The bill, if passed and signed by the Governor, would reduce payments to families on certain government assistance if their child does not meet state educational standards.
Yes, there are provisions for intervention, including tutoring and parent-teacher conferences, but that doesn’t take away from the reality. The State Legislature is considering a bill that would financially punish certain families that are already experiencing hard times, for the educational challenges of their children.
No, this is not a joke.
The bill has garnered some national attention. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry did a segment on her show this weekend about it, as did Martin Bashear on the same network. The Huffington Post sounded the alarm back in January.
The Daily Show covered the issue last night. Pretty dead on coverage.
And that’s who receives this kind of assistance, people who work, but due to the number of hours available or other market driven pressures, don’t make enough to survive without assistance.
It says to these people, who are trying to get back up on their feet, here’s a stick, I’m not afraid to use it.
And it puts undue pressure of children, who are likely already under a great deal of pressure due to their family’s circumstances. It tells these children that if someone else deems their best isn’t good enough, that their family will suffer.
It doesn’t matter if there are interventions, or if the amount were considered negligible. It is a financial penalty, and one that would require school districts to report test results to another state agency, not to mention keeping up with who does and who doesn’t receive this kind of assistance.
Tennessee has 1,091,100 people living in poverty. That’s nearly 17% of the population. 442,000 children, 24% of the child population in Tennessee lives in poverty.
Both numbers are well above the national average.
You have to ask yourself, with all this struggle and suffering, why on earth would anyone think another financial setback would help someone right their ship?
Thus far, no one has been able to answer this question. The reason, they can’t.
For all the talk of the Tennessee economic miracle that has been trumpeted by our Governor since last year, the reality for the over one million Tennesseans in poverty, and the 1.5 million people (23%) more who are one paycheck away from being completely destitute is anything but a miracle.
Their reality is one financial crisis away from being a nightmare.
Where are the opportunities to flourish, to thrive? Where is real investment in education, jobs, infrastructure? You know, the things that built the middle class and made our country great!
You won’t get it from these folks. All they see is saving you $3.65 on sales tax a year, while they give huge tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy, and corporate handouts to companies that aren’t really employing Tennesseans in the first place.
This is the same group of people who have done everything in their power to keep anything that might help regular working people from actually helping.
They turned down billions of dollars for working people to have access to healthcare, that didn’t send them in the poor house because they didn’t like the idea of having to 10¢ on the dollar…eventually.
To date, the state has collected over $127m MORE than they thought they would…and we’ve still got four months of this fiscal year ahead of us.
$127m more and they can’t see the benefit of keeping 54 hospitals that care for working people up and running at current capacity…which means not only keeping the jobs we have, but also adding thousands of more jobs.
$127m more and they think that creating a punitive system that punishes children and families is a good way to increase educational outcomes.
$127m more and they haven’t invested one red cent in the people who could actually benefit from it. They’ve arbitrarily cut spending across the board, damn the consequences, and in the process, seen a net increase in poverty statewide.
Why have they done this?
They’ve done this, not because they thought it was the best thing for the people, but because they felt it would score them political points. Because they think you aren’t paying attention.
Its sick, and disgusting. And this bill, to take money away from families that are already struggling…and working. This bill, if anything, is the most clear example of the way they think about working people, and how they operate…in the best interest of their ideology, rather than their constituents.
What an eye opener. Not because so many questions were answered, but because I got to really see the problem…which is multi-fasceted.
A Little ResolutionThe actual business of the Election Commission was fairly dry, except for one issue that may be of interest to about 77,500 voters.
A resolution, which saw no disclosure prior to the meeting, and was not publicly available for comment, was passed that consolidates precincts, and portions of precincts for the August election. A rough map of the impacted precincts is included to the right. I’ve scanned the resolution and made it available here (PDF).
The rationale for these consolidations and voting location changes was to comply with ADA standards and address closed voting locations.
These things happen, and I’m sympathetic with the Commission’s efforts to ensure people have access to the voting location. However, it was mentioned that the resolution was drafted just hours before the committee meetings began, which leaves effectively zero time for the Commissioners themselves, much less the public, to inspect the proposed changes.
With just 51 days to election day, and no prior public disclosure, as many as 77,500 voters will have a new voting location in August. Based on the number of active voters the Election Commission reports, that means about 18% of all voters in the County will have to be notified of changes (numbers based on those reported in the resolution).
That’s an awful lot of people impacted even though the total number or precincts only changed from 236 to 219.
Ed. Note: I am told that the Election Commission is required to give prior notice of resolutions that impact precincts and/or voting locations. Failing to do so may be a violation of open meetings/open records laws. I’ll be checking into this over the coming days and report my findings in a future post.
There was a discussion at the meeting about public access to information and the business of the Commission. Below are some of the issues discussed. Nothing, by the way was resolved.
1. The public disclosure of what is to be discussed at the actual meeting has been lackluster for some time. Before the January 27, 2011 meeting, bullet points of discussion were included in the agenda. After that time, those discussion points became fewer and fewer. This is further hampered by the fact that the committees meet earlier in the day, on the same day as the Commission, and that the Commission only meets once a month. So items for discussion that come up in committee either have to be dealt with on that evening’s agenda, or put off for a month. I want to thank Commissioner Lester for bringing this issue up, and hope that the Commission endeavors to increase advance disclosure of the topics for discussion in their July meeting.
2. The one month lag between the meeting and the publishing of minutes, as I have noted before, is somewhat understandable. Minutes must be approved before they can be published…I get that. But in observing the meeting, I saw that it was being recorded…albiet on a less than ideal device. The presence of that recording makes me wonder why they haven’t been publishing the audio…even in its raw form, until the minutes are approved. When I asked members of the commission (from both sides of the aisle), I was told that they didn’t know enough about it to know what was possible. The solution is not just shrugging your shoulders…its asking if its possible, and if not…why. It would resolve a truism of life: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and you might not like the story they tell.
3. There’s a lot of tension in the room. Some of the questions asked got answered with a terseness that I felt was unnecessarily defensive, dismissive, and disrespectful. I observed this on several occasions. The message in the answers and the delivery of those answers is effectively that the questions themselves have no merit. This is compounded by what seemed to be softness in the lingo (names of reports, functions, and job descriptions) that can create unnecessary confusion. I’ve experienced this myself when asking for specific reports from the Commission, often with mixed results.
No Comfort At All
After the meeting, I and a few other interested individuals at the meeting spoke with several of the Commissioners about the problems relating to gaining information about the upcoming election in August…particularly as it relates to the Unified School Board.
Some of this discussion was broached in the meeting…particularly the precinct locator function that Administrator Holden reports is the single most popular feature of the website.
Its wrong, and there’s no ETA for it being right.
So, considering the changes made to nearly every district up for a vote this August, and the addition of a whole new class of districts (the Unified School Board), the Election Commission has no way of informing voters about what districts they will be voting in this August.
Even the most recent Ward and Precinct Stat File is incorrect. It not only doesn’t list the new Congressional, State House and Senate seats…it doesn’t even have a field for Unified School Board.
I was told there is no way to find this information out, even though the new districts we will be voting on in 51 days have been known since January 23.
The rationale for the delay is still the lack of a County Commission district plan. Considering the County Commission isn’t up for election for another two years, this excuse is bunk.
That there is no way to gain this information is simply negligent. While I understand that the workers at the Election Commission are working as hard as they can, it seems evident that they have been directed to wait for the elusive decision by the County Commission.
That’s just a poor administrative decision that will negatively impact the outcome of the August election.
I guess what surprised me most was that there was no outrage or even surprise at this revelation, which, more than anything else describes the problem.
The paternalistic nature of the entire meeting, the tension, the willingness to shrug and move on, all point to a culture of acquiescence from the Commissioners themselves. I understand that serving on the Commission is a huge time commitment, and that everyone has busy lives, but the issue at hand here is the security (both real and perceived) of the voting franchise.
Some of the muted, but present defensiveness from staff members and Commissioners leads one to believe there is more interest in protecting the honor of the Election Commission itself rather than performing the necessary due diligence to inform the public, and thereby, protect both the voting franchise and the Commission. This is the kind of perspective that results from a bunker mentality that is all too pervasive in Boards and Commissions throughout Shelby County.
Transparency isn’t difficult. It just has to be intentional. It doesn’t happen by accident or happenstance. It has to be in the forefront of the minds of those who are making the and enacting decisions. While there were assurances that the upcoming precinct consolidations (which will likely be taken up later this year) will be transparent, based on what I observed, this would constitute a massive change in philosophy that is little more than an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.
I’ve heard, and been told directly in other public meetings that “the process will be transparent” before. In almost every instance these assurances have been fool’s gold. You’ll excuse me if I’m more than a little skeptical about his one.
I said earlier, and it bears repeating: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will and you may not like the story they tell.
I’m pretty sure that none of the Commissioners (on either side of the aisle) will like what I’ve said. They probably think I’m being too hard on them or inflexible.
This isn’t personal.
If the Commissioners/Commission want less grief, they have the power to reduce it by looking for solutions and working to be more open. Back in 2009 I wrote a very positive post about changes and greater openness at the Commission. I would prefer to be able to do so again rather than point out the failings of the body.
Commissioners, the power is in your hands, but you have to make it a priority rather than an afterthought. You don’t have to have the know how yourselves…that’s what staff is for. You do have to have the will to start and continue the discussion.
Further, I and other interested individuals are always available for suggestions. But at the end of the day, its on the Commissioners and administrative staff to enact the changes.
No one else can do it but you. I hope you will resolve to restore the trust of the people rather than hunker down and ultimately, make the problem worse.
I’ve had some issues with the leadership in the Congress since they took control last January. Eventually, they figured out a way to work their respective legislative bodies in a way that is mostly in tune with the sentiment of Democrats, but it has, at times been a struggle, as Senator Harry Reid points out in this article at HuffPo. My favorite quote from the article:
“People think she [Pelosi] has a large margin, she doesn’t,” he said. “You add in the so-called Blue Dogs [conservative Democrats], she has trouble passing anything, because they are a pain in the wrong part of your body.”
That they are sir…that they are.
I just want to say to all those people who have busted my chops for being hard on Tanner, Cooper, and some of the other “Bush Dogs”, here’s your evidence. Certainly, we want Democrats whenever possible, but we also want the best Democrats we can get. To that end, give this a looksee, and if you can, drop Ed Fallon some coin to help build a more progressive Democratic Congress.
While you’re at it, give Steve Cohen some love too. He’s been great, both in the Congress and for Memphis the past 18 months. A truly progressive voice. If any Freshman Democrat deserves re-election, it’s him.
Update: Braisted beat me to the punch on this (by 11 min.) and has some commentary from John Spragens, spokesman for Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper.
The filing deadline in Tennessee has come and gone, and now we know who’s running, and in some cases, who’s not. The Tennessee Bush Dogs are on their way to re-election, some with less opposition than others. Lincoln Davis has drawn a Democratic Primary opponent. I’ll be keeping an eye on that race. Jim Cooper and Bart Gordon face some opposition in the general, but nothing insurmountable. John Tanner is the luckiest, drawing no opponent period.
Way to send a message TN-08. I guess that’s one safe “Democratic” seat in Tennessee.
Tanner’s lack of an opponent is annoying, but not surprising. He’s relatively popular in the 8th. He’s never had much opposition EVER. I guess that means he can use his reported $1.2m on getting other Democrats elected. I hope that’s what he does with it.
Xmas is a time for traveling. After traveling 900 miles in a mere 60 hours to Illinois and back, I find myself longing for some non-car oriented time. Thankfully, I don’t have to work, unlike the lovely and talented s.mac, however, I find myself reflecting on the gifts that Santa couldn’t fit into his mighty sleigh. So, without getting too far ahead of myself on the “wishes for the New Year” tip, here is my belated “wish list” of gifts for those who help keep the train derailed.
Congress – With all the toys, gifts, and other consumerist delights of this holiday season loading down his sleigh, delivering 535 spines to our representatives in Congress was probably too tall an order for Santa. Of course, merely delivering spines does not guarantee that they will be used any more than the treadmill collecting dust in the corner. I’m sure there are plenty of Congresscritters that are perfectly content with their current state of amorphousness. So, I’m wishing for an Xmas miracle that would be the envy of bio-tech firms worldwide. For 2008 I’m hoping our Congresscritters will grow a spine and come together to do what they were elected to do, clean up the government and get us out of Iraq. I’m not betting the farm or anything, but a lowly blogger can hope, no?
Self-Righteous Christians – This has been a bad year for you guys. First, your Congress got kicked out in a landslide, then a litany of your leaders got caught with their…um, privates in the, um, well, you know. Can’t you see you bring this on yourselves? My wish for you is that you will read the parts of the bible that you can’t recite from memory. You know, the parts of the bible that talk about humility, unconditional love, and charity. Who smote/begat whom, Leviticus and the ever-popular Deuteronomy are fun reads, but last time I checked, those recount what happened BEFORE CHRIST. As believers in the “post Christ era” perhaps you would be better studying the gospels and trying to emulate Him rather than parrot those who would use you as a blunt instrument to hurl the world back into the dark ages. Just sayin’.
The Punditocracy – Hurtling towards irrelevance, this group of “opinion makers” has taken the once noble art of political reportage and turned it into a collection of elite blowhards who focus on stories better fit for the pages of the National Enquirer than an honest discussion of the issues that confront our nation and our world. $400 haircuts, Obama-Osama who ha, Joe Klein’s admission of ignorance and muscle flexing malevolence toward the blogosphere has marked your steady decline. Whaddya say you take your ego and self-interest out of the equation and start REPORTING on something of substance. Your jobs may depend on it.
Thanks for reading. I hope all of you had a great Festivus – Solstice – Christmas – Hannukah – Ramadan – Kwanzaa…etc.