Writings and observations

Another take on charter schools (see also a Washington state report last week), this time by Levi B Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org.

60 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the High Court ruled unanimously that U.S. public schools must be desegregated, that separate school systems for blacks and whites are inherently unequal and a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

It’s now more than a half century later. Here, we have Idaho.
On April 29, 2015, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission released their first ever Annual Report. A damning self-indictment, it paints a painfully grim picture for minority student enrollment in Idaho’s public charter schools. The Commission’s comprehensive report was unequivocal in its findings: Idaho charter schools are consistently and disproportionately unreflective of their surrounding communities’ demographics.

A few takeaways from the report: 55% of Idaho charters under enroll Special Education students; 77% of charters under enroll Free and Reduced Lunch students; 87% under enroll Limited English Proficiency students; and 90% under enroll non-white students. What does this mean? It means Idaho has reversed course and is heading back to 1955, back to the Civil Rights era, and back to schools that are both separate and unequal. It means, apparently, “white flight”?

Beyond a moral and legal argument to ensure equity in public charter schools, here’s why every property owner in Idaho should care about the Commission’s recent findings: When public charter schools fail to share an equitable burden for providing expensive minority student services — such as special education and English Language Learner instruction – local public schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of these students. Local public schools are then forced to levy property owners to pay for expensive minority instruction and support.

While some may point to the current imbalance as merely a byproduct of so called “school choice,” the Commission’s findings should, at minimum, create pause to ensure that charter facilities are actually “a choice” for minority student populations. Remember, Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were also a product of active policy “choices” by lawmakers.

Remember, the bargain that charters made with Idaho is enhanced instructional freedom in order to experiment with new pedagogy and curriculum. However, that bargain also requires charters to provide equitable access and appropriate minority service instruction as required by civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho’s charters), recently wrote an op-ed declaring that the solution to this inequity problem is…wait for it…to build more charters! Said Mr. Ryan, “The best way to help charter schools serve more diverse populations is to help them grow.” Throw more money at the problem. Where have we heard this before?

Idaho Ed News reported that Idaho Charter Commission Chairman Alan Reed said of the report’s findings, “Before approving new charters, we ask petitioners, ‘What are your strategies for reaching special and underserved populations?’”

Chairman Reed’s question should be modified: Before approving any new charters we need to fix the imbalance that exists today. After all, shouldn’t minority students be entitled to the same freedom and legal opportunity “to choose” charters as any other kiddo?

It’s time for a moratorium on any new charters until we address this chronic imbalance. It’s time we fully recognize that regular public schools are shouldering the heavy burden of educating special education, minority and low income student populations. And it’s past time that funding for Idaho charter schools be withheld until they can demonstrate they are following the law.

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This is from a report by the Oregon Health Care Association, about a Portland State University study which shows needs of Oregon seniors have risen while Medicaid reimbursement rates decreased in community-based care settings.

The number of Oregon seniors who depend on Medicaid has risen considerably since 2008, but the Legislature’s funding of reimbursement rates for services has declined in the same time period, according to a new report by Portland State University’s Institute on Aging.

The report – “Oregon Community-Based Care: Resident and Community Characteristics” – offers a unique look at Oregon’s long-term care landscape, and includes data from 243 community-based care (residential care and assisted living communities) providers across the state. Findings indicate the proportion of Oregon seniors who depend on Medicaid to afford care has risen by ten percent since 2008, but Medicaid reimbursement rates have decreased by three percent when adjusted for inflation.

“The findings from this study fill an important gap in our understanding of Oregon’s senior population, staff and caregivers, and community-based care settings as a whole,” said Paula Carder, PhD, Associate Professor, Portland State University Institute on Aging. “The demand for community-based care is expected to increase as our population ages, and we hope this report will be used to inform policy decisions that ultimately improve the lives of aging Oregonians.”

The report indicated that nearly half (47%) of all residents in community-based care settings have some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. This staggering figure represents a five percent increase from 2008 in the number of seniors with dementia living in community-based care settings, and points to higher overall acuity rates and service needs among Oregon seniors. According to a 2010 report by the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Oregonians with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to double by 2025.

In March, the Oregon Health Care Association released data that shows more than 31,000 low-income seniors in Oregon depend on Medicaid reimbursements to afford care each month, but Medicaid rates have not kept pace with rising costs. In state after state, studies demonstrate that investments in long term care for low-income seniors ultimately improve health outcomes by allowing providers to offer better quality care. A 2011 study showed that states that increased Medicaid reimbursements the most improved quality outcomes for low-income seniors in long term care settings.

Commissioned by the Department of Human Services (DHS), the report was a collaboration between DHS, Portland State University Institute on Aging, the Oregon Health Care Association, SEIU, and LeadingAge Oregon.

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From a report on who pays what in Oregon taxes, prepared by the Oregon Center for Public Policy. The numbers in brackets refer to sources, which can be found where the full report is posted online.

Who pays more, low- or high-income households? The income group in Oregon that pays the highest share of their income to state and local taxes: Lowest income households.[1] The income group in Oregon that pays the lowest share of their income to state and local taxes: The wealthiest 1 percent of households.[2]

Have taxes increased as a share of Oregonians’ income? Oregon state and local general revenue as a share of income in 1991: 15.8 percent.[3] Oregon state and local general revenue as a share of income in 2012: 15.0 percent.[4]

How much do working poor Oregonians pay in income taxes? 2013 federal poverty threshold for a family of four with two children: $23,624.[5] State income tax paid in Oregon by a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: $230.[6] Of the 42 states with income taxes, the number that taxed the income of a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: 16.[7] Oregon’s rank in taxing the income of a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: 5th highest.[8]

What share of income goes to the top 1 percent? Share of income going to Oregon’s top 1 percent in 2013: 14.0 percent.[9] Share of income going to Oregon’s bottom 40 percent in 2013: 7.7 percent.[10]

What share of capital gains income goes to the top 1 percent? Share of income from capital gains going to Oregon’s top 1 percent in 2013: 53.0 percent.[11] Share of capital gains going to Oregon’s top 5 percent in 2013: 73.6 percent.[12] Share of income from capital gains going to Oregon’s bottom 95 percent in 2013: 27.5 percent.[13]

How do lottery and income tax revenues compare? Anticipated state revenue from personal income taxes in 2015-17: $15.75 billion.[14] Anticipated state revenue from the Oregon Lottery in 2015-17: $1.13 billion.[15] Anticipated state revenue from corporate income taxes in 2015-17: $1.08 billion.[16]

Do corporations pay a fair share of income taxes? Share of Oregon income taxes paid by corporations in 1973-75: 18.5 percent.[17] Share of Oregon income taxes corporations are projected to pay in 2015-17: 6.4 percent.[18]

Additional state revenue available in 2015-17 for schools, health and human services and public safety if corporations paid the same share of the state’s income taxes as they paid in 1973-75: $2.5 billion.[19] Amount of additional money Oregon schools needed in 2013-15 to provide all children a quality education: $2.2 billion.[20]

Do some profitable corporations pay nothing in income taxes? Number of profitable corporations doing business in Oregon that paid the corporate minimum tax in tax year 2012: 3,294.[21] Number of corporations with Oregon profits that used tax credits to reduce their 2012 tax liability below the corporate minimum tax: 218.[22] Number of corporations with Oregon profits that paid nothing in Oregon corporate income taxes for tax year 2012: 169.[23] Number of corporations with over $1 million in Oregon profits that paid nothing in Oregon corporate income taxes for tax year 2012: at least 49.[24] The names of corporations that paid nothing in corporate income taxes that support the public structures that create a strong business climate: The legislature has yet to make this public.

Who itemizes deductions and who uses the standard deduction? Share of Oregonians who itemized their deductions in 2013: 47.0 percent.[25] Share of Oregonians who used the standard deduction in 2013: 53.0 percent.[26] Share of Oregonians earning $100,000 or less in 2013 who itemized: 39.7 percent.[27] Share of Oregonians earning $100,000 or less in 2013 who used the standard deduction: 60.3 percent.[28] Share of Oregon’s wealthiest 1 percent who itemized in 2013: 95.5 percent.[29]

Share of the mortgage interest deduction benefits going to the highest-earning 20 percent of Oregonians in 2011: 61 percent.[31]

Who benefits from the Oregon EITC? Projected 2015-17 cost of the Oregon Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): $105 million.[32] Share of Oregon taxpayers benefiting from the Oregon EITC in 2013: About 16 percent.[33] Share of Oregon EITC going to working families in 2013: 100 percent.[34]

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A statement from Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

Corporations have gamed our tax system and it is costing the rest of us billions.

The Center’s analysis of today’s state revenue forecast shows that if the legislature stopped the corporate gaming of our tax system and made corporations pay the same share of income taxes that they paid in the 1970s, we would have about $2.5 billion in additional revenue in the upcoming budget period to help the poor and middle class get ahead.

There would be enough money to pay for the costly mistakes by the 2013 “grand bargain” special session — the illegal PERS changes and the special tax treatment for wealthy business owners.

There would also be enough money to cover the loss of revenue due to the spendthrift kicker, a $473 million tax cut that primarily benefits the rich.

Today’s revenue forecast underscores the need to end corporate tax gaming that’s projected to about $2.5 billion in the next budget period.

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From the just-released (May 12) report by the Pew Research Center on religion and American life.

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

The United States remains home to more Christians than any other country, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith. But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans finds that the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those groups has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population also has dipped, but at a slower rate, falling by about one percentage point since 2007.

These are among the key findings of the Pew Research Center’s second U.S. Religious Landscape Study, a follow-up to its first comprehensive study of religion in America, conducted in 2007.

Because the U.S. census does not ask Americans about their religion, there are no official government statistics on the religious composition of the U.S. public. Some Christian denominations and other religious bodies keep their own rolls, but they use widely differing criteria for membership, and sometimes do not remove members who have fallen away. Surveys of the general public frequently include a few questions about religious affiliation, but they typically do not interview enough people, or ask sufficiently detailed questions, to be able to describe the country’s full religious landscape. The Religious Landscape Studies were designed to fill the gap.

Among other findings in the new study:

Christians probably have lost ground not only in their relative share of the U.S. population but also in absolute numbers. In 2007, there were 227 million adults in the United States, and a little more than 78% of them – or roughly 178 million – identified as Christians. Between 2007 and 2014, the overall size of the U.S. adult population grew by about 18 million people, to nearly 245 million. But the share of adults who identify as Christians fell to just under 71%, or approximately 173 million Americans, a net decline of about 5 million.

American Christians – like the U.S. population as a whole – are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Non-Hispanic whites now account for smaller shares of evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics than they did seven years earlier, while Hispanics have grown as a share of all three religious groups. Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 41% of Catholics (up from 35% in 2007), 24% of evangelical Protestants (up from 19%) and 14% of mainline Protestants (up from 9%).

Religious intermarriage appears to be on the rise. Among Americans who have gotten married since 2010, nearly four-in-ten (39%) report that they are in religiously mixed marriages, compared with 19% among those who got married before 1960.

While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time. As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46. By contrast, the median age of mainline Protestant adults in the new survey is 52 (up from 50 in 2007), and the median age of Catholic adults is 49 (up from 45 seven years earlier).

Switching religion is a common occurrence in the United States. If all Protestants were treated as a single religious group, then fully 34% of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. This is up six points since 2007, when 28% of adults identified with a religion different from their childhood faith. If switching among the three Protestant traditions (e.g., from mainline Protestantism to evangelicalism, or from evangelicalism to a historically black Protestant denomination) is added to the total, then the share of Americans who currently have a different religion than they did in childhood rises to 42%.

Christianity – and especially Catholicism – has been losing more adherents through religious switching than it has been gaining. More than 85% of American adults were raised Christian, but nearly a quarter of those who were raised Christian no longer identify with Christianity. Former Christians represent 19.2% of U.S. adults overall. Both the mainline and historically black Protestant traditions have lost more members than they have gained through religious switching, but within Christianity the greatest net losses, by far, have been experienced by Catholics. Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7%) say they were raised Catholic. Among that group, fully 41% no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9% of American adults are former Catholics, while just 2% of U.S. adults have converted to Catholicism from another religious tradition. No other religious group in the survey has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.

The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching. Roughly 10% of U.S. adults now identify with evangelical Protestantism after having been raised in another tradition, which more than offsets the roughly 8% of adults who were raised as evangelicals but left for another religious tradition or who no longer identify with any organized faith.

The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country. Religious “nones” now constitute 19% of the adult population in the South (up from 13% in 2007), 22% of the population in the Midwest (up from 16%), 25% of the population in the Northeast (up from 16%) and 28% of the population in the West (up from 21%). In the West, the religiously unaffiliated are more numerous than Catholics (23%), evangelicals (22%) and every other religious group.

Whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated. Among whites, 24% say they have no religion, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 18% of blacks. But the religiously unaffiliated have grown (and Christians have declined) as a share of the population within all three of these racial and ethnic groups.

This is the first report on findings from the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, the centerpiece of which is a nationally representative telephone survey of 35,071 adults interviewed on both cellphones and landlines from June 4-Sept. 30, 2014. Findings based on the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 0.6 percentage points.

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A guest opinion from Levi B Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org.

60 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the High Court ruled unanimously that U.S. public schools must be desegregated, that separate school systems for blacks and whites are inherently unequal and a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
It’s now more than a half century later. Here, we have Idaho.

On April 29, 2015, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission released their first ever Annual Report. A damning self-indictment, it paints a painfully grim picture for minority student enrollment in Idaho’s public charter schools. The Commission’s comprehensive report was unequivocal in its findings: Idaho charter schools are consistently and disproportionately unreflective of their surrounding communities’ demographics.
A few takeaways from the report: 55% of Idaho charters under enroll Special Education students; 77% of charters under enroll Free and Reduced Lunch students; 87% under enroll Limited English Proficiency students; and 90% under enroll non-white students. What does this mean? It means Idaho has reversed course and is heading back to 1955, back to the Civil Rights era, and back to schools that are both separate and unequal. It means, apparently, “white flight”?

Beyond a moral and legal argument to ensure equity in public charter schools, here’s why every property owner in Idaho should care about the Commission’s recent findings: When public charter schools fail to share an equitable burden for providing expensive minority student services — such as special education and English Language Learner instruction — local public schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of these students. Local public schools are then forced to levy property owners to pay for expensive minority instruction and support.

While some may point to the current imbalance as merely a byproduct of so called “school choice,” the Commission’s findings should, at minimum, create pause to ensure that charter facilities are actually “a choice” for minority student populations. Remember, Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were also a product of active policy “choices” by lawmakers.

Remember, the bargain that charters made with Idaho is enhanced instructional freedom in order to experiment with new pedagogy and curriculum. However, that bargain also requires charters to provide equitable access and appropriate minority service instruction as required by civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho’s charters), recently wrote an op-ed declaring that the solution to this inequity problem is…wait for it…to build more charters! Said Mr. Ryan, “The best way to help charter schools serve more diverse populations is to help them grow.” Throw more money at the problem. Where have we heard this before?

Idaho Ed News reported that Idaho Charter Commission Chairman Alan Reed said of the report’s findings, “Before approving new charters, we ask petitioners, ‘What are your strategies for reaching special and underserved populations?’”

Chairman Reed’s question should be modified: Before approving any new charters we need to fix the imbalance that exists today. After all, shouldn’t minority students be entitled to the same freedom and legal opportunity “to choose” charters as any other kiddo?

It’s time for a moratorium on any new charters until we address this chronic imbalance. It’s time we fully recognize that regular public schools are shouldering the heavy burden of educating special education, minority and low income student populations.

And it’s past time that funding for Idaho charter schools be withheld until they can demonstrate they are following the law.

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From an April 20 release by Washington Senator Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

State Sen Michael Baumgartner is taking aim at the roadhogs who get into the fast lane – and just poke along.

In a bill introduced late last week in Olympia, the Spokane Republican proposes that left-lane drivers who drive slower than the speed limit be slapped with special penalties, when they drive continuously in the left lane and impede traffic. The slower they drive, the higher the fine. It’s the same way speeding tickets work, but in reverse.

“How often have you found yourself stuck in slow-moving freeway traffic because someone is hogging the fast lane?” Baumgartner asks. “If you drive back and forth on the freeways from Spokane to Olympia the way I do, you can’t help thinking there ought to be a law.”

Already the state of Washington makes it a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multi-lane highway, when it impedes the flow of traffic. The left lane is supposed to be used only for passing, moving aside for merging traffic, or preparing for a left turn.

Baumgartner says too many motorists haven’t gotten the message. So his bill, SB 6105, creates a new traffic offense of aggravated left-lane driving. In addition to the $124 fine for continuous left lane driving, a slowpoke could be slapped with additional penalties. They would start at $27 for one-to-five miles under the speed limit, and rise to $67 for 16-to-20 miles an hour under the limit.

“Poky left-lane drivers aren’t just a nuisance,” Baumgartner said. “They’re a safety hazard, forcing other drivers to slam on their brakes, tailgate or weave around them to the right. You can recognize them by the long line of frustrated drivers you’ll find right behind them. There ought to be a penalty for that sort of obliviousness.”

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We don’t often reprint issue letters – the type that encourage people to sign a petition on some issue, for example. But this one advocates for an idea on health care we’ve been supporting for years, and now it might become actual state law. The mail comes from the public interest organization OSPIRG.

We all know health care still costs too much. But how much does it cost? If you’ve ever asked, you know: They won’t tell you.

Why? Because, unlike every other business in America, hospitals get to keep their prices a secret. As a result, they get away with charging outrageous prices and surprising fees, often for routine procedures.

A bill to make Oregon’s hospitals post their actual prices online is scheduled for its first vote next Monday. Hospital and insurance industry lobbyists are working to defeat the proposal. Will you stand with us?

Tell your state lawmakers: Make hospitals post their prices.

Not too long ago, my friend’s wife cut her finger deeply and went to the emergency room. The doctor gave her a tetanus shot and a few dabs of a skin adhesive called Indermil. A few weeks later, they got a bill for $2,300. They charged her $1000 for the skin glue alone, even though it can be purchased online for $40 a tube.

What other business gets away with that?

When pressed on why they can’t just post their actual prices, hospitals will tell us it is too difficult and too complicated.

But it isn’t, really. They already know their prices – they just don’t want to make them public. In fact, hospitals and insurance companies actually have written agreements to keep the prices they negotiate a secret.

This is absurd and we should not tolerate it a moment longer. Inflated prices due to lack of competition and excessive price variation have led to $105 billion in waste in health care spending each year.

It is time to get the health care industry to do what every other business in America does.

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