Friday, November 11, 2016

Life in Trump Nation

Taking time off from this blog, which has petered out slowly over the course of this over-blogged election season, to try a new blog about reactions to and results of the election itself. Visit it here:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Addressing the Extremes

Yesterday, from two politically astute pals, I received separate messages that, taken together, represent the extremes of my left-leaning friends. One, who manned the barricades in Paris in '68 and lost his job in publishing when he tried to unionize workers, wrote that he was very much enjoying canvassing in PA every weekend and was surprised and impressed by the organized passion of the 20-somethings leading the way. The other, who has maintained a daily FB post on presidential politics that has been intelligent, educational, and increasingly bleak, announced that he's leaving the Democratic Party and becoming a Green.

I have written amazingly little about the 2016 election, mostly because what the hell is there to say that isn't being said and spread, People's Mic-fashion, at lightning speed across the planet? I have been unsurprised at the fact that *gasp* there is racism in the world and that *gasp* Donald Trump is a con man. Even the appalling coverage by the media hasn't shocked me, because I've read On Bended Knee and Manufacturing Consent and haven't had much hope that things would get better with the addition of social media.

What's really astonished me has been the tendency of some on the left to spout Breitbartisms (and worse) unironically and to collude in the logical fallacy that equalizes evil on both sides. Some of the dumbass stuff I've read this week (friends of friends, and not people I know, thank God) includes that Trump and Clinton are longtime friends who conspired to have Trump win so that Clinton could easily take the presidency and that Bernie was bought out by friends of the Clintons.

Is Clinton the "establishment" candidate? Well, they both are, to be honest. I'm "establishment," too, despite having solar panels on my roof and working out of my home for 30 years. I know that for sure, because I know that if anything goes wrong with me, I can pick up the phone and call a doctor, a lawyer, my town supervisor, a manager at NYSEG, my assemblyperson, and so on up the line. I may not be in a position of power, but I am connected to and comfortable with those who are. And you know what? Based on your upbringing, schooling, and life choices, so are most of you. That's privilege.

I cannot tolerate people who are apologists for Trump rally racists, who lib-splain away those people's homophobic rants by suggesting that trade agreements broke them. No, they are racist homophobes. Yes, corporate America sold them down the river, their unions cravenly abandoned them, and people have lied to them for 30 years that their jobs are returning and not being handed over to robots. But they are still dangerously uninformed racist assholes. Sexist, too, whatever their gender.

Hillary Clinton wasn't my first choice; I voted for Bernie in the primary, as I always vote my heart in a primary. I don't like her foreign policy, and I don't like her stance on fracking. I don't like her careful parsing or her penchant for secrecy; the only concern at all that I have about her server is that it represents an end-run around FOIA. Bill Clinton was about my eighth choice in 1992. That's the way it goes. None of us loves incremental change, but with the exception of important Court cases, historically in the U.S., big changes have come about through power grabs by the executive, and I'm not sure that's something to be admired.

Our local Democratic Party signed up nearly 5,000 new voters this year; I know, because I had the letters to new voters printed up. Around half of those (I assume, based on their timing) were Blanks and Greens and Working Families voters signing up to vote for Bernie in the Democratic primary, but half happened post-primary. Without talking to each of them, I don't know why they made their choices—but it's interesting.

I am a woman of Jewish heritage who is raising a woman of Jewish heritage. In our family, meaning those who might join us for a holiday meal or funeral, we have Asian immigrants, Latinos, and African-Americans. Catholics, too. I have no problem with people's leaving the Democratic Party, which like all organizations of a certain size and age, is rusty, unwieldy, and as hard to turn as the Titanic. But in this year of Trump, I would posit that voting for a third-party candidate is the epitome of white [male] privilege.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Reading List

"We are a country that imagines itself as democratic, and yet the majority has never cared much for equality."

So smart. Real history, but very readable. It upended many things I thought I knew, plus it could not be more relevant.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Remember That Thing You Voted For?

We tend to think that once we vote on a resolution, and it passes, our job is done. I'm sure our legislators feel the same way. But in the world of NYS education, that's not always the case. Remember approving the Smart Schools Bond Act in 2014? It was going to put all kinds of new technology in our schools. And it would have, probably, if there were anyone left in State Ed to approve the purchases. Instead, it was a Big Idea for which many legislators and the governor will take all kinds of credit but that in reality had zero effect.

Well, back in 2015, the state legislature approved an exemption for BOCES capital expenses in the Tax Cap Formula. Before that point, regular school districts could bond and build a capital project without the debt service affecting their tax cap, but BOCES could not. The result was that since the districts pay for BOCES capital projects, any such project would likely put them over their limit, so no BOCES building projects could be approved. TST, in our region, hasn't added square footage to its campus in over 20 years. We have kids traveling 50+ miles because they can't fit into programs at TST, and we have kids with serious developmental and emotional needs parked on waiting lists due to lack of space.

So the legislature heard us, and they passed the new law, and they called upon the Office of Taxation and Finance to develop the language that would include debt service for capital projects at BOCES under the same capital exemption from the tax cap that regular school districts have. But the Office of Taxation and Finance, an executive office, chose to stick the request somewhere in their pile of "Big Ideas We Really Don't Give a Damn About Because They Might Affect Something We Do Care About" (the tax cap), and across the state, BOCES continue to wait.

So students in regular ed can learn and play in updated, safe facilities, but students with disabilities cannot. Students who are on a strictly academic track can have spanking new science labs, but students in career & tech programs must learn in facilities from the 1980s. If you sense that this is an equity issue, you sense correctly.

The sad part is that many (most?) of our legislators probably don't even know that this change to the Tax Cap Formula has stalled. Like the rest of us, they imagine that once they vote for something, that something actually happens.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Speech for Opening Day at TST


I’m not much of a nationalist. I tend to think that people do pretty awful things in the name of misguided patriotism. But in an Olympic year, it’s hard to get away from that rah-rah USA! USA! mentality.

Clearly, there are some things the USA does very, very well. We swim really fast. We tumble across mats brilliantly. I thought for our opening day today that I’d take a look at what it is that the good old USA does right when it comes to what we do here—the business of education.

If you’ve been in public education for any length of time, you know that it’s a fraught subject. We hear all year long about everything we do wrong. Our kids rank low in STEM scores. Our education is expensive but unproductive. Our students lack resilience—that quality that lets socioeconomically disadvantaged students perform better than predicted.

If you read the paper, listen to politicians, or look at test scores, you might think that the US educational system is a disaster. But you’d be missing out on the many things that we do right.

1. We are really, truly inclusive.

This wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s, my cousin took care of women in her home who had been released from the institution where they grew up—women with intellectual or developmental disabilities. They had been warehoused rather than educated from a very young age—and this wasn’t that long ago! And long before that, we didn’t educate girls at all, or children of color. But today, our national goal is to educate every child to the upper limit of his or her ability. Rich kids and poor kids. Boys and girls. Children with disabilities. Children whose first language is Spanish, or Vietnamese, or Yoruba. Gay, straight, transgender. Urban and rural. Pregnant kids. Kids with HIV. Even, since Plyler versus Doe, undocumented children of immigrants. They all have the right to a free public education as close as possible to the community where they live. And unlike many nations, we will pay to transport them, we won’t charge them for uniforms or books, and we’ll do it for 13 years or more.

Of course, all of this inclusivity contributes both to the expense of our schools and to our mediocre test scores when we compare ourselves to other nations. You give something up when you make a promise to educate everyone. I’m going to suggest that our promise is worth it.

2. We offer breadth and options.

Nearly all of the countries we competed against in the Olympics offer curricula that are more rigid and more limited than ours. Many countries weed out college-bound students early in their careers and offer no alternatives to the narrow tracks onto which they place their students at a young age.

We offer not only the traditional liberal arts education, but we also include physical education, music, fine arts, and health. We clear a path as much as possible for those students who want to attend college, but more and more, we offer other pathways for students with other goals. In cities with magnet schools, students can focus their high school careers on media technology, or on dramatic arts, and even here in Tompkins County, the New Visions Program offers options for students whose interests lie in medicine, life sciences, and soon, engineering.

And once students are into higher education, the US system really shines. Nowhere else on earth can students find programs in bioethics, robotics, culinary arts, psycholinguistics, aviation, agricultural engineering, and hospitality, all within a 50-mile radius.

3. We nurture as we educate.

One of the reasons our schools cost so much to run is that we try to mitigate social problems within the school setting. Other nations don’t necessarily feed their children at school. They rarely offer psychological or social services. In many nations whose students do well on standardized tests, children and adults are not expected to have a relationship beyond the formal student-teacher connection.

It’s different in the US. We all know teachers here who are mentors and life coaches in addition to being content instructors. We talk about educating the whole child, promoting physical and mental health, safety, and a personalized learning plan. We are not always successful in our efforts, but we try.

My husband thinks that only speed, goals, heights, and distances should count in Olympic sports. In other words, throwing the javelin is a sport, because the achievement may be measured. Diving, on the other hand, which requires a panel of judges ticking off subjective point values about style—diving isn’t a real sport.

When I look at Olympic teams, I think about percentages. Like if we have 320 million people to choose from to make up a team, is it really that impressive that we won 121 medals—or is it more impressive that Jamaica, with only 3 million people, won 11?

Compare that to the way we evaluate schools. We like to look at numbers, because numbers are easily compared and contrasted. So we look at how much Finland pays its teachers and how well Finnish students do on tests. Teacher pay, standardized test scores—those are measurable, they’re “real sports.” But Finland educates 1.5 percent of the number of kids we educate, kids who speak 1 percent of the number of languages our kids speak. So whose achievement is really more impressive?

And then there are those subjective values—the way we treat kids, the options we offer, the fact that we let anybody play….

When you’re feeling put upon by the media, or by parents, or by the state, when you are made to feel that we’re doing a lousy job, not keeping up, failing our kids—keep your head held high. You all deserve gold medals for the work you do, and your board appreciates you every day. Let’s make this a winning year. Thank you all.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

I Need a Trigger Warning for Conversations About Trigger Warnings

I know it's causing agita right this minute at my other alma mater. I know that most of my friends view this as an anti-PC move by cisgender white men. But I applaud it, because I think the worst thing we've done in the past 20 years is to make it possible for people, and especially young people, to listen only to their own truths. That's how we ended up with the Election of 2016! Time for a serious reboot.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

First, Do Your Job

We rail at the GOP Congress because they are dragging their feet on one of their most important tasks: Voting thumbs up or down on Supreme Court appointments. But we are silent when our own state executive branch fails to accomplish two of its main tasks: Releasing funds that have been allocated and filling key slots in state government.

The State Education Department organizational chart from December 2015 shows several key positions vacant. It's now August 2016, and those jobs remain vacant. This page shows job listings at State Ed, with asterisks indicating those jobs that require Budget Division approval to move forward. The most immediate problem, I believe, is at the School Operations & Management and the Facilities & Business Services levels, where capital project approval has stalled, and what once took four to six months now takes a year or more. This may ultimately affect everything from retrofitting lead fixtures to using Smart Schools monies. It's maddening.

The upshot is that the executive branch can require SED to do various things—monitor the spending of Smart Schools monies, fix crumbling buildings, create a task force to review Common Core—yet withhold the very funds that enable the department to do those tasks. This is a Democratic administration that absolutely fails to put its money where its mouth is. We taxpayers think we are funding our schools. Where's the money going? It's anyone's guess.

I'd encourage parents and others to write to Senate and Assembly leadership and to the Governor to ask: "Where's my money going? Why are the halls of SED echoing emptily when we are paying considerable sums to fund that department? Why isn't the Division of Budget doing its job?"

Segregation + Media = Stereotyping

We know that America is more segregated today than at any time since the '60s. For the most part, black kids and white kids don't live in the same neighborhoods or go to the same schools. At the same time, for every middle-class "Black-ish" on television, there are 1,000 stories about poverty and violence in the black community.

So when Trump reaches out to African-American voters with the line, "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed—what the hell do you have to lose?" isn't he just parroting the perception foisted upon white America by the media? Yes, we expect our elected officials actually to visit the real world and see it for themselves, but Trump is wholly media-made, so it makes sense that he should believe this skewed version of reality.

When you have a strong middle class, you tend to have people of color working and living together with white folks. Remove those jobs, separate the very very rich from the struggling, and you tend to separate the races, too. At least that's been the result here over the past several decades. And when people are no longer neighbors and in each other's lives, they are free to imagine what "the other" is like. How's that working for us, America?

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Stench of Testosterone and Racism

I've attended NASCAR races and hunt banquets. I've walked past construction sites and New York City fire stations. I've survived pep rallies, bad rock concerts, and sporting events of all kinds. But you'd have to roll them all up into one giant doobie to equal the horror of a Trump rally. That is some scary angry-white-male shit.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Trends and Tribulations from the 2016 Rural Schools Conference

1. We are using the schools of yesterday to educate the leaders of tomorrow.

Bill Daggett was the keynote speaker, and there's nobody better to demoralize teachers, shame administrators, and convince the rest of us that we're on the wrong path. Here's a classic Daggett example.

When we test kids, we make them give us their phones so they don't cheat—because god forbid they should use resources or collaborate the way we'd expect them to do in real life.
2. As the feds get out of education, beware.

Some people are all smiles at the thought of education's being wrested from federal hands and sent back to states and localities. ESSA, the replacement for ESEA and NCLB, throws up its hands and says, "Okay, no more AYP (annual yearly progress) reports; you take care of it." Daggett thinks the feds want out because they're going to have to use those dollars to fund Social Security and Medicare—old folks' demographics going up, kiddies' demographics going down, so you need to put your money where the need is. Doesn't matter what the reason is; it's happening. And even certain states are pushing things down the road toward the localities; see, for example, Texas's "Districts of Innovation" plan. Kentucky's been doing this for a while. A word of warning: The state can still come in and shut you down if they don't like your results.

Kansas's recent resurrection of the "government schools" mantra (which I first heard right here in Dryden 15 years ago in this context: "PreK is an attempt by government schools to take our children away as soon as possible") just exacerbates the movement. But as I wrote a year ago, the feds are all that stand between our civil rights and chaos. Without federal oversight, there's no clear mandate to educate all students. Do you think that a local town will spend $1 million to support a child with significant disabilities? Or do you think the town will find a way to house such children out of sight, as happened prior to the 1960s? My cousin used to care in her home for women who were released from institutions with the big institutional dump of the 1970s; their only deficit was mental retardation, but they had never received any training or education of any kind. Want to go back there? We're well on our way.

3. There's never a lack of tech innovation, but it just magnifies inequalities.

Google Classroom is wonderful, and I would absolutely use it if I were teaching. But kids without broadband access at home have to rely on libraries and after-school programs, which really minimizes the flip in their flipped classrooms. Daggett is pushing Google's AR/VR-supporting Cardboard. It's totally fun and fabulous, but it assumes that every kid has a smart phone with a pretty flexible plan.

By the way, how's that broadband initiative coming, New York? What? Providers only want to upgrade the already-have rather than spending a dime to provide to the don't-have? You didn't consider requiring an "last-mile" block with every "cheap-and-easy" block you sold? There's a shock.

4. ESSA requires tracking kids post-graduation, which could be a game-changer. Or not.

Paul called for this every single year he was on the school board and earned a deafening silence in return. Meanwhile, we continue to send graduates to college, where 34.8%* drop out in their first year of four-year schools, and 44.5%* drop out of two-year schools. In New York, 37.8%* graduate four-year colleges in four years, and 10.9%* graduate from two-year programs. (*Daggett's numbers) College for everyone? Well, we still advertise it that way, and we proudly post the numbers of college-bound seniors in our graduation programs.

I went to a presentation by the superintendent of Unadilla Valley CSD, where the motto is "Everyone will flourish today, tomorrow, and beyond." I asked him what he's doing to assess that "tomorrow and beyond" part, and he said they gave kids a questionnaire at graduation rehearsal, after one year out, and after five years out. However, because they just started doing that, he didn't have results to share. I would posit that pretty soon, all schools will be doing something similar, and I think they'd better start sharing those results with their communities. Schools will begin to be judged by what students do after they leave. It will be eye-opening.

5. The governor's office is trying to strangle State Ed.

I heard this more than once. Positions are not being filled, because new applications are held up in a stalled queue at the Division of Budget. Getting approval for a capital project, even a minor one, takes nearly a year. The Commish is running around the state trying to win back teachers and parents by making changes to testing and standards, but she is being undermined by the lack of personnel support to do the work in Albany.

6. Opioids are the rural school scourge.

This was the first year that I heard a lot from all sides about how heroin and prescription drugs are affecting schools. The main problem right now is the devastating effect on families, but there are problems with student addictions as well. This one won't be going away soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Death of Supranationalism?

At my core, I'm a one-worlder, in the supranationalist sense of the word. I'm not into world domination, but I do think that things such as income inequality, climate change, and peace can never be solved nation by nation.

It's that kind of supranationalist thinking that led in the 90s to trade agreements that have sent a lot of lefties into a sudden nationalist tizzy. Even though it's ostensibly the right wing that wants to eliminate the EU and close our borders, a surprising number of people on the left are clamoring for similar changes.

Nationalism sucks; it gives us border clashes and independist wars. It's not a natural construct; in many cases, "nation" is held together by a strongman dictator; remove the dictator, and the nation flies to pieces. Nationalism is the reason I cringe when I hear Trump spout the old anti-Semitic "America First" line, or when I hear references to American exceptionalism. We fly a flag at our house to counter the nasty elements of nationalism that popped up in the flying of flags post 9/11. I like America, but it's an America of my own construct, not the one you all impose on me.

If the pendulum toward free trade is now moving back in the other direction, we can expect what we've seen this year: nativism, sabre-rattling by white supremacists, reduction of political freedoms.

The problem I didn't foresee with free trade was that it meant corporate world domination. The one world we got wasn't an end-of-days Narnia run by a free population of diverse but loving human beings. It was a worldwide dominion controlled by a few monopolies, with the "common good" way, way down on the list of priorities. There is not a chance that such a ruling structure would address income inequality, climate change, or peace.

If the pendulum toward free trade is now moving back in the other direction, we can expect what we've seen this year: nativism, sabre-rattling by white supremacists, reduction of political freedoms.

So what now? We retreat to within our borders and make widgets no one wants as a means of achieving full employment? We hoard our own water while the rest of the world burns? We stop educating and feeding the world? We wall everyone out, deny our own diversity, and pretend we are the Aryans of de Gobineau's fantasies?

It's a creepy, sad time in America, a time when one political candidate has enabled our dormant racism and xenophobia to awaken, full-throated. Since history tends to go in cycles, some day we should swing back toward a freer, more collaborative world. I truly hope it's not too late.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


As someone who once lost her two-year-old for a paralyzing eight minutes in Baltimore's bustling Harborplace, forgive me if I'm a little sympathetic to the doxed and shamed mom of the kid who fell into the gorilla pit at the Cincinnati Zoo, leading to the death of a beloved 17-year-old ape. I get it: The gorilla was just being a gorilla. They could/should have drugged him (although it would have taken ten minutes to take effect, and who knows what that ten minutes would have wrought). Online chatter went ballistic with everything from racist blather to calls for the lazy, incompetent mother to be jailed. The fact that the dad was there, too, is only mentioned occasionally. Because we all know that any accident befalling a child or bad behavior emanating from a child is 100% the mother's fault. Today, in 2016.

It's exhausting.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

John King Doubles Down

Suppose you had the highest education job in the nation for another seven months max. What would you do with that time?

If you were U.S. Secretary of Education John King, you would go out with a bang, not a whimper. King took advantage of the 62nd anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education to declare,

We have failed to close opportunity and achievement gaps for our African-American and Latino students at every level of education. And in far too many schools, we continue to offer them less—less access to the best teachers and the most challenging courses; less access to the services and supports that affluent students often take for granted, and less access to what it takes to succeed academically.

In case people thought he was blowing smoke, the feds came out and found Cleveland, MS, in violation of the constitution after a 50-year court battle. The resegregation of American schools has been a slow-moving but inexorable process since the 1960s. Google "resegregation" to find dozens of intelligent articles about the concept.

King has decided that his best weapon in the battle to equalize resources is the money he controls under Title I. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, currently entitled "Every Student Succeeds Act," or ESSA, proclaims that for schools that serve low-income students to to get Title I money from the feds, they must prove that they are using their other monies—local and state—to serve kids equally. It's about civil rights, which is the unspoken bailiwick of the Department of Education and really, the only reason to have a federal department at all. All those Trumpeters and others who want to get rid of the feds' role in education ought to have their children sent to the wrong side of the tracks in Cleveland, MS.

But of course people are squawking, because no one ever wants to give up what they have to give have-nots what they need. Lamar Alexander and Randi Weingarten are on the same side of the squawk battle, which probably doesn't happen very often.

Arne Duncan, the secretary who preceded King, tried to leverage Title I monies to drive reform. It didn't work. King's focus on specific inequities is more within the latitude of the department, but he's still under fire.

Here's what I think: If School A in Cleveland, MS, doesn't have a lot of low income students, and School B does, so that School A gets almost no Title I money, and School B gets plenty, Schools A and B should get equal monies from local and state taxes. It's the law: Title I is meant to supplement, not supplant local and state dollars. If the district uses Title I money to buy Reading 180 in School B and state money to buy a different reading program in School A, even if everything else is equal, that implies a use of Title I money that is supplanting state money.

It's not an easy fix. Salaries differ between School A (where teachers stay for their whole careers, because it's an easy gig) and School B (where new teachers are dumped and paid less because everyone knows it's a stepping-stone school).

John King doesn't want his legacy to be "that NY Commissioner who messed up on student privacy and Common Core." He wants to be known for something big, something important. This may be it. But it needs to land in the courts between now and December, and I hope that it does.

Nobody wants to give up what they have. But unless the pot is unlimited, what choice is there? What moral choice, I mean.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Anti-PC and What It Hath Wrought

Everyone has a point at which political correctness crosses the line and becomes more irritating than enlightened. For Bill Maher, it was Halloween costumes. For me, it's being expected to know which pronoun to use when discussing someone who has not made public the pronoun it/they prefer. For Donald Trump, it's everything.

"PC" is a term usually used disparagingly or ironically, but it refers to something real: an attempt to avoid hurting others. It emerged most likely from the Maoist concept of "firm and correct political orientation" and was adopted by the New Left, sometimes ironically, sometimes seriously—Toni Cade Bambara wrote in 1970 that "a man cannot be politically correct and a chauvinist too," calling out leftist men for their treading a party line that kept women trailing behind.

Political correctness led to multiculturalism. In my world, the world of children's textbooks, we found ourselves replacing Dick and Jane and Sally with Miguel and Shonda and Lian. Dad was no longer the only one who went to work, and Mom wasn't the only one who cooked. But guess what? Those edits reflected changes in the world; they did not create the changes.

The backlash, when it came, was furious. Allan Bloom started it with The Closing of the American Mind, which could have been a little-read grumpy philosophical tome but instead hit a nerve and became, as Camille Paglia later said, "the first shot in the culture wars." The 1990s were filled with anti-PC backlash, as exemplified by this article from the Times and the conference it describes.

"It's a manifestation of what some are calling liberal fascism," said Roger Kimball, the author of "Tenured Radicals," a critique of what he calls the politicization of the humanities. "Under the name of pluralism and freedom of speech, it is an attempt to enforce a narrow and ideologically motivated view of both the curriculum and what it means to be an educated person, a responsible citizen."

Rapidly the Right (Bloom, Kimball, D'Souza, Paglia, and others) redefined political correctness; and any positive implications PC might have had regarding inclusion, diversity, feminism, critical analysis, and tolerance were buried under the labels of dogmatism, favoritism (as in affirmative action policies), and, yes, a new intolerance. For a through-the-rabbit-hole view of this thought in action, see Chapter 4: "Freire and Political Correctness" in Peter Roberts's book on Paulo Freire.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and you have the GOP presidential candidate saying, "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either." And when you interview his followers and ask them what they like about him, 9 out of 10 mention that he says what's on his mind and isn't PC. By which they mean that he doesn't care if his words hurt others, if he's sexist or racist, or if he appears to be ignorant about the world. They like that about him because it's how they want to be. And they somehow believe that by pushing back on political correctness, they can correct the movement of the country toward a diversity they would rather ignore.

I recently called out a woman I know on FB who said of Hillary Clinton, "When it comes to schmoozing for campaign money, she ought to have a mattress strapped to her back with the meter running." I accused her of self-hating anti-feminism and said that I was a Bernie supporter, but people like her made me question my sanity. Whereupon she replied that she, too, was a feminist, but "To go easy on Hillary because of her gender would be sexist." And that is what anti-PC hath wrought: The inability to see how certain language applied to one gender/race/ethnicity/sexual orientation can be hurtful. Men would never be accused of "having a mattress strapped to their backs," not even in an anti-PC world. PC may be rigid and foolish and often hypocritical, but anti-PC returns us to the 1950s, a Stone Age world of Dick and Jane. That just isn't the world in which we live, no matter how much Trumpeters wish it were so.

Friday, May 6, 2016


I started this blog with him in mind, and he was my most faithful reader. He would have laughed at the fact that I had to argue with the Ithaca Journal over paragraphing in his obituary.
Zahler, Stanley

Stanley Zahler, age 89, of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, and formerly of Ithaca, died April 26, 2016, of complications following a fall. Born May 28, 1926, in New York City, to Clara and Irving Zahler, Stan attended Townsend-Harris High School and started college at CCNY at the age of 15. He enlisted in the Navy air force just before his 18th birthday and was commissioned as an ensign at age 19, immediately after VJ Day.

Following his discharge, Stan attended NYU, expecting to become a doctor. Two years later, he changed his mind thanks to a great professor who described the wonders of scientific investigation, and instead enrolled in graduate school at University of Chicago. He worked in the lab of James Moulder and spent hours each day reading science in a booth at Reader's Drugstore. One day he met a young woman named Joy, who returned to her dorm that night to tell her roommate, 18-year-old Jan Haugness, that she had just met the man Jan was going to marry. Jan scoffed but finally allowed Joy to drag her to Reader's, where she asked Stan about a topic she expected to be tested on in her freshman biology class. Stan explained, Jan got an A on the test, and after she showed up in Stan's lab to thank him, they saw each other daily and were inseparable for the next 65 years.

In 1952, Stan moved to Urbana, Illinois, to work as a post-doc with Salvatore Luria. Jan went overseas with her brother and was in a serious motorcycle accident that left doctors sure that she would never walk again. Stan decided they should be married right away and that she would indeed walk again. They were married in November; six months later, she walked. From then on, they could be seen anywhere they lived, walking hand in hand every evening.

During their honeymoon, Stan and Jan attended the symposium at Cold Spring Harbor where James Watson presented the double-helix model of DNA. Fifty years later, Stan still considered it the most exciting scientific talk he'd ever heard.

Stan next spent five years in Seattle, teaching microbiology at the University of Washington. His two daughters were born there. The family moved briefly to Morgantown, West Virginia, before settling in Ithaca, where Stan would teach and do research on B. subtilis at Cornell University. He began work in the Department of Dairy Industry, teaching microbial genetics, a new course. His son was born that year, and the family moved from one side of the lake to the other, rarely staying in one house for more than a couple of years. A sabbatical in 1966-67 brought the family to southern California, an area Stan and Jan loved and to which they would eventually retire.

In his 35 years at Cornell, Stan was a co-founder of the Biology & Society program, Associate Director of the Division of Biological Sciences, and Chair of the Genetics & Development Section. He wrote dozens of peer-reviewed papers as well as chapters in books and textbooks on virology, bacteriology, genetics, and molecular biology. He mentored graduate students from his first (Ph.D. 1967) to his last (Ph.D. 1992). And he taught microbiology to some 2,000 students. In 2008, one of his former undergraduate students, who had taken his introductory course 40 years earlier, endowed a display case in Stan's honor in Mann Library.

Stan retired in 1994, and in 1999, he and Jan moved to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, for winters only at first, but later permanently. For many years they traveled between California and New York by car, exploring every corner of the country as they went.

Stan leaves behind his wife of 63 years, Jan; daughters Kathy (Paul Lutwak) of Freeville, NY, and Diane (Philip Sicker) of Wassaic, NY; son Peter (Lisa Herb) of East Chatham, NY; his brother Burt (Sachiko) of St. Johnsbury, VT; grandchildren Ben Sicker, Olivia Lutwak, and Gabe Zahler; and several beloved nephews and nieces. At Stan's request, there will be no service, but in his memory you are invited to flip over a rock, identify a bird, argue a fine point, pick up a snake, read a good book, take a walk in the woods, and otherwise express your joy at being a fascinated human being on a fascinating planet.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Per-Pupil Spending Nationwide

NPR and Ed Week put together this awesome map that you can get lost in. I wish I could embed it, but they don't make it easy. But check it out anyway!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Stop the Presses, NY Politics Stinks!

Here's what happens when NYS finally, after 40 years, has a presidential primary that matters:

1. There's panic in the streets as people suddenly notice that our primaries are closed.

2. The same people and others figure out all of a sudden that the delegate selection process makes little sense.

3. Everybody freaks out about the existence of superdelegates.

4. I get endless petitions calling for the registration dates to change.

5. People realize, apparently for the first time, that we can't vote online or by mail.

Here's what I'd like to happen post-November in NY: People continue fighting for open primaries, day-of or week-of registration, early voting, and the demise of the superdelegate system.

Here's what I expect to happen post-November in NY: People go back to sleep for 40 more years.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Primary Primer for April 19

Having a daughter who gets to vote in her first presidential election this year makes crystal clear to me all that I don’t know about primaries, despite having voted in them for decades. I’ll leave aside her most difficult, insoluble questions: Why do Democrats have superdelegates? Why does each state do things differently? But with the help of the Board of Elections, the League of Women Voters, and other smart people, I’ll try to answer the most common questions you may have about the presidential primary ballots you will see on Tuesday, April 19.


New York’s is a completely closed primary. Only registered Democrats may vote in the Democratic primary. Only registered Republicans may vote in the Republican primary. If you are a new voter who enrolled in one of those parties by March 25, you may vote. If you changed your registration to one of those parties prior to last October 9, 2015, you may vote. If you are not listed on the voter rolls but believe that this is an error, you have the right to request an affidavit ballot. Your registration will be double-checked after you complete that ballot.


New York has the potential for three separate primaries in 2016: Tuesday’s presidential primary, a federal primary (Congressional) in some areas on June 28, and a state and local primary on September 13. We like to keep our election inspectors fully employed, it seems.


Polls will be open in Tompkins County from noon until 9 on Tuesday, April 19. Unlike in some other states, in New York, Republicans and Democrats vote on the same day and at the same polling places. To find your polling site (and check to make sure that you are registered), use this handy search site: Voter Lookup.


In Tompkins County, some polling places will have two lines, one for Democrats and one for Republicans. Others may have a mixed line, especially if registration is skewed very Republican or very Democratic in that election district. When you sign in, you will receive the ballot that matches your party registration. Take the ballot to the voting booth, fill it in, and feed it into the voting machine. Election inspectors will help you if you have questions about the process.


The ballots for Democrats and Republicans are quite different from one another. Here’s what you will see.


Here’s a sample of the Democratic ballot.

On the Democratic ballot, the candidates for president appear in column 1, followed by the people who are their local delegates.


Each Congressional District sends a set number of pledged delegates to the convention in Philadelphia. Here in the 23rd District, we get five Democratic delegates in all. Larger districts get as many as seven.

Each delegate applied to one of the two campaigns and was selected to serve at the convention. The delegates are committed to vote for their designated candidate on the first ballot at the convention. Should there be additional ballots, they may or may not change their votes.


Gender matters in the delegate choices. Delegates are chosen by gender from the highest vote getters. According to party rules, three out of five of our Congressional District’s delegates must be female.


Yes. You may choose any five delegates on the ballot. Most people will probably choose the horizontal row of delegates that matches their candidate, but some may know one or two of the other delegates and respect them enough to think that they will do the right thing at the convention on the second or third ballot. Be careful, though. If you choose more than five delegates, you will invalidate your ballot. (If you realize that you have made a mistake, though, you may trade in your ballot for a fresh one and start over.)


Yes. Your ballot still counts if you vote only for a presidential candidate.


No. New York Democratic primary results are proportional. If one candidate gets 40 percent of the vote, that candidate gets two (2/5, or 40%) delegates from the 23rd District. One will be the highest-vote-getting female delegate for that candidate, and the other will be the highest-vote-getting male.


Sort of. Some of the party leaders and elected officials are officially unpledged, and those (e.g., the governor, our senators, Bill Clinton [do we really think he’s “unpledged”?]) are already chosen. But the pledged party leaders and elected officials are chosen based on the primary results.


The Republican ballot is much simpler.


The Republican Committee will choose Republican delegates for the Cleveland convention in Congressional District meetings soon after the primary election. They will give delegate positions to the “party faithful,” a new rule for 2016. In the 23rd Congressional District, as in all other CDs in New York State, we are allowed three Republican delegates.

Like the Democratic delegates, Republican delegates will be bound, or pledged, to a particular candidate for the first convention ballot only. Unlike the Democratic delegates, the Republican delegates are “winner takes most” rather than proportional. That means that if one candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, that candidate gets all three delegates. If one candidate gets 45 percent and another gets 37 percent and a third gets 18 percent, the first gets two delegates, the second gets one, and the third gets none at all.


According to the Board of Elections, he never filed the necessary paperwork to have his name removed.


No. Only the Democrats have superdelegates. At-large delegates will be chosen at the Republican State Committee meeting in May and bound to candidates based on the primary results.

It is very rare for New York’s late primary to matter at all in the scheme of things. Someone told me that it hasn’t been meaningful in 40 years. But it’s certainly significant this year; New York could make a real difference. Let’s get that turnout up. Don’t forget to vote.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Constitutional Convention Pros and Cons

I've written about my vague desire for a NYS Constitutional Convention, and I appreciated the opportunity to hear the pros and cons from expert Hank Dullea and our assemblywoman, Barbara Lifton, at last night's TC Dems Issues Committee Forum. It wasn't really a debate so much as a presentation of opinions, followed by questions from the audience. And it left me no less eager to move forward with a convention. My general impression, which I shared with the group, was that the Pro side showed pessimism about the legislature mixed with optimism about the People, whereas the Con side showed the opposite.

Lifton presented what she billed as the "progressive" concerns about a convention, which boil down to 1) we don't know who will control the convention, 2) a lot of good things could be changed or destroyed, from labor rights to aid to the needy to the Forever Wild designation to state pensions, and 3) corporate interests could take over (see point 1). She used the constitution's promise of a "sound basic education" as an example of what might be damaged, saying that the CFE court decision that pledged adequate funding could be made null and void with a removal of that clause.

Leaving aside the dreadful history of the CFE decision, which umpteen years later is crawling toward a level of adequacy, I find it hard to imagine that NYS would get rid of publicly funded schooling through a constitutional change. That would make us the only state to do so. What I would like to see is a better definition of sound and basic, plus clauses that expand adequacy to include sustainability, equity, and predictability. Why couldn't we do something like that?

Dullea pointed out that a constitutional convention has never led to the wholesale reversals of laws. Most conventions have taken a few big-ticket issues and woven them into the constitution. Problems that he considers worth solving via a convention include Pay to Play lobbying, the role of incumbency (including, perhaps, term limits), full time v. part time legislation, campaign finance reform, gerrymandering, and whether we need a bicameral legislature in the first place.

Of course, Lifton is right to suggest that it really matters who the delegates are. If they are all assemblypeople and senators, they certainly will have no will to tackle most of the problems above. Why would they?

The confidence of the voters in NYS government is eighth from the bottom of all 50 states. A good 53 percent of citizens think that corruption is very serious. Lifton believes that the legislature is addressing this. Dullea does not.

Lifton pointed to low voter turnout as being a red flag in terms of getting ordinary people to run as delegates to a convention. I think low voter turnout is a red flag about the voters' confidence in their votes' meaning, something we might address through meaningful reform. She also pointed out how very difficult it will be to educate voters about what they vote on as it comes out of the convention, and there I agree with her. It will be hard, and it should be part of the delegates' job to educate their public, because we cannot count on the media to help. Social media makes this possible, and there should be other methods to use as well. Right now, most people bypass resolutions to amend the constitution when they appear on the ballot, because nobody has a clue what they are or what they might mean. That's a problem for which I blame everyone from the legislature to the media to the good government groups that should be doing a better job of explaining things to the voters.

I guess what it comes down to for me is this: NYS government is widely reviled. Nobody outside NYS government trusts NYS government to clean up its act. Occasional amendments are not going to do the trick. It has been 50+ years since the last convention (which failed). What's the worst that could happen? If we are progressive, we welcome reform. That's kind of the point. And the way we reform NYS government, since 1777, is through the process of a constitutional convention.

Want to learn more about the pro side of the issue, complete with a reform agenda? Visit the Rockefeller Institute webpage. We have about 18 months to figure out how we will vote.

Friday, April 1, 2016

One Out of Four

My favorite take on this year's budget for education comes from CNYSBA, which says that they have always focused on the Adequacy, Equity, Predictability, and Sustainability of State Ed aid. The increase in Foundation Aid this year brings us a step closer to Adequacy, they point out, but the other three remain elusive.

The increase in Foundation Aid is $273M less than the School Board Association and other groups had hoped for, but it's still a sizable increase. And the Gap Elimination Adjustment is, finally, gone. Distribution remains inequitable. In our county, Trumansburg and Newfield show a negative change in aid if you figure in building aid—despite the $21K GEA payment Trumansburg gets to zero out that line. Groton gets the greatest percentage increase with building aid figured in. Lansing gets the greatest percentage increase without. Since I don't know whether any of the districts is using building aid (it's a good bet that none is using the Reorganization Incentive Building Aid, since none has reorganized), it's hard to draw conclusions from the runs. But leaving aside the building aid, the range seems to run from Newfield at $673K more than in 2015-16 to Ithaca at $2.85M more than in 2015-16. Still grossly unfair when you compare our schools to downstate schools, but better than it's been in a while.

Other good news: The "Parental Choice in Education Act" was shot down. An employee-funded paid family leave was included.

Other bad news: The tax cap is so low that increases will be consumed by rollover budgets. Another $54M is going to charter schools, although local shares will not go up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Media Noise

If this election season has taught me anything at all, it is that the 24-hour news cycle has changed the world, and not in a good way. The fact that Donald Trump can say anything at all and still gain votes, or this week that Hillary Clinton can make half a dozen major gaffes and actually improve her position, tells me that it no longer matters WHAT the media say about you. What matters is that they say it and repeat it often. If your name is mentioned 250 times a night, and your opponent tops out at 100, you win, even if you are being reviled. Nobody is actually listening anymore because there's just too much input, but the sounds of candidates' names are like dog whistles, imprinting meaninglessly but powerfully on voters' brains.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Required Reading

Neal Gabler on how Trump is, with the complicity of the media, not the destruction but rather the fulfillment of the Republican Party's master plan.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Regents Revisited

It is not an exaggeration to call what is happening at the Board of Regents a sort of coup.

I've written from time to time about our system of Regents, usually none too positively. The only time when I'm really happy about the Regents is when I'm comparing them to the Texas Board of Education. At least our Regents are well-educated and well-meaning and not a bunch of crackpot yahoos.

But they've had a tough few years. The not-that-fast fast-tracking of the Common Core with accompanying new ties between standardized tests and teacher evaluations proved to be the death of them. Some of the recently seated members, including the best bet for Chancellor, are associated with the opt-out movement. Chancellor-to-be Rosa is new as of 2008, making her a relative newcomer on a board where some outgoing members had served for 20 years.

The Board of Regents is getting younger, more diverse, and more closely aligned to P-12 education. It is also becoming more blatantly political. Then again, isn't everything?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Second Verse, Same as the First

Last year, the governor proposed a way to let corporations and rich people divert tax dollars into scholarship programs for private and parochial schools. His plan was defeated. Lo and behold, it's back. This year he's sweetened the pot with a tax credit for teachers who buy their own supplies and one for parents who pay tuition for little kids in families with an income of $60K or less.

But it's the same rotten plan, for a variety of reasons neatly laid out by the folks at the Fiscal Policy Institute. To sum up, the Parental Choice in Education Act (PCEA):

1) provides an unprecedented amount of tax reduction relative to contribution, making it the go-to charity of anyone who's paying attention;

2) enables the super-wealthy by avoiding limits on contributions;

3) purports to provide scholarships to poor kids while actually allowing money to go to families with household incomes up to $300K (and higher in the Senate proposal that just passed);

4) directs $150+ million in state revenues away from public schools toward private and parochial schools by letting the private sector dictate state spending authority.

Thanks to Rick Timbs at SSFC for alerting us once again to this horrible plan.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Required Reading

Matt Taibbi on Donald Trump.

It turns out we let our electoral process devolve into something so fake and dysfunctional that any half-bright con man with the stones to try it could walk right through the front door and tear it to shreds on the first go.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Ithaca Plan

I've known plenty of white junkies. Back in the '80s, they were ubiquitous in my East Village neighborhood. A good friend ended up in rehab and turned it around. A co-worker I hired died of gangrene from a dirty needle. I once walked to work past a woman with suit and briefcase on the nod on the front stoop of her fashionable village brownstone. So I don't pretend that heroin is a scourge of poor urban African-Americans. But most people have pretended that, and the media has, for lo these many years—the result being that throughout the 20th century, heroin was a law enforcement problem, not a social or public health one.

Come the millennium, and suddenly heroin is the drug of choice for soccer moms with bad backs whose prescriptions for oxycodone have run out. When heroin is a major problem in New Hampshire, you know we've turned some kind of corner. Indeed, the media is suddenly extremely excited about heroin; local and national news magazines have cover articles decrying heroin's move to the suburbs, or Wall Street, or the children of middle class families. Yet, for the most part, it is still treated as a law enforcement problem.

Enter the Ithaca Plan, now trending on social media. Ithaca's mayor, whose father was an addict, looked around Ithaca, which is certainly not immune to drug problems, and set up a task force, which produced a plan. Taking a page from programs in Europe and Canada, the plan places law enforcement as one of four pillars, the others being prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. The piece of the plan that's getting the most attention is the supervised injection facility, meant to eradicate overdoses by providing a safe place to shoot up, with medical staff in attendance. It's sort of like when I get antibiotics—I always have to sit around with nurses nearby for 40 minutes until they know I'm not going into anaphylaxis.

But of course it's more controversial than that, and it's currently illegal, and our local police force has vowed to arrest anyone found there. So it's safe to say that the kinks have to be worked out. Ithaca will need assistance from the state and federal governments to make this happen.

Meanwhile, it's very exciting to see something proposed that is radical and different, as opposed to the same old stuff that hasn't ever worked. Our district attorney, who for a while has said that heroin is the most important local issue not being talked about, is on the front page of the Huffington Post today explaining why she favors the plan, for which she was an integral contributor.

There's plenty of resistance; people are already predicting that junkies around the world will move to Ithaca to set up shop. But this seems to be a well-thought-out plan based on plenty of existing data, and I'm interested to see how far Ithaca gets toward a saner, safer means of handling the heroin epidemic.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Political Fallout

The 11 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee believe that they can ignore a nominee for the Supreme Court from the black president whom they don't really recognize without any danger of political fallout. Sadly, only two of them are up for re-election in 2016 (one, David Vitter-LA, is retiring). However, if you want to send a message, write to the two as follows:

Dear {Senator Grassley/Senator Lee}:

I believe that your refusal to consider a nominee for the Supreme Court from the president our nation elected twice is the last straw from a do-nothing Congress. I am sick and tired of paying your salary. Please know that I am sending a donation to your Democratic opponent, {Tom Fiegen/Jon Swinton}, and that I will do all in my power to see that you are not returned to office.

Sincerely, etc.

Grassley is actually opposed by four Democrats who will run in a primary, but I chose the one who has publicly endorsed Bernie Sanders, because why not.

Here is the contact information.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For: You May Not Want My Vote

I have always treated primaries as a means of gently guiding the Party in the direction I prefer. On a hunch, I just checked my track record, and as I had suspected, since I started voting in presidential primaries 40 years ago, my choice has NEVER WON. Even in those cases (just Mondale in '84, I think) where my primary choice was the Party's choice, he didn't make it to the finish line. In every other race, my candidate was gone by June.

So be careful what you wish for, all those who are strong arming me for my vote.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Telling the Story

The day after the Iowa caucus, Simon wrote, "I liked yesterday's 50-50 totally mixed up Iowa Democratic caucus results. Today, however, seems to be the day of people trying way too hard to tell that story any different direction they can to help their team. I don't like that."

"Narrative imperialism" is a phrase coined by literary scholar James Phelan to describe the reduction of strings of narratives to a single story, an objection to if not a rejection of the notion of narrative identity—the idea that, as Oliver Sacks wrote, "Each of us is a singular narrative." I believe both things are true: We construct ourselves as a narrative to make sense of our lives (narrative identity), and we impose a narrative grid on things we can't explain (narrative imperialism). The reaction of different acolytes to the caucus is a perfect example of the latter.

Even Trump has now created his own story around his second-place loss. His story has become: I did not lose; my win was stolen from me. It's a perfect example of narrative imperialism, at least as I understand Phelan's construct. Trump's narrative identity is: I am a winner. The Iowa loss doesn't fit. Therefore, I cannot have lost, a villain must exist who stole the election. Luckily for Trump, Cruz makes an excellent villain.

Elections are competitions, or struggles, between opposing forces. The way we humans construct stories, if you're not the protagonist, or hero, and you are in opposition to the hero, as in an election campaign, you must be the antagonist, or villain. This is a ridiculously simplistic way to look at a complex contest, but it's drilled into us from childhood and passed down from the ancient past. It explains why certain people scoff at the notion of supporting whomever emerges victorious from the Democratic primaries. How could we ever support the villain of our tale?

We hire pollsters because we want to be able to predict the plots of our stories. We rely on the media to shape complicated contests into simple tales.

The results of the Iowa caucus were confounding enough to send story-lovers scrambling for a story grid to impose upon the outcome. It is unacceptable for a hero and villain to be as evenly matched as the two Democratic candidates were. The Hillary narrative became: She won handily. The Bernie narrative became: The results are debatable. Plot points abounded: Coin tosses! Blizzards! Bad polling!

What we miss in all this—all the media prognostication, all the polling, all the endless speculation in front of the TV—is that the rest of humanity doesn't know our narrative and thus is unlikely to fall in line. Voters are predictable only to a point. Anyone may change his or her mind at the last minute. Talking heads are paid to fit today's story into a mold from four or eight or sixteen years ago. Life is a lot more fluid, and people a lot more changeable, than the pundits would have you believe. We wanted Iowans to be the flat characters of folk tales—the farmer and his wife, the evangelical preacher, the first-time voter. It doesn't work that way. Our narrative identity is our own; it is influenced by but not written by others. And as much as Hillary and Bernie supporters want to make the primaries into an apocalyptic struggle between sexist pigs and corporate shills, between unrealistic dreamers and stick-in-the-mud pragmatists, between real and faux progressives, they are so much more complicated and interesting than those facile, tedious stories would have you believe.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

School Report, 2016

The good news is that the state has a surplus and can afford to restore aid to schools. The bad news is that the state isn't ready to do that.

New Yorkers will hear a lot in the next month or two about how much support the governor's budget is giving to schools and how much more the legislature hopes to supply but just somehow can't. At the Community Forum in Auburn last night, board members and educators learned once again how we on the sidelines will be affected by these internecine budget battles.

First, a short history. In 2007, the legislature created a system of Foundation Aid in response to the state's loss of the court case that sought to fund schools more fairly. That Foundation Aid was meant to grow incrementally over the next 10 years to a point where the courts had determined that fairness lay. Then came the crash of 2008. Foundation Aid was frozen for the budget of 2009, and although it's thawed slightly over the past couple of years, it's nowhere near the 10-year "fairness" point that was originally planned.

After the crash, the state found itself with a gap between revenues and outlays. It chose to nab that missing money from the money promised to schools, creating the prettily named Gap Elimination Adjustment. Over the years since 2010, Central New York Schools have lost over $600 million in promised funds, with each district giving up dollars to plug the state's gap.

Then came the tax cap, sometimes incorrectly termed "the 2% cap." This cap meant that schools could not make up the difference between their original spending plans and the plans decimated by the GEA by raising taxes willy-nilly on the citizens of their districts.

Put it all together, and as Dr. Timbs told Central New York School Board Association members last night, "We have lost a generation of kids waiting for the state to comply with the court order."

But now the state has a surplus and could set things to rights again. However, the governor's proposal adds just $266 million, or 1.7%, to Foundation Aid, and puts back only $189 million out of the $434 million in GEA the state owes to schools. And to add insult to injury, this year's tax cap for schools is as close to zero as you can get. Not 2%. Not 1%. This year it averages 0.12%, which for all intents and purposes might as well be zero. (The original definition of the state's tax cap was as follows: "With some exceptions, the State’s Property Tax Cap limits the amount local governments and most school districts can increase property taxes to the lower of two percent; or the rate of inflation." The CPI, used as the measure of inflation, is 0.12% this year. The formula is complex, and some districts will have a cap higher and some lower—but I don't think anyone will be close to 2% this year.)

The poorest local schools will have 100% of their GEA restored this year. Candor's and Newfield's will be at $0, bringing them back to 2010 levels. Other local schools will get anywhere from 34% to 45% of their GEAs restored. But all of our local districts will face the ongoing deficit in court-promised Foundation Aid, and they will not be able to make it up with an increase in the tax levy. Keep in mind that a rollover budget includes contractual salary increases, health insurance (about 7% locally), workers' comp, debt service... This year, Dryden is managing to roll over retirement, utilities, and equipment/supplies with no increase to any of those—but that's not going to be true of all districts.

The upshot is this: CNYSBA is calling for elimination of the entire GEA in this year's budget. The money is there; there's no point to the GEA's existence except to manipulate spreadsheets to make NYS's situation look better than it is. CNYSBA is calling for $880 million in improved Foundation Aid, distributed fairly so that the districts that need it most get most. Legislators may point out that poor districts get the most aid now, which is true, but as I've quoted Timbs before, on average, poor districts in NYS get around 8 times more state aid than wealthy districts do. However, our wealthy districts are overall 14 times richer than poor districts. And this year, NYS's wealthiest districts, those with the largest tax bases, won't be able to raise the millions they usually easily raise through property taxes, so they will be competing fiercely for the same aid our needier districts require.

It takes 60% voter approval to override a school tax cap. I don't think you will see many schools trying; such votes rarely succeed. What you will see are more districts entering that netherworld of "fiscally stressed" schools, a world where inequity reigns, and the poor stay poor.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hit or Misogyny

A few years back—maybe 15 or so—someone said to me, "We'll have a black president long before we have a woman." And at the time I was all LOL, because I didn't for a minute believe that America was as sexist as it is racist.

Well, I was wrong. We're really really racist, but we're really sexist, too. Still! Ninety-six years after giving half the population the vote, we're facing an election in which two women are running (out of fifteen candidates--13%, compared to the 19% in Congress). The male frontrunner on the GOP side is in trouble with his staff and with the media for blatant sexism, and it's pretty clear that not one bit of it matters to his supporters, who are eager to cheer Trump as he denigrates Hillary for her husband's peccadilloes but at the same time completely blow off Trump's very public affairs as irrelevant to his campaign. When he blasts Carly Fiorino for her looks, everyone simply agrees. He's speaking his mind! She's butt-ugly! It's all good.

Now we have the Bernie-bros and the Bernie-bro backlash. Because I like Bernie, I don't blame his disgusting followers on him, but I know for a fact they exist, because I make the mistake of reading a lot of comments on articles in the NYT, WaPo, Politico, etc.

Some stuff has come out about Sanders's treatment of women staffers, most of it very old news, and his organization is light on women at the top, although fairly full of women at field level. Is he a sexist pig? No more than anyone else his age. I'm old enough to remember how horribly sexist the last revolution was. At least Bernie is fighting for economic and social equality for women, and I have no reason to think he's faking it when he refuses to talk about Hillary's hair or husband.

Hillary is a deeply flawed candidate, if for no other reason than she thought it was a smart use of her time to spend the last four years garnering speaker's fees from some of the worst players in the 2008 recession. But Democratic women need to realize that saying, "Well, I want to vote for a woman, just not that woman" is as sexist as anything coming from the Bernie-bros, albeit a lot less filthy. When pressed, they often say, "Elizabeth Warren; I'd vote for her," as though there are only two Democratic women in the United States who could possibly be candidates. It is cringe-worthy—and reminiscent, a bit, of the folks who didn't want to vote for "that black guy" because he didn't represent the legacy of slavery. Not the right woman, not the right black guy—when oh when can we put that shit away and just talk about the right candidate for the times?

It's apparently okay to suggest that Hillary's not really a hands-on grandma but not to point out that Bernie never married the mother of his child. We can talk about spousal influence when the spouse is male; the assumption seems to be that female spouses don't contribute much. (That's where Hillary first got into trouble--as a hands-on First Lady. Don't underestimate how irritating some people found that.)

Here are some countries that currently have female leaders: Lithuania. Norway. Malta. Taiwan. Mauritius. Nepal. Brazil. Liberia. Of course, most nations have never been led by a woman, but that puts us in company with China, Russia, and most of the Middle East.

Full disclosure: I'm probably going to vote for Bernie April 19. I have a soft spot for people who campaign around income inequality. That's why I supported John Edwards, speaking of sexism. But I will be eternally grateful when I no longer have to read crap like this (just from today's reading of a variety of articles, and not all from Bros, some from female Bros):

You should have seen Hillary's meltdown in Iowa yesterday she took it all out on Bernie, lie after, lie, after lie. Threw the whole kitchen at him.

NYT= backer and contributor to Clinton foundation reports this story [on Trump's staffer] rather about #BillClinton indiscretions. You're kidding right?

Even the BO(ZO) administration and the State Department can't cover for Shrillary anymore in the face of overwhelming evidence of - at the least - criminal negligence - and at worst- deliberate flouting of the rules for handling classified material.

How is Billary going to change the system if she IS the system?

Yes, I want a woman president, just not Hilary Clinton. Elizabeth Warren would be a great choice but she is not in the race.

We can only hope that Bill calls the shots while she just plays the figure head.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Racism? Or Just a Proud Slice of History?

When you write social studies lessons, which I do but rarely, you learn quickly how every word matters. There is no objective viewpoint; both writer and reader bring bias to the text.

The other day, Chuck sent me a clipping about a new Scholastic book for young readers called A Birthday Cake for George Washington. The author is a New Yorker with a Caribbean-Iranian background; the illustrator is African-American, and the book tells the story of a real-life chef in George Washington's home, a chef who was also a slave. It is primarily about his relationship with his daughter, also a real person. As the writer of the blog noted, it appears to be "a book for parents who want to teach their children that slavery, American style, wasn't that bad."

I LOLed at the commentary and passed the article on to DZ, whose connections in the children's book biz allowed her to find out the moment Scholastic decided to scrap the book. This was after the VP of Scholastic, a well-respected African-American award-winning author of books based on historical personages, wrote a blogpost in support of the book. It was also after 900+ people signed a petition asking for it to be pulled. Now people are accusing Scholastic of self-censorship that takes away from our ability to have a reasonable conversation about race.

So who is right? I am reminded of my father's refusal to let us watch "Hogan's Heroes," because although you can make a show about people acting kooky and having fun in a Nazi prison camp, you probably shouldn't.

I grew up at a time when Communism was vilified and people of color did not exist in my childhood textbooks. I can't say that either fact destroyed my life or even made me who I am today, but I was lucky enough to have a lot of other influences. I object to censorship or trigger warnings for college-age students, and I'm disgusted when local school districts cave to parents who want LGBT-themed books off the library shelves. But when you write for little kids, even if you can't show horror, you should nevertheless not sugar-coat reality. The chef and his daughter may have had a loving relationship, but he ended up running away, and she was enslaved until she died. That's not your ordinary daddy-daughter relationship story. What do you think?