When stimulus isn't enough

A little more than a year ago, Congress passed and the President signed the “Stimulus” bill.  At the time, we were told that one of its chief features was to save the jobs of public school teachers.  There was, despite my general feelings of disapproval towards the Stimulus, some sense to doing this.  As I’ve often argued, there’s no “playing catch up” with missed education.  Once a child falls behind, he or she is pretty much screwed, both from a biological perspective (the brain becomes less adaptable as it ages) and on a social basis (our school system and our merit-tracking systems tend towards the chronologically-based).  So if there aren’t any teachers — the scenario that proponents of the stimulus package averred would come to pass in its absence — it’s actually really bad for students.

Now we can argue back and forth about whether the feds actually should (or do) have this sort of authority, whether public school teachers really needed shoring up, and whether states and districts ultimately just needed to learn to tighten their belts and are being led down the garden path by the DoE and Congress.  We can go back and forth all day on those issues.  But it’s clear that the argument for keeping public school teachers in play is (at least as I’ve made it here) a plausible one.

Sometimes, though, when a person get’s a good argument in their head, the argument keeps getting made.  Over, and over, and over.  It’s like in Les Miserables, where Thenardier gets a plausible argument that he’s a hero.  (It’s false, but it’s plausible.)  The guy’s entire life becomes about leveraging that story over and over again for everything it’s worth.

I wonder…. how many more times are we going to see the feds saving state jobs in education?

The Obama administration on Thursday threw its support behind a $23 billion measure intended to avert large-scale teacher layoffs, urging Congress to include the effort in a spending bill lawmakers are drafting to fund wartime costs and other urgent needs.

“We are gravely concerned that ongoing state and local budget challenges are threatening hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs for the upcoming school year,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Duncan added: “These budget cuts would also undermine the groundbreaking reform efforts under way in states and districts all across the country.”

It’s for the children.  At least that’s what we can keep telling ourselves.

Comments

  1. In my Northern California middle school of 600+ students:
    >No assistant principal (desperately needed).
    >No counselor.
    >No nurse.
    >No librarian or book-purchasing budget (as it is, we have a tiny collection).
    >No foreign language program.
    >One half-time music teacher.

    Yet conservative ed sites like Flypaper call for cutting more fat from public education.

    The conservative delusion: no matter how much you starve a public agency, there’s always more fat to be cut.

    Until the citizens of California grow up and realize that we have to pay for public services, this state will continue to deteriorate. The top 20% control 80% of the wealth in this country. It’s clear that we need to raise taxes on the rich. And until then, I’ll welcome Obama’s salubrious infusions of money.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Ben…

    Budgets are made of money. And money is fungible.

    Just because there is fat to be cut does not mean that it is present in any particular place.

    We might think that the various Air Quality Management Districts, for instance, could use 6 million dollars less funding… and that maybe some of it might go to your school instead.

    Yes, we have to pay for public services. But clearly we don’t have to pay for every public service that anyone can possibly think of.

  3. Richard Nieporent says:

    Until the citizens of California grow up and realize that we have to pay for public services, this state will continue to deteriorate.

    Ben F, you know that your state is bankrupt, don’t you? Where do you think the money is going to come from?

    The top 20% control 80% of the wealth in this country. It’s clear that we need to raise taxes on the rich.

    How silly of me. Why didn’t I think of that? Soak the rich! Of course that is your solution. By the way, since you realize how important education is, how come you are not willing to have your own taxes raised?

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    Ben:“In my Northern California middle school of 600+ students…”

    California budgets about $9K per public K-12 student per year (down from $10K/year a few years ago). Your middle school should have about $5.4M allotted to it. The state keeps between $2K and $3K per student in Sacramento (I don’t know entirely what for … I think some of this is for capital expenditures), so I’d expect that your school would get about $6K×600 = $3.6M per year.

    I can well believe that your school doesn’t have a nurse, counselor or librarian, but can you tell me where the money *IS* going? At 25 students/class, your school would have $150K per class per year (and the state would be spending about $75K per class per year doing whatever it is that they do with the money in Sacramento). Is this not enough money to educate middle school students in Norther California?

    -Mark Roulo

  5. Who says that Ben is not willing to have his taxes raised? I’d gladly pay British tax rates if I was getting British public services. As it is, I pay quite a bit in taxes (I’m a teacher but my husband has a well-paying job in the private sector) and get comparatively little in return.

  6. Richard Nieporent says:

    Who says that Ben is not willing to have his taxes raised?

    He did. He said he wanted the rich to pay.

    I’d gladly pay British tax rates if I was (sic) getting British public services.

    I am sure that you will love the National Health Service.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/6092658/Cruel-and-neglectful-care-of-one-million-NHS-patients-exposed.html

    On second thought don’t get sick.

  7. Richard,

    I am willing to pay more in taxes. But the bottom 80% in this country are already paying a lot in taxes (sales taxes, car fees, etc.). They cannot afford higher taxes. The rich can. I don’t want to abolish luxurious lifestyles and fat bank accounts. I just think it would be better for all of us if those lifestyles were a little less luxurious and those bank accounts a little less fat.

  8. Hi folks,
    My name is Mc Nelly Torres and I’m EdMoney.org stimulus team leader. We are tracking all the stimulus funding allocated to education and we would love to hear from you. EdMoney.org is a project of the Education Writers Association which was funded by the Gates Foundation. Please visit our site and leave comments with suggestions. Tell us what’s going on in your school district or schools. We would love to hear from you.

  9. I just think it would be better for all of us if those lifestyles were a little less luxurious and those bank accounts a little less fat.

    If you’ve got some examples handy in support of the idea then don’t be so diffident, trot ‘em out. I can certainly think of plenty of examples to the contrary.

    But greed springs eternal so I don’t expect the educational effects of a study of history and current affairs to deter you, Ben F, from lusting after other people’s wealth.

  10. tim-10-ber says:

    I don’t know about the bottom 80% but I believe it is the bottom 60% that pay very little (if any federal) in taxes and many actually get money back for never paying into the system -

    Michael — let’s say we need to keep the teachers in the classroom…why in the world shouldn’t the government take this opportunity to force education to move to the computer age and eliminate all the jobs created by being paper dependent (while eliminating other inefficient systems)…those saving would go back into the classroom…then the government could provide stimulus dollars to save teacher positions. As it is the handouts continue, the entitlement attitude continues and nothing changes…

    I say eliminate the waste…my district is still 90%+ paper…ridiculous…where have the millions and millions of dollars supposed spent on technology actually gone? Isn’t it high time for true transparency/accountability in education?

  11. SuperSub says:

    A couple things -
    The classrooms I grew up in were both more spartan and more interactive than the current classrooms. Why? Technology.

    You want to know where a lot of the money is going rather than to teachers, libraries, etc.? All the (mostly useless) technology present in the classrooms. Our school, in its wisdom, bought laptop with projectors on carts for the science and math departments. The thing was, all the science classrooms were already equipped with early 90′s digital projectors (they were about the size of a coffin) and desktops than were perfectly functioning and were more capable than the carts we received.

    Now that we have had the carts for 3 years, guess what? The school never bought (nor budgeted for) replacement bulbs for the new projectors. The science department decided to use the old projectors then, and guess what? The school had disconnected the projectors from the desktops and power, making them completely useless. We do have, though, replacement bulbs for the old projectors.

    We maintain a website with assignments and grades for students and parents to access at home. Yet I still receieve weekly requests for grade updates and old assignments from students and parents.

    Now, even though the school has the money to equip my classroom with non-functioning bulbless projectors, it does not have the money to furnish my classroom with an aquarium that I would actually use in class. Or books. Or pencils.

    One other thing… as for the federal bailouts… don’t people understand that the higher up the food chain taxes go, the more money is lost due to organizational inefficiency. I do wonder how much more money schools would have if the feds got completely out of the education game and the states and districts were responsible for fully funding education.

  12. I’m going to use the laptops today for a couple of my classes. I’ve budged about 1/3 of the instructional time for the kids to weed out the non-working computers, the forever and fifty grandmas it takes for the laptops to connect to the network, etc. At this time of year, it’s kinda a crapshoot as far as the chances of having enough of them working for every kid in the class.

    Technological utopia remains somewhat elusive.

  13. Richard Nieporent says:

    But the bottom 80% in this country are already paying a lot in taxes (sales taxes, car fees, etc.).

    But not income taxes Ben F.

    They cannot afford higher taxes.

    Then maybe they should demand that the government spend less of their money.

    I just think it would be better for all of us if those lifestyles were a little less luxurious and those bank accounts a little less fat.

    Better for you? Yes. Better for them? Probably not.

  14. Timber,

    The bottom 80% do pay taxes –sales taxes, gas taxes, etc. –the pinch from which many of them feel. Fail to pay into the system? These folks save nothing. They spend every last dime on “the system” –paying rent, buying gas, etc. Propping up struggling small businesses and smug rich corporations (and their sedentary shareholders) with their hard-earned dough. Save your disdain for the trustafarians of Mendocino –the dread-locked trust fund kids who are proliferating in beautiful enclaves of the rich around the world –thanks to the Bush tax cuts.

    I share your concern about paper waste in public schools, but the solution is not as simple as you think. We do have on-line access to grades, so theoretically the grade reports could be done mostly on-line. But kids, coaches and many parents demand print-outs. As for reports and essays, I need to write comments; perhaps there is technology that allows me to do this w/o paper, but we don’t have it. And, as Supersub says, technology is surely no clear-cut money saver. Techno-mania leads districts to purchase much tech that’s not needed, not appropriate, and/or not adequately supported (and thus relegated to collecting dust).

  15. Why is it that no matter how much we’re taxed, the quality of the education our children receive via public education never really improves?

    Ben, you might consider, the reason so many see public education as a bottemless sink hole is because many ARE willing to pay more to get more. The problem is we pay more and get LESS. We get less because the incentives within the system reward the wrong things. Until folks like you can come to terms with the evidence right before your eyes about the negatives inherit within and respond to them like adults rather than toddlers banging a spoon on a high-chair for “MORE”, folks like me will continue to try to starve the big blue beast.

    No more money for public education until it can satisfy the basic educational needs of all students.

  16. You folks do realize that the wealthy are fleeing California like rats from a sinking ship, don’t you?

    From this article:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124260067214828295.html

    We find:

    “Updating some research from Richard Vedder of Ohio University, we found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day including Sundays and holidays moved from the nine highest income-tax states such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas. We also found that over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts.”

    (I realize that an argument like this shouldn’t include actual facts or anything, so I apologize in advance for my faux pas.)

    By the way, it’s not just individual states, either. A well-to-do friend of mine is several months into planning his retirement in Panama. It’s a short plane ride from the US, cheap to live in and easy on the taxes. They have first-world infrastructure in the big cities and they’re friendly to Americans. He already speaks Spanish, so he’s all set.

  17. Rob,

    The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples money. -Lady Thatcher

  18. Ponderosa says:

    Stacy,

    I agree that our public schools are mediocre. But I really believe the core problem is the prevalence of bankrupt progressive ed ideology, not the absence of competition and incentives (teachers are already working very hard without incentives). And we’re not currently asking for more money. We’re just asking for no cuts.

    Rob,

    Have you been to northern Europe? I know it’s standard among conservatives to disparage Europe but it’s actually kinda nice. The cities are clean (Paris has a mammoth city cleaning budget), the roads are well-maintained, the kids well-educated, public architecture is high-quality, health care systems cover everyone, etc. You cannot have these things without high taxes. We face a choice: do we want to be a spruced-up high-tax country like Denmark, or a shabby third-world nation like Guatemala? Show me one low-tax nation that looks like Denmark.
    You get what you pay for.

  19. Pondarosa,

    FYI, We’re not Europeans. We’re culturally distinct from them. We are not ethnically homogeneous. Rather than aping, cargo cult like, European social democracy, how about we deal with who we actually are, instead of who blue state liberal wish we were?

    What aspect of the European educational system would you like to imitate? How about the national voucher program that the Netherlands offers its citizens? Or, how about the much more rigorous credentialing and apprenticeships German teachers must satisfy? The national exams common throughout Europe to qualify for college entrance? The early tracking at the age of 10?

    We actually don’t get what we pay for. We pay more per pupil than most Northern European countries and get less well prepared students. No number of dollars is going to put humpty-dumpty back together again. The ed schools, the unions, the textbook publishers whoring for ed dollars, the politicians using education as a patronage scheme – they must all go. My goal is to assist in destroying the sniveling, whiny, greedy cartels; I do it for the children.

    No, you can’t have any more money because you don’t deserve it.

  20. Stacy,

    Does being an American mean that you cannot learn from other countries? I know that many white Americans, in their natural tribalism, seem squeamish about paying for social safety nets for masses of poor non-whites. Aside from this, however, I don’t see why an ethnically heterogeneous country cannot be a Euro-style social democracy.

    What do I like about Euro education? Primarily the content-rich, sequential curricula, and the superior preparation of its teachers. I think some sort of tracking is OK, as long as the more vocational tracks still got a decent liberal arts education.

  21. Ben, you do know that culture is more than ethnicity, right? Perhaps the reason “white” Americans indulge in “tribalism” is because they sense that the social safety nets for “masses of poor non-whites” actually are used as a means to create political plantations by their betters (i.e. white liberals -who know what’s best) to create power bases for themselves. And, isn’t it strange that we actually do have social safety nets in place considering how unwilling whitey is? But, I guess we can never give enough, right? More is always necessary because of our racism – obviously.

    Of course we can and should learn from other people, but how about we start with ourselves first? Monkey see, monkey do hasn’t really been a successful strategy in educational reform in the past.

    I’m glad that you like Euro-type education. Does that include the extensive use of vouchers and charters and the lower funding levels?

  22. “Aside from this, however, I don’t see why an ethnically heterogeneous country cannot be a Euro-style social democracy.”

    Ben, I want to address this part of your comment more specifically and more seriously because it gets to the heart of the real problem.

    We (Americans) are culturally distinct. Because of our ethnic diversity, our culture is exponentually more complex than any individual European country. We have our own mores, habbits, and traditions. These have grown-up and evolved within the context of our own American experiences. European social democracy evolved within the context of their experiences. To think that we can adopt or attach ourselves to the end result of anothers’ process is arrogant and immature. We can imitate them, cargo cult style, but our results will vary greatly.

    Fundamentally, you don’t like America or at least some Americans (I suspect those selfish white folks). How can you hope to establish a closer cohesive social model, which is what social democracy is, based on disrespect and dislike? You need to develop the patience necessary to examine and understand the country you have, not the country you think you wish it were.

  23. The real issue being overlooked here is this, if you lay off a large number of teachers, the students do NOT stop coming to the school.

    Where do you put them? Who teaches them? Many states have class size limits laws. Do you break them to save yourself some money?

    As for taxes, let’s get rid of the corporate loopholes that allow business to work out of the US, but register in some other country where the taxes are lower.

  24. Ponderosa:

    You completely missed my point: People in the US can leave a state that taxes them too much. If you like high taxes, fine, you can move to California. But other people are free to make the same choice and they’re leaving high-tax states in huge numbers. It doesn’t matter if you want to be like Denmark, when all of the rich have left California, there won’t be anyone left to tax. I saw yesterday where tax collection in CA was 26% below expectations in April: apparently lots of folks have already left.

    Shout and stomp your feet if you like, but math will always win in the end.

  25. Ponderosa says:

    Rob,

    It sounds as if you’re not familiar with CA. No doubt there are some who leave CA for its “high taxes”. Still California is awash in rich folk, and unless beautiful Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, Marin, San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and many other enclaves of the rich and fabulous all get airlifted to low-tax Alabama, they will continue to inhabit CA in large numbers. Many non-rich are leaving CA because the cost of living is high and well-paying jobs are becoming more and more scarce as amoral and unpatriotic corporations outsource jobs and abet unchecked immigration. Colorado has received a lot of this exodus.

    And many of the rich who live here are liberals who see the benefits of high taxes and wish we were taxed MORE. Many support the repeal of Prop 13, which limits property tax rates. Even in high tax Sweden there are rich people –they’re just less rich. Same could be true of CA. What it boils down to is whether you feel we’re all in this boat together, or it’s every man for himself. I’m in the former camp, and I will pitch in to help our common-welfare-protecting democratic government do things that individuals cannot do alone, and that sociopathic corporations WILL not do because they’re inherently selfish. I teach history and I know that, once upon a time, before democracy, there was feudalism –rich elite lording it over the immiserated masses. Government was an oppressive tool of the rich. Then came the French Revolution which put the power in the hands of the people. The rich in this country have cleverly turned us commoners against our own guardian, the government, so as to return us to a neo-feudal condition. Fox News is a tool of these plutocrats, and it’s fooling many of us poorly-informed ordinary folk.

  26. Richard Nieporent says:

    And many of the rich who live here are liberals who see the benefits of high taxes and wish we were taxed MORE.

    You do know Ponderosa that you can always make voluntary contributions to the State and Federal government if you feel that your are undertaxed. In fact Massachusetts has two tax rates, the normal one and a voluntary higher one. The 2006 data shows that of the 1,540,000 tax returns filed, only 424 people opted for the higher rate. I guess there are no liberals in Massachusetts. Oh, wait…

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070719182659AAzCo79

    Then came the French Revolution which put the power in the hands of the people.

    That worked out well, didn’t it? I don’t think that is the best example you could find. Since you teach history you probably heard about the Reign of Terror.

    The rich in this country have cleverly turned us commoners against our own guardian, the government, so as to return us to a neo-feudal condition.

    You can’t be serious Ponderosa. Please tell me this comment was just hyperbole. You really can’t believe that the government is our guardian? Are we just wards of the state? Does the government have to take care of us because we are incapable of caring for ourselves?

  27. Richard, yes, a DEMOCRATICALLY elected government is the great guardian of the people against thugs and barons. In many countries, the government is the tool of the thugs and barons, or is dominated by a tyrant: in these cases, government is indeed the enemy. The beauty of democracy is that the people have collectively organized to overpower the would-be thugs, barons and tyrants, whom, if you read history, have traditionally run rough-shod over the commoners. A democracy cares for the general welfare, not just the elite’s welfare. Currently the barons who threaten to relegate us to abject serfdom are the corporations who pay for the major media that leaves you and many others in the dark. It’s tragic that Fox is turning us against the people’s own guardian (which has the power to save us from rapacious oil companies, rapacious financiers, rapacious health insurance companies, and other powerful sociopathic corporate barons).

    The French Revolution had its reign of terror, but would you deny that it was the seminal event in the rise of democracy in the West?

    Warren Buffet has called for higher taxes on the rich.

  28. Richard Nieporent says:

    The French Revolution had its reign of terror, but would you deny that it was the seminal event in the rise of democracy in the West?

    I do believe that there was something that occurred a bit earlier than the French Revolution that may have had some influence on the rise of democracy in the West. Let me think. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Oh, yes, now I remember. It was called the American Revolution. Think of it as the French Revolution without the guillotine. Also it did not result in the government being replace by a monarchy. Do they no longer teach you about it in school? Too bad. I recommend you read about it. You just might learn something worthwhile.

  29. Richard Nieporent says:

    Currently the barons who threaten to relegate us to abject serfdom are the corporations who pay for the major media that leaves you and many others in the dark. It’s tragic that Fox is turning us against the people’s own guardian (which has the power to save us from rapacious oil companies, rapacious financiers, rapacious health insurance companies, and other powerful sociopathic corporate barons).

    You are right, of course Ben F. The government knows what’s best for us. We can’t have any opposition to our glorious leader. It is criminal that we are forced to watch Fox News. By the way what ever happened to CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, PBS, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time …

    Warren Buffet has called for higher taxes on the rich.

    I am confused, Ben F. Please help me out. Isn’t Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, one of those “barons”? And now you want us to take advice from him? Why should we believe anything that that rapacious financier and powerful sociopathic corporate baron says?

  30. Richard,

    It seems you haven’t studied feudalism and the French Revolution. The American Revolution was great and important, but historians accord the French Revolution a higher score on the revolutionary Richter scale.

    And I have no problem with opposition to the party in power –that’s democracy. But I do have a problem with an organization dedicated to undermining people’s faith in democracy (which is what we do whenever they disparage democratically-elected government per se, as opposed to a particular government policy or functionary). Weakening government opens up a power vacuum. I know libertarians think this will be a heyday for the individual, but it will not: unaccountable private corporate entities will fill the void.

    There are good people within the elite (like Buffet), but an unchecked and ultra-rich elite class inevitably pursues its own interests at the expense of the common welfare.

    I hope you’re interested in having a conversation and not just spewing snark.

  31. My reading of history is that the founding fathers were much more influenced by ancient Greece than by the French. Polybius was quite popular with the founders.

    Even the slightest familiarity with American history should show that the founders feared a large central government and intentionally moved to restrict it and leave a lot of power to the states. This seems inconsistent with the government as a “guardian”.

    In fact, it’s just the opposite. Much discussed at the time of the revolution was the fact that British government theory had power flowing from God to the government and then to the people. The founders didn’t go for that and explicitly argued that power flowed from God to the people, who LENT it to their government. This is the sort of thing that used to be taught in high school civics class.

    We are the guardians of our government, in other words, and we haven’t been doing a very good job of it this last half century or so. I place blame for this on all of society, for forgetting the importance that education plays in developing good citizens. Good citizens, for example, who know that they are the guardian of their government and not the other way around.

  32. Actually, the NHS has done a remarkable job of caring for the British population. Those who wish to abolish the NHS are part of a very tiny minority in Britain. The new Conservative prime minister in Britain sang the praises of the NHS care his terminally ill son received; Stephen Hawking has affirmed that he would not be alive without the NHS.

    As well, my own family has experienced nothing but excellent care from the NHS. Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are permanently disabled and have received in-home care, both full- and part-time, that has allowed them to stay in their own homes and be as independent as possible. That care is paid for in full by the NHS.

    ***

    I agree that “throwing money at the problem” with education is never enough. Then again, neither is cutting away at vital services and just hoping for the best.

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