- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sept. 3

The Porterville Recorder on student testing:

In the past couple of years the state Department of Education has taken steps to make it much more difficult to judge how effective the state’s public school system is in teaching children.

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown put the final nail into the coffin of the State Exit Exam which was required to be passed before a high school senior could earn a diploma.

That exam, sought by business as a better measurement of a student’s skills, had been given for more than a decade. It was based on seventh-grade standards, yet the governor’s signature gave a reprieve to some 5,000 seniors from the class of 2015 who never passed the exam. Without passing the exam, a student could not get a diploma.

Local schools had done well with its percentage of students who passed the Exit Exam, even offering classes specifically for students who were having a hard time.

The state has also done away with its old STAR (Standardized Testing and Report) Testing program. In his column Sunday, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters pointed out that not only did the state do away with the STAR test, but it even did away with past data from the test, only to finally restore that data after being criticized.

It is well known that the California Teachers Association opposes testing of any kind that measures the success of schools and teachers.

We felt the Exit Exam was not only a good measuring stick of how well students are being educated, but also how successful might be a student seeking a job. At least the employer would know they had basic skills such as how to add, subtract and read. Now, employers will not have that information.

The state claims it is going to come up with a new test to go along with its test to gauge how well Common Core English and math standards are being met.

In public education, it is really the flavor of the day that gets attention. It seems every decade or so there is a new standard - remember No Child Left Behind - and a new test to judge how well students are doing. And, sometimes it’s not really a new flavor, just the same flavor with a new name.

We believe students should be tested and the public should know how well schools are doing. Taxpayers are paying tens of billions of dollars a year to educate children. They deserve to know if those dollars are being used effectively.

____

Sept. 5

The San Francisco Chronicle on Gov. Jerry Brown’s transportation funding plan:

To rebuild California’s crumbling roads, Gov. Jerry Brown is suggesting that California drivers should pay an additional $65 a year and an additional 6 cents per gallon at the pump (11 cents if you use diesel). That’s a big chunk for California drivers, and it still might not be enough.

Brown’s suggested plan would require a big sacrifice from California’s drivers, who already enjoy some of the highest gas prices in the nation and are notorious for hating vehicle user fees. (See: the role that former Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to raise the vehicle license fee played in his own political demise.)

The governor is also looking at an uphill battle to earn votes from any of the state legislature’s Republicans, who don’t want any new taxes.

Plus, even with the new fee and additional gas taxes, the plan will only raise just over half of the money that the state needs to fix all of our deteriorating infrastructure.

The Fix Our Roads coalition (a group of business, city, and county officials) estimates that California has a $6 billion annual funding need; Brown’s plan will only deliver $3.6 billion.

Still, plenty of smart organizations like the League of California Cities and the Bay Area Council have come out in support of the plan for good reason.

It may not be all we need in California, but it may be the best we can do.

The new taxes and fees will require two-thirds approval from the state Legislature, and it’s not going to be easy to get.

The plan includes reforming Caltrans’ hiring procedures and other ideas designed to get Republican support. Meanwhile some in the Democratic caucus are grumbling that the money is less than they wanted. Brown’s going to have to convince them that this is in California’s best interest - and then convince the voters.

It is definitely in the best interest of Californians to make these investments.

Already, drivers pay a hidden vehicle tax of $762 per year, just because the highways and roads are in such disrepair. A $65 fee would feel painful because it’s more obvious, but in the long run, it could actually save California drivers money.

Improving the highways would be good for our economy as well. Our ability to move goods depends on the state of our transit corridors, and right now they’re in sorry shape.

Brown’s plan isn’t going to please everyone, but there’s no transportation funding plan that will.

The purpose of this summer’s special session was to create a compromise. It’s not perfect, but it beats the inertia that has been the default approach for far too long.

___

Sept. 6

The Fresno Bee on expanding paid family leave:

As the “Fight for $15” has preoccupied blue-collar workers, the high end of the workforce has discovered a new privilege: paid family leave.

Four months at Facebook for new mothers and fathers. Three months at Microsoft, plus an optional part-time re-entry. At Netflix, a full year of “unlimited” paid parental leave.

Finally, some balance, right? Not exactly. Though the trend toward more generous corporate leave policies is great news, it’s irrelevant for most workers. The big, mostly tech companies expanding paid family leave are competing for skilled engineers or trying to recruit women. Good for them, and good for their families. But down the ladder, work-life balance remains a distant dream.

Unlike most of the developed world, the U.S. doesn’t have a paid maternity leave mandate; paternity leave is still a luxury for most American fathers. There’s little incentive for employers to go beyond the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires only that companies with 50 or more employees hold a worker’s job for 12 weeks while he or she cares for an ailing spouse or child or a new baby, without pay.

Even in California, where the family leave laws are supposedly a national model, the only guarantees are for six weeks of unpaid leave plus six weeks with partial pay, up to about $1,100 a week at the six-figure end of the pay scale. That is, if the employer isn’t among the 41 percent of California businesses that are exempt because they fall below that 50-employee threshold.

Of course, many of those exempt businesses accommodate valued employees, and adjust when a worker has family issues. But they don’t have to, and though every worker in the state pays, via payroll tax, for the paid family leave benefit the state offers, it’s also not uncommon among small businesses for workers to be forced out for taking a family leave.

Senate Bill 406 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would expand California’s version of the federal leave law, so that the unpaid leave mandate would include businesses with 25 to 50 employees. It also would allow unpaid leave for those caring for sick grandparents, grandchildren and siblings.

Assembly Bill 908, by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, would separately lengthen the state’s paid family leave benefit to eight weeks and improve wage replacement, which is underwritten entirely by workers through state disability insurance.

The California Chamber of Commerce is neutral on AB 908, but claims small businesses will be overwhelmed if unpaid leaves are incrementally expanded. But as the chamber notes, many businesses already voluntarily accommodate the occasional family issue. At least six other states have expanded eligibility with little problem. If history is any gauge, 9 out of 10 businesses will be fine with it.

What is scary for small businesses is the threat of getting sued if they don’t get the new rules right. That’s a real and potentially costly concern, and perhaps the legal remedies in SB 406 could be gradually phased in.

But generally, these proposed tweaks are sensible and modest, and address a social need that shouldn’t be left to employers. Time with family should be about love, not privilege.

___

Sept. 8

Redlands Daily Facts on developmental funding:

Where is Gov. Jerry Brown’s leadership when it comes to developmental funding? Unfortunately, he still appears to be above the fray. Or perhaps, more accurately, he’s standing in the way.

Brown thought two issues were important enough this year to call legislative special sessions: funding transportation maintenance and projects, and funding developmental services and Medi-Cal.

In a press conference about the state’s transportation needs three weeks ago, the governor came out with one of his Zen-of-Brown quotes: “As a brooding omnipresence, I stand above the fray here.” Yet, last week, he offered a compromise plan for transportation funding, with some elements favored by Democrats and others called for by Republicans.

Heck, he even joined the fray on medical marijuana, trying to broker a deal on a way for the state to regulate dispensaries.

But on developmental funding and health care for the poor? Nothing.

Brown wants $3.6 billion-a-year for roads, but has yet to support the $350 million needed for people - our most vulnerable fellow Californians.

The governor stiffed the developmental community’s call for a 10 percent hike in service rates this year in his January budget and his May revision. Then when the Legislature sent him a budget that included a 5 percent hike on July 1 for some services, followed by a 2.5 percent hike Jan. 1 for the remaining services and for regional center staffing, Brown rejected it. Instead, he called for the special session to solve the problem.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla’s “Cocktails for Healthy Outcomes Act” was scheduled to be heard in committee today; ABX2-18 would boost developmental funding though a nickle-a-drink tax. Republicans are dead-set against such tax hikes, saying - correctly - there was plenty of money in the regular budget to boost developmental funding, but majority Democrats spent it on other things like raises for state employees. And Democrats won’t even hear GOP bills like SBX2-4, which would direct unanticipated revenue to developmental services and health care.

Clearly, some leadership is required here to get the two sides past their ideological differences and to a compromise that provides the needed funding boost. If Gov. Brown won’t provide that guidance, who will? Who can?

___

Sept. 9

The Orange County Register on reintroducing redevelopment agencies in California:

We celebrated when Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature dissolved the state’s 425 redevelopment agencies in 2011. Now, in the late days of this legislative session, a bill threatens to revive them under a new name. Assembly Bill 2, introduced by Assemblymen Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, and Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, would replace RDAs with “Community Revitalization and Investment Authorities.”

But before reintroducing such agencies with sweeping powers over public debt and private property rights, it is important to remember why RDAs were so despised. While proponents claimed that they were needed to create “economic development” and eradicate “blight,” a nebulous term that, in practice, could mean whatever RDAs wanted it to mean, RDAs were more commonly known for corruption, sweetheart deals with politically connected developers, eminent domain abuse and mounting debt.

A 2010 Los Angeles Times investigative report found “widespread instances of corruption, questionable spending and poor accountability” at redevelopment agencies and determined that redevelopment projects oftentimes “end up worsening blight and hurting the people they were supposed to help.”

A 2011 state Controller’s Office report concluded that RDAs were plagued by “widespread accounting and reporting deficiencies, questionable payroll practices, substandard audits, faulty loans and inappropriate use of affordable-housing funds.”

“The state’s costs associated with redevelopment have grown markedly over the last couple decades, yet we find no reliable evidence that this program improves overall economic development,” the Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote in 2011.

“In our view, it is likely that much of the new business or residential construction (and the associated jobs) would have occurred independently of the redevelopment agency,” the LAO noted.

Most egregious of all were the abuses of eminent domain - government’s power to seize property for public purposes. “In the 10 years prior to its dissolution, redevelopment was responsible for at least 200 projects that relied on the abuse of eminent domain for private gain,” the libertarian Institute for Justice decried in a recent white paper.

Redevelopment agencies epitomized the worst in political cronyism while violating private property rights through eminent domain abuses. Rather than resurrecting these flawed institutions, the state and local governments should foster economic growth by lowering taxes and eliminating regulations that serve as barriers to growth, and by protecting property rights, not eviscerating them.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide