HEJE Overview: 7-26-17

Quote of the Day

We’re the only species without full employment, and never has [been] so much work [been] needed to be done. Regenerative development is development, whether it’s on an urban, transportation, housing, marine agriculture, or health level. It’s development that actually heals the future as opposed to stealing from it, which is what we’re doing today, and we’re calling that GDP [Gross Domestic Product].”

–Paul Hawken, author of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, in an interview with YaleEnvironment360

The Environment

  •  Center for Biological Diversity has filed 26 lawsuits against the administration

The most recent case, filed on 7-13-17 against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, argues that the Service has neglected to consider the environmental effect of the slaying and exporting of the pelts of up to 80,000 fur-bearing animals, including bobcats, river otters, wolves, lynx, and brown bears in recent years.

“Because these five furbearer species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a treaty governing trade in imperiled wildlife, export from the United States must be strictly regulated. However, trapping exceeds sustainable levels in some regions, and removing massive numbers of these top predators has ripple effects throughout the ecosystem. An unquantified number of foxes, beavers and other species also die in traps set for these furbearer species.”

The dramatic rise in the numbers of animals killed for their pelts is owed to a rise in demand by China, Russia, and Europe.

An unprecedented step to counter the EPA’s own recommendation to ban the agricultural pesticide (November 2016) and the new director’s decision to delay re-visiting the issue until 2022 (March 2017).

“Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate which comes from the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, is used on staple foods like strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli, and more.”

“The Protect Children, Farmers & Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act, or S. 1624, amends the U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act–which oversees food safety–and prohibits all chlorpyrifos use in food. SB 1624 also directs the Environmental Protection Agency to partner with the National Research Council to assess the neurodevelopmental effects and other low-dose impacts that exposure to organophosphate pesticides has on agricultural workers and children.” [emphasis added]

“The bill comes days after a court of appeals declined to direct the EPA to act on whether to ban the controversial pesticide.” (Note: this was the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which, however, ruled only on the timing and not the substance of the case.)

Co-sponsors: Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA) , Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA).

No Republican co-sponsors, predictably.

  • Senator Sanders urges Democrats to join him in opposing “dirty energy” bill

The bill would make it easier to expand fracking throughout the U.S. by easing the review process for permits, and would provide millions of dollars for research into new drilling techniques for offshore natural gas.

A letter from 350 environmental groups and advocates forwarded to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) stated:

“No energy legislation is better than bad energy legislation that serves to increase our dependence on dirty fossil fuel production instead of advancing energy efficiency to reduce the amount of energy we utilize and building on successful policies to expand clean energy sources such as solar and wind…. In light of the current administration’s overt efforts to make it easier for the fossil fuel industry to pollute our air and water, it is more essential than ever that Congress resist efforts to increase fossil fuel production.”

More specifically the bill, S. 1460, nicknamed the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017 , “would speed approval of exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more power to approve natural gas pipelines and spend nearly $200 million researching how to access methane, a greenhouse gas that traps 87-times more greenhouse gas heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, beneath the ocean floor.”

Not a single Democratic senator has come out against the bill to date.  

Justice

  •  Chicago moves forward: Bail bond to be dependent on ability to pay

“Thanks in large part to a sustained push by activists over the past several years, the Cook County Circuit Court’s Chief Judge has announced a new order that instructs judges making bail decisions to impose monetary bail only in amounts that people can pay. If judges follow the order, it could lead to the end of money bail in Cook County, setting a historic precedent on an issue that impacts hundreds of thousands of people around the country.” [emphasis added]

There are 443,000 people incarcerated in the U.S. because they can’t make bond; 4,000 of them are in Cook County Jail. And 90% of all those incarcerated in local jails are there because they couldn’t pay their bail, even though they had been released by a judge.

“The Chief Judge’s order takes effect September 18, 2017, for people charged with felonies (more than 90 percent of people currently in Cook County Jail) and January 1, 2018, for people charged with misdemeanors. Under the new process, everyone who is currently in Cook County Jail because they cannot pay a money bail should have their bail decisions reevaluated. They should have three new options under General Order 18.8A: 1) Release without having to pay money at all; 2) Imposition of a new money bail set in a lower amount that they can pay and be released; and 3) Be given a full detention hearing with all the due process protections and immediate appeal rights that accompany an honest, transparent decision to incarcerate someone pretrial.”

While Cook County is the largest jurisdiction in the U.S. to have taken this step, there are other, smaller jurisdictions—and entire states—which have decided to impose income-dependent bail, including Washington, D.C., Maryland, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Illinois itself still has monetary bail in its other counties, although this year saw the passage of a bail reform bill, SB 2034, which has paved the way towards further reform, and which provided the legal basis for the Cook County decision.

This week’s features: limits on solitary confinement for North Carolina prisoners who commit disciplinary infractions; a BBC piece on Angola3 member Albert Woodfox; efforts in Arizona and Florida to limit the time those on death row are in solitary confinement (in Arizona, up to now those on death row were automatically placed in isolation); release from solitary confinement of a transgender woman in NY who was abused there; Christopher Zoukis, who reports from the inside of a federal prison, has been placed in solitary confinement for the third time.

And then there’s a reference to the Illinois Youth Center (Harrisburg) and the ACLU’s complaint that staff at the center have been pushing criminal complaints against minors for trivial infractions: “ACLU lawyers believe IYC staff keep pushing the charges because they disagree with state policy to limit kids’ time in solitary confinement.” The ACLU charges came as part of a federal lawsuit begun in 2012 involving the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ).

  • De-coding the language of the Attorney General

The ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director Jefferey Robinson provides a linguistic guide to AG-speak. Briefly, here’s the glossary

Law and order = “cut the police loose” (and good-bye consent decrees with local pds)

Tough on crime = maximize sentences, protect police, forget about those killed by police

War on drugs = “Let’s go back” to mandatory minimum sentences and racial disparities

  • Will the AG remain in office?

Given that the President is mad at the AG for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and for not choosing to further investigate the Democrats’ campaign (which had already been investigated by the FBI), who knows how much longer he’ll be in office?

“Trump’s public criticisms of his attorney general have led to an unusual spectacle where the two men aren’t talking — but sending messages through their aides and waiting for a resolution to the fate of the country’s top law enforcement official, according to interviews with six White House aides and advisers, as well as Sessions allies.

  • No one should be surprised at the President’s treatment of the AG

The President has historically had issues with loyalty—to his original mentor, Ray Cohn; to his former wives (there are two); to his business collaborators in New York and New Jersey.

“Loyalty is about strength. It is about sticking with a person, a cause, an idea or a country even when it is costly, difficult, or unpopular. A strong man would have stood by his mentor when he fell ill. A strong man would have tried to honor his commitments to wives, creditors, contractors and customers.”

Education

  • How a public elementary school can transform itself

Valerie Strauss turns over The Answer Sheet to Pamela Grundy, a North Carolina professor and mother whose son attended Charlotte’s historically-poor and segregated Shamrocks Elementary School, which had been in the lowest-performing 15 schools in the state. With the help of other parents, a concerned principal, and a core of young teachers who saw value in sticking around, the school turned itself around.

The school’s accomplishments are owed to “…a 12-year effort to reintegrate the school racially and economically. This endeavor has fostered increased parent involvement, student activities that reach beyond the narrow range of material measured by standardized tests, and the kind of supportive, joyful atmosphere that makes students want to learn and teachers want to stay.”

Key points:

–Previous interventions of the usual reformist type (remove principal, send a state team, bonuses for better scores, extended school year) had not worked
–In 2005 (one year before Grundy’s son began kindergarten), 90% of Shamrocks’ students qualified for a free lunch and only 6% of its students were white
–It was the “embodiment of separate but equal”
–The school, rather than adopting touted “reform” approaches, looked to nearby Idlewild School, which had expanded and invigorated its gifted program to encourage diversity
–The experienced principal (Duane Wilson) understood the value of respecting, esteeming, and valuing his teachers; more support in the craft of teaching for new teachers resulted in a vastly-improved teacher retention rate
–As more families joined the school community, volunteer parent efforts helped Shamrocks to begin offering many of the extracurricular and cultural benefits of a middle-class elementary school

“Almost half a century ago, when Julius Chambers argued the Swann desegregation case before the Supreme Court, he contended that schools would only be equal if they all enrolled children from politically and economically powerful families, who would thus have a personal stake in making sure all schools succeeded.”

Grundy’s experiences, which were recounted in her blog, Seen from the Rock (2006-2012) are a living testament to Chambers’ wisdom: separate = unequal; united = equal for all.

How many more half-centuries will it take before the U.S. absorbs this truth?

  • Detroit, suffering from chronic teacher shortages, tries another approach

Detroit will begin offering houses for sale to Detroit teachers at 50% discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which currently puts about 3 houses on the market per day at prices starting as low as $1. The benefit is already available to Detroit public employees, retirees, and their families.

This is a twofer in terms of potential effects: it will address the stabilization of Detroit’s housing market and its many blighted neighborhoods on the one hand, and on the other, it will serve as a recruitment tool for Detroit’s schools, which “face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers. Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.”

Note: “hundreds of teacher vacancies”

Illinois Update, SB1 Edition (Education funding bill)

 Some questions and answers about the funding formula employed by Illinois’s new evidence-based funding for K-12 education in SB1

One question in particular is of interest: What about charter funding?

–SB1 alters the charter funding formula to “not below 97% or above 103%” of funding for public schools—in other words, it locks charters into budgets that reflect those of their rival public schools. 

  • If you’re still confused about Illinois’s funding for education bill, here’s help

First, a brief refresher: Illinois, before the passage of The Evidence-Based Model for Student Success Act (SB1), had the most inequitable method of funding local school districts in the nation. The bill was passed by the Illinois Senate on 31 May 2017—but it remains to be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature, and he’s said he will issue an Amendatory Veto (AV), even though he’s on the record as agreeing with 90% of the bill’s contents. (Note: the bill is 511 pages long, and we have been unable to locate a substantial Summary for study –if we could find a detailed summary, we’d read it and report on it.)

What does SB1 accomplish?

It ensures no district will lose money; all will gain, though some stand to gain far more than others. “Of Illinois’ 860 school districts, about 100 of them would receive more than $400 per pupil. Two-thirds of those are located downstate and one-third are suburban. Another 140 districts, which are already funded at over 100% of adequacy, would see just $1 per pupil.”

The bill has four key funding components:

  1. Each district gets a “Base Funding Minimum”, which won’t change
  2. Then an “Adequacy Target” is calculated for each district
  3. Third, a “Local Capacity Target” is calculated, based on the property wealth of each individual district
  4. New (state) money flows through each district, depending on how far they are from the “Adequacy Target”. Districts are divided into four tiers (I-4), from the highest-need tier 1 districts to the lowest-need tier 4 (over-adequate). Of new funding, 50% will be channeled to tier 1 schools, 49% to tier 1 and 2 schools, and 1% to tier 3 and 4 schools.

(Important detail we hadn’t seen elsewhere: The bill also creates a property tax relief pool available to districts with low property wealth but high property tax rates. This incentivizes these type[s] of districts to reduce their rates on property tax payers.”)

What about CPS (Chicago Public Schools), the target of the governor’s ire over the bill?

“Chicago is caught in the middle: on the one hand, it’s the economic hub of the state and home to nearly 400,000 of two million Illinois schoolchildren. On the other, it’s the big city that some of the rest of Illinois loves to hate. Chicago Public Schools, which is 269th on the list for SB1, would receive $193 per pupil in new funding.”

Why are some (mostly, at present, the governor) calling SB1 a “bailout” for CPS?

–OK, here’s the thing. The state pays most of the cost of teacher pensions for downstate, and almost none of the cost for CPS pensions. That’s an inequity problem that needed to be rectified.

“SB1 would provide Chicago with $215 million for its pension. That covers the “normal cost” of Chicago teacher pensions only – not any of the legacy costs for pension debt. The remaining $500 million in pension debt costs would be recognized when the formula considers how much local capacity CPS has to fund its schools, but the benefits for that adjustment are already accounted for in the $70 million figure expressed above (of $350 million invested, Chicago would get $70 million, because it has one-fifth of the state’s students, 400,000 out of 2 million). The district cannot spend the same dollar twice, so subtracting this from local capacity is entirely reasonable.”

It’s estimated that the new formula will require a decade of implementation before full equity among districts is achieved.

But first, let’s see if it passes.

 

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