Saturday, November 19, 2011

(Well) Said by a guy with an "I" behind his name.....

From John Curry, November 19, 2011
[Note from John...yes, I know that the title to the article below is, "Democrats, Stop Caving In." So, if you are not a "D" then stop reading it or read it with the intention of knowing how "they" think. Makes me do difference!]
“Here's the issue....the issue is that this country does, in fact, does have a serious deficit problem...but the reality is that this deficit was caused by two wars unpaid for, it was caused by huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country. It was caused by a recession as a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall St. And, if those are the causes of the deficit and the national debt, I will be damned if we're going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor....that is wrong.
So what we are here today to say to the Super Committee, which is surrounded by lobbyists and big money interests...yes, we want you to go forward and help us with deficit reduction but we want you to do it in a way that is fair and responsible. When the wealthiest people in this country have never had it so good, when the top 1% earns more income than the bottom 50% and the tax rates for the highest income people, in real effective terms, are the lowest in decades, we're going to ask the wealthiest to start paying their fair share of taxes.
The reason that SS has engendered so much hatred on the part of many of our right-wing colleagues is because Social Security has worked! Before Social Security half of the seniors in this country lived in poverty. And today, while the number is too high, it's down to 10%. So, we understand that our job is to strengthen Social Security and not to cut it. So, we are assembled today, to say that in this great country we have a program called Social Security that has worked, that, by the way, just in passing, has a two and a half trillion dollar surplus; hasn't contributed a nickel to the deficit, can pay out every benefit for the next twenty-five years. We are not going to allow them to cut Social Security!”

Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont
Posted: 11/18/11 01:29 PM ET
Here is something we all can agree on: Federal deficits are a serious problem.
Here is something no one seriously disputes: Today's big deficits were caused mainly by big tax cuts for the wealthy, two unpaid-for wars, a horrible recession caused by Wall Street greed, and an expensive prescription drug program rigged to favor pharmaceutical companies.
Here is something we should not agree to do: Cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
There is surprisingly broad consensus among Americans (except inside the corporate-dominated D.C. beltway) on what to do about deficits. In poll after poll, strong majorities favor making the wealthiest Americans, who, in many cases, have never had it so good, share the sacrifice and pay a little more in taxes. Increasing taxes on the wealthy is overwhelmingly supported by Democrats and independents. A majority of Republicans and people in the Tea Party movement also support taxing millionaires to help bring down deficits. Even many millionaires say they should be paying higher taxes. At a time when many profitable corporations pay nothing in federal income taxes, there also is widespread support for closing corporate tax loopholes. Taking a hard look at mushrooming defense spending also enjoys widespread support.
For far too long, the Washington agenda has been set by powerful corporate interests and a right wing that do not represent the needs and aspirations of most Americans. For too long, the Democrats have gone along with Republican demands and caved in to these powerful special interests. The American people are frustrated and disgusted. They want Democrats to fight back.
As a Thanksgiving deadline nears for action by the powerful Super Committee on deficit reduction, I hope (but doubt) that Republicans will listen to the American people and support deficit reduction in a fair and responsible way. I hope (but doubt) that Democrats will not once again capitulate just for the sake of an agreement - but that's been the pattern.
In December -- when Democrats controlled the Senate, the House and the White House -- Congress and President Obama not only extended Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy but also gave new breaks to heirs of the super-rich.
In April -- with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats still in the majority in the Senate -- Republicans threatened to shut down the government and delay the processing of new Social Security benefits for senior citizens unless their demands were met. Democrats went along with $78 billion in cuts from the president's budget request.
In August, in an outrageous display of unprincipled gamesmanship, Republicans put the United States on the brink of bankruptcy. Instead of invoking clear 14th Amendment powers to honor our nation's debts, the president and most Democrats agreed to a $2.5 trillion deficit-reduction package.
That's how we got to where we are today.
Incredibly, throughout all of these negotiations -- in December, in April, in August and again today -- the wealthiest Americans and the country's major corporations have not yet been asked to contribute one penny toward deficit reduction. That is despite huge cuts in life-and-death programs for working families.
The American people have had it. The Occupy Wall Street movement is growing. A virtual popular uprising forced Bank of America to drop an unpopular $5 monthly debit card fee. On Election Day 2011, in Ohio and many other states the American people said NO to right-wing extremism and corporate greed.
The American people are very clear. They do not want Democrats to reach another 'grand bargain' with representatives of the rich and powerful that eviscerates the most successful and popular social programs in the history of this country. They want Democrats to stand up for the 99 percent, not the 1 percent.
If the president and Democrats on the super committee go along with cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the three pillars of the New Deal and the Great Society, and permanently extend the Bush tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent, the American people will shake their heads in disbelief. They will arrive at the reasonably valid conclusion that there are no significant differences between the two parties controlled by corporate interests.
This is a pivotal moment in American history. The rich and large corporations are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. Now is the time to answer the question that the Woody Guthrie song poignantly asked, "Which side are you on?" The Democrats must answer boldly that they are on the side of working families and the middle class and that they will fight to protect their interests.
What if the super committee ends in stalemate? Across-the-board, automatic cuts are set to kick in. That so-called sequestration wouldn't start, however, until 2013. That would make 2012 one of the most important election years in modern American history.
If Democrats stand with ordinary Americans and make it clear that they are prepared to take on the wealthy and the powerful, they could win both houses of Congress. They could give Obama a fresh infusion of boldness as he enters a second term in the White House.
Somehow I recall a few years ago millions of Americans chanting, "Yes, We Can." Now is the time to hear their voices.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Report on November 2011 STRS Board Meeting

From STRS, November 18, 2011
Nov. 18, 2011
November Board News
ORSC Chooses Pension Trustee Advisors to Review Pension Reform Plans
At its Nov. 16 meeting, the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) heard presentations from three firms vying for the opportunity to advise the Council on the pension reform plans currently in pending legislation (S.B. 3 and H.B. 69). Following the presentations and question-and-answer sessions with each firm, the ORSC unanimously selected Pension Trustee Advisors (PTA) to conduct the review.
The Council questioned whether the three senior principals proposed to lead the project would be sufficient to accomplish all of the work, but the firm addressed this concern to the satisfaction of Council members. The PTA partners said they have no ongoing long-term contracts and will be able to focus their work on the Ohio pension funds. They said they expect to be able to complete their work by July to meet the ORSC's timeline. PTA referred to prior work done with CalSTRS and the city of New York to show its experience with larger public pension funds.
Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton), who chaired a subcommittee that scored the initial written proposals, underscored that the scope of the project should be manageable for the firm, noting that PTA will be "reviewing, not recreating" the work done by the pension systems.
The ORSC received six written proposals in response to an RFP issued last summer. After the subcommittee met and scored those proposals, all of the firms were invited to make a presentation to the full Council. Three firms responded to that request, PTA, Hay Group and The Segal Company.
PricewaterhouseCoopers Reviews Annual Pension Valuation
Representatives from the Retirement Board's actuarial consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), reviewed with the board the results of the 2011 annual actuarial valuation report. The preliminary report was presented to the Retirement Board at its October meeting by STRS Ohio staff. There were no changes to the report — the pension system's funded ratio stands at 58.8% as noted in the October issue of Board News. PwC noted that as retirement systems mature, it is common for the fund to experience negative cash flow — that is, for benefit payments to exceed contributions collected. However, PwC said that it is happening at a faster than projected rate at STRS Ohio due to an uptick in retirements (more benefits are being paid) and slower growth than expected in teacher payrolls (fewer contributions).
PwC also reviewed the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) exposure draft on pension accounting and financial reporting by employers. If adopted, the new rules will have a significant impact on how public pension funds and reporting employers show liabilities on their financial statements. If unchanged, the new rules are scheduled to take effect in 2013.
Callan Associates Updates Board on Asset Liability-Study
During the November board meeting, the Retirement Board's investment consultant, Callan Associates, updated the board on its ongoing asset-liability study that began in August. Callan is currently refining its liability model and resulting projections. The final results of the study are now expected in January.
As part of the study, Callan is providing both long- and short-term capital market projections. Callan concluded that STRS Ohio's current investment policy target will be challenged to achieve an 8% return for the next five and perhaps 10 years. However, Callan reported that based on this investment policy target and historical data, STRS Ohio could expect to generate an 8% to 8-1/2% return over the longer term 30-year horizon. Due to market volatility, the study said the path to a long-term 8% return will include extended periods of returns above the 8% and periods below the 8%.
Board Discusses Strategic Plan for Health Care
One of the Retirement Board's strategic goals is to work on options for the Health Care Stabilization Fund that support the STRS Ohio Health Care Program. The board and staff are developing a long-term strategic plan that includes specific initiatives for 2012–2015.
During the discussion at the November board meeting, staff recognized that the current health care program continually faces near-term insolvency with little prospect for additional funding. The board reviewed statistical analysis that showed:
• The Health Care Stabilization Fund is only expected to remain solvent until 2024.
• Sixty-nine percent of benefit recipients enrolled in the STRS Ohio Health Care Program are also receiving Medicare benefits, while 31% are non-Medicare.
• Subsidies for non-Medicare retirees account for 62% of all subsidies.
With this in mind, staff proposed a vision for the future that would establish the Medicare program as the cornerstone for the STRS Ohio Health Care Program, to help the largest number of retirees for the longest period of time. This plan would increase out-of-pocket expenses to reduce premium increases and merges the Medical Mutual Plus and Basic plans into one plan by 2016. The most significant changes would affect the non-Medicare program. These changes would more closely align costs with the marketplace.
The discussion also addressed the need to continue to educate members about planning for growing health care costs in retirement and how to better manage their health and health care coverage. The board is expected to continue the strategic plan discussion at its December meeting.
Retirements Approved
The Retirement Board approved 311 active members and 112 inactive members for service retirement benefits.
Other STRS Ohio News
Satisfaction Survey Responses Ranked Outstanding for First Quarter
During the first quarter of the 2011–12 fiscal year, more than 2,100 members who met with a counselor completed a satisfaction survey, with 96% responding that the service met or exceeded their expectations. Of those members who met with a counselor, 51% provided a perfect 10 score for overall service. Staff continues to be rated the highest in the areas of professionalism, courtesy and knowledge, with 67% of members providing a perfect 10 rating.
In addition, about 1,000 members who attended a Member Education program completed satisfaction surveys for the quarter, with 98% stating that the program exceeded their expectations and 47% rating the program a perfect 10. More than 76% of respondents rated the Member Education staff a perfect 10 regarding professionalism, courtesy and knowledge.
Retirement Board Election Process Begins this Month
On Nov. 10, notices were sent to all STRS Ohio reporting employers and other interested parties about the upcoming Retirement Board election for one contributing member seat. In addition, information was in the October newsletter and is posted on the STRS Ohio website. Individuals interested in running for this seat can request petitions from STRS Ohio. The deadline for returning petitions is Feb. 24, 2012.

American Schools in Crisis: Diane Ravitch debunks the myths and tells it like it is

Saturday Evening Post, August 16, 2011
American Schools in Crisis
August 16, 2011
By Diane Ravitch
If you read the news magazines or watch TV, you might get the impression that American education is deep in a crisis of historic proportions. The media tell you that other nations have higher test scores than ours and that they are shooting past us in the race for global competitiveness. The pundits say it’s because our public schools are overrun with incompetent, lazy teachers who can’t be fired and have a soft job for life.
Don’t believe it. It’s not true.
Critics have been complaining about the public schools for the past 60 years. In the 1950s, they said that the public schools were failing, Johnny couldn’t read, and the schools were in a downward spiral. In the 1960s, we were told there was a “crisis in the classroom.” For at least the past half-century we have heard the same complaints again and again. Yes, our students’ scores on international tests are only average, but when the first such test was given in 1964, we were 12th out of 12. Our students have never been at the top on those tests.
The critics today would have us believe that our future is in peril because other nations have higher test scores. They said the same thing in 1957 when the Soviet Union sent its Sputnik into orbit and “beat us” by being first. At the time, the media were filled with dire predictions and blamed our public schools for losing the space race. But we’re still here, and the Soviet Union is gone.
[View entire article here.]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Matt Huffman, money laundering and.....the Shawnee Local Schools!

From John Curry, November 17, 2011
That got your attention, didn't it? IT SHOULD!
Shawnee Local Schools, in Matt Huffman’s own Allen County, currently receives less than $1,000 in per pupil aid from the state. As a result, each “new” private school student and voucher recipient in the school district, a student who will never attend a Shawnee Local school, will cause the following funding numbers:
  • New state funds per pupil: $960
  • State voucher deduction: ($5,704)
  • Net loss to district per voucher: $4,744
If only 25 “new” students appear in Shawnee Local, the district will lose $118,600. Of course, Matt Huffman’s plan will also kick back over 23% in this newly created money back to the state in some strange sort of private school student “finder’s fee.”
And Shawnee is one of 52 school districts that receive less than the state’s $1,141 deduction in initial state aid, meaning that the district is literally paying the state for each “new” private school student that they will never have the opportunity to educate in on off their top-rated schools.
School voucher funding process is legalized money laundering
By On November 17, 2011
We posted the basics of House Bill 136 and the way it has the very real potential to bankrupt some school districts while decreasing overall state funding for schools. That information we shared was appalling on its own, yet the bill has more secrets that, in our opinion, make the funding scenarios even worse. The scenario we discussed only applied to students who are currently attending public schools and who might opt to apply for a waiver to attend a private school. Under that scenario, it may not be likely that the 43,000 students we mentioned would all become a reality next year, or even within 2-3 years. Therefore, the $50 million that the state would save might not be realized immediately.
Perhaps realizing that delay the creator of HB 136, Republican Matt Huffman, included a way for the state to launder state tax dollars through school district accounts in order to speed up the process of cutting public school funding.
Here’s Huffman’s plan (as fully approved by 9 other Republicans on the House Education Committee):
According to a four-year phase-in schedule, students who are already attending nonpublic schools, are eligible to receive PACT scholarships [vouchers], as long as they meet the program’s income requirements. The phase-in schedule is described in the following table:
(Click image to enlarge.)
This means that next school year, every Kindergarten student entering one of the private schools would be able to receive a tuition voucher (subject to individual eligibility). In each successive year, additional grades would be added into the eligibility pool, until all existing private school students are in the pool. In 2010, the total number of students was over 180,000, more than enough to use up the 43,000 unused vouchers. We have no reason to expect the vouchers to last all four years of the phase-in process, however. In 2010, over 70,000 students were enrolled in private schools in grades K-4, meaning that if only 61% of those students apply and are granted vouchers, then the vouchers will be fully used up only 2 years from now. Over 130,000 students were enrolled in grades K-8, so three years from now a mere one-third of students would be necessary to gobble up all available vouchers.
As we pointed out in an earlier post, the state will get to keep over $50 million by issuing every available voucher to students. That post, however, only applied to students who are NOT currently attending public schools. The effect of students who were ALWAYS planning on attending private schools is horrifying and is tantamount to legalized money laundering.
Of the over 180,000 students in enrolled in private schools last year, over 15,000 were kindergartners. None of those students figure in to the calculation of a school district’s state funding amount. Under HB136, however, any student receiving a voucher will be counted in the district’s enrollment. Then, the district is allocated their respective per pupil state funds before the losing the $5704 voucher deduction. Of this $5704, the state will keep a minimum of $1,141 (since the maximum “scholarship” amount is $4563).
So, for EVERY student in a private school that is awarded a voucher, the state pockets at least $1,141 – money that the districts never see. In fact, it is money that never even existed before the student was “created” in the funding system through their application for a voucher. Huffman and his fellow Republicans have created a system that has built-in incentives for them to guide students to private schools so that the state can decrease public school funding.
And the public school fares even worse. A majority of public schools receive state funding that is LESS THAN the amount of the voucher (see the HB136 funding spreadsheet). Every new voucher awarded to a student attending a private school, a student who likely NEVER intended to set foot in the public school, will result in a loss of state funding for the district, and the subsequent misdirection of tax dollars ($1,141 per pupil) previously allocated for school funding back to the state.
The wealthier the family, the smaller the tuition amount, and the more money the state takes away from public schools.
In the Olentangy Local Schools, for example, the median income would result in a tuition payment of only $3,422, meaning the state would take back nearly $2,300 per private school student. The wealthiest students would only receive $2,282 in tuition, with the state getting a kickback of over $3,400. All for a student who never intended to set foot in a public school!
Shawnee Local Schools, in Matt Huffman’s own Allen County, currently receives less than $1,000 in per pupil aid from the state. As a result, each “new” private school student and voucher recipient in the school district, a student who will never attend a Shawnee Local school, will cause the following funding numbers:
  • New state funds per pupil: $960
  • State voucher deduction: ($5,704)
  • Net loss to district per voucher: $4,744
If only 25 “new” students appear in Shawnee Local, the district will lose $118,600. Of course, Matt Huffman’s plan will also kick back over 23% in this newly created money back to the state in some strange sort of private school student “finder’s fee.”
And Shawnee is one of 52 school districts that receive less than the state’s $1,141 deduction in initial state aid, meaning that the district is literally paying the state for each “new” private school student that they will never have the opportunity to educate in on off their top-rated schools.
The examples of this scheme to de-fund public schools are plentiful as 533 of 612 school districts will experience a net loss in funding for every voucher awarded, including this penalty for students that, essentially, never existed before.
We’d like to share one final example as we wrap up.
The Westerville City School district is where Governor Kasich lives, and where he has chosen NOT to send his daughters in lieu of a private school. Now, Kasich shouldn’t qualify for the voucher since his income is too high, but many in his community would qualify. Last week, Westerville residents voted down a much-needed school funding levy. With that outcome, the district is having to make some difficult cuts across the board and is relying on stretching every last dollar. If Kasich’s neighbors choose to send their children to a private kindergarten next year and opt for a voucher, Westerville will suffer a surprise cut of $4,333 each, a cut unrelated to Westerville’s existing enrollment numbers or long-term budgeting. If only 40 students per grade in Westerville opt for vouchers (a conservative estimate based on current enrollment numbers), then existing Westerville students will suffer cuts in state funding as follows:
  • 2012-2013: $173,320
  • 2013-2014: $866,600
  • 2014-2015: $1,559,880
  • 2015 and beyond: $2,253,160 per year
And what has Westerville done to deserve such cuts?
  • Had its funding cut by 13.6 MILLION DOLLARS by the state of Ohio and through decreases in tax revenues.
  • Achieved the state’s highest rating of Excellent with Distinction for the past two years.
  • Westerville has the lowest cost of any district in Franklin county that has received the Excellent with Distinction.
  • Westerville’s administrative costs are among the lowest in Central Ohio and the entire state.
On the other hand, maybe we’re over-analyzing this. Maybe Matt Huffman’s only motive is to subsidize his four kids’ tuition to Lima Catholic Schools.
Distinctly smells of ignorant Republican politics either way.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

HB 208, student bullying and....Dennis gives some suggestions to the House Education Committee

November 16, 2011

TO: Gerald Stebelton, Chair of the House Education Committee, Ohio House of Representatives

FROM: Dennis Leone, Assistant Professor, Ashland University—Columbus Center

SUBJECT: Administrative Concerns with Proposed House Bill 208

This bill will amend Ohio’s current anti-bullying law by prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying “that is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of a student.” Proposed House Bill 208 attempts to enumerate 19 traits or characteristics of a student which “includes but is not limited to age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political beliefs, socio-economic status, or familial status.”

1. Current law prohibits “harassment, intimidation, or bullying” of any kind, and adequately permits administrators to discipline students when such problems arise.

2. Adding “that is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of a student” is asking school administrators to become mind-readers. How does one prove whether another’s actions were based on something that was perceived? If two students (one who happens to be white and one who happens to be black) get into a shoving match during a pickup basketball game in gym, will proposed HB 208 require administrators to decide if the incident was, or was not, race-related?

3. Attempting to enumerate 19 specific “traits” and “characteristics” of students to existing law is unnecessarily elevating those traits specifically above other misconduct. For example, if one student assaults another student in school, would proposed HB 208 translate into it meaning that the assault was worse misconduct if the student assaulted a student who happened to be black, Hispanic, Scandinavian, gay, in opposition to America’s capture of Saddam Hussein, or a card-carrying member of the Taliban? Does the bill give a greater, elevated, special protective status for students due to 19 enumerated traits?

4. Does proposed HB 208 open the door for a student to claim harassment by another student because, for example, he/she is poor, has a mild learning disability, is bisexual, has two parents that are of the same sex, or has parents of different races, etc., when – in truth – the person accused of being the bully didn’t have any idea that the other student had any of those traits or characteristics?

5. The terms “political party preference” and “political beliefs” are extremely problematic. If students argue about economic tensions in Greece during a high school social studies class, will proposed HB 208 invite students to run to the principal and claim bullying?

6. The term “physical attributes” as a trait is extremely broad and could mean far more than simply referring to a student, for example, as fat, pee-wee, four-eyes, ugly, etc . In all schools, students are jealous of other students, and often hate them, because they are – among other things – attractive, athletic, tall, dress fashionably, have pretty hair, are built nicely, can run faster, can throw the ball farther, or can jump higher, etc. Jealousy and hatred because of how a student looks or because of what they can do physically – as unfortunate as these feelings are – are parts of normal school life.

7. Will proposed HB 208 also invite Student “A” to make a false claim against Student “B” because he/she believes Student “B” dislikes him/ her because Student “ A” considers himself/herself physically attractive, rather than believing the possibility that adverse feelings about him/her are for other reasons that have nothing to with physical appearance?

8. Proposed HB 208 fails to take into account what this country has seen in recent years with cases involving profound and pathological dishonesty -- i.e. Casey Anthony, Tawana Brawley, the Duke University lacrosse players, and the recent case of a Virginia male teacher named Sean Lanigan who was jailed and lost his job after a 5th grade girl deliberately made up a vicious, sexual lie to “get back” at her teacher after she was removed from the school’s safety patrol for using inappropriate language. STUDENTS, AND SOMETIMES THEIR PARENTS, WILL MAKE UP THINGS AND LIE TO ANY EXTENT NECESSARY TO ACCOMPLISH A PARTICULAR GOAL OR TO BRING DOWN SOMEONE THEY DESPISE”. This is an absolute fact, and 19 enumerated traits and characteristics in law may invite more such lying to occur.

Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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