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Boards of Education Rewriting History and Science

Boards of Education Rewriting History and Science

Thursday, February 25, 2010

PERMALINK: http://www.progressivestates.org/node/24626

CONFERENCE CALL

Please join Progressive States Network this Friday, February 26th at 1 pm EST for a national conference call and online webinar to discuss the debate over funding state retirement systems and facts policymakers should know in making related decisions.  Speakers on the call will include:

  • Gerri Madrid-Davis, Executive Director, National Public Pension Coalition
  • Kelly Kenneally, Communication Advisor, National Institute on Retirement Security
  • Nathan Newman, Executive Director, Progressive States Network

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Promoting-Justice

By: ALTAF RAHAMATULLA

Boards of Education Rewriting History and Science

In January, members of the predominantly conservative Texas Board of Education discussed revising the state's social studies curriculum to include highly partisan perspectives on civil rights, the role of government, and American history in general.  Some of the more divisive suggestions range from banning mention of activist and union organizer Cesar Chavez to citing Ronald Reagan’s "leadership in restoring national confidence' following Jimmy Carter’s presidency."  The Board also discussed instructing students to "describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”  There were further proposals to reference the United States as a Christian nation with a divine mission in the world.

This is not a new trend.  Just last year, the same Board urged schools to discuss the "weaknesses" of the scientific theory of evolution.  Unfortunately, Texas' ultimate decision on its curriculum will likely reverberate throughout the country.  The state's education fund is the largest in the nation, with $22 billion in resources.  A sizable share goes to purchasing and distributing 48 million textbooks a year.  Since Texas is one of the nation's largest consumers of textbooks, the educational standards the state Board of Education adopts not only impact Texas students, but can strongly influence the content of textbooks purchased in other states as well.

Attempts to input conservative ideology in the classroom: Just as troubling, there have been several attempts to insert socially conservative views in K-12 education across the country. 

  • Back in 1999, the Oklahoma Textbook Committee required that publishers who did business in the state insert a disclaimer in biology textbooks stating that evolution is “a controversial theory which some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants and humans." 
  • A similar effort was undertaken in Georgia in 2004, but public backlash forced the state's superintendent to restore references to evolution to middle and high school textbooks.  
  • Following Dover, Pennsylvania school district's 2004 decision to require classroom discussion of intelligent design, opponents challenged the decision in court.  In 2005, a federal court  in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District ruled the district could not teach intelligent design, as the theory "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents" and does not respect the constitutional separation of church and state. 

Progressive Mobilization Against Censorship of Science:  Fortunately, progressives have combated conservative censorship of issues like evolution for years.  The Kansas Citizens for Science (KCFS) have consistently challenged extreme right views expressed on the state's Board of Education.  The organization played a crucial role in challenging the Board's 1999 decision to remove aspects of the theory of evolution.  The Board lost its conservative majority following the controversial vote, to only regain it a few years later and push to identify evolution as a flawed theory and require discussions of intelligent design.  In 2006, conservatives again lost their majority, partly due to the work of advocacy groups like KSFS, which led to the adoption of new science-based education standards to replace the anti-evolution ideology.

There are several other gorups across the country working to promote and protect science education.  Citizens for Science, a network of state-based groups, formed to push back against right-wing censorship of science textbooks.

Challenging the Texas Textbook Censors:  Placing ideology over academics is an extremely troubling prospect that endangers the public education system.  It is quite telling that last May, Texas Sen. Letica Van de Putte criticized the board as the “laughingstock of the nation” under the leadership of Don McLeroy, a dentist and self-identified Christian fundamentalist.  That same month, the Texas Senate blocked the reconfirmation of McLeroy as head of the Board of Education due to concerns about his religious views.  McLeroy, who does not support the separation between church and state and describes himself as a "'young earth' creationist who believes dinosaurs once co-existed with people," remains an outspoken advocate along with other conservative ideologues who hold seven out of fifteen seats on the Board.

Texas' March 2 primary includes eight seats on the Education Board.  Accordingly, voters will have the opportunity to help shape the debate and decide whether they want rightwing zealots rewriting history.

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Growing-Economy

By: FABIOLA CARRION

The FCC Extends E-Rate Broadband Access Program to the General Public

States and local governments may now use federal E-rate funds to provide the general public access to schools’ and public libraries’ Internet facilities, according to a recent Federal Communications Commission order.  Schools receiving funding under the E-rate program may extend their services to the general public during non-operating hours, that is, after school, weekends, holidays, and summer vacation.

E-rate’s Role in Digital Inclusion:  E-rate is part of the federal Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes communication services to poor and rural areas.  Under the original program, school and libraries received federal funding for Internet access as long as it is used for “educational purposes” only.  This meant that only students could gain access to E-rate based broadband during school hours.  Under a waiver first issued to rural communities in Alaska, the FCC is now allowing the general public to use E-rate computers and access the Internet during hours that students are not in school. 

Why this Waiver is So Important:  The purpose of this extension is to facilitate access for community members that want to conduct job searches or submit job applications; this comes at a time when the nation faces a 9.7% unemployment rate.  A report by the One Economy Corporation, cited by the FCC, indicates that 80% of all Fortune 500 companies only accept job applications online.  Thanks to more online access, un-served and under-served community members will also be able to participate in digital literacy programs and obtain online access to governmental services and resources.  As acknowledged by the FCC’s order, increasing community access to the Internet is critical in communities where residential adoption and use of broadband Internet access has historically lagged, especially in rural, minority, and tribal communities. 

For those who are worried about costs, this new order does not allow schools to request more funding than what they were already getting from their in-school needs.  FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell warned, “the change in our rules... should not provide a backdoor way for schools to request more funds than necessary to support their student populations”¦”  Another important aspect is that schools have the freedom to determine their own polices about the specific use of their Internet facilities, including the hours of use for the general public.

A Small Step in the Grand Scheme:  This initiative is a step in the right direction, but is not the ultimate solution to close the digital divide.  Free Press, for example, advocates for an “e-rate@home” program where community institutions extend their wifi connections to local neighborhoods and suggests exploring programs that loan laptops to school children. 

And that is precisely what two state legislators from Kentucky have proposed.  They introduced a resolution with the purpose of providing laptops to middle school students.  Other states have included legislative pieces in order to maximize participation in the E-rate program; the list includes New JerseyCalifornia, Rhode Island, and Virginia.  Furthermore, state legislators are proposing legislation to improve the connectivity in E-rate funded schools.  In Minnesota, legislation has been introduced to construct fiber optic infrastructure to public schools to complement the funds already received by the E-Rate program.  So while the FCC order is a step forward, states are already moving beyond it towards more comprehensive digital inclusion programs.

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Valuing-Families

By: ENZO PASTORE

How States Fare Under Obama’s Health Reform Blueprint

This week, President Obama released his blueprint for comprehensive health care legislation.  The plan 's release means Obama can outline the specifics of what he wants to see in a final bill for the first time.  Many political observers see the decision to outline specifics as not only a jump start to move health care reform across the finish line but also as a stamp of approval for the Senate to use a majority vote through the reconciliation process, a strategy which appears to be gaining momentum.

Largely following provisions in the Senate bill passed in December, the President's plan will:

  • Establish state exchanges rather than creating one national insurance exchange;
  • Extend coverage to 31 million people who are currently uninsured, at a cost over 10 years of $950 billion — more than the $872 billion the Senate would have spent, but less than the $1.05 trillion for the version passed by the House;
  • Exclude a public option.

The President’s proposal does decrease the states’ share of Medicaid costs:

  • The Senate bill provides federal support for state Medicaid programs but does so in a way that would vary from one state to the next. The President’s proposal replaces this with uniform 100% federal support for all States for newly eligible individuals from 2014 through 2017. It then moves the federal support to 95% for 2018 and 2019, and to 90% for 2020 and subsequent years. This approach resembles that of the House bill, which provides full support for all States for the first two years, and then 91% federal support thereafter.
  • States that have already made investments in helping the uninsured by expanding Medicaid to adults with income below 100% of the poverty level will, beginning in 2014, also receive an increased matching rate on certain health care services by 8 percentage points.
  • Obama’s plan also provides additional assistance to the Territories, raising the Medicaid funding cap by 35% rather than the Senate bill’s 30%.

New Federal Entity to Oversee Insurer Rate Increases:  No doubt influenced by the shocking premium increases in California and in other states, the President’s plan would establish a new process for reviewing increases in health plan premiums. If a rate increase is deemed unreasonable or unjustified, the insurer would be required to lower premiums, provide rebates or take other actions to make premiums affordable. A new Health Insurance Rate Authority would provide federal oversight, help states determine how rate review will be enforced, and monitor insurance market behavior.  Like the Senate bill, the White House proposal would provide grants to states to support efforts to review and approve premium increases.

While at least 25 states have some “form of a prior approval process for premium increases,” state governments often lack the resources or political will to keep insurers in check, so the new federal authority is both politically and substantively significant in helping protect consumers from unreasonable rate increases. The provision will kick in immediately and will also prohibit insurers from dramatically increasing rates during the period between the passage of comprehensive reform and implementation.

Today, we will all be witness to the bipartisan summit on health reform.  But regardless of the outcome, state legislators can keep the pressure on for reform by moving state proposals that highlight health insurer abuses and exorbitant profits, expand access and affordability, and reduce costs to both states and consumers.

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FEATURES

Eye on the Right

A recent blog post from the Immigration Policy Center decries a recent report from the anti-immigrant think tank Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which calls on the Republican Party to essentially give up courting Latino immigrant voters for the time being and remain anti-immigrant.  Why?  According to CIS, recent Latino immigrants are unlikely to ever vote Republican because they are low-wage workers and lack high education levels - apparently prerequisites for voting Republican. 

Instead, CIS -- which has been tied to various nativist organizations that have been designated hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center -- urges anti-immigrant activists and conservatives in general to focus on reaching other Latinos and Asians who have been in the US longer.  According to CIS: “hope for Republican success with immigrant voters lies mainly with the upward mobility and prosperity of Latinos, Asians, and others, something that will occur only with great difficulty given current levels of low-skill, wage-corrosive immigration.”

Message Center

58 percent of Americans say they would be disappointed or angry if Congress stopped working on health reform now, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll released today.  76 percent believe it is extremely or very important to reform the way health insurance works with 68 percent saying it is extremely or very important to provide financial help for low/middle income Americans.

Research Roundup

Tax Rate for Richest 400 Taxpayers Plummeted in Recent Decades, Even as their Pre-Tax Incomes Skyrocketed - The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) provides insights on the nation's extreme income polarization in this report.  CBPP finds that even as the tax rate for the richest 400 wealthiest tax filers has been cut almost in half in the past 20 years, these individuals' pre-tax incomes have dramatically increased by almost five times their initial levels. 

Recession and Economic Recovery:

  • Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) on Employment and Economic Output From October 2009 Through December 2009 - The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessed ARRA's impact on both the public and private sector and reports: "in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2009, ARRA added between 1.0 million and 2.1 million to the number of workers employed in the United States, and it increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by between 1.4 million and 3.0 million."
  • Leaving in droves - This snapshot by the Economic Policy Institute finds dual trends for younger and older workers:  labor force participation rate for workers age 16-24 has decreased from 59.1% to 54.7% in the 25 months since the recession started, representing a loss of 1.3 million young workers, yet the percentage of workers age 55 and older in the workforce increased, representing an increase of 2.3 million workers, as many older workers delay retirement or reenter the labor force.
  • TANF Emergency Fund Extension Meets CBO Criteria for an Effective Policy to Increase Employment - The TANF Emergency Fund — which provides state funds to create subsidized jobs — is a cost effective way to create jobs and ease financial hardship in the recession, argues the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in this report.

Promoting Public Transit Systems:

  • The Urgency of Resurrecting Congestion Pricing in New York - The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy analyzes the structural roots of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)'s persistent budget woes and finds that congestion pricing would be the most appropriate and effective policy response.
  • Raise My Taxes, Please!  Financing High Quality Public Transit Service Saves Me Money Overall - Public transit saves households far more money than is usually calculated, according to this analysis by the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute.  Comparing costs between a number of U.S. cities, the study finds that providing high quality public transit service requires $775 annually in public transit expenses, but eliminates $2,350 in vehicle, parking and roadway savings, or $1,575 in overall net savings, in addition to congestion reductions, reduced traffic accidents, pollution emission reductions, improved mobility for non-drivers, and improved public fitness and health.

Improving Paths to Higher Education:

  • Towards More Inclusive College Savings Plans - The Center for Social Development identifies and comprehensively assesses several state policies that promote access to higher education, such as facilitating enrollment and contributions, removing savings disincentives, increasing saving incentives, and strengthening tax benefits.
  • Graduated Success: Sustainable Economic Opportunity Through One- and Two-Year Credentials - A new report from Demos explores how one- and two-year credential programs can lead to higher wages and economic opportunity and can be viable alternatives to four-year degree programs.  However, supporting degree completion and addressing barriers facing low-income students, such as education costs and lack of adequate academic preparation in high school, must also be a focus for success.  

Racing the Statehouse: Advancing Equitable Policies in 2010 - The Applied Research Center released this study to highlight innovative solutions to institutional racism.  A series of state-level case studies from eight states, the report finds many viable policy solutions can help promote racial equity when state lawmakers explicitly consider the racial impacts of their decisions. 

A Path to Homeownership: Building a More Sustainable Strategy for Expanding Homeownership -  This Center for American Progress report highlights shared equity home ownership programs, pioneered by hundreds of local and state agencies and community groups, which structure public assistance as an investment rather than a grant to create a more sustainable path to affordable housing.   

An International Look at High-Speed Broadband - In this report, The Brookings Institute performs a comparative analysis of what other countries are doing to promote broadband by analyzing four policy questions: 1) What broadband speeds are countries aiming for their national plans? 2) How are various nations paying for necessary broadband investments? 3) What new applications become available at various broadband speeds? and (4) What value do other nations see broadband can contribute to the economy, social connections, medicine, public security, environmental preservation, energy efficiency, civic engagement, and public sector service delivery? The study recommends that the United States boost individual adoption to 90 percent by 2020 and raise broadband speeds to 100 Mbps.

The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children - One in five children in America go without dental care each year and two thirds of states do not have effective policies in place to ensure proper dental health and access to care, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States.  Only six states merited “A” grades under the report's evaluation system: Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Carolina.


Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Resources

Boards of Education Rewriting History and Science

Kansas Citizens for Science
Citizens for Science
National Center for Science Education
Anti-Defamation League - Religious Doctrine in the Science Classroom; Putting Education & Religious Freedom at Risk
National Science Teachers Association - The Teaching of Evolution
The New York Times - How Christian Were the Founders?
The San Antonio Express-News - Texas Voters to Referee School "Culture War"

The FCC Extends E-Rate Broadband Access Program to the General Public

Federal Communications Commission - Order and Notice on Proposed Rule Making - CC Docket No. 02-6
Benton Foundation - FCC Allows Community Use of E-Rate Supported Broadband
One Economy Corporation - Comments of One Economy Corporation: National Digital Literacy Initiative
Free Press - Free Press Welcomes E-Rate Improvement: Group Says Congress and FCC Still Must Do More to Close the Digital Divide
Broadcasting & Cable - FCC Votes to Allow Schools Receiving Broadband Funding to Open Service to Public

How States FareUnder Obama’s Health Reform Blueprint

White House.gov - President Obama's Health Care Reform Proposal
Kaiser Family Foundation - Side-by-Side Comparison of Major Health Care Reform Proposals
Families USA - A Closer Look at Republican Health Care Proposals
Families USA - The Facts About Prior Approval of Health Insurance Premium Rates
Commonwealth Fund - States Wait for Word on Federal Medicaid Help
Herndon Alliance - Consensus Message Document on Fixing Health Care
Center for American Progress Action Fund - Wellpoint Raising Rates by Double Digits in at Least 11 States
Health Care for American Now - Health Reform Provides Critical Long-Term Help to States

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