True grift: Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown rewards another politician with a cushy pension-enhancing appointment

Gov. Kate Brown Brown has found a nice new lucrative home for State Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland).

State Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland)

Last week Brown nominated Burdick, who has no particular power and conservation expertise, for a seat on the Pacific Northwest Electric Power and Conservation Planning Council. The Council is a federally funded panel that provides policy and planning leadership on regional power, fish and wildlife issues.

If Burdick, 73, is approved by the Senate Rules Committee for a three-year term on the Council, beginning Nov. 1, 2021, not only will she make $120,000 a year, but she’ll likely end up with a much fatter PERS pension payout than her 25 years of legislative service alone would have provided.

That’s because lifetime retirement benefits under PERS are designed to provide approximately 45 percent of a state employee’s final average salary at retirement. Final average salary is generally the average of the highest three consecutive years or 1/3 of total salary in the last 36 months of employment.

As a legislator, Burdick has an annual salary of just $31,200 plus $149 each day of the legislative session to pay for meals and lodging.  After three years on the Council, Burdick’s pension will be calculated using her new substantially higher salary, potentially rewarding her with hundreds of thousands of extra dollars over here lifetime. This when PERS is already overwhelmed with billions in unfunded liabilities.

To say it’s all a scam is being too charitable.

Brown played the same game in 2017 when she put then Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) on the Council.

In March, Gov. Brown nominated Pendleton resident Chuck Sams, interim Executive Director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, to replace Fererioli on the Council.  If approved, Burdick will replace Devlin.

Welcome to the trough, Sen. Burdick.

Reckless lunacy: Portland has surrendered to graffiti vandals

The scourge of graffiti in downtown Portland, OR

It should have been confronted in the beginning. Now it’s out of hand.

Graffiti was once a rarity in downtown Portland. Now, ignored or tolerated for too long, it has metastasized, spread like a cancer throughout the city.

Graffiti isn’t harmless play-acting or simply entertainment for bored youth. It isn’t simple rebellion either. It is, instead, reckless lunacy.

Unapproved graffiti on a building, train or highway wall is not just a harmless “expression of self,” as some apologists argue.  There’s no romanticism in it. It is abusing others’ property. It’s a crime that impacts the quality of life of everybody who has to confront it. At a minimum, it’s vandalism. When used to mark territory by gangs, it puts the community at risk. If allowed to stay and multiply, it serves as a billboard for disorder and social disruption.

As Whitney Hall has written, graffiti has a “wave effect” in that it leads to increases in crime, including violence, loitering, littering, and other forms of property destruction, as well as more theft of items being used to do the graffiti.

Maybe some graffiti can be seen as art, but that’s not what’s now covering Portland. It is, instead, brutality taking away our right to a clean city, our right to live in a safe unthreatening environment.

When New York City’s grand Frederick Law Olmstead-designed Central Park fell into debilitating despair in the 1970s and 1980s, the proliferation of graffiti was a prime signal of its decline.

Vandals bombarded the Belvedere Castle, a Central Park landmark, with spray painted graffiti in the 1970s.

The park’s revival was spurred, in part, by aggressive efforts to rid the park of graffiti and meticulously restore it to its former grandeur.

Portland needs to do the same.

ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, recently posted an article written by Jeremy Kohler arguing that the failure of state legislatures and law enforcement to respond to the attacks of armed far-right mobs led directly to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6. “Experts and elected officials said the lack of action by lawmakers and police created an environment that encouraged political violence,” ProPublica wrote. “Eventually, you get to the point of entitlement where you can get away with anything and there will never be any accountability,” the Idaho House minority leader, Ilana Rubel, a Democrat, said.”

It’s time to face Portland’s tolerance for graffiti for what it is, another sign of a city out of control.

Cancelling student loan debt: bad politics, bad policy

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Cancel federal student loan debt!”  That’s the latest rallying cry of liberal politicians.

During their presidential campaign, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris called for forgiveness of up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt.

Now the pressure’s on to up the ante and cancel $50,000.

“We are not going to let up until we accomplish it, until $50,000 of debt is forgiven for every student in the country,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said Thursday.

To use a word linked to so many progressive causes these days, there would be nothing “equitable” about going down this road. 

What would this mean for Oregon?

As of Sept 30, 2020, 483,500 Oregonians had outstanding federal student loan debt totaling $12.4 billion. The number who hold $50,000 or less of debt is approximately 413,100. A $50,000 loan forgiveness program would mean eliminating the debt of 413,000 debtors. That would leave just 70,500 with outstanding debt, each of whom would see their debt reduced by $50,000 as well.[1]

But would that be fair and equitable? Not likely.

First of all, the fact is most Americans don’t have federal student loan debt, including about 30 percent of college undergraduates, and about 25 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with less than $20,000 in outstanding loans. Fewer than 20 percent of all borrowers owe more than $40,000.

And despite all the hysteria and political posturing, most who do have outstanding federal loans are not overwhelmed with huge amounts of debt. Average debt at graduation from public and nonprofit colleges was $28,800 in 2019, less than the average amount Americans pay for a new car ($36,718 in 2019, according to automotive information site Edmunds).

An initial rationale for forgiving federal student loan debt was that it would help struggling students who couldn’t get ahead because of burdensome loan payments stretching far into the future.

Then came the justification that it would particularly help Blacks because Black students borrow more, have lower levels of family income, wealth, and parental education and have much higher loan default rates. That’s partly because Black students are more likely to attend for-profit colleges, where default rates are higher in general. Also, completion rates at many HBCUs are high, leaving too many students with debts but no degree. 

Now proponents of loan cancellation are trying to connect the idea to Covid-19, arguing that Covid has made paying bills harder (even though Pres. Bi9den has already signed Biden also signed an executive order extending the payment pause on federal student loans due to Covid-19 until October).

One problem is that if you pay off $50,000 of federal student loan debt just for those with current outstanding loans, many students just graduating will owe nothing, while new freshman will be starting to build debt again.

Loan cancellation would also tend to benefit the better-off among us who are more likely to have completed college and this be able to pay off college debt. Even in a $10,000 debt forgiveness program, an analysis by the Urban Institute indicates that about $150 billion would accrue to the top 40 percent of U.S. households by income.

Also, students and parents who have been faithfully paying off their loans for years, often at great sacrifice, may see little benefit if their balance is now close to zero.  

As Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist put it, “…a massive bailout of borrowers would be unfair to countless families that saved and worked to pay for college, to say nothing of those who responsibly repaid their loans.”

Another problem. Students and parents with private loans will still owe it all. Americans owe more than $132 billion to private student lenders.

Then there’s the cost, probably about $1 trillion. But neither party seems overly concerned about that now. Even the media doesn’t care. The Hill, like many other news sites, recently managed to write an entire article on the idea without once mentioning how much it would cost. The cancellation advocates say not to worry because taxes on “rich people” will cover the cost. The problem is they want “rich people” to pay for every other new budget-busting program as well.

The argument progressives make that forgiving student loans would be a huge stimulus to the economy doesn’t make sense either.  

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says the stimulus benefits would be minimal and aimed at those who least need the help. Total student loan debt may be atrociously high, but borrowers often pay back their loans over 10, 15, or even 30 years. That means debt cancellation would increase their available cash for injection back into the economy by only a fraction of the total loan forgiveness. 

“Stimulus dollars that are spent rather than saved provide a stronger boost to near-term economic output,” the Committee says.

The fact is, subsidizing people who run up large college loan debts penalizes those who took their responsibility seriously and acted responsibly, James B. Meigs wrote in City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a free-market think tank. That leaves a lot of people feeling like chumps, he said.

 “…the chumps of modern America feel that the life choices they’re most proud of—working hard, taking care of their families, being good citizens—aren’t just undervalued, but scorned,” Meigs wrote. 

Then there’s the “moral hazard” of a one-time cancellation of student debt. It would encourage students and parents to continue running up risky big loan balances on the assumption that their debts will be forgiven at some point. That would cause a distortion of borrowing decisions, making them insensitive to the ability to repay. 


[1] The office of Federal Student Aid (https://studentaid.gov/data-center/student) doesn’t break down student debt numbers showing debt owed of $50,000 or less. Instead, it shows debt owed between $40,000 – $60,000. I arbitrarily split the amount of the debt and the number of debtors in half to determine the figures for debtors owing $50,000 or less. 

Democrats were big money winners from Oregonians in 2020 elections

If you have any doubts about Oregon’s political leanings, contributions in elections should clear things up. In the 2020 elections, political contributors in Oregon overwhelmingly supported Democrats.

That’s according to federal election data collected by OpenSecrets.com, a website from the nonpartisan nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks money in U.S. politics.

As the table below shows, about three-quarters of all contributions went to Democrats; just 22% to Republicans, based on Federal Election Commission data released electronically on October 22, 2020..


Category
TotalRank
Total Itemized Contributions **$79,294,02224
Total to Candidates and Parties$77,290,392N/A
Total to Democrats$58,142,17818
Percent to Democrats75.2%9
Total to Republicans$17,004,66432
Percent to Republicans22.0%43
Individual donations ($200+)*$91,112,33722
Soft money donations$4,128,81731
PAC donations$2,145,80527

The “rank” column above shows how Oregon compares to all 50 states. A rank of 9 in the “Percent to Democrats” category, for example, means that state’s percentage of contributions to Democrats was the 9th highest in the nation.

** This figure includes PAC contributions to candidates, individual contributions ($200+) to candidates and parties, and Levin fund contributions to parties. To avoid double-counting, it does not include individual (hard money) contributions to PACs, but does include individual (soft money) contributions to outside spending groups, including super PACs.

* This figure includes individual contributions to candidates, PACs, outside spending groups (including super PACs) and party committees.

† Percents to Democrats and Republicans calculated out of Total to Parties and Candidates only.

The chart below shows how much individual donors from Oregon gave in the 2019-2020 election cycle. Only itemized contributions of more than $200 are included.

Individual Donation TypeTotalDemsRepubsDem %Repub %
To Candidates$24,676,479$18,853,986$5,430,22776.4%22.0%
To PACs$7,401
To Political Parties$2,030,350$22,950$2,007,4001.1%98.9%
To Outside Spending Groups$2,520

The total cost of the 2020 election nearly reached an unprecedented $14 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making it the most expensive election in history and twice as expensive as the 2016 presidential election cycle. 

Small donors giving $200 or less — and self-funding from wealthy individuals — accounted for a larger share of fundraising than in the 2016 election. The Center theorized that the pandemic forced candidates to forgo in-person fundraisers with wealthy donors. pushing campaigns to increasingly rely on virtual fundraising using texts and emails, a strategy that works better when Americans are more engaged in politics. They first had to build lists of supporters to solicit donations from, an area where online ads on Facebook and Google proved to be immensely successful.

Oregon evictions: the deluge is coming

In September 2020, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler urged more measures to help rental tenants. “While we’re in the middle of this pandemic, we need to do our part to protect renters from the tidal wave of evictions that we know is coming,” he said. 

A “tidal wave” is right. There’s now documentation that renter households across Oregon are on track to owe as much as $378 million in past-due rent by January 2021. Up to 150,000 of those households could be hit with an eviction filing at that point, a substantial number of them lower-income households.

A nationwide moratorium on evictions the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued is set to expire on January 1, 2021. An Oregon moratorium protects any renter unable to pay rent from being evicted until at least Jan. 8, 2021.

Moody’s Analytics analysis estimates that by the end of 2020, the average back-rent owed by renters across the United States will be $5,400, accumulating to $70 billion by the end of the year. That could translate into up to 8.4 million renter households (20.1 million individual renters) experiencing an eviction filing by January 2021. 

That’s the warnings just issued by The National Council of State Housing Agencies in a report produced by the advisory firm Stout, Risius Ross LLC.

Many renters are struggling to cover their housing costs as the coronavirus outbreak, and its economic fallout, have now stretched about seven months, and as the pandemic takes a heavier financial toll on people who are at the lower end of the earnings ladder.

“Given what appears to be a slow economic recovery, it is reasonable to expect ongoing elevated unemployment, high rent burden among low-income renter households, continued accumulation of unpaid rent, and continued risk of eviction beyond January 2021,” said the report. 

The National Council of State Housing Agencies says state housing finance agencies in 33 states , including Oregon, have established emergency rental assistance programs since the virus struck. But the group says the programs will fall short of demand.

Get ready for chaos.

Jumping to homeschooling because of COVID-19 is a risky bet.

 

Homeschooling

Will the COVID-19 crisis lead to more homeschooling in Oregon? If it does, for many children (and parents) that will be a mistake.

David Henderson, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, thinks the forced shift of public school children to ineffective and impractical online schooling will lead many parents to opt for homeschooling. “What if, as I predict, home-schooling works, on average, better than the public schools before the pandemic?” Henderson asks. “Once the pandemic ends, many parents will want to continue with home-schooling.”

There’s no question that the idea of homeschooling can be seductive. After all, it can offer flexibility, more curriculum choice, religious freedom, self-paced learning, and protection from threatening ideas. And it can be appealing to parents who want to have a larger role to play in conveying important values to their children.

It’s not clear, however, that homeschooling is the right choice for a wide swath of children or that it adequately prepares young people to succeed and participate in our complex economy.

In addition, the fragmentation of our educational system may undermine the need for all members of our society to see themselves in common cause – a necessity for the survival of our democracy. Where too many people are isolated from their peers, they may be less likely to see a relationship of mutual commitment and responsibility to others.

The most recent analysis from the U.S. Department of Education/National Center for Education Statistics reported the number of homeschooled students increased from 850,000 in 1999 to 1,690,000 in 2016. The percentage of students who were homeschooled increased from 1.7 percent to 3.3 percent over the same time period.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, almost every school district in Oregon has seen an increase in homeschooling in recent years, with more than 22,000 students registered as homeschoolers in 2018. There’s general agreement, however, that the number of actual homeschoolers is higher because not all homeschooling parents register their child with the state.

Parents of students between the ages of 6-18 are supposed to notify their local Education Service District (ESD) of their intent to home school within 10 days of beginning to home school, but compliance is not comprehensive.

A homeschooler is expected to take standardized testing by August 15 of the summer following the completion of 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grades, as long as the child has been homeschooled since at least February 15 of the year preceding testing (18 months before the test deadline).

The required tests include grade-level math (concepts, application, skills), reading (comprehension), and language (writing, spelling/grammar, punctuation, etc.)

Given the above information, you might be tempted to say that public oversight of homeschoolers is obviously comparable to that of public schools because the state knows how all homeschooled students are performing. You’d be wrong.

First, homeschooled students are not required to take common standardized tests that measure academic progress. They can opt out, and many of them do.

Second, homeschoolers’ tests are scored on a percentile, so the score a child gets represents how many people taking the same test got a lower score. In other words, the scores don’t represent how well the child knows the material, only how well the child performs relative to every other homeschooler taking the test. Even then, If a child scores at the 15th percentile or above, then the ESD simply files the report and there’s no follow-up.

Third, homeschoolers don’t have to report their scores to anybody unless their education service district (ESD) asks for them. But the state cares so little about how these children are doing that ESDs almost never request test scores, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

Not that it would make much difference if ESDs did request the scores.

That’s because homeschoolers would only need to report their composite percentile score. This is an almost useless single percentile representing a child’s performance on all three subjects together. It’s almost as though the state doesn’t really want to know how homeschoolers are doing.

What is clear, then, is that nobody in the Oregon Department of Education really knows whether parents who are homeschooling their children are providing them with an equal or superior alternative to district schools.

I get it that homeschooling can reflect a lack of confidence in traditional educational institutions. However, despite the almost messianic belief in homeschooling held by many supporters, there are major flaws in this alternative. If one result of the pandemic is widespread abandonment of Oregon’s brick-and-mortar public schools for homeschooling, the damage inflicted on some children could be severe.

All Oregonians, particularly the legislature and governor, should care because education is not just a private good. Studied indifference or washing our hands of the consequences of educational malpractice can have serious consequences for the community at large.

As Chester Finn Jr., Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said, “Once you conclude that education is also a public good—one whose results bear powerfully on our prosperity, our safety, our culture, our governance, and our civic life—you have to recognize that voters and taxpayers have a compelling interest in whether kids are learning what they should…”

Why do Republicans want to undermine Oregon’s public schools?

publicschoolclassroom

What were they thinking?

Oregon’s traditional brick-and-mortar public school system is under stress and needs support. So what did the Republicans propose coming into the special session that started on June 24?  They wanted to make it easier for students to transfer from their district’s brick-and-mortar public schools to virtual public charter schools, taking State School Fund dollars with them.

Oregon law provides that a school district may deny a parent’s request to shift their child to a virtual public charter school if more than 3% of the students who reside in the district are enrolled in virtual public charter schools not sponsored by the district.

Senate Republican leader Fred Girod (R-Stayton) proposed raising that 3% figure to 8% to allow more students to abandon their district’s schools. “Given this pandemic, people are going to want an alternative, and that alternative is going to be virtual schools,” Girod said.

Not only would this have potentially siphoned millions from already stretched district budgets, but research on virtual charter school performance outcomes across the country generally paints a distressing picture. In other words, Oregon’s traditional public schools clearly have their problems, but the virtual public charter schools are even worse.

The desire of some parents for school choice is understandable, but numerous studies have concluded that full-time virtual charter schools are not the right option for many K-12 students. The fact is many K-12 virtual charter schools are like tribute bands, just a facsimile of real education.

“Current online charter schools may be a good fit for some students, but the evidence suggests that online charters don’t serve very well the relatively atypical set of students that currently attend these schools, much less the general population,” the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University said in a report. “Academic benefits from online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule.”

In the same vein, a report from the Colorado-based National Education Policy Center (NEPC) concluded, “There is…little high-quality systematic evidence that the rapid expansion of (virtual charter schools) the past several years is wise. Research has …consistently found that students enrolled in full-time virtual schools have performed at levels well below their face-to-face counterparts.”

A Fordham Institute study of virtual charter schools reached similar conclusions. “Online schools offer an efficient way to diversify—and even democratize—education in a connected world,” the study said. “Yet they have received negative, but well-deserved, attention concerning their poor academic performance, attrition rates, and ill capacity to educate the types of students who enroll in them.”

As most educators and parents learned in the widespread switch to online schooling spurred by COVID-19, it has been a worst-case outcome for most students. “There’s a sense that this has been an unmitigated disaster,” Dana Goldstein, a national correspondent for The New York Times, said in a June 28, 2020 Innovation Hub interview.

A recently published study published in Educational Researcher examined the effects of attending a virtual charter school on student outcomes. “We find the impact of attending a virtual charter on student achievement is uniformly and profoundly negative,” the authors wrote in a Brookings article.

The study authors concluded that “virtual charter schools are ill-equipped to take on a more prominent role” in light of the COVID-19 crisis. “Based on their dismal track record, policymakers should instead focus on greater oversight and accountability for these schools. Perhaps the worst policy response during the COVID-19 crisis is to promote these schools…”

Thankfully, Girod’s proposal didn’t go forward as a bill in the special session. It would be a shame if it rears its ugly head again.

Further reading:

Oregon’s Public Virtual Charter Schools Don’t Compute

COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime

Too Many Schools Leave Learning to Chance During the Pandemic

Oregon Connections Academy: Still a Virtual Calamity

Alternative Schooling in Oregon: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is State School Fund money being misused by some Oregon virtual public charter schools?

virtualschoolpic

If an Oregon child attends a regular brick-and-mortar public school or the school’s online program, parents cover any outside extra-curricular expenses. But if a child attends an Oregon virtual public charter school there’s a chance parents will get a kick-back of up to $2,000 per year for personal use.

That’s not right.

Virtual public charter schools don’t collect tuition from their students. Instead, the schools are supported by money diverted from the state’s traditional brick-and-mortar public schools. The Oregon Department of Education distributes State School Fund money to each school district that sponsors a charter school; the district keeps a portion and passes on the rest to the charter school.

Oregon law provides that a sponsoring district must pass on to its charter school at least 80 percent of its per-pupil grant for K-8 students and 95 percent of its per pupil grant for grade 9-12 students.

Marcola SD 79J in Lane County, for example, sponsors the virtual public charter school, Teach-NW. The State School Fund gave the district $2,348,684.27 for the 2018-2019 school year to support the sponsorship and the district passed on most of that money to Teach-NW.

But Teach-NW didn’t spend all the money.

Instead, the school set aside $2000 per student for “allotments” which parents were allowed to spend in support of their child’s education. A family with three children at Teach-NW, for example, got access to extra allotments totaling $6,000 each year.

According to Teach-NW, “Allotments can be used to cover academic materials such as textbooks, school supplies, curriculum materials, approved instructional programs (i.e. music, dance), enrichment experiences, educational subscriptions, educational fees, tutoring services, some athletics fees and equipment, field trips, and internet expenses as approved by the student’s Educational Facilitator (assigned teacher).” Families can access the money through a debit card or request reimbursements from the school.”

Some parents say the $2,000 allotments are a key factor in enrolling their children at Teach-NW. Other parents deny the allotments are a factor in enrollment decisions. But as satirist and cultural critic H. L. Mencken put it, “When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

The practical effect of this arrangement is that parents who choose to send their children to Teach-NW, rather than their local brick-and-mortar public school or their school district’s online program, get a substantial extra financial package. And it’s all paid for with taxpayer dollars.

That’s wrong.