Archive for November, 2016

Betsy Devos, Education Secretary, What It Could Mean For Memphis

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

November 29, 2016

Betsy Devos, Education Secretary, What It Could Mean For Memphis

Recently  I got an invitation from Van Menard to visit a local charter school, Leadership Preparatory Charter School, 4190 Elliston Road, Memphis, Tennessee. The head of school is Ms Valissia Allen, a very smart lawyer born in Detroit who ended up in Memphis via North Carolina.

The visit to the school was quite impressive but I must admit that I have been in very few public and charter schools. Leadership Prep is starting at the bottom of the school age cycle with the first and second grades. They feel that they must get in on the ground floor of the learning cycle if they are to break the disastrous mold of failure of large inner city school populations like Chicago, New York or DC. The children were in uniforms, well organized and disciplined. I asked for test data to compare against other schools and am awaiting the test data to see if what I saw with my eyes can be verified with believable and understandable results.

Thinking about education you cannot help but think about the incoming Trump administration. On the campaign trail, president-elect Donald Trump made many ambitious promises. When it comes to education, Trump is already delivering with his announcement of Betsy DeVos as his pick for the next secretary of education. His choice of DeVos is a clear signal that he intends to be “the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice.” The effect on Memphis could be dramatic.

DeVos is a prominent and generous supporter of school choice, which includes empowering parents and local communities to take greater ownership of education policy.

School choice advocates, unlike our local school board, say increased current federal control over education policy is unacceptable. They point to wide disparities in test scores between white and non-white students as proof that urgent action is required to ensure that all students are receiving a quality education. Our local SCS board has filed an expensive lawsuit asking for greatly increased funding. Yet Washington, D.C., despite spending nearly $18,000 per pupil, has one of the worst high school graduation rates in the country. Many students cannot read at grade level. One story I was told during my visit to Leadership Prep was that one child did not know his real name as he had always been called “Hey Kid” or “Buddy”. This is the clay that Leadership Prep is trying to mold.

Here is some of what Ms. Devos proposes to do if confirmed for the Education job.

  1. Re-authorize the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program
  2. Have Federal Dollars Follow Low-Income Students; Not Schools
  3. Continue to Be a Champion for Charter Schools

Charter schools are the fastest growing form of public school options and increasingly popular among African American and Latino students. In some cities, successful charter schools are providing low-income immigrant families with the means to live out the American Dream.

Ever since Lyndon Johnson’s administration embarked on creating the Great Society in the 1960s, a significant sum of federal dollars have been devoted to helping the most disadvantaged students. Today, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides nearly $15 billion in funding for low-income neighborhood schools

Unfortunately, the funding process has grown cumbersome and complicated. More importantly, there is scant evidence that it is truly living up to Johnson’s intention of “providing a good education for every boy and girl — no matter where he lives.”

I look forward to coming changes in education policy and to fostering competition with quality charter schools in competition with public schools. What are your thoughts on public schools, charter schools and private and religious schools, their funding and their public measurable results?

 

 

The US Constitution’s 14th Amendment

Monday, November 21st, 2016

November 21, 2016

The US Constitution’s 14th Amendment

I have always been concerned about people voting who are not eligible to vote as per the 14th amendment of the US constitution which was passed by Congress June 13, 1866 and ratified July 9, 1868.

Section 1 of the 14th amendment. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Wikipedia says the following abut voting eligibility.

The issue of voting rights in the United States, specifically the enfranchisement and disenfranchisement of different groups, has been contested throughout United States history.

Eligibility to vote in the United States is established both through the federal constitution and by state law. Several constitutional amendments (the 15th, 19th, and 26th specifically) require that voting rights cannot be abridged on account of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, or age for those above 18; the constitution as originally written did not establish any such rights during 1787–1870. In the absence of a specific federal law or constitutional provision, each state is given considerable discretion to establish qualifications for suffrage and candidacy within its own respective jurisdiction; in addition, states and lower level jurisdictions establish election systems, such as at-large or single member district elections for county councils or school boards.

Voter ID laws in the United States are laws that require a person to provide some form of official identification before they are permitted to register to vote, receive a ballot for an election, or to actually vote. Proponents of voter ID laws argue that they reduce electoral fraud while placing only little burden on voters. Opponents argue that electoral fraud is extremely rare in the United States and has been magnified as an issue to create barriers to voter registration, and that requiring voter ID in effect discriminates against minority groups and those who are less likely to possess photo IDs. Critics have argued that the barriers could result in the disenfranchisement of black, Hispanic and other minority voters. However you are required to have a driver’s license to board an aircraft, to enter City Hall and to do many other everyday things so the argument that it discriminates does not hold water.

At the federal level, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires voter ID for all new voters in federal elections who registered by mail and who did not provide a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number that was matched against government records.[1] No state required a voter to produce a government-issued photo ID as a condition to voting before the 2006 election. Indiana in 2006 became the first state to enact a strict photo ID law, a law that was upheld two years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.[2][3] As at September 2016, 33 states have enacted some form of voter ID requirement.[2][4]

Voter ID laws have been controversial in the United States. In 1999, Virginia was the first state to generate controversy when it attempted to implement a pilot voter ID program. The proposal was killed by the Virginia Supreme Court.[5] Since 2012, 17 states have instituted voting restrictions.[6] By 2016, 10 states enacted new voting restrictions (not all requiring voter ID).[7] Lawsuits have been filed against many of these requirements

Tennessee

Identification Requirements to Cast a Ballot

Tennessee law requires that all voters must present a government-issued photo ID containing the voter’s name and photograph at the polls, whether voting early or on Election Day.

Acceptable forms of ID include (even if expired):

  • A Tennessee driver’s license with your photo;
  • A U.S. passport;
  • A photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security;
  • A photo ID issued by the federal government or Tennessee state government;
  • A U.S. military photo ID; or
  • Tennessee-issued handgun carry permit with your photo.

You may NOT use:

  • College student photo IDs;
  • Privately issued photo IDs (such as discount club cards or bank cards); or
  • Photo IDs issued by other states or by county or city governments (including library cards).

You are exempt from the ID requirement if:

  • You are voting absentee by mail;
  • You are a resident of a licensed nursing home or assisted living center and you vote at the facility;
  • You are hospitalized;
  • You have a religious objection to being photographed; or
  • You are indigent and unable to obtain a photo ID without paying a fee.

If you do not provide an acceptable government-issued photo ID, you will be required to vote a provisional ballot.  In order to have that provisional ballot counted, the voter must return to the election commission’s office to show a valid photo ID within the 2 business days following the election.  Upon returning to the election commission office, the voter will sign an affidavit and a copy of the voter’s photo ID will be made to be reviewed by the counting board.

If you are a registered voter and do not have a government-issued photo ID, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security will provide you with a photo ID at no charge.  You may obtain a free photo ID to vote from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security at a driver service center.  In order to obtain this ID, you must provide:

    • Proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate);
    • Two proofs of Tennessee residency (such as a voter registration card, utility bill, vehicle registration/title or bank statement); and
    • If your name differs from that on your primary ID, proof of the changed name (such as certified marriage certificate, divorce decree, certified court order, etc.)

It seems to me that as a nation we must do more to make sure that our elections are decided by the votes of American citizens and a reasonable, uniform, verifiable and free form of voter ID is necessary to insure fraud free elections. Look at the map of the states and only a few red states have strict photo ID laws. Then look at the huge number of states with no voter ID to vote such as California, Nevada, Oregon, Illinois, New York and many more. What are your thoughts about this situation?

 

 

 

The Case For and Against The Shelby County School System Education Suit

Monday, November 14th, 2016

November 14, 2016

The Case For and Against The Shelby County School System Education Suit

 

I have reviewed the Shelby County School System (SCS) complaint and the answer by the State against the suit. Also I have reviewed the case brought by Hamilton County and several other Tennessee counties. Here are the essentials.

SCS claims that the State and the Defendants have breached their duties to provide a free, adequate and equitable education arising under the Tennessee Constitution and Tennessee statute.

The Defendants responds that “with regard to their duties and responsibilities and duties, the applicable Tennessee law and constitutional provisions speak for themselves.” The constitution says the following.

The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.

The SCS then goes on to a list of what they call “Relevant Facts”.

They point out that the SCS has made drastic cuts because of a lack of funding and that this lack of funding has directly impacted the SCS system’s ability to provide all of its students with a free, adequate and equitable education pursuant to the Tennessee Constitution and Tennessee statute.

The complaint goes on to list of job cuts caused by funding cuts. They list that their students are mainly African-American, Hispanic and Asian-Americans. They also complain that there are students of non-U.S. origin  and students with disabilities. Also they complain that schools in the District have extremely high poverty rates.

The SCS case is mainly based on their opinion that the State must provide sufficient money per the Basic Education Program (BEP) to guarantee all Tennessee children their constitutionally mandated outcomes.

 

General Overview of the BEP

  • The funds generated by the BEP are what the state has defined as sufficient to provide a basic level of education for Tennessee students. This basic level of funding includes both a state share of the BEP and a local share of the BEP.
  • The BEP has three major categories (instruction, classroom, and non-classroom), each made up of separate components related to the basic needs of students, teachers, and administrators within a school system.
  • Student enrollment (average daily membership) is the primary driver of funds generated by the BEP.
  • There are 45 BEP components most of which are based on student enrollment (ADM). For example, students per teacher, assistant principals per school, or dollars per student for textbooks.
  • Unit cost adjustments (salary, health benefits, insurance) are essential to maintaining a similar level of funding from year to year, due to inflation. For example, in 2006 over 100 million new state dollars were required to maintain full funding of the BEP.
  • The funds generated by the BEP are divided into state and local shares for each of the three major categories (instructional, classroom, non-classroom).
  • The state and local share for each school system is based on an equalization formula that is applied to the BEP. This equalization formula is the primary factor in determining how much of the BEP is supported by the state vs. the local district.
  • The equalization formula is driven primarily by property values and sales tax, applied at a county level. For example, the state and local equalization shares for County System A would be the exact same state and local shares for City System A, within the same county
  • All local school systems are free to raise additional education dollars beyond the funds generated by the BEP.

 

Let’s face it. Education and family are the keys to life success. However there is no guaranteed outcome. The children from educated and wealthier families have a built in advantage. However I know of many instances where these children have blown their advantage and ended up without success or happiness. Our recent election has pointed out the problem we have with the influx and the obligation of educating children of illegal immigrants. We have an obligation to educate them but it obviously drains the available resources.

My opinion is that we need to stick to the basics. Teach children to READ, WRITE AND ADD/SUBTRACT. Give the parents the option to send their children to public, charter, private or religious schools using our education taxes as long as they all meet the state educational standards. But we cannot turn over our taxing authority to local school boards. They must compete with other educational venues and let the winners be those schools that produce the best results.

 

Lack Of Transparency At The Shelby County School System

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Lack Of Transparency At The Shelby County School System

 

The Presidential Election tomorrow highlights the absolute importance and necessity of Open Records and Transparency. The lack of transparency is putting our constitutional system of government in great jeopardy.

Locally, in late October I sent an email to the Superintendent of the Shelby County School system as shown below.

I would like to view the following documents. I would also like copies of these documents (in electronic format if available) or paper if not available in electronic format. This is in Davidson County Chancery Court case 15-0355-I. Thank you for your prompt reply. 

08/31/2015 Complaint Petition

03/30/2016 Unopposed Motion for Withdrawal and Substitution of Counsel for Plaintiff

05/09/2016 Defts’ Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time Within Which to File Answer

07/08/2016 Notice of Substitution of Counsel for Defendants

I received an answer as follows from Ms. Kasheena Byers, legal assistant to the SCS legal department. “Your request is denied. SCS does not have any documents responsive to your request.” Obviously she was mistaken or did not want to respond.

I then went to the Davidson County Chancery Court and looked at their website. All of the requested documents were on their website and available. Obviously the legal department at SCS also had copies of these documents.

I have attached the original suit by the SCS system (filed 8/31/15) and their notice of substitution of Counsel. I have also posted a similar suit filed by the Hamilton County School system (filed 3/24/15) before SCS System filed their suit.

Now I have several questions. Why did the SCS System not respond honestly to my open records request and Why did they not join the similar suit filed by Hamilton County School System rather than spending Hundredsj of Thousands of dollars to file their own suit?

These two school systems believe that MORE MONEY (with them setting the tax rate) is the answer to our educational system and their obvious failures. I believe that in this country we spend more than any other country in the world and get second class results. We need a new educational system giving parents a school choice of where their tax money should be spent, public, charter, private or religious schools. Also the Shelby County School System should open up their document files and give taxpayers easy access to all information that is not restricted by the Tennessee open records law.What do you think?

What Is The Cost Of Minority Purchasing Efforts?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

November 1, 2016

 

No Subject causes more heat input and less useful locomotion than minority purchasing policies by all public tax supported governments. Look at what we spend just at the City of Memphis. It is difficult to pull together the total cost of these efforts but the 2017 City of Memphis adopted budget shows $895,000 dollars under the title “EQUAL BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM”.

Shelby County Commissioners voted to rehire consultants Mason Tillman Associates at a cost of $80,000 to help rewrite the county’s procurement procedures.

The 8-4 vote followed a debate on whether a consultant was needed, whether it could be done locally and whether the contract included litigation support.

Mason Tillman conducted the county’s $310,000 disparity study, which analyzed purchasing data from Jan. 1 2012 to Dec. 31, 2014. They found that contracts went overwhelmingly to non-minority males and that 55 percent of the contracts were awarded to firms outside of the county.

Commissioner Steve Basar, who along with Mark Billingsley, George Chism and David Reaves voted against the contract, said there was probably someone locally or even with county government who could follow the recommendations of the study to provide the same services.

The contract did not include litigation services, which Commissioner Heidi Shafer saw as a grave omission.

If the county is sued, she said, there’s no way of knowing how much Mason Tillman will charge to serve as an expert witness.

She abstained from the vote.

However, Commissioner Van Turner emphasized that the law requires that race-based purchasing policies be “narrowly tailored” and it will likely be challenged if not done properly.

The commission seated an ad hoc committee to rewrite the county’s purchasing policies, which include the creation of a minority/women business enterprise program.

 

A new study released found that disparity between city of Memphis contracts awarded to minority- and women-owned firms and white-owned firms increased since the previous study six years ago.

The study by Atlanta-based Griffin & Strong found the city’s disparity index increased in the period between 2010 and 2014 from the period between 2003 and 2008 in all categories except “other professional services.”

The index is calculated based on the difference between minority and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) utilization and availability.

Griffin & Strong made several recommendations, including that the city increase the staff working to reduce the disparity, take control of the certification process, and plan for MWBE spending during the budgeting process.

Joann Massey, director of the Office of Business Diversity & Compliance, said she will incorporate some of the recommendations into a new Equal Business Opportunity ordinance that’s in the works.

Griffin & Strong was paid $331,620 to create the study, the city’s first since 2010.

 

My position on the participation of minorities and small business enterprises is from the standpoint of a taxpayer. I want each multi bidder contract to be awarded on the basis of lowest and best price. Lowest is not always the best way to go. I remember a contract at the MLGW on underground electrical distribution cables. I voted to award the contract to a firm whose cables had a much better record on cable failures than the low bidder. Lower maintenance cost for the higher quality cable was the right answer.

 

The problem now is transparency in the bidding process. The City and the County show the winners of competitive bids but they do not show the losing bids or the names of the bidders . Also non competitive bids (single source) do not have an explanation of why the awarded bidder is the only available source.

I want minority and small enterprise firms to prosper and learn how to compete in the real world market place earning both public money contracts and private enterprise business. However let us stop with the expensive studies and concentrate on simplifying the qualification process and open up the bidding information so the taxpayers can know who the successful bidders are, who bid but did not get the award and if a premium was paid for the successful bidder, an explanation. What are your thoughts on this process?