Uncommon Sense

politics and society are, unfortunately, much the same thing

New Website Exposes Sky-High Public School Salaries, Including Dozens of Six-Figure Custodians

July 30, 2014 by Victor Skinner

California school employees are squirming to justify their top-dollar salaries to the public after a government watchdog group recently launched an online database with the eye-opening compensation records of over a half-million employees.

“The public votes on tax measures, bond measures without complete knowledge about how the money is being spent,” Ed Ring, executive director of the California Policy Center, told the LA Times. “Taxpayers are paying these salaries so they have a right to know.”

That’s why the Center recently launched Transparent California, a searchable online database with compensation figures for more than 581,000 California public school employees, as well as pay data for other public sector employees.

And the figures are staggering.

“Last year, James Hammond, the superintendent of the Montclair-Ontario Unified School District in the Inland Empire, was paid $492,077. Jonathan Eagan, the principal of a junior high school in the Bay Area city of Martinez made $279,669,” the Times reports.

“And 31 custodians at California public schools were paid more than $100,000 in 2013.”

The data was collected through public information requests sent by the Center to 1,058 school districts across the state, though only about 653 responded with relevant data. The Los Angeles school district, for example, hasn’t released the salary figures for its school employees.

The data the Center did receive back, however, certainly erode the relentless claim by union and school officials that school districts are underfunded.

read full article: New Website Exposes Sky-High Public School Salaries, Including Dozens of Six-Figure Custodians

budget, education, funding, government, nanny state, scandal

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Filed under: budget, education, funding, government, nanny state, scandal

More States Abandoning the Sinking Common Core Ship

July 28, 2014 by Vicki Alger

Barbarians at the gate.” That’s what Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal called opponents of Common Core national standards several weeks ago. His remarks are symptomatic of just how far elected officials within and outside Arizona have strayed from our Constitution, which doesn’t even contain the word “education.”

Supporters claim Common Core will provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students should know to be prepared for college and their future careers. On the contrary, many experts serving on Common Core review committees warn that academic rigor was compromised for the sake of political buy-in from the various political interest groups involved—including teachers unions.

Unsurprisingly, the curriculum is being used to advance a partisan political agenda, showcasing one-sided labor unionObamaCare, and global warming materials, along with more graphic, adult-themed books under the auspices of promoting diversity and toleration. But the politicization doesn’t stop there.

Non-academic, personal information is being collected through federally funded Common Core testing consortia about students and their parents, including family income, parents’ political affiliations, their religion, and students’ disciplinary records—all without parental consent. That information, including Social Security numbers of students in at least one state, is being shared with third-party data collection firms, prompting a growing number of parents to opt their children out of Common Core.

But they’re not alone.

Originally, 45 states signed on to Common Core, but so far four states have formally pulled out. Indiana recently became the first one to reverse course and implement state standards instead. This decision earned athreatening letter from the U.S. Department of Education about withholding funds and revoking Indiana’s waiver from onerous federal No Child Left Behind Act mandates.

South Carolina, Missouri, and Oklahoma have also ditched Common Core standards. In fact, Oklahoma’s legislation is considered the strictest to date for expressly reinstating previous standards for a two-year review period and prohibiting any aligning between assessments and Common Core. Seven additional states have pulled out of their federally subsidized testing consortia, and four more are considering doing the same—although one testing consortium, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC),still lists several withdrawn states as members.

Common Core is publicized as a state-led, voluntary initiative, but in reality it’s an offer states can’t refuse if they want their share of billions of federal dollars for education programs.

read full article: More States Abandoning the Sinking Common Core Ship

budget, children, corruption, education, elitism, funding, government, ideology, indoctrination, nanny state, oppression, pandering, political correctness, politics, propaganda, public policy, reform, scandal

Filed under: budget, children, corruption, education, elitism, funding, government, ideology, indoctrination, nanny state, oppression, pandering, political correctness, politics, propaganda, public policy, reform, scandal

This Government Program Leads to Rising College Costs

July 13, 2014 by Lindsey Burke

Federal lawmakers have been trying for decades to reduce the burden of paying for college. Congress has significantly expanded lending, lifted caps on borrowing, and cut interest rates on federal student loans. Parents even became eligible to take out loans to pay for children’s college in the 1980s through the Parent PLUS program.

The Obama administration recently used executive action to make federal loan terms even more-generous for students. The executive action extended something known as Pay As You Earn to students who took out loans prior to 2007, extending this taxpayer-financed subsidy to some 5 million additional borrowers.

PAYE is an income-based repayment option, created in 2012. Income-based repayment existed prior to 2012, but was less generous than the new PAYE plan. The PAYE plan caps the amount a student must pay monthly on his loans at 10 percent of discretionary income, with complete loan forgiveness kicking in after 20 years. If a student goes into “public service” — i.e., government or non-profit work — upon graduation, loan forgiveness kicks in after just 10 years.

Capping loan repayments, forgiving balances — none of these options are free. Taxpayers, many of whom don’t hold bachelor’s degrees themselves, must pick up the tab for this federal largesse.

Moreover, generous income-based repayment options and loan forgiveness — and federal student loans and grants generally — do nothing to mitigate ever-increasing college costs. In fact, college costs over the past few decades have risen in tandem with increases in aid, suggesting such aid might actually exacerbate the problem. Why should a university work to keep tuition and fees in check when there is a virtually open spigot of federal aid, readily available to students, with little concern about the student’s credit-worthiness or ability to pay back the loan later?

Equally problematic are issues of equity: Federal higher education subsidies shift the responsibility of paying for college from the student, who directlybenefits from attending college, to the taxpayer. College graduates will earn $650,000 more on average over the course of a lifetime than those with just a high-school diploma.

read full article: This Government Program Leads to Rising College Costs

budget, bureaucracy, entitlements, government, nanny state, politics, public policy, spending, taxes, unintended consequences

Filed under: budget, bureaucracy, entitlements, government, nanny state, politics, public policy, spending, taxes, unintended consequences

School breakfast, lunch programs suffer from $2.6 billion ‘payment error’ problems

July 9, 2014 by Pete Kasperowicz

The Government Accountability Office reported Wednesday that federal programs offering kids discounted breakfast and lunch programs at school are among the seven government programs most susceptible to “payment error.”

GAO released a report on improper federal payments, which found the government made a total of $106 billion improper payments in fiscal year 2013. As big as that number is, it’s a small reduction from the $107 billion in improper payments made in the prior year.

GAO stressed that the $106 billion in improper payments does not mean all of that money was lost — that total includes payments that should not have been made, but also includes payments made in the wrong amount, or payments made without sufficient documentation.

Still, GAO said the report again shows that the government needs to do more to put in place stronger controls to ensure that correct payments are made to the correct vendors, taxpayers and others who receive federal money.

According to GAO’s report, the federal school breakfast program was the most susceptible to payment errors. The report said this program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, had a whopping 25.3 percent error rate, which translates to $831 million.

The school lunch program was the fifth worst on a percentage basis, with its 15.7 percent error rate. But that translates to a much higher dollar figure because the school lunch program is so much bigger — $1.77 billion.

read full article: School breakfast, lunch programs suffer from $2.6 billion ‘payment error’ problems

budget, bureaucracy, children, education, funding, government, nanny state, scandal

Filed under: budget, bureaucracy, children, education, funding, government, nanny state, scandal

Student Debt and the Value of an Education

July 9, 2014 by Laura Prejean

In the face of rising tuition costs, which have more than doubled since 1982, more and more students are attending colleges, with Millennials being considered “the best-educated generation in history.” Despite the mounting cost and swelling debt, America’s demand for education, particularly higher education, has not decreased, defying typical market expectations.

This is what economists call inelastic demand, when people continue to buy a good or service regardless of an increase in prices. Though the post-recession job market is still difficult, growing student debt ought not to lead us to forget the dignity — and responsibility — of each individual student.

When prices for goods and services rise, consumers often make sacrifices and adjust their spending. For example, as gas prices rise, families use carpooling or more efficient routes to and from the grocery store. But what are students sacrificing when they join the immovable market for education? Are they considering less costly options with lower tuition, or do they unthinkingly take out student loans, falling into serious debt as they enter their twenties?

On the financial side, it is hard to ignore the escalating amount of student loan debt in this country: the total has swelled to over $1.2 trillion and is rising each year. While many have described this as a crisis, a recent report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at The Brookings Institution focuses on the still intact financial wellbeing of the individual, rather than the daunting debt. Brookings finds that “the average growth in lifetime income among households with student loan debt easily exceeds the average growth in debt.” This suggests that the income increase equips borrowers to compensate for the rise in debt, drawing a timeline for graduates and claiming that in just 2.4 years the average increase in household income compensates for the average increase in student loan debt. However, the article fails to account for the similar inflation of the cost of living.

In an effort to posit today’s borrowers as financially sound and remove the term “crisis” from the conversation, the Brookings report fails to note that even with a college degree, graduates face a tough job market. Even if the rise in income could supply the means to handle the burden of debt, the question remains: Is the value of a diploma still enough to justify its attainment?

read full article: Student Debt and the Value of an Education

budget, education, funding, tragedy, unintended consequences

Filed under: budget, education, funding, tragedy, unintended consequences

Public school administrators complain about pension costs; never push for solution

June 25 2014 by Tom Gantert

Lansing, Mich. – School superintendents across the state are starting to take their message about rising teacher retirement costs directly to parents.

Midland Public Schools Superintendent Michael Sharrow wrote June 16 that retirement costs were costing the district an extra $60 per student.

Farmington Public Schools Superintendent Susan Zurvalec also told parents in a letter the district’s budget woes were tied to costs related to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.

Teachers across the state still get traditional pensions as retirement benefits. Other state workers and most people employed in the private sector have 401(k)-type retirement plans. The unfunded liability for teacher pension benefits increased to $25.8 billion in 2013, up $1.5 billion from 2012.

Zurvalec wrote: “In fact, with the rising cost of the retirement system, which is not under our control, we are actually losing approximately $25 per pupil and not receiving any increase overall.”

But James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said school district officials could do more about MPSERS.

“They are absolving themselves of responsibility when they should be the primary voice of reform,” Hohman said. “They are the ones who have to pay for school underfunding. While funding ultimately comes from taxpayers, district officials are scraping the bottom of the peanut jar to pay for MPSERS. Instead of doing that, they should be on the record supporting MPSERS reforms.”

In 2012, Michigan legislators enacted some reforms to deal with MPSERS’ unfunded liability. For example, employee contributions to the plan were increased, some benefits were limited and new employees were given the option of joining a 401(k)-type plan. Spokesmen for the GOP as well as Gov. Rick Snyder say those reforms are working.

Hohman says closing MPSERS to new employees, similar to what happened to the state of Michigan employees retirement plan is needed. The Michigan State Employees Retirement System (MSERS) was closed to new state employees in 1997. Today, the state offers state employees 401(k)-type plans. Moving state of Michigan employees out of the previous plan has saved taxpayers an estimated $2.3 billion to $4.3 billion.

Zurvalec and Sharrow did not respond to requests for comment.

see original article: Public school administrators complain about pension costs; never push for solution

budget, bureaucracy, education, funding, government, reform

Filed under: budget, bureaucracy, education, funding, government, reform

The Slow and Glorious Death of America’s Worst School System

June 10, 2014 by Jim Epstein

The public school system is at “Def-Con 1,” warned the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, the poorest and most dangerous city in America. In an open letter to the governor, the mayor described “horrendous conditions” in the schools, warning that the situation had “reached a critical stage.” Camden’s school system “relegates too many of our young men to criminal careers” and “lifetimes of dependency,” he wrote.

That letter was dated 1998, but it could have been written yesterday. Then-Mayor Milton Milan (his heart wasn’t entirely in the right place, as he was later jailed for corruption) complained of aging school buildings and collapsing ceilings; Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard recently found that school buildings “are often in disrepair and no longer adequate as educational sites.”

Twenty-three years ago, crusading ex-Marine Gordon Sunkett stood on a six-foot platform for more than 60 consecutive hours to draw attention to out-of-control violence in Camden’s schools; on a recent listening tour, Superintendent Rouhanifard found that “half of elementary school students say they don’t feel safe going to the bathroom or walking in the hallways.” In 1998, researchers at Rowan University caused waves by reporting that 50% of Camden students dropped out of high school; last year, Camden’s dropout rate was 49%.

“Nothing ever changes in Camden,” says Derrell Bradford, the executive director of NYCAN, an education reform nonprofit. “It’s a great human tragedy.”

Camden’s school system can’t be saved—but it can disappear. Every year, more students flee the city’s dangerous and dilapidated schools for privately-run public charters that do a much better job at keeping them safe and preparing them for the workforce. In New Jersey, charters siphon money away from the traditional school system, which is one of their best features.

budget, bureaucracy, children, corruption, education, government, nanny state, public policy, reform

read full article: The Slow and Glorious Death of America’s Worst School System

Filed under: budget, bureaucracy, children, corruption, education, government, nanny state, public policy, reform

Higher ed becoming a joke: Column

May 19, 2014 by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

As college graduates around the country fling their caps into the air, college and university administrators are ending the year in a less positive state. It has been a tough year for higher education in America, and it’s not especially likely that next year will be a lot better. As an industry, higher education is beset with problems, problems that for the most part aren’t being addressed.

One set of problems is economic. With tuitions climbing, and graduates’ salaries stagnant, students (and parents) are becoming less willing to pay top dollar. This has caused some schools — especially expensive private institutions that lack first-class reputations — to face real hardships. Yeshiva University’s bonds have been downgraded to the status of junk. Credit downgrades have also hit several elite liberal arts colleges. Other private schools, such as Quinnipiac College, are actually laying off faculty. Georgetown in Kentucky cut faculty by 20%.

Even fancy schools such as Harvard and Dartmouth have seen applications decline, with Dartmouth’s dropping 14% last year, a truly staggering number.

It’s no picnic for public institutions either. “There have been 21 downgrades of public colleges and universities this year but no upgrades,” reported Inside Higher Ed. It’s gotten so bad that schools are even closing their gender studies centers, a once-sacrosanct kind of spending.

The decline in enrollment seems to be slowing, but the long-term problem remains: With costs growing, and post-graduation incomes stagnant or worse, students (and parents) are growing more reluctant to take on the extensive debt that is required to attend many private, and some public, institutions.

That is only made worse by the decline in higher education’s image, damage that is mostly self-inflicted. As Twitter wag IowaHawk japes: “If I understand college administrators correctly, colleges are hotbeds of racism and rape that everyone should be able to attend.”

read full article

bias, bigotry, budget, bureaucracy, columns, crisis, diversity, economy, education, nanny state, philosophy

Filed under: bias, bigotry, budget, bureaucracy, columns, crisis, diversity, economy, education, nanny state, philosophy

Apparently, Barack is the Jackass

I was recently introduced to a clever allegory describing the Obamacare controversy in the form of a corporation. It was a good idea, but had hardly any semblance to the reality of the situation. It contained plenty of snark, which is typical of most criticisms of the political right, but little accuracy. Of course, being an accurate portrayal had nothing to do with it. The purpose was merely to blame Republicans for the government shutdown and conveniently ignore any questions about the disaster that is the Affordable Care Act. So I’m rewriting the allegory here, with an emphasis on accuracy.

Imagine the company you work for held a poll and asked everyone if they thought it would be a good idea to put a soda machine in the break room. The poll came back and the majority of your colleagues said “Yes”, indicating they would like a soda machine. Some said no, but the majority said yes. So, months later, there’s a soda machine.

Now imagine Bill in accounting voted against the soda machine. He said there were serious problems with the whole soda program, not just the machine. He doesn’t like the fact that people are now required to buy sodas, and threatened to have their pay cut if they don’t. He doesn’t believe the sodas will actually be cheaper with the new program, but MUCH more expensive. But his concerns were largely ignored and supporters of the program simply decided he must have a strong hatred for caffeinated soft drinks, thinks they are bad you you, whatever. He campaigns throughout the office to get the machine removed, all the while the issues he’s actually talking about are ignored. Management decides “OK, we’ll ask again” and this time there are also questions about what to do with Bill.

This time a slight majority decide to promote Bill to CFO. He was previously assistant CFO to “Nancy” who also supports the soda idea. But, due to the poll, Bill and Nancy had to trade places. So now Bill is in charge of company money.

Bill’s concerns are only strengthened after getting a closer look at the program. The company is a bit odd as far as how things work. Bill’s department initiates any funding measures. “Harry” approves said funding measures, since his separate department is also part of accounting, before passing them along to “Barack” the company CEO for final approval. Bill thinks this soda initiative is a disaster in the making so he decides not to appropriate money for it. But, knowing none of the soda program’s supporters are willing to compromise for the good of the company, Bill makes efforts to avoid the eminent shutdown.

So Bill appropriates money for everything else the company needs. But Harry and Barack will not have it. Harry kills the funding measures, thereby refusing to fund anything for the company. And Barack states up front he intends to kill any funding measures that reach his desk unless the soda program is funded, while at the same time pretending he’s going out of his way to “work with the other side”. Bill processes payments for payroll, security, 401(k)s, everything except the soda program. Harry refuses to approve anything, except the security funding. There are concerns of gangs in the neighborhood, and Harry can’t spin this to his benefit if he kills the security funding. Everything else fails to get funded, and about 17% of the company is shutdown.

Once the soda program is finally implemented there are other problems. Everyone working in the basement level get their hours cut below 30, insuring they lose access to company benefits, such as the soda program. Bill is largely ignored when he voices his concerns about the loss of benefits and income by this move, but Nancy praises it as a liberation so the basement employees now have more time to pursue their own happiness. Some of these employees have blogs where they mention the things happening to real people, and that the reality doesn’t match the promises made to everyone about the soda program.

“Big D” works in the middle floor of the company. He knows nothing of Bill’s actual concerns, or about the harm being inflicted on the company’s employees. He only reads the company newsletter to keep informed. The editors of the company newsletter have always hated Bill, and loved both Harry and Barack, even before Barack was promoted to CEO. So the newsletter mentions nothing of the troubles of employees caused by either the soda program or Harry’s refusal to fund the company. In fact, the newsletter goes out of its way to blame Bill for the shutdown, despite the fact the did his job and appropriated money to keep the company running. The editors also try to make the 17% shutdown seem like the end of the company if things don’t get back to normal soon. Big D apparently only cares about his own situation. And since his benefits haven’t been changed, yet, he’s perfectly happy to disregard any nasty rumors about harm caused by the program.

After further failed attempts to negotiate, Bill gives in. Harry finally stops killing funding measures, but Bill still gets blamed for the shutdown. Now everyone can enjoy their sodas. Except Bill was right all along. The sodas are way more expensive than they were before, more and more employees no longer have access to or the money to afford sodas. And to top it all off, after months of preparation and a ton of money thrown at it, the new fancy soda machine doesn’t work anyway.

To help divert attention away from the huge embarrassment, the newsletter team and other supporters of the soda program accuse Bill of being racist.

Filed under: budget, bullies, bureaucracy, congress, corruption, crisis, Democrats, economy, government, health care, hypocrisy, ideology, indoctrination, left wing, legislation, liberalism, nanny state, news media, oppression, pandering, political correctness, politics, president, propaganda, public policy, scandal, socialism, tragedy, unintended consequences

Obama attacks core of organized labor

In trying to criticize Congressional Republicans over the government shutdown President Obama had these remarks:

“Everybody here just does their job, right? If you’re working here and in the middle of the day you just stopped and said ‘you know what, I want to get something, but I don’t know exactly what I’m gonna get. I’m just going to stop working till I get something – I’m just going to shut down the whole plant until I get something’ – You’d get fired, right?

Cuz the deal is, you’ve already gotten hired. You’ve got a job. You’re getting a paycheck. ..And so you also are getting the pride of doing a good job, and contributing to a business, and looking out for your fellow workers. That’s what you’re getting. It shouldn’t be any different for a member of Congress.”

You hear that union members? The very thing that makes organized labor work, the President finds humorous, greedy, and not worth taking seriously.

budget, congress, crisis, economy, government, left wing, legislature, politics, president, public policy

Filed under: budget, congress, crisis, economy, government, left wing, legislature, politics, president, public policy

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