Monday, September 1, 2014

On Labor Day We Are Reminded South Dakota Has Little Respect for Laborers

Today is a day celebrating the work of the labor movement and dates back to 1882.    In South Dakota, "union" is a four letter word to many people, especially in the GOP.  There has been a lot of mischaracterization of unions.  The idea that working folk would band together to get the best deal from the corporation that are trying to take advantage of them.  Many get upset with the unions, but very few think it is wrong for businesses that band together through the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to write laws to help them make a fast buck from government at the expense of the rest of us.

Kathy Tyler reflects on this idea in her latest blog post:
The influence of unions has declined over the years as working conditions and wages have improved. But in my research, one of the things that kept popping up was the growing divide between the upper and lower income groups and the increasing number of families that can’t make a living on their current wages and the increase in the number of jobs that do not provide a living wage. Will unions have a comeback because of these issues? I have no idea, but we must recognize their importance in our past and what they accomplished for workers in our country. If it weren’t for the laborers and the ‘little people’, where would we be?
We, the little people, are having a tougher time getting ahead.  The game continues to seem rigged for the big businesses and those in government that they can buy.  Many in the GOP see the idea of solving unemployment by letting businesses offer wages at any rate, seven dollars an hour, four dollars an hour,  or two dollars an hour.  The Rapid City Journal reminds us about this mindset that people like Dennis Daugaard, Mike Rounds, and Kristi Noem have fully accepted. 

Today the Rapid City Journal talked about the problem that many businesses in Rapid City finding workers.  An issue that Daugaard thinks can be solved by begging people to come here without offering better wages.  The article points to part of the problem that businesses have in finding quality workers: low wages.

According to the national Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent wage data from May 2013, South Dakota ranks second-to-last in average hourly wages, ahead of only Mississippi. 
A debate over wages in South Dakota is looming. In November, voters will consider a ballot initiative seeking to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 plus annual cost-of-living increases. 

Raising the minimum wage in South Dakota will benefit many in this state.  It is a way of respecting all the people that labor day in and day out.  We need to remember this in November and vote for Initiated Measure 18.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vermont Tells Arne Duncan to Stick It; Should South Dakota Follow

School is starting in Lennox.  Teachers have had in-services and like all the teachers in South Dakota, the Common Core and SLOs were on the forefront.  Diane Ravitch posted the move taken by the Vermont State School Board when they adopted a resolution about the role of testing and other things in education.  A few highlights of the post include:

What standardized tests can do that teacher developed tests cannot do is give us reliable, comparative data. We can use test scores to tell whether we are doing better over time. Of particular note, standardized tests help monitor how well we serve students with different life circumstances and challenges. When used appropriately, standardized tests are a sound and objective way to evaluate student progress. 
Despite their value, there are many things tests cannot tell us. Standardized tests like the NECAP and soon, the SBAC, can tell us something about how students are doing in a limited set of narrowly defined subjects overall, as measured at a given time. However, they cannot tell us how to help students do even better. Nor can they adequately capture the strengths of all children, nor the growth that can be ascribed to individual teachers. And under high-stakes conditions, when schools feel extraordinary pressure to raise scores, even rising scores may not be a signal that students are actually learning more. At best, a standardized test is an incomplete picture of learning: without additional measures, a single test is inadequate to capture a years’ worth of learning and growth....

As a teacher, I am not opposed to testing.  I am opposed to testing that is used as a single snapshot of what is or is not important in student's education.  I am opposed to using testing to compare create a one-size-fit-all mentality.  

The statement continues:

Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation. 
Because of the risk of inappropriate uses of testing, the Vermont State Board of Education herewith adopts a series of guiding principles for the appropriate use of standardized tests to support continuous improvements of learning.
The School Board then laid out eight concepts that they wanted to focus on from testing protocol,  test development criteria, value-added scores, to test cut-off scores.

I want to leave you with the following resolved statements:

RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education requests that the Secretary of Education reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which has at its center qualitative assessments, does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, decreases the role of compliance monitoring, and is used to support students and improve schools; and 
RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on the United States Congress and Administration to accordingly amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act”) to reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states; and 
RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on other state and national organizations to act in concert with these goals to improve and broaden educational goals, provide adequate resources, and ensure a high quality education for all children of the state and the nation.
South Dakota GOP love to have other people take the lead on policy issues like ALEC and Minnesota, maybe they should pay attention to Vermont. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Common Core is Losing Support Everywhere

As some teachers have started the school year and others are about to begin, one thing is forced onto their mind: the Common Core.  If you have not heard of the Common Core yet, I encourage you to turn your computer off and go back to sleep.  There are probably a lot of other things going on in the world that would upset you.

If you are like the 81% of Americans surveyed, you probably are not a big fan of the Common Core according to a recent PDK/Gallap poll.  This recent poll shows that 60% oppose them, but for some very, very different reasons.  This was reported in Education Week.

Overall, the wide-ranging survey found, 81 percent of those polled said they had heard about the common standards, compared with 38 percent last year. However, 60 percent oppose the standards, generally because they believe the standards will limit the flexibility that teachers have to teach what they think is best. Last year's poll did not specifically ask respondents whether or not they supported the standards.  
The poll also highlighted a partisan split in opinion on the common core: 76 percent of Republicans  and 60 percent of independents said they oppose the standards. Democrats were the only category of respondents polled in which a majority said they support the standards, 53 percent in favor compared to 38 percent opposed.
So what do Republicans and Independents dislike about the Common core according to the article?
A majority of Republicans, public school parents, and independents also agreed that the common core is not challenging enough, despite the fact that many education analysts have found them to be more rigorous than most previous state standards (with the exception of Massachusetts and California). 
For many educators the problem with the Common Core is not so much the standards, but it is the way those standards are implemented.  There was this big rush to start testing with the Common Core.  The call is to continue to attach teachers evaluations to those tests, and a push by some to direct specific instruction.  There has also been a lot of misinformation about the government using this to brainwash our children.  Terry Holliday, a supporter and education leader in Kentucky, explains part of the problem:
Holliday also said the rush by states to implement requirements linked to waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act "connected the common core with a federal overreach," which didn't help. "And the rush to implement the standards has led to inadequate support for teachers, inadequate communication with our public, and led to a major pushback from our teachers who [are skeptical] of connecting the common core to teacher development," he said.
As the President of the American Federation of Teachers stated in the article that the Common Core should be guides and separated from testing.

One other thing that was reported in the poll: The biggest obstacle facing schools is lack of financial support.  
A lack of financial support was named as the top challenge facing public schools by 32 percent in response to an open-ended question, the only problem to draw a double-digit response.
Welcome back to school everyone!  Keep you eyes on the prize! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mike Rounds Looks to Hurt America's Workers!

Mike Rounds has come out and and stood by some actual policy positions other than "South Dakota Common Sense" and lies about Obamacare.  Unfortunately, one of the positions would actually hurt many Americans and South Dakotans.  The policy is Susan Collins 40 Hours is Full Time Act.  

Rounds writes:
The increased number of South Dakotans that will work less than 40 hours, due to the ObamaCare mandate will increase.  The ObamaCare Employer Mandate, and specifically the 30 hour workweek rule, is a job killer that must be repealed before it kicks in next year.
This policy, by setting the mandate at 40 hours a week, will hurt those working over forty hours already.  As was explained in the New York Times:

But with a 40-hour threshold, the workers at risk are those who work 40 or more hours per week, or about 45 percent of the workforce. 
In other words, raising the threshold would actually place more workers at risk of having their hours reduced. The result would be substantially less employer-sponsored coverage, which in turn, could cause a large increase in federal spending on subsidized coverage for people who otherwise would be covered at work — just what the foes of health care have long claimed it would do.
Ken Jacobs points out in The Hill:
Under current law, we at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education expect cuts in work hours to be restricted largely to people working just over 30 hours a week.  It is not economically efficient for most employers to cut employees’ work hours to avoid the penalty. Doing so for workers currently working well above 30 hours a week would result in more turnover and expense for hiring, training, supervision and unemployment Insurance. We estimate that 2.3 million workers (1.8 percent of the workforce) would be especially vulnerable to work-hour reductions. These are people who work just above 30 hours a week, earn enough to make them eligible for federal programs, and do not already have coverage through their employer. 
While this is a real problem for the workers who will be affected, the kicker is the Collins-Donnelly proposal would put millions more workers at risk.  Overall, we estimate that 6.5 million employees would be immediately vulnerable to hour reductions under their proposal, nearly three times the number under current law.  That’s because the cost of cutting hours from 40 to 39 hours a week would be negligible for the vast majority of employers and many more employees work 40 hours a week or more compared to those who work close to 30.
I am not opposed to looking at ways to tweak the Affordable Care Act.  Going with Medicare for all would take all the pressure in the world off of business about how to force workers to stay at a certain time period.  My feeling is that Mike Rounds doesn't care if people have access to healthcare, but instead cares about how businesses can line his political pockets.

Corina Robinson and Missed Opportunities

Message is everything.  That message must be focused and direct.  This is my advice for Corina Robinson after seeing the Dakotafest debates.  My advice to my speech students is to tell them what you are going to talk about, tell it to them, and then remind them what you told them.  After watching the debate between Kristi Noem and Corina Robinson, I felt that Kristi Noem left too many softballs handing in the air, waiting to get knocked out, but Robinson only made partial contact.  

One example of this is the first main question about Washington policy sustainability of South Dakota's landscape and rural towns.  Noem speaks about the Farm bill, as should be expected, and needing to watch over the USDA.  Here is the first softball.  Robinson's answer tries to point out you have to be present at all the hearings (this is good) and that the need for compromise is key to protecting everyone to avoid things like letting the Farm bill expire (also good).  Then she starts drifting off about people wanting to work hard in South Dakota and talking about teacher funding in the state.  This drift makes her look a bit confused about the real issue and distracts from Noem failure to pass the Farm Bill on time and also how the government shut down was the key reason for delay in helping ranchers West River after the horrible storm.

I would have liked to have heard hear mention the failure of the farm bill, government shut down, and Noem mentioned at least 5 times in the message.  I would have also like to have heard her drop some names. "John Boehnoer can come and raise money for Kristi, but it she can convince him to influence her part to pass a farm bill on time."  "I would not have voted for Tom Cotton's amendment to pass when Jim Peterson from Minnesota said it would be a sign of betrayal and destroy all democratic votes for the bill."  

Another example was the Highway Trust Fund.  It was good to drop her experience of tackling highway infrastructure, she missed another opportunity to put Kristi on the defensive.  I would have liked her to talk about that instead of wasting time over trying to repeal Obamacare and voting to sue the President, she would make sure that the Highway funding measure was not another stop gap action so that our bridges can be fixed and we are not the fourth worst state in the nation when it comes to structurally deficient bridges. (Susan Wismer, are you listening?)  When Kristi Noem says that the Federal Government doesn't do its due diligence in making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is adequately funded, Robinson must jump on that and remind everyone that KRISTI NOEM IS THE GOVERNMENT NOT DOING THE JOB NEEDED.

Noem's answers contradict themselves (She argues for farm bill support for farmers and then says everything should stand on its own.)  Noem left a lot of issues unanswered and avoided them in the debate.  There were a lot of strong moments for Robinson in this debate; however, she must get more aggressive and must be near flawless if she hopes to defeat Noem.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Round's May or May Not Support Voucherizing Medicare

Mike Round's mouthpiece, Dick Wadhams, is getting upset with people questioning his lies statements about Mike Round's support (or not?) to voucherize Medicare?  Some people pointed to the GOP debate that Mike attended as evidence that Rounds supports Ryan's plan.  Wadhams and Pat Powers have to run and defend their man by showing a clip from the SD GOP debate and a radio clip from the Greg Belfrage interview.  
Rounds responded that while he respected Congressman Ryan’s efforts to balance the budget, he could not support that specific plan. Neither Medicare nor the use of vouchers in Medicare were mentioned in the question from the panelist but Rounds did clearly state his opposition to more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicare that would fund Obamacare.
In the debate clip, it is unclear if Rounds supports or does not support the Ryan budget.  In the Belfrage interview, he does say that he doesn't support the Ryan plan, but only because it doesn't seem to go far enough.  In neither case, does he come out against the Ryan plan to voucherize Medicare.  It has been pointed out that Rounds doesn't really have anything to say about Medicare other than spreading a lie about Obamacare and Medicare.  

Until Rounds actually states a real position on Medicare, we have to go with John Thune's vote since Mike Rounds is willing to follow Thune's lead (unless Dick and Mike want to be clear that John Thune is wrong on Medicare).

So, we have no clear position on voucherizing Medicare from Rounds and only a lie that continues to be spread about Medicare money used to fund Obamacare.  If you don't want to believe this "leftist ally," then you can believe the KELO Land report:
"We just really don't find this one all that true," PolitiFact.com reporter Joshua Gillin said. 
PolitiFact says the claim isn't accurate because the $700 billion doesn't come from the traditional Medicare program itself.  Instead, it's a reduction in payments to insurance companies through the privately-managed Medicare plan called Medicare Advantage. 
"The idea behind that is that the Affordable Care Act is trying to reduce the amount of payments that are going to Medicare Advantage plans because they are reimbursed at a higher rate by the government than actual Medicare is," Gillin said. 
Gillin says far from losing hundreds of billions of dollars, Medicare spending will actually increase as more Baby Boomers become eligible in the years to come.  
Still waiting for apology Mr. Wadhams.

You Really Need to Meet Corinna Robinson

You may not know who Corinna Robinson, and that would be a shame.  Today, I had the opportunity to listen to her speak at the Democratic Forum at the Sioux Falls VFW.  After having a chance to have a few people speak and a few candidates running for state positions (Ann Tornberg and Elle Spawn) introduced themselves, Corinna Robinson took the floor.

I want to share a few of my perceptions of this candidate running against Kristi Noem.  She is a strong and passionate speaker.  One of the things she shared was her biography.  A lot of this I did not know.  I did know that she had a distinguished military career.  I know that she has had the opportunity to lead and be in positions of importance as a military leader and in civilian life.  I also know that she has a passion for supporting veterans and military personal.  That was about the extent to what I knew about her.  

I found out that she is a third generation South Dakotan with about 98% of her family members living here in South Dakota.  She grew up in Rapid City and learned the value of hard work.  She shared the store that at the age of 16, she worked at McDonalds so that she could afford some new clothes for the school year.  She pointed out that she grew up a God-fearing Christian that is still active in attending church.

She shared upon graduating from high school she enrolled in the military with idea of enlisting and then  going to school for a criminal justice degree.  Things changed and she made a career in the military.  It was the severe problems with Washington that drove her to run for Congress.  She became so upset when Washington could not get its act together and she had to tell people that they were being furloughed.  She gave her two weeks notice and despite her superior trying to convince her to not quit for her family, she felt driven to try and make Washington run better and serve the people of South Dakota.

It is the life experiences and her opportunity to go around the world that has shaped her drive for commitment.  When asked how she would be different than Kristi Noem, she stresses her military background.  In the military you can't be partisan, you just have to make sure that the job get done.  She would approach Congress much like she approached life in the military.  She would be vocal and support the people she was charged to protect and serve (the people of South Dakota), and she would fight in Washington for all the people, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.  That is one of the key differences between she and Kristi Noem: leadership.  She also doesn't tolerate mediocrity

If you would like to meet Corinna Robinson, she will be at Josiah's Coffeehouse at 1:00 P.M.  You can also visit her website at www.corinnaforsd.com.  She is very personable and would love to here from you.

By the way, Elle Spawn is running for the District 12 House seat and will be having a meet and greet at Spellerberg Park on Saturday, August 16 from 3-5 P.M.  There will be watermelon!