Saturday, August 21, 2010

Many U.S. Teacher Layoffs Stand Despite $10 Billion Fund

“[W]e can’t stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children,” said Barack Obama on August 10th from the White House Rose Garden. That was the day the House passed another $26 billion states bailout, which included $10 billion for state education spending.

Obama insisted that the passage of the bill was urgent, and that if it was not passed, teachers would be fired. “I urge Congress to pass this proposal so that the outstanding teachers who are here today can go back to educating our children,” he declared. So urgent was it, you will recall, that Nancy Pelosi hurriedly brought the House back from August recess to pass the bill.

Well, now, the teachers are getting fired anyway. According to the New York Times, several school districts will be stockpiling the money for 2012, when more budget cuts are expected. Others are hesitant to spend the one-time bailout, because it undermines year-to-year stability in budgeting.

“We’re a little wary about hiring people if we only have money for a year, but we know that’s the intent of the bill,” said the chief financial officer of Clark County schools, Jeff Weiler. Others, like, like Lydia Ramos of the Los Angeles Unified School District, intend to use the money tackle the “herculean task [of] next year’s deficit.”

This comes amid other news that over $100 billion of infrastructure projects in the original $862 billion “stimulus” has gone unspent, as reported by the Washington Post. Although most of the original $145 billion dedicated to states was spent, which included $87 billion for Medicaid and another $53.6 billion to balance state and local budgets, the unspent moneys piling up calls into question Obama’s urgent rationale for yet more spending.

Congressional Republicans have argued for using the unspent funds to pay down the national debt, amongst other things. Instead, it appears that the financing will lay idle for the time being, while states figure out how to fix their worsening budget pictures.

One thing Obama apparently did not anticipate were states prioritizing a sustainable budget over one-time handouts.

The hoarding by state and localities of the funding also reveals that they have learned what the American people already know — that the “stimulus” is indeed a failure. It’s not a down payment, and it has not brought about immediate growth. Now we know the states know it, too.

Despite promises that the “stimulus” would lead to a V-shaped recovery, states that put off making necessary cuts to their budgets last year are now caught in a bind as revenues have failed to recover, nor are they expected to next year. This is in turn has undermined the political fortunes of state lawmakers, with Republicans expected to pick up new majorities in several state legislatures this year.

These states now face a choice: Use the money today, as the public sector unions are demanding, and risk even steeper cuts next year, or hoard the money since the law allows it to be spent as late as September 2012.

Other states, like Texas, are rejecting the money out of hand since the $10 billion fund “mandates that the governor guarantee the Legislature will provide a certain level of state funding through 2013, a funding scheme prohibited by the Texas Constitution,” according to Katherine Cesinger, Deputy Press Secretary of Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Still other states have complained about the mandatory nature of the funding contained in Section 101(8) of H.R. 1586 which states that if a governor fails to apply for funding within 30 days, “the [Education] Secretary shall provide for funds allocated to that State to be distributed to another entity or other entities in the State … for support of elementary and secondary education, under such terms and conditions as the Secretary may establish.”

According to a statement issued by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s press secretary yesterday that “the Governor will apply for the education funding passed by the House today in order to ensure it is managed and distributed to local school districts by the State of New Jersey, and not the federal government.”

One has to wonder that since the federal government intended to force reluctant governors to accept the money, if it will now attempt to force states to spend the money for the upcoming school year as proposed. They’re already hijacking sovereign state decisions about whether or not to accept federal money — a clear violation of the 10th Amendment — so what’s to stop the Obama Administration from forcing states to allocate money in the precise manner it wishes?

Perhaps upon learning about the reluctant states and localities not spending the money right away, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will speedily reconvene Congress to pass billions of dollars of more spending that they must use this year. Or, maybe not.

Maybe they’ll just pretend that they “saved” the jobs, even though they didn’t.


The A-level refuseniks: 70,000 British students give up on biggest ever battle for place at university

Seventy thousand students left scrambling for university places after being disappointed in their A-level results have become 'refuseniks' and simply given up. Admissions chiefs said 'very large numbers' of applicants were planning gap years or other alternatives to escape the most intense rush for degree courses ever seen.

The thousands who have turned their backs on the system include well-qualified students who missed out on prestigious universities but are not prepared to settle for their back-up choices or clearing places which they consider inferior. They believe the courses do not warrant the effort or money. They are expected to re-apply next year, hoping a gap year will improve their prospects, while many others will apply overseas or pursue college places, job-related training or apprenticeships.

The ranks of applicants opting out are expected to swell over the coming week as sought-after places in the clearing system, which matches students to vacant courses, disappear.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service yesterday estimated that more than 150,000 applicants will end up without places this year.

Around a seventh of available clearing places were snapped up within 24 hours of hotlines opening. By yesterday morning, 4,083 of an estimated 30,000 places had been filled. But there are 190,183 candidates eligible to be considered for the remaining places, compared with 140,000 this time last year.

Universities reported that switchboards had jammed and that there had been a 'substantial increase' in parents ringing to 'interfere' on their children's behalf. Professor Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said: 'Lots of mothers have been calling up and pouring their hearts out. They are very demanding and are fighting hard for their children to get places.'

But many youngsters have already chosen to give up. Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive, said: 'We've got about 70,000 who have rejected their offers or who have withdrawn from the system.

She said some had not used their choice of back-up options prudently in their original university application, and so had been unwilling to settle for their second choice or lower. 'It will be over 150,000 who are, for one reason or another, unplaced or who withdraw from the system, but it will be another week or so before we have got a better idea of what that number will be,' she added.

Students choosing to defer applications for a year have been warned that competition is also likely to be fierce in 2011, with this year's huge increase in applicants thought to be partly down to the thousands of students who deferred last year.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: 'They are being encouraged by ministers to re-apply next year but can be offered no assurance in return that there will be a resolution to the annual places crisis.'


A-level results: How the great university boom has defrauded Britain's students

Feeding the product of low quality schools into low quality universities achieves nothing -- except to burden the young people concerned with debt

Wakey, wakey, it’s Hangover Friday. After yesterday’s release of A-level results, thousands of young people will roll out of bed today with a tongue like a battered flip-flop and acid drops for eyeballs. The majority will have celebrated achieving the results required for university entrance. Congratulations to them. But for a very significant minority – those who fell short and cannot secure a place through clearing – last night was about drowning sorrows, making this morning’s headache doubly painful. It ought not be like this.

Over the past 20 years, there has been a cultural shift in the United Kingdom, away from vocational training in favour of higher education. It began with the Conservatives’ decision to allow polytechnics and colleges to rebrand themselves as universities, and was compounded by Labour’s target of channelling 50 per cent of school-leavers into degree courses.

Much of the enthusiasm for this recalibration of skills development was well-intentioned, albeit misguided. For the stormtroopers of social engineering, however, fiddling with educational provision and selection has been an opportunity to strike back against ambitious middle-class parents whose “crime” is to invest time and money in their children’s future. Only this week, Nick Clegg denounced school-leavers from affluent homes for taking a “disproportionate” number of degree places, implying that some form of crafty theft is involved.

The truth is rather more prosaic. In a report for the think tank Civitas, Peter Saunders, a sociology professor at Sussex University, concludes: “Children benefit if they are born to supportive parents who care about their education and make sacrifices to help their kids excel. And not everyone has parents like that.”

Yes, good parenting can overcome class barriers, but there is another ingredient that matters even more, one which very few politicians are willing to acknowledge: IQ. According to Professor Saunders: “Half of the explained variance in the occupational destinations achieved by the 1958 birth cohort was due to just one variable – how well they scored on an IQ test when they were aged 11. This is a much better predictor of their eventual fate than class... school... or any other social factor.”

More than 200 years ago, Edmund Burke warned: “Those who attempt to level never equalise.” This is the lesson of Britain’s flawed education policy over the past 40 years, including the razing of grammar [selective] schools, the diminution of A-level standards, and a guerrilla war against independent schools (fought, in part, through that ghastly institution, the Charity Commission).

As even Mr Clegg admits: “There is evidence to suggest that – contrary to expectations – increased levels of attendance at university have not translated into higher levels of social mobility.”

And why might that be? Is it because all the extra capacity has been stolen by degree bandits from comfortable homes? Or is it that a qualification from some of the new universities, into which unknowing (mainly working-class) applicants are herded, is, on its own, no passport to success in a competitive jobs market?

For many ill-advised students from second-rate schools (including a few in the private sector), the conveyor belt into weak universities is a journey into debt, fuelled by the promise of a salary premium that will never be realised. In effect, they are victims of fraud.

According to the National Student Survey, the average debt of a university entrant, starting this year, will be £25,000. But, it is claimed, the average graduate will, over the course of a career, earn £100,000 gross more than former schoolfriends who could have gone to university, but chose to get a job at 18.

This figure is, at best, a guess, constructed with the sticky tape of wishful thinking. Yesterday is no guide to tomorrow, because the number of young people entering university has soared from 6-7 per cent when I went in the mid-1970s, to more than 40 per cent today. As in any market, over-supply results in falling prices.

In 2003, when the last government was softening up the system for the introduction of higher top-up fees, it cited research indicating that graduates would, over a lifetime, earn some £400,000 more than non-graduates. But a 2007 survey by Universities UK downgraded it to £160,000, and since then, according to a committee led by Lord Browne, the income boost for degree holders has been eroded to just £100,000.

Even if this is correct, an average is just that. So for every first-class physicist from Imperial College who ends up earning £200,000 as an analyst in the City, there must be an origami graduate from the University of Coketown who is suffering hard times.

Too many would-be students and their parents fail to appreciate the vast discrepancy in quality between universities, and what this means for job prospects and pay. They live the dream, only to discover after graduation that many leading employers recruit primarily from Russell Group and 1994 Group institutions, which between them account for just 39 of the UK’s 130 universities.

Most companies are not interested in being vehicles for social mobility; they simply want to hire the brightest people. In a heartbeat, they work out where to look. At the top end of the university tables, Cambridge is demanding A*AA passes at A-level for entry on just about all its courses. At the bottom end, some universities are accepting students with CC or even less.

Nine universities – Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, University College London and St Andrews – have an intake that comprises more than 30 per cent from private schools. This has nothing to do with snobbery or elitism; it’s about maintaining standards. A vice-chancellor from one of them told me that his institution was “straining” to admit more state-school candidates, but too few were able to meet the minimum requirements.

As Lord Adonis, Labour’s minister for schools 2005-08, wrote recently, instead of dreaming up schemes for a graduate tax (which will be uncollectable from foreign students and Britons who become expatriates), the Government should focus on “eradicating the long tail of seriously under-performing comprehensives”. The aim should be to improve state schools, because throttling private providers serves no purpose other than to cheer up Lord Prescott and his miserable crowd.

Nobody wants to stamp on the hopes of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Of course they should be encouraged to go to university, but only if they know the true costs and likely benefits. Moreover, there is no reason for those who didn’t make the grades this week to despair.

You don’t need to be an entrepreneurial hot-shot – a Richard Branson or a Philip Green – to make it to the top without a degree. Some of the most prestigious jobs in conventional British industry are filled by those who avoided university, among them the chairmen of BAA (Sir Nigel Rudd), Vodafone (Sir John Bond), Marks & Spencer (Sir Stuart Rose), British Airways (Martin Broughton); the senior partner at Deloitte (John Connolly) and the chief executive of HSBC (Mike Geoghegan). All is not lost.


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