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Friday, April 30, 2010

In budget message, Sup't blasts everyone but himself

by folkbum

This blog has existed for almost the entire career of outgoing Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos, which says something about longevity and sticktoitiveness for both of us.

Over the years, particularly the early years, this blog levied pretty much nothing but criticism at Andrekopoulos and his policies. In the last few, as both he has changed and I have enwizened myself to the challenges of running a district like this, I've given him more than the occasional bit of grudging respect.

But much of the challenge Andrekopoulos finds himself in as he delivers his last budget proposal to the Milwaukee Board of School Directors is of his own making, and a long time in coming, and on his way out his directs his fire at almost everyone but himself.

And I do mean fire: Here are just a few of the bombs tossed in Andrekopoulos's budget message (pdf):
• The District must control costs. As the Administration has said repeatedly, it is imperative that fringe benefit costs be reduced. The 74.2% fringe benefit rate projected for FY11 is unsustainable. If the rate remained at 68.7%, the already extraordinarily high FY10 rate, MPS would spend about $28 million less on fringe benefits in FY11 than is now budgeted. That is money that could be used to staff classrooms with more teachers, with more supplies and more support. That money, as it is now budgeted, is opportunity lost. [target: the teachers union]

• As the District confronts a harsher economic reality and works to improve student achievement, the Administration, the School Board and the larger community need to decide what exactly they want MPS to be. Can the District continue to fill the roles of an employment agency, a social services institution and a K-12 school District? Can it continue to fill the gaps that exist when other government agencies abandon their obligations to provide services to the poor? [target: the city and county of Milwaukee]

• Poverty and its many, many burdens weigh on the Milwaukee Public Schools and its students. To deny this, as some commentators and politicians choose to do, is simply to deny reality. [target: talk radio and suburban Republicans]
There are also jabs at the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program, state legislators, and the US Dept. of Education. But surprisingly, the one agency that could easily have been a target but is missing from the attacks is the WIsconsin Department of Public Instruction. With its threats to withhold funds and increasingly specific demands in a corrective action plan for the district, DPI is putting a tremendous amount of financial pressure on MPS. Some of that is hinted at in the budget message. The district is spending $6 million on a uniform new reading program adoption, plus more on training for that, as a consequence of DPI's orders, for example, and rolling out a new discipline program nearly district-wide.

And, of course, there's no place in this budget message for Andrekopoulos to recognize the parts of this crisis--his word--that are of his own making.

First, let's talk about that benefit rate. Just to bring everyone up to speed here, MPS defines its benefit rate in a way that basically no one else on the planet does. For example, while the obvious things are there--health insurance is the big one--the district also includes things like social security taxes and state-mandated pension payments in the figure, something that neither the district nor the union has one iota of control over. But three more important points need to be made about this. One, MPS teachers' overall compensation is not better than that of teachers in neighboring districts. In fact, in salary taken by itself, MPS ranks 24th of 25 metro-area districts this year. Adding in pension and health benefits, MPS is not any more attractive compared to what a teacher can get a few miles north or west of here, where the work is generally easier and there's no residency rule. (Click on the graphic for the Journal Sentinel story from last year about area teacher salaries.)

Two is that six years ago, the union put on the table a health insurance proposal that would have reduced costs more than the package Andrekopoulos and the district proposed and won in arbitration a year later. Since then, costs have soared under his plan.

And three, the delay in settling contracts with the union we saw back then is a pattern Andrekopoulos has repeated. In fact, I and other MPS teachers are working under a contract that expired on June 30, 2009. The union has been ready to deal on health care, and other matters, for well over a year, but every day that passes without the district willing to negotiate is another day MPS hangs on to the higher costs of health care.

Another place Andrekopoulos could accept responsibility is in the over-sizedness of the district. I give him credit in the last two years for trimming the size of the district--two years ago, there were 214 programs; come September, MPS will offer about 190. But when Andrekopoulos took over, there were only about 180 programs, and about 20,000 more students enrolled. At the same time as MPS was leaking students, Andrekopoulos pushed initiatives--often in pursuit of Gates Foundation and other grant funds--that expanded the programs offered to the shrinking student body. The worst was the "multiplex" initiative, which I wrote extensively about here in 2005. All three multiplex high schools will be large high schools again come fall (North Division, Washington, and Marshall), and many of the other small, "innovative" high schools that grew out of those same initiatives are closed, too. Even with the closures coming this fall, MPS will still be operating well below capacity.

Look, I do not envy Andrekopoulos or his task here given the economic realities of the situation, and I certainly don't envy the principals and other supervisors who have had to put the human face to those cuts. (I have a feature in May's Compass about exactly that, though it's not online yet. Check back tomorrow.) But if Andrekopoulos is going to toss around a lot of angry criticism at people who deserve some blame for the crisis, he needs to look inward, too.

The budget proposed here is not final; it will still need to get through a Board that is loath to cut teaching positions, among other things. Plus some things could change twixt now and September, such as the district manning up and returning to the bargaining table to settle the contract. The Board's budget committee will meet Thursday, May 12 to consider what to be done. If you go, take a sleeping bag and some Red Bull.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Steve Prestegard thinks your safety is second to his profits

(He and Don Blankenship would get along great in that regard.)

by folkbum

Steve Prestegard has taken to his Journal Communications pro-biz blog to assert his right to do business over your right to be safe on the roads. Waupaca County, Wisconsin, has, like a few other communities around the state and several other states around the country, banned talking on cell phones while driving. This chaps Prestegard's britches, because of all the lost productivity:
I’ve written before about the negative impact this will have on business people, whether they work for a Waupaca County employer or are driving through Waupaca County. Business people use cellphones to contact, or be contacted by, customers or vendors, or for giving instructions to office staff or checking office voicemail. There are times in business where someone has to be contacted wherever he or she is immediately, without the delay involved in getting back to the office. For business people (unlike most people involved in government), time is money.
Yes! Thank goodness those historical titans of industry--Rockefeller, Morgan, Ford, Edison--all had cell phones at those critical moments! And we all know that Fuller Brush lost beaucoup market share when those first cell phone bans went into effect in 1961!

If you have to be available immediately, then pull the hell over. You are obviously so important to the continued existence of the planet that we can't have you be four times more likely to die in a fiery crash while you take that critical call.

Yes, that's right. It's not "anecdotal," as Prestegard insists, and it's not just as dangerous as talking to your passengers or watching for speed traps. (Indeed, it's better to just drive the damn speed limit, too.) Talking while driving makes you four times more likely to have an accident than if you are not. Talking and driving impairs you as much or more than someone driving at the legal BAC limit of .08%.

Moreover, as David Strayer points out here, it's estimated that as many as 1 in 10 drivers are yakking away at any given moment. Imagine the outrage if you knew that at any given moment, ten percent of the drivers around you were legally drunk. That would be untenable. And yet, here's Prestegard insisting that his right to check his voicemail--he's a very important businessman!--is more important than your right not to get t-boned by his S-Class (or whatever it is he's driving). I'm sure that he would not make the same argument about driving at .08% BAC. Why make it about about something just as deadly?

(Full disclosure: I sometimes talk and drive, too. But I don't try to justify it with myths about my being so important that I can't be bothered to obey the law written for those lousy peons.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shorter Ezra Klein

by folkbum

Paul Ryan is lying to you. Again.

Seventh Annual New Song Concert this Saturday!

by folkbum

Only once a year do you get a chance to see me and five other songwriters of equal-or-greater talent debuting songs written over the past year, and that's at the Portage Road Songwriters Guild's annual New Song Concert. This year marks year number seven that we have been doing these performances, though the group is now more than a decade old.

This year's concert is Saturday, May 1, 8 PM at the Coffee House in Milwaukee. I'll be playing along with Eric Baer, Chris Head (of Chris Head and the Honchos), Mark Plotkin, Chris Straw (of the Moxie Chicks), and Barb Webber (of Fair Webber). There will be a few special guests and, as always, surprises and witty banter. Doors open at 7:30.

Of note: I will have my EP "Porch Light" available for sale. Barb will be selling Fair Webber's new CD "By Request."

Additionally: If you haven't yet become a fan of mine on Facebook, what are you waiting for? In addition, you can stream some very old and relatively new recordings.

See you at the show!

Misleading AP Headlines

by folkbum

Wiggy and I were only common-law married.

(Seriously, though: If you marry some guy named Jesse James you can't be surprised when he turns out to be a bad guy. Come on.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rated M for Mr. Vice President

by folkbum
Biden came to my dorm room after the event. We did one-hitters and played GTA4.

Obligatory beer-pun Leinenkugel post

by folkbum

Actually, I don't have anything to offer, as I'm all tapped out at the moment ...


I see that Leinenkugel's official announcement has barley made a splash.


Media hops on Leine wagon; campaign ales, falls flat in polls.

Tea is where the money is

by folkbum

Remember when all those liberal media figures were raking it in exploiting the anti-war and anti-Bush movement in 2003? You know, when Phil Donahue made eleventy million from his TV and radio shows and every blogger who could string more than a few sentences together was getting a book contract? Yeah, me neither.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Oh, so THAT'S the problem

by folkbum

So Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks interviews one of the leading teapartite/ glibertarianites, Wayne Allen Root. (Root was the 2008 Libertarian VP candidate and headlines tea party events). Via digby, I see that Root has fingered the real problem in America.

When asked, repeatedly (watch it!), why the teatarians are not out there protesting the abuse of the economic system and the people of America by Wall Street and banks that have no qualms about manipulating markets for their own profit, Root offers no answer. Well, worse than offering no answer, Root decides to deflect:
The only thing I can say to you in response to that is that I'm a guy who believes in the private sector and private industry and I don't feel any great need to protest Goldman Sachs. I feel a much stronger need to protest government employee unions who are ripping off people in far greater numbers.
A-ha! So the real problem is not gimongous banks who control 8% of GDP (and 41% of domestic profits!) through fraud and disingenuous paper-shuffling. No, the real problem is the people who police your streets, fight your fires, manage your parks, teach your children, and pick up your garbage. Gosh darn those trash collectors! Bringing the economy to its knees the way they do!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yeah, That'll Be Good for Business

By Keith R. Schmitz

Truck driver driving through Arizona arrested for not having papers.

Thought the GOP was supposed to be a pro-biz party.

Got to bet this bone-headed law will be disruptive to interstate commerce since so many truckers fit the immigrant profile. Trucking companies will have to screen who does or doesn't get to traverse Arizona or risk getting tight trucking schedules thrown off kilter.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Does this mean that Tom Barrett has already won, then?

by folkbum

Via iT, I see that Rasmussen has gotten back around to dipping its polling proboscis into the cheese, and they've offered results on our governor's race:
The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state shows both candidates earning 46% of the vote if [Tom] Barrett runs against former Congressman Mark Neumann. Given that match-up, four percent (4%) prefer some other candidate, and five percent (5%) are undecided. The other GOP hopeful, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, also attracts 46% against Barrett, while the Democrat draws 44% of the vote. Three percent (3%) prefer another candidate, and seven percent (7%) remain undecided.
This is a poll of a November match-up conducted in April; as such, it's almost worthless anyway, except to tell us that the state's Republicans are likely to vote Republican and the state's Democrats are not. But on all things polling I defer to Nate Silver, such as:
[Rasmussen] is something of an outlier and would reflect a house effect of about 6 points when measuring the net difference between Democratic and Republican preferences. [. . .] Meanwhile, an increasing number of pollsters have begun to publish results among likely voters in their take on the Congressional generic ballot. [. . .] Note that the house effect here, again, is about 6 points.
As much as I do not put great stock in an early poll like this, I do put stock in Silver's comparative assessment of pollsters, which, as you can see, puts Rasmussen about +6 in the R column--which could put Barrett ahead in Wisconsin by a good ten points. Maybe. We'll see what the next slightly less partisan poll shows.

FriTunes: Escaping to Greener Pastures Edition

by folkbum

Best of luck to Marty Lexmond.

The deadofnight boogeyman

by folkbum

A hundred years ago--heck, even fifteen years ago--news traveled slowly and the public's right to know something quite often was thoroughly let down by a deficit in the public's ability to know something. Sneaky legislators could collude on underhanded bills, pass them in the middle of the night once the public was sleeping and the press was meeting sources in the parking garage, and only weeks, months, or years later would the full depths of legislators' malicious mendacity come to light.

A hundred years ago--heck, even fifteen years ago--would have been a great time to pass a law prohibiting legislators from having the kind of middle-of-the-night votes that, if not actually reflect such malice, at least arouse the suspicion thereof. Scott Walker, who of course was a legislator fifteen years ago and participated in his share of end-of-session late-night legislative bacchanalia, never proposed such a restriction when he had the chance or, to my knowledge, voiced his concern over the practice. [UPDATE: via capper in comments, Walker not only didn't complain, he voted to eliminate an 8 PM stopping time!]

But Scott Walker apparently finds it convenient to complain today, as he's in the middle of a campaign and needs something more than just lunch bags to talk about for a while. And "OMG! They're passing bills in the dead of night!" can be made to sound quite frightening and earn Walker some free media for the day. (None of the media that I saw or heard asked Walker why he didn't push to stop late-night legislating when he was a state rep. Disappointing!)

But here's the thing: I don't think today, with the kind of media that exist and the easy availability not just of legislative text but legislators themselves, that something completely surprising and tinged with evil could possibly make it out of a session without people knowing, or at least having a good idea about it, before hand. And while I don't believe that voting late at night ought to be the norm--I'm one of those people who likes to be in bed by 9:30 and is pretty sure the rest of the world should just stop working completely until sunrise (except those making the the donuts, they're okay)--the reason why you've seen such votes lately in Madison and Washington have nothing to do with trying to hide from the public and avoid, as Walker accuses, comment from constituents. Instead, you're seeing the inevitable result of filibuster rules (which pushed a lot of US Senate votes to after dark) and an archaic state legislative calendar.

The 24-hour news cycle, the internet, the ability to TiVo WisconsinEye, email alerts and tweets--these things all make every minute of a legislative session anymore just as visible as every other. No one should be surprised at which bills were passed overnight in Madison this week--DPI power grab, raw milk, payday loans, for example--because these are the bills that have been hashed, re-hashed, and hashed again in public and legislative debates for the last six months or more. Final language may have been tweaked during party caucus meetings the day of the vote, but to suggest that the public had no chance to comment or contact their legislators about the issues involved is just false.

Is late-night legislation ideal? Probably not--in no small part because apparently "it passed in the dead of night" is now a legitimate critique of the substance of a bill, if our experience lately, particularly reaction to the Affordable Care Act, is any guide. But it is an utterly phony campaign issue, and insulting. Insulting not just to the media (new media included) who have done a fantastic job using new technology to follow this schedule, but also to the voters who have access to so much more information now and don't need Scott Walker to protect them from boogeymen anymore.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

by folkbum

I wonder: Will tens of millions of people world-wide acting and gathering today to demand cleaner, renewable energy and more environmental regulation score even a fraction of the fawning coverage a few thousand tea-partiers got for trying to stop Obama from making Blue Cross cover your pre-existing condition?

UPDATED TO ADD: Al Gore is fat.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fixing the Internets

by folkbum

Since some people seem to want honesty in political ads ...

(Click the ad for an explanation.)

Nationalization FAIL

by folkbum

Never gonna get our socialist utopia if this keeps happening. (And this.)

Good Point

by folkbum

Quote of the day (annotated):
Also too, it’s a lot tougher to counterfeit a chicken than to counterfeit a piece of paper.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Green Shoots

by folkbum

The 13-year-old who walks our dog (don't judge me) now walks four of them and is outsourcing our dog to her little sister.

The next bailout

by folkbum

I just wrapped a story for May's Bay View Compass on how MPS schools are being squeezed by this year's extra-tight budgets--chronic state underfunding, chronic federal underfunding, declining property values, state cuts to SAGE, unresolved labor issues have all added up to pretty much every single school in the district losing staff and programs. Even schools I talked to that plan to enroll significantly more students this fall still cut staff.

So I like Tom Harkin's plan:
As public schools nationwide face larger class sizes and cuts in programs, the Senate's leading Democrat on education issues proposed a $23 billion bailout Wednesday to help avert layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers and other school personnel in the coming academic year.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa), a potential sequel to the economic stimulus law enacted last year, joins the mix of spending initiatives the Democratic-led Congress will consider this spring on issues such as aid to small business and appropriations for the war in Afghanistan. [. . .] Education Secretary Arne Duncan estimated that school layoffs could total from 100,000 to 300,000 unless Congress acts.
This will no doubt be painted by Republicans as a giveaway to the teachers unions (they really need to open up new lines of talking point exploration; the current ones are quite worn) and opposition will no doubt be unanimous on their end.

However, this is the kind of investment worth making. Unlike, say, tax cuts for individuals or even businesses, studies show that direct aid to state and local governments (like schools) provide a greater return, long-term, than the funds invested. Keeping schools stocked with teachers--not just for small class sizes or whatever, but for things like music and art--is smart public policy and good for America's soul. I say, bring on the bailout.

Monday, April 19, 2010

FriTunes: Special Monday Anniversary Edition

by folkbum

The anniversary.

The song that I always associate with it.

(Also, happy birthday to Dar Williams.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sarcasm quotes? Really?

by folkbum

(Note: Mertz responds in comments below and at his blog. It's all good.)

Thomas J. Mertz, the Cheddarsphere's most consistent pro-public school voice, mentions me amid Tom Barrett and others in his latest, which is about taxes:
On and around April 15, “Tax Day,” you always expect to hear destructive messages from the likes of those now in the teabag crowd. Unfortunately, we are now hearing them from “liberals” and Democrats also. What is wrong with these people? [. . .]

Leading “liberal” blogger Jay “Folkbum” Bullock jumped on the “taxes are bad” bandwagon with a post titled “On Tax Day, thank Democrats for your lower tax bills.” In the same vein was an email [note: pdf] from state Democratic Chair Mike “With this [2009-11] budget package, Democrats have strengthened K-12…education” Tate. Like Bullock, Tate boasts that “With Democrats in full control of government, Wisconsin’s tax ranking has improved for the first time in decades.” [. . .]

In a larger sense what is missing is the willingness to make a positive case for government programs and the taxes that pay for them. Barrett, Bullock and Tate all cede the ground to the anti-tax crowd. They begin by assuming taxes are bad and that cutting taxes is good. [. . .] The other mistaken assumption of this formulation is that current revenue policies are superior to any changes other than tax cuts. This is just silly. Tax codes are not divinely inspired, they are the product of years of messy legislative log rolling, horse trading and sausage making. There is plenty of room for improvement, involving increasing some taxes and cutting others.
I have no desire to start or continue or whatever any kind of a spitting contest over whose liberal cred is bigger or the like. But I think Mertz here, both in his reading of a single post and in his use of sarcasm quotes around liberal in his description of me, misses some key points, and gets almost everything about me and what I believe about taxes wrong.

One, I am a partisan. Always have been, always will be, and I have a near seven-year history of blogging to prove it. In almost every circumstance (David Clarke excepted) I am an advocate for Democrats and for Democratic candidates--and for better Democrats, too, as I was the one who asked who was going to challenge Tom Barrett from the left, mostly because of Barrett's attacks on schools. But given a chance to take a shot at Republicans, I will, as I greatly prefer to do that. In the post Mertz linked, my point was not "taxes are bad"; no such clause appears in the post at all. My point, rather, was that Republican politicians are lying about Democrats and that tea-party protesters are living in a fantasy world. The relative value of or need for particular taxes was not the main thrust of the post.

Two, I have, however, often written about taxes without being merely partisan. I was a staunch opponent of gimmicks like TABOR and I have been an advocate for higher taxes or usage fees, particularly in the context of trying to find ways to reduce Wisconsin's severe burden on individual taxpayers.

And three, long before Mertz was blogging and the current "a penny for kids" campaign, I was writing about school finance and property taxes and all of that mess. (For the record, I generally oppose swapping one regressive tax, the sales tax, for another, the property tax.) And trying, at the time, to advocate real reforms in equalization aid and real reductions on the cost side through things like effective health-care reform.

Look, no one likes paying taxes. But as I have written before, taxes are, essentially, the membership fee to the country club we call America and if we want to keep using the pool, we have to keep paying for it somehow. I don't think Mertz and I disagree on this, and I hope this sets the record a little straighter.

Friday, April 16, 2010


by folkbum

Someday, we will all live in cowtown.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On Tax Day, thank Democrats for your lower tax bills

by folkbum

It may not seem like it, given the relative availability of pennies in your pocket to rub together in these recessed economic times, but unless you're one of the very, very wealthy few (and if you are, why the hell are you reading my blog?), your income tax rates are lower this year than in the past.

At the federal level, 98% of working Americans (99% in Wisconsin, pdf) are paying less in income taxes, with none of the other federal taxes increased either. The bulk of that reduction in taxes came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, a bill no Republicans voted for.

At the state level, state tax rates and spending are lower than they have been in nearly 40 years. This, too, is the result of work by Democrats without support from Republicans.

The challenge, of course, is that this reality is not well publicized and, consequently, not well believed. For example, the new NYT/CBS poll (via) of the "tea party' people gathering, perhaps even as you read this, across the nation to protest their taxation with representation, finds that among the tea-party crowd, 64% think Democrats have raised their taxes. This corresponds well to what conservative apostate David Frum found that tea-drinkers overestimated, by a factor of eight, how high taxes really are.

What to do to overcome this reality is beyond my ken; the best I can offer is this post reminding people of the truth: Republicans talk tough on tax rhetoric, but Democrats deliver. Do not be deceived.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The first three things I would do, if I were the new guy

by folkbum

I have written endlessly about how much of what needs to change about the Milwaukee Public Schools is not so much problems in the schools but in Milwaukee--rampant poverty, parents who've checked out, health and addiction issues, and so on.

But as the new guy comes to town (he's visiting my school this morning, rumor has it) and prepares to take the reins, I am happy to offer three concrete steps that are actually within his power (pending board approval, which will be tough only for the first of these) to do that I think would improve MPS financially if not academically.

1. Shut down programs and consolidate schools. A decade ago, MPS had 20,000 more students and 20 fewer schools than it does now. We could shed 30 programs and not face overcrowding in schools. Cost savings would be minor, big picture-wise, but it would make management of the district easier.

2. Stop the "CO" merry-go-round. A "CO" is a central office suspension; when students, usually in the middle or high school, commits a significant infraction, they can face a disciplinary hearing that moves them from one school to another where, the theory goes, they might find a more suitable environment. But nothing happens to address the reasons behind students' misbehavior or motivate them to change. And kicking a bad seed out of a school, which could be good for the remaining students, just means a seat is open to accept another school's bad seed, which is no help at all. And it doesn't work--there is a core group of students who ride this train all year long, year after year, and just skate from school to school. The man-hours and money to maintain this system are wasted.

3. Settle the Jamie S. lawsuit. This is the special education lawsuit that has dragged on longer than most of our students have been in school. The appeal is a waste of money at this point, and a drag on the district.

There are other things that are not fully in the new guy's purview, but that are worth pursuing: Smaller class sizes and stronger interventions in key grades and subject areas, like middle-level reading and ninth-grade English; alternative schools that might take some of those "CO"-worthy students mentioned above; a fairer state-wide school funding formula; and renegotiating retiree benefits, to name a few. But the three above are a reasonable start and would set a tone that the new guy is serious about addressing behavioral, financial, and academic challenges in our schools.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I had my money on "Mid-Tier"

by folkbum

Sadly, they went with something more reasonable.

Monday, April 12, 2010

More about the new (same-old) voucher study

by folkbum

For those who need to catch up on the matter, see Friday's post.

Via Matt Yglesias, it seems that pro-voucher (and American Enterprise Institute think-tanker) Rick Hess is spinning and spinning what he calls the "non-effects" of Milwaukee's voucher program:
What to make of the results? First off, 20 years in, it's hard to argue that the nation's biggest and most established voucher experiment has "worked" if the measure is whether vouchers lead to higher reading and math scores. Happily, that's never been my preferred metric for structural reforms--both because I think it's the wrong way to study them [. . . and], more importantly, because choice-based reform shouldn't be understood as that kind of intervention. Rather, choice-based reform should be embraced as an opportunity for educators to create more focused and effective schools and for reformers to solve problems in smarter ways.
If that leaves you saying, "Wha?" then get in line behind me, Yglesias, and other observers like Kevin Carey:
Since “more focused and effective schools” are properly defined as “schools where students learn more” i.e. “schools with higher reading and math scores,” if vouchers didn’t result in more such schools then vouchers failed. One might argue that vouchers created the opportunity for educators to create such schools and educators didn’t take advantage of it, but what’s the difference? The whole point of structural reform is to change incentives and conditions; if the change was insufficient to create desired behavior then ipso facto the reform failed. A purely structural metric for evaluating purely structural reforms misses the point altogether.
What Hess is attempting to do is what Milwaukee's pro-voucher faction did for many years: define mere existence as success. Back when no real metrics were available to gauge vouchers' success--the bulk of the middle of the program's 20-year history--supporters would point to growing enrollment as evidence that the program worked. "See?" they asked. "If the voucher program were such a massive failure, parents wouldn't be choosing these schools, would they?"

This, of course, overlooked a number of factors, many of which have been made plain by the Public Policy Forum's work on vouchers over the years. For example, it became clear that market forces never shut school doors: Even when huge waves of parents would abandon bad schools (most years there was turnover between 1/4 and 1/3 of the students), there was a bigger wave of parents behind them willing to sign up. Parents, it was revealed, did little if any research to determine what voucher school to send their children to, or even if the voucher school they wanted was really any better than the local public school. And PPF has consistently found than many voucher parents would be sending their children to religious schools regardless of the existence of the program. In fact, in years when enrollment requirements changed and numbers soared (after the 1998 court decision, after the 2006 deal raising the enrollment cap), the biggest growth in enrollment came from students already attending voucher schools but paying previously paying tuition.

So even trying to claim existence as success was a misleading effort.

(The current, and getting very tired, effort to redefine success as something other than success is the whole "voucher schools do it for half price" myth--which Hess even tosses into his post. But, again, see what I have written previously on that.)

Thankfully, Carey and others, including the authors of the study that was out last week, recognize that defining success down--defining success as anything other than solid student achievement--is a fruitless exercise.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

One Paul Ryan lie to start your week

by folkbum

Undoubtedly, there will be others, but here's a good one to chew on as Monday rolls in:
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. (floor speech, March 21): There is an individual mandate. It mandates individuals purchase government-approved health insurance or face a fine to be collected by the IRS which will need $10 billion additional and 16,500 new IRS agents to police and enforce this mandate.
This "16,000 IRS agents" lie is absurd on its face, worse once you get into the details, and yet it is pretty much accepted as gospel now among the ignorati on the right because it keeps getting repeated by the likes of Ryan and Newt Gingrich (who claimed the call for new agents was actually in the bill, which is patently false), not to mention the vast right-wing echo chamber of FOX, talk radio, and badly formatted email forwards from your aunt in Palm Beach. Ezra Klein helps explain why it's bogus:
[L]et's track how an estimate becomes spin becomes a lie becomes a sound bite. First, the estimate: The CBO predicted that costs related to the Affordable Care Act would "probably include an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion over 10 years for administrative costs of the Internal Revenue Service." This money, incidentally, isn't to audit people or go door-to-door enforcing the individual mandate. It's primarily to give subsidies to qualifying small businesses and individuals.
But that didn't stop Republicans; no, their Ways and Means members--Ways and Means is Ryan's big committee assignment, you know, as the Republicans' chief budget writer--simply divided the larger number from the CBO--$10 billion--by the average salary of an IRS agaent, and came up with the 16,500 estimate, and put out a statement that said the IRS "may" hire that many new agents. The money is not even primarily for IRS employees, let alone the "agents" who do the auditing and the catching of Al Capone and whatnot.

And here's Ryan, the golden boy, the future of the GOP, deliberately lying about the Affordable Care Act, a lie that he is quite likely responsible for originating from his own committee through shoddy math and unashamed twisting of the language of the bill.

It is unconscionable that Ryan should be allowed to get away with this; he is purposefully turning needed small-business subsidies into menacing G-Men in the imaginations of people already too disconnected from reality to recognize the absurdity of it. Of course, since Ryan seems more and more to be living in said fantasy world, we perhaps shouldn't be surprised.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

iPad blogging

by folkbum

Well, I finally have my hands on one, and I have to say that the thing is absolutely beautiful. (And I have to say that by "have my hands on one," I mean that I'm standing here at the Apple store playing with one.)

The interface Is clean and smooth, and the web looks absolutely gorgeous. The books look great too. This keyboard is a whole lot better to use than my iPod touch's, though not a reasonable substitute for a laptop keyboard.

I think I can live without one, at least as long as it remains primarily a media consumption tool, as opposed to a media creation tool. My MacBook wins this round.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Reminder: Food Pantry Benefit Friday

(this post is sticky; scroll down for new content)

by folkbum

Don't forget that Friday, 8 PM, I will be performing a set of songs by Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne at the Coffee House. In these times, of course, food pantries need all the help they can get. If you have four spare bucks and some cans of food, please come on down and enjoy the show.

Not only will there be three other great acts on the bill with me tomorrow, my set will feature some extra-special guests, including a couple of very talented folks (cough) who will be making their Coffee House debuts and could use your support, too.

Tax Hell becomes Tax Median

by folkbum

BizTimes (via): "Wisconsin’s state and local tax ranking has dropped to its lowest level since 1961, according to an annual report released today by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. [. . .] When considering all revenue sources, Wisconsin ranks 24th per $1,000 personal income and 25th per capita."

Darn those Democrats for ruining a perfectly good Republican talking point!

FriTunes: A preview of tonight's entertainment

by folkbum

Here are the original versions of two songs I will be singing at tonight's food pantry benefit at the Coffee House:

(Watch for my wicked harmonica solo on that last one.)

Our annual voucher study post

by folkbum

Sing with me ... third verse, same as the first two!

The state-mandated study is out comparing students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program with students in the Milwaukee Public Schools and their performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, and, the topline numbers reveal, there is little substantive difference between the two groups.

There are some other interesting things hinted at beyond those topline (pdf) numbers, but the really interesting part is, again, the right-wing insistence that the report vindicates the voucher program because MPCP does an equivalently mediocre job with difficult-to-educate students as MPS does, but at half the price or so.

As I have explained here before, and last year in the Compass (with a graph!), this is a misleading, if not completely false, sentiment. The cost of education your average MPS child is approximately the same as the cost of a choice voucher. The difference comes almost entirely in the costs associated with being a large public school district: busing, programs for the academically talented and expensive college-prep programs, bureaucracy to meet state and federal mandates that voucher schools are not required to comply with, summer and after-school programs required by law, services for English language learners, and--the big one--special education services. None of these things are costs voucher schools must incur, but MPS must by law.

Still, the usual suspects--McIlheran at the daily paper and Schneider at WPRI--play up the half-price myth. Here's Schneider (skipping over his bizarre psycho-sexual fantasies about store clerks):
[C]hoice schools are spending 46% as much to get the same results as the public schools. This is not insignificant, given the constant pressure applied by public schools to tax more in the name of “the kids.”
At which point the goal of all of this becomes clear, defunding public schools in the name of WPRI's ever-present mission to shrink government and save all the poor, poor rich folk from the burden of taxes.

Schneider goes on to get a number of other things utterly wrong: "The report demonstrates," he writes, "that fourth graders in the MPCP actually enter the program with lower reading and math skills than their MPS counterparts. By the eighth grade, that disparity has flipped, with the MPCP students scoring slightly better." Not so; the fourth-grade WKCE results are not some kind of entrance exam; instead, they measure the amount students learn as third-graders--a result which actually is damning for the (voucher) schools that produce the lower results. On the other hand, these results show what I as a high school teacher have known for a long time, that middle school is a giant black hole in MPS.

Schneider, again:
MPCP schools can be much more nimble in reacting to the data presented in the report. Need to improve test scores? Fire some teachers and hire better ones. Are schools underperforming? Close them down or pull them out of the program. Are there programs out there statistically proven to increase student achievement? Get off your butt and implement them. All of these options are unavailable to the monolithic public school system, which is suffocating itself with bureaucracy and cumbersome teacher union contracts.
And again, not so. The report pointedly does not disaggregate results by school, so no one voucher school has any idea whether it is failing as a result of this report. And he's also wrong that MPS doesn't have the wherewithal to make changes, as recent work on math initiatives and the new literacy plan show. (Also showing in this comment: Schneider and WPRI's long-standing disdain of the working-class union families who built this country into what it is.)

This is not, of course, the first time I have had to lay some reality on WPRI related to vouchers. In fact, the last time I did it, WPRI honcho George Lightburn was busy complaining that voucher schools might be asked to meet some of the very same mandates that public schools have to, mandates that make the half-price myth just that, a myth.

At any rate, I don't suspect that next year's results will be much different, either in test scores or in continued promulgation of falsehood and myth from pro-voucher, anti-public school forces.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Have I mentioned that I read it for the comments?

by folkbum

This morning McIlheran rehashes one crazy conservative myth that we've already dispensed with here, but it only took one comment for more of the crazy myths to appear: "Today we also learn approximately 50% of the US household will not pay a dime in taxes," writes this poor deluded man. Which, of course, is not true: Everyone who works, buys anything, or lives anywhere pays taxes. They may not pay income taxes, which are progressively structured such that the greatest burden falls on those with the most income to spare.

Here's a previous post of mine on the subject, complete with pretty graph; but even the right-wing Tax Foundation notes (see the chart on page 5) that the lowest quintile of households by income still pays about a fifth of their income in taxes at some level.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Still just reading for the comments

by folkbum

Marvelously entertaining, starting with a bunch of people free enough during the day to comment on newspaper stories complaining that a bunch of people free enough to attend a mid-day rally should shut up and get a job.

But this comment bothered me:
At every turn it seems I am being told "if you make more than $200,000k (which I don't, but hope to one day) we will tax you more". Or "this will only impact the "rich"", "the top 10%" "the upper class" etc...As the trend of increased taxes on "the rich" ($200-250k/yr is NOT rich) continues [. . .]
He thinks "$200-250k/yr is NOT rich"? Seriously? The median household income in the US for 2009--meaning an equal number of households earned above and below that number--was $50,303 in 2008, meaning someone earning $200-250k is earning four or five times the median. In fact (note these are 2005 numbers, but I doubt much has changed), only the top 2.5% of households in the country earn $200k or more. It boggles my mind that someone could possibly believe that if they are one of the richest 2.5% of Americans that they are not rich.

And yet I'm the one they won't take seriously

by folkbum

Several things conspired to make last week's April Fools possible: One, I have student teachers this semester, and supervising their grading of papers takes significantly less time than actually grading the papers myself. Two, I still have very little voice, and thus my creative juices went into the typing, not the singing or whatnot. I had fun, and all of these fake blogs are available if you've ever wanted to start one of of your own.

And it's not like I expected anyone to take it for real (though this may have been in earnest); even the straight-up announcement was not that straight-up. But I was in fact trying to make some serious points, in particular about Paul Ryan his platform, such as it is. Yet the April-Foolsy nature of the project means I am not too bothered that those few conservatives who noted the campaign didn't actually address the substance that was there.

(Though I would like to know what of my writing Kevin Binversie thinks would make good ammo for the RNC.)

As Paul Ryan comes into his own in the GOP and declares his intentions to retire to a different state, it's getting clearer and clearer that he has no interest in serving the needs of his constituents, and instead is just saying whatever he needs to in order to get elected and pursue a path of deregulatory Randianism that enriches his wealthy friends at the expense of those who actually work for a living.

Don't believe me? Take a look at this paragraph from a recent speech of his that is getting a lot of attention (e.g.) from the right:
The drama that brought this creature [he means the Affordable Care Act] to life was unedifying ... part tragedy and part farce. Ethical categories went out the window. Never in history have the deliberations of Congress been subverted on this scale. The secrecy, the lack of transparency, the half-truths were stunning. The votes called at midnight ... the 2 and 3 thousand page bills members of Congress had no time to read before the votes ... the sordid backroom deals, the Cornhusker Kickback that shamed Nebraska, the Louisiana Purchase, the "Gator Aid" Medicare privilege for Florida, the additional Medicare dollars for states whose wavering representatives only yesterday were ferociously denouncing earmarks ... the federal judgeship dangled for one lawmaker's brother ... the raid on the Medicare piggy bank ... the lie that $250 billion for "doc fix" shouldn't count as a Health Care cost ... the double-counted deficit estimate scam that would land any accountant in jail ... the proposed Slaughter rule that Congressmen not record a vote on a bill their constituents hate, just "deem" it passed and vote on the amendments...and to complete the farce, the phony Executive Order pretending not to fund abortions when the Health Care bill, as "the supreme law of the land," does fund abortions. The level of political corruption to buy the votes for this debacle makes all past examples look penny ante by comparison.
There is not one sentence in this paragraph that isn't either a blatant falsehood or deeply hypocritical. To suggest that the "deliberations" on the health care bill that is now law were not transparent is absurd. This was the most debated, most over-hashed, most talk-about bill in recent memory. CSPAN ratings were through the roof. There was no line of the bill that was not public and posted and puzzled over long before any votes. Not like, say, the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, which of course Paul Ryan voted for without having read it. The health care bill? Come on. The Senate passed the bill three months before it was taken up in the house. If Paul Ryan didn't have time to read it, it's his own damn fault.

It's also remarkable that Ryan would lambast, for example, the "Cornhusker Kickback." Because when Ryan had the chance to vote to remove that provision, he voted no--just like the rest of his caucus. The "judgeship dangled" is of course a complete lie, according to the WND-approved judge who previously held the position.

I've written before about Ryan's hypocritical complaints about Medicare; the "doc fix" has been a separate bill for, literally, years; and Ryan is the only one who knows what he's talking about with that "scam" talk, as the non-partisan analysts all found nothing like it. And the "Slaughter Rule"? When Paul Ryan was voting on rules just like it, it was known as "deem and pass"--a decades-old procedure.

[Updated to add, because I can't believe I forgot it, that Paul Ryan voted for Medicare Part D, which, if there was ever a Congressional vote that was truly corrupt--I mean, read the story!--this was it. Ryan's got a lot of nerve to talk about bribery and corruption of process after he participated in that mess.]

And for abortion? Ryan seems to have bought into that lie, too. Here's the text of the bill:
(A) IN GENERAL- If a qualified health plan provides coverage of services described in paragraph (1)(B)(i) [i.e., ABORTIONS FOR WHICH PUBLIC FUNDING IS PROHIBITED], the issuer of the plan shall not use any amount attributable to any of the following for purposes of paying for such services.
You can believe Paul Ryan, or you can believe the text of the bill. Your call.

So here's the situation: Paul Ryan gives a lauded speech peppered with his own dishonesty and hypocrisy, and yet we are supposed to take him and his support seriously. Why? What possible value is there is puffing up a fabulist with a schoolboy crush on Ayn Rand? What makes him a more serious candidate that I would have been?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"American workers have already sacrificed too much"

by folkbum

Don Blankenship apparently didn't believe that, since he said it before his flagrant disregard for basic safety killed 25 men in his mine.

Also, note the desecration of the flag.

And, Central West Virginia Red Cross.

Wrap Your Brain Around This One

By Keith R. Schmitz

How would anyone know the difference?

Tea parties targeted for disruption by anarchists?

I just read it for the comments

by folkbum

On the one hand, hilarious. On the other, scary what they believe to be true.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

FriTunes: Easter Sunday Edition

by folkbum

It's also April 4:

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Campaign update

by folkbum

I'm so glad I have a capable staff who have remained on top of things. Excelsior!

UPDATE to the UPDATE: It's over ... I've had to drop out. Details at the above link. Sigh.

Yes! I'm running for Congress!

by folkbum

See the post below or go here for up-to-the minute updates about my campaign against Paul Ryan!

Special Announcement: I'm running for Congress!

by folkbum

To visit my campaign website, to sign up, contribute, and see campaign updates, click here.

As most of you know, the few readers I have left anyway, I have spent much of the last year attacking Wisconsin 1st CD Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Ayn Rand). The fact is that Ryan is an incredibly poor representative for his district, and the fact that he has risen to a position of leadership in his party points is a significant danger not just to the good folks of Wisconsin but the nation as a whole.

All along, people have been telling me, "Quit your whining and do something about it."

I haven't always known exactly what they had in mind when they said that--raise money to defeat him? throw a bucket of paint on him while shouting "Meat is murder"?--but their words have been weighing heavily on my mind for some time.

That is why, beginning today, I am doing "something."

Beginning today, I am running for Congress against Paul Ryan, seeking the 1st CD nomination for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Now, some of you are probably already starting to catalogue the reasons why this is a bad idea, perhaps starting with the fact that I insist on spelling catalogue with the -ue at the end. And it's true that there are a number of seemingly insurmountable barriers to my entry into this race. But let's take a closer look at them, shall we?

For one, I do not presently live in Wisconsin's 1st district. I am only a few miles away, though, and if the Doug Hoffman (I-Teabagger) campaign in upstate New York taught us anything in the past year, it's that out-of-district insurgents can still legitimately run for a seat in Congress. In addition, I spent my college years in Rock County, where Ryan was born and raised, when it was a part of the 1st CD (Beloit has since been re-districted to the 2nd CD). This is only fair, since Ryan spent his college years at Miami of Ohio, which is one county up from where I was born and raised and, ironically, the only other college I applied to besides Beloit College.

For another, I have no elected experience. Oh, come on. You know this one: If every job requires you to have experience, how can you get a job to gain that experience? Consider that Paul Ryan had not been elected to any office before he ran for Congress in 1998. Sure, he slummed around Washington, DC, working for some of the archest of arch-conservative elected officials. How is that different from me, slumming around Milwaukee, working for the Milwaukee Public Schools?

For a third, I have no money. Paul Ryan, as even a cursory glance at his financials will tell you, has more money than any likely opponent. That I have been living on a public servant's salary while Ryan's sugar-daddies in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries fed Ryan's campaign coffers should not disqualify me from running. I am also not intimidated by the fact that Ryan is willing to spend millions--he spent $2.25 million in 2008, outspending his opponent 17-1, because nothing kills like overkill!--in this election. In fact, the more money he spends now, the less he has to run for Senate in 2012.

In all, the reasons for my not running are hardly enough to stop me. That is why, beginning today, I am asking for your support. This goal--sending the GOP's golden boy packing--will not be easy, and it will not be something I can do without you. Here is my simple, five-point platform, and I hope these are all things you can believe in, too:
  • No more economic policies based on the fiction of Ayn Rand
  • No more social policies based on the hypocrisy of Catholic bishops
  • No more international relations policies based on the movie Red Dawn
  • No more education policies based on phony "miracles," be they in Houston or in Chicago
  • No more environmental policies based on the philosophy of C. Montgomery Burns
If these are reforms that you can get behind, sign up today to support me in my quest to take Wisconsin back from the forces of political terpitude and the party of "no."