Tag Archives: Indiana

The Continuing Attack on Public Education

And Indiana’s legislative session continues…..

In the Fort Wayne Journel-Gazette, Vic Smith has accused the Indiana legislature of a frontal assault on public education.

Two bills have been filed that would create the biggest expansion of private school vouchers Indiana has ever seen. They would advance the privatization of our educational system in line with the plans of voucher-inventor Milton Friedman, who supported the abolishment of public education.

I didn’t think that the Republican supermajority would make a direct attack on public education in an election year, but it appears the Republican leadership is poised to push forward a radical new private school voucher plan. It would be the biggest voucher expansion since Gov. Mike Pence’s voucher plan costing taxpayers $40 million in new dollars and diverting $120 million from public schools was enacted in 2013.

Smith asserts that these measures are part of a longer and more ambitious effort to replace public schools with a “marketplace” of private schools funded by government, but without government oversight. He points out that although 94% of Indiana’s children still attend public schools, those public schools are being systematically starved of resources that are being redirected to private schools.

Smith sees this assault as intentional, but let’s give voucher proponents the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say they genuinely believe that privatized schools will offer better educational results. (Put aside, for the moment, important questions about what we believe constitutes a good education, and how we measure that.)

To date, research has provided no evidence that vouchers improve anything other than parental satisfaction and the bottom lines of struggling parochial schools.

A recent study of Louisiana voucher schools by the Brookings Institution found student achievement actually declined, and fairly substantially.

When comparing school performance, researchers struggle to distinguish differences in schools’ effectiveness from variation in the types of students who choose those schools.

A voucher lottery provides an unusual opportunity to measure the effectiveness of private schools. The lottery serves as a randomized trial, which is the gold standard of research methods. Random selection means that lottery winners and losers are identical, on average, when they apply for the voucher. Any differences that emerge after the lottery can therefore be attributed to the private-school attendance of the winners.

The results were startling. The researchers, a team of economists from Berkeley, Duke, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that the scores of the lottery winners dropped precipitously in their first year of attending private school, compared to the performance of the lottery losers. The effects were very large: roughly a quarter of a standard deviation in math, social studies, and science. There were no effects on reading scores.

In previous posts, I have argued that the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, can be attributed in large part to people who did not understand the government they were elected to manage, and who substituted ideology for competence. The voucher movement displays the same hubris.

In both cases, children are the victims.

You Really Can’t Make This Shit Up….

Media coverage of the Flint water crisis continues to accelerate, as the release of additional information suggests that the Governor and his office actively discouraged testing that would have confirmed residents’ fears.

The situation has sparked national outrage. (One of the more…interesting…responses has come from a Michigan militia group that has threatened to “take up arms” to protect Flint’s citizens against poisoned water. I’m not sure who they plan to shoot, or how “arms” would help, but their righteous anger is duly noted…)

What is truly incomprehensible is the continued assault on environmental safety, even in the face of this horrific example of what can happen when those safeguards are ignored–or worse, eviscerated—and even in the midst of the media’s continued focus on the issue.

Yesterday, not long after I posted about Congressional Republicans’ effort to gut the Clean Water Act, I received the following advisory from the Hoosier Environmental Council:

“This morning, SB 366 passed out of the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee on a vote of 6-3. This bill would enable — by a simple vote of two county commissioners — a community to eliminate its Solid Waste Management District (SWMD); that elimination could happen anytime after June 30, 2017.

“SWMDs have been on the frontlines of protecting our drinking water sources. By working successfully to substantially increase collection of household hazardous waste as well as construction & demolition waste, SWMDs prevent serious contamination of our waters from improper disposal of such waste.” said Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. health of a community, would be adequately replaced by other programs in the community….

 Communities need strong, stable, and effective SWMDs to continue making environmental improvements; such improvements are so clearly tied to the state’s overarching goal of improving quality of life — for the sake of people’s lives and our economic competitiveness.”

Reasonable people can differ about the propriety of many government activities, but—as the reaction to Flint demonstrates— very few citizens consider protection of our air and water frivolous or unnecessary. Individuals cannot insure the purity of their own drinking water; the private sector cannot sell us clean air. We depend upon government agencies to monitor and protect these essential resources.

A commenter on yesterday’s post suggested that the real beneficiaries of weakened oversight are the large corporate farming operations that generate much of the solid waste pollution that contaminates waterways. Proper disposal of solid waste is more expensive than discharging it into a nearby stream.

If SWMDs are not operating properly, we should fix them. Allowing local county commissioners to eliminate them is both an invitation to corruption and a threat to public health.

Why the Legislature Should Rip Off the Bandaid

When I was a child and scraped a knee or otherwise required a band-aid, I would dread removing it. Eventually, I learned that it hurt more to try peeling it off bit by bit than it did if I just gave it a good yank.

Fast forward to the Indiana General Assembly, and the back-and-forth about “four words and a comma.”

Leave aside all the rhetoric. Ignore who’s “right” and who’s “wrong,” and just look at the political realities.

If the legislature fails to extend full civil rights protections to LGBT Hoosiers, three things are guaranteed to happen: there will be a replay of the economic boycotts that threatened to knee-cap the state during the RFRA disaster; the business community will take out its anger on Republican officeholders (beginning with the Governor, but definitely not limited to His Holiness); and–worst of all, from the perspective of lawmakers trying desperately not to take a position on the issue— the battle will return in the next session. And the one after that, if necessary.

This is an issue that is crowding out other important matters that lawmakers need to address: infrastructure financing, education, economic development. It will continue to “suck the air” out of the legislative process until it is resolved. (And weenie bills with lots of caveats won’t cut it.)

Proponents of “four words and a comma” will come back again and again until those words and that comma are inserted into Indiana’s civil rights law. Furthermore, the ultimate success of their efforts really isn’t in doubt—as Bob Dylan said, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Prolonging the agony is like peeling back that band-aid a painful bit at a time.

Senator Long seems to understand that. Others, not so much.

Hint to Indiana lawmakers: It will hurt a lot less if you just rip that band-aid off and do the inevitable sooner rather than later.


The State of Our State

Welcome to a new year, fellow Hoosiers.

Given that 2016 will be an election year, Hoosiers will hear lots of rhetoric about Indiana’s economic performance, both from the incumbent administration and those seeking to replace it; a credible analysis of that performance is thus essential if we are to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Morton Marcus is an economist who spent nearly 40 years at IU’s Kelley School of Business,  where he presided over a center that generated data about Indiana’s business climate. He is now retired (but by no means retiring), and he still writes a column carried by a number of newspapers around the state.

A recent Marcus column measured Indiana’s economic performance.

Let’s start with Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which Marcus defines as  “the value (adjusted for inflation) of all the goods and services produced in a nation or a state, over the course of a year or a quarter of the year.”  “

And how has the Hoosier state done by this measure?

The United States’ Real GDP has grown by about 13 percent in the last decade, while Indiana has added only 7 percent….If you look at the nation’s Real GDP each spring (the second quarter of the year), the progress made by Indiana every year since 2012 lags the growth of the nation. Indiana ranked 32nd with 2.8 percent compared with 5.8 percent for the U.S.

Then there is the question of jobs and wages.

The total of wages and salaries takes into account both how many people are working and what they make for their labors. Nationally, from the third quarter of 2005 to 2015 and after adjusting for price changes, wages and salaries grew by 13.2 percent. Here, in the Hoosier Holyland, the growth was 5.5 percent.

The news isn’t unremittingly negative: as Marcus tells us, “Non-durable goods were a winner; Indiana up one percent while nationally that sector was off by seven percent.”

But in durable goods, like autos, RVs and steel, the news was less cheery: “Indiana was down eight percent at the same time the country slipped six percent.”

All in all,

Over the past decade, the nation’s output and wages both grew by about 13 percent. In Indiana, however, they both trailed the U.S.; Hoosier output (Real GDP) grew by only 7.1 percent and wages by a mere 5.5 percent. Why aren’t Hoosier businesses and workers keeping pace?

As we head into 2016 and the inevitable political spin, it may be worth revisiting this analysis of actual economic performance—and considering whether we’d be better served by replacing our current Governor with someone less fixated on protecting retailers who want to refuse service to same-sex couples, and more committed to conventional economic development.

How Are Hoosiers Really Doing?

Morton Marcus can always be counted on to debunk official happy talk. In a recent column (link not available), he did it again.

Responding to what he characterized as “recent self-congratulatory claims from the State Office for Ooze,” he chose annual data for two decades (from 1994 to 2004 and 2004 to 2014), a time period that allows him to paint a more accurate picture of how Indiana has been doing compared to the nation.

Here are the numbers:

  • At the national level, the number of jobs grew by 17 percent from 1994 to 2004. In the next decade (2004 to 2014), U.S. jobs grew by 10 percent. For those two decades, Indiana’s job growth rate was 9 and 4 percent respectively.
  • Over that 20 year period, jobs in the U.S. grew by 29 percent while Indiana advanced only 13 percent. Indiana ranked 47th among the states.
  • Between 1994 to 2014, Indiana fell from having 2.3 percent to barely 2 percent of all American jobs. (As Morton points out, that may not seem like much, but that “little difference is the equivalent of 950,000 jobs over those 20 years. That failure to just keep pace with the nation, means our addition of 442,000 jobs between ’94 and ’14 was 53 percent short of mediocrity.”)
  • Also during this time frame, Indiana lost 26,000 construction jobs or 12 percent of the jobs in that industry while the national decline was only 7 percent. Indiana also saw greater percentage declines in computer and electronic products employment than did the nation, although the state experienced lesser percentage losses in primary metals and motor vehicle manufacturing.
  • Indiana had job losses in every category of retail shops while some types of retail grew at the national level. “Despite the Great Recession, finance and insurance jobs grew by 22 percent nationally, but only 9 percent in the Hoosier state. Food service and drinking places had job growth of 20 percent across America, but only 10 percent here.”

Next year, Indiana will elect a new Governor. Candidates for that position need to tell us how they plan to improve–rather than continue to spin– the state’s dismal economic performance.