Growing up in the St. Paul public school system, I only remember “zero tolerance” as the standard operating procedure for discipline. Obviously, this went for major offenses, such as weapons or drugs on school grounds, but it also applied in many situations that were not so immediately applicable, leading to suspension for acts like fighting or even disrespecting teachers. Police officers were a common sight in school (I even knew one by name), and officers on horseback were present for about a week following a rather large fight that ended in 16 arrests. My experience seems to echo what is happening across the nation, as zero tolerance has led to huge, and racially imbalanced, suspension rates, a “school to prison pipeline” that leaves students stranded on the fringes of society and has no measurable effect on school violence.
The problems with a zero tolerance mentality go deeper than statistics like these, impacting the entire life of the school. Particularly in urban schools, where police officers are already largely seen unfavorably, creating an environment that focuses on punishment and law enforcement places a real strain on the relationship between students and schools. If schools are seen as draconian institutions of punishment, how can students be expected to engage in their education?
This strained relationship has major implications as Minnesota seeks to implement mental health education into the health curriculum. The language in the recent education omnibus bill is vague, but it is apparent that Minnesota is trying to get on the mental healthcare bandwagon that even President Obama has been strongly touting. Mental health is a huge issue for today’s youth, and while the new focus on it is admirable, mental health education goes beyond just giving students information.
To make this topic resonate, and to truly help students who may be struggling, schools must create a safe environment to explore and express issues of mental health. If the students cannot trust the schools to do more than enact one-size-fits-all punishments for acting out, there is no way they can trust the schools to receive their concerns openly, as the stigma of mental health issues continues to plague the discussion. Mental health care is a proactive practice, and the reactive environment of schools must be changed for this education to truly meet new standards. Restorative justice can help, and there are plans and support for this kind of model. As we try to find a way to make mental health education a reality, the first step seems to be creating an environment where that education can truly take place.
Most college students are done with classes for the summer, but this summer break is going to be busy for their student loans. Unless Congress and the President reach an agreement to avoid it, the interest rate for federal student loans will double to 6.8% on July 1. There are three main plans in Washington to avoid that and, although each proposal would keep rates below 6.8%, each will impact students differently.
As was first touched on at Hindsight last week, Minnesota’s own Rep. John Kline, Chair of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, is the main force behind the conservatives' plan, which would set the interest rate 2.5% higher than the current 10-year Treasury Bond rate. As of Monday, the bond is trading at 2.13%, meaning the student loan rate would be 4.63%.
At 4.63%, the student loan interest rate would be higher than the current 3.4%, but lower than the 6.8% it could be. The Kline proposal caps the rate at a maximum of 8.5%. Keep in mind that if Treasury rates increase, which they are likely to since they are at historic lows, student loan interest rates will also rise.
The White House plan is very similar. It also fluctuates with Treasury Bonds, but at a lower premium tacked on to it. For subsidized loans the premium is 0.93%, while it is 2.93% for unsubsidized loans. Most students receive both types of loans, with the first $5,500 being subsidized.
Firebrand progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a fittingly bold proposal. Under her plan, the rate will equal what the Federal Reserve charges banks to borrow overnight. Today, that is about 0.75%.
The proposals might not seem too different at first glance, but there is quite a bit of money on the line for Minnesota’s students. The total cost of the average student loan burden in Minnesota, $29,800 paid back over 10 years, could cost as little as $30,642 or as much as $41,152 depending on which proposal is adopted.
The Warren Plan would lead to the most affordable college education, but her plan appears to be dead on arrival. Short of that, both Kline and Obama’s plans would be cheaper than if nothing is done. Given the jabs already being thrown by Senator McConnell over the relatively similar plans, doing nothing might be realistic. If that happens, students will be stuck paying $11,352 in interest on the loan – over $3,800 more than under the Kline plan at current T-Bond levels.
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A recent Hindsight post challenged the claim that the increase in education spending approved during the recently concluded legislative session was the “largest ever.” That post concluded that, adjusted for inflation, the projected increase in state E-12 education spending from FY 2012-13 to FY 2014-15 recently approved by state policymakers was considerably smaller than the increase from FY 2000-01 to FY 2002-03.
A respondent raised a valid question regarding the analysis presented in that post. Would the increase in education spending approved during the 2013 session be the “largest ever” if we factored in the increase in higher education spending in addition to the E-12 spending increase? The analysis in the original post did not include higher education spending in its biennium to biennium growth comparison.*
In nominal dollars, combined E-12 and higher education spending increased by $1.32 billion from FY 2000-01 to FY 2002-03. Meanwhile, combined nominal spending is projected to increase by $1.48 billion from FY 2012-13 to FY 2014-15. Thus, by nominal dollar standards, the increase in combined E-12 and higher education spending from FY 2012-13 to FY 2014-15 was the largest.
However, in order to get an apples-to-apples comparison of spending growth over time, it is necessary to adjust for inflation. In constant FY 2012-2013 dollars, combined E-12 and higher education spending increased by $0.92 billion from FY 2000-01 to FY 2002-03—an increase of 5.1 percent. From FY 2012-13 to FY 2014-15, the combined spending increase is projected to be $0.80 billion—an increase of 4.7 percent.
Properly adjusted for inflation, the combined E-12 and higher education spending growth from FY 2012-13 to FY 2014-15 is less than the increase from FY 2000-01 to FY 2002-03. Furthermore, as noted in the previous post on this subject, the state takeover of general education did not occur until FY 2003—half way through the FY 2002-03 biennium. If the state takeover had been in place for both years of the FY 2002-03 biennium, the increase in state education spending from FY 2000-01 to FY 2002-03 would have been significantly greater than the amounts listed above and the combined education spending increase from FY 2000-01 to FY 2002-03 would have surpassed the FY 2012-13 to FY 2014-15 increase in both nominal and real dollars.
In short, the increase in state spending on education approved during the 2013 legislative session for the FY 2014-15 biennium—including both E-12 and higher education—was significant and will help to reverse a decade long decline in education funding which resulted in larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, and soaring tuition and school property taxes. However, it was not the “largest ever” increase in real education funding. Furthermore, real state funding levels for both E-12 and higher education will remain well below what they were a decade ago.
*The comparison of E-12 spending amounts used here will net out the effects of one-time E-12 funding shifts; Minnesota Management & Budget recommends this approach in order to get more meaningful biennium to biennium spending comparisons.
Recently we heard of the heroic efforts in St. Paul to save four young boys caught in a landslide. Although two of these boys died, we saw a community working hard and public safety crews risking their lives in an all out rescue effort. Today we live in a world where people can be attacked or killed because of their religion, the color of their skin, or names that sound strange. We can rejoice that we live in a community where saving young children takes priority over religion, race or anything else that separates us as a people.
As we remember the rescue efforts for these boys, we should wonder why the same effort is not made to educate our minority children. Why is Minnesota near the bottom in terms of the education gap between our white youth and minorities? The Public News Service-MN reported in January 2011 “Minnesota ranks near the top nationally for overall academic achievement, but also has one of America's widest gaps in terms of racial achievement.” Our community is more than willing to jump in and save children in a deadly situation regardless of their socioeconomic, ethnic or racial background, yet as a community many of us are slow to react or unwilling to ensure minority and low income students receive a good education.
I know the education gap is a complicated issue with no easy solutions, but Minnesota ranks near the bottom in achievement gap. With a little more effort, I know we could do better than that. We need to remember that providing the education and skills to be successful in the future is just as important as providing them public safety resources in times of danger.
We should also be concerned for our future. Today's children will be paying our social security. They will be protecting us and our country by serving in the military, on fire departments, and on police forces. They will be the medical professionals keeping us healthy. Most important they will be the work force, business people, and political officials keeping our country and state a word and national leader.
Our youth are our future, and they need to be well educated independent of color, race, religion, or current economic status. We can and need to do better eliminating the achievement gap. We could not save Mohamed and Haysem, but we can work to see that all children in this state receive a good education and have a bright future.
Children across the state are quickly winding down the regular school year and moving toward three months of summer. Whether that means summer jobs, camps or more school, these three months will see students spending far more time at home, away from the classroom and formal education.
During this time, the role that parents or guardians play in education is much clearer, as it falls to them to ensure the lessons of the past school year are not lost. Unfortunately, the summer “brain drain” continues to plague schools, showing just how much work communities, educators and parents have left. The benefits of involving parents in a child's education are largely unquestioned, but how to tap that potential remains unanswered.
There are resources within school districts available for students and parents to get involved in summer programs. Most of this information is on a school district's website. However, in the age of the digital divide, districts still must be proactive in reaching out to parents the old fashioned way. Calls, letters and fliers home are now being complemented with a more collaborative effort. National African American Parent Involvement Day, a school day dedicated to bringing parents of all races into their children’s schools, has been a tradition in the Twin Cities for years, and the long lists of activities at every school shows just how serious educators are in attempting to bring schools together with families.
In St. Paul, a movement is starting to bring teachers to parents in a more personal way, as teachers are conducting home visits. This not only gives schools a way to connect with parents they normally wouldn’t see, but does so in a cooperative way that actually engages with parents, rather than just calling for parents to engage with the school. As some districts contemplate cutting class time from Minnesota’s already low requirements, it seems more time can be used for making education a true dialouge between schools and parents, with schools engaging at the same level they want to see in parents.
Tomorrow, we'll be testing out a new feature for Tuesday Talk. Our topic will be the K-12 education omnibus bill, and I'll be in the thick of it from 8am-9:30am, answering questions and responding to comments in as close to real time as I can manage.
For those of you who want to do some pre-reading, here are a few places to start:
- “Largest Ever” Education Spending Increase? Not So Fast, by our own Jeff Van Wychen. Jeff provides good context for understanding the new education funding (and how it's really only a first step at pulling ourselves out of the Pawlenty-era hole).
- An Education Bill Worthy of MN Students, by our own Sarah Lahm. She offers a list of highlights to get a better feel for what the new money's buying and what else is new.
- A summary of the bill by Parents United. The next best thing to reading the bill itself, this walks through pretty much all of the major changes and developments. It's a little wonky, but if you like digging into the numbers and some of the fine print, this is a great way to do it.
- The bill itself. Not for the faint of heart, this is all of the fine print.
If you want the short-short version, here are a few big things to know:
- There's a significant increase in education funding over the next two years (although, again, not enough to make up for what inflation ate up during the Pawlenty years).
- We're expanding all-day kindergarten opportunities to all public schools.
- We're replacing the GRAD tests (previously required for graduation) with a sequence of tests building up to the ACT. The MCAs will stay in place for grades 3-7, but are expected to be computer-based with a 3-day turnaround time for getting results to schools.
- MDE will create “regional centers of excellence” to build networks of local service providers and support school turnaround efforts.
- Aid to help with integration has been restored.
Every two weeks or so, I leave work a little early to climb trees, play board games, explore parks, or bake cookies. The best part? I get to do it all with a charming 15 year-old girl—and I even get to call it volunteering. In the nearly two years that I've been a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, my Little and I have had innumerable adventures big and small.
While our activities seem pretty simple on the surface, mentoring has a deep impact. Studies show that pairing at-risk youth with mentors has positive effects on a young person’s education, physical and mental wellness, and family life. In 2011, 85 percent of BBBS-Twin Cities mentees improved their self-confidence and 70 percent improved their academic performance. BBBS mentees are much less likely to use drugs or alcohol, skip school, or use violence than their non-mentored peers. At-risk youth in mentoring relationships also have fewer symptoms of depression. Given the high social costs of delinquency, low education, and poor health, early intervention is a no-brainer: Wilder Research estimates the return on investment for youth mentoring programs to be nearly 300 percent.
If mentoring is such a proven, powerful way to improve our community, why are so many youth (especially boys) on waiting lists for mentors? Over 600 children are waiting for mentors at BBBS-Twin Cities alone, not to mention the innumerable other mentoring programs across the state. People are often intimidated by being the idea of being a mentor, but it's usually much easier than you may think. It's okay if you're not perfect or if you don't feel “cool” enough to hang out with a young person. Many mentoring programs don't require you to spend money, have a car, or give a lot of your time. What matters is that you're a caring, consistent, and positive presence in a young person's life. That's it.
In return, you'll relive your youth with fun adventures. You'll get to teach and share your favorite hobbies. You'll get to play (and how many adults take time to just play?). I don't know of a single mentor who doesn't feel that they get more out of their experience than they give. If mentoring isn't for you, think of who in your life might be a good mentor and encourage them to sign up. It's one more way that the village can raise the child.
If the US really values a college education, it has a funny way of showing it. Instead of free or heavily-subsidized university education, like most advanced countries, the US gives students an average burden of $24,000 in student loans. Plus interest!
As if it was bad enough that in order to compete in today’s economy students have to load up on debt, recent reports allege that the federal government will make a profit of $51 billion in 2013 off of student loans. Since 2010, the Department of Education has provided most student loans directly, rather than by partnering with a private bank (like it used to).
It would be horrible if that were true, but the characterization of the numbers is misleading.* The “profit” is really only an accounting trick, mandated by Congress. Congress directs the Congressional Budget Office to model future student loan income off of how US Treasury Bonds are paid back. That’s a bad idea since the US government has never defaulted on its loans (although some right-wingers were ready to let that happen a few times), but 4-5% of student loan debtors do default. That means that the CBO is overestimating how much money they will bring in.
So the scandal is really a non-scandal. But that brings us to another point: why do we make it so painful to go to college when we know that education is so valuable? Relying on student loans to the extent we do now just does not seem sustainable.
Think of it this way: Roads and bridges are a public good. They help residents get to work and school and businesses deliver products. Because of that, the government builds them and pays for them. It recoups some of the money through a gas tax. It is an investment for a bigger economy and better life for the public.
Having an educated population is a public good, too. That’s how engineers, entrepreneurs, and accountants learn how to do their job. So why shouldn’t the government invest more heavily in higher education? The two situations are largely the same, but treated very differently.
The most realistic way of doing that today is to lower student loan interest rates. It seems like everyone in Washington – President Obama and both sides of Congress – has a plan that would do just that. They are all slightly different, but would each set interest rates much lower than the current rate of 6.8%. The plans most likely to pass would fix each year’s interest rate at the 10-year Treasury Bond rate plus some.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has a much more student-friendly plan. It would set interest rates at the level of the Federal Reserve’s overnight loan rate to banks – which is currently 0.75%. The Senator’s plan has been heavily criticized, but for the superficial reason that the Fed’s overnight loans are completely different than long-term student loans.
While the Fed tie might be fair criticism, no one ever says anything about why a 0.75% rate on student loans is a bad idea. Now, you may hear that government programs should be self-sustaining or that even 6.8% is lower than students would otherwise be able to get. But neither of those refutes the logic for a 0.75% rate. The Warren Plan views a college education as an investment, just like roads and bridges. Everybody benefits, so why should the Department of Education do anything more than ask for the principal and minimal interest in return? If that isn't convincing, think about how much more money a college graduate earns - and pays in income taxes. The federal government will already see higher revenue because of the college education they enable through loans, so why double dip on such a vital investment?
More concretely, lowering the student loan interest rate would have a real impact on college graduates. The Warren Plan would save the average student over $8,000 in interest payments (versus the current Stafford loan rate of 6.8%) over the life of the loan. Students taking out loans will still be paying them back, they just won’t be paying an $8,000 tax for not having a wealthy family.
*The sources used in making the conclusion that the Department of Education doesn't profit from student loans have been updated with some new information. In FY 2013, it did make a profit, however the loan program has also lost money in recent years. Still, the profits are somewhat of an accounting trick based on the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990 and not including administrative costs in the total costs of the program. Whether or not the federal loan program turns a profit in a given year, the main point of this article still stands: student loans cost too much for students.
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The federally subsidized student loan interest (Stafford) rate expires on June 30, 2013. At that time, the undergraduate loan rate doubles from 3.4% to 6.8%. Historically, rates were set at 6.8% for both undergraduate and graduate students, until, in 2008, undergraduate rates steadily declined to the present 3.4% Congress must act or undergraduate rates will automatically return to 6.8%. Congress should set the rate equal to the 10-year Treasury bill rate. Here’s why.
The conservative-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce (chaired by John Kline, R-MN) recently passed a bill to set rates, for both undergraduates and graduates, at the 10-year high yield Treasury bill--plus an additional amount. The rate will be fixed each year, as of May 31, for the subsequent year. For undergraduates, the rate for the first year on a new loan would be equal to the 10-year T-bill rate plus 2.5%; for graduates, the rate would be equal to the 10-yr T-bill rate plus 4.5%.
As of Tuesday, May 28, the 10-year T-bill rate was 2.15%, making undergraduate rates 4.65% and graduate rates 6.65%. Since market interest rates are presently low, it is likely that student loan rates will go nowhere but up in succeeding years. Kline’s committee rejected Democratic amendments to set the rate at the same level that banks receive from the federal government, and to extend the 3.4% rate for an additional two years.
In addition, Kline’s bill proposes “variable” rates. According to the House Committee Report, the bill “would change the interest rates for all new federal loans to students and parents made on or after July 1, 2013, from a fixed interest rate set in statute to a variable interest rate, adjusted annually.”
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, almost 13 percent of student-loan borrowers of all ages owe more than $50,000, and nearly 4 percent owe more than $100,000. Economist Joseph Stiglitz notes that approximately 17 percent of student-loan borrowers were 90 days or more behind in payments at the end of 2012. If student loan interest rates go up, this problem is going to get worse.
There is bipartisan agreement that student loan rates should move with the market. The 10-year T-bill rate is most often cited as the appropriate benchmark. Congressman Keith Ellison and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) suggest loans should be set at the federal discount rate, currently 0.75%. While this rate has curb appeal because it is so low, such a rate does not make sense from a fiscal perspective.*
Every federal program should, unless there is a strong policy reason to the contrary, be self-sustaining. Since student loans on average are paid back in 10 years, the 10-year Treasury rate makes sense for this program. Perhaps more importantly, the 10-year Treasury rate is what it costs the federal government to borrow money. To be self-sustaining, the program should cover its costs—by charging to students the same rate it costs the government to borrow money.
The Congressional Budget Office projects that the Department of Education will earn over $50 Billion in profits in 2013 (and at least $8 billion per year through 2023) based on the current interest rate structure. While there is some debate about the accuracy of this number, under Kline’s proposal, DoE profits would increase. Curiously, his bill excludes this profit from the “Pay as You Go” requirements of federal budgetary law.
Kline’s bill amounts to a tax increase on students. Hopefully, policymakers in the Senate produce better idea.
*Editor's Note: When it comes to the merits of the Warren Plan, Alex Christensen will argue an alternate view in a blog tomorrow.
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As Governor Mark Dayton signed the 2013 education funding bill into law, many in the education community rejoiced, calling it the best bill they’ve ever seen. A key reason is the level of funding provided: $485 million dollars in new E-12 spending will now be available for districts across Minnesota.
This new funding, of course, is not as dramatic as it seems. This is because education funding in Minnesota has decreased quite steadily in the last ten years, and the new funding in the 2013 education bill is mainly just replacing what has been lost. However, there are some important new additions to the 2013 bill.
For the first time in ten years, for example, there is new money to support career and technical training in high schools. This is important because it indicates a shift away from the idea that all students should have the same goal (graduate high school and go straight to college), while recognizing the value for many of hands-on, practical education models. Adding new funding for career and technical training is a great way to keep different kinds of students and learners in school, and it is a promising step into the 21st century. High school students must have more options available to them than a narrow pathway to college, and this portion of the bill reflects that.
Another important aspect of this complex, comprehensive education bill has to do with student assessments. The high-profile GRAD test has been scrapped. With the new 2013 bill in place, schools will be required to emphasize tests that allow for more individualized results. These results, then, are supposed to help students identify and select future career and academic paths. This is a significant shift away from punitive assessments, and towards productive, more personal guidance for parents, teachers, and students.
There is much to be hopeful about in the 2013 education funding bill, and I look forward to seeing how well it will play out for Minnesota students, schools, and families.