Massive education cuts coming in Philadelphia

This is what it looks like when you balance a state budget on the backs of working families:

The Philadelphia school district may have to cut 3,800 positions in order to close a $600 million deficit. Another proposal to make up for the loss of almost $300 million in state funds this year includes eliminating free transportation to and from school.

That means no busing or free SEPTA transpasses for any students except those in special education students and those attending charter schools.

That’s because state law requires the district to provide transportation to and from charter schools. But students who attend public and parochial schools next year could have to pay their own way.

Note two things there. One is just the sheer volume of cuts that will have to be made, one way or another. The other is that charter schools—which don’t have to serve all the city’s students, don’t have to keep the most disadvantaged and troubled—are exempt from some key cuts. The agenda is privatization using public funding.

(Via Atrios)

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“Did you vote to eliminate Medicare as it is today?”

ThinkProgress has a compilation of highlights from several of the town hall meetings we’ve been talking about:

It’s nice to see people equipped with actual facts and willing to challenge their representatives to be truthful.


A shortage of affordable housing

A new study shows a serious shortage of affordable housing in the US. From WaPo:

The study offers the latest in a series of grim statistics about the scarcity of rental housing, especially for the working poor. The supply has not kept up with demand in part because of a shortage of apartments, a key source of new rentals. Developers cut back on such projects when the economy deteriorated in 2009, which drove down vacancies and boosted rents. Analysts say they expect rents to keep climbing as developers try to ramp up new projects and catch up with demand.

The number of foreclosures has also contributed to the shortage. As people are forced out of their homes, they look for rentals.

Ideally, renters should not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, the study said. Low-income tenants have struggled during the past decade to stay within that limit. And increasingly so have renters with moderate incomes, defined as making between two and three times the minimum wage. By 2009, 7.5 percent of moderate-income renters spent more than half their income on rent, twice as many as in 2001.

Naturally as the supply decreases and the demand increases, so do the rental costs. No one is building affordable housing, either.

In a report to Congress, the Obama administration acknowledged in February that financing to build high-end rental properties is more readily available. That helps explain why for every 100 extremely low-income American families, only 32 adequate rental homes are available, the report said.

One solution has been proposed, as Joshua Holland reports in Alternet:

For the past several years, a number of economists have been calling for a “right to rent” measure that would keep homeowners whose properties are deep underwater in their units rather then sending them into the market for existing rentals. Dean Baker, who has led the charge since 2008, called it a way to help homeowners “without throwing money at the banks.” Rather than Washington’s ineffective mortgage modification programs, Baker says, “we can simply temporarily change the rules on foreclosure to give people facing foreclosure the right to rent their homes at the market rent.”

Baker went on to say:

This is extremely simple and can go into effect the day after Congress passes the rule change. Judges or the court officers handling a foreclosure would be required to ask the homeowner whether they want to stay in their house as a renter. If they say yes, there would be an appraisal of the market rent of the home, and the homeowner would then have the option to stay in the house for a substantial period of time (e.g. 10 years), paying the market rent.

This would immediately give the homeowners facing foreclosure security in their housing. If they like the house, the neighborhood, the schools for their kids, they would have the right to stay there. It would also end the problem for neighborhoods of empty foreclosed houses. And, it would give banks real incentive to negotiate terms that allow people to stay in their homes as owners.

This is a sensible idea. It doesn’t cost taxpayers anything, eases the rental crunch, and prevents whole neighborhoods from dying of foreclosure. Families aren’t uprooted and kids can stay in the same school.

The banking lobby hates it. Those same banks we taxpayers bailed out don’t want to lift a finger to help us out. Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona has introduced HB 1548, the Right to Rent Act of 2011. This bill failed in 2009 and 2010. If you agree with this legislation, please urge your representatives to sign on and support this very common sense approach to a problem affecting low and middle income families across the country.


Hostility on the home front, part 3

Yesterday, Susan wrote about the tough reception Republicans who voted to gut Medicare and Medicaid are getting at town hall meetings in their districts. The representatives mentioned in Susan’s posts aren’t alone in hearing from angry constituents.

Charlie Bass, my former and Susan’s current representative in New Hampshire:

WOMAN: Despite all we’re hearing about Ryan and Medicare, there’s a 10 percent reduction in the taxes for the wealthiest Americans. My feeling is this whole thing about saying 55 and under or under 55 is a way to divide and conquer because their benefits will be cut and then we as older people will, there will be anger fomenting against us. A generational gap will start where the younger people are told you’re playing for these Cadillac plans these older people how is that fair. Because we’re older the thought is we won’t speak up and won’t tell congress this is not acceptable. All generations have to stand together and say we need this social safety net. The bigger part of the problem is the commercial insurance industry.

BASS: Well first of all the tax part of the budget is revenue neutral. [...] The tax reduction is not a reduction in taxes on the wealthiest Americans, it’s a reduction of corporate tax rate so that we’re competitive around the world [...]

WOMAN: No, this is –

BASS: Very few companies, we tax foreign income, companies keep foreign income offshore. [...] The quickest way to turn this deficit down is to turn this economy around [...] off this federal system, so that the deficit goes down. We’re in this situation now here we’re bumping along unless we do something to stimulate real growth in this economy […] Who’s going to pay the bills? It’s going to be the younger people, that’s the real generational war, they’re going to say we’re not gonna pay 50, 60 percent of our income to subsidize the rest of the population older [...]

WOMAN: I agree, you guys are setting it up! [laughter from audience]

Florida’s Daniel Webster:

During a town hall in Orlando earlier today, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) faced a barrage of questions from outraged constituents about the Republican budget. The Orlando Sentinel accurately described the scene as “bedlam.”

For nearly an hour, Webster was peppered with one question after another about his support for ending Medicare, his desire to see tax breaks for the wealthy extended, and his vote to repeal health care reform, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions. For his part, Webster didn’t just avoid the questions by resorting to talking points, as most politicians commonly do. On numerous occasions, Webster simply declined to give an answer to contentious questions altogether, moving on to take a new question instead.

North Dakota’s Rick Berg:

“I would like to know: Did you vote to eliminate Medicare as it is today?” a man asks Berg during his library appearance in an exchange caught on video by

“No,” Berg says, before the audience contradicts him.

“You voted for every Republican issue and that was part of the issues that went out there,” the man says.
A woman interrupts to ask how much the elderly will be asked to pay out of pocket for health care costs under the new system.

“I want you to tell me how much it’s going to cost us when we’re 65 years old after you give us a voucher,” she says.

“Fifty-five or over, absolutely no change, absolutely no change, in this Medicare program,” Berg promises.
“As long as you are over 55,” the woman responds. “If you’re 54, to hell with those people.”

Florida’s Allen West:

West’s town hall in Fort Lauderdale was interrupted by hecklers, one of whom shouted at the beginning of his remarks “How about our Medicare that you’re stealing?” The Palm Beach Post reports that that West took written questions submitted before the meeting, prompting another man to yell out that questions should be allowed from the audience.

You may recall that when tea partiers (often bused in from outside) showed up at town hall meetings to argue (often in monstrously inaccurate terms) against health care reform, it made national news for weeks. But here, though constituents are asking questions that are based in fact, it’s still a relatively low-profile story on a national level. These representatives should be sweating the fact that it is getting coverage in their districts, though.

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Not just GOP: Teachers becoming easy targets for both parties

I have benefited from public education my whole life, and my family is chock full of teachers of all sorts, so I get pretty ticked off when I listen to pundits and politicians talk about public school teachers as “enemies” of our education system. Bill O’Reilly couldn’t hold the attention of thirty fourth-graders for five minutes, but he’s up there on TV every night whining that teachers’ benefits are “lavish with a capital L.” As if any public school teacher is rolling around in dough.

But I can’t complain just about Fox pundits and Republican politicians anymore. In an article in The Nation titled “Teachers aren’t the enemy,” Professors Pedro Noguera and Michelle Fine point out that the demonization of public school teachers has become bipartisan:

Groups like Democrats for Education Reform have dedicated substantial resources to undermining teachers unions. With Race to the Top, the Obama administration has put its weight behind a reform agenda featuring charter schools, which employ mostly nonunion labor, as its centerpiece. A disturbing bipartisan consensus is emerging that favors a market model for public schools that would abandon America’s historic commitment to providing education to all children as a civil right. This model would make opportunities available largely to those motivated and able to leave local schools; treat parents as consumers and children as disposable commodities that can be judged by their test scores; and unravel collective bargaining agreements so that experienced teachers can be replaced with fungible itinerant workers who have little training, less experience and no long-term commitment to the profession.

If you believe education is a civil right, and if you want to someday send your kids off to a school where they aren’t treated like a commodity, it’s time to perk up.

Education isn’t like other political issues, where you can sit back and say it’s all the right wing’s fault or it’s all the Republican Party’s fault. The divide is less about political party and more about if you think public education is a key priority and a bridge to the future, or whether it’s just another expense that can be cut or privatized, like street sweeping.

Pedro and Michelle are right. Of course teachers aren’t the enemy. But we better take a good look at who is.


Workers Memorial Day

It’s Workers Memorial Day—a time to honor, or at least stop and think about, the workers who have lost their lives on the job. While the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) has greatly decreased the number of workplace deaths and injuries in the 40 years since it was passed, there are still too many.

Big explosions and disasters draw headlines and attention, but many more workers lose their lives in ways that don’t get widespread notice—but are no less painful for their families and friends.

The AFL-CIO’s Death on the Job (PDF) report finds that:

In 2009, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,340 workers were killed on the job—an average of 12 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. More than 4.1 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater—about 8 million to12 million job injuries and illnesses each year.

The risks are not evenly distributed. Workers are much more likely to be killed in some states than others:

The risk of job fatalities and injuries varies widely from state to state, in part due to the mix of industries. Montana led the country with the highest fatality rate (10.8 per 100,000), followed by Louisiana and North Dakota (7.2), Wyoming (6.8) and Nebraska (6.1). The lowest state fatality rate (0.9 per 100,000) was reported in New Hampshire, followed by Rhode Island (1.4), Arizona (1.8), Massachusetts (1.8) and Delaware (1.8). This compares with a preliminary national fatality rate of 3.3 per 100,000 workers in 2009.

And Latino workers have an increased risk of fatalities: 3.7 per 100,000 workers as opposed to that national rate of 3.3.

The penalties for violations and fatalities are too low to deter employers from risking their workers’ lives:

For FY 2010, the median initial total penalty in fatality cases investigated by federal OSHA was $7,000, with a median penalty after settlement of $5,600.

That’s in cases where someone died. The average penalty for a serious violation of the law just on its own was $1,052 for federal OSHA.

Penalties also vary state by state:

Oregon had the lowest median current penalty for fatality investigations, with $1,500 in penalties assessed, followed by Wyoming ($2,063) and Kentucky ($2,275). New Hampshire had the highest median current penalty ($142,000), followed by Minnesota ($26,050) and Missouri ($21,000).

Criminal investigations? Forget about it:

Since 1970, only 84 cases have been prosecuted, with defendants serving a total of 89 months in jail. During this time there were more than 360,000 worker deaths. By comparison, in FY 2010 there were 346 criminal enforcement cases initiated under federal environmental laws and 289 defendants charged, resulting in 72 years of jail time and $41 million in penalties—more cases, fines and jail time in one year than during OSHA’s entire history.

On Workers Memorial Day, the best way to honor workers who have lost their lives on the job is to fight to prevent future workplace fatalities. That means more funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. More inspectors checking to make sure workplaces are safe, not less. More prosecutions and higher penalties, to give employers added reason to think twice about committing safety violations (and how sad is it that workers’ lives are not enough reason). And passing the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PDF) to update OSHA and fill some of its gaps.

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Don’t cut off Pennsylvania’s jobless workers — take action now

From our friends at NELP:

Unless Pennsylvania lawmakers take action soon, long-term unemployed workers in Pennsylvania will lose up to 20 weeks of unemployment compensation known as Extended Benefits on June 11, 2011. Senate Bill 994 would allow Pennsylvania’s unemployed to keep these federally-funded benefits.

On June 11, 2011, an estimated 45,000 unemployed workers in Pennsylvania will be cut-off of the Extended Benefits they’ve been receiving — unless the legislature acts. Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry estimates that a total of 135,000 jobless workers could lose eligibility for these benefits this year starting on June 11th.

The federal government now covers 100% of the cost of these benefits for non-government employees. All the state needs to do to continue receiving these federally-funded benefits is to enact a technical fix to the state unemployment insurance law. Senate Bill 994 would do just that.

Republicans and Democrats in every one of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states—Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland—have all recently passed the needed Extended Benefits legislation. In total, 24 states have already acted to allow individuals to continue these benefits.

Take action now.


“America Wants to Work” in the Huffington Post

Arthur Delaney at HuffPo on our “America Wants to Work” project (which we’re doing jointly with the AFL-CIO and state and local labor organizations):

“We just want to help folks,” Chelsey Evans, state director of Working America in New Mexico, told HuffPost. “We’ve had several meetings and we’re coming together to provide services and support to anyone in the community who is unemployed. We’re finding that a lot of people really struggle to navigate through this extremely complex system, whether it’s unemployment, rental assistance, utility assistance, job counseling.”

Susan See, laid off early in 2009 from her job doing advertising and administrative work for a local newspaper in Albuquerque, said the New Mexico Wants to Work monthly meetings have been a big help. She’s doing some freelance photography while her search for full-time work grinds on, seemingly endlessly.

“It helps a lot just to have a support network, just to know that I’m not alone,” said See, 41. “It starts to feel after a while, ‘What am I doing wrong? Is it my age, is it because I’ve been out of work so long?’ And then you start hearing that from other people, that they’re having the same issues.”


Hostility on the home front, part two

Here’s an example of a new Congressman handling hostility on the home front. Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin may not be winning the hearts and minds of voters in his district:

(Via ThinkProgress)

Hostility on the home front

It seems that Congresscritters are facing a lot of tough questions, and some outright hostility at town meetings in their home states. From The Nation:

Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, continues to be confronted with tough questions on his listening-session tour of southeastern Wisconsin communities. He’s been forced to move several of the events to bigger venues to accommodate the crowds—after things got tight and tense in places such at Milton, Wisconsin, where the crowd in a small venue was challenging him at every turn.


One of Ryan’s Republican colleagues, Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, shut down a town hall meeting in a suburban Milwaukee community when he was challenged on economic issues in March.

This sounds a lot like the Tea Party invasion of town halls in 2009, only these folks have serious questions. The Tea Partiers intent was to disrupt, and get a lot of media attention. These folks are voters who have been suffering in this economy, and know very well when they’re being trickled down on.

The core issues that are bringing people out to the GOP town meetings are opposition to Medicare and Medicaid cuts (a real hot-button issue) and support for tax hikes for the rich. This fits with those national polls shows that show Americans are very opposed to developing voucher programs to replace traditional Medicare and Medicaid and would prefer tax hikes for the wealthy.

There is no solid, factual rationale for the proposed destruction of Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security for that matter. No wonder these guys are having such a hard time. How do you explain that you want to destroy essential social programs because of your political ideology without actually saying that’s the reason?

One guy has an idea for how to deal with this:

Newly elected Illinois Senator Mark Kirk has an idea. Instead of hearing what the people have to say, the Republican senator is suggesting that members of Congress should hunker down in DC.

Brilliant! If you don’t go home, you won’t have to answer any pesky questions.

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