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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Fixing Education With Voucher Gimmicks Is A Fool's Errand

Category: Education
Posted: 04/03/17 21:19

by Dave Mindeman

Republicans never seem to get it about vouchers. They cannot understand why progressives aren't on board to give poor kids an opportunity to go to a good private school...a better school which would give them a chance to succeed.

But here are the things they ignore or don't think about.

Those vouchers take money directly away from public schools. Schools that are already strained under a heavy load to educate every child that comes their way.

And when you take that money away, you are going to hurt children with a difficult path to navigate. Children that need a lot of support services. Children that have no place else to go.

Now, there are specialty schools that can help special needs kids. And if our Republican friends would annex them under the public education umbrella, then we really could have improvement in how we educate everybody.

But giving that money selectively to private or religious schools hurts the vulnerable kids in the public sector.

Republicans will say that private schools can give poor kids an opportunity to make up for their obstacles. They can provide a more stable environment. Yes, maybe they can...for some...for a few. But are private school institutions willing to take any child with any obstacle? Won't they pick and choose what they believe they can handle? Won't they avoid the special needs children that require 5 and 6 times the support of others?

And when they make their selections, they are taking away budgeted public money from public school systems. Money that cannot be replaced and forces cutbacks for improvements, for buildings, for services, and the kids who cannot afford to get the kind of support they need anywhere else.

Vouchers is one of those pie in the sky ideas that some GOP think tank cooks up to make everyone think they are thinking about the best needs of the poor. When what they are really doing is forcing a two tier education system - one for those that have the resources to support quality education and one where we don't have enough and we try to absolve ourselves of the real responsibility of educating every single child.

We had an education system that was named "No Child Left Behind". Remember that one? It had some noble ideas, but like everything else in education that gets underfunded and over complicated, it ended up leaving many children behind.

Education doesn't need gimmicks or monetary sleight of hand. It needs full and complete funding. It needs to take in a child and educate him or her with full and complete support - whatever it takes.

When it comes to education issues, we talk on the margins. We make excuses. We pretend that we can find ways to educate everyone without expending the monetary investment that is really needed.

Our kids deserve to get whatever they need. It is their right according to our basic Constitutional doctrines.

Vouchers is not an answer - it is another gimmick doomed to failure.
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Mission Creepy

Category: Donald Trump
Posted: 04/03/17 08:59

by Dave Mindeman

I have heard a lot of Republicans talk about how much better Donald Trump will do with the mess in Syria and Iraq. He will clarify what we want to do. He will be more decisive.

Well, I realize it has only been a little over 70 days, but here is what I see so far....

1) 700 additional troops in Syria/Iraq during March. No public annoucnements about it (which Obama always did)...and no sign as to how far this will go.

2) His stance on Assad being deposed is now essentially neutral. He says that Assad is no longer a priority. Which, coincidentally, is very close to matching the policy of Putin.

3) Civilian casualties are no longer a strategic concern. If the Pentagon wants to bomb a target and civilians are at risk, Trump has given the decision makers carte blanche authority to take action.

Those three items are disturbing. They are a big change...a dangerous change. The last bombing attack had a large amount of civilian casualties. The Pentagon is "assessing" the situation, but it doesn't look like apologies are coming or any changes to what they are doing.

Trump who famously said, "I know more than the generals", is now just letting the generals get free reign. Trump will treat the war as he treats his business....

Delegate the authority and judge by the results.

That is mission creep of the worst kind.
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Transportation: We Can Walk And Chew Gum At The Same Time

Category: Transportation
Posted: 04/01/17 12:48

by Dave Mindeman

One of the basic needs of any state is transportation. Minnesota has a bigger dependence than most because we have the 3rd biggest network of roads for any state in the nation.

So it is not surprising that we have to have a large transportation budget. But our Republican friends in the House seem to be locked into this idea that transportation is somehow a duality. That the metro and greater Minnesota are not one transportation system, but two entities that compete for transportation dollars.

In other words, we cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.

The metro requires a lot of transportation investment. Especially while we are trying to modernize to a light rail system that every other Metro centric metropolitan area builds. And we long ago recognized that these dollars had to be supplemented with Metro tax dollars so as not to be too big a drain on the general fund. That is why there is a metro sales tax. That is why millions of dollars are raised directly from the seven county metro to meet those additional needs. The metro is not a burden to a statewide transportation system.

But the House Republicans insist that the metro still gets too much and are continuously tinkering with the budget to, a) pretend that they are "equalizing" the needs of greater Minnesota, and b) saving money from being wasted on "unnecessary light rail transit. Which is horse puckey.

Let's look at some actual statistics:

Transit support - Greater MN contributes $81 million. Metro contributes $359 million.

Average transportation spending per year - Outstate spends $925 million (68%). Metro spends $443 million (32%).

Where does revenue come from? Vehicle sales tax, vehicle registration fees, and fuel tax. 48% of revenue comes from outstate. 52% comes from metro.

Transportation spending per person - Outstate is $384. Metro is $149.

Clearly, when it comes to transportation spending, greater Minnesota sucks up a greater amount of dollars and contributes way less.

But nobody actually begrudges that. Anyone who examines the situation knows that state highways in greater Minnesota have a lot of miles to maintain for a lower number of people. But most people understand the need for the disparity...except, apparently, for the House Republicans, who refuse to look at the facts of the concept.

Still the perception that the MN House Republicans want to convey is that rural Minnesota is the one being shortchanged. That transit is a waste. And that we can't possibly take care of both.

Wrong. Wrong. And wrong.

The metropolitan Twin Cities area is the revenue engine for the state. There is little question about that. But light rail and transit is a particular need for the metro as opposed to rural MN - but the metro has recognized that fact and the majority of its funding comes from metro sales tax dollars, as well as Federal targeted funds.

I guess the main point I am trying to get to is that if there is a disparity in how transportation dollars are allocated, it is the Twin Cities that is getting the short end of the stick. And, when it comes to rail, even though we are footing the bill ourselves for the most part, the House Republicans want to either take that money away or transfer it out to their rural base.

In addition, the House Republicans continue to block new revenues that could alleviate some of the pressure. Transportation needs have continued to increase, yet, revenues have been stagnant - especially when it comes to the dedicated revenue from a gas tax.

Greater MN has a huge network of roads to maintain - and the fairest way to fund that is an increase in the gas tax (and the bulk of any increased revenue from that would largely come from the metro driver). Yet, the House Republicans refuse to even consider it and instead borrow their way (one GOP budget has a billion dollars in borrowing) to transportation fantasy land.

Looking ahead, our ability to get new revenue from a gas tax increase is a window that is closing. As hybrid or electric cars begin to flourish, the gas tax revenue will dwindle. That is why if we are behind in our transportation needs, a gas tax increase is so much more important now - while gas prices are low and the revenue is still there to be raised.

This whole debate on transportation is devoid of substance. It has become a political football and a bunch of divisive intra state foolishness.

We cannot continue to punt the issue forward. And we do not need to foolishly borrow money that can still be raised in the traditional user fee ways.

We really can walk and chew gum at the same time. So why don't we do that? OK?
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