European banks. “It’s clear the entire world is intertwined,” he said. “What happens in the U.S. influences the rest of the world.”

But the E.C.B.’s steps were not enough to help Europe’s bond markets.

Laurent Bilke, an analyst at Nomura in London, said the E.C.B. had been buying government debt of Portugal and Ireland in order to calm these markets. But it had not been buying Italian and Spanish government debt, and that had unnerved investors.

He said the E.C.B. council had also not been united in its decision to take extraordinary measures to intervene in the markets, and that fact had spooked markets.

July 29, 2011

Debt Ceiling Crisis: America Held Hostage by Republican Party Extremists

Filed under: Republicans,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 9:22 am

How Does the Media Portray it? Read The Centrist Cop-Out

By PAUL KRUGMAN Published: July 28, 2011 NYTimes

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As you may know, President Obama initially tried to strike a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans over taxes and spending. To do so, he not only chose not to make an issue of G.O.P. extortion, he offered extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities: an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only small revenue increases. As The Times’s Nate Silver pointed out, Mr. Obama effectively staked out a position that was not only far to the right of the average voter’s preferences, it was if anything a bit to the right of the average Republican voter’s preferences.

But Republicans rejected the deal. So what was the headline on an Associated Press analysis of that breakdown in negotiations? “Obama, Republicans Trapped by Inflexible Rhetoric.” A Democratic president who bends over backward to accommodate the other side — or, if you prefer, who leans so far to the right that he’s in danger of falling over — is treated as being just the same as his utterly intransigent opponents. Balance!

Which brings me to those “centrist” fantasies.

Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders who do the right thing, not the centrist thing.

But for those who insist that the center is always the place to be, I have an important piece of information: We already have a centrist president. Indeed, Bruce Bartlett, who served as a policy analyst in the Reagan administration, argues that Mr. Obama is in practice a moderate conservative.

Mr. Bartlett has a point. The president, as we’ve seen, was willing, even eager, to strike a budget deal that strongly favored conservative priorities. His health reform was very similar to the reform Mitt Romney installed in Massachusetts. Romneycare, in turn, closely followed the outlines of a plan originally proposed by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. And returning tax rates on high-income Americans to their level during the Roaring Nineties is hardly a socialist proposal.

True, Republicans insist that Mr. Obama is a leftist seeking a government takeover of the economy, but they would, wouldn’t they? The facts, should anyone choose to report them, say otherwise.

So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.

But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

July 21, 2011

Attempt by Republicans to Gut Title 1 Funding

Filed under: Education Policy,Republicans,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 10:36 am

Hurting Poor Students

Published: July 19, 2011 NYTimes
Extremists in Congress have long wanted to gut the spending restrictions in Title I, a federal law dating back to the 1960s that underwrites extra help for disadvantaged schoolchildren. A bill, approved by a House committee last week, would do just that, damaging one of most important civil rights programs in the country.
The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act would let school districts spend money earmarked for impoverished children on almost any educational purpose they chose. This would inevitably lead to money going from politically powerless poor schools to those without the same needs.
Title I was created during the Johnson administration in response to the failure of the states to offer access to equal education for all students as required by Brown v. Board of Education. The education law is based on a strict formula that drives federal aid to high-poverty districts, where large numbers of disadvantaged children often pose educational challenges. It is supposed to provide an added layer of federal money to high-poverty schools that already have budget allocations similar to those of other schools in the same district.
But because the districts kept gaming the system, moving the money from the Title I schools to more politically influential schools, Congress required more close accounting of how the money is spent.
Still, the districts that receive the money (about $14 billion this year) have enormous spending flexibility. For example, they can hire teachers, nurses or mental health workers or finance a longer school day. But ideologues in Congress believe the federal government should not be in the business of ensuring that the most vulnerable children are served. The bill would allow local officials to take money from schools that need it most. That’s a terrible idea. Sensible members of Congress should resist it.

More on ALEC: How Wisconsin Republicans Create Right Wing Legislation

Filed under: Republicans,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 10:30 am

July 13, 2011

In the midst of trying to balance the state’s multibillion-dollar budget, who had time to debate the state tax on moist tobacco products?
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s allies in the Wisconsin Legislature did.
Late in the budget debate, six Republican lawmakers – including four currently facing recall elections – sponsored a proposal to lower the overall price of moist snuff like Copenhagen and Skoal. Specifically, the provision would have altered the tax on smokeless tobacco products from one based on the price of the tobacco to one based on weight.
That stance on this obscure subject matches a model resolution approved by ALEC, a conservative outfit that brings corporations and lawmakers together to draw up draft legislation.
Gov. Scott Walker eventually vetoed the item before signing the 2011-’13 budget.
Mary Bottari, spokeswoman for the left-wing Center for Media and Democracy, said the moist tobacco proposal illustrates the influence the relatively obscure conservative outfit has on the legislative process in Wisconsin and other states.
“These are very specific, ideological agenda items,” said Bottari, whose group is making available online 800-plus of ALEC’s draft bills and resolutions that it obtained from a whistleblower. “It’s deserving of some scrutiny.”
Overall, her media research group has identified about 20 ALEC proposals that it says have been introduced or approved by Wisconsin lawmakers this year.
For instance, the center finds strong parallels between nine ALEC measures and the tort-reform law introduced by Walker and approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature in a special session in January.
But a Walker spokesman says the first-term Republican didn’t rely on any draft legislation from ALEC when putting together the tort-reform law or any other bill he’s introduced this year.
“Absolutely not,” said Walker aide Cullen Werwie.
Walker listed himself as a member of the conservative group on his official biography when in the Legislature during the 1990s.
State Rep. Robin Vos, state chairman for ALEC, said he’s unaware of any model ALEC bills or resolutions that have made it through the state Legislature so far this year, though he acknowledged that he could have missed one.
Vos said the group – which receives funding from the Koch brothers and the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation – simply provides a way for state lawmakers to share ideas from other states.
Even if someone introduces a model ALEC bill, Vos said, it still must be vetted via the committee process.
“This is a made-up issue,” Vos said.
Still, the similarities between some Wisconsin legislation and ALEC draft bills are striking.
On the moist tobacco proposal, an ALEC staffer even wrote to the governor to ask him not to veto the item after it was inserted in the budget bill.
“The amendment will create a fairer tax system that reduces market distortions and encourages fiscal stability,” wrote Courtney O’Brien, director of the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development & Public Safety and Elections Task Forces at ALEC.
She did not return calls or emails. The measure was pushed by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, which would have benefited from it because it manufactures smokeless tobacco products that are far lighter than those of other manufacturers.
Two of the four Republican senators targeted for recalls who sponsored the provision – Luther Olsen of Ripon and Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls – distanced themselves from the issue.
“We do not interact with them at all,” Olsen aide Tara Baxter said of ALEC. She said her boss had never been a member of the organization and “never will be.”
Sens. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac didn’t return calls.
As it turns out, the proposal was ordered up by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Juneau Republican. He has received about $3,000 in reimbursements from ALEC to attend conferences in the past two years, according to his ethics statements.
Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse said his boss pushed the moist tobacco proposal because it is the fair thing to do. Federal officials, he said, already tax snuff, chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco based on weight.
Welhouse said it’s not surprising that GOP legislators and ALEC agree on a tax issue.
“Lately, it feels like the Democrats are trying to create this ALEC boogeyman, but we didn’t make this change because it’s an ALEC bill – we made it because it’s a tax fairness issue,” Welhouse said. “ALEC supports organ donation and drug-free schools, too. Sometimes good ideas are just good ideas.”
That’s not the only proposal with strong similarities to ALEC’s draft legislation.
Vos fought to insert a provision in the state budget to bring for-profit bail bondsmen back to Wisconsin.
But the co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee said he couldn’t have used the model ALEC bills on this issue because Wisconsin’s statutes are so unusual on this issue.
Sen. Leah Vukmir – voted national “Legislator of the Year” at ALEC’s 2009 annual meeting – has introduced a bill that would give scholarships to handicapped students so they could attend private schools enrolled in the state’s choice program. The name of her bill, the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, is verbatim as the model bill from ALEC.
That’s also true of her Patient’s Right to Know Act, a bill she sponsored in 2009 that would allow patients to ask health care providers and insurers about the cost and coverage for specific medical procedures.
Vukmir aide Jason Rostan said the scholarship bill actually came from a proposal in Florida. He said he thought the idea may have originally come from school choice proponents.
As for the health care legislation, he said, Vukmir took the proposal to ALEC after she introduced it here. Members of the conservative group then signed off on the plan, adopting it as a model bill.
“We actually gave it to ALEC,” Rostan said.
Bottari, the critic of ALEC, said she’s not buying the denials from the governor and top Wisconsin legislators that they’re not using material from the national group when crafting their bills.
Her group maintains that ALEC allows corporations and conservative lawmakers to work in secret to draw up bills that benefit specific business interests. By pushing the model legislation and resolutions, the group is trying to bring greater scrutiny to ALEC’s influence.
“When you consider the 20 ALEC bills we identified and the ideas that keep coming out of this (Walker) administration,” Bottari said, “it just defies belief that there’s no relationship between these bills and ALEC.”

July 17, 2011

The Nation on ALEC, Consortium for Republican Right Wing Policy

Filed under: Republicans,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 10:03 pm

The Conservatives’ ALEC Philosophy: Everything Related to Government Should Be Demonized, Starved or Privatized

Any force in civil society that contests the right of business to grab all social surplus, and to treat people like roadkill and the earth like a sewer, should be crushed.
 This article is part of a Nation series exposing the American Legislative Exchange Council, in collaboration with the Center For Media and Democracy. John Nichols introduces the series. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their e-mail newsletters here.
In the world according to ALEC, competing firms in free markets are the only real source of social efficiency and wealth. Government contributes nothing but security. Outside of this function, it should be demonized, starved or privatized. Any force in civil society, especially labor, that contests the right of business to grab all social surplus for itself, and to treat people like roadkill and the earth like a sewer, should be crushed.
This view of the world dominated the legislative sessions that began in January. GOP leaders, fresh from their blowout victory in November, pushed a consistent message—“We’re broke”; “Public sector workers are to blame”; “If we tax the rich we’ll face economic extinction”—and deployed legislative tools inspired by ALEC to enact their vision. They faced pushback, but they also made great progress—and will be back again soon.
Let’s examine what happened in three critical economic areas:Revenue

ALEC has long sought to limit the ability of states to raise or collect taxes or fees. Before this spring, it had already succeeded in getting more than thirty to adopt such limits, often hard-wired into their constitutions or requiring supermajorities to change. Its varied model legislation to this end includes the Capital Gains Tax Elimination Act, Use Tax Elimination Act, Super Majority Act, Taxpayer Protection Act and Automatic Income Tax Rate Adjustment Act. Its model resolutions oppose such things as mandatory unitary combined reporting (the chief way states get corporations to pay any taxes at all) while supporting such things as the federal flat tax and efforts to extend the Bush tax cuts permanently. The Automatic Income Tax Rate Adjustment Act, for example, “provides for a biennial reduction in the state adjusted gross income tax rate on residents, nonresidents, and corporations if year-over-year revenue…exceeds certain amounts,” in effect ensuring no increase in state revenue, even during periods of growth, while keeping tax cuts on the table. The Taxpayer Protection Act “prohibits the revenue department of a state from basing any employee’s compensation, promotion or evaluation on collections or assessments,” otherwise known as doing their job.
This past session, ALEC members, drawing heavily from the list above, introduced 500 bills to “starve the beast.” But their greatest victory was the most obvious one. Faced with shortfalls in state revenues from the economic crisis, states almost universally and overwhelmingly chose cuts to public employment or services over progressive tax increases as a solution.


Privatization is so central to ALEC’s agenda that it has built a fake board game, Publicopoly, on its website, where the curious can find model legislation and other resources on privatizing basically everything, from transportation (Competitive Contracting of the Department of Motor Vehicles Act) to the environment (Environmental Services Public-Private Partnership Act). Critical to ALEC’s agenda are the foundational bills that set up the rationale for privatizing government services: the Public-Private Fair Competition Act creates a committee to review “whether state agencies unfairly compete with the private sector,” and the Competitive Contracting of Public Services Act requires “make or buy” decisions to encourage privatization. The hallmark of ALEC’s model privatization legislation, the Council on Efficient Government Act, creates “a council on efficient government to leverage resources and contract with private sector vendors if those vendors can more effectively and efficiently provide goods and services and reduce the cost of government.” These councils typically include representatives from the private sector, who then decide to let their business colleagues bid for public sector work.
In the past few years, with at least three additions this session alone, legislation establishing a state Council on Efficient Government has been introduced in Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Illinois and South Carolina. In each case, the concepts in the bill mirror the ALEC proposal. In some cases—South Carolina, Arizona and Illinois—the state bills read as copies of ALEC’s model legislation. Virginia’s, Oregon’s, Maryland’s and Kansas’ bills, to varying degrees, contain language directly from ALEC’s model.


The fiercest attacks this session were reserved for public sector unions, especially in the once labor-friendly Midwest states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that went deep red in November. ALEC has a sweeping range of model antiunion laws, the broad aim of which is to make it harder to be a union and easier for workers not to pay the costs of collective bargaining or union political activity. The Right to Work Act eliminates employee obligation to pay the costs of collective bargaining; the Public Employee Freedom Act bars almost any action to induce it; the Public Employer Payroll Deduction Act bars automatic dues collection; the Voluntary Contribution Act bars the use of dues for political activity.
This spring, GOP governors or legislatures introduced at least 500 of these and other ALEC-inspired antilabor laws, including laws to restrict the scope of collective bargaining; to limit or eliminate “project labor agreements” and state “prevailing wage” requirements; and to pre-empt local living wage or other labor standards. Just keeping track of all the antiunion legislation was often daunting. In Michigan, the AFL-CIO was dealing with more than fifty laws aimed at its demise.
In some states, the results have been lethal. In Wisconsin, the first state to legalize public sector union bargaining, public sector unions (excluding police and firefighters) were reduced to near irrelevance. The law limits collective bargaining to wages only (no bargaining over benefits, safety or work conditions) and forbids those to be increased faster than inflation. To continue to exist, unions must annually win recertification elections with more than 50 percent of the vote of all workers in their bargaining unit—a threshold requirement that is unheard of. Ohio also passed a law limiting public sector bargaining rights (including for police and firefighters) and permitting members to opt out of paying dues.
There were limits to this stampede. “Paycheck protection,” introduced in fifteen states, passed only in Alabama and Arizona. “Right to work,” introduced in eighteen states, hasn’t advanced significantly anywhere. (Tennessee reaffirmed a pre-existing right to work, and in New Hampshire the governor’s veto is holding it back.) But damage has been done. It may be that unions and other progressive organizations, moved by the carnage, will work together and with the public to build a mass movement to reverse it. Certainly, many people are trying to do that now. Whatever their success, we can be sure that ALEC will fight them fiercely in the states, while pressing forward with its own project: the complete business domination of American public life.
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