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.