Saturday, May 10, 2008

What you do not know can hurt your families finances.

The following piece appeared in the Hoover Institution's Journal Education Next. Is the Price Right?
Please visit the Hoover Institution website to read the whole article and the links for more information. This piece is a must read for all voters before approving more dollars for education.

By William G. Howell and Martin R. West

Probing American's knowledge of school spending

Article opening image: Contestants on 'The Price is Right' try to guess average teacher salary and per-pupil expenditure.

In the contentious world of education politics, the need to spend more on public schools stands out as a rare point of agreement. Our recent national survey of American adults (“What Americans Think about Their Schools,” features, Fall 2007) found that those who support increased spending on public schools in their district outnumber those who want spending to decrease by a five-to-one margin. What’s more, a solid majority (59 percent) of Americans express confidence that spending more on the public schools in their district will increase student learning.

Our findings paralleled those of other surveys, which routinely show that Americans rank inadequate funding among the most important problems facing the nation’s schools. According to the 2007 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, for example, 22 percent of U.S. adults identified a lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing the schools in their community. The second-ranked problem, a lack of discipline, was mentioned by only one in ten respondents. It is no surprise, then, that every Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2008 has called for increased federal spending on education, and that no Republican candidate (with the exception of libertarian Ron Paul) has proposed a spending cut.

Yet while the public’s views about spending on education are well known, the same cannot be said about the information on which those views are based. Do Americans have an accurate grasp of how much is currently being spent on public education?

The 2007 Education Next–PEPG Survey directly addressed this question. In addition to asking Americans whether school spending should be increased, we asked them to estimate both per-pupil expenditures in their districts and teacher salaries in their states. We then used data on actual spending and salaries, matched geographically to each respondent’s school district or state, to compare the public’s perceptions with reality.

The results are striking: Americans dramatically underestimate the amount spent on the public schools in their district, even when prompted to consider the full range of uses to which school spending is devoted. They also think that teachers earn, on average, far less than is actually the case. The public’s strong preference that more be spent on public schools is based, at least in part, on faulty information.

Measuring Knowledge about Spending

In February and March of 2007, we surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,000 American adults about a wide range of education issues. (For overall results, see “What Americans Think about Their Schools”) Within an extensive battery of questions, we included the following: “Based on your best guess, what is the average amount of money spent each year for a child in public schools in your school district?”

Half of the sample, randomly chosen, was also offered a prompt to encourage them to consider the full range of costs associated with educating a child. These respondents were told that “Individual student costs go toward teacher and administrator salaries, building construction and maintenance, extracurricular activities, transportation, etc.” With this prompt, we anticipated, respondents would have an easier time answering the question.

We also asked people to estimate the average annual salary of a public school teacher in their state. We asked about teacher salaries at the level of the state, rather than the specific district, because that is the lowest level of aggregation for which information on actual salaries is readily available nationwide. With information about where survey respondents lived, we then compared their answers to actual per-pupil expenditures in their districts and to teacher salaries in their states in 2004–05, the most recent year for which this information is available (see methodology sidebar, below).


For the analyses of per-pupil expenditures, we matched survey respondents to school districts using either census blocks or zip codes. When we relied on zip codes, we could not match some respondents to a unique school district. For such respondents we calculated the average per-pupil spending levels for each district that served the relevant zip code, weighted by districts’ population sizes. Teacher salary data, by contrast, are available only at the state level. We were able to match all survey respondents to the states in which they resided.

Data on per-pupil spending come from the National Center for Educational Statistics Common Core of Data, “Local Education Agency Finance Survey.” Data on teacher salaries come from the American Federation of Teachers publication, “Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2005.” Both sources cover the 2004–05 academic year, the latest for which this information is available. The two-year lag between 2004–05 and the time we conducted our survey should lead respondents to overestimate actual expenditures, as spending on public schools tends to increase over time.

On any survey item, there are likely to be some respondents who either misunderstand the question or, for one reason or another, choose not to take it seriously. To ensure that such responses would not cloud our analysis, we eliminated 21 answers of zero to the spending question and another 25 of zero to the salary question. We also eliminated 18 answers of more than $50,000 for per-pupil spending and 17 answers of more than $100,000 for average teacher salaries. In the end, we were left with 1,926 valid responses for per-pupil spending, of which we were able to match 1,656 to districts with available spending information, and 1,932 valid responses on teacher salaries, of which we were able to match 1,911 to states with available salary information.

Not Even Close

The amount of money actually spent annually on children in school districts across the United States varies widely. For the districts in which our sample members live, per-pupil spending in 2004–05 ranged from $5,644 to $24,939,with an average of $10,377. This last figure is slightly higher than the true national average of $9,435.

How well informed is the public about these financial commitments? Not very. Among those asked without the prompt listing possible expenses, the median response was $2,000, or less than 20 percent of the true amount being spent in their districts. Over 90 percent of the public offered an amount less than the amount actually spent in their district, and more than 40 percent of the sample claimed that annual spending was $1,000 per pupil or less. The average estimate of $4,231 reflects the influence of a small percentage of individuals who offered extremely high figures. Even so, the average respondent’s estimate was just 42 percent of actual spending levels in their district (see Figure 1).

As expected, reminding people of the range of expenses school districts face improved their assessments—but not by much. The half of the sample who saw the prompt claimed, on average, that their districts spent $5,262, about $1,000 more than the others, but still only 54 percent of the actual per-pupil spending levels in their districts. The median answer remained $2,000, and more than one-third of the sample still thought that their districts spend no more than $1,000 per student each year.

Teacher salaries also vary considerably across states, ranging from a low of $34,039 in South Dakota to a high of $57,760 in Alaska, with a national average of $47,602. When asked about the average teacher salary in their state, members of the public again offered significantly smaller figures. The median response was just $35,000 and the average was $33,054. On average, Americans understate average teacher salaries in their own state by $14,370.

In percentage terms, estimates of teacher salaries better approximated reality than did estimates of per-pupil expenditures. On average, Americans underestimated teacher salaries in their states by 30 percent. It is possible that people formulated better answers to this question because they used their own pay (or that of a family member) as benchmarks, while they lacked as much context on the per-pupil spending item.
Closer to the Truth?

Are some citizens better informed about education spending than others? To explore this question, we looked at whether the accuracy of Americans’ beliefs about spending and salaries varied among different groups within the overall sample.

Some interesting differences emerged. For instance, the responses of men to both items were significantly higher—and therefore closer to the truth—than were those of women. On average, men thought that per-pupil spending was $1,483 higher and teacher salaries were $2,065 higher than did women. The magnitude of these differences, as well as those reported below, attenuate somewhat when accounting for respondents’ demographic backgrounds. It bears mentioning, though, that the more accurate responses offered by men do not appear to stem from the fact that they are more likely to be in the workplace; the same pattern emerged when we restricted the comparison to men and women working full time.

All else equal, parents of school-age children also gave more accurate responses about teacher salaries, perhaps because they are in regular contact with working teachers. But they were no better informed than nonparents about per-pupil spending levels.

Homeowners, who pay the property taxes that typically account for local spending on education, have a clear incentive to stay informed about spending levels. On average, the estimates of per-pupil spending offered by homeowners were $427 higher than those of non-homeowners, a difference that is not statistically significant. But homeowners do appear to be much more responsive than other Americans to higher spending levels in their districts. In districts spending more than $10,000 per pupil, for example, the responses of homeowners were more than $1,100 higher—and therefore closer to actual spending levels—than those of individuals who rented or lived with other families.

Homeowners were also much better informed about teacher salaries, offering responses that were $7,502 higher than non-homeowners’ responses.

Again, these differences were even more pronounced in states that had especially high teacher salaries, indicating that homeowners’ information may be more responsive to marginal changes in spending than the rest of the general public.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that the differences observed between all of these groups are dwarfed by the overall gap between the public’s understanding of school expenditures and teacher salaries, and the truth. Even homeowners, for example, were off by more than $5,000 on average for per-pupil spending and by more than $11,000 for teacher salaries.

Knowledge and Views on School Spending

Does ignorance about these factual matters bear on public attitudes toward school spending? As noted above, the public as a whole expresses strong support for increasing or at least maintaining current spending levels on public education. More than half of Americans say that spending on the public schools in their community should increase, compared with 38 percent who say it should stay the same and only 10 percent who say it should decrease.

It is quite possible that information plays an important role in explaining overall levels of support for school spending. On average, those who support increasing spending on their local schools underestimated per-pupil spending by nearly $6,000 (see Figure 2). In contrast, those who said that spending should decrease underestimated spending by only $4,267.The estimates of those who felt that spending should remain the same fell in between these two extremes, at $5,602. In short, while even supporters of decreased spending substantially underestimated true spending levels, their estimates were considerably closer to reality than those of supporters of increased spending.Figure 2

Similar patterns emerge when looking at the difference between estimated and actual teacher salaries, though the differences are slightly less pronounced. Respondents who support increased school spending underestimated teacher salaries in their state by almost $15,000, while those who wanted to see school spending remain the same offered estimates that were $14,230 below the truth. Those who support decreased spending offered modestly higher figures, underestimating teacher salaries by only $11,896, on average.

Americans with more accurate knowledge of school spending also tend to be less confident that increased spending will improve student learning. Among those who offered a figure for per-pupil expenditures within $5,000 of the truth, 20 percent were “not confident at all” that more spending would lead to higher achievement. People who either grossly underestimated or overestimated actual spending, by contrast, report lower levels of skepticism about the rewards of higher spending.

Note, however, that these findings do not necessarily support the contention that misunderstandings about school finance cause people to support spending increases. It is quite possible, after all, that the public’s assessment of how much is being spent may derive from, rather than contribute to, their policy views. Based on direct observations of conditions in local schools, for instance, some portions of the public may decide that whatever is being spent is not enough. When they are asked to hazard a guess, these concerns may lead them to underestimate actual spending.

In point of fact, we do find that Democrats offer significantly lower estimates of teacher salaries than do Republicans. (Differences between Democrats and Republicans on per-pupil expenditures disappear when accounting for respondents’ demographic backgrounds.) It is difficult to explain such a finding by reference to the two groups’ prior knowledge about school finance. Rather, we suspect that Democrats are especially likely to believe that the government does not give teachers either the professional respect or support that they deserve, and that such underlying convictions lead Democrats to offer lower estimates of teacher salaries. Indeed, the Democrats in our sample are 25 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say that they are either “very confident” or “somewhat confident” that additional spending on schools would improve student learning.


In sum, Americans think that far less is being spent on the nation’s public schools than is actually the case. The vast majority of the public thinks we spend amounts that can only be described as minuscule, and almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states.

Important questions about the public’s understanding of school spending remain. Why are their estimates so low? Is this phenomenon unique to education, or would we find the same thing if people were asked about the salaries of other public servants, say, postal workers or police officers? And crucially, does the public’s understanding of school finance shape their policy preferences, or do the public’s policy preferences shape their understanding of school finance?

At this point, though, one matter seems certain: whatever motivates people’s concerns about school finance, it is not sound information about what is actually being spent.

William G. Howell is associate professor in the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Martin R.West is assistant professor of education at Brown University and an executive editor of Education Next.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Manchester Spoiled Brat Gang

An edited version of the following appeared in the Union Leader.

The Manchester Spoiled Brat Gang

Meet the Spoiled Brat Gang. They are the “adults” that “teach” your children but never grew up. They have spent their lives in schools from kindergarten, to grade school, to high school to college and back into the classroom. They have little understanding of the reality beyond the school building. They have gone from their parents taking care of them to their union presidents and the taxpayers (Mom and Dad) taking care of them. They can’t grasp the concept of a 250 day work year because they have never worked beyond a 180 day work year. They can’t grasp the concept of a nine hour work day and moan at their seven and half hour day teaching only 3 – 5 classes a day.

Like a teenager living at home “the spoiled brat gang” really has no understanding of money, savings and the economy. They look at their taxpayer paycheck as an entitlement owed to them by Mommy and Daddy no matter how bad they behave. They never have to save money because the taxpayer will fund their retirement at a rate as much as 10 times the taxpayer’s social security. Like many gang members they have no qualms when it comes to stealing and wasting other peoples money. Like spoiled brats they whine, cheat and use other kids in their school to get their way. Lastly the Spoiled Brat Gang expects Mom and Dad to take care of all their health care needs even if it means Mom and Dad may lose their home.


Vallejo Votes For Bankruptcy

The following is an example as to what will come in the future in cities and towns across America. Year after year school boards, communities, state governments and the federal government have spent beyond their means and signed unfulfillable contracts and promised outlandish pensions that can't possibly be fulfilled. You can read more about it at Pension Tsunami.

Vallejo Votes For Bankruptcy

After nearly five hours, the Vallejo City Council voted unanimously late Tuesday night to file Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.

The city faces a $16 million deficit in the 2008-2009 budget starting July 1 and unsuccessfully negotiated with its police, firefighter and electrical workers unions for contract concessions through 2012. Public safety salaries comprise 74 percent of the city's general fund budget.

Most of Tuesday night's 30 speakers urged the council to file bankruptcy so the city can restructure its finances.

John Riley, president of the International Association of Firefighters, said he is disappointed by the 7-0 vote to file bankruptcy.

"I think it was premature. I don't think they exhausted all their options," Riley said.

Riley said an independent auditing firm disputes the city's numbers supporting the decision to file bankruptcy. He called for an independent state audit.

The council and several speakers said the city simply will have no money on July 1 and cannot tell its employees to come to work because there is no money to pay them.

Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes, an ardent supporter of the city's filing for bankruptcy, said, "I want to make sure the City Council is in charge of this city and not those who comprise 80 percent of our general fund."

Countering the assertion that bankruptcy would tarnish the city's image, Gomes said, "Who wants to move to a city that can't address its problems?"

Mayor Osby Davis said bankruptcy would be "a long, hard, difficult process."

"We will rise out of this darkness and we will shine again," Davis said.

Davis said he believes the city should honor its contracts with the unions, but he was persuaded the city can't pay its debts at this time.

"It's time to do something different. I wish there was another way. I will support this resolution and I don't want anyone clapping for me. It's something I must do as the mayor of this city."

Council members noted the city can still negotiate with its unions on long-term contracts and if that is successful, the city can "pull the plug on bankruptcy."

Vallejo joins a small number of municipalities that have declared bankruptcy should officials decide it's their only option.

Orange County declared bankruptcy in the 1990s after then-Treasurer Robert L. Citron borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars while speculating in high-risk securities investments that depended on low interest rates.

The county lost $1.64 billion.
Desert Hot Springs also filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ex-Roslyn school officials collect pensions in prison

The following piece appeared at

Ex-Roslyn school officials collect pensions in prison

May 5, 2008

Frank Tassone earns $1.05 a day working as a porter at the Mid-State Correctional Facility in upstate Oneida. Cleaning toilets and shower stalls, he is far from his comfortable days as the superintendent of the Roslyn school district, where he enjoyed lavish meals on the taxpayers, gambling junkets and frequent conferences in such playgrounds as Las Vegas.

But Tassone, 61, needn't worry about having enough spending money for the prison commissary. In spite of his conviction for stealing $2.2 million from the school district, which put him behind bars for 4 to 12 years, Tassone can count on his annual New York State pension of $173,495 arriving at regular intervals in his bank account. He gets that in monthly installments of $14,457.92.

And, New York State law being what it is, he'll continue to get that public pension for the rest of his life.

"It is unconscionable that a guy like Frank Tassone can collect a six-figure income while he's in jail for stealing from his employer," said E.J. McMahon, a pension expert from the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a pro-business think tank in Albany.

State records show that Tassone is one of the top 20 pension earners among school administrators in the state. And as a felon collecting a generous state pension, he is not alone.

Four of a kind

Pamela Gluckin, the Roslyn schools' former business official who admitted to stealing $4.3 million from the district, continues to get her $54,998 annual pension while she serves a 3-to-9-year prison sentence at Albion Correctional Facility near the Canadian border. As part of Gluckin's plea agreement, she sends half of that amount directly to Roslyn toward her restitution.

Even though former William Floyd school district treasurer James A. Wright pleaded guilty to stealing approximately $777,000 from the district, he still collects an annual pension of $142,807. Former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who pleaded guilty to a felony for misusing state personnel by having them drive his wife around and perform other family chores, keeps his annual pension of $104,123.

Like Tassone, all of them will receive these funds for the rest of their lives.

Pension guaranteed

These felons benefit from a New York State constitutional guarantee that says if a public employee is entitled to a state pension for his or her years of service, those retirement benefits cannot be diminished or taken away, even after a felony conviction. Unlike several other states, New York has no statute providing for the forfeiture of pension benefits if someone is convicted of a crime.

Several attempts by Republican lawmakers to change that to allow forfeiture of pensions for public officials convicted of crimes have for years gone nowhere in the State Legislature in Albany as employee unions have fought against them, experts say.

"I don't think, when you violate the public's trust while you're in public office, that you should be rewarded with a very generous pension system, primarily provided by the taxpayers of New York State, the very people you violated," said State Assemb. Daniel Burling (R, C, I-Warsaw), the sponsor of one of three pending pension reform bills.

"It's absolutely scandalous," said Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Va. "It's a crime committed twice on the people of New York. The public trust has been broken; now the public purse has been broken, too."

Unlike federal Social Security checks, pension checks can be deposited directly into an inmate's prison account so that the inmate can pay restitution, court fees or child support, state corrections officials say. They can also use the money for biweekly purchases in the prison commissary, where they buy items such as socks, soap and reading material.

In addition to Tassone and Gluckin, three other district employees or vendors were jailed for their involvement in the $11- million Roslyn scandal that spanned a decade and included stolen funds spent on home mortgages, furnishings, vacations, jewelry and artwork.

Districts still paying

Tassone made full restitution -- $2,213,257 -- to the school district by March 2007, just 18 months after he pleaded guilty. State officials wouldn't say where Tassone's pension check is sent.

Meanwhile, Roslyn school district officials said they will pay about $7,037 this year for Tassone's health insurance benefits, which he also will collect for the rest of his life. Tassone's portion is about $710 a year.

"To think that Frank Tassone and Pam Gluckin continue to receive their pensions and in a few years will have paid their debt to society and will then enjoy the benefit of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year paid by the taxpayers of Roslyn and the state of New York for the rest of their lives makes me sick," said Bill Costigan, former Roslyn school board president.

Tassone is eligible for parole in 2010. If he behaves in jail, and continues his participation in anger management training, he can shave eight months and four days from the minimum time he has to serve, moving up his parole date.

Gluckin, 62, also earns $1.05 a day working as a clerk in the chaplain services department of the all-women's prison. She still owes more than $2 million in restitution, records show. District officials say they receive a check for $2,050 every month from Gluckin, who has paid back $1,914,994. At that rate, it will take Gluckin an estimated 100 years to pay back the money she stole.

If she successfully completes her prison program, which includes daily therapy sessions, she can shorten her sentence by six months and three days. She's eligible for parole in September 2009.

The school district will have paid about $6,646 this year toward Gluckin's health benefits. Her portion is $38.49 a month, or $461.88 for 2008.

District officials said that neither Tassone nor Gluckin has missed a payment.

"Their positions gave them the ability to steal millions of dollars from the taxpayers and then they get rewarded with a pension for the rest of their lives?" asked state Assemb. Thomas McKevitt (R-East Meadow). "I think that in the private sector nothing like that will ever occur."

Neither Tassone nor Gluckin could be reached for comment.

Gluckin's attorney did not return calls. Tassone's attorney, Edward Jenks, when asked about Tassone's pension said simply, "It's automatic."

Quote of the Day: “Some punishment seems preparing for a people who are ungratefully abusing the best constitution and the best King any nation was ever blessed with, intent on nothing but luxury, licentiousness, power, places, pensions, and plunder; while the ministry, divided in their counsels, with little regard for each other, worried by perpetual oppositions, in continual apprehension of changes, intent on securing popularity in case they should lose favor, have for some years past had little time or inclination to attend to our small affairs, whose remoteness makes them appear even smaller.”
Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Public School Workforce Swells While Enrollment Growth Flattens.

The following piece comes from the Education Intelligence Agency.

Public School Workforce Swells While Enrollment Growth Flattens.

America loves its public school teachers. So much so that it continues to hire legions of them while growth in the number of students continues to peter out. An Education Intelligence Agency analysis of the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures shows that while K-12 enrollment grew only 2.45% between 2001 and 2006, the K-12 teacher force grew by 5.71% over the same period.

Stat level figures further illustrate the phenomenon. Twenty-five states had fewer K-12 students in 2006 than in 2001. Of these, 14 (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont), had more K-12 teachers in 2006 than in 2001.
Even in states with significant spikes in enrollment, teacher hiring is keeping pace – and often greatly exceeding – that growth. Nine states (Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Texas) experienced double-digit growth in the K-12 teacher workforce from 2001 to 2006.

Per-pupil spending continues its steady upward spiral, with an increase of more than 25% (unadjusted) in the same five-year period. Spending on compensation tracked closely with a 24.51% increase. Oregon is the only state that did not experience double-digit growth in spending over that time.

The full state-level table is available at District-level tables will be updated with the latest figures over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Beast from Concord: A school funding monster

The following opinion piece appeared in the Union Leader. The staff clearly understands our schools have a spending problem and not a funding problem.

Beast from Concord: A school funding monster

THE HOUSE will vote on Wednesday on a bill that would spend $128 million more on public education over two years -- with no way to pay for it anywhere in sight. Any fiscally responsible person would vote "no" on this bill.

The bill is a hodge-podge of education-funding policy -- the result of being amended five times to fix the formulas that wound up disbursing money in patently unfair ways. And even now it is not what many people would call a fair bill. It gives additional money to some property-wealthy communities and takes money from some property-poor ones. It tries to make up for this with tacked-on adjustments thrown in as desperate measures to collect enough votes for passage.

Were the bill nothing more than the Frankenstein's monster that it is, there would be reason enough to oppose it. Add the fact that it deliberately appropriates money the state does not have and cannot be reasonably expected to find in the next two years, and voting "no" is a no-brainer.

The amazing part of the story is that House Speaker Terie Norelli actually planned this all along. Her strategy for devising a new education funding policy was to define an adequate education her first year as speaker (last year), create a new funding formula this year, then figure out how to pay for it next year.

Do you budget like that at home? If you were to send your kids to private or parochial school, would you pick the school first, regardless of cost, then figure out how to pay for it once your child was already enrolled and the bills were due?

Of course you wouldn't. This education funding bill is that irresponsible. But don't worry, House Democratic leaders say. The financing scheme legislators are voting on might be entirely different when it takes effect. The bill creates a study commission that will work on adjustments after the bill is passed.

"Not one dime will be spent before that commission meets and reports its work back," House Finance Committee Chairman Marjorie Smith told the Associated Press last week.

Well, that's comforting. Legislators are being asked not only to spend $128 million we don't have, but to vote for a funding formula that might change in unpredictable ways after it is approved.

That's like signing an adjustable rate mortgage without being able to see the formula the bank will use to adjust the rate.

At this point, do you really need another reason to vote against this bill?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Education conference sheds light on important school needs

The following piece appeared in the Nashua Telegraph.

Education conference sheds light on important school needs
Covering education in New Hampshire, you sometime lose sight of the fact that many of the issues being dealt with in the Granite State are nationwide issues as well.

Merit pay for teachers, the growing Hispanic student population and the trend toward alternative schools – all issues relevant to Nashua schools – were just some of the topics covered at the Education Writers Association's 61st annual conference in Chicago.

I was one of 200 education writers to attend the conference, held from April 24-26, and it was by far the best professional development opportunity I've ever had. I'm hopeful that much of what I learned can be applied to our local education coverage.

Here were some of the highlights:

• At the Friday afternoon luncheon, Michelle Rhee, the new chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school district, talked about the drastic changes she has implemented to turn the troubled school system around.

Since taking the position in June, Rhee has finalized the closure of 23 of the city's 144 schools and has fired 100 central office employees, bringing the total number of employees down from 700 to 600.

Closing the schools has not been easy, and there has been a significant amount of criticism from parents, she said.

Rhee said she has tried to make data-driven decisions. With 50,000 students, the city should really only have about 70 schools, she said. Rhee's math works to about the same as what Nashua is running, with 18 schools for 12,500 students.

Using the money saved from the school closures and reduction in staff, Rhee said she has been able to ensure that each school will have an art teacher, a music teacher and a physical education teacher at the start of next year.

"In the District of Columbia, that's almost unheard of," she said.

• A Saturday session focused on the growing Hispanic student population in the country. Richard Fry, senior scholar at the Pew Hispanic Center, went over census data that he believed debunked some myths about Hispanic students.

For example, there are 8.9 million Hispanic students in the country, and 3.8 million English Language Learners, so most Hispanic students are not in an ELL program, he said.

Also, only 16 percent of Hispanic students are foreign born, he said.

Jose Martinez, associate superintendent of the Racine Unified School District, talked about his personal experience going to school in New York City. One of the problems, he said, is ensuring that school districts challenge Hispanic students.

Hispanic students make up 13.2 percent of the enrollment in Nashua, the highest proportion in the state.

In Nashua, data has shown that Hispanic students are underrepresented in the district's gifted and talented program, and that there are an inordinate number of them in the low-level classes in the middle schools and high schools.

Martinez said this happens in districts across the country.

"If you have low expectations, you're not going to get much," he said.

• One of the more entertaining seminars was Friday morning, when two vastly differing opinions were presented on the issue of single-sex education and whether it is truly effective.

Leonard Sax, president and founder of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, believes that there are innate learning differences in boys and girls, and that there are some students who can benefit greatly from single-sex classrooms with different learning environments.

The difference can be as subtle as changing the room temperature, he said. But it's not enough to simply separate boys from girls, he said.

"Single sex education will be of no value if teachers have no knowledge or background in the subject," he said.

Lise Eliot, an author and a neuroscientist, argued that the differences between boys and girls are not substantial enough to warrant segregating the two groups. She said that single-sex education is more of a response to the systemic problems in public education.

"I really believe that the genders have a lot to learn from each other," she said.

At first, it seemed having two such differing opinions represented was beneficial, but the seminar quickly degenerated into a back-and-forth argument between the two, and the issue at hand was lost.

• At a series of seminars at the offices of the Chicago Tribune, the focus was on multimedia and adapting to the convergence of newspapers with the Internet. Reporters talked about education blogs they had created and projects they had done that utilized audio and video.

Kent Fischer, reporter for the Dallas Morning News, said he uses his blog as a way to get out to the readers all of the little tid-bits and nuggets of information that don't make it into the stories published in the paper.Fischer, who used to write for the Concord Monitor, now covers the Dallas Independent School District.

He gave some examples of how he uses his blog – one entry focused solely on the fact that there are 60 different languages spoken in the district. There is also an entry every morning called "Daily Dish," which includes all news about the district in the past 24 hours.

Fischer said he uses his blog "to give analysis to things that are happening in the district that you can't write in a story."

• Dion Haynes of the Washington Post and Emily Hagedorn of the Bakersfield Californian both went over projects they worked on using multimedia.

Haynes wrote a series of stories focusing on what it would take to fix the Washington, D.C., school system. One of those stories tracked 140 students who did not graduate and look at what they did after high school.

On the paper's Web site, readers could hear from the students themselves in videotaped vignettes.

Hagedorn was on a team at her paper that tackled childhood obesity. The stories tracked a group of teenagers who were trying to lose weight. Reporters gave the teens their own voice recorders to create a diary to chronicle the daily struggles of weight loss.

Those clips were then loaded onto the Web site to go with the story.

• Fischer gave another seminar later in the conference on how to analyze school district spending. He makes regular requests for the check logs, credit card statements, payroll database and purchase orders.

He uses the information to create a database tracking how the money leaves the district. Through credit card statements, Fischer was able to find that $800,000 was spent on retail gift cards, among other things.
The Learning Curve appears Thursdays in The Telegraph. Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Real Engine of Blue America a.k.a Tax Eaters vs Taxpayers

The following was sent to me from an old acquaintance and tax fighter back in Illinois who works at New Hampshire is becoming a Blue State not because of individuals per se but because the unions around the state are becoming more powerful. There will come a tipping point where it can't be tipped back unless individuals fight for spending reform and to elect individuals who fight for the taxpayer and not the unions and tax eaters. City Journal.

The Real Engine of Blue America
Steven Malanga

Is it really true that America is politically divided between conservative “Red” states in the southern and middle sections of the country and liberal “Blue” states on both coasts? Not exactly: a close look at the district-by-district voting patterns of the coastal states in the 2004 elections brings into crystal-clear focus the real nature of our political divisions. There’s really no such thing as a Blue state—only Blue metropolitan regions. Indeed, the electoral maps of some states that went for John Kerry in 2004 consist mostly of Red suburban and rural counties surrounding deep Blue cities.

What makes these cities so Blue is a multifaceted liberal coalition that ranges from old-style industrial unionists and culturally liberal intellectuals, journalists, and entertainers to tort lawyers, feminists, and even politically correct financiers. But within this coalition, one group stands out as increasingly powerful and not quite in step with the old politics of the Left: those who benefit from an expanding government, including public-sector employees, workers at organizations that survive off government money, and those who receive government benefits. In cities, especially, this group has seized power from the taxpayers, as the vast expansion of the public sector that has taken place since the beginning of the War on Poverty has finally reached a tipping point. In New York City, this coalition has helped roll back some of the reforms of the Giuliani years. In California cities and towns, it is thwarting the expansion of private businesses, Wal-Mart above all. In nearly 100 municipalities, it has imposed higher costs on tens of thousands of businesses by persuading city councils to pass “living-wage” laws.

This increasingly powerful public-sector movement results from the merging of two originally distinct forces. First are the government-employee unions, born in the 1950s and nowadays the 800-pound gorillas of policy debates in many statehouses and city councils. Today, public unions don’t merely use their power to win contract concessions for their members. They help elect sympathetic legislators and defeat proponents of smaller government; they lobby for higher taxes, especially on the rich and on businesses; and they oppose legislative efforts, such as privatization initiatives, aimed at making government smaller and more efficient.

For years, government employees had no right to organize, on the grounds that there was no competition in the delivery of essential government services and that therefore public unions could hold cities and states hostage by going on strike. Even some private-sector union leaders questioned the wisdom of letting public-sector workers organize and giving them the right to strike. But that began to change in the mid-1950s, when the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) began lobbying for the right of local workers to organize and bargain collectively. The organization scored its first major victory in 1958, when it persuaded New York City mayor Robert Wagner, looking to strengthen his union support, to give municipal workers collective bargaining rights. Over the next several years, other states and cities, especially those with strong union movements, also passed laws allowing public employees to unionize. Buoyed by these victories, AFSCME’s membership rose from 100,000 in 1955 to 250,000 by 1965 and to more than 1 million by 1985.

Other government-employee organizations followed AFSCME’s lead. In 1960 the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) set out to win collective bargaining rights for U.S. teachers, using Mayor Wagner and labor-friendly New York as a test case. Though New York’s first teachers’ walkout, in November 1960, had little public support, the union movement gained adherents among teachers nationwide, so that over the next five years there were 36 strikes against municipal school systems. In 1966 alone, another three dozen strikes occurred, as teacher militancy rose in places like Newark, Baltimore, and Youngstown, Ohio. Meanwhile, membership in the AFT more than doubled to 136,000 from 1960 through 1966.

In retrospect, most of the warnings voiced in those tumultuous years proved accurate. Political leaders and labor experts predicted that government-employee unions would use their monopoly power over public services to win contracts with work rules far more generous and undemanding than in the private sector, and that without the restraints on salaries and benefits that the free marketplace imposes on private firms, unions would win increasingly meaty compensation and pension packages that would be impossible to roll back once enacted.

But what critics did not anticipate was how far public-employee unions would move beyond collective bargaining and inject themselves into the electoral and legislative processes. Today, the endorsement of a public-sector union is crucial to the election of many local candidates, and public unions now often spend far more on lobbying and political advertising on local issues than any business group does. Nor could the critics have envisioned a time when a shrinking private-sector union movement would forge alliances with the public sector, and when the lines between the two would increasingly blur, as formerly private-sector unions, like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), would come to represent increasing numbers of health-care and other workers whose jobs depend on public money.

Reinforcing the public-employee unions in the powerful new coalition of tax eaters are the social-services groups spawned by the War on Poverty. Nominally private, they are sustained by and organized around public funding. Before the War on Poverty, most social-services agencies were privately funded and had little stake in government spending policies. Groups like Catholic Charities, for instance, received less than 10 percent of their support from government sources. But all that changed beginning in 1965, when federal spending on social services soared, increasing from $800 million to $2.2 billion between 1965 and 1970, and then rocketing to $13 billion by 1980. This geyser of money transformed many formerly private welfare organizations into government contractors, and their employees into quasi-public workers. It also spurred the creation of vast new networks of such organizations, as social-services entrepreneurs conjured into being a constellation of housing groups, subsidized day-care centers, employment-training programs, health clinics, and much more—all designed to tap into the new War on Poverty money.

This social-services funding vastly expanded the publicly supported workforce almost overnight. Before the 1970s, the government didn’t even count private social services as a sector, because it was so small. But in 1972, a Bureau of Labor Statistics employment census found 550,000 people working in the sector. By 1980, that number had more than doubled to 1.1 million. The sector’s upward arc has continued unabated since then, with especially fast growth during the 1990s. Today the field teems with some 3.3 million workers, most supported by government-funded programs. Whereas in the early 1970s private social services accounted for less than 1 percent of the American workforce, today it accounts for 3 percent of jobs.

Because the clientele for social services is concentrated in the big cities, much of the growth in social-services employment took place there, too. In New York, for example, social-services jobs increased from 52,000 to 183,000 between 1975 and 2000, so that by the end of the millennium more New Yorkers worked in social services than on Wall Street. In Philadelphia, social-services jobs more than doubled to nearly 30,000 from 1988 (the first year for which numbers are available) to 2000. In Boston, during the same period, these jobs increased by 67 percent to nearly 55,000, while in Chicago they grew by nearly 140 percent to 83,000. In all these cases, social-services employment grew much faster than the cities’ economies as a whole. And cities poured their own funds into such programs to augment the (much greater) federal spending, especially in the early 1980s, when the Reagan administration restrained the growth of federal social-services programs. New York City, for instance, increased its spending on programs for the homeless from $8 million in 1978, two years before Reagan beat Jimmy Carter, to $100 million annually by 1985. In the early 1980s, New York State increased its spending on alcohol and drug addiction programs alone by two-thirds to nearly $500 million.

Almost from the War on Poverty’s inception, these social-services employees and their clients began to show themselves a powerful political force, as when New York welfare workers, for example, mobilized recipients in the early 1970s to storm government offices demanding higher benefits. Some social-services agencies organized their employees and clients into grassroots political operations, parlaying their huge empires built on government and foundation money into political power. Ramon Velez, for example—whose Bronx network of government-funded health centers, alcoholism clinics, and other programs garnered over $300 million in government money over 25 years—engineered the election of several city council and state assembly members in the Bronx, and Velez himself served on New York’s city council.

At the same time that the War on Poverty was gearing up and federal spending on social services was beginning to soar, the Johnson administration created the two gigantic health-care programs, Medicaid and Medicare, providing care to the poor and the elderly, respectively. In the process, Washington vastly changed the economics of U.S. medical care, turning it increasingly into a government-funded industry. From the very start, Medicaid and Medicare, initiated within a year of each other, cost far more than anyone had expected, because they encouraged overuse of the health-care system, prompted overbilling by doctors and hospitals, and led to widespread fraud. In less than five years, the federal budget for Medicaid rose to $6 billion from just $1.2 billion in its first year, 1966, while expenditures by the states, which shared the program’s cost, also ballooned. With so much money pouring in, the country’s health-care industry mushroomed. In the entire decade before the federal programs began, U.S. health-care employment had increased by about 800,000 jobs, but in the first ten years of Medicaid and Medicare, the growth rate more than doubled, and the industry added more than 2 million new jobs, including more than 1 million in hospitals.

The new federal programs made many hospitals dependents of the state, especially in cities with the largest Medicaid populations. Within a few years, urban hospitals that had previously received very little federal money were living principally on Medicaid and Medicare. And once government had become a prime payer in the health-care system, hospitals that had low occupancy rates or duplicated services provided by other local institutions could survive on government dollars rather than being forced to close. Such institutions could gold plate their treatments of patients in order to increase revenues, so that hospitalizations and length of hospital stays increased. As a result, by 1980—to take only one example—experts estimated that New York City had 5,000 more hospital beds than it really needed. Also as a result, at least in part, health-care jobs grew from 3.9 percent of the U.S. private workforce in 1965 to nearly 10 percent today. Shrinking the bloated system and stemming abuses became politically impossible. Above all, what would become of all those who worked in hospitals that should be closed?

The gradual government takeover of health care—a process still continuing—has transformed the industry’s institutions, executives, and workers into lobbyists for ever-greater public monies and expanding programs, and tireless foes of efforts to restrain costs. Hospitals and health-care unions were the chief opponents of the Gingrich Congress’s efforts to balance the federal budget in the mid-1990s in part by cutting the growth of Medicaid and Medicare, and these special interests successfully derailed some of the steepest proposed cuts. At the state and local levels, especially in cities where the industry heavily depends on Medicaid and Medicare, hospitals and hospital workers have become two of the most influential power blocs. In New York State, for instance, a coalition of hospitals and unions spent $13 million in 1999, a record for Albany, lobbying to turn back cuts in the state’s huge Medicaid system. Dennis Rivera, the head of Local 1199, a New York City–based union of health-care workers, has become the most powerful union leader in the state, far more influential than the head of the state AFL-CIO.

The electoral activism of this New New Left coalition—public-employee unions, hospitals and health-care worker unions, and social-services agencies—has reshaped the politics of many cities. As the country’s national political scene has edged rightward, thwarting their ambitions in Washington, these groups have turned their attention to urban America, where they still have the power to influence public policy.

Increasingly in U.S. cities, the road to electoral success passes through the public- employee/health-care/social-services sector. In New York, for instance, more than two-thirds of city council members are former government employees or ex-workers in health care or social services. The first Latino speaker of the California State Assembly, Antonio Villaraigosa—who narrowly lost the 2001 election for mayor of Los Angeles and served as a national co-chair of John Kerry’s presidential campaign—is a former organizer for the Los Angeles teachers’ union. Jane Campbell, the current mayor of Cleveland, snapped up a $3,000 grant back in 1974 to start WomenSpace, a feminist advocacy group, and used her role as executive director of the organization to launch a 20-year career in elective office in Ohio. Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes entered public life working as a paid staffer in the 1960s for the Cross-Lines Cooperative Council, a local social-services network, and she later helped found and run the Women’s Resource Service, an advocacy center on the campus of the University of Missouri–Kansas City.

One reason that these politicians have succeeded electorally is that those who work in the public sector have different voting priorities from private-sector workers or business owners. An exit poll conducted by City Journal of the 2001 New York mayoral election found that private-sector workers heavily backed Michael Bloomberg, the businessman candidate who had been endorsed by Rudy Giuliani and had run on a pledge of no new taxes (which he broke after his first year in office), while those who worked in the public/health-care/social-services sectors favored his Democratic opponent, who ran on a promise of raising taxes to fund further services. In the race, Bloomberg won among private-sector voters by 17 percentage points, while the Democrat won by 15 points among those who worked in the public/nonprofit sectors.

And of course public-sector workers, who know they are going to the polls to elect their bosses, make sure to remember to vote. Though they make up about one-third of New York City’s workforce, public/nonprofit-sector voters made up 37 percent of the electorate in the 2001 mayoral race. Minority workers who earned their living in the public sector were dramatically more likely than their private-sector counterparts to vote.

With so much of their economic future at stake in elections, the tax eaters have emerged as the new infantry of political campaigns, replacing the ward captains and district leaders of old-time political clubs. Today it’s the members of the New New Left, through their unions and community-based organizations, who are most likely to run political phone banks, distribute campaign literature and run get-out-the-vote efforts for their favored candidates. Indeed, when a member of the Local 1199 health-care workers union ran for New York’s city council in 2003, a local Democratic politician noted admiringly that the candidate, through her union colleagues, could field “a million foot soldiers.” And, like the old Tammany Hall and other urban political machines, these efforts have sparked complaints. Members of the New New Left advocacy group ACORN, which ran aggressive voter-registration drives in many cities during the 2004 elections, were accused of submitting fake or forged registrations in places such as Duluth, Cincinnati, and St. Petersburg, Florida.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the urban Left has evolved into so narrow a movement, promoting no more than its own self-interest. Though it started out as a romantic, if wrongheaded, idea, the War on Poverty was the child of idealists who really believed that a benevolent, paternalistic government could offer solutions that America’s private economy couldn’t provide for the poor. But the most cherished ideals and programs of the movement have turned out to be demonstrably wrong, and many Americans now reject them. Unlimited welfare proved an economic and social disaster, producing an underclass of perpetual recipients who, after years on the dole, felt incapable of functioning as productive citizens. Liberalization of the criminal laws and judicial leniency, part of a War-on-Poverty mind-set that saw criminals as victims of society, only led to soaring crime rates, which drove law-abiding citizens out of cities and condemned those who could not leave to lives of fear. Government-funded alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs that placed little emphasis on personal responsibility and individual redemption had zero effect on the rise of addiction.

By the mid-1990s, Americans were eager for reform, and they got it. Changes in welfare law that imposed time limits on assistance and required recipients to work have turned out to be a great success, reducing public-assistance rolls and getting millions of people back to work, without raising the poverty rate. Tough, activist policing innovations have sharply reduced crime, freeing millions of Americans, especially those in inner cities, from fear.

In the face of such realities, the new urban Left has emerged as an increasingly cynical coalition ever more focused on goals that benefit its members and their allies, even though it retains the jargon of “social justice.” The living-wage movement is largely the work of unions more interested in laws that bolster union membership and derail privatization or productivity-boosting measures than in legislation that genuinely helps the poor. Many of the living-wage laws enacted around the country exempt unionized companies from adhering to wage guidelines, encouraging firms to unionize. Legislative bodies commandeered by these advocates have cynically enacted laws that have been a boon to their allies but have harmed the cities themselves, as for example the New York City Council’s passage of a living-wage law that raised the wages of home health-care workers but cost the city and state millions of dollars—in the midst of the city’s worst budget crisis ever. In the same spirit, in municipalities throughout California, the New New Left coalition has successfully advocated for laws that restrict consumers’ choices by making it difficult for Wal-Mart and other nonunion retailers to open in places where unionized stores predominate.

But by donning the mantle of “social justice” and invoking the liberation language of the 1960s—for example, in its campaigns to win domestic-partner benefits for municipal workers—the New New Left has managed to dupe a generation of celebrity liberals, idealistic young voters, and religious leaders who have become their allies in the Blue-state coalition. Actor buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have campaigned for living-wage laws in their home state of Massachusetts, while clergy hold pro-living-wage religious services, blissfully unaware of how unions have hijacked the movement for their self-interested goals. The union representing television and radio actors urged its members to boycott California stores during the state’s 2003 supermarket-industry strike, and celebrities like actress Melissa Gilbert joined workers on the picket lines. Groups like ACORN rely in many of their campaigns on the volunteer labor of idealistic college students, who are unaware of the controversy that the organization generates by refusing to pay its own workers minimum wages and by using federal legislation like the Community Reinvestment Act to shake down banks.

Regardless of how transparent its aims now seem, this new coalition will remain formidable in the cities, because the tax-eater sector is now so large that it can easily thwart reforms aimed at undermining its programs. But the coalition is also becoming the real power in national campaigns, working both within the Democratic Party and outside it. AFSCME, the AFT, and SEIU were among the largest contributors to the Media Fund, a $65 million advertising effort aimed at defeating President Bush in 2004. Those groups, plus ACORN, also supplied much of the manpower for the national voter-registration effort aimed at defeating the president. A succession of Democratic presidential hopefuls traveled to New York to seek the blessing of 1199/SEIU union chief Dennis Rivera, who once held a seat on the Democratic National Committee, and when John Kerry picked his running mate, he immediately called SEIU boss Andrew Stern, a John Edwards supporter, to say, “I heard you.” About one in ten delegates to the 2004 Democratic National Convention was a member of a teachers’ union.

The tax-eaters’ party has seized control of many of America’s cities; now it is trying to make the next big leap.