Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For-profit colleges face a day of reckoning

The for-profit college industry is in full-on damage control mode. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, led by Tom Harkin, has been in hot pursuit. After a GAO report on extremely high loan default rates, some damning hearings this Summer, another GAO report on deceptive recruitment techniques, one more blow will land this morning (September 30.)

That's because at 10 AM, the HELP Committee will hold another hearing that is sure to provide new insight into an industry that has been shrouded in mystery. The HELP committee's request for data from for-profit colleges will provide the most complete picture we've ever had of the industry. A counselor from Art Institute of Pittsburgh (owned by Education Management Corporation, also owner of Art Institutes International Minnesota) will detail how she was instructed to fake job placement figures. The more that Harkin digs, the more he finds. And the longer the spotlight is focused on for-profit college practices, the more witnesses will come forward.

This is why the for-profit college industry is hiring the best lobbyists and lawyers, and working hard to curry favor with Democrats currently in charge and Republicans who would be in positions of power should one or both houses of Congress fall to Republicans. Sen. Mike Enzi, ranking Republican on the HELP committee, doesn't require much persuasion. He's already their apologist. But on the House side, probably a more likely place for a change in power, the for-profit college industry's got their man in the form of Rep. John Kline. He's signed several letters in support of the industry sent to Education Secretary Arne Duncan this Spring and Summer. Campaign contributions totalling $4500 from Westwood College and Career Education Corporation (owner of Brown College) followed in a two day period in April. Kline would be a great friend for the for profit college industry to keep. As ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, he'll be in a position to protect their interests if Republicans take control of the House.

But back to the hearing this morning. While you're waiting for the new data to come out, here's some loan default data to think about over your coffee.

There are several ways that the federal government measures loan default rates for federally guaranteed loans. The most commonly reported figure is what is called the "cohort default rate" which measures the percentage of people who go into default within two years of entering repayment status. Another measure is the "budget default rate," which measures the percentage of dollars that will go into default over the 20 year life of a loan. And here's where it gets pretty shocking.

The federal government, for budgetary purposes, projects that 47% of dollars lent to for-profit college students in 2007 will go into default during the 20 year life of the loan. That doesn't mean that 47% will go unpaid; student loan debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and the federal government has the power to garnish income tax refunds until the loan is repaid. But each defaulted dollar is a mark on a borrower, a mark of pain, a black mark on a credit report. In short, it's a cruel hoax perpetrated against those who went to school for their betterment.

Last year, the Department of Education started an experimental "three year cohort default rate" (.xls file) which measures the percentage of loans that go into default within three years of entering repayment status. Minnesota's largest for-profit colleges have impressively high rates of default using this measure.

Minnesota School of Business 12.0%
Rasmussen College (divided by campus)
- Eagan 16.7%
- Eden Prairie 18.7%
- Mankato 16.2%
- St. Cloud 17.5%
Brown College 14.9%
Art Institutes International - Minnesota 10.0%
Everest Institute 31.8% (includes Cross Lanes, WV)
National American University 15.7% (all campuses nationwide)
Globe University 12.3%
High Tech Institute 22.0% (Branch of Phoenix, AZ Anthem College)
Argosy University 5.3% (All campuses, based in Chicago, IL)
University of Phoenix 15.9% (all campuses combined)
Thanks to Senator Harkin's doggedness, we will soon have an even more complete picture. Tune into the hearing this morning - it sounds like it could be a doozy. And keep in mind the implications of a shift in party control in one or both houses of Congress. Where do you think the investigative resources of a Kline-chaired House Education and Labor Committee would be directed?

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Details of Minneapolis Foundation's MinnCon coming out

In earlier posts I noted how the Minneapolis Foundation is planning a Minnesota analog to the political ConnCan anti-teacher political campaign filtering out of Connecticut. I reported how news of the campaign has been circulating around the state Capitol, and that millions of dollars are reportly already lined up behind the effort.

Today I found a job posting for the new executive director of the MinnCan effort - spearheaded by a ConnCan plan to have organizations like itself active in all 50 states, called 50Can.

The job posting makes clear that "MinnCAN will not build schools or train teachers" - it is to simply be a political organization to  "drive education policy in America’s state capitals." The executive director will be "Advocate-in-Chief: The executive director will lead the effort to change state policy through legislative and administrative action," and that MinnCan will begin operations in January 2011, just in time for the next legislative session.

Like most anti-teacher campaigns, this one will apparently be well-funded. The ad for the executive director job states that pay will be "highly competitive."

UPDATE: A reverse lookup of the domain names and reveals they are owned by someone named "ConnCan". The reverse lookup also shows that ConnCan owns at least 234 domain names. Now that's ambitious. The record also shows that was registered in November of 2009 - so this plan has been in the works for some time.

“Standing on the brink of insurrection and treason”

In 1832, the state of South Carolina adopted an act of nullification of two tariff acts of the United States; tariffs enacted in part to protect Northern manufacturing. The South Carolinians were the free traders of the day, and they were afraid of a trade war that would restrict access to foreign markets, particularly Great Britain, for their cotton, if United States had high tariffs for manufactured good from England.

As the South Carolinians protested, agriculture and particularly cotton — relying on their “peculiar institutions” — were really the state’s major source of income. South Carolina’s law prohibited the collection of the tariff duties at its ports, purported to deprive the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, of jurisdiction to adjudicate the constitutionality of the act, and further provided that anyone trying to challenge the validity of the act of nullification would be in contempt of the courts in South Carolina.

The South Carolina Legislature backed up the act with a threat of arms and a threat to secede.

South Carolina justified it actions by saying, Well sure, the Constitution says that the federal government can collect duties, but it isn’t “enumerated” that it can do so for the purpose of protecting Northern manufacturing. South Carolina was arguing for a giant Captain, May I? approach to federalism. The same approach that Emmer advances.

We’ve written extensively here about Tom Emmer’s legislation to permit the Legislature, or the Executive in Minnesota to nullify federal law. His bill for a constitutional amendment to permit legislative annulment also contains a denial of federal court jurisdiction. And once again, we’ll bring in Tom Emmer’s faithful retainer Sen. Mike Parry to describe why this is a good idea:

Let’s just say that President Andrew Jackson and Sen. Parry  don’t see eye to eye on this nullification thing!

On December 10,1832, Jackson responded to the South Carolina law with his Proclamation against Nullification (it’s the document after Washington’s Farewell Address on the web page). Here is the organizing principle of his Declaration:


He observed that the remedy for a state that felt aggrieved by a federal law was in court, or in the Congress.

He warned South Carolina’s citizens: “Mark what pretenses you have been led on to the brink of insurrection and treason, on which you stand!”

He also told its citizens that if they took the field against the United States, “that you will be stigmatized when dead, and dishonored and scorned while you live.” No little prophecy there.

David Strom complained when I called Tom Emmer a “neo-Confederate goober.” He’s right; I should have called him treasonous and an insurrectionist.

Accountability for thee - not for me

Reading through the transcript of Alex Johnston's speech to the Minnesota Meeting in June you understand that, though Johnston wants to achieve political aims, his goal is distinctly not to convince the public or the education establishment that his ideas for change have merit. He thinks those people are the enemy. His goal is to recruit a small group of dedicated supporters who will pressurize politicians into passing laws which achieve his goal of thinning the ranks of unionized teachers. His first real suggestion to the Minneapolis Foundation was for its grant recipients to get involved "in good old fashioned lobbying."

This is the kind of political operation that the Minneapolis Foundation is now planning for the next legislative session. According to one source there is already much talk around the state Capitol of the plan, and that it will probably have millions of dollars behind it. Though they campaign for teacher "accountability," who will hold ConnCan and the Minneapolis Foundation accountable when their undemocratic, tax-exempt, political activities leads to poorer educational outcomes?

Diane Ravitch on Arne Duncan charter public school reform - United Teachers of Los Angeles UTLA CA 9-24-2010

Say what you will about public school teachers - and their opponents like Alex Johnston of Conncan say plenty - their schools are at least theoretically accountable as institutions responsible to democratically elected local school boards. The same is not true of charter schools, where even for-profit companies or religious denominations are free to run them.  Though they receive public money to operate, charters are insulated from the voters.

I mention this because it has become symtomatic of charter school proponents to specifically avoid the research showing the charters are an academic failure. In the Diane Ravitch speech embedded above she cites studies from 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009 that show charters schools have not improved educational outcomes. The same is true for so-called "merit pay," which has been tried since the 1920s, almost never to positive effect.

Ravitch wrote in a discussion about the recent mayoral vote in Washington, D.C., that had essentially turned into a referendum on School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who had been given a free hand by Mayor Adrian Fenty  to implement right wing reforms on the city's public schools. The voters, in a racially divided vote, turned out Fenty by seven points.

Ravitch noted the anti-democratic attitudes of the school reformers, who, despite professed claims to "find what works," studiously avoid the real scholarly evidence proving their reforms will fail:
We now have an "education reform" movement which believes that democracy is too slow and too often wrong, and their reforms are so important, so self-evident that they cannot be delayed by discussion and debate. So self-assured are the so-called reformers that they can’t be bothered to review the research and evidence on merit pay or evaluating teachers by test scores or the effects of high-stakes testing. If they can find one study or even a report by a friendly think tank, that’s evidence enough for them. Mayoral control gives them the mechanism they need to push ahead, without regard to other views or collateral damage.
The hypocrisy of school deformers on the issues of accountability - teachers need it but they don't - and real democracy - tells you all you need to know about the character of their movement. Don't expect that to change. As Alex Johnston told the Minneapolis Foundation - what really matters is political power.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Helen Risser snags a Spotty!

the_spotty Edina resident Helen Risser wins the coveted Spotty™ for this letter in the Star Tribune today, Tuesday, September 28th.

Given the information reported in the Sept. 25 front-page article "Terrorism probe prompts FBI raids," there seems to be a clear case of injustice.

A person's opposition to war is no grounds for suspecting them of having terrorism links.

Among the first rights guaranteed to us in our Constitution are freedom of speech, freedom to protest and freedom of assembly.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

If these no longer matter in the struggle to end terrorism, what law does apply?


Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty™ is awarded to the author of an op-ed piece, a letter to the editor, or a blog post or comment that Spot wishes he had written himself.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Waiting for Mr. Moneybags

Early this summer when Alex Johnston told a Minnesota Meeting how to hurt public school teachers, he recounted an anecdote about a charter school in Connecticut that was having attendance problems with certain students. It turned out that this particular charter school required students to wear uniforms, and that the truant students didn't have enough money or parental support to regularly wash their clothes, resulting in the students staying home rather than showing up for school wearing dirty clothes. Johnston giddly asked the crowd - "What did the school do? They installed washing machines and dryers in the basement," which resulted in a "double whammy when parents showed up with their children to do their laundry."

Simple solution, right? Only - what school in Minnesota would do the same? They have had almost $2 billion - TWO BILLION DOLLARS - withheld by the state of Minnesota. They're having trouble paying the heating and busing bills, let alone installing washers and dryers for the families of their students.

Just yesterday President Obama told NBC that money alone isn’t the cure for America’s ailing school system. Try telling that to the producers of the anti-teacher movie about to hit theaters called Waiting for Superman, which profiles successful charter schools in New York as examples of the possibilities of choice in education. Only what you won't see in the movie is that two-thirds of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone funding comes from private sources - funds that provide free medical care and social supports for children in those schools.

Obama might have been right that money alone won't solve America's education woes - the problems go much deeper than that - straight to the heart of the society that produces the children that populate our schools.  But the converse is also true - starving regular public schools of funds, as Governor Bridgefail has done in Minnesota makes the problems that much worse. And it is emblematic of our education discourse that the successes pointed to by education deformers are as much due to hidden extra outside money and support as due to the freedom of management afforded by charter schools.

UPDATE: From what I can find, schools in Minnesota apparently can require students to wear uniforms; but it appears the school themselves may have to pay for them.

Go out and buy some Cheerios

From the Strib:

Don't expect Golden Valley-based General Mills to repeat the public relations nightmare Target Corp. suffered after it made a donation to a pro-business political group.

At General Mills' annual meeting Monday, a shareholder asked chief executive Ken Powell about the company's policy on political donations in light of Target's experience.

The answer was brief put pointed: "We have not done this, and have no plans to do so," Powell told investors at the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis.

Margaret says that the Tea Party isn’t selfish

Don’t Tread on Poor People!

In a riff that most of you won’t be able to read because it’s behind the Politics in Minnesota firewall, Margaret Martin claims that the Tea Party movement isn’t selfish; it’s just a call for self-government.

I’m sure she’s right; I mean think of all the flags you see at Tea Party rallies with the coiled snake and the legend: Don’t Tread on Poor People! What could be more selfless than that?

Uh, Spot, those flags read: Don’t Tread on ME.

Oh, hello, Grasshopper! You’re right, of course. Just illustrating a point.

Another term for SELF-government could be ME-government.

There is an interesting post at one of Spot’s favorite law sites, Balkinization, about the rise of the Tea Party:

The two most significant political events of 2010 are the enactment of health care reform and the rise of the Tea Party. These developments are, of course, related. To think about how the landscape will look after November, it would be helpful to put the Tea Party in some context.

Almost every broad mobilization for change provokes an equivalent counter-mobilization. These movements then battle for popular support until one prevails. In the course of that struggle, each side must engage the other's arguments and make some concessions to hold its coalition together. What emerges is a new constitutional consensus. [  ]

That seems right to me. In the case of health care, the mobilization was borne out of a generous and humane impulse. Virtually by definition, the counter-mobilization is borne out of the opposite impulse: grievance and resentment, and Katherine Kersten’s your piece of cake is bigger than my piece of cake mentality we talked about yesterday.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Katie got her groove back!

Grievance and resentment: keep the flame alive

After what seems like weeks of writing about guys hanging around in hangers (and not the one in Wright County, either) or checking the flanks, I mean ranks, of aspiring priests — okay; it was just a couple of weeks — she’s back to what she likes best: bashing Muslims.

According to Katie, the Muslims have beaten the First Amendment to the ground, cowing the media into silence. As evidence, she offers some examples of extremist Muslim imams threatening cartoonists.

The irony of having read about these things in the, um, media is of course lost on Kersten. But Katie says that the media have just caved:

But since 9/11, American media have increasingly caved to threats from radical Islam. The new norm is a self-censorship consistent with Muslim teaching that Islam must be free from insult, though other religions may be insulted at all times.

You know she’s right, don’t you? Literally every day you read some op-ed in papers all over the state dissing Jesus and his followers: Owatonna, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, and of course, the godless Twin Cities. It is a never-ending stream.

Katie protests:

The best-known example of this double standard took place in 2005, when a handful of Danish cartoons mocking Mohammed sparked bloody riots throughout the Muslim world. American newspapers covered the protests closely. Yet only a handful of papers printed the cartoons that triggered the riots. Editors justified this self-censorship by invoking their "sensitivity" toward religious belief -- a quality rarely in evidence when the subject is Christianity.

Is Kersten complaining about the fact that the media have reported about widespread clergy abuse in the Catholic Church and the criminal enterprise to cover it up? Must be, because she remains vague on the subject.

You have to get to the end to find out is really eating Katie:

When the Rev. Terry Jones, a self-promoting crackpot, threatened to burn the Qur'an, public figures -- starting with President Obama -- lined up to denounce his intolerance. Apparently, none of these people has had the courage to do the same with Awlaki [a Muslim imam referred to in the column] and his henchmen, who pose a far greater danger.

Katherine Kersten is always on the lookout for smallest slight, and she finds them even when they aren’t there. Cutting the cake into serving pieces must have been hell for Katie’s parents.

Update: The comments will add substantially to your enjoyment of this post. You can trust me on that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The strangled cry of the campaign functionary

Lonesome Rhodes in a hockey jersey

(Emmer, not Strom)

I put up a post this morning titled Tom Emmer: neo-confederate goober, the most recent post in a series that has highlighted the constitutional foolishness and demagoguery of the Republican candidate for governor.

David Strom was quick to respond on the Twitter:


Nullification and tentherism have a story much broader than the issue of slavery, but it always (or almost always) seems to arise in the South.

I am producing a video on the subject of nullification — and Tom Emmer’s record on the subject. I have invited Rep. Emmer to be interviewed for the video; perhaps David will pass the request along, too. I’ll give Rep. Emmer a chance to explain all of his bills and pronouncements on the subject of nullification and how he just wanted to start a conversation.

You know, it’s funny, though, because the Emmer campaign does not discuss this subject willingly and questions are dodged a quickly as possible. It certainly doesn’t seem as though he wants a conversation, does it?

It is one thing for the unschooled to run around screaming Tenth Amendment! Nullification! States’ rights! It is quite another when someone with such a dim and poisoned understanding of federalism — and how we solve constitutional issues — offers himself as a serious candidate for governor.

And and he if agrees to an interview, while we’re at it, Rep. Emmer and I can have a conversation about several of the foundational constitutional cases decided by the Supreme Court.

I, for one, am looking forward to it. How about it, Representative?

Update: Just for grins let’s look at a couple of Southern secession resolutions and compare them to Rep. Emmer’s language (in the post earlier today) about state sovereignty:

The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act. South Carolina Declaration of the Causes of Secession

And Mississippi:

Whereas, the constitutional Union was formed by the several states in their separate soverign [sic] capacity for the purpose of mutual advantage and protection;

That the several states are distinct sovereignities [sic again; Tea Party ancestor, no doubt], whose supremacy is limited so far only as the same has been delegated by voluntary compact to a federal government, and, when it fails to accomplish the ends for which it was established, the parties to the compact have the right to resume, each state for itself, such delegated powers;

That the institution of slavery existed prior to the formation of the federal Constitution, and is recognized by its letter, and all efforts to impair its value or lessen its duration by Congress, or any of the free states, is a violation of the compact of Union and is destructive of the ends for which it was ordained, but in defiance of the principles of the Union thus established, the people of the Northern states have assumed a revolutionary position toward the Southern states;

That they have set at defiance that portion of the Constitution which was intended to secure domestic tranquility among the states and promote their general welfare, namely: "No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom the service or labor may be due;"

Further update: Just for good order’s sake here’s probably the best Tenther bleat from Emmer:

[T]he State of Minnesota hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States, and that this resolution serves as notice and demand to the federal government as our agent to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.

So for my money, David Strom can just take his high horse, turn it around, and ride on out of here.

Tom Emmer: neo-confederate goober

And a prevaricator about it, too!

After offering bill after bill in the House to nullify federal law (health care, guns, incandescent light bulbs, all discussed here for many months), or to authorize the legislature to do that, or even more amazingly, give the governor, the Majority Leader in the Senate, or the Speaker of the House a veto power over federal law, now Emmer says he “just wanted to start some discussion.”

This was in response to a question to Emmer by Larry Jacobs at the Humphrey Institute. Perhaps someone schooled  — or even merely competent — in the art of the follow up question might have pressed Emmer on the issue. Such as:

You mean like Mark Buesgens wanted to start a discussion of changing the legal BAC limit?

You mean like Tripp wanted to start a discussion of the legal age for drinking by trying to evade law enforcement by hiding in a ditch?

Okay, maybe not those questions, but they make as much sense as Emmer’s response to Jacobs.

But these would have been good ones:

You mean you were only trying to strike up conversation when you offered a bill to add this to the Minnesota Constitution:

Citizens of Minnesota are sovereign individuals, subject to Minnesota law and immune from any federal laws that exceed the federal government's enumerated constitutional powers. A federal law does not apply in Minnesota unless that law is approved by a two-thirds vote of the members of each house of the legislature and is signed by the governor. [ ]

Have you ever read McCulloch against  Maryland? Where the Supreme Court held in 1819:

In a unanimous decision, the Court held that Congress had the power to incorporate the bank [Second National Bank of the US] and that Maryland could not tax instruments of the national government employed in the execution of constitutional powers. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Marshall noted that Congress possessed unenumerated powers not explicitly outlined in the Constitution. Marshall also held that while the states retained the power of taxation, "the constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are supreme. . .they control the constitution and laws of the respective states, and cannot be controlled by them."

If you were just kidding, you sure fooled loyal claque member Mike Parry:

He was so inspired, he filed your bill in the Minnesota Senate the next week.

Did you explain to Parry that you just wanted to have a discussion about nullification?

And never mind Mike Parry; what about the NRA members you touted your Minnesota gun law exemption to; did you tell them you really weren’t serious about having such a law pass?

Or, how about when you picked up the little plaque at the Legislative Evaluation Assembly banquet this spring, told everybody about your bills, made them available, and responded affirmatively to a question about whether these bills had to do with states’ rights? (Or “stats rats” as they say south of the Mason-Dixon line.) Were you just trying to start a discussion then?

(Emmer’s remarks start about halfway through the video.)

For faithful readers here, these videos are not new, for which I apologize. But they give the lie to Emmer’s attempt to soft shoe off the stage on nullification so well that they bear watching again.

Update: You will be interested in the follow-up post, too.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

We’ve crowned a new grifter queen

From Brave New Films:

Update: One wag at DL said, “Harrumpf. Grifter princess, maybe, but Sarah remains the queen.”

Drinking Liberally tonight at the 331 Club

331_Club by Avidor

Ken Avidor sketch

No matter how hard it rains, we’ll be at the 331 Club tonight for our regular meeting of Drinking Liberally. Six to nine; we’ll look forward to seeing you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What the hell are we paying you people for?

If you don’t get the result you want, redesign the study

From the AP via the Strib today:

Offering big bonuses to teachers failed to raise students' test scores in a three-year study released Tuesday that calls into question the Obama administration's push for merit pay to improve education.

This was a big disappointment to the people who ran the study:

"I think most people agree today that the current way in which we compensate teachers is broken," said Matthew Springer, executive director of the Vanderbilt center and lead researcher on the study. "But we don't know what the better way is yet."

Yes, there must be a better way. We aren’t sure how to do it, but in the end, we’ll find a way to wreck the teaching profession. You can depend on us!

Who are these disappointed people? Why they’re at the Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives. Sounds like a group dedicated to proving a point already decided on, doesn’t it?

Next up are studies at the Center on the effectiveness of flogging and blackmail on teacher performance.

Okay, I made that up.

You will see at the link that the Vanderbilt Center is a loyal retainer of Arne’s Duncan’s US Department of Education. Since gutting the teaching profession is a principal goal of the Department of Education, it was of course disappointed in the study, too:

The U.S. Education Department called the study too narrowly focused.

I’d be curious to know how the Vanderbilt Center could have screwed this up so badly. I mean, it gets all of its money from the Department of Education. Arne must really be annoyed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The ConnCan con: MinnCon next?

I've read enough propaganda on education, seen enough failures justified, and witnessed the eternal misplaced value put on charter schools and right wing generated "solutions" to know when I'm being peddled a load of bull. Such was the feeling reading this post about a Minneapolis Foundation education event from the usually reliable Dane Smith over at the Growth & Justice website.

The post tells of a Minnesota Meeting event where the guest speaker was one Alex Johnston from a group called ConnCan. Johnston gave mostly political advice to Minnesota "reformers" on how to get the legislature to pass laws designed to increase the number of charter schools and devalue and pressurize teachers. The Minneapolis Foundation's orchestration  of Johnston's visit (more on that below) appears to be a prelude to its creation of a similar MinnCan attack on school teachers, apparently to be sprung on the next legislative session.

On its website the Minneapolis Foundation invites viewers to watch the recorded Minnesota Meeting featuring Johnston, saying
"Alex Johnston from ConnCan spoke at a June 2010 Minnesota Meeting regarding ConnCan's success in reducing the achievement gap in Connecticut."
Is that true? Has ConnCan "reduced the achievement gap in Connecticut"? According to ConnCan's own most recent annual report, and the first few lines of Mr Johnston's talk, no. Figures from the US Department of Education show that in 1998 the achievement gap in Connecticut was 32 points; by 2003 it was 31 points; in 2007 the gap was 30 points, where it still sits today, according to ConnCan itself. What ConnCan has been successful at in five years of existence is running political campaigns aimed getting more charter schools, more charter school students, more state money for charter schools, and loosened standards for teacher certification. It led a successful political campaign in 2010 for just those purposes.Yet despite getting its way with public funds, by its own admission it has not lowered the achievement gap in Connecticut.

In fact, it would be very unlikely if any of ConnCan's so-called achievements bore academic fruit. Take charter schools, for example -  ConnCan's chief focus. The biggest study ever done on charter schools nationwide found that for every student who does better at a charter school, two do worse. In Minnesota, in particular, children of color and of poverty have been hurt by charter schools.

Minnesota has also been plagued by dozens of failed charter schools replete with financial improprieties, self-dealing, operators going to jail, and students subject to religious indoctrination. Minnesota, the birthplace of charters two decades ago, tried to rein them in in the last legislative session, only to see a further politicization of the process, resulting in Bill Cooper, the extreme former head of state Republican Party, controlling 16 schools - more than 10 percent of all charters in the state -  and angling for more. In one hopeful move, the City of St Paul is now withdrawing its sponsorship of charters.

ConnCan has latched onto the three things that "reform" has come to mean in our education discourse  -  charter schools, Teach for America teachers and teacher "accountability. The group claims that focusing on those three areas will yield the best results for closing the academic achievement gap in Connecticut. But don't be surprised that the gap hasn't changed with ConnCan - the real goals are to privatize public education and destroy one of the last unionized sectors of the economy: public school teachers. If you're searching for the real reasons for racial achievement gaps, try looking at similar disparities in income, wealth, employment , law and health care.

The folly of ConnCan's agenda has been documented many times. The most comprehensive study of charters, by Stanford University, found that overall charters performed worse than regular public schools. The charter "experiment" has come to an end - it has failed.

Teach for America, another of ConnCan's obsessions - derided as "Teach for a while" by professionals, is an effort to put more poorly trained teachers in our classrooms. Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University did a study in 2005 of TFA teachers in Houston, Texas. She found that
"Uncertified TFA recruits are less effective than certified teachers, and perform about as well as other uncertified teachers. TFA recruits who become certified after 2 or 3 years do about as well as other certified teachers in supporting student achievement gains; however, nearly all of them leave within three years. Teachers' effectiveness appears strongly related to the preparation they have received for teaching."
Deborah Appleman, an educational studies professor at Carlton College ridiculed assumptions made about  TFA in a City Pages article, wondering how, among other things, "Students who are most in need will do the best with the most underprepared teachers in the country."

Those would be the same classrooms where we blame the teachers for children's failures. If teachers really were the problem with children not learning on schedule, putting more poorly trained teachers in charge would logically only make matters worse. It only makes sense if your true goal is to shrink the ranks of teachers unions. How would Teach for America teachers be held to ConnCan's third pillar, teacher "accountability" ? Most only stick around for a few years. Those who plan to leave have nothing at stake.

How education discourse came to this point is a long story filled with all kinds of deception and outright lying by Republicans who wished to defund Democrats by destroying the teachers' unions. They have brought along some urban minorities who have historically suffered from racism and disinvestment by the predominant white Protestant society. Others, particularly politically aware Blacks, have recognized the danger of the "Fruit of the poisoned tree" dangled in front of them by savvy Republicans.

I'm betting if you asked the attendees of Johnston's talk at the Minnesota Meeting whether ConnCan had reduced the racial learning gap in Connecticut most would say yes. But even Johnston admits ConnCan hasn't (my transcription of his talk is here). In fact, in his talk he spoke less about the racial gap, or what could be done about it, outside his political goals. His talk, rather than being about racial achievement gaps, was about political tactics. For a 501(c)(3) charity that is supposed to be out of bounds. But legislative gains to create charters, loosen teacher training laws, and "holding teachers accountable" are Johnston's real achievements.

One look at ConnCan's board of directors and advisers show's who's really calling the shots here, and what the true agenda is. The board of directors is comprised of 12 people, all of them are from the financial and investment industries.  Not one of the board members comes from any sectors relevant to public education. These are the people who, on deep background, we're supposed to let, according to Johnston, "redefine education in Minnesota."  Given the corruption and incompetence shown by the finance industry over the past decade, one can only hope they are better at education than investing, although there is no evidence to suggest they might be.

What's really telling is the presence of Howard Fuller and John R. Danielson, movement conservatives connected to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, on ConnCan's board of advisers. For a taste of the Bradley Foundation consider that it funded and promoted the scientific racist Charles Murray, whose book The Bell Curve argued that Blacks are genetically intellectually inferior to other races.  Fuller is the Bradley Foundation's minority front-man for public education privatization and shrinking teachers' unions. He has received millions of dollars from the Bradley Foundation to sit on the boards of organizations like ConnCan. Is that the kind of person who should be addressing a racial achievement gap? The Bradley Foundation's choice?

His presence would be alarming enough, but the inclusion of  Danielson, Director at the Center for Education Reform, which has received more than a half million dollars from the Bradley Foundation, underscores ConnCan's connection to the larger conservative movement.  ConnCann also has connections to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, also funded by the Bradley Foundation, home of perpetual school choice and anti teacher activist Chester Finn. It is listed as a funder in the ConnCan annual report, and has produced its own reports commending the organization.  ConnCan has also received grants from the Kirby Family Foundation. Teach for America itself has recieved millions of dollars from the same conservative philanthropies that fund Fuller, Fordham and CER.

One of the tactics of the conservative movement is to spread its message with national campaigns, organizations and people. ConnCan brags about its performance of this function in its annual report, showing how Johnston gave presentations about its methods in 20 different states. Which raises the questions of how and why ConnCan was invited to speak in a heavily promoted event in the Twin Cities sponsored by the Minneapolis Foundation. A friendly person at the foundation basically would not tell me who initiated the event, or precisely how it came to be.

Johnston's speech in the Twin Cities was sponsored by the Minneapolis Foundation, through it's Minnesota Meeting project. It was co-sponsored by the Itasca Project, an "employer led alliance" composed of "primarily private-sector CEOs."  It describes itself as  "virtual organization" that "has no standing agenda, employs no staff and owns no real estate." In other words - it is almost totally unaccountable and opaque. Inquiries about Itasca are directed to McKinsey & Company, "a global management consulting firm that focuses on solving issues of concern to senior management."  According to Wikipedia, McKinsey maintains "a carefully crafted and low-profile external image, which also protects it from public scrutiny."

Johnston was introduced at the Minnesota Meeting by Mary Brainerd, "CEO of Health Partners and chair of Itasca project." In fact, Health Partners was given $100,000 by the Minneapolis Foundation in 2008 (according to its most recent IRS 990)  "to fund the Itasca Project for Management and initiatives."  A deeper look at the Minneapolis Foundation's schedule of grants reveals $146,000 to Twin Cities Public Television, another partner in the Minnesota Meeting, which broadcast Johnston's speech five times, and $71,000 to the Peace Foundation, whose president, Sondra Samuels, was on the discussion panel following the talk. The panel also included Bernadeia Johnson, the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, which also receives grants from the foundation. Even Growth & Justice, where Dane Smith speculated the ConnCan meeting might hold political portent, received $38,000 from the foundation in 2008. It's safe to assume that most of Johnston's other appearances across the country were put together using a similar method.

Theoretically there's nothing wrong with these grants, and transparency can go a long way towards alleviating suspicions of covert political motives; unfortunately, none of these grants or connections were disclosed at the Minnesota Meeting. Was that an oversight, or did the foundation wish to give the impression that its agenda is more widely accepted than chiefly among recipients of its grants? This opacity hints at a larger agenda for the Minneapolis Foundation, one which it is apparently not comfortable admitting to. Revealing that it in effect orchestrated the propagandistic, political ConnCan event in service to a conservative agenda aimed at beating up on public school teachers would no doubt put the foundation in a poor light.

A spokeswoman for the foundation wouldn't say whether recipients of their grants were encouraged to attend this meeting.  Even if they weren't it probably wasn't necessary. Grant recipients understand the underlying goals and expectations of their funders. Using these methods foundations can blunt the potential of progressive change by co-opting liberal organizations, giving the appearance of poor and minority support for regressive government policies, changing organizations' ultimate goals, or redirecting their energy in ways that are less threatening to the rich and corporate elite. At the Minnesota Meeting featuring Johnston there wasn't one person present who questioned his false assertions about the efficacy of charter schools or Teach for America.

The Minneapolis Foundation's funding and sponsorship of the ConnCan Minnesota Meeting, and its opacity about its own grants to the participants  -  raises important issues about education discourse in Minnesota.  The event itself was based on a lie - a lie that is still repeated on the foundation's website - that ConnCan had succeeded "in reducing the achievement gap in Connecticut."

The notion that the foundation is now creating, secretly, apparently, a Minnesota version (to be called MinnCan?) is pretty creepy, especially since this is an election season and voters might want to know whether the candidates they will be voting for will support such an effort. Dane Smith wrote in his Growth & Justice post that "a MinnCAN initiative is  likely to be front-and-center in the 2011 legislative session, regardless of who wins the elections in November."

Politically, the foundation might be wise to keep their initiative under wraps before people can vote on its ideas - right wing education "deform" has proven unpopular in recent elections where it has been an issue.

While the Minneapolis Foundation might be politically sensitive to the unpopularity of its proposed solutions, it acts like it is completely unaware of the scholarly evidence pointing to the ineffectiveness of its ideas. Honest discourse would require confronting the scholarly evidence against charter schools, for example, including the Stanford study, or including people like Diane Ravitch, who the spokesperson I talked to from the foundation had never even heard of.

Ravitch is one of the premier educational historians in the country. She was a true believer in all the goals of ConnCann and was for many years a movement conservative. That is until about five years ago, when she abruptly changed course and denounced school choice, Teach for America and the like. She came to realize there was no magic bullet in charter schools, and that they had failed in their experiment to bridge achievement gaps, or even provide as good an education as regular public schools.

She recommended discontinuing all choice and privatization reforms. Money and effort should instead be focused, wrote Ravitch, on reducing poverty and helping poor and minority families.

Ignoring that your rhetorical opponents have a point, even when they have the scholarly research on their sides, is not a sign of strength, which is probably why groups like ConnCan now make political rather than educational arguments. The fact that the Minneapolis Foundation is helping them spread this disinformation, and may be planning to inflict such an organization on Minnesota, is doubly disappointing. Note to Minnesota school teachers: You've been warned.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

 A note about the Minneapolis Foundation  Political and ideological polarization are acknowledged to be real problems in present day America. Looking through the grant list of the Minneapolis Foundation it is undeniable that they fund some good things, including liberal causes, like Outfront Minnesota and minority empowerment organizations. But they also fund extreme right wing organizations like the Center of the American Experiment, the Minnesota Free Market Institute, Focus on the Family, and the Minnesota Family Institute (an anti-gay rights group). It kind of makes you wonder if the foundation isn't contributing to the stark polarization by essentially funding both sides in an ideological war, then sitting back and decrying the conflict. That might make political sense to the people who direct the foundation, but it calls into question whether it truly believes in anything other than its own self-aggrandizement.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thomas and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Legislation

In our fascination with the creature known as Emmer here at the Cucking Stool, we've examined some of his more wacky and obviously unconstitutional proposals. We've looked at the state constitutional amendment that calls for rejection of all federal laws unless specifically approved. We've looked at the Light Bulb Freedom Act.

But there's more to Candidate Emmer's history of dancing around with blatantly unconstitutional proposals. I'm not going to examine past years' proposals, just the ones we saw in the past legislative session. As usual, there's a whole lot o' "freedom" loving going on - unless you're a woman, of course - and it's chock full of jingoistic pronouncements about sovereign citizenship and how the federal gummint is taking away our freedoms.

House File 3012 (chief author) This legislation is one of those "opt in" bills wherein those things deemed federal mandates are inapplicable to Minnesota unless the Governor (in consultation with "appropriate executive agency staff," whoever that might be), the speaker of the house and the majority leader of the senate all determine that the mandate is provided by "explicit authority" in the United States Constitution. And if these folks determine that the Constitution does not contain authority for the mandate? Well, then the "mandate does not apply in Minnesota." Poof! Just like that.

House File 2376
(chief author) "Firearms Freedom Act" This another one of Tom's Tenther moments. This proposed legislation declares that the second, ninth and tenth amendments to the United States Constitution guarantee to the people those rights not granted to the federal government in the Constitution and reserves to the people of Minnesota "certain rights as they were understood at the time that Minnesota was admitted to statehood in 1858." It then purports to exempt from all federal regulations any guns manufactured within the state, and proclaims that Congress has no authority to regulate firearms made in Minnesota. I would think that any number of women, African Americans, and native peoples might take issue with the notion that the rights reserved to them are only those rights as "understood at the time that Minnesota was admitted to statehood in 1858." But I might be wrong on that score.

House File 998 (chief author) Once again setting up his Tenther cred, this proposed legislation - if passed - proclaims Minnesota's sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment:
[T]he State of Minnesota hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States, and that this resolution serves as notice and demand to the federal government as our agent to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.

Even setting aside the fact that this reads like something straight out of the South Carolina Causes of Secession, this is just weird. What's the state supposed to do? Send some creepy cease and desist letter whenever a Minnesotan receives Social Security benefits? Force its farmers to turn down farm subsidies (good luck with that one)? Require that MNDOT refuse federal highway funds? Actually, the law does tell us what's supposed to happen:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Secretary of State of the State of Minnesota is directed to prepare copies of this memorial and transmit them to the President of the United States, the President and the Secretary of the United States Senate, the Speaker and the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, and Minnesota's Senators and Representatives in Congress.

One is left with the image of Mark Ritchie nailing the memorial to the doors of the White House and the Capitol informing those inside that they're not the boss of us.

House File 171 (chief author) Constitutional Amendment regarding freedom of choice of private health care systems. Needless to say, he's against the notion of his neighbor's kid keeping health insurance after he graduates from high school. Because some kid being covered for a preexisting condition is such a horrible thing so as to require the passage of a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT to prevent it from happening. After all, if God really loved little Jimmy Johnson, he never would have given the kid Crohn's disease, would he? Damn Poop Lobby, messing with our freedoms once again.

Then there's HF3692, which declares the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act an abomination. Same shit, different legislation.

And in the protecting-our-freedoms column, we also have House File 1881, a proposal to address that burning issue in Minnesota and to correct a gaping hole in our constitutional freedoms. Did you know that nowhere in our state constitution is the right to wear fur guaranteed? This bill corrects this frightening freedom loophole once and for all.

In contrast to all the freedoms oozing out of the above proposals, the list doesn't even get close to the ongoing attempts to curtail the constitutional right to bodily integrity that women are entitled to. As a hardcore member of the forced-pregnancy movement, Emmer joins every effort to restrict abortion and birth control rights he can find, even the obviously unconstitutional ones. In this session alone, Emmer's has joined the following efforts to try to stop women from controlling their own bodies. We know he doesn't want the cultural warrior side of his record to receive much attention in this election, but we can't overlook it. After all, it's what he's spent most of his time in the legislature doing.

House File 2228 appears to redefine abortion to include the removal of a "dead unborn child" and forces certain signage at clinics, because Emmer believes most women are apparently too stupid to know they don't have to consent to abortion. House File 1057 requires doctors who perform such services have hospital admitting privileges of a certain type, making sure that we limit access to constitutionally protected health care for rural women. House File 1093 gives even more taxpayer dollars to crisis pregnancy centers to conduct unnecessary medical tests and dish out medically questionable advice with a healthy dose of religious doctrine. House File 1059 purports to stop state money from being used to pay for abortion, despite the fact that such funding is required under the state constitution. House File 1058 tries to prohibit the use of "saline amniocentesis" abortions, even though the US Supreme Court specifically allowed the method in its 1976 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Danforth. House File 1196 purports to prohibit sex-selection abortion, and allows family members to sue the abortion provider. No word yet on how the state plans on unearthing and examining a woman's motivation for exercising her rights.

All in all, what we see in these proposals is... what? A candidate who seems capable of only defining freedom in terms that benefit people who look and think just like him, it seems. A candidate willing to let one of the world's most stable governments with intricate checks and balances to be undercut by radical proposals that pander to extremist elements. A candidate who slept through the vast majority of his Constitutional Law classes, if nothing else.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

DFL needs to pay attention to young voters

In contravention of national trends, DFL candidates for Congress and Governor are losing among voters under age 50 and voters aged 18-34 are the strongest support base for their Republican opponents. Let's take a look at the crosstabs from the two SurveyUSA polls released last week.

In the Bachmann-Clark CD6 race, the topline figures (49-40) remained basically unchanged from another SurveyUSA poll in July. But underneath the surface there was one shift that was pretty startling - voters are becoming very polarized based on age.

Since the July 12 poll, Clark has opened a 7 point lead among voters over 50. This is a promising development for the Clark campaign, since voters over 50 constitute a majority of the CD6 electorate.

Unfortunately for Clark, at the same time what was a 20 point lead for Bachmann among voters under 50 has turned into a massive 27 point lead.

The race for Governor shows a similar trend. Although the numbers for under 50/over 50 are not as dramatic as the CD6 race, digging a little deeper shows Emmer is winning only among voters age 18-34. But he's winning by 16 points among young voters in the September 15 SurveyUSA poll.

Compare this to the last pre-primary SurveyUSA poll from August. Nearly all of Tom Horner's gains have come in the 50+ age groups that had fueled Dayton's eye-popping 14 point lead that poll. And in August, Dayton led among the same young voters that the September poll indicates are flocking to Emmer.

The enthusiasm gap among young voters is a problem for the Dayton campaign, and in some sense not particularly surprising considering a national enthusiasm gap, Dayton's focus on senior issues and his campaign's lack of social media savvy. More disturbing to me is that Horner's effect on the race appears to be breaking more along age than party identification. And since older voters were the bedrock of Dayton's early poll success, Horner's recent surge has evened up the race. But that's another post.

A new Rock the Vote poll released this week indicates a roadmap for appealing to young voters that is very consistent with Clark and Dayton's positions. These include creating green energy jobs, increasing college affordability, opposition to extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and standing up to corporate special interests. But as the pollsters noted:
To limit their losses this November, Democrats must re-energize these young adults. Currently, just 17% say they are paying “a lot of attention” to the upcoming elections, and engagement is higher among young Republicans, 60% of whom say that they are very likely to vote this November, compared to 51% of Democrats. The reservoir of support is still much larger on the Democratic side however, as they preferred Obama by a 21-point margin in 2008 (55% to 34%).
In Minnesota, Emmer's proposed cut for higher education will hit home with this age group. Focusing on college campuses with a message of college affordability is crucial. Clark has solid support among older voters, and now must work at eroding Bachmann's commanding lead among young voters. Her opening television ad about Bachmann's coddling of BP is a message she'd be well-served to return to.

The dearth of support among young voters for DFL candidates is worrisome, but presents opportunities in the MN-Gov and CD6 races.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A combination death cult and suicide pact

From the platform of the Iowa Republican Party:

The function of law is to protect the free exercise of a person’s God-given rights: life, liberty, and the right to property (pursuit of happiness). [apparently there was some mistranslation in the Declaration of Independence as written]

We call for the repeal of all mandatory minimum wage laws.

We call for reinstating, with proper safeguards, the death penalty for murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and drug dealers, with a firm limit of twenty-four months for appeals and no intrusion of federal authorities. [or that pesky U.S. Constitution]

We believe that claims of human-caused global warming are based on fraudulent, inaccurate information, and that legislation and policy based on this information are detrimental to the well-being of the United States.

We believe all individuals and business owners have the freedom to choose the quality of air in their homes and establishments.

We call for the elimination of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

We support the elimination of the Iowa Department of Education and of the U.S. Department of Education.

We support the abolition of the IRS. We call for the repeal of the Federal Reserve Act, eliminating the Federal Reserve, and we support returning to the gold and/or silver standard.

We believe candidates running as Republicans for any local or state office should be required to complete and return to the Republican Party of Iowa a signed questionnaire indicating whether the candidate agrees, disagrees, or is undecided about each plank of the current party platform.

As reported in the October 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine. No link; the issue is behind a subscriber wall.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Growth without Justice

Hang down your head, Tom Horner

Tom Horner- Targeting the middle ground - StarTribune.com_1278868094518 Here’s the lede in a Strib article about Horner’s proposal to eliminate the corporate income tax in Minnesota:

Hoping to boost job growth in Minnesota, Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner said Thursday that he would phase out the state's corporate income tax, simplify regulations and increase state-funded research.

According to the article, Horner would pay for this and increases in spending in education by with an a broadening of the sales tax base.

He would offset some of that new spending, he said, with his proposed expansion of the state sales tax to clothing and unspecified services. He said that food, medical care and prescription drugs and related services would remain untaxed. Horner said he also plans to close tax deductions for the wealthy, increase alcohol and tobacco taxes and cut spending.

Note to readers: there is already a gross receipts tax on medical service providers, intended for the Minnesota Health Care Access fund, but hundreds of millions of dollars have already been diverted from it for the general fund; there is already a sales tax on medical services, in practical effect.

The belief that merely reducing taxes will increase “good jobs” is the kind of “I sat down and worked it out with a pencil” thinking that one might expect from King Banaian or Craig Westover. And that should tell you something right there.

Reducing a company’s costs increase its profitability, but not necessarily its employment. We can demonstrate this with a simple illustration.

Let’s assume that you are a company that needs one employee for every customer you have. You have fifty customers and currently have fifty employees. Tom Horner is elected governor, and he slashes your business taxes, but you have the same fifty customers.

How many more employees do you hire? Tom?

Tom might say, “They’ll hire waaaay more!” but the right answer is zero. The business will hire another person when the marginal revenue generated by that person exceeds the marginal cost of the hire. In our little example, without any marginal revenue, there is no incentive to incur the marginal cost. (If it helps, just substitute the word “extra” for “marginal.”)

It is more complicated in the real world, naturally, but the example does show that simply reducing taxes by itself is not the driver of employment, certainly in the short to medium term. It gets more complicated when the issue is situs of a new factory or other substantial bricks and mortar investment. We’ll leave that for future posts.

For right now, though, let’s talk just about fairness. In a recent op-ed, the unacknowledged Pat Anderson functionary Craig Westover said that we couldn’t afford to be fair, that corporations had us by the short hair, and we might as well get used to it. Well, thanks Benito, but I don’t think it’s come to that.

Raise your hand if you don’t think that corporate business activity consumes state government resources or incurs cost to the state.

Of course it does.

But Tom Horner, the faithful corporate retainer, wants you to forget that.

When Well Fargo Mortgage wants to foreclose on your house, it needs the sheriff, and maybe the courts, to do it. When Target Credit Corporation wants to collect a debt owed by a customer, same thing. When a corporation wants to, well, exist, it needs the Secretary of State. When 3M wants to send its cellophane tape down the road, guess who provides the road?

And who educated most of the people who work for 3M, Target Corporation, and Wells Fargo? Certainly not the corporations themselves.

But to the deadly bloodsuckers like Tom Horner, that doesn’t matter. Corporations should get a free ride.

Corporations want to exist when it comes to things like First Amendment rights, but they don’t want to exist when it comes to other attributes of citizenship, like paying a fair share of the cost of government. And sleek mouthpieces like Tom Horner are there to help every step of the way. But we certainly don’t need to elevate one to the governor’s office.

UPDATE: We had a discussion about the Republican Liberty Caucus at Drinking Liberally on Thursday; the RLC describes itself as “the conscience of the Republican Party.” In Minnesota, the RLC has endorsed Tom Emmer, Mark Buesgens, Pat Anderson, Steve Drazkowski, and Mary Kiffmeyer among others.

On the issue of the elimination of business taxes, the RLC Caucus and candidate Horner are on the same page.

Strib photograph

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Solving Mark Dayton's Math Problem

Mark Dayton's campaign has recognized a fundamental problem with taxation in Minnesota; the wealthiest 10% of taxpayers are paying an increasingly smaller share of their income than the rest of us. The impact of state and local taxes, as a percentage of income, falls heaviest on the middle class in Minnesota. If the wealthiest 10% (and especially the richest 1%) paid the same share of state and local taxes that the middle class pay we'd be a long way toward solving the nearly $6 billion budget deficit.

The problem is getting the tax system to align so that the wealthiest do pay their fair share of taxes. And let's be absolutely clear - we're not even talking about a truly progressive tax system where the wealthy pay a greater share of their income in taxes. We're talking about getting to a state and local flat tax, roughly.

The problem with Mark Dayton's original proposal of increasing the top income tax tier to 10.95% is that relying entirely on the progressive income tax to balance out other regressive taxes won't be sufficient. The Minnesota Department of Revenue demonstrated that when they ran the numbers and found that Dayton's proposal would only raise $1.9 billion. That gap between $1.9 billion and the $4 billion that he sought needs to be filled with revenue that comes from the top decile or it will not get us to a roughly flat state and local tax impact.

One area that Dayton ought to consider is to make the arcane and complex property tax system in Minnesota more progressive. There have been a number of proposals that have been floated in Minnesota and a couple of states that have made tentative steps in this direction. Done carefully and thoughtfully, the property tax burden on middle class taxpayers can be held flat while targeting property tax increases on the wealthiest Minnesotans.

Consider the following chart from Minnesota House Research, outlining the percentage of market value in each property category and the percentage each property category pays in property taxes.

Note that there are a couple of disparities that, if corrected, would move us toward a more progressive property taxation system. First, seasonal recreation property is paying only 60% of it's proportion of value. Second, residential nonhomestead property pays less than it's share of overall property value. A progressive property tax system would tax second (or third) properties and vacation homes at a higher rate. This is not to say that all property categories ought to pay their exact proportion of market value in property taxes. For example, the choice to tax homesteads at a lower rate reflects a desire to avoid regressive taxation impacts on someone's primary residence.

Increasing the progressivity of the property tax system can be accomplished through a variety of means. As MN2020 described, one technique is to eliminate property tax credits that are not tied to income in favor of property tax refunds tied to ability to pay. Or more simply, one could add more taxation levels tied to property value. For example, there are two rates for homesteaded property in Minnesota, one for property values below $500,000 and one for properties above $500,000. One could add a third tier for even higher property values that was levied by the state for the purpose of increasing state revenue. Or there are other techniques one might use (taxing on the basis of square footage, etc.)

Keep in mind as well that people who establish residence in other states for the purpose of avoiding income tax can't move their property from Minnesota in the same fashion. If one goal of Dayton's revenue proposals is to ensure that snowbirds pay their fair share of taxes, a graduated property tax (especially one focused on non-homestead and recreational property) might be the best way to do that.

Property taxes represent the largest portion of state and local taxes collected in Minnesota, slightly larger than income tax. And while only a portion of the property tax collected goes to the state, one of the categories I described above does go to state coffers (recreational property.) There could be state surtaxes on the highest end property for the dual purpose of raising revenues and increasing progressivity.

The Department of Revenue's analysis of Mark Dayton's income tax proposal demonstrates that income taxes alone cannot ameliorate the regressivity of other tax categories. A well crafted property tax proposal could be targeted at the wealthiest and help Dayton achieve his goal of ensuring the wealthiest in Minnesota pay their fair share of taxes.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Erik Paulsen is afraid of Jim Meffert

The man who tries to comb his hair like Jim Ramstad but votes like Michele Bachmann won’t agree to meet face to face with Jim Meffert for a debate in front of voters. Update: added language in italics.

There is a term of art for this in political circles. (The sensitive among you may wish to avert your eyes.)

Chickenshit cowardice

Professor David A. Schultz recently called Jim Meffert a terrific candidate for the Third District. And that he is.

We’re trying to get a repeat appearance by Jim at Drinking Liberally, but here’s a video of some of his remarks when he came to DL before the DFL endorsing convention:

There are two kinds of Republicans

On the provenance of the Tea Party

Bonnie Erbe of Scripps New Service splashed around in the shallow end of the reasoning pool in a piece that burdened today’s op-ed section of the Star Tribune. According to Erbe, the rise of the Tea Party is cause for introspection by both major parties (that’s how Doug Tice summarized it in the hed, anyway). A subtext of the piece is that the Tea Party is some kind of new, separate force in American politics. Nonsense. The Tea Party is the creature of Dick Armey, Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers.

They’re just Republicans with a really, really bad case of the vapors:

So that’s one kind of Republican. The Tea Party Republican. Then, you have your non-Tea Party Republicans, like this:

Tom Horner- Targeting the middle ground - StarTribune.com_1278868094518

Tom Horner photo from the Star Tribune

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Emmer's Budget Ax: Higher Education

Mark Dayton's got a math problem. Horner has a vagueness problem. Tom Emmer has a real problem - his cuts cause real pain to real people. To some extent, this will be true of the budget resulting from electing any of the three. At least Dayton's honest about that and his priority is clear, seek revenue sources instead of blindly cutting.

Emmer's political calculation is that by leaving K-12 education alone (and acting like the nearly $2 billion that Tim Pawlenty "borrowed" from school can be deferred for years) he can hack away at other categories in the budget. Health and Human Services, the second largest and fastest growing budget category, suffered the greatest dollar cuts (and yes, they are cuts no matter how much Emmer insists otherwise.) But Higher Education and Local Government Aid came in for devastating cuts that no rhetorical sleight of hand can dismiss.

If Emmer's budget were to become law, public higher education in Minnesota would be transformed forever. And I do not mean transformed in a good way. It will become increasingly unaffordable and force a contraction in capacity at the very moment that students are flocking to retrain and retool. Higher education is an engine of economic development in a state that badly needs it. To slash away is more than short-sighted, it's criminally negligent.

If Emmer's budget were to become law, Minnesota's tuition rates would skyrocket. They would be the highest in the country or very near the top. Emmer's proposal to cut higher education would reduce the state appropriation to $2.5 billion. That's a $312 million cut. But wait, it gets worse.

For the purposes of clarity, consider how this might impact the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Under the current two-year budget, MnSCU received $1.129 billion from state appropriations, approximately 43% of the overall higher education budget of $2.812 billion. That means MnSCU's share of the cut would be about $134 million. That cut will come on top of the expiration of stimulus funds representing another $79 million. That's a cut of over $213 million for FY 2012-3, or a cut of $107 million per year. In percentage terms, this is a cut of 17.6% from MnSCU's FY2011 budget.

While it's hard to predict exact impacts, consider what was said last year:

MnSCU's chief financial officer, Laura King, said in the case of a 20 percent budget cut, her system would prefer to implement a series of fixes. King said they would include layoffs, higher tuition, enrollment caps and potentially closing some of MnSCU's 54 campus across the state.

"Whether it's higher tuition, enrollment caps, fewer course offerings, or reduced student services, our students will see those impacts," King said.

King also said that if they took only one approach, they could offset the cut by closing as many as 18 community colleges.

That's right - you'd have to close almost 18 community colleges to fix Emmer's gaping hole. Don't worry, maybe it won't be the one in your community.

Welcome to Tom Emmer's Minnesota. Let's hope people are paying attention.

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