Is K-12 education fully funded? Not so fast

In 2009 I voted against an “education reform” bill that, amidst devastating cuts, promised fully-funding K-12 education by 2018. As I asked then, how could we expect future Legislatures to possess the courage of our convictions if even we didn’t possess that courage?

The 2009 bill’s promise was to avoid litigation, now known as the “McCleary case,” over K-12 funding inadequacy. The Washington state Supreme Court saw through the smokescreen and, in August 2015, began imposing a $100,000 daily contempt-of-court fine upon the Legislature for not progressing toward its self-imposed goal.

This year’s never-ending legislative process produced what Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed “a historic budget that fully funds our schools for the first time in more than 30 years.” Other Democrats echoed his exultations, labeling “Democratic” a budget borne out of a Republican Senate, a claim that ignores nine Senate Democratic no votes, and frothing in a press release that it “adds $7.3 billion to Washington schools.”

Not so fast: Education isn’t fully-funded.

The $7.3 billion figure reportedly fails to subtract billions lost from local property tax revenues. The Legislature has added by subtraction before, as it did in 2013 by shamelessly counting $295.5 million in denied K-12 cost-of-living increases toward a “$1 billion funding increase.” It’s doubtful the high court will be fooled.

 The budget also spreads new funding over four years, when truly meeting McCleary might require $5 billion more just by next year. It relies upon fickle property tax revenue and various gimmicks, like diverting $5.5 million from the litter account. It may also fail to fix a broken mental health system — where federal contempt-of-court fines have exceeded $21.5 million so far this year.

Political triumphalism is inevitable. But Carter McCleary was 7 years old when the McCleary litigation was filed. He graduated from high school last month. My son starts high school this fall. Am I wrong to feel impatient about the state meeting its constitutional “paramount duty”?

I also worry about the budget’s unsustainability. As a House member, I voted against budgets on that basis.

The 2007 budget, for example, was “balanced” by breaking a 1998 pension promise — largely for teachers. The state reacted to the Great Recession by decimating programs and denying state workers’ wage increases for eight years. It was heart-wrenching.

Washington continues to use baling wire and volatile revenue sources for budgets, and we are only ever a volatile president’s actions (perhaps tweets) away from another recession. The Washington state Supreme Court has, rightly, insisted on “dependable revenue sources” for K-12.

You can’t separate a budget from its shaky revenue foundation. So why should the public demand progressive tax reform if even Democrats claim progressive aims were “fully” achieved by regressive means? Settling for less is learned helplessness.

It happened in 2009, when I opposed cuts initially characterized as “cuts that will kill” — in a half-hearted case for new revenue — that rhetorically transformed into “cuts with a conscience.” The next year, Democratic super-majorities mustered courage and finally raised taxes upon … candy. Budget secrecy — culminating this year in voting on a budget no one had read — hardly helps make the tax reform case, either.

The public can handle honesty. While it might not serve the aims of political rhetoric, it would be honest to admit trying hard, as I know many legislators did, but falling short in key respects. The public must, again, hope for that honesty from the state Supreme Court.

Originally published at HeraldNet

Review of Matt Ridley's Evolution of Everything

Matt Ridley is Hereditary member of the House of Lords, and a Tory. “Viscount Ridley is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1900 for the Conservative politician Sir Matthew White Ridley, 5th Baronet, Home Secretary from 1895 to 1900. ” (source)

Ridley is a climate change skeptic, has interests in coal mines, is a proponent of fracking, and is in favor of Brexit.

“Ridley was chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, during which period Northern Rock experienced the first run on a British bank in 150 years. Ridley chose to resign, and the bank was bailed out by the UK government leading to the nationalisation of Northern Rock.” (source)

Matt Ridley

Ridley’s 2015 book Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge is a well-written libertarian manifesto that attacks religion, government, regulations, public education, and environmentalism.

Evolution of Everything

Ridley is clearly smart, and he’s a good writer. (Few U.S. politicians are as educated.) He’s written books on biology, and the first chapters of Evolution of Everything are a convincing account of how life evolved through random mutation and natural selection.

But the rest of the book devolves into an imbalanced libertarian (“bottom-up”) screed.

In a discussion of the Nature versus Nurture debate, Ridley defends Nature. He argues that, to a larger extent than people want to admit, it’s not society or even parents that determine the personality or success of children. Rather, it’s genetics.

He summarizes the intellectual history of such debates. Because genetic determinism could be used to justify racism and sexism, for many years research suggesting a strong role for Nature (versus Nurture) was strongly condemned by the social sciences. More recently, it’s been become acceptable to acknowledge that babies are not a blank slate and that there are innate sex differences.

Judith Rich Harris was one of the most successful proponents of the Nurture side of the debate. At first, opposition to her findings was “furious.” Ridley says “Natural selection made sure that brainwashing was not easy. And it’s time we stopped looking to parenting for the credit or the blame.”

Ridley is clever, but his cleverness approaches sophistry. He calls it a “meritocratic result” that children’s intelligence and success in life are mostly determined by their genes and not by society or their parents.

“[A] world where nurture was everything would be horribly more cruel than one where nature allowed people to escape their disadvantages through their own talents. How particularly nasty to write people off because they were born in a slum, or fostered
by indifferent parents… Nature is the friend of social mobility.

Believers in Nurture don’t want to “write off” people born in slums. They want to help them overcome their accidental disadvantages. A world where everything is determined by genes would be cruel, because people couldn’t escape their genetic natures.

Ridley criticizes and ridicules religions, and argues that they too evolve. Christianity and Islam evolved from pre-existing religions, though their followers would like to believe that they were revealed from on high (“sky hooks”).

Similarly, legal systems evolved bottom-up, he says. “It is an extraordinary fact, unremembered by most, that in the Anglosphere people live by laws that did not originate with governments at all.” Rather, most laws emerged from common law.

He argues that even in the absence of governments, people arrange for justice and policing bottom-up, via ostracism, gangs, and private police forces. In prisons, inmates self-govern. Such government is often brutal and injustice, but the same can be said for a lot of top-down government.

A late chapter tells stories of successful private banking systems with private currency; it portrays central banks as enablers of fraud and bad lending. According to libertarians such as Ron Paul, the Federal Reserve is a state-sanctioned monopoly. Far better to allow private money. “Bottom-up monetary systems — known as free banking — have a far better track record than top-down ones.”

He denies that the great recession of 2008 was caused by deregulation. Instead, he blames it on China (for devaluing its concurrency and causing a trade imbalance and housing bubble built on money from China), on the U.S. Federal Reserve (for its low-interest policies that inflated Wall Street prices), and on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (whose government-backed borrowing inflated housing prices and enriched private corporations). Lenders, brokers, and builders lobbied Congress, as did minority-rights organizations such as ACORN. “In short, the explosion in sub-prime lending was a thoroughly top-down, political project, mandated by Congress, implemented by government-sponsored enterprises, enforced by law, encouraged by the president and monitored by pressure groups.” “It is simply a myth that the problem came from deregulation.” “Fannie and Freddie were holding more than two-thirds of all sub-prime loans, or $2 trillion worht. Nearly three-quarters of new home loans passed through their hands that year.” Ridley quotes David Stockman, “The Fannie Mae saga demonstrates that once crony capitalism captures the arms of the state, its potential for cancerous group is truly perilous.”

Ridley barely mentions the fraud of Wall Street in selling, underwriting, and mislabeling toxic mortgage-backed securities as safe investments.

And he doesn’t mention the need for government to bail out banks for trillions of dollars (including Ridley’s own bank!). and discuss  the various causes for the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. It’s fair to say that both deregulation of the securities industry and government encouragement of lending through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac contributed to the problem.  Ridley paints a one-sided picture.

He relates population control and family planning to eugenics and murder: sterilization, one-child policies, and forced abortions. He says the key to decreasing population is economic growth: richer people have fewer kids.

He compares governments to crime gangs and environmentalism to a religion: “Nor is skyhook thinking confined to ‘god’ religions. It animates all sorts of movements that faith at their heart, from Marxism to spiritualism, from astrology to environmentalism.”

He quotes French philosopher Paul Buckner: “The environment is the new seclar religion that is rising, in Europe especially, from the ruins of a disbelieving world.”
People used to blame weather on the gods. Ridley says “The huge appeal of the ‘extreme weather’ meme of recent years comes from the fact that it plays into this divine-retribution mentality.”

He also compares climate change and Marxism to religions. Similarly with organic farming (which had spiritualist origins), as well as opposition to GMO grains.

But environmentalism and the theory of climate change evolved bottom-up, from the findings and concerns of numerous scientists and activists. Skepticism of climate change is top-down, imposed by ideologues and industrialists with an axe to grind.

Ridley admits that there is some alarming scientific evidence for climate change, but he thinks that proponents have overstated the evidence. Actually, the evidence has gotten stronger in the past few years.

He quotes from Liberal Fascists. He quotes from the Cato Institute. He says both Communism and Fascism are similar manifestations of top-down love of government. According to Ridley, the market, not government, has historically led to most increases in living standards.

Most technology emerges bottom-up, he claims. He quotes some OECD research that suggests that publicly funded research has almost no positive effect on economic growth, while private funding does.

But most corporations are run in highly top-down manners and depend on government for many services and research.

None other than Bill Gates, Jr. thinks government is more efficient than private industry in research: In Bill Gates: The private sector is completely inept, Gates writes:

Since World War II, U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area… When I first got into this I thought, ‘How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget?’ And I was worried: ‘Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that? But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basic-science money is very well spent. The government has these ‘Centers of Excellence.’ They should have twice as many of those things, and those things should get about four times as much money as they do.”

Gates also says the private sector is incapable of addressing climate change.

In The Horrifying Hidden Story Behind Drug Company Profits and The Truth about the Drug Companies, a former Editor in Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine writes of the drug industry, “Instead of being an engine of innovation, it is a vast marketing machine. Instead of being a free market success story, it lives off government-funded research and monopoly rights.

Ridley argues against the Great Man view of history, according to which history is largely driven by te actions of geniuses and heroes. Instead, Ridley believes, changes emerge bottom-up. Numerous discoveries and inventions were made by multiple people at abut the same time. Newton and Leibniz invented calculus at about the same time. Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace came up with the theory of evolution at about the same time.

Before google’s search engine, there were numerous other search engines available: Alta Vista, Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek, etc.

“Music, too, evolves. To a surprising extent, it changes under its own steam, with musicians carried along for the ride.”

“Simultaneous discovery and invention mean that both patents and Nobel prizes are fundamentally unfair things.” If so, then large profits are unfair too.

If Ridley is correct that many inventions are due to societal forces and shared knowledge, isn’t that a reason for high taxation and for “spreading the wealth” that emerges from technology?

Ridley is critical of abusive patent law. He acknowledges that corporations do abuse government power to enhance their wealth.

He says that private schools were thriving in the 1800s but were unfairly displaced by government schools.

He says governments do more harm than good. He ignores the great success of Scandinavian countries and Denmark, as well as the success stories like Singapore, where prosperity came top-down. And he ignores the historically large role of the U.S. government in many technologies and providing services that corporations and people depend on. (Not to mention the bailouts!)

The final chapter, Evolution of the Internet, celebrates the decentralized and often open-source nature of the Internet: Wikipedia, citizen bloggers, and photo-sharing democratized journalism.

Ridley speculates that the technology behind bitcoin “could radically decentralize society itself, getting rid of the need for banks, governments, even companies, and politicians…. Imagine in the future summoning a tax that not only has no driver, but that belongs to a computer network, not to a human being.” Decentralized institutions are immune to corruption — unless there is insufficient government to control monopoly and crime. “The big-government model that threatens to bankrupt and bully us is not just unafforable; it is also increasingly impractical.”

Ridley is a conservative intellectual, a rare species. He makes a good case for bottom-up libertarianism, but the book is imbalanced.  Progressives need to fight such libertarian thinking.  Government can be and often is a source of good. We need to fix government so that it serves the people, and not the rich.  Medicare for All. Social Security. Public Education. Progressive taxation. Regulation. Environmentalism. All these depend on top-down designs.   In fact, both good and bad ideas emerge both bottom-up and top-down.

The Three Splits on the Left

There are three splits on the left: 1. The Democrats are split from the Socialists, Greens,Anarchists and others on the far left, and (2) Within the Democratic Party, the progressive Dems and Berniecrats are split from the mainstream, corporate Dems, and (3) Within the far left, the various factions rarely agree and often have weird rules about needing consensus.

Why can’t groups on the left cooperate and horse trade on various issues?

Senator Reuven Carlyle explains why he voted against the McCleary deal: the entire burden is placed on the middle class

Video: Sen. Carlyle’s McCleary Floor Speech

Reuven Carlyle explaining his opposition to the McCleary deal


70% of low income people in King County are going to see a tax increase.
There is a perception that this is about taxing rich folk in the big cities [but it’s not so].

There is not one business in this state that does not win in terms of lower taxes in this deal. And the middle class is going to feel it deeply and seriously.

The entire weight, the entire obligation, the entire bill is being sent to the middle class, seniors, working folk, renters, and so many others. We have lots of people who are, effectively, house rich and cash poor because we’ve had an explosion in the past 10, 15 years of value in homes.

To put all of that burden, in a state with the most regressive tax system in the nation, all of the burden, exclusively on the middle class . We’re better than this. We could have made it fair, we could have made it equitable, and we could have made it widespread.

We haven’t closed any tax breaks of meaningful size. We haven’t done anything. We haven’t asked anyone else [other than the middle class] to contribute. Hundreds of millions of dollars in business taxes will be reduced. Hundreds of millions in this deal. And yet a retired grandma in Ballard will see 100s of dollars of increase for a home she’s lived in for 20 years.

To put that entire bill on that grandma in the middle class is just not right.

This middle class property tax increase is just too much, too high, too unfair, and too narrowly applied.

Burbank: Our successes were built on contributions of others

We are approaching the Fourth of July, when we celebrate American independence and the success of the colonists’ desire to be self-ruling. The United States was the first of England’s many colonies to gain its independence, something that would not be repeated until Canada broke away nearly a century later. It’s a testament to Americans’ individualistic, rugged, bold ways.

But we didn’t do it alone. We couldn’t do it alone. Despite George Washington’s exceptional instincts, the Continental Army simply didn’t have the money, men, training or ships needed to defeat the British. So they were lucky to have the French, who were fuming after losing almost all their territory to the British in the French and Indian War. The French pummeled the British at sea, gave the Americans weapons, and sent soldiers to fight on American soil. It’s no coincidence the treaty ending that war was signed in Paris.

These facts are often lost in the myth of America’s origin. We like to talk of “self-made” individualists who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. We’re told it’s a place where anyone can be president, and we can achieve anything if we work hard enough. It’s something like Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average. But of course, the truth is a little different.

All wealthy Americans achieved their status with the help of other people. It may have been parents who paid for their education, allowing them to start out without student loans. Or a grandmother who offers free childcare during work hours. Or a credit union that offered a favorable first business loan. Or taxpayers who help fund the transportation networks that allow them to get to work and ship products. At the root, it’s the productivity of thousands of workers who generate wealth and ultimately make possible a person’s “individual” advancement.

Last year, Forbes listed Bill Gates as the top self-made billionaire. That’s partially true in that he’s the wealthiest, by far. But he’s not entirely self-made. His father was able to become a lawyer through the federal (taxpayer-funded) GI Bill, which helped make it possible for Bill to attend an expensive private school. Bill Gates and Paul Allen first explored computing through the (also taxpayer-financed) University of Washington’s computer lab. His wife, Melinda, stayed home to take care of their children while Microsoft was a young company. Taxpayer-funded research created the internet and built phone lines and other infrastructure, laying the groundwork for the personal computer revolution that made Microsoft huge.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying Bill Gates isn’t a genius, or that he didn’t work hard for this success. But put a genius in the desert, alone, and what do you have? Society helped make Bill Gates rich. He and other wealthy individuals are the product of intergenerational and societal investments designed to build the common good.

That’s why it’s extremely dangerous when these societal investments are cut back and withdrawn. We can see it now with the prolonged debate over just how much the government is going to gut Medicaid and Medicare, or the long-overdue upgrades needed to our transportation networks; or the state Legislature’s unwillingness to fully-fund K-12 schools per the state Supreme Court’s order. We’re cutting up the social contract that creates an America where anyone can succeed.

You can’t get rich if you’re in bankruptcy from cancer treatments. You can’t succeed in business if your employees and customers can’t reach you. You can’t be a great employee — or come up with the next big business idea — if you don’t get a shot at a great education.

If we’re serious about keeping the promise of America, where upward mobility is available to everyone, we have to provide for education, transportation, health care, utilities and a myriad of other public good projects for the economy to thrive. And yes, that means paying taxes to fund those investments through our democratic institutions. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how good the cause is, it will fail without a support system.

So this Fourth of July, as you celebrate our Independence Day, take a moment to recognize and remember that our community is what gives us the tools to succeed. Every day is Interdependence Day.

Originally posted at

A tale of two studies: poor research leads to poor findings on minimum wage

Seattle’s economy is booming: construction everywhere, crowded streets and transit, housing costs soaring, bustling neighborhood restaurants, and a 2.6% unemployment rate. Much of this growth is driven by high wage-tech jobs and the spillover effect of all those workers eating out, shopping, and paying premium prices.

It’s in this context that Seattle instituted its higher minimum wage ordinance in 2015. In the past week, two studies have come out with very different conclusions on the impacts of those wage increases on low wage work – one says it’s positive, and the other negative. But the two studies are not created equal.

The first study, led by Michael Reich and Sylvia Allegretto based at the University of California, Berkeley, concludes that the 2015 and 2016 increases to $11 and $13 an hour had the intended effects of raising incomes for low-wage workers without having discernible impact on the number of jobs. These findings are consistent with the bulk of economic studies of minimum wage increases over the past couple of decades.

In the second, a University of Washington team concluded that the 2016 wage increase reduced the number of low-wage jobs by 9% and actually lowered the incomes of low-wage workers. This diverges from the majority of economic research. Across the U.S., city, state, and federal governments have changed minimum wages dozens of times over the past two decades. Multiple economists from across the ideological spectrum have studied these changes, and even opponents of minimum wage increases have not found impacts anywhere near the scale of the UW team.

The UW’s counter-intuitive findings underscore several methodological flaws:

  • They limit their study only to single-site establishments, because their data could not distinguish whether employees of multi-site chains – think Molly Moon’s, Mud Bay, Mod Pizza, Starbucks – actually worked inside or outside the city limits. That leaves 40% of workers excluded from their study. It also means that leaving a job at small business for a job at a larger company counts incorrectly as a job loss.
  • The UW team created a control by comparing Seattle’s employment statistics with other parts of the state. But there is no place in Washington that has a similar economy to Seattle. Seattle has an economy more like San Francisco or New York than Everett or Spokane. The Berkeley team used the more accepted methodology of generating a control from similar areas across the country, rather than just the state. Moreover, the Berkeley team compared numbers for the previous 5 years, while the UW only looked at the previous 9 months.
  • The UW study focused on jobs paying $19 an hour or less, making the assumption that fewer jobs in this bracket meant lost opportunity for workers who used to be in this pay range. But what we’re seeing in Seattle is that jobs that used to pay $18 an hour now pay $20 due to competition for employees. In the UW study, this was unaccounted for and incorrectly counted as job loss.

The quality of a study hinges on the quality of its methods. But the UW study was too myopic in its lens. It eschewed all of the hallmarks of good science – including all the data, equivalent control group, breadth of time. There’s a reason its findings go against what the vast majority of previous studies found: the UW study isn’t as academically rigorous.

If something seems too bad to be true, it probably is.

Originally published at EOIOnline

Republicans work hard to main our regressive tax system that benefits the rich

The perennial brinkmanship that the Republican State Senate engages in on the State Budget can best be seen as a concerted effort to maintain the most regressive state system in the United States. Please see the chart from Money Magazine, hardly a progressive publication. Essentially, every two years, the Republicans fight to maintain a system where the middle 60 percent of us pay four times the percentage of our income in state taxes that the top one percent pay and the poorest Washingtonians pay almost seven times the percentage of their income in state taxes that the top one percent pay.

If you earn $379,000 a year or more in Washington State, you are in the top one percent of earners (source: Economics Policy Institute) and the regressive status quo that Republicans fight so hard to maintain means you pay lower taxes. If you earn LESS than $379,000 a year, the Republican efforts to maintain the regressive tax system in Washington State mean you pay higher taxes than you should.

Let me repeat that: If you earn LESS than $379,000 a year, the Republican efforts to maintain the regressive tax system in Washington State mean you pay higher taxes than you should. Perhaps it is time that Washington voters sent Republicans and tax breaks for the One Percent at the expense of everyone else state tax system packing.

Washington State has the most regressive taxes in the U.S.