Thousands of Minnesotans are getting a long overdue raise as the state's first minimum wage increase in nine years goes into effect. The state minimum wage for large employers, at $8.00 per hour starting today, will increase to $9.00 in 2015 and $9.50 in 2016 followed by annual cost of living increases. This is great news for workers, for businesses and for our economy. Minnesota 2020 joined members of the Raise the Wage Coalition to celebrate this important step in moving Minnesota forward.
Every week, I ask our staff, "What's making you happy this week?" Their responses always make for a fascinating list of policy, humor and thoughful finds.
The Incompetence Dogma: So Much for Obamacare Not Working (New York Times) -- NYT op ed columnist and Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman bemoans the right's detachment from reality that prevents them from recognizing the success of Obamacare.
7 of the most badass women who ever lived (who you've probably never heard of) (Global Post) — Have you heard of Khutulun, Mongolian warrior princess or airline pilot, Bessie Coleman? I hadn't either until this showed up in one of my newsfeeds.
The Suburbs Will Die: One Man’s Fight to Fix the American Dream (TIME) — Minnesotan Charles Marohn Jr. is a conservative sprawl apologist's worst nightmare, using his background as a sprawl-building civil engineer and a rock-ribbed Republican's sharp pencil to skewer the profligate, dominant suburban design of the second half of the 20th century. Leigh Gallagher, another strong sprawl critic, profiles Marohn in an excerpt from her book, "The End of the Suburbs," in Time magazine.
The Burrito Bracket. (FiveThirtyEight) — Bringing statistical, methodological and dissective rigor to finding America's best burrito. From Nate Silver's Fivethirtyeight.com.
The Green Line may not seem so new anymore, but I'm still discovering all of its opportunities for Twin Cities exploration. Here's an A-to-Z list of food and fun from Metro Transit.
Five reasons to go to Oktoberfest (and five not to) (The Local) — I went looking at Thelocal.de, the online English language newspaper from Germany, curious to see how the Germans planned to note the start of World War I next week. What caught my eye, however, was the feature about five good reasons to visit Oktoberfest in Munich this fall, and five good reasons to stay away. Fun guidance. I'll be staying home.
Review: ‘Boyhood’ a simple story, stunningly told (Delaware Online) — Last night I saw the movie "Boyhood" and I'm sure many who have already seen it will agree, it is unlike any narrative film ever done.
Minnesota’s promising capacity for solar energy has never been closer to home. University of Minnesota graduate students mapped the state's solar energy potential. Now, it's all at your fingertips with their new award-winning mobile app.
The app rates every point on the map from poor to optimal, accounting for shady trees, tall buildings, and estimated sunlight. Type in an address, select a rooftop or property area, and find out the solar potential for any site in Minnesota. Pretty cool, right? Try it here.
Installing solar panels can be difficult and time-consuming. Long wait times for assessments often obstruct the process, and complicated procedures may challenge small companies and private households.
The MN Solar Suitability App will streamline accessibility and efficiency in transforming our energy landscape. Now landlords, families, and business owners can easily discover their properties’ solar potential from their smart phones. Since most solar inspector companies in the state are based in the Twin Cities, Minnesotans in rural areas will especially benefit from the app.
As prescribed by 2013 legislation, Minnesota hopes that 1.5 percent of the state’s public utilities electricity will be produced from solar energy by 2020. In order for this to happen, dialogue about sustainable energy must permeate in homes, businesses, and local governments across the state.
According to the Clean Energy Resource Teams, Minnesota has the same solar potential as Tallahassee, FL and Houston, TX. The expansive golden-colored areas on the MN Solar Suitability map demonstrate the possibility for a solar-powered Minnesota in the near future.
We can attain this goal if community members join in promoting, streamlining, and rewarding clean energy improvements. Local officials must develop policies that encourage collaboration, protect resources, and accelerate processes for solar energy development. Legality details must be made consistent throughout all municipalities to minimize barriers.
It is time to take advantage of Minnesota’s budding potential. The new app proves an important truth—all Minnesotans, no matter who or where, can and should engage in efforts to expand solar energy.
A little more than seven years ago, Minnesota 2020 was founded with John Van Hecke as its founding Executive Director. At the time of its founding, many were rightly skeptical that a progressive think tank could thrive in Minnesota and have the kind of impact on public policy that its founders envisioned.
John Van Hecke successfully navigated the challenges of a start-up organization and built Minnesota 2020 into a respected, credible source for data-driven research. His vision, oversight, and editorial perspective have all been contributed to the foundation on which our organization stands. His weekly column has attracted a loyal following each Friday, and is often reprinted in newspapers around the state.
John at a press event in 2009
Seven years later, John has decided its time to step back from the organization he built. He’ll continue to write for us as a Senior Fellow from time to time, but today is his last day in the office, and tomorrow’s Journal will be his last weekly Friday column.
On behalf of the entire staff at Minnesota 2020, we wish him good health and good fortune, and want to express our profound gratitude for his many accomplishments here. We’ll continue to build on the foundation John built. It remains as vital a mission as ever to widely share a progressive, research-based vision for a prosperous, just, and sustainable Minnesota.
We’re beginning to organize a party to more properly celebrate John’s accomplishments. Stay tuned for more details. In the meantime, I invite you to write him a note in the comments to wish him well and let him know what his work at Minnesota 2020 has meant to you.
Posted in News & Notes
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Here we go again.
Conservatives running for governor in Minnesota have justified their calls for school vouchers and market approaches using the language of equity. Now, the leading conservative candidate for the U.S. Senate has joined the chorus denouncing Minnesota’s educational equity gaps. Calling the test score gaps between black and white students in Minneapolis “immoral,” he went on to argue for defunding district schools and doubling down on the questionable market-based strategy conservatives love.
On the surface, this looks like a simple case of everyone agreeing about a problem but disagreeing about the solution. In fact, matters are more complicated. It’s no coincidence that a conservative’s policy recommendation is to move from a public service to a market. That measure is right up there with cutting taxes as a favorite conservative tool. The problem this candidate sees isn’t actually the test score gap but rather the institution of public schools.
Similarly, progressives who favor adequate and equitable funding for public schools, more full-service community schools, and greater democratic involvement in school improvement aren’t simply reacting to test scores. We’re trying to overcome a history of systematic oppression at many levels of society, prolonged underfunding of schools, and widespread opportunity gaps between the comfortable and those working hard just to get by.
We may have reached a common rhetoric but that shouldn’t be confused with a shared understanding of the real problems. We don’t actually see the same problem, which is why our preferred policies look so different.
The unfortunate reality is that conservatives have co-opted the language of equity to argue for a market-based approach that has a terrible track record for promoting equity. Markets have not produced equity in housing, health, or food; why should we expect them to produce equity in education?
Functioning markets produce efficiency but even a basic introduction to economics should include the disclaimer that they don’t automatically produce equity. What’s more, the conditions required for an equitable education are fundamentally incompatible with a competitive market. Striving to create “better” markets in schools will not produce a fair school system.
Innovation can happen outside the marketplace. Results can happen outside the marketplace. Equity almost always happens outside the marketplace. Those looking to promote equity should be wary of conservatives using the language of civil rights to justify defunding our schools.
As anyone who reads Minnesota 2020 with any frequency knows, we worked hard to make the case last year for a minimum wage increase. Tomorrow, that law takes effect, and it's a great occasion to celebrate, for us and for all of the groups who made up the Raise the Wage coalition. After more than a year of hard work knocking on doors, making phone calls, writing reports, holding press conferences, and contacting elected officials, the Coalition will finally get to see the outcome of our hard work: more than 325,000 Minnesota workers are getting a much-needed raise.
Also this week, New York City's new paid sick leave law went into effect, representing the culmination of a similarly hard-fought campaign in New York, and meeting an urgent need for workers that Minnesota has not yet met. Too often, workers who are barely getting by are forced to make nearly impossible choices between caring for themselves and their children, and losing their jobs. New York City is taking the lead, implementing a policy solution that will stabilize employment for low-wage workers, and create a more sustainable and healthier work environment for everyone. This is a good idea for New York City, and it would be a good idea in Minnesota, too.
Finally, we started off the week with an NLRB ruling that holds that fast food companies like McDonald's are "joint employers," which means they can no longer hide behind their franchise operators when workers are being mistreated. For the fast food workers around the country who have been organizing for higher wages and benefits, this represents a major breakthrough that appropriately holds large corporations accountable for wages and working conditions in their stores.
Let's find energy in a week full of celebration-worthy labor news, and keep fighting for worker justice everywhere.
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As discussed in previous blog posts, the potential for internet service providers (ISPs) to throttle speed to content providers (such as Netflix, CNN.com, MN2020.org, etc) that don’t pay a premium is a looming problem. If you’re unconvinced by arguments based on free speech principles and the justice of keeping access to ideas open, perhaps the economics of the end of net neutrality will be convincing.
ISPs are basically the only beneficiaries of net neutrality's discontinuation. Established content providers and start-ups are both in jeopardy from this policy change.
For established organizations, including news organizations, entertainment outlets, and gaming websites, the significant revenue needed to pay ISPs the premium to be “fast-laned” could slow expansion. According to the Institute for Policy Integrity, these new expenses mean “businesses would have less incentive to expand their sites and applications.”
Many start-up companies, regardless of their market, utilize the Internet for at least one of three things: 1) advertisement and brand recognition, 2) feedback and improvement and/or 3) product distribution. During a conference in Maine, Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, points out that the death of net neutrality “would hurt small start-ups and give cable companies an unfair competitive advantage over content providers that do not own their own delivery infrastructure.”
In 2006, for example, “Twitter” was unknown. But, due to its identical speed with Facebook, users were willing to try it out. Now, in 2014, Twitter is the third most used social network in the history of the Internet.
The economic debate over net neutrality comes down to where internet revenue distribution. ISPs argue it should go into their pockets, due to the physical infrastructure they must build to continue serving their customers. On the other hand, supporters of open speech, start-ups and content providers believe that the money should go to the innovators and providers of content, regardless of their corporate affiliation.
Progressives should stand for free speech, great educational opportunities, and a strong and competitive economy. That means standing up for net neutrality.
For a few additional introductions to the complex issue of Net Neutrality, try PBS Idea Channel’s discussion or The VlogBrothers “Net Neutrality Argument in 3 Minutes,” and, most helpfully, Vi Hart’s comprehensive Net Neutrality Review.
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Johns Hopkins researchers followed families using affordable housing and found that families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line who spend either more than half or less than 20 percent of their income on housing tend to observe adverse effects on children’s cognitive ability. The researchers suggest that, within this group, those who spend more than half of their income on housing aren’t able to afford as many additional supports for their children while those who spend less than 20 percent wind up in especially subpar living conditions.
Based on these associations, the researchers suggest that 30 percent is roughly the “sweet spot” for expenditures on housing relative to other goods and services. Unfortunately, nearly nine out of ten renters with particularly low incomes spent more than that at the time of the study.
Creating effective housing policy that provides enough reasonable, affordable housing to meet demand has proven persistently difficult. Despite several different strategies over the years, the results in the U.S. have been largely disappointing.
This isn’t to say that housing policy has no impact. The enduring effects of racist housing policy from the early and mid-20th century continue to haunt our society. It’s creating and sustaining equitable housing that has been the challenge.
The connections between housing situation and cognitive ability have obvious repercussions in education, where the effects of non-school factors have long been known to exert great influence over student performance. This makes sense; when the real life concerns of your home and neighborhood outweigh the perceived importance of school, focusing more energy on home life than on school is rational.
We need to think across many sectors when looking to address equity gaps. Gaps in housing quality, health quality, and income security all affect education, and the resultant education gaps go on to play a role in perpetuating housing, health, and income gaps (although disparities continue to exist between racial groups with the same levels of education). A broad-based equity agenda includes educational equity, but must also include other areas as well. Full-service community schools are one way of partially addressing some of these outside gaps, but we must push for equity in all aspects of our society if we are to achieve it in any one area.
Minnesota has consistently ranked among the relatively low in terms of pupil-teacher ratios in recent years. However, the pattern shown on the map below reveals that even adjacent school districts can have dramatically different average student-teacher ratios. Thus, it is clear that there is no single cause for the variation in ratios across the state; race, income, and basic population density all come into play.
For help identifying individual disctricts, see this map.
Conventional knowledge holds that a lower student-teacher ratio ensures more individual attention and better academic performance. Student-teacher ratios are often a major factor for parents when comparing schools, or making the choice between public and private education for their children.
Although most parents would prefer that their child be placed in a school with a low student-teacher ratio, not all families can afford to act on this preference. Many low-income and minority parents do not have the means to travel farther or pay for private schools, leaving already disadvantaged students packed into overcrowded classrooms. This disparity is evident in the fact that suburban districts such as Central and Eastern Carver County have among the lowest ratios in the state while inner-city districts lie at the other end of the scale.
Another important factor that influences pupil-instructor ratios is whether a district is rural or urban. Only a few districts in western Minnesota exceed a student-teacher ratio of 18, simply because populations are lower. This phenomenon complicates the assumption that low student-teacher ratios indicate smaller class sizes and a higher quality of education; students at many rural schools lag behind their urban counterparts because of limited resources, despite low student-teacher ratios.
In general, Minnesota’s student-teacher ratios will continue to grow until recent trends in educational funding are reversed. Budget cuts have limited new hires and made teacher layoffs a necessity in many school districts, and schools are suffering as a result. High student-teacher ratios are a symptom of a much larger problem, and the only solution is meaningful investment in the future of Minnesota’s educational system.
I was lucky growing up. I had two parents, and we were a middle class family living in a suburban community outside of New York City. My parents had a very strong belief in the value of education even though my mother was the only one who finished high school.
I was born in New York City, but shortly before I turned six, we moved to suburbia on Long Island. My father still worked in Brooklyn and his commute was 90 minutes each way. I am not sure why we moved but it probably was because they wanted a single family home with good schools. My father, although he never finished high school, was smart, the foreman at a company with a number of people reporting to him. We were not rich, but we lived comfortably. My mother was a stay-at-home mom until it was time for me to go to college, and then she went back to work to earn money to pay my college tuition and in turn, my brother's.
My brother and I were raised with the understanding that we would go to college. I never remember even giving it a thought. Eventually, I earned a bachelor's degree in physics, and continued my education while working earning my second master's degree at the age of 48. I was the first person in either of my parent’s families to complete college. My brother earned a Ph.D. in High Energy Particle Physics.
My wife and I are married almost 46 years. Our son has a doctorate in space physics and our daughter has a M.S. in Library Science. My wife since our marriage has completed a bachelor's and master's degree. I'm sharing my life story, not to brag, but to explain that my life is very much the result of my parents' effort and sacrifice. Our middle class status enabled us to move to communities with good schools and little crime or violence. If they had not pushed education, taking steps to ensure good schooling, neither my brother I would have had the lives we have. The point is that if we had been poor, and our parents' highest priority was putting food on the table and a roof over our heads, it is doubtful we would have had the opportunities we did. My brother and I can talk about our achievements, but we have climbed life's ladder from our parents' backs. Our story is not unique.
When we talk about the education gap, we need to understand it is due to more than the quality of our schools. We need to change a society where a parent or parents must work multiple jobs to feed and house their families. We need to put to bed the fantasy that it just takes hard work to succeed, and build a society where the poor have a chance for a good education and do not have to live in fear of violence, and going hungry or not having a roof over them. We all have a stake in everyone succeeding. Schooling can't change lives if kids life barriers can't get them to school.
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