Economy and Growing Senior Populations Factor into Decreased State Higher Ed Funding

New Orleans   For many of the blamers and “bootstrappers” who like to lay the growing income and inequality divide on the poor themselves rather than federal and state tax and budget policy, the solution is invariably, “why don’t they go to school.”  The answer is increasingly that crippled public schools are leaving lower income students unprepared and rising cost of public universities as well as outlandish costs of private colleges are increasing the divide and making the walls permanent.  All of which made a column in The Advocate by Koran Addo on the “dilemma” in higher education funding in Louisiana send me to the original study by Demos, the well known public policy institute, called “College Funding in Context.”

Nothing they had to say about Louisiana was surprising or encouraging, but as interestingly were some of the findings that emerged looking widely at the way funding is determined.  The common theme that was unavoidable was that the economy itself has strapped funding.  Louisiana has lost more than $25,000,000 over four years, but we’re not alone.  Over and over, states have been driven to raise costs and reduce support to higher education.  If this is the lifeline for low-and-moderate income families, then someone on the mother ship is pulling up the rope before folks can get out of the deep water.

To observations jumped up at me in a more than usually depressing manner because it augured so poorly for the future.   In one case Demos found that aging population in the states is bad news for the young:

“…for every 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of a state’s population that is 65 or older, there is an almost 7 percent reduction in FTE state appropriations for higher education.”

In the other instance Demos found that

“…for every 10 percentage point increase in presidential voter participation over the past 20 years, there is a 1.5 percent decrease in FTE state appropriations.”

            Of course older citizens also vote more than younger, and wealthier citizens vote more than poor citizens, which makes it look like nothing but bad news for anyone who wants to pretend that education is the answer.  It’s not the answer, because it seems that it is answering the wrong question.  In the kindest case indifference and multiple recessions are forcing older citizens to look after themselves.  In a less charitable case the big “me” means to heck with the rest of your neighbors.

Either way, if the question is, “how do we reduce inequality,” education is less and less the answer as it gets pushed farther and farther away from the grasp of the less affluent.

Meritocracy means nothing next to money.

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Federal Judge Holds Vouchers are Resegretation in Louisiana with More to Come

New Orleans  A federal judge in Louisiana took a hard shot to the gut to the conservative efforts to provide public money to help some parents pay for their children to escape public schools.  He called it what it was:  an effort to re-segregate the school system.  The basis of the decision was equally clear.  The judge found that the voucher effort to pay for movement to private and parochial schools was in clear violation of the long standing desegregation orders in the Tangipahoa Parish school district across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.

The voucher program has moved money to more than 5500 students since being forced through the Louisiana legislature last year along with other so-called “school reforms,” most of which were meant to privatize the schools, give the state control, and re-segregate.  There are 30 more parishes in Louisiana under desegregation orders, so count on them running into court quickly.  The young gun, New Yorker running the state Department of Education swears the matter will be turned over on appeal, but that’s a long shot bet in my view.

The other artifice behind these rightwing moves has been to pretend that they were not illegally appropriating local school district tax dollars to move people from the district.  They make this argument in the face of the fact that to fund their resegregation efforts, they lower the state contribution by almost exactly the amount of money they are giving the schools as part of the state contribution to public education, thereby in effect forcing the local money to “pay” for the vouchers.  An op-ed columnist in the Baton Rouge Advocate eviscerated the Governor and his cronies several weeks ago for the transparent fraud involved in this maneuver.  Now both teachers unions in Louisiana are about to have their day in court on an identical challenge to this misappropriation.   I’d bet they will win there as well.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t work when it involves taking taxpayer money from citizens supporting the public school system to in fact destroy the very system they are funding.  This is exactly what experts like Professor Diane Ravitch have been arguing eloquently along with many, many others around the country recently as the so-called reform effort is being exposed as simple gentrification via charters, privatization at large, and a return to separate and highly unequal.

Louisiana might finally be leading the effort back to public schools thanks to the courts!

 

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