The Albany Budget Dance: The Governor Leads, the Legislature Follows, With An Occasional Stumble

A freshman Albany legislator was anxious about budget week and asked a senior member for advise, “Bring extra underwear and socks and a good book to read.”

Both houses of the legislative will be glued to their seats as the “three men in a room,” these days maybe four, negotiate the terms of the budget, including the “non-appropriation” add-ons that are incorporated in the budget. In 1927 a constitutional amendment was ratified, “New York State has what’s known as ‘executive budgeting,’ which means, in rough terms, that the governor alone has the right to submit a budget, and the role of the Legislature is limited to voting it up or down.”  Governors and the legislature tussled over power for years and eventually the matter was litigated.  In Silver v Pataki (2002) the NYS Court of Appeals sustained the power of the governor in the budgetary process.

Read detailed accounts here and here.

When it comes to appropriations bills, the Senate and Assembly can only reduce the spending the governor has proposed or eliminate it entirely. Legislators cannot change the conditions on how the governor wants that money spent. They can add spending, but the governor has the power to line-item veto those additions.

But other than negotiating, which— thanks to the     so-called nuclear option of post-budget deadline extenders pioneered by former governor David Paterson and broadened by Cuomo—means largely capitulating to what the governor wants, lawmakers don’t have a lot of options.

In short, they can stall, sue, or try to amend the state constitution.

The budgetary process is a political as well as a legislative process. Each side, the Democrats in the Assembly, the Republicans in the Senate and the Governor compete for political advantage. The Democrats want more education dollars for New York City and the “Big Five” and Republicans for the suburbs.  You might argue, why do the suburbs need more dollars, don’t they outspend the poorer areas of the state now through local property taxes?  Of course; however, their constituents want more for their schools in high tax, high wealth communities. The Governor is the ringmaster, he establishes the configuration of the budget, this year around 160 billion and the parties at the table argue over the size of their slices.

The Governor’s Excelsior Plan, aka, free tuition in SUNY and CUNY is part budget and the rules concerning eligibility are rolled into the plan. The plan was debated at length at a New School forum last week (Watch here). At the end of the panel the moderator asked, “Should we support a ‘bad’ bill and wait for next year, an election year?” With TAP and Pell Grants low income students already have all or most of their tuition paid for, the major benefactors would the families at the top end of $125,000 family income cap. The Cuomo bill is silent on the eligibility of Dreamers, undocumented students who are currently not eligible for TAP or Pell as well as whether future TAP can be used for transportation, books, etc.

In the 80’s a major issue was the death penalty in New York State. Each year Republicans and some Democrats supported a pro-death penalty bill that eventually passed both houses only to be vetoed by Mario Cuomo. The advocates cobbled together enough votes to override the veto, the death penalty became the law in New York State. A year or so later a Republican old-timer sighed, “What a mistake, it was a great campaign issue.”

I suspect the Dreamers issue is also a great campaign issue, the Democrats have already passed a Dreamer bill in the Assembly, the Republicans oppose a bill in the Senate. In the political realm one would think the Republicans and the IDC will bring a bill to the floor allowing the IDC Democrats in precarious positions to vote “yes” while Republicans in Trump areas can vote “no,” and the bill will fail, satisfying the elected and disappointing the Dreamers.  Politics and legislating are inextricably intertwined.

Leading up to budget week a daily announcement, “conference will be meeting.”  The conference is the caucus, a closed door meeting of the 107 Democrats in the Assembly. Members and top staff only, no minutes, no leaks to the press, the Speaker lays out the state of negotiations (or any other issue of the moment) and members respond. An opportunity for the Speaker to “take the temperature” of his members. The members have diverse interests, school aid, housing, seniors, consumer affairs, agriculture, wine-making and special projects for a local area, everyone wants “their thing” wrapped into the budget.

Under the rules in New York State this will be a Cuomo budget, he controls each and every dollar. Once again, the Governor controls the size of the budget pie, the seemingly endless bickering is over the size of the slices. Of course the replacement for the Affordable Care Act and the Trump budget (debated over the summer) could shatter the New York State budget and bring the legislature back to Albany later in the year.

As the sun rises on April 1 the members, bleary eyed, pizza-soaked will finish voting on a budget, probably not exactly sure what they voted on.

The Most Effective Anti-Poverty Program: The New York City (CUNY) and State University (SUNY) Systems (Especially CCNY)

Research shows us that student’s prospects of earning more than their parents have fallen from 90% to 50% over the past half century; instead of increasing numbers moving up the economic ladder from generation to the next the opposite is occurring.

Anti-poverty programs are maintenance programs, relatively few move up the ladder. The feds maintain a Mobility Index, percentage of kids who move from the bottom 40% by income to the top 40%.

There is one shining light.

The public colleges have been extraordinarily successful in moving graduates up the economic ladder as measured by the Mobility Index

Raj Chetty and others at Stanford, using “big data” techniques scanned extremely large numbers of students over more than a decade and found,

To take just one encouraging statistic: At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class.

Of over five hundred colleges involved in the study, my alma mater, CCNY, finished second on the list!!! Five of the top ten schools are in New York City. (Maybe our high schools are doing a lot better than the frequent critics claim)

Colleges with the highest mobility rate, from the bottom 40 percent to the top 40 percent

COLLEGE PCT. FROM BOTTOM 40% SUCCESS RATE ‘MOBILITY’
1. Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology 66.0 66.4 43.9
2. City College of New York 60.5 62.9 38.1
3. Texas A&M International University 60.7 62.4 37.9
4. Lehman College 64.6 57.0 36.8
5. Bernard M. Baruch College 52.3 69.2 36.2
6. California State University, Los Angeles 59.6 60.0 35.7
7. Crimson Technical College 55.4 64.1 35.5
8. University of Texas-Pan American 64.0 53.5 34.2
9. New York City College of Technology 66.2 50.9 33.7
10. John Jay College of Criminal Justice 54.4 61.1 33.2

 

The stunning success has been in spite of a continuing lack of financial support from the Cuomo administration. Since the 2008 Great Recession the CUNY schools have lost 4.000 staff members, and,enrollment and tuition has been steadily increasing.

In his January State of the State address the governor announced his Excelsior Plan, free tuition for CUNY and SUNY schools – well – sort of free tuition. Students do receive Tuition Assistance Grants (Dreamers are not eligible) and federal Pell Grants; however, to be eligible students for the Excelsior dollars students must be full time students – must take fifteen credits each semester.and family income cannot exceed $125,000.

The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) helps eligible New York residents pay tuition at approved schools in New York State. Depending on the academic year in which you begin study, an annual TAP award can be up to $5,165. Because TAP is a grant, it does not have to be paid back.

Amounts can change yearly. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $5,815 for the 2016–17 award year (July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017). For the 2017–18 award year (July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018), the maximum award will be $5,920. The amount you get, though, will depend on

  • your financial need,
  • your cost of attendance,
  • your status as a full-time or part-time student, and
  • your plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

Between TAP and Pell many students have their tuition covered in the  CUNY and SUNY systems; however the funds cannot be used for books, travel, rent or food. CUNY students commonly hold jobs to pay for other than tuition as well as support families.

The Assembly Democrats, the Senate Republicans, and the IDC all offer alternatives to the Governor’s Excelsior Plan, i. e., increasing TAP, lowering the required credits per term, etc.

A New School conference last week was devoted to the idea of free tuition and the Governor’s Plan. Would the plan contain flexibility in the number of required credits per term? Would TAP be increased and could it be used foe metro cards, SNAP and other family supports? Should the privates share in the final plan? Would the governor increase support for colleges? The governor’s plan did not include the privates.

Watch the conference here.

There was general agreement that some sort of  “free tuition” plan would come out of the budget negotiations. The panelists agreed:  a potential 2020 presidential candidate needed “free tuition” on his resume.

With all the school and teacher-bashing the Chetty Study on Mobility reminds us of the time when City College was referred to as Harvard on the Hudson. City College and other CUNY and SUNY schools are the engine that will drive kids from poverty to the middle class, or higher.

Be proud!!

Creating Pathways to Teaching (Not Building Walls): Eliminating the Academic Literacy Skills Test Will Produce More and More Effective Teachers

Every year the Alumni Association of the City College of New York hosts a “How to Get a Job” session. A panel: principals and teachers who serve on hiring committees interact with prospective teachers in the teacher preparation program. The overriding question this year: is it true that we no longer have to take the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST)? Followed by sighs of relief when the answer was “yes.”

Unfortunately the path to the classroom in New York State has become an obstacle course.

There is a dramatic difference between making teaching candidates jump through meaningless hoops and preparing teachers for the classroom.

A major study, What Matters Most:  Teaching for America’s Future (1996), an influential report of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, made teaching the core of its “three simple premises” in its blueprint for reforming the nation’s schools. They are:

  • What teachers know and can do is the most important influence on what students learn.
  • Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools.
  • School reform cannot succeed unless it focuses on creating the conditions under which teachers can teach and teach well.

For well over 100 years New York City has required prospective teachers to demonstrate competence on a pre-service exam. The Board of Examiners was created in 1898 along with the consolidation of the boroughs into New York City. The first wave of reform began with the passage of the Pendleton Act (1883), the law that created the federal civil service; hiring should be based on merit rather than political connections and hiring practices in the states began to reflect the  national reform movement.

The first wave of education reform in New York City was intended to move from patronage hiring to hiring based upon competence The creation of the Board of Examiners, a quasi-independent board created examinations for teachers and supervisors and promulgated rank-ordered lists. Teachers who received passing grades were appointed to positions in schools pursuant to their grade.  For over seventy years the hiring of teachers was a meritocracy; I remember sitting in the gymnasium at Brooklyn Tech High School for hours poring over questions and writing a series of essays. Months later I was grilled by a panel of examiners, it seems like it took hours, and, eventually a list was posted in the newspaper listing the candidates who passed the exam, with their grade. Yes, a form of public shaming, we survived.

In the 60’s the Board of Examiners became the subject of increasing criticism, with a rising civil rights movement, racial disparities in pass/fail rates challenging the validity of the tests: were the tests actually job-related?

In the 1972 the federal courts ruled the Board of Examiners tests unconstitutional. (Read the Court of Appeals decision here ), the Chancellor at the time supported the decision of the trial court,

In a memorandum to the Board of Education, quoted by Judge Mansfield in his opinion, Chancellor Scribner stated that to defend against plaintiffs’ case,

“… would require that I both violate my own professional beliefs and defend a system of personnel selection and promotion which I no longer believe to be workable.”

From the mid-seventies into the 90’s New York City required a 20-minute interview; eventually New York State instituted a two-exam system: the LAST and the ACT-W, passing rates were above the 90th percentile.

recent study conducted by Hemp Langford of SUNY/Albany and other scholars reviewed teacher quality,

We analyze 25 years of data on the academic ability of teachers in New York State and document that since 1999 the academic ability of both individuals certified and those entering teaching has steadily increased. These gains are widespread and have resulted in a substantial narrowing of the differences in teacher academic ability between high- and low-poverty schools and between White and minority teachers. We interpret these gains as evidence that the status of teaching is improving.

In spite of the findings Commissioner King imposed a series of four examinations (lawyers have one: the Bar Exam)

Unfortunately New York State jumped on the “raise the bar” bandwagon without reviewing teacher quality within the state. At the March 17, 2015 Regents Meeting the acting commissioner, defending the new hyper-testing requirements said,

“I think we all want … to send a very clear message that it should be difficult to enter the profession.”

No. I think the “very clear message” we want to send:  New York State is preparing highly qualified students to enter the profession; “difficult” tests do not assure quality.

The State Ed Department had certainly made it difficult to become a teacher, with no assurances that the hurtles would improve the quality of the workforce.

Prospective teachers in New York State were required to pass four separate examinations: edTPA, the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST), the Educating All Students (EAS) test and a Content Specialty Test (CST) in order to receive their initial teaching certificate.

The edTPA, created by Stanford University and administered and scored by Pearson,

Evidence of a candidate’s ability to teach is drawn from a subject-specific learning segment of 3-5 lessons from a unit of instruction taught to one class of students. Materials assessed as part of the edTPA process include video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, analysis of student learning, and reflective commentaries. Based on the submitted evidence, which is reviewed by trained scorers, faculty and candidates can discuss the impact of candidates’ teaching performance on student learning and determine ways to improve teaching. Faculty can analyze evidence of candidate performance to guide decision-making about program revision. State education agencies may use edTPA scores for licensure and accreditation

The Academic Literacy and Skills Test (ALAST) is a 210-minute, computer-based exam.

[The teacher candidate] reads a complex informational and narrative text and demonstrates command of key ideas and details in the text … makes logical inferences based on textual evidence … delineates and evaluates the argument and specific claims in a text.

The ALST consists of a selected response section and constructed responses, two focused responses and one extended response.

The Educating All Students (EAS) test is a 135-minute, computer-based exam “consisting of selected response items based on scenario-based responses … the competencies include Diverse Student Populations, English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, Teacher Responsibilities and School-Home Relationships.”

The Content Specialty Test (CST) is a series of tests in about fifty different areas, the Multi-Subject Grades 1-6 (Common Branches) is a computer-based test:

Part One: Literacy and English Language Arts, Part Two: 40 selected-response items and a constructed response item in Mathematics: Part Three: 40 selected-response items and one constructed response item in Arts and Sciences, tests can be taken in three separate sections or at one time: 5 hours and 15 minutes.

About ten hours of actual testing time and days and days preparing for and constructing the video segment of the edTPA.

The tests and the test preparation materials cost the student about a thousand dollars.

Is there any evidence that the battery of testing will produce more qualified teachers and better student outcomes? The answer is no.

There is general agreement that the edTPA is valuable and should be integrated into college programs; “clinically-rich” programs incorporate a great deal of actual in-class practice teaching, and, a few colleges, very few, use videos as reflective teaching-learning tools for teacher candidates.

I asked the Director of Field Services in a teacher education program if he saw any relationship between the ALST and EAS exams and teacher quality. His answer, “I’m baffled, top students failed and marginal students passed, it makes no sense to me.”

In New York City just under 40% of new teachers leave within five years and I’m sure the same number accrues in inner city high poverty school districts across the state; teachers leave high poverty schools at much more accelerated rates than teachers in high achieving schools.

A core issue is teacher retention in schools with the lowest academic achievement. No matter the rigor of the preparation, if we don’t retain teachers the process is flawed.

Sadly the rush to “test to teacher excellence” appears to be driving away prospective teachers, enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the state is sharply down. SUNY deans report decreases approaching 40% in teacher preparation programs and more than 20% declines in CUNY schools. (New York City financially supports Teaching Fellows and Men Teach programs)

The folks in charge constantly beat the diversity drums, we should attract a more diverse teaching workforce; however, the failure rates on the ALAST and the EAS are significantly higher among black and Hispanic test takers. Are they “less literate,” or, is the test flawed?  And, how does the test correlate with teacher effectiveness? We have no idea.

Yes, I understand Finland only selects teachers from the top ten percent of applicants, Finland is also a nation with almost no childhood poverty and income equality, within their workforce teachers are well-paid. If we dragged Finnish teachers across the pond and dumped them in Rochester or East New York we would not see magic.

Rather than address the problem, attracting the right candidates, providing high quality teacher preparation programs based on evidence, supporting new teachers over their first few years, we are discouraging new applicants, using “tests” that are unproven, not valid or reliable and ignoring the discouraging exit of new teachers, from both the profession and from high needs schools.

There is hope on the horizon: the Council for the Accreditation Teacher Preparation (CAEP), the national organization that assesses teacher preparation programs requires a 3.0 GPA for admission to programs.

A year ago Regents Cashin and Collins, the co-chairs of the New York State Regents Higher Education Committee began to explore the validity of the exams. Instead of jumping to conclusions, the members held ten forums around the state. Many hundreds of college teachers and students attended the open forums, as well as the commissioner and other state staff. The message was clear, the exams were not culling the “best and the brightest,” the exams were creating barriers as well as chasing away potential teacher educators. The regents formed a task force co-chaired by deputy provost of SUNY and an officer of the state college teacher union (UUP) and made a series of recommendations.

The task force report (See Power Point here) made a series of recommendations, one of which is to eliminate one of the exams, the Academic Literary Skills Test (ALST). The print media, the NY Daily News, the NY Post jumped on the Board and screamed, “you’re ‘dumbing down’ teacher standards.”

Not true.

Teacher preparation programs must meet CAEP standards, including a 3.0 GPA for admission to programs, passing three exams, the edTPA, a process that takes weeks or months, the Educating All Children (EAS) and the Content Specialty test (CST). New York City has a “Teacher Finder” site, all prospective teacher posts resumes available to all principals, schools routinely interview applicants and commonly require a demonstration lesson, and, once appointed teachers serve four years as a probationary teacher.

In spite of all these efforts four of ten new teachers leave within five years.

Instead of bashing the Regents the media should be lauding the Regents.

Former Commissioner King, with the acquiescence of Chancellor Tisch, didn’t raise the bar, they built a wall.

The teacher candidates we met with are spending days in classrooms as student teachers, reading and writing in their graduate courses, studying for the required exams and grappling with creating and commenting on the video required in the edTPA process.

Policy should not simply appear out of the reform-y clouds, edicts announced from the mountaintops rarely impact the folks in the trenches. Regents Cashin and Collins listened to hundreds and hundreds of college teachers and teacher candidates, created a task force to convert the findings of the forums into actual policy. “Participation reduces resistance,” policy should grow from classrooms, from teachers, from students, from parents.

I applaud the actions of the regents, under the collaborative leadership of Chancellor Rosa the Board has created a process to include all of us, yes, there will be conflicts, the process can be slow, and, at times frustrating (Opt Out advocates), building consensus is at the core of our democratic system.

James Madison in Federalist # 10 warned us,

The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice [factions]. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

Madison goes on the praise the republican form of government created in our constitution, “a happy combination … of  the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.”

Decisions, made in a transparent environment,  reflecting the will of the majorities, not the interests of a handful of self-proclaimed elites,, are the best decisions.

The Suspension Conundrum: Do Suspensions Improve Behavior and Academic Outcomes for All Students or, a Pipeline to Dropping Out and Prison?

A few weeks after the election of de Blasio in 2013 I dropped by the transition tent to listen to a panel of community activists talk education. The panel trashed the Department of Education over excessive numbers of student suspensions, for the panelists, evidence that the “school to prison pipeline” was alive and well.

(Read here, here  and here).

The data is clear, students who are suspended in the 4th grade are likely not to graduate high school and the more frequent the suspensions the more likely the student will enter the criminal justice system.

As a reaction school districts have sharply curtailed the numbers of suspensions, especially in urban school systems.

Twenty-seven states have revised their laws to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, and more than 50 of America’s largest school districts, serving more than 6.35 million students, have implemented discipline reforms. From 2011–12 to 2013–14, the number of suspensions nationwide fell by nearly 20%.

Is there a downside to reducing suspensions?

Advocates of discipline reform claim that a suspension may have negative effects on the student being disciplined. Critics are concerned that lax discipline may lead to more disruptive behavior, disrupting classrooms and harming students who want to learn.

A just-released report from the Manhattan Institute (“School Discipline Reform and Disorder: Evidence from New York City Public School, 2012 – 2016 “) takes a deep dive into the suspension and school climate data.

The report concludes,

[School discipline] deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report [note: using school survey data] less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. There was also a significant differential racial impact: nonelementary schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst shift in school climate under the de Blasio reform.

Supporters of the regulations limiting suspensions argue that new approaches, restorative justice and, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports  are in the beginning phases of implementation, it will take a number of years to train school staffs and assess the effectiveness.

What is missing from the debate are the underlying questions:

* Are students actually exhibiting behaviors that are inappropriate in school settings, and, if so, why?

* Is the failure of teachers to address these behaviors the cause of the suspensions? Is the preparation of school leaders/teachers inadequate? Are school leaders/teachers culturally and racially insensitive?

* Do suspensions modify the behavior of the students who are suspended?

* Do suspensions improve the outcomes for the remainder of the students in the classes?

and a core question,

Why do schools with similar populations have such different rates of suspension?  Are we preparing and selecting the “right” school leaders?

I was visiting a middle school in community (in)famous for handgun violence. One school was on the first two floors and another on the top floor. As I walked up the stairs it was sadly clear that the school on the lower floors was out-of-control. The school on the top floor was totally in order. Same kids from the same community, different school leaders with different skill sets and different outcomes.

A campus high school, four schools in a building, had a long history of school suspensions. A since retired head of school safety looked over the data and explained how to construct a school safety grid. We mapped the “precipitating event” and time of the “event” on a map of the school. It was fascinating!!  The “precipitating events” took place in and around the student cafeteria and in the hallways. The hallway events were clustered near classrooms with newer and/or less effective teachers.  More supervision in the cafeteria and more help for targeted teachers led to a more orderly school, at least , for a while.

The key to reducing suspension are the effectiveness of the school leaders and the classroom teachers. Should Lisa Delpit (““The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,”) be a foundational text for every teacher preparation classroom, or, because it is the foundational text, is that the source of poorly prepared teachers?

Will increasing the numbers of black teachers improve outcomes and reduce suspensions of black students? and, if so, why? (Read research findings here)

…there is compelling evidence that when students have a teacher of the same race, they tend to learn more at school (see “The Race Connection,” research, Spring 2004).

Those findings raise a parallel question: Does having a teacher of the same race make it more or less likely that students are subject to exclusionary school discipline?

David Kirkland, A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men (Teachers College Press, 2013)

… argues that educators need to understand the social worlds of African-American males to break the school-to-prison pipeline cycle.  The book asks the education community to listen to the voices of black youth to better understand what it means to be literate in a multicultural, democratic society.

Once again, is the source of the “problem” the failure to properly prepare teachers and school leaders?

If we expect student behavior to improve we must modify our behaviors. Suspension is a last resort, yes, occasionally the “street” does win. Schools reflect the cultures of their communities. The role of a school is to convince students to become “bi-cultural,” to accept that the culture of the street is not acceptable in a school setting. Teachers have argued that a suspension may “straighten out” a kid, and, is a lesson for the other kids: misbehave and you’ll be next to be suspended.  Does zero tolerance or suspensions improve outcomes for the remainder of the class?

The most common place for pickpockets to ply there trade was at the hangings of pickpockets. The area of deterrence theory may be applicable to the question of school discipline “The Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket’s Hanging,”

This study examines the premise that criminals make informed and calculated decisions. The findings suggest that 76% of active criminals and 89% of the most violent criminals either perceive no risk of apprehension or are incognizant of the likely punishments for their crimes.

Studying behaviors of principals in low suspension schools in high suspensions districts is a place to begin. Unfortunately school district leadership usually looks for the quick fix, the “program” that will “fix” the problem. I have no objection to restorative practices or PBIS, I have rarely seen a program that fixes such a deep-seated issue. “Turning off the faucet,” changing the regs to limit suspensions, does not resolve the underlying issue. Harsh and rigid suspension rules do not  appear to impact the suspended student or the remainder of the students.

Some principals and teachers have figured this out, maybe we should find them and listen to them.

Charter Schools, Obamacare and the Airlines: Will the Marketplace or Government-Guided Interventions Create Workable Solutions? Will We Learn from Failures?

Everyday my inbox is filled with anti-Trump diatribes, scholarly anti-Trump essays and calls for rallies and demonstrations; and, each Trump action re-enervates the anger and frustration. The Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House: has our nation made a long term turn to the right? Stephen Skowronek, a presidential historian places the Trump presidency in prospective ,

… certain presidencies are “disjunctive” — straddling a political order passing into history and another one struggling to be born. And “disjunctive” generally means ineffective, because the parties such presidents are leading are likewise trapped between past and future and unable to unify and act.

Skowronek sees an “ineffective” interregnum, not a long term change in the political direction of the nation.

While Trump bashing/praise leads the debate there hasn’t been much discussion over the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats.

A short (and admittedly inadequate) look the growth of economic philosophies,

Adam Smith is the father of economics and modern capitalism, in 1776 wrote “The Wealth of Nations,” an enormously influential book,  Clearly, the book that guided Alexander Hamilton, the first American Secretary of the Treasury.  Smith coined the term “invisible hand,” defined as,

The unobservable market force that helps the demand and supply of goods in a free market to reach equilibrium automatically is the invisible hand.

and Smith further  “explained that an economy will comparatively work and function well if the government will leave people alone to buy and sell freely among themselves. He suggested that if people were allowed to trade freely, self interested traders present in the market would compete with each other, leading markets towards the positive output with the help of an invisible hand.”

For the next hundred and fifty years economists and governments treated Adam Smith as the seer of economics. Yes, depressions might come and go, years of hard times and years of prosperity, the “invisible hand” is eventually self-correcting. Governments had no direct role in the economy except to assure that the marketplace ruled.  As the industrial revolution evolved nations moved from agricultural to industrial economics. Karl Marx and Frederick Engel responded with the Communist Manifesto (1848) and Marx’s Das Kapital (1867) and saw the world quite differently,  “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”

In the twentieth century, with the end of World War 1 and a harsh peace treaty the German economy failed, runway inflation and unemployment; the economic instability crossed the Atlantic and after a seemingly endless run up in the stock market the market crashed in October, 1929. Markets would self-correct, the Adam Smith economic principles would prevail.. FDR was sworn in as president in March 1933, and Roosevelt’s the New Deal, called for vigorous government intervention.

John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), revolutionized the view of the role of government in “managing” an economy.

Keynesian economists often argue that private sector decisions sometimes lead to inefficient macroeconomic outcomes which require active policy responses by the public sector, in particular, monetary policy actions by the central bank and fiscal policy actions by the government, in order to stabilize output over the business cycle. Keynesian economics advocates a mixed economy.

On the other side of the spectrum is Milton Freedman, Capitalism and Freedom (1963) has become the bible for the conservative side. Freedman is the anti-Keynes,

* Friedman argues against the continual government spending justified to “balance the wheel” and help the economy to continue to grow. On the contrary, federal government expenditures make the economy less not more stable.

* Though well-intentioned, many social welfare measures don’t help the poor as much as some think. Friedman focuses on Social Security as a particularly large and unfair system.

* The Keynesian doctrine of “social responsibility”, that corporations should care about the community and not just profit, is highly subversive to the capitalist system and can only lead towards totalitarianism.

 * Government intervention often has an effect opposite of that intended. Most good things in the United States and the world come from the free market, not the government, and they will continue to do so. The government, despite its good intentions, should stay out of areas where it does not need to be.

Democrats, as progressives, in the tradition of FDR are Keynesian, they view the role of government is to “balance the scales,” whether using fiscal and/or monetary policy to steer the economy as well as creating programs to alleviate poverty and provide paths into the middle class. Republicans, as conservatives, in the tradition of Smith and Freedman, see the free market as the most democratic and effective method of government. Business should be allowed to fail, there is no such policy of “too big to fail.”  For Freedman parents should be provided with school vouchers, schools: public, private charter or religious can receive vouchers and the marketplace, not test scores should determine the success or failure of schools.

A conservative argues that decades of anti-poverty programs have failed to alleviate poverty, in fact;  the programs have made a segment of the population generationally dependent  on the programs, He argued every program should require a work component.

I urged him to read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal: For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public,” ,

[]”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled …”]

Currently the Earned Income Tax Credit provides dollars to working families earning below the poverty line, in a way, a reverse income tax. A more radical answer is to forego all “anti-poverty” programs and provide  a guaranteed minimum income to all: What Would Happen If We Just Gave People Money?

Rather than concern itself with managing myriad social welfare and unemployment insurance programs, the government would instead regularly cut a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. This arrangement would provide a path toward a new way of living: If people no longer had to worry about making ends meet, they could pursue the lives they want

 You would think concept of a guaranteed income is a liberal, far left position; however, conservative are also supportive of the concept. (Read Atlantic article here).

In the real world deregulation, the movement to a free market, unregulated marketplace was just argument used to deregulate the airline industry. Free up the airline sector and many small carriers will emerge with more routes to more cities at cheaper fares. The result: the opposite. We now have fewer airlines flying to fewer cities at higher fares. The deregulation of airlines became an example of monopolistic competition.

An example of the free market bubbling up from the bottom are the emergence of Uber, Lyft and Via, challenging the regulated taxi industry.

The claims that replacing the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare with, Trumpcare, will result in a competitive healthcare sector with more competition, more choices and lower rates is highly questionable. ,

Currently the cost of health care in the US is significantly  higher than OECD: will a market-based healthcare system provide wider choice and cheaper prices or is the airline deregulation catastrophe the model?

Will failure be a learning experience? Will conservatives change, or, place blame on the progressives?   Or, although I highly doubt it, the reverse?

We learn from touching the hot pan,  in athletics we learn by guided practice over time, do we learn from failed policies or are we fated to making the wrong choices over and over again and placing blame elsewhere?

The Budget Season: The Governor and the Legislature Work to Craft a Budget Before the April 1 Deadline (with lots of horse-trading)

Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made, Otto Von Bismarck

The first week in January the 213 members of the New York State legislature trekked to Albany for the beginning of the new term: 213 angry members.  Angry because they have not received a raise since 1999 – eighteen years without a raise. While the legislature is a full time job there are no prohibitions on outside employment. Many members are full time others have law or real estate practices; the salary is $78.500 plus per diems for each day in session and additional salary for committee chairmanships. The governor argued for strict limits on outside income and strict ethics reforms, the Republicans opposed income limits and both houses had doubts about the proposed ethics rules. At the last moment the governor walked away from the talks: no raises for the next two years.

Early in the morning on April 1, very early, as the sun rises in the east the legislature will complete passing the budget bills. Under the arcane budget rules the budget bills can contain policies that have nothing to do with the budget. Welcome to what was once called Baghdad on the Hudson were everyone was for sale!

Over the next three weeks legislators time in Albany will increase, lobbyists will huddle with legislators, citizens will descend on Albany to advocate for their causes. Receptions will be held, e-mailboxes will overflow every day with constituent appeals, fax machines will hum all day.

Hanging over the entire process, the elephant in the room is actually down I-95 in DC. How will federal legislation impact the Affordable Care Act (“repeal and replace” for New York State residents)? How will legislation impact Medicaid? New York State may be faced with drastic cuts to healthcare services and/or having to find billions of dollars. The decisions in Washington are months away and the legislature may have to return to Albany later in the year.

With hovering storm cloud the state will hammer out a budget:

A major education issue:

Will the budget fully restore the dollars required to fulfill the CFE lawsuit?

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) in two detailed policy papers, “Too Many Children Still Waiting: Making Quality Early Learning a Top Priority in the 2017 Budget ” and  “Alternative Facts and Historical Fiction: Fact Checking Governor Cuomo on School Aid” explain the funding issues in detail

The Assembly, primarily representing urban areas fully supports the reports referenced above. The Senate, primarily representing suburban and rural areas wants to assure that the areas they represent will retain current funding levels and additional future funding. About two/thirds of education dollars are generated by property taxes, with increases limited to 2% or the inflation rate, whichever is lower. High income districts, high property values equals more dollars for schools, lower income, lower property values, less money for schools. The state formula attempts to equalize funding; however, New York State leads the nation in the disparity of school funding within the state despite the state distributed share.

In budget negotiations everything is linked, in the dim recesses of the Capital agreements will be made, Carl Heastie, John Flanagan and Andrew Cuomo, actually their surrogates, will patch together the agreement,

Folks will be appalled, deals made behind closed doors, they will call for transparency, for sunlight, in my view failing to understand that governments, from 5th BC century Athenian democracy to Albany in 2017 is made up of governments that reflect the governed. When compromise is not possible, when rigid ideology rules, as we find in Washington, the result is gridlock, the absence of legislation; in Albany, in spite progressive democrats and tea party republicans, compromises are achieved.

James Madison, in Federalist Paper # 51 reminds us,

 Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Some in both houses, angry over the failure of the governor to support a salary increases are threatening not to have a timely budget, probably a baseless threat.

Another education issue:

Will the governor support, oppose or ignore bills to create charter school transparency? (Read bill here)

In 2014 the state teacher union made no endorsement for governor and a number of locals endorsed Cuomo’s opponent in the democratic primary. In the next budget cycle the governor was kind to charter schools, increased the probationary period for teachers and verbally assaulted teachers and their union, The union (NYSUT) responded with TV commercials, the governor’s favorability rating slumped.  In December, 2015, after months of quiet diplomacy a Cuomo-appointed task force report included a moratorium on the use of test scores to assess teachers. (Read the report with the twenty recommendations here)

Some teachers ask me: how can you “trust” Cuomo?

Cuomo is the governor, and will undoubted be better for education and teachers than a Republican governor.

Trust is not the issue: sometimes interests align, sometimes they don’t. Coalitions are formed around an issue and fade away afterwards. I file grievances against my superintendent and work with him to seek funding for a project. We agree to disagree.

In 2009 the UFT, the New York City teacher union “went to war” with Mayor Bloomberg, knowing that no contract would be negotiated for at least four years, and also knowing that the mayor was term-limited and the City Council was on the union side. The mayor left office tarnished, it was a fight he should have avoided.  “Going to war” with Cuomo is another story, there are no term limits in Albany, and, the governor has extraordinary powers.

For the past year or so the governor has been silent on education, the Cuomo Commission report aligns with policies supported by teachers and  their union, and, the 2016 budget contained considerable education dollars.

As the clock ticks down towards April 1 the governor’s Excelsior Scholarship plan, free tuition in CUNY and SUNY for full time students whose parent earn less than $125,000, will be vigorously debated (See an argument here).

After an Easter-Passover  recess the legislature will return to Albany, two day a week sessions escalating to five days a week before the mid-June adjournment.

Tuesday is Lobby Day for the UFT, under a long-established agreement a union member for each school is released to travel to Albany to lobby for the issue of the day – this year: full implementation of the CTE funding decision.

Back in the day I always took kids on the bus to Albany. I assigned them the task of researching the issue, practice making a presentation, and, the kids led the discussion with the electeds. At the end of each term I handed out a brief student survey (“What did you like best about the class? Why? What did you like least? Why? What could I do differently? Quick! What one thing do remember about the class? Why?)  Kids remembered the trip to Albany and their presentation. (“It made me feel important … like I was making a difference.”)

Colleagues warned me, you get in trouble allowing the kids to make presentation. I thought, can you get in trouble teaching kids to think?

It didn’t work too well for the first teacher “brought up on charges, ” a while ago, 399 BC, Socrates got in trouble,

“Socrates is guilty of crime in refusing to recognize the gods acknowledged by the state, and importing strange divinities of his own; he is further guilty of corrupting the young.”

The penalty; death.

Teacher discipline rules were tough way back in Athens.

According to Churchill, we’ve come a long way,

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

Why a New York State Constitutional Convention is a VERY BAD idea and Must Be Defeated at the Polls in November

On November 7th 2017 there will be a simple question, with significant consequences on the ballot across the State of New York: Shall there be a convention to reise the constitution and amend the same?”

The constitution is a lengthy, a very lengthy document that is constitution, a bill of rights and by-laws rolled into one. It was written “on the fly” during the Revolutionary War; the framers, John Jay, Governneur Morris and Robert Livingston were iconic leaders of our nation; Jay was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.  For two years they fled from city to city avoiding British troops writing our state constitution. (Read about the history of the New York State Constitution here)

The constitution underwent numerous additions over the years.

President Grant, whose reputation has recently been restored, made several speeches on the importance of the separation of church and state and the duty of the states to provide free public education. James G. Blaine, the Speaker of the House and a presidential aspirant proposed a constitutional amendment, that passed in the House, not the Senate, referred to as the Blaine Amendment,

“No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefore, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.”

In 1894 New York State, in a constitutional convention, added the Blaine Amendment to the New York Constitution. The last constitutional convention, in 1967, proposed deleting the Blaine Amendment from the constitution, the change would have allowed the state to fund religious schools. The electorate defeated all the proposed changes.

You can read the entire NYS Constitution here.

If the question is approved elections would take place in the 63 Senate Districts,  three delegates per district and fifteen delegates state-wide. Each legislative body draws its own district lines, the democratic lines in the Assembly result in a 2/3 democratic majority, the Senate is almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Under the Supreme Court decisions, Citizens’ United, there can be no limit on the funding of elections. Is it possible that hedge funds, or the Koch Brothers or friends of the Donald  would pour tens of million into the state to elect delegates favorable to their positions and additional millions the following year to influence the electorate? If you don’t,  I have a bridge for you to buy …

In 1936, at the height of the popularity of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a huge election sweep by FDR the electorate also voted to convene a constitutional convention. The progressive delegates made numerous additions to the constitution that were approved by voters,

One of which protected public employee pensions,

 After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.

The constitution already provided for public schools,

The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.

Clearly prohibited the public support of schools “under the control or direction of any religious denomination.”

 Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof, shall use its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection, of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination, or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught, but the legislature may provide for the transportation of children to and from any school or institution of learning

The 1938 changes require “aid, care and support of the needy,”

 The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine. (New. Adopted by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938.)

The same New Deal philosophy also required the “protection and promotion of health,”

 The protection and promotion of the health of the inhabitants of the state are matters of public concern and provision therefore shall be made by the state and by such of its subdivisions and in such manner, and by such means as the legislature shall from time to time determine. (New. Adopted by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938.)

The constitution contained an equal protection section,

No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws of this state or any subdivision thereof. No person shall, because of race, color, creed or religion, be subjected to any discrimination in his or her civil rights by any other person or by any firm, corporation, or institution, or by the state or any agency or subdivision of the state. (New. Adopted by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938; amended by vote of the people November 6, 2001.)

Rather than a “right to work” law the New York State Constitution contains a “right to organize and to bargain” section,

Employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. (New. Adopted by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938; amended by vote of the people November 6, 2001.)

While states around the nation are restricting the right to vote through voter ID laws New York State embedded in the constitution fair voting requirements,

All elections by the citizens, except for such town officers as may by law be directed to be otherwise chosen, shall be by ballot, or by such other method as may be prescribed by law, provided that secrecy in voting be preserved. The legislature shall provide for identification of voters through their signatures in all cases where personal registration is required and shall also provide for the signatures, at the time of voting, of all persons voting in person by ballot or voting machine, whether or not they have registered in person, save only in cases of illiteracy or physical disability. (Formerly §5. Renumbered and amended by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938.)

The voters amended the constitution in 1965 and added a strong section advocating for “low rent housing,”

 Subject to the provisions of this article, the legislature may provide in such manner, by such means and upon such terms and conditions as it may prescribe for low rent housing and nursing home accommodations for persons of low income as defined by law, or for the clearance, replanning, reconstruction and rehabilitation of substandard and insanitary areas, or for both such purposes, and for recreational and other facilities incidental or appurtenant thereto. (Amended by vote of the people November 2, 1965.)

The free exercise of religion calls for the “free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession … shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind,”

The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind; and no person shall be rendered incompetent to be a witness on account of his or her opinions on matters of religious belief; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this state. (Amended by vote of the people November 6, 2001.)

In this climate it is quite important that the constitution supports the rights to “speak freely, write and publish” and states “no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or the press,”

 Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press. In all criminal prosecutions or indictments for libels, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury; and if it shall appear to the jury that the matter charged as libelous is true, and was published with good motives and for justifiable ends, the party shall be acquitted; and the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the fact. (Amended by vote of the people November 6, 2001.)

Every twentieth year we have the opportunity to convene a constitutional convention. At this time in history a convention could would endanger the rights described above. Every day another attack on free speech, on the press, a proposed erosion on the rights that generations of our forebears have sacrificed to retain, we should expend every iota of our energy to defeat the required and dangerous constitutional convention ballot question.

The constitution requires,

At the general election to be held in the year nineteen hundred fifty-seven, and every twentieth year thereafter, and also at such times as the legislature may by law provide, the question “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” shall be submitted to and decided by the electors of the state; and in case a majority of the electors voting thereon shall decide in favor of a convention for such purpose, the electors of every senate district of the state, as then organized, shall elect three delegates at the next ensuing general election, and the electors of the state voting at the same election shall elect fifteen delegates-at-large

We haven’t even talked about the cost of a convention, 25, 50 million or more, and, the supporters of the current constitution wasting their dollars that could be used to fight Trump in 2018 and 2020.

Currently there is a change to the constitution that is making its way through the usual process – approval by both houses of the legislature and by two successive votes by voters in November. The Silver-Skelos amendment would deprive elected officials of public employee pensions if convicted of serious crimes.

The November elections are an “off-year,” there are no major contests on the ballot, except in New York City; the fifty-one members of the Council and three city-wide offices, Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate will be on the ballot. The problem; the real action is in the September primaries, and, unless a Republican with very deep pockets emerges the November turnout in New York City will also be low.

In elections with meager turnouts the best organized candidates win. A constitutional convention will be favored by the “good government” groups, and, what are call “astro-turf” organizations, organizations that look like responsible organizations but in reality have another agenda. For example, a group could argue that at a constitutional convention a women’s right to choose, a pro-abortion section could be added to the constitution, in reality, once the convention convenes the delegates have total free rein.

We must remember, state constitutions and state laws cannot take precedence over the federal constitution and federal laws. the Supremacy clause of the Constitution.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing [sic] in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

For example, federal bankruptcy laws take precedence over state constitutional public employee pension guarantees ; when Detroit declared bankruptcy the public employees unions were forced to negotiate pension reductions, the federal courts invoked the supremacy clause.

These are perilous times, the Affordable Care Act  replacement, if it passes as proposed would force states to either sharply reduce health coverage or absorb the costs. A National Right to Work Law will be proposed and I believe Trump adviser Steve Bannon is working on a strategy to repeal the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution.

The battles ahead are many, the threat of a constitutional convention is a needless distraction, lets make sure it does not happen.