Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Your Dog Wants Steak.

I just saw a story today that says the carbon footprint of a pet dog is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle (SUV).

OK... as an owner of two dogs, when I first read the article I felt a twinge of guilt for once criticizing  Al Gore's hypocritical energy consumption.

Upon closer review, I did discover the comparison in the article uses the assumption that the average medium size dog consumes almost a pound of meat each day and the owner of the SUV only drives 6200 miles per year.  OK...given those comparative assumptions, maybe a dog does have a larger carbon pawprint.  However, I highly doubt these assumptions are reasonable.

With articles like this, it's no wonder that so many people are skeptical about the claims of climate change.

For the record, I take the issue of climate change very seriously.  As someone who leans conservative, I believe it should be a conservative's nature to "conserve"  while at the same time be concerned about how the human race is polluting the Earth that G-d gave us. However, I tend to be a bit skeptical about both the claims from the extreme left and the denials from the extreme right regarding this issue.

Besides, after evaluating my own energy consumption habits using an online carbon footprint calculator, I discovered my 10.4 tonnes of CO2 is just half that of the average American (20.4).

As a result, I'm feeling less guilty about my dogs right now.

Hey Gypsy and Maggie... bark once if you'd like a rib-eye for Christmas dinner or bark twice if you'd prefer a porterhouse.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Moon Shots

Is "Moon shot" becoming an overused phrase?

Just this morning already, (and it's not even 5:00 AM yet) I've run across two news articles that use the "Moon shot" phrase.

A GM engineer uses the term in his reference to the development of the new Chevy Volt.

Most importantly, this article mentions "U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative "education reform's Moon shot," the largest pot of discretionary school funding -- $4 billion or so -- in the nation's history."

Call me a cynic, and I know $4 billion is a lot of money, but in the scope of the number of schools in the entire nation and compared to the $700+ billion spent on the Wall Street bailout, $4 billion seems like pocket change.  Plus we can't forget the estimated $600 billion spent on the invasion of Iraq.

And in reference to the "Moon shot"? Adjusted for inflation, the NASA moon project of the 1960's cost $237 billion.

So what do I think of the $4 billion being offered as the "Moon shot" for the nation's schools that are "in crisis"? Get back to me when you're serious about a real "Moon shot" type endeavor for education and have some real "Moon shot" type money to back it up, OK?

Otherwise, quit calling it a "Moon shot".  It might be a decent federal initiative however it's not a Moon shot.

But then that's just my 2 cents.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

But Will This Tax Apply to Tea?

Michigan's Lt. Governor, John Cherry, is floating an idea for a 10 cent tax on bottled water in order to fund the "Promise Scholarships" that were recently cut out of the state's budget.

The details of his plan are still developing, but so far it sounds like the tax will only apply to companies that manufacture bottled water in Michigan. The tax will apply to water sold in Michigan or shipped out of the state. Lt. Governor Cherry estimates this new tax will raise $118 million, of which $100 million will be used for the scholarships and $18 million will be used for wetlands regulations and other conservation plans.

I think this plan will be pronounced dead on arrival. 

First of all, how fair is it just to tax companies that use Michigan's water for producing bottled water?  If "It's time for the big bottlers to pay their water bill", as Cherry says, shouldn't all beverage companies that use Michigan's water have to pay the tax?  What about beer producers and soft drink bottlers?

What about tea?  Should it then also apply to bottled tea?  If I remember correctly a tax on tea eventually led to a thing called the American Revolution.

According to my research, the tax on Michigan state tax on beer is only about 2 cents per bottle.  Can anyone really justify that bottled water should be taxed at a higher rate than beer?  I'm not necessarily advocating for raising the beer tax, I'm just referring to the beer tax to illustrate a point.

Besides, the Michigan Promise Scholarship is the program that replaced the Michigan Merit Award.  The Michigan Merit award was originally funded with 75 percent of the proceeds from the state's tobacco settlement.  What became of that money?

Just for the record, I was against using the tobacco settlement money for that purpose originally.  The lawsuit was filed against the tobacco companies under the guise that their product was costing the state in terms of health care benefits.  But did Michigan then use the majority of that settlement money for health care and smoking cessation programs?  No, they used most of it for college awards.

In addition, considering all of the cuts being made to the funding of K-12 schools and other important programs in Michigan, should creating a new tax just for the Promise Scholarship be the top priority?   I realize it's called the "Promise" Scholarship, but there are many other "promises" that were implied in past state budgets that are now being cut.

Again, as I mentioned in this blog a week ago, it is time for Michigan  to consider some major tax reforms. To continue to nickle and dime its citizens with piecemeal tax ideas that don't address the root cause of the state's financial problems is legislative malpractice.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's New with the News?

The Brookings Institution recently released a study that reports only 1.4 percent of national news coverage from television, newspapers, news web sites, and radio dealt with education issues.

And if you think about it, education doesn't get much coverage from local and state news outlets either.

Think about that the next time you watch any local TV news broadcast.  Usually any local TV news about schools is related to a scandal, an outbreak of a disease like H1N1, closures due to snow, or a successful sports team.

Rarely do you hear anything good about education on a regular basis much less any reports on important issues such as the effects of "No Child Left Behind" or the Michigan high school graduation requirements.

A few weeks ago when Novi High School was reported to have the first H1N1 case in the Metro Detroit area for this school year, TV news trucks were lined up at 6:00 AM waiting and beaming live reports for the morning broadcasts.  However, you never saw the news crews in front of the school at 6:00 AM the morning after the Novi F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team won a national championship.  Plus you never see any in-depth reporting on what state budget cuts are doing to our schools or other urgent education issues that will have long lasting consequences.

Just think how much time on the local news is dedicated to weather each day.  Doesn't that make you wonder why TV news organizations can't have a full time dedicated education reporter to give updates on issues that effect the lives of our school children on a daily basis?

It's not just the local TV news either.  Check out any local newspaper web site and you'll be hard pressed to find a section of the news dedicated to education.  You'll find sports sections, business sections, entertainment sections, obituaries, etc., but you really have to search to find a subsection for schools or education.

I know as a teacher I'm biased toward education issues, but really, isn't the disproportionate coverage of other subjects in the news when compared to education a bit of a disgrace?

One final thought... I "Googled" a few phrases to see what kind of "hits" I'd get and the results are astonishing.

10,400,000 hits for "Jon and Kate plus 8"
9,390,000 hits for "Tiger Woods scandal"
7,440,000 hits for "American Idol"

5,040,000 hits for "Pimp my Ride"
4,970,000 hits for "South Park"
2,900,000 for "Dancing with the Stars"

677,000 hits for "no child left behind"
362,000 hits for "race to the top"
113,000 hits for "influential teachers"
70,500 for "blue ribbon schools"

Oh... and by the way... the report on the Novi H1N1 case was inaccurate.  The student's test results ended up being negative.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Random Thoughts on School Budgets and Taxes

Random Thought #1:
Detroit Public Schools asks each teacher for $10,000 interest free loan.

The Detroit school system is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.  If the system does end up declaring  bankruptcy, will the teachers ever get that loan money back?  Plus I'm not sure if I was a teacher in Detroit how I'd feel about loaning money to a district that has been so corrupt and mismanaged for so long including the fact that Detroit Public Schools overpaid millions for real estate after middle-man markups.

In addition, the Detroit school system has taken other major voyages on the Failboat which includes the dispute that mothballed state of the art equipment at the $122 million Detroit School of Arts and the infamous school book depository.

Random Thought #2:   
Should Michigan tax pensions to help fund schools?

I found one particular quote in that article very interesting, from the state's budget director, Bob Emerson. "My son, who works his butt off as a chef in Oakland County, he makes in the mid-$30,000s," Emerson said. "He pays 4.35% in state income tax. I get a public pension that's greater than his salary, and I'm not taxed on that. Someone explain the fairness of that."

Yes, I agree with Bob that it is not fair.  However my solution to the unfairness is to not to tax the pensions, but to consider eliminating the state income tax altogether and replacing it with a system similar to the "FairTax" that has been proposed for the entire country .  The state of Michigan is now at a crossroad that will require a major overhaul to its tax system.  

I realize that a "FairTax" system relies heavily on a variation of a sales tax.  Plus I realize the current problem with Michigan's revenue shortfall is due to a dip in sales tax receipts.  However a "FairTax" system would also collect taxes on services, unlike the current sales tax system.  Wouldn't it be an acceptable trade off for a higher sales tax on purchases, including services, if the state income tax was eliminated? Plus, wouldn't it make Michigan a very attractive state for new residents and businesses alike? 

Random Thought #3: 
Deadline Nears on Michigan School Budget Cuts.

It seems that the lawmakers in Michigan are now more worried about qualifying for "Race to the Top" funds than they are about fixing the current funding crisis.   And why is the "Deadline" so near?  Because the legislature breaks for Christmas vacation in a couple of weeks.

I don't guess we should expect them to give up any of their vacation time to fix a crisis that is a direct result of their neglect, huh?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Early school-year start back in play

The Detroit Free Press reports today that because of Michigan's desire for the federal "Race to the Top" education funds, the law mandating schools must start after Labor Day is back up for debate.

I believe we need to take the school starting date before the United Nations and propose that no school in the world should be allowed to start before Labor Day. Heck, we are always comparing the performance of America's schools to schools in other countries so how fair is it that politicians in other countries stay out of the way and let their educators determine when the first day of school is?

(I'm joking, but I'm really trying to make a point too.)

I found one quote from the article exceptionally unbelievable... "Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, the Michigan House's top-ranking Republican, said the Melton measure would undermine one of the Legislature's most pro-business achievements of the decade."

If a law mandating an after Labor Day school start date is one of the Legislature's most pro-business achievements of the decade then Heaven help us.

Personally I liked starting school after Labor Day, however it's time for the state to get out of the way and return control of schools to the local school boards.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Race to the Top?

I just returned from The Network of Michigan Educators conference held in Lansing today.  Our afternoon session included a surprise visit by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Needless to say, it's always exciting to be at an event when the governor pays a visit regardless whether or not you agree with her policies.

The purpose of Governor Granholm's visit was to enlist the conference attendees support of Michigan's application for the "Race to the Top" federal dollars that will be awarded next Spring.  However, as she explained, Michigan must first pass some education reforms through the legislature before they can even apply.

These reforms include more charter schools, expanded alternative teacher certification, and teacher reviews tied to student performance.  If passage of the reforms is successful and Michigan is able to have their application accepted to "win", it would mean an influx of nearly $400 million dollars in federal aid for education.

This money if awarded, would come with federal strings attached and couldn't just be used to restore cuts to the general education budget. 

State School Superintendent Mike Flanagan spoke after the governor and made an interesting remark.  He compared President Obama's education initiatives to President Nixon's diplomatic outreach to China.  He explained that a democratic president of the era wouldn't have had the support to restore relations to a communist country, and in this era a republican president would never be allowed to suggest the education reforms that President Obama is proposing.

To me, the forms make sense on a philosophical level, but like most federal legislation there could be a devil in the details.

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