Proposed: A Constitutional Right to Childcare & School

In this Arsenal For Democracy mini-series, we propose new, progressive Constitutional rights. Part III: A right to free and high-quality childcare and education, by Maria.

Education – and the possibility that it means your children can and will do better than you have been able to do – is what drives nearly all American citizens and citizens-to-be to believe in the dream of America. However, to realize that dream, both quality public education and quality early childcare/pre-K must be considered an unquestioned public right for all Americans. Access to both must be guaranteed to all, regardless of means or geographic location, to secure that right.

A need to act

Childcare and education are often intertwined. In order to spend an 8 hour day working, parents drop off their kids at a Pre-K, Daycare Center, or Day Camp that promises an enriching learning environment. Recently it was reported that childcare costs more than college in 24 states. An impressive and depressing statistic when you consider that college tuition “…has been rising almost six percent above the rate of inflation”.

Study after study shows that children who receive pre-school education do better than their less fortunate peers; progress begets progress for the rest of their lives. Competition for Pre-K programs can be so fierce that many schools operate by lottery.

We shouldn’t have to stage a Hunger Games for tots to decide who gets to learn the numbers and colors. We are failing our children and our own futures by not addressing this burden.

Uneven funding

Adding to this challenge is the inherent inequality in the way schools are funded in the United States, through local property taxes. What you and your community can afford to pay (or how much your local government prioritizes educational investment) will determine what kind of education your child receives over a lifetime.

Some parents are fortunate enough to be able to navigate and afford systems that may require applications for a child even before he or she is born. Others are financially secure enough to be able to move to better school districts. Clearly, not everyone can do this.

Should a child be denied a chance at a better life due the geographic circumstances of their birth? Should the quality of their earliest years of school be determined on their parents’ incomes? A meritocracy cannot emerge from such inequalities. These inequalities rob a certain share of our population’s youngest members of the opportunity for a decent start, for arbitrary reasons.

If the core of the American Dream is believing that your children will do better than you did, every child must be provided with at least a baseline of quality education and childcare. For our society to have any hope of realizing a meritocracy to, neither of these can be beholden to rich or poor, urban or suburban, etc.

The right of the people

State constitutions or the federal constitution should be amended to include a free public childcare and schooling provision along the following lines:

“Every person has the right to access high-quality, free education and early childcare regardless of his or her means or geographic location. The legislature [or Congress] shall make such laws as are necessary to secure this right to all residents.”

Those who wish to supplement public offerings with private options would continue to have that ability, but everyone would have access to a strong starting point before reaching adulthood. The fresh slate promised by the American Dream currently does not exist for a poor child, but it could.

Countries the world over have enshrined the right to a free, high standard of education in their constitutions. If America truly wishes to remain one of the most highly educated countries, we must focus on making education freely accessible to all, while also highlighting quality.

Ensuring free public education and childcare for all children not only increases their chances at fulfilling their parents’ dream of a better future, it would also make sure the future of the parents – and our entire society – is well cared for.

U.S. Government-funded childcare during WWII

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Who Took Care of Rosie the Riveter’s Kids? – The Atlantic:

During World War II the United States government operated a far-reaching, heavily-subsidized childcare program—the likes of which Americans haven’t seen in the seven decades since.
[…]
Established in late 1942, emergency nursery schools became the tool to relieve anxious mothers and keep raucous children at bay. Funded through both federal and local money allocated by an amendment to the Lanham Act, a 1940 law authorizing war-related government grants, childcare services were established in communities contributing to defense production. These programs reorganized one kind of domestic labor—child-rearing—to enable another kind: paid labor in the domestic economy that helped fortify America against its foreign enemies.

The scope of the program was enormous. Daycare centers were administered in every state except New Mexico. Between 1943 and 1946, spending on the program exceeded the equivalent of $1 billion today, and each year, about 3,000 childcare centers served roughly 130,000 children. By the end of the war, between 550,000 and 600,000 children are estimated to have received some care from Lanham Act programs. (Still, the demand for childcare was barely tapped. The Department of Labor estimated that each year, Lanham funds made it to only about 10 percent of the children in need.) By one historical account, the government had a hard time amassing a sufficient staff.

 

Two Big Takeaways for the NDP on Canada’s 2015 election

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Editor’s Note: On October 19, 2015, Canadians voted all across their country to elect a new parliament. There were three major parties contesting the election everywhere and a couple minor parties. After the last federal parliamentary elections (in 2011), the Conservatives held a majority, the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) were the second-place party (heading the opposition for the first time), and the centrist Liberal Party finished third. At the start of this year’s election, the NDP had a large lead in the polls seemed poised to form a government for the first time in Canada’s history. As the campaign progressed, however, the NDP’s support collapsed and voters instead chose to elect a Liberal Party majority to parliament. This majority will be led by Justin Trudeau, the son of former longtime prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who led the party from 1968 to 1984. The Conservatives finished second. The NDP finished a distant third.

Below, guest contributor and NDP supporter Adam Chaikof presents the two major lessons he drew from the NDP’s unsuccessful campaign to lead the federal government for the first time in party history.

Lesson 1: Don’t treat balanced budgets like a sacred cow (especially during economic downturns).

It certainly goes without saying that one of the most common right-wing retorts to any suggestion of expanding the welfare state or investing in jobs or infrastructure is that such measures are too costly and will only increase the national debt and deficit.

Besides the obvious ideological reasons, the Right constantly employs this line of attack because voters easily understand it. After all, many voters reason, if we have to live within our means, why shouldn’t the government do the same?

Within this framing, beyond completely rejecting the Left’s core principles, left-wing parties can respond to these accusations in one of two ways: they can either try to convince the electorate that they’re actually better at balancing the budget than the Right, or they can argue that running a short-term deficit isn’t harmful and is necessary to stimulate the economy.

In other words, the Left can either try to win the debate on balanced budgets on the Right’s terms, or they can try to reset the debate’s terms altogether. During this most recent election in Canada, the NDP chose the former route, while the Liberals chose the latter.

The NDP chose this strategy for two reasons. First, NDP provincial governments actually have better fiscal records on average than both Liberal and Conservative ones despite spending more on economic and social programs.

Unfortunately, there is one notable – and very noticeable – exception to the NDP’s fiscal record: Bob Rae’s provincial government in Ontario from 1990 to 1995. Rae’s early 90s legacy still haunts the NDP in the electorally vital province of Ontario. This is the root cause of the second reason for the NDP’s strategy of campaigning on fiscal responsibility.

Rae’s record is still hotly debated – and he actually has long since defected from the NDP to the Liberals – but the most commonly accepted narrative is this: After leading the NDP to its first ever victory in Ontario in 1990, Rae unsuccessfully tried to spend Ontario’s way out of a recession and was then forced to implement austerity measures after exploding the province’s deficit.

Whether you accept this narrative or not, it’s undeniable that Rae’s poor economic record has been like a millstone around the NDP’s neck in Ontario at both the federal and provincial levels for the past 20 years. Ontario sends the most federal MPs to Parliament. In other words, eager to convince voters of its fiscal credibility and finally excise the ghost of the Rae Provincial Government, the NDP made maintaining a balanced budget one its main campaign planks.

This decision, however, had serious repercussions for the NDP. Many voters simply didn’t believe that the NDP’s proposals for raising revenue (e.g. raising corporate taxes by 2%, closing tax loopholes, etc.) would be enough to pay for its other spending promises. These included universal childcare and pharmacare, a national housing and transit strategy, reversing Harper’s cuts to health care and pensions, a national cap-and-trade system, and new investments in clean energy and manufacturing.

These proposals remained very popular, to be sure, but Canadians didn’t have much faith in the NDP being able to implement them properly because it seemed like they were trying to have it both ways: Spending a lot while balancing budgets. Read more

Tax savings that cost more than social expenditures

From a 2013 Baltimore Sun piece, “Cut tax breaks, not food stamps”, how U.S. executives can save more in taxes in a single dinner than poor families can receive in food stamp money in a month:

Imagine that the tab for dinner and drinks for 10 executives comes to $1,600. Current tax law allows companies to deduct half of the cost of business meals — in this case, $800. With a corporate tax rate of 35 percent, each dollar of deductions yields 35 cents of tax savings — so that $800 deduction saves $280 in taxes. This means one dinner for 10 people provides more public food assistance than the $279 an average household receives in food stamps for the whole month.

 
But somehow we can’t possibly afford such programs.

h/t Wonkblog: “The rich get government handouts just like the poor. Here are 10 of them.”

I suspect I’m going to have a lot more to say on this particular topic of tax savings that cost more than social program expenditures in future posts and episodes of the radio show. Particularly after I started reading through various Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) reports on tax subsidies to the wealthy, including their 2014 report “Redeploying $540 Billion in Federal Spending to Help All Americans Save, Invest, and Build Wealth” (PDF). Spoiler alert: Hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue is lost each year to Federal tax credit programs disproportionately (and needlessly) benefiting wealthy households.

Social inclusion, anti-poverty policy are great for the economy!

Most US eyes on Latin America right now are turned to Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff was just re-elected, ushering in a fourth consecutive term for the Silva/Rouseff anti-extreme-poverty agenda launched in 2002 under her predecessor.

Meanwhile, however, Bolivia — under more avowedly socialist leadership — is also continuing to (more or less) balance its budget, increase its social spending, and grow its macroeconomy substantially. Martin Hutchinson explains why in an article in The Globalist:

Part of it is the effect of commodity prices described above [in the article] and of Morales’ savvy and determined renegotiation of mining and energy contracts. Obviously, if commodity and energy prices are low during the next five years, Bolivia will have considerable difficulties.
[…]
What truly sets Morales apart is this: As Bolivia’s first indigenous President, Morales has made great efforts to include the indigenous community – currently about 40% of Bolivia’s population – in the formal economy. He has provided them with both welfare payments and job preferences in order to increase their participation in the economy.
[…]
in situations where a large proportion of the population is so poor that it does not participate properly in the economy it is possible to achieve a “growth dividend” by bringing them into full participation.

As they transition into full economic activity, their output allows the national economy to grow significantly, producing extra output and extra tax revenues, while enriching the economy as a whole – and not just the elites.

 
Hutchinson also points to the Bolivian and Brazilian models that — contrary to US and UK trends for a century and a half — don’t make the very poor jump through hurdles to qualify for government assistance, which seems to get better and less corruptible results on poverty:

In uplifting the very poorest, direct cash transfers with only simple conditionality are highly effective. A program […] costs only a couple of percent of GDP – far less than massive infrastructure schemes.

Yet, it reaches the poorest in society effectively – and, unlike infrastructure projects it cannot be gamed by economic elites – via shady corruption deals that are often part and parcel of large-sized public investment projects.

Should government programs be funded Moneyball-style?

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In the Big Data age, everyone wants to measure things — and see if they can be made to work better. It’s a good impulse in most cases, but is it being applied appropriately to government?

In a new NYT post, David Leonhardt examines trends in testing government programs for quantifiable effectiveness. He notes initially that despite a widespread public suspicion of central government (or any) in this country, the Federal government actually does have a pretty impressive track record in a lot of areas. But it also has come under increasing fire in the past twenty years for being slow to adopt popular private-sector tools for measuring effectiveness of dollars for outcomes.

Of the 11 large programs for low- and moderate-income people that have been subject to rigorous, randomized evaluation, only one or two show strong evidence of improving most beneficiaries’ lives. “Less than 1 percent of government spending is backed by even the most basic evidence of cost-effectiveness,” writes Peter Schuck, a Yale law professor, in his new book, “Why Government Fails So Often,” a sweeping history of policy disappointments.

As Mr. Schuck puts it, “the government has largely ignored the ‘moneyball’ revolution in which private-sector decisions are increasingly based on hard data.”

And yet there is some good news in this area, too. The explosion of available data has made evaluating success – in the government and the private sector – easier and less expensive than it used to be. At the same time, a generation of data-savvy policy makers and researchers has entered government and begun pushing it to do better. They have built on earlier efforts by the Bush and Clinton administrations.

The result is a flowering of experiments to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

 
Now, I support measuring government programs to try to make them better. But there are immediate red flags for me surrounding the “how” part of measuring and the “what happens next” after the measuring.

I have four major areas of concern about this trend:

1) Who gets to determine the definitions of “cost-effective” or efficient? Who sets the cutoff points for when a program is simply too ineffective or not getting enough bang-for-the-buck to continue? Do these people consider realities on the ground and the lives affected or just look at spreadsheets?

Are the people creating measurement systems representatives of the people at large and the communities being served by the programs? Are they comprehensively trained in the relevant area backgrounds? Are they just more Wall Street-turned-public-servant-turned-future-lobbyist folks? Are they trying to measure things just to prove government “doesn’t work”?

2) Are we currently under-funding many of these programs so severely and chronically that we can’t effectively demonstrate success they might otherwise have if consistently funded at appropriate levels? Are we going to cut off money to these “under-performing” programs that we’ve already starved of money?

In education, in particular, we’ve seen the paired trend of measuring performance standards (which I agree is very important) and then tying Federal funding to districts and local funding to teachers to these results without first making the changes (including funding increases!) necessary to improve the results. Are we also going to start taking away money from programs that aren’t “improving” enough each year because they’re already doing well? (This was the famous backfiring of No Child Left Behind in high-performing education states like Massachusetts and New Jersey.)

To return to the Leonhardt article for a moment (my bolding added):

New York City, Salt Lake City, New York State and Massachusetts have all begun programs to link funding for programs to their success: The more effective they are, the more money they and their backers receive. The programs span child care, job training and juvenile recidivism.

The approach is known as “pay for success,” and it’s likely to spread to Cleveland, Denver and California soon. David Cameron’s conservative government in Britain is also using it. The Obama administration likes the idea, and two House members – Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, and John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat – have introduced a modest bill to pay for a version known as “social impact bonds.”

 
Republicans have moved the goalposts so far since the start of the Reagan Administration with their view that “government is the problem, not the solution” that everything seems to be catered toward “proving” this claim by decades of intentionally “starving the beast” — under-funding/de-funding programs across the board by slashing revenues to pay for them — and then measuring outcomes afterward.

Back to my areas of concern…

3) While it’s important to get as much out of each dollar invested as possible (so you can use as much of the money as possible for as many people as possible), many public functions are public because they are not effective money-makers and need to be funded regardless of balance sheet results. Sometimes things just aren’t all that “cost-effective,” yet are necessary for the promotion or execution of certain social and economic goals.

In fact, the push for “cost-effectiveness” as a measurement skips over the fact that the goal of some programs is to provide an emergency economic floor, below which citizens should not be able to fall, rather than being designed to lift them up. A floor is not an elevator, and you wouldn’t measure a floor’s elevation over time to find out if it’s getting you closer to the top of the building. Many of the War on Poverty programs, in particular, don’t get nearly enough credit for being a major force in keeping total destitution in check even during long recessions and stagnant recoveries, because critics are too busy asking why they haven’t outright ended poverty.

4) Is this just another way to insert private sector profiteering in the middle of public functions that don’t need them? For example, we’ve already seen Goldman Sachs forcing its way in on the revenue stream of the Massachusetts prison system to do something the state could do and, in doing so, taking away money the state could be re-investing to help more ex-convicts stay out of prison.
Read more

March 31, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 78

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Description: Guest expert Sydnee McElroy MD of the “Sawbones” podcast explains the science of vaccines. Bill and Nate look at why government steps in where charity falls short. Persephone on the future of nursing in the United States, by looking at Europe.

Part 1 – Sydnee McElroy:
Part 1 – Sydnee McElroy – AFD 78
Part 2 – Big Government vs. Small Charity:
Part 2 – Big Government vs. Small Charity – AFD 78
Part 3 – Nursing:
Part 3 – Nursing – AFD 78

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

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