Poverty and Educational Consultants

In one of its rare attempts to deal with the issue of poverty, the Washington Post takes note of an educational consultant named Ruby Payne who specializes in teaching teachers what to expect from poor kids in a classroom and how to deal with it when they get it.

The Texas-based author says in her book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”: Parents in poverty typically discipline children by beating or verbally chastising them; poor mothers may turn to sex for money and favors; poor students laugh when they get in trouble at school; and low-income parents tend to “beat around the bush” during parent-teacher conferences, instead of getting to the point.

In the past several years, at least five school systems in the Washington area have turned to Payne’s lessons, books and workshops.

At first glance this may look like the kind of stereotypical folderol that’s been spit out for years – decades – by educational “consultants” who cut their teeth on conservative propaganda from the Heritage Foundation and glean most of their “information” from HF “poverty studies” so skewed they have no value outside a right-winger’s head. And that’s the way it’s being taken by her critics.

But many academics say her works are riddled with unverifiable assertions. At the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference in Chicago last week, professors from the University of Texas at Austin delivered a report on Payne that argued that more than 600 of her descriptions of poverty in “Framework” cannot be proved true.”

She claims there is a single culture of poverty that people live in. It’s an idea that’s been discredited since at least the 1960s,” said report co-author Randy Bomer.

Absolutely true, and it makes Payne dangerous in the same sense that all stereotyping is dangerous.

Continue reading

Grant access to higher education

WHEN CONGRESS passed the Higher Education Act in 1965 , lawmakers were guided by the principle that no qualified student should have to for go college because of the cost. Shamefully, Congress has lost sight of this fundamental point.

Today, 400,000 qualified students a year don’t attend a four-year college because they can’t afford it. Twenty years ago, the maximum Pell Grant — the lifeline to college for low-income and first-generation students — covered more than half the cost of attendance at a typical four-year public college. Now, it only covers 32 percent. Because of the influence of big lenders, the federal student loan programs are now larded with inappropriate subsidies that benefit banks, but do little for students.

The cost of college has more than tripled over the past 20 years, and most families can’t keep up. Congress must work to fix the federal student aid system. Continue reading

Response to Mr Mulvey

Now that you’ve had time to digest what Mr Mulvey had to say, here’s my response.

Your writing is very cogent. Colleges don’t teach that. They serve as a superstructure for the foundation that should have been taught in grammar and high school. With only 1 year of college before the money ran out, you appear to have been given the foundation and acted as your own contractor in building the superstructure. The whys and hows of the money situation are known only to you and really don’t matter based on the product you produce. That is as American as it gets

Compliments are always welcome but not at the expense of facts.

My writing has always been ‘cogent’. What it hasn’t always been is organized, structured, or coherent. I have talent, and no, colleges can’t give anybody a talent they don’t have going in, but that’s not what they’re for. Schools teach skills; that’s all they can do but it’s bloody important.

I’ll tell you what’s ‘as American as it gets’–the fact that because I couldn’t afford to go to college to acquire those skills, it took me 30 years of trial and error to acquire them on my own, and that as a result I’m not writing for a living today.

Have you ever heard of Mark Smith, the Wisconsin laborer who makes movies on a shoestring budget? Somebody did a documentary about him a few years back that had a short vogue. He was on Letterman and Leno, they showed clips from his films, and for a while he was the Flavor of the Month. Experts said that despite the rawness, poor acting (he had to use local actors and neighbors), and grainy, low-rent look from the low-tech equipment he had to use, he had a remarkable eye for framing and a real talent for telling a story. Then he spent a frustrating couple of years trying to get the same people who had praised him so highly to return his calls–an agent, a producer, a banker–anyone who could help him put together the budget for a real film.

Mark never went to college, you see, never studied film, never made the connections so vital to getting ahead (which is the other half of what college is good for). He was just an ordinary guy with a boatload of talent who came from a working-class family and went into the factories when he got out of high school. In other words, he was a novelty. People thought he was interesting and what a great human interest story but Jesus, hire him? Put a multimillion dollar film in the hands of a some factory worker from Wisconsin who doesn’t have a degree in film or at least a nodding acquaintance with Steven Spielberg’s editor’s second cousin by marriage? Uh-uh, no way.

That’s your American story: a waste of talent, maybe genius for all we know, because he was born in the wrong place and into the wrong class. So the premise you’re starting with is already seriously flawed. Education matters.

The fact is the education system in this country is broken. I offer the following: The business owner is looking for basic 9th through 11th grade high school skills as a condition of employment that his applicants simply did not possess.

That’s the part that’s not credible. You expect me to believe that–whatever Tampa’s problems may be–he can’t find a dozen high school graduates who have approproate math skills in a city that size? If you read the article, that guy isn’t a corporation with a need for hundreds of such workers, he’s got a small business with a limited but growing clientele. I just don’t buy it. There has to be something else going on there. The education system may be broken (that’s a discussion for another time) but it ain’t that broken.

There’s a girl–19 or 20–who runs the cash register at a convenience store near my house. She was a math whiz in high school–calculus, trigonometry, abstract algebra, you name it–and if you bring 5 or 6 items to the counter she can tell you the total while she’s still scanning them. But she can’t get a job using those skills because a) there aren’t a lot of jobs around here, but mostly because b) she’s black and female.

I strongly suspect that something like that is going on in Tampa–he’s getting applicants who have the skills but he’s turning them down for subsidiary reasons and blaming a low skill-level. Maybe they don’t interview well, maybe they don’t dress the way he thinks they should for an interview because they don’t have the money to dress well, maybe they don’t speak standard English well enough or have an accent he thinks will scare off his customers. Maybe they all drive cars with Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers on them and fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror. I’ve seen people turned away for a lot less. Whatever it is, I can assure you it’s NOT the skill-level.

You propose the business owner to pay for educating the perspective employees in return for a year or two of work.

I didn’t ‘propose’ it. I suggested that it was the obvious solution and wondered why it hadn’t even occured to him. Even if I accept your ‘double-dipping’ argument, what’s that got to do with the price of tomatoes? He’s supposed to be a practical businessman dealing with reality, so what’s the practical reality? That regardless of where the blame lies, he claims to be losing business because of this right now. If I was in his position, I’d pick the best of my candidates and offer to pay for night school in return for a reasonable minimum commitment, say 6 months to a year, on the job. There’s nothing remotely illegal or even questionable about such an arrangement (there’s a big trucking company, JB Hunt, I think, who’s doing something just like that because there’s a shortage of drivers), and I would not only be solving my problem, I’d be giving somebody a leg up and out of an exploitive system. If he’s refusing to do that because of some dopey ideological imperative, then he’s doing what my mother would call ‘cutting off his nose to spite his face’ and he deserves everything he gets.

I never proposed–nor would I–making my suggestion to him mandatory. I meant that it was plain common sense, good business sense, and dynamite public relations, yet–for whatever reason–as far as he’s concerned it isn’t even on the table. There’s some kind of prejudice working there.

Responsible parents want their kids to have more opportunities for choice than they had themselves. Maybe the answer is in a school voucher system which ironically is supported more by parents in poverty than by any other socio-economic group.

This is much too long a discussion to have today, as I said. The education system needs to be tackled but it’s a much longer and more complicated subject than the simple answer of ‘vouchers’ would suggest. I’ll say only a couple of things for now:

1) The public schools are operating under intense pressures parochial schools can’t even imagine in their worst nightmares, pressures which would break the parochials like a hard taco if they were ever faced with them.

2) Since the tax-cutting frenzy began, the public schools have been starved for money. The amount of money spent per-pupil is 3-4 times in private schools what it is in most public schools. Part of the reason for that is that private schools can limit their enrollment as well as cherry-pick the cream. Public schools don’t have that luxury; they have to take everybody and split the pie many more ways.

3) Of course poor parents support vouchers–it’s a way to get their kids an expensive education they couldn’t otherwise afford. But they understand something you don’t seem to: vouchers are a lottery system–a few lucky kids will get a break, the vast majority will remain in crumbling, understaffed and under-equipped schools that offer no future because they’re basically warehouses, not educational institutions. That’s no solution for any except the lucky few, and in the richest country on earth, it’s a disgrace.

Continued success in your writing.

Thanks. You, too. And please think this issue through some more. You’re leaving a lot out of your calculations.

Nation Gets ‘F’ in Affordable Colleges

The cost of a college education has risen dramatically in the past few years while wages have stagnanted and inflation, mild as it’s been, has eaten up most of what few gains have been made. In real dollars, a lot of us are making less now than we were twenty years ago, making paying for college for our kids a struggle at best, impossible at worst. During the Clinton years, federally-funded or backed financial aid helped close the gap, but in the past three years Bush’s tax cuts have forced that money out of the system. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education says the result will be to bump less affluent college students out of the system as well.

The report card evaluates states on the performance of their private and public four-year schools and community colleges in five categories, with grades ranging from A to F.

On affordability, the report card contradicts some recent studies that argue increases in financial aid have kept pace with recent tuition hikes, so real college costs have stabilized.

The report card, titled “Measuring Up 2004,” grades affordability in part by comparing net college costs with the average family income in each state. By that measure, the study claims, college is becoming less affordable in most states.

In New Hampshire, for instance, college costs amount to 32 percent of average family income compared to 23 percent a decade ago. In New Jersey and Oregon, colleges cost 34 percent of family income, compared to 24 percent and 25 percent, respectively, in 1994.

David Breneman, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and an adviser on the report, said the combination of higher prices and a population boom among college-age people is likely to bump students from four-year colleges to more affordable community colleges, and from community colleges out of the system.

“For at least another five to eight years we’re looking at a real denial of opportunity,” he said.

The report also claims states have made some progress over the last decade preparing students for college, as measured by such factors as the percentage of students taking advanced math and science. In West Virginia, for instance, the percentage of high schoolers taking upper level math and science courses has nearly doubled, and the percentage of eighth graders taking algebra has more than doubled to 25 percent.

But the report notes that higher education, by failing to bring more students into the system, hasn’t met its end of the bargain.

“We can no longer attribute all of our college access and quality problems to the failure of public schools,” said Patrick Callan, the center’s president. “The fact is, high schools have improved over these last 10 years and we haven’t seen commensurate higher education gains.”

Response to the RAND Post

Via email, I received a response to ‘Got a Govt Contract But You’re Violating Labor Laws? No Problem’ from one David P Mulvey. Mr Mulvey’s reply makes a number of important points and I want to go into them because they reflect on some basic attitudes and beliefs that go toward helping to minimize and marginalize legitimate worker concerns about systematized unfair hiring and pay practices.

But the best way to do that is point-by-point, and unfortunately for me, Mr Mulvey has written a tightly reasoned and tightly organized letter; to chop it into little pieces for purposes of responding would do a violence to the overall case he’s trying to make. So before I respond, I thought I would publish the letter intact and let you read it as Mr Mulvey intended it to be read–as a coherent whole.

Your writing is very cogent. Colleges don’t teach that. They serve as a superstructure for the foundation that should have been taught in grammar and high school. With only 1 year of college before the money ran out, you appear to have been given the foundation and acted as your own contractor in building the superstructure. The whys and hows of the money situation are known only to you and really don’t matter based on the product you produce. That is as American as it gets.

This leads to my second comment concerning a business owner saying there was a skilled worker shortage. I read that blog, as well as the follow on stating the first blog was a bit of a rant. The fact is the education system in this country is broken. I offer the following. The business owner is looking for basic 9th through 11th grade high school skills as a condition of employment that his applicants simply did not possess. Perhaps there is a shortage of those skills in the Tampa area. Tampa is the 4th highest crime ridden city in the nation. Maybe all the people with those skills moved away. Perhaps he was not willing to pay enough to get them. 18.1% of the Tampa population lives below the poverty line. I cannot prove or disprove either hypothesis. Poverty though has historically been linked to a lack of education. Which is the chicken and which is the egg depends on your point of view.

You propose the business owner to pay for educating the perspective employees in return for a year or two of work. I am not a legal scholar, so I am not sure of legalities of such a move outside of the military (the service academies are prime examples). If memory serves me correctly, in the civilian world such an action violates indentured servitude laws. Besides, he, as well as every taxpaying person in this country, has already paid for the proper education of perspective employees up to the twelfth grade. If, when the applicants were in school, they could not execute the skills required to proceed to the next grade, specifically geometry and trigonometry, they should not have been allowed to proceed. The system did them a lifelong injustice order to placate itself. To ask the business owner to fund an education is akin to double taxation.

I attended parochial school from grades 1-8 and public high school from grades 9-12. I did not pick up a book in the 9th and 10th grades and most of the 11th. Ironically, it was a geometry book. I had already had all the subjects by the time I left the 8th grade. My folks were hard working Americans as I am sure you are. However, they did me the same injustice as the system did the aforementioned applicants. They did not question my grades (all A/B) vs. no at home study time when getting the same grades in grammar school took an hour and a half to two hours per night.

Responsible parents want their kids to have more opportunities for choice than they had themselves. Maybe the answer is in a school voucher system which ironically is supported more by parents in poverty than by any other socio-economic group.

Continued success in your writing.



Mull it over, comment on it, and I’ll be back in a day or so with my answer.

Correction: Actually, Mr Mulvey is responding to two posts, the other one being ‘A Shortage of Skilled Workers? Really?’, so you may want to read that one, too, while you’re at it.

Crucial Unpaid Internships Increasingly Separate the Haves From the Have-Nots


Published: NYT, August 10, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 – Susan Lim, a 20-year-old Georgetown University student, is working 89 hours a week this summer: two part-time jobs and an unpaid internship offered through the Public Policy and International Affairs Program.

Her schedule – working for money as a clerical assistant and a summer school resident adviser and without pay as a researcher at the public policy program – is a sharp contrast to that of her Georgetown classmates. Many of them have parents who support them through unpaid summer internships, or they have qualified for paid internships because of experience as unpaid interns during high school.

“I have to do the same things they do plus more to get to the same place,” said Ms. Lim, whose mother and father each work two jobs, including running a Laundromat, to support a household of 14 people. But Ms. Lim says she has no choice on performing her summer juggling act, which includes taking a class at Georgetown, where she is studying at the School of Foreign Service. She believes she needs an internship to be competitive with her peers. “If you go and apply for a job and/or apply for graduate school and all you have are grades, the next person has the same grades or better and has done other things,” she said.

The focus on internships as a tool for professional success has never been greater, according to Mark Oldman, co-author of “The Internship Bible” and co-founder of Vault Inc., a career counseling company. About 80 percent of graduating college seniors now have done a paid or unpaid internship, according to surveys by Vault, compared with about 60 percent a decade ago.

“The interest in internships is at a fever pitch,” Mr. Oldman said. “It used to be that internships used to be a useful enhancement to one’s résumé. Now it’s universally perceived as an essential stepping stone to career success.”

But as internships rise in importance as critical milestones along the path to success, questions are emerging about whether they are creating a class system that discriminates against students from less affluent families who have to turn down unpaid internships to earn money for college expenses.

“It’s something that really makes me nuts,” said Cokie Roberts, an ABC News correspondent who spoke out about the problem on Capitol Hill several weeks ago at a gathering of Congressional interns. “By setting up unpaid internship programs, it seems to me that without completely recognizing it, it sets up a system where you are making it ever more difficult for people who don’t have economic advantages to catch up.”

Dalton Conley, a sociology professor at New York University who has studied how people get ahead, said: “It moves the clock back when you need connections. It makes it doubly hard for social mobility and equal opportunity, because of the connections that it requires at an earlier age, the financial sacrifices and also the culture savoir-faire.”

While half of internships nationwide are paid or have at least a small stipend, according to national surveys conducted by Vault, unpaid internships are concentrated in the most competitive fields, like politics, television and film.

“The more glamorous an internship, the less likely it is paid,” Mr. Oldman said. “Washington in general has high-demand internships. In most cases they don’t have to pay or they don’t have to pay much.”

Washington internships serve as a pipeline that brings policy makers into the nation’s capital, some people fear that over the long term, internships will be another means, like the rising costs of college tuition, of squeezing voices from the working class and even the middle class out of high-level policy debates.Adam King, 19, a student at Brown University who is an intern in a Senate office, said, “Dealing with the interns of our office, they were of a class that was extremely privileged.” Mr. King got into a heated debate with fellow interns who disputed Michael Moore’s portrayal of military recruitment in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the film “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

“They don’t understand the issues, that the Army recruits poor people; there are Army recruiting people who say, ‘Don’t go to college, travel around the world,’ ” said Mr. King, who is working on Capitol Hill through a program that provides a stipend and housing. “That combined with the fact that so many interns wind up back on the Hill makes me scared that these people could possibly be making policy without understanding where so many of their constituents are coming from.”

That’s the point, Mr King. The ‘Old Boy Network’ exists primarily to keep upstarts from the wrong side of the tracks from injecting their unwelcome plebian viewpoints into the sacrosanct precincts of the halls of power as run and defined by…themselves. It ensures that the rich will only talk to other rich about the problems of the rich, which keeps everything nice and simple. The unpaid-intern system fits beautifully into the plutocracy that America is becoming.

(Nice article, Jennifer 8. Keep it up.)

Class Warfare in America by Bill Moyers, Part 5

In my time we went to public schools. My brother made it to college on the GI bill. When I bought my first car for $450 I drove to a subsidized university on free public highways and stopped to rest in state-maintained public parks. This is what I mean by the commonwealth. Rudely recognized in its formative years, always subject to struggle, constantly vulnerable to reactionary counterattacks, the notion of America as a shared project has been the central engine of our national experience.

Until now. I don’t have to tell you that a profound transformation is occurring in America: the balance between wealth and the commonwealth is being upended. By design. Deliberately. We have been subjected to what the Commonwealth Foundation calls “a fanatical drive to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual and cultural frameworks that have shaped public responsibility for social harms arising from the excesses of private power.” From land, water and other natural resources, to media and the broadcast and digital spectrums, to scientific discovery and medical breakthroughs, and to politics itself, a broad range of the American commons is undergoing a powerful shift toward private and corporate control. And with little public debate. Indeed, what passes for ‘political debate’ in this country has become a cynical charade behind which the real business goes on — the not-so-scrupulous business of getting and keeping power in order to divide up the spoils.

We could have seen this coming if we had followed the money. The veteran Washington reporter, Elizabeth Drew, says “the greatest change in Washington over the past 25 years — in its culture, in the way it does business and the ever-burgeoning amount of business transactions that go on here — has been in the preoccupation with money.” Jeffrey Birnbaum, who covered Washington for nearly twenty years for the Wall Street Journal, put it more strongly: “[campaign cash] has flooded over the gunwales of the ship of state and threatens to sink the entire vessel. Political donations determine the course and speed of many government actions that deeply affect our daily lives.” Politics is suffocating from the stranglehold of money. During his brief campaign in 2000, before he was ambushed by the dirty tricks of the religious right in South Carolina and big money from George W. Bush’s wealthy elites, John McCain said elections today are nothing less than an “influence peddling scheme in which both parties compete to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder.”

Small wonder that with the exception of people like John McCain and Russ Feingold, official Washington no longer finds anything wrong with a democracy dominated by the people with money. Hit the pause button here, and recall Roger Tamraz. He’s the wealthy oilman who paid $300,000 to get a private meeting in the White House with President Clinton; he wanted help in securing a big pipeline in central Asia. This got him called before congressional hearings on the financial excesses of the 1996 campaign. If you watched the hearings on C-Span you heard him say he didn’t think he had done anything out of the ordinary. When they pressed him he told the senators: “Look, when it comes to money and politics, you make the rules. I’m just playing by your rules.” One senator then asked if Tamraz had registered and voted. And he was blunt in his reply: “No, senator, I think money’s a bit more (important) than the vote.”

And there it is. Bare naked in front of god and everybody: ‘Money’s a bit more important than the vote.’

Granny D, otherwise known as Doris Haddock, the 90-yr-old woman from New Hampshire who walked across the country trying to call attention to Campaign Finance Reform a few years ago, wrote: ‘So many of the problems we face, from an unnecessary war to a mismanaged federal budget (which impacts health care, schools, Social Security and the nation’s real security needs) directly derive from the influence of special interest groups in Washington.’

Never has this been more obvious than now. But it has gone much further in the past three years than buying access–the Bush Administration is selling the government off piece-by-piece to corporate interests: Kenny-Boy Lay got to choose the Energy Secretary, vetoing the first choice because he wasn’t friendly enough to the energy industry; Cheney allows oil and gas corporations to write the country’s energy policy in secret and the SCOTUS backs him up; he then meets with them again in Oct of ’02, five months before the invasion of Iraq, to carve up the Iraqi oil fields; the US Forestry Div is run by ex-lobbyists for the timber industry; OSHA is run by corporate lawyers who used to specialize in protecting their clients from suits by injured workers arising from malfeasance and negligence; scientific evidence developed by government agencies must be vetted by political operatives for ideological purity and withheld if it doesn’t pass the test; the list is endless and stretches all the way through the Bush government.

And don’t be fooled by Tamraz’s little excuse–‘I’m just playing by your rules’–because he bought those rules. This is a corporate government and they’re playing to win. The class war being waged in this country is their war; they started it, and they’re pressing their advamntages in every way possible. They’re not buying Congressmen, any more–they own the government lock, stock, and barrel already–they’re bidding on the Constitution itself.

So what does this come down to, practically?

Here is one accounting:

“When powerful interests shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they often get what they want. But it’s ordinary citizens and firms that pay the price and most of them never see it coming. This is what happens if you don’t contribute to their campaigns or spend generously on lobbying. You pick up a disproportionate share of America’s tax bill. You pay higher prices for a broad range of products from peanuts to prescriptions. You pay taxes that others in a similar situation have been excused from paying. You’re compelled to abide by laws while others are granted immunity from them. You must pay debts that you incur while others do not. You’re barred from writing off on your tax returns some of the money spent on necessities while others deduct the cost of their entertainment. You must run your business by one set of rules, while the government creates another set for your competitors. In contrast, the fortunate few who contribute to the right politicians and hire the right lobbyists enjoy all the benefits of their special status. Make a bad business deal; the government bails them out. If they want to hire workers at below market wages, the government provides the means to do so. If they want more time to pay their debts, the government gives them an extension. If they want immunity from certain laws, the government gives it. If they want to ignore rules their competition must comply with, the government gives its approval. If they want to kill legislation that is intended for the public, it gets killed.”

I’m not quoting from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital or Mao’s Little Red Book. I’m quoting Time magazine. Time‘s premier investigative journalists — Donald Bartlett and James Steele — concluded in a series last year that America now has “government for the few at the expense of the many.” Economic inequality begets political inequality, and vice versa.

That’s why the Stanleys and the Neumanns were turned off by politics. It’s why we’re losing the balance between wealth and the commonwealth. It’s why we can’t put things right. And it is the single most destructive force tearing at the soul of democracy. Hear the great justice Learned Hand on this: “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: ‘Thou shalt not ration justice.’ ” Learned Hand was a prophet of democracy. The rich have the right to buy more homes than anyone else. They have the right to buy more cars than anyone else, more gizmos than anyone else, more clothes and vacations than anyone else. But they do not have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else.

Unfortunately, legally Mr Moyers is wrong: Solicitor General Ted Olson stood up in front of the Supreme Court a couple of years ago and argued with breath-taking arrogance that money=free speech. He as much as said that Americans have exactly as much free speech as they can afford to buy and no more.

The SCOTUS agreed with him and struck down the $$ limits on corporate-paid political ads.

So the rich now have the legal right to buy more democracy than the rest of us. And they’re exercising that ‘right’ every chance they get.

Waste and Fraud Besiege U.S. Program to Link Poor Schools to Internet


Published: NY Times, June 17, 2004

WASHINGTON, June 16 – When the El Paso school system wanted to upgrade its Internet connections three years ago, it tapped into a federal program that offers assistance for such projects.

The program paid the International Business Machines Corporation $35 million to build a network powerful enough to serve a small city. But the network would be so sophisticated that the 90-school district could not run it without help.

Foreseeing the problem, I.B.M. charged the district an additional $27 million, paid by the federal program, to build a lavish maintenance call-in center to keep the network running. The center operated for nine months. Then, with no more money to support it, I.B.M. dismantled it and left town.

The federal effort to help poor schools connect to the Internet, the E-rate program, which collects a fee from all American phone users to distribute $2.25 billion a year to such schools and libraries, wasted enormous sums as El Paso built its extravagant network in the 2001-2 school year, according to documents and federal lawmakers.

But the problems have not been there alone. In Brevard County, Fla., school officials used E-rate money to install a $1 million network server, a powerful device more suited to the needs of a multinational corporation, in a 650-pupil elementary school. And just three weeks ago in San Francisco, a subsidiary of the computer giant NEC agreed to plead guilty to two federal felony counts related to the program.

Across the nation in recent months – in El Paso and in New York and Pennsylvania, in Puerto Rico and Atlanta, in Milwaukee and Chicago – investigations or audits of the program have turned up not only waste but also bid-rigging and other fraud, according to lawmakers and investigators. A report issued last week by the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the E-rate program, said 42 criminal investigations were under way.

On Thursday, Congress is to open hearings on all that has gone wrong. The hearings will be held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, whose chairman, Representative James C. Greenwood of Pennsylvania, says the F.C.C.’s supervision was weak.

Mr. Greenwood said that since schools often must pay only 10 percent of the cost of equipment and services while E-rate picks up the rest, “contractors have mastered the art of coming into these districts, recommending gold-plated architecture, and school officials, buying at 10 cents on the dollar, take everything they recommend.’

‘The F.C.C.’s supervision was weak’? Weak? It wasn’t weak, it was non-existent. Michael Powell’s FCC never saw a corporate thief without offering to hold the swag-bag for it and shield it from the cops. Once again, corporate greed trumps social need and the US Treasury becomes nothing more than a cash cow for corporate profits at the expense of one of the few remaining programs meant to help less rich schools keep up with technology.

There is simply no shame any more.

College Crisis in California

It seems like whenever a state has a fiscal crisis, education funds are at the top of the list for cuts. The budget crunch in California–which is being repeated all across the nation–has ‘necessitated’ large-scale cuts in funding for community colleges just at a time when one of the largest classes in CA history is graduating.

The report [by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education] criticizes the state for abdicating its responsibility to prepare for the new tidal wave of new college students — more than 700,000 high school graduates bound for college from last year to the end of the decade. Most are Latino, and many will be the first in their families to attend college. And although three-fourths of them are headed for community colleges, those systems are not currently funded to serve their existing base of students, the report concludes.

“We saw these students coming; everyone knew they were there,” said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Yet increased demand and shrinking state support have resulted in an estimated 175,000 students forgoing community colleges in recent years and an estimated 25,000 eligible students being turned away from California State University and University of California systems for the coming year, according to the report.

“Multiply that by another five or six years and you will have an educational and economic catastrophe for California,” Callan said.

The good news is that a coalition of business, labor and community groups are beginning to grapple with the problem that the State government has ignored, although nothing they’ve proposed will solve the problem by itself. But the question is: why is this happening?

It’s happening, at least in part, because California was raped mercilessly by the Texas energy industry, who stole–that’s the only word for it–$$billions$$ from CA’s treasury by creating phony shortages to justify massive increases in their prices–as much as $250/kilowatt-hr. That crime all but emptied CA’s coffers at a time when other factors were putting enormous pressure on the budget. CA was deeply in the red and cuts had to be made.

This is an over-simplified picture, I realize, but there’s no getting around the fact that much less harsh cuts would have had to be made were it not for the embezzlement by Texas’ energy corps. That money, despite CA’s slam-dunk lawsuit, will likely never be recovered. So who is paying for this theft? The ones who usually pay for it–kids.

Community colleges are magnets for poor, low-income, and minority kids who want to make their lives better because they’re affordable. Without the community colleges, these kids are cut off from a chance for a brighter future. Is the fact that they are poor and often minority the reason this problem has been ignored until now? Is this a class and race war all at once? I’d hate to think these kids were the ones the state legislature voted to dump on because Latinos don’t count….

The College Aid Crisis

Almost two weeks ago, we posted an interview with Richard Kahlenburg of the Century Foundation who said that low income students were being kept out of college in large numbers because they couldn’t afford it and grant programs had been cut to the bone by a Federal govt that wasn’t interested and state govts that were already severely strapped by the Federal pull-out from its responsibilities. Today the NY Times editorial board weighed in.

Published: May 25, 2004

Nearly a half-million Americans will be turned away from four-year colleges this year for financial reasons, thanks to rising tuition costs and declining state and federal aid for low- and middle-income students. Congress should modify the federal college loan system to deal with this problem. A proposed bill would save billions of dollars that could then be redirected into grants for tuition aid.

Right now there are two basic college loan programs. The direct loan system, which actually makes a small profit, allows students to borrow from the government through their schools. Under the vastly more expensive Federal Family Education Loan Program, private banks receive federal subsidies to make government-backed student loans. Colleges can participate in only one of the two systems. In the 1990’s, Congress talked about phasing out the costly bank-based program and replacing it with the direct loan program. Such a step could save billions of dollars a year that could be directed into the federal Pell Grant program, which helps pay the college expenses of low-income students with outright grants. This common-sense plan was killed by the banking lobby, but it has returned in the form of a bipartisan House bill known as the Direct Loan Reward Act.

The bill would encourage the nation’s colleges to participate in the less expensive direct loan program by giving half of the savings to them in the form of Pell Grants for needy students. Backers of the loan reform bill say it could channel enough money into Pell Grants to increase the size of the awards by more than a third at some public colleges, raising the maximum grant to about $6,000 a year.

Supporters of the bill calculate that taxpayers may save more than $6 billion annually if all of the nation’s colleges and universities move to the direct loan program. But the money saved and the increase in Pell Grants would be substantial even if only a significant fraction of the nation’s colleges made the switch. That result alone makes this bill a good idea.

You can help by calling your Representative and demanding that s/he support the Direct Loan Reward Act for low income students. While you’re at it, the next time you go to your bank, take a few minutes to speak to a manager and tell them you don’t appreciate the bank’s lobbyists killing the first reform bill and that you’ll pull your account if they don’t support DLRA this time around. Remember: it’s your money, not theirs.