Monday, December 31, 2012

The Tears of John Boehner and the Coming Devastation of Public Education

The Tears of John Boehner and the Coming Devastation of Public Education

by Nomad

For some who watched this 60 minutes clip, (ok, a few people) this could have been Boehner's moment of glory.

Here was a man who, it appeared, sincerely cared about the middle class. The American Dream. Here was a man who cared about the children.
However, to the vast majority of viewers, I suspect they felt that it was a shoddy bit of political play-acting.
Many, like myself, thought it was both amusing and frightening. (In that clip, he looked like the guy you would think twice sitting next to on the subway.)

But, taking a closer look at his statement:
Boehner: I can't go to a school anymore. I used to go to a lot of schools. I used to see all these little kids running around. Can't talk about it.
Stahl: Why?
Boehner: Uhh. (warbling voice) Making sure..uh. That these kids got a fair shot at the American Dream (sniffing) like I did. It's important.
But what does "a shot at the American Dream" actually mean for a man like Boehner?
In an excellent article, The UK Guardian's Michael Tomsky takes a look at the age of Boehner's childhood and the conservative policies of that age bear no resemblance to the policies the today's Republicans.
In the America John Boehner grew up in, the country had a president - a Republican president - who believed the following:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
Although fiscally conservative, President Eisenhower recognized the need to extend educational opportunities to all of the country's children, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation gender or their position in the social class hierarchy. He saw education as a national security issue and the key to America's future in the Cold War Age. He stated back in 1957, when Boehner was entering secondary school:
"The education of our children is of national concern, and if they are not educated properly, it is a national calamity."
As the second oldest of twelve children in a family of "modest circumstances," Boehner clearly benefited from Eisenhower's appreciation of education for all Americans- not merely the wealthiest. Under Eisenhower's policies, millions of American children, like Boehner, had access to an high standard of education. Boehner was, in fact, the first member of his family to receive a college degree.

Leaving Children Behind on a National Scale

At the time of that 60 minutes interview, his record seemed to support a commitment to early education. During the Bush Administration, when Republicans thought money grew on trees, he was instrumental in drafting the "No Child Left Behind"Act. (NCLB). This legislation sought to improve the education for disadvantaged children at a elementary and secondary level. It was by any measure a noble effort to improve education for American children.
According to Heritage Foundation, an influential ultra-conservative think-tank:
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 dramatically increased federal spending on and authority over public education in America.
Not only that. Even with the increased federal funding, it was counterproductive. .According to another authoritative source, since NCLB set no national standard for schools, it had the effect not improving the levels of education but of reducing the educational standards set by states.
Thus, the problem with NCLB is not that it is an under-funded mandate. A state can meet the NCLB mandates with existing Title I funds if it sets student-performance standards low enough. Instead, the problem with NCLB is that it gives states a strong incentive to dumb their standards down. This incentive undermines the main purpose of NCLB, which is ‘‘to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments’’ (NCLB, Section 1001; emphasis added).
This perverse incentive could be eliminated, of course, by more federal funds, so it is accurate to say that NCLB does not provide the funding needed to meet its own objectives. Because NCLB does not actually set standards, however, we cannot measure the degree to which it is under-funded in this sense.
For millions of children, NCLB, as Boehner's proud achievement, his contribution to the American Dream, was doing quite the opposite than what it was supposed to do. And no amount of crying for cameras about those neglected children was going to change that.

Loser in the Battle with the Tea Party

The Heritage Foundation, like Boehner, talks a lot of the American Dream. Meanwhile, it salutes people like Rush Limbaugh at its website. This is a man who suggested that cutting school lunch programs might not be a bad thing.

After all, he said, if children wanted food, they shouldn't rely on the government, they should look in community dumpsters as their source.
There's another place if none of these options work to find food; there's always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people?
This is Limbaugh's idea of the American dream for the poor. The fact that the Heritage foundation looks to this man for inspiration says a lot about the philosophy of the organization. (His smiling face can be seen on their website so surely this is an endorsement of his ideas.)

The stupidest part of the ultra-conservative position is that cuts in education will undermine the very thing that distinguishes them as a political movement. Investing in early education is the only sure means of encouraging self-sufficiency. Giving children a decent education is an investment which will later pay dividends of reducing the number of social programs that support the needy. 

The fact that Boehner (or any of the old school conservatives) neglected to point this out to the Tea Party radicals is just another sign of the failure of leadership of the GOP. They chose to be cowards to bullies and this is the result. 

More recently, The Heritage Foundation helped to bring about one of Boehner's most embarrassing humiliations as the leader of the Republican majority in the House. 

After walking away from negotiations with the president, Boehner embarked on a foolhardy alternative, known as Plan B. 
Heritage’s Alison Fraser, director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, and J.D. Foster, the Norman B. Ture Senior Fellow in the Economics of Fiscal Policy, said, " ... the Republican counteroffer, to the extent it can be interpreted from the hazy details now available, is a dud. It is utterly unacceptable. It is bad policy, bad economics.”
Like enemy soldiers on the parade grounds, the Tea Party politicians then immediately fell into line and that, as they say, was the end of Plan B. There was no Plan C, D or Z. Boehner's leadership of his own party was suddenly in question and with it, any further negotiations with the president. How can you negotiate, after all, with a leader who is constantly being undermined by fringe elements in his party? He can promise the world but he cannot deliver.

Without any doubt, the biggest loser in the fiscal cliff negotiations has been Mr. John Boehner. 
Oh and poor children.

Itty Bitty Tears

Today the clock runs out. In a short time, barring a sudden last minute reversal, the nation will journey into unexplored territory, embarking on a new and probably devastating policy of indiscriminate cuts in government spending. Across the board, programs which millions of Americans have counted on in hard times will be slashed.

Because of his inability to lead his own party- thanks to the Tea Party betrayal- Boehner has failed to provide a reasonable opposition that the President can negotiate with. A vocal minority in his party has led to an impasse in any further means of finding a compromise. The Tea Party's intransigence to raising taxes (or rather allowing Bush taxes cuts for the wealthiest class to expire) has made Boehner a laughing stock of American political history.

Except now, as midnight approaches, while few people are actually laughing. And Boehner has every reason to shed some tears.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the world's largest organization working on behalf of young children and for months has warned about what could happen if the nation plunges over the cliff.
A fair budget and a reduced deficit are important, but those goals should be met without making dramatic cuts to child care, Head Start, education, nutrition programs, or other basic needs of low- and moderate- income children and families. Right now, Congress and the White House are negotiating the "Fiscal Cliff" – not only about who should pay more or fewer taxes, but also about dramatic cuts to spending on critical programs (including Head Start, child care, child nutrition, and many more services for children and families).
Because roughly 75% of public funds for early childhood education come from federal funding, the federal spending cuts being discussed would have significant consequences. If Congress and the White House do not change the automatic cuts (part of the Fiscal Cliff called sequestration), then 100,000 children will lose Early Head Start and Head Start, and roughly 80,000 children will lose child care assistance.
Other educational organizations have also sounded the alarm bells as another source tells us:
“These cuts to our schools would be devastating and of course would impact student achievement,” said Deborah Rigsby, director of federal legislation for the National School Boards Association (NSBA), in a press call Wednesday. “[They] would result in increased class sizes ... the elimination of after-school and summer-school programs, a narrowing of the curriculum, the closing of school libraries, and more.”
If John Boehner had been serious about his tears for Leslie Stahl, if he had had an capacity for leadership, he would not have allowed this debacle to continue.

I will close with a musical interlude from the children of Staten Island's PS 22. Another precious moment which we can probably say goodbye to.