Tag Archives: James Madison

What is the HEROES Bill?  How would it impact schools? Why hasn’t the bill passed in the Senate? [A Civics Lesson]

In May the Democratic-majority in the House of Representatives passed the HEROES bill, a $3 trillion (yes, a 3 with twelve zeros), a bill that included funding for schools and local and state governments

See a summary of the HEROES bill here.

See how the bill impacts New York State here and how bill impacts state and local government here.

Why did the bill originate in the House of Representatives?

Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution requires,

 “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.”

The bill was sharply criticized by Republicans and the President and the Republican-controlled majority in the Senate took no action,

 President Trump sought to draw a hard line on the coronavirus relief bill saying it must include a payroll tax cut and liability protections for businesses, as legislators prepared to plunge into negotiation over unemployment benefits and other key provisions in upcoming days.”

 Why is there so much antagonism? So much partisanship? Why can’t Republicans and Democrats simply sit down and iron out there differences?

Our political system is based on factions, is based on a conflict of ideas, and the Constitution established two houses in the Congress, a President and a Judiciary, the three branches of government must come together to set policy, to make laws.

In September of 1787 the 54 members of the Constitutional Convention after five months of contentious debate agreed upon our constitution; a compromise between free and slave-holding states, large and small states and among geographic regions. The constitution contained ratification procedures, nine of the thirteen embryonic states had to approve the constitution.

Madison and Hamilton wrote eight-five essays, today we’d call them opinion pieces, op-eds, and, they were published in newspapers across the soon to be states, we call the essays The Federalist Papers.

Federalist # 10 could have been written last week, last year, a decade ago or a century ago,

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

 The words of Madison could just as well appear on today’s NY Times op ed page, “… more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good;” our forbearers created a system that was crafted to prevent a tyrant or a tyrannical group from seizing control of our government,

While the House passed the HEROES bill the Senate took no action; the rules of the Senate require a two-thirds vote (60 members to close debate and bring a bill to a vote: cloture.

Is it the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close?” And if that question shall be decided in the affirmative by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn. (Rules of the Senate)

The “mutual animosities” are not only between Republicans and Democrats; there are animosities among Republicans and between the President and the Senate Republicans.

Hovering over the entire process is an economy tittering on an economic abyss and an election on November 3rd, the presidency, one-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives.

Once again our founding fathers were prescient, Madison wrote, “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property, has anything changed?

The lobbyists representing every conceivable industry, representing teacher unions, transit systems, the post office, the list is endless. The following is a section of a letter calling for aid to schools, who do think wrote it?

K – 12 Schools: A safe-reopening will require numerous operational modifications for schools, including health screening, testing, contact tracing, enhanced cleaning, and physical modifications. Schools did so substantial that teachers are receiving layoff notices even though social distancing guidelines would indicate that more teachers are needed in the school building, not fewer. Not only will this immediately impact reopening plans, but it can also affect learning over the long-term. As we learned from the Great Recession not budget for these expenses. At the same time, local education agencies face significant budget shortfalls as a result of the economic downturn. Some local deficits have been, it took years for education budgets to recover. It was not until the 2015-16 school year that per-pupil education spending returned to the 2008-09 level.

 Teacher unions?  School Boards?

How about the Chamber of Commerce!!  The organization representing businesses across the nation,

Read entire letter here.  Politics makes for strange bedfellows (and visa versa, that’s for another discussion)

The Democrats want to hold the line on their core issues in the bill, the Republicans have to satisfy their own members and the President.

Republicans and Democrats are musing: if a bill isn’t passed what will be fall-out? Who will the voters blame in November?  If we don’t pass a bill could the entire economy crash?

Federalists # 10 avers, The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government; we are watching the “ordinary operations of government,” the wheeling and dealing that used to go in the cloakrooms now is spun out across Twitter; each faction seeking an advantage, seeking to win over or tarnish this senator or house member.

Yale historian Joanne Freeman, in “Field of Blood,” writes,

“Between 1830 and 1860 …there were more than 70 violent incidents between congressmen in the House and Senate chambers or on nearby streets and dueling grounds, most of them long forgotten.” The wrong word could easily lead to a duel. See which words, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8XdN0MYBUI

Maybe we’re a bit more civilized than our predecessors, or, maybe not …

Albany. Teacher Evaluation, Cuomo. Seeming Chaos and the Heritage of James Madison

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

Thousands upon thousands of emails, texts, tweets; hundreds of visits, scores of demonstrations and rallies all challenging decisions of the governor. Millions of dollars funneled into the governor’s campaign, each day the tension builds towards decisions on teacher evaluation, tenure, “receivership’ and school aid.

It all seems chaotic and confusing, and James Madison would be smiling.

The “chaos” in Albany is the essence of democracy, the rough and tumble of politics was described by Madison as “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” exactly how decisions should be made. Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

… the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. 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 (Federalist # 51, 2/6/1788)

Yes, men are not angels.

The Democratic controlled Assembly, the Republican controlled Senate and the governor are jousting. The “public” casting arrows at the governor, the governor defending, deals offered, rejected, with a ticking clock.

Carl Heastie, the newly elected Speaker of Assembly meets with his members before and/or after each session, called “conference.” The speaker takes the “temperature of his members.” Under his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, the conference was pro forma, Silver ruled with an iron fist, any disloyalty. or perceived disloyalty was treated with retribution. Heastie, on the other hand, has been open to his members. The dumping of two long time incumbent regents and the election of four new regents clearly was the will of local members of the Assembly.

At the Monday conference a proposed teacher evaluation plan, referred to as a “matrix” was discussed and looked upon with suspicion by the members. On Tuesday a new plan, a six member committee, two each appointed by the governor, the Assembly and the Senate, and reporting back by June 1st, all state aid would be held up until the committee reports. Thursday a plan to turn the creation of a new teacher evaluation plan over to the Regents.

And probably new “concepts” coming fast and furious as we move toward the March 31 end of the fiscal year.

State aid could be held hostage until teacher evaluation is resolved. As the governor’s popularity rating continues to tank the legislators are more emboldened.

Perhaps members will have an opportunity to run home Sunday, do laundry and run back for the Monday through Aril 1 almost round the clock sessions.

If the factions cannot reach a budget by April 1 the governor can take the nuclear option, issue “emergency budget extenders” and force through his budget. See the background on the extender option here
and the current Cuomo “threats” here.

The extender option would be declaring war on the legislature and with a falling popularity rating the extender option, if popular with the public could revive his reputation or sink him to the depths.

I am asked “Aren’t the Republicans on the governor’s side?” Yes, the Republicans support charter schools, as long as they’re not in their districts; however the Republicans need the Democrats on the issue of “ethics,” a rather obtuse term. The key factor is a limitation on outside income, Many in the Republican leadership retain high-paying jobs as lawyers, and some may have “Shelly Silver ” problems. The Republicans need the Democrats to avoid being squeezed by the governor.

All sides need an artfully crafted solution that will allow everyone to claim “victory.” The Governor, the Assembly, the Senate, the teacher union and the public, all must appear to have saved face and come away with a piece of the pie.

It is rare to be able to claim victory while holding the still warm heart of your enemy over your head, although when Shelly Silver was led away in handcuffs it was the gratifying equivalent.

I was arguing a grievance before an arbitrator, while I knew I was right the Department was arguing the grievance was untimely, they would agree they were wrong, they would not agree to back pay.

A light bulb flashed! I convinced the arbitrator, and eventually the Department to put days into the grievant’s absent teacher reserve that equaled the value of the lost salary. The Department didn’t have to write a check and the grievant received a remedy that probably exceeded the actual back pay. A win-win.

Can the contending sides craft a “win-win”?

For Madison the essence of government: 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.

Ultimately the labyrinth that are the halls of Albany will be mastered by the people. That is the magnificent beauty that our founding father left to us to cherish and defend.

Civics 101: Using The Struggle Over the Reauthorization of NCLB/ESEA as a Teaching Tool

On January 21st the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the long-delayed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, The committee chair, Lamar Alexander is hopeful that the process will actually produce a reauthorized law,

“During the last six years, this committee has held 24 hearings and reported two bills to the Senate floor to fix the law’s problems. We should be able to finish our work within the first few weeks of 2015 so the full Senate can act.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the outcome, the hearing is only one step in the long path from idea to bill to law.

A refresher minicourse: just in case you were daydreaming on that day that your teacher taught “how a bill becomes a law.”

The 435-member House of Representatives and the 100-member Senate must pass the same bill and the bill becomes a law when signed by the president. If the president vetoes a bill both houses must override the veto with a 2/3 vote in each house.

If the houses pass different bills, which is commonplace, a conference committee made up of members of both houses attempts to reconcile the bills, if they are able to agree on a single bill both houses must pass the reconciled bill and send along to the President for signature.

Republicans control both houses which allow them to set the agendas; they control the time frame of hearings and the text of any bill. Due to the procedural rules of the Senate a bill requires 60 votes to come to the floor for discussion and an eventual vote. On the Senate side any bill must be bipartisan enough to gain sufficient Democratic votes to reach the 60 vote threshold and the party members do not necessarily vote as a bloc. The required 60 votes, or the negative 41 votes, can contain members of both parties who, for totally different reasons support or object to the bill, or to some part of the bill.

Sometime later in the session the House committee will begin discussions. The Republicans have the largest majority since the end of World War 2 and can pass any bill they choose to pass; however, there are 30-40 members on the extreme right who may not agree with the mainstream Republicans. The Republican leadership will not bring a bill to the floor for a vote unless the bill has sufficient Republican votes, the Republican leadership would not look across the aisle for Democratic votes, to do so would alienate the right wing of the party.

If the House and the Senate pass reconciled bills and pass along to the President, he can veto the bill, in effect killing the bill. It is extremely difficult to override a presidential veto. The repercussions of a veto could impact well beyond the issue, if the bill was a bipartisan bill, vetoing the bill could alienate Democrats in the Senate, who the President needs to pass, or, to block passage of other legislation.

If all goes smoothly, which is unlikely, a bill could be on the President’s desk for signature within a few months. If the process leaks into the fall it will get caught up in the 2016 presidential primary season and may fall by the wayside. A number of senators, on both sides of the aisle are flirting with a presidential run and the reauthorization bill could easily get caught up in the primary politics. Party primaries attract core voters, on the Republican side, the Tea Party, the anti-government voters; on the Democratic side the most progressive wing. Republican candidates may choose to run on an “abolish the entire Department of Education” platform while a Democratic candidate might run on a “protect the civil rights of students at risk” platform, meaning no bill would emerge.

James Madison, in Federalist # 51 eloquently portrayed the roles of the branches of government,

To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. .

… it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. 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.

The 387-page discussion draft of the bill begins the political process in the Senate.

Alexander announced the committee’s first hearing this year on No Child Left Behind, and said he would hold additional hearings after conferring with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) He also announced beginning this week bipartisan meetings in the Senate education committee to discuss the chairman’s discussion draft, consider changes and improvements, identify areas of agreement, and discuss options to proceed.

The first hearing included two classroom teachers from New York City, an elementary school teacher who led a grassroots campaign against standardized testing (“Teachers of Conscience”) and a high school teacher from a school that uses a state-approved portfolio/roundtable exam waiver from the state as well as beginning a union contract approved peer review initiative. (Watch hearing here)

The American Federation of Teachers position supports a nuanced position on the use of tests,

We are calling on Congress to end the use of annual tests for high-stakes consequences. Let’s instead use annual assessments to give parents and teachers the information they need to help students grow, while providing the federal government with information to direct resources to the schools and districts that need extra support.

We’re calling for a robust accountability system that uses multiple measures—which could include factors like whether students have access to art, music and physical education, and whether they have support from specialists like school librarians, nurses and counselors. Such a system should allow for ideas like portfolios rather than bubble tests. We recommend a limited use of testing to measure progress—including what to do if there isn’t progress—through grade-span testing. That means instead of annual high-stakes tests, we’d have tests once between third and fifth grades, once between sixth and eighth grades, and once in high school.

Other groups will advocate for a range of approaches, John King, the former NYS Commissioner will be roaming the halls of Congress supporting the core principles of the Duncan waiver system and the continuation of annual testing that can be used for high stakes decision-making. Others will call for the elimination of any required testing leaving all decisions to the states, and, some will call for the prohibition of the Common Core and a few will call for the disbanding of the Department of Education.

Wade Henderson, who leads a civil rights organization, is wary of eliminating annual testing,

Stepping too far back from testing requirements could strand poor and minority students, said Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The bill, as a general matter, bends over backward to accommodate the interests of state and local government entities that have both failed our children and avoided any real accountability for their failures,” he said. “Congress must not pass any … bill that erodes the federal government’s power to enforce civil rights in education.”

Elizabeth Warren, although a liberal Democrat, also questions granting states wider powers over spending federal dollars,

“All a state would have to do to get federal dollars is submit a plan with a lot of promises,” with no guarantee of a follow through, she said. “If the only principle is the states should be able to do whatever they want, then they could raise their own tax dollars to pay for it.”

Republican chair Alexander entered a letter in the record from Carol Burris, a Long Island principal who is a sharp critic of high stakes testing, Burris wrote,

“The unintended, negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high-stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well,”

The Senate side has always be collegial, up to a point; the rules require cobbling together 60 votes, Republicans need Democrats.

It is likely that a bill will reach the floor with commitments for sixty votes.

In the House minority Democrats have no clout; House procedures allow the majority party to set the rules. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is holding its first organizational meeting on January 21st; there are over 200 bills that are sitting in the subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education that were introduced in the last session, the vast majority will die in committee.

James Madison captures the essence, the soul of our governmental process, “… 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.”

The internal conflicts within the individual houses, the conflicts between the houses and the ultimate power of the executive, to quote Madison are a “reflection on human nature.” Legislators are bipartisan when it is in their self-interest, and, for the last few years legislators have resisted “coming together,” ideology is trumping pragmatism.

The passage of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, NCLB) would be the crowning achievement of Alexander’s career.

I am optimistic.