Stand at the May Day 2012
celebration. All photos are from that event.
The first question that must be dealt with is "Are Governor
budget policies driven by financial neccesity?" Let's look first at how
the Republican Party in general handles budgetary questions.
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Chairman of the House Budget
that in order for the country to survive the financial pressures of
trying to preserve the social programs of the New Deal and Great
Society, i.e., Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the government
must now engage in cutting back expenditures. Interestingly, the title
to his talk with Steven Forbes is "U.S. Needs Prosperoty, Not
Austerity." But as the liberal Keynesian Center for Economic and Policy
Research (CEPR) points
out, "austerity – deficit reduction via decreased government
spending -- is exactly what Ryan’s budget calls for."
The ostensible theory behind the budget cutting that Paul Ryan endorses, as well as Britain's budgetary polcies of the last several years, are based on Paul Krugman's theory of what he calles the "bond vigilantes," (Along with the related theory of the "confidence fairy") and well, that particular problem of bond vigilantes punishing governments by spiking up their borrowing costs as revenge for liberal, pro-citizen economic policies, seems never to have ever actually happened in the real world. In short, Ryan is very, very deeply concerned about what's actually an imaginary problem. The real problem is that solving this imaginary problem has serious and very real consequences in the real world. The Center for American Progress estimates that if Ryan's proposals were made law, 22 million people would seriously suffer. In contrast, Keynesian assumptions as to how the stimulus of February 2009 would work have been largely vindicated.
question that, as a direct result of Republican-initiated austerity
policies (policies that President Obama has unfortunately agreed to),
states in general are under a lot of financial
Over the last two years, the private sector has added 4 million jobs while the public sector has lost more than 500,000. That shrinkage of the public sector has been the biggest economic problems we've faced during that time. The problem is that state and local governments have faced a funding shortfall thanks to declining revenue, and because the stimulus—and subsequent jobs legislation—didn't do enough to help them bridge the gap, they were forced to shrink.
Some right-wingers have suggested to me that there's some meaningful
distinction between public and private employees as far as the economy
is concerned. This assertion never made any sense to me as both types
of employees get paid using the same currency, the children that
receive their dinners and new dresses and toy trucks neither know nor
care about whether their father or mother is a public or private
employee and both types of employees invest in 401(k)s and pay out
mortgages. So I'm not really sure where the distinction lies.
Speech by Eileen Duffy I
As to how our particular state is dealing with the problem of austerity, as of March of last year, Pennsylvania had to fill a shortfall of $4 billion. Unlike the federal government, states can't deliberately engage in deficit spending and have to find ways to make up shortfalls. The Philadelphia Inquirer details proposed drastic and painful cuts to education in the state.
Payments to cyber and charter schools do not take into account the actual cost of educating the child, leading to overpayments. Closer oversight and payment reforms could save ... $175 million that could be directed to traditional public schools.
According to CLEAR, closing just three sets of tax loopholes could save over $1 billion, a full quarter of the shortfall. Their bottom line is that Pennsylvania could save $2.37 billion using their recommendations. The Morning Call of Lehigh Valley recommends scrapping the "voter identification law (aka voter suppression act)" for a savings of $11 million. They also point out that making "charter schools fiscally accountable" could save $110 million.
Speech II & III
A personal note on how the Republican Party deals withbudget matters
is that I was a junior in college in Washington DC
during Ronald Reagan's first year as President. I paid some attention
to politics and was fully aware long before 1981 was even half over
that budget deficits were, as an editorial writer at the time put it "a
stick to beat Democrats with." The fact that Republicans couldn't
possibly have cared less abou deficits was made
explicit by David Stockman in his 1986 book "The Triumph of
Politics," but I had already concluded the same thing many years
before, through my own observations of how the Reagan Administration
simply shoveling money as fast as possible into weapons building, even
into stuff as
expensive as Star Wars/SDI/Missile Defense and even though
the Soviet Union was already
showing signs of severe and debilitating weakness when Reagan first
So yes, Pennsylvania is facing enormous financial challenges, but
citizens of of this state should be very highly skeptical of
the assertion that Governor Corbett is taking an honest approach to the
state budget. There is a very strong argument that Corbett is using the
$4 billion state budget deficit as a boogeyman in order to carry out a
political agenda, that the sad state of state finances today is merely
ostensible excuse for hacking away at budgets that make an enormous
positive difference to the lives of ordinary people. This is not to
accuse just Governor Corbett,
this is to point out that the Republican Party as a whole has been
using this tactic for over 30 years at this point.
To explain how the budget fight is being used to hack away at the
schools and especially at teacher's unions, here's a video by Brian Jones,
where he explains it to a classroom. Jonathan Kozol also did a very
good book on schols and budgets and politics called Savage
Inequalities. The labor movement is concerned
about the attack on state education budgets because, as Tom Cronin
explained to me in an interview, the Pennsylvania
Association is one of the largest unions in the
state and an attack on one union is an attack on all of them. Tom also
recommended a piece by Noam Chomsky that examines the
defunding of education.
Helen Gym, a
three children in Philadelphia schools, sees
"rightsizing" and "streamlining." Disaster Capitalsim and the "Shock
Doctrine" are terms used by the reporter Naomi Klein to describe a
method of forcing through political changes that would otherwise be
unacceptable. Young Philly Politics agrees
that the changes proposed to state edcation budgets are driven by the
desire to impose Disaster Capitalism upon Philadelphia students and
parents and teachers and school staff because the alleged savings tha
should theoretically come from the proposed reorganization only amount
to a tiy proportion of the alleged hole. That makes no sense if the
problem is a bad budget, but makes complete sense if the budget is
simply an excuse to impose unpopular solutions. Primarily, Helen Gym
notes that the charter schools that are
highly profitable to cronies of the Governor are really no better than
the profit-less public schools they replaced. Edison
promised that privately-run schools would quickly outperform public
schools. Their contract with Philadelphia was canceled because they
failed to show any such thing.
Speech IV & V
Why would that be? Was the Edison School Corporation incompetent? I don't believe so. I believe instead that schools are so heavily labor-intensive that introducing market capitalism to schools makes a trivial difference to how much learning students get done. Adding a new device to an automobile can make an enormous difference to its profitablity. But going from movies shown on film projectors to movies shown via computers makes a trivial difference when imparting information to students. As nice as the change is for teachers, it doesn't make a meaningfully significant impact on the knowledge gained by the students. In education, capital investment matters, but one hits a ceiling very quickly. What counts for students is having a modest class size and clean, dry, relatively quiet surroundings and up-to-date books and other study materials. Spending money beyond that doesn't hurt, but one very quickly reaches a point of diminishing marginal returns on ones investment. The City Paper makes the extensive and detailed case that while charter schools are enormously profitable to their owners, they've produced an unimpressively mediocre record of actually serving the public and educating children effectively.
The right-wing Heritage Foundation made what
they believed was the devastating critique that
This education spending spree [$110
billion by the Obama Administration alone] has failed to improve
outcomes for students over the past four-and-a-half decades. But
increasing spending—and increasing the number of education employees—is
popular with the unions, which may explain why we’ve seen a hiring boom
over the last several decades. And now, reality is setting in, and many
districts are having to make cuts.
But are more education employees just popular with unions or do
those extra workers serve a legitimate purpose in the lives and
educations of our young people? Might they serve purposes that have
nothing to do with scores? The City Paper tells us that
Referrals for insurance assistance and family planning, in particular, often fall to nurses. One nurse said a girl recently walked into her office 24 weeks pregnant, having received no prenatal care until the nurse finally referred her. Another nurse, at a high school where one in four female students is pregnant or parenting, said it doesn't help that sex education is virtually nonexistent; girls often confuse cramps with stomach aches, and don't understand the workings of the reproductive system.
Non-teaching education workers serve functions that were unknown 45
years ago because Americans have identified more needs for schools to
serve. Unions obviously benefit from having more workers on the job,
but Eileen Duffy, a school nurse from the Occupy
Nurses who leads a weekly protest outside
School Board (4:00-5:00pm on Wednesdays) tells us that school nurses
have taken a very serious hit in the school budget (Philadelphia used
to have 300 nurses on staff, there are now 160). A nurse is quoted as
"It's a time bomb," one said, describing distribution of medication by nonmedical professionals, the increase in 911 calls from schools, the out-of-whack diabetics, and the compounding crises of Medicaid cutbacks, parents' loss of employer insurance and the reduction in school nurses.
Duffy herself says that:
she could be liable for incidents that occur when she's away, since she was tasked with creating an action plan for care in her absence.
It happens all the time: An asthmatic kid, for example, gets into a fight or has a panic attack and asks for his inhaler — the opposite of what he should have, since it will only accelerate his heart rate further. "A nurse would know that," one said.
Duffy noted to me in an interview that there are many needs that school nurses are dealing with today that simply weren't recognized as needs a few decades ago. Nurses are dealing with "Recent immigrant populations, poverty barriere, language barriers, possible post traumatic stress (from war torn areas) and cultural barriers- in terms of willingness to seek counseling, etc."
The austerity policies that Pennsylvania is currently pursuing stem
from the austerity policies that nationally, the Republican Party
(With, unfortunately, the occasional assistance of Blue Dog Democrats
and the Obama Administration) is pursuing. But even within the
parameters set by Washington DC, it's far from clear that
Pennsylvania's Governor Corbett is pursuing policies that help regular
citizens. It appears instead that he's helping his wealthy cronies at
the expense of PA citizens.