Kansas Schools Shut Down Early to Pay for Tax Cuts on the Rich/Corporations

© Josh Sager – April 2015

Earlier this month, it was announced that two Kansas school districts would be shutting down early this year simply due to budget shortfalls. Last week, four additional school districts decided to follow the first twos’ example and shut down early in order to make budget. While many may be quick to blame these school districts for their decision to shut down early, the sad fact is that they are simply reacting to a far greater problem in the state.

Right-wing extremists in Kansas have eviscerated the state tax code, creating these education budget shortfalls, and forcing the schools to react. The money to operate these schools at full capacity, for a full school year, is simply not in the budget and districts are left with virtually alternative but to reduce class hours for the school year.

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Put simply, these school districts are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine who are signaling a potentially lethal problem. They are a concrete manifestation of the inverted Robin Hood beliefs held by the modern right wing and a prelude to our future, where the rich are allowed to opt out of funding the social contract and the poor are left without basic services.

Right-Wing “Small Government”

When the right wing talks about promoting “small government conservatism” a significant percentage of the population supports them reflexively without actually understanding what they are talking about. Ironically, these are the people who will be harmed the most from the right-wing ideology when it is implemented.

At a basic level, the modern “small government” ideology has two prongs: First, it promotes low taxes—particularly for the rich and corporations—under the assumption that this will generate growth; and second, it promotes minimal spending on social programs (ex. schools, fire/police, welfare, etc.) and infrastructure (ex. roads, bridges, etc.). In short, this ideology champions a regressive vision, where tax cuts for the rich are paid for by reducing spending that benefits the rest of society.

b

The school closures in Kansas are just one example of this ideology in action.

Since the rise of the Tea Party, conservative anti-tax extremists (even more so than the average right-wing Kansan) have gained virtually uncontested control over the Kansas state government and have done everything in their power to create a “small government” utopia. The Brownback administration has cut taxes to the bone—reducing 2-year general revenue estimates by up to $1 billion across the state—by reducing the state income tax by 25% across the board, eliminating taxes on certain types of business altogether, and setting into motion a plan to reduce the top marginal income tax rate from 6.45% to 3.9%.

These cuts have been incredibly regressive and have sometimes involved offsetting the lost revenue from cutting high-income rates by reducing or eliminating low-income deductions. The following graph from CBPP illustrates this transfer perfectly:

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Because Kansas has a balanced budget requirement, the revenue that is lost by cutting these taxes must be made up through decreased spending. Modern conservatism is intensely anti-intellectual and considers itself a mortal enemy of the teachers unions, so cutting public education is an easy choice for them. After all, they and their donors make enough money to send their children to expensive private schools, so there is no real personal consequence to them for eviscerating your kid’s public school.

While education may be the first target for cuts, it is by no means the last. Public assistance to the poor is an easy second target, followed by public works operations, then public safety and regulators, and finally to public infrastructure (ex. libraries and roads). What remains after these cuts is then often privatized and profitized, or simply transformed to be less burdensome on the rich.

Basically, if a service primarily benefits the poor and middle classes while only marginally benefitting the rich, you can expect it to be cut, privatized, or transitioned to being funded through “fines and fees” that only users pay. Conversely, if a program only benefits the rich or corporate interests (ex. business subsidies), you can be fairly certain that it will weather these rounds of cuts with only minimal consequences.

Unfortunately, this ideology hits the non-wealthy in both directions—they don’t get their taxes cut significantly yet they also end up with a poorly-maintained public infrastructure and minimal package of public services. This impacts society across generations, as the decaying education system in these areas isn’t prepared to provide the education necessary for social advancement or economic improvement. The poor are trapped in a cycle of neglect and poverty, while the middle class have an increasingly difficult time holding onto whatever wealth they have accrued over the years. On the other end of the spectrum however, the rich get endlessly richer and the politicians grow fat and secure off of “campaign donations” healthy salaries/benefits, and high incumbency rates.

Unless they overturn these right wing economic policies and purge the extremists who pushed them through, Kansas will continue its downward spiral until it becomes little more than an embarrassing object lesson for the rest of the nation. If this happens, it will already be too late for many students to get a proper education, and Kansans will feel the impact of this deficit for decades to come.

Amid Student Debt Fight, Corinthian Colleges To Shut Down All Campuses

Company which profited off predatory lending schemes—and government assistance—to displace additional 16,000 students

by: Nadia Prupis

Everest College is one of the many schools owned by Corinthian Colleges, the for-profit education system that has been sued for its predatory student loan schemes. (Photo: Jeramey Jannene/flickr/cc)

Corinthian Colleges, the for-profit education system that has come under fire for its predatory student loan schemes, said Sunday it would shut down all of its 28 remaining campuses, roughly two weeks after the U.S. Department of Education announced it would fine the institution $30 million for misrepresentation regarding job placement rates.In a statement Sunday, Corinthian said it would close Heald College campuses in California, Hawaii, and Oregon, as well as Everest and WyoTec campuses in California, Arizona, and New York. At its peak, the California-based company ran more than 120 colleges across the country with more than 110,000 students.This final shutdown will displace about 16,000 students.”Students seeking better life options should be assured that their investments will pay off in increased knowledge, skills, and opportunity,” wrote Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell in a blog post on Sunday following Corinthian’s announcement. “What these students have experienced is unacceptable.”The company was first hit with a spate of lawsuits in September 2014 over its lending schemes and collection tactics, which charged that Corinthian preyed on low-income students by falsely advertising an education with their schools as an avenue to a stable career path.Students whose campuses are closing may be eligible for closed-school loan discharges, Mitchell added on Sunday. “We will do everything we can to ensure that Corinthian makes good on its obligations to students and taxpayers to the extent possible. In addition, we encourage Corinthian students to pursue debt relief with their state,” Mitchell wrote.However, some say that the Department of Education has yet to come through on those promises. As the National Consumer Law Center pointed out in February, the government gave funds to keep Corinthian afloat before it filed for bankruptcy, but gave no such help to the tens of thousands of students who were left without a degree and saddled with debt.”There’s widespread evidence they’ve engaged in years and years of deceiving students and taxpayers,” NCLC attorney Robyn Smith told the Boston Globe at the time. “We’re not seeing any relief for the students who’ve suffered the consequences.”According to the company’s filings, the schools generated $1.2 billion in government loans in its final year.Taking a stand against the company’s schemes, a number of recent graduates, dubbed the Corinthian 15, launched a nationwide debt strike in February with the help of anti-student debt collective Rolling Jubilee.One of the Corinthian 15, former Everest student Latonya Suggs, said at the time, “Not only did the school fail me, but the Department of Education failed me because it is their responsibility to make sure that these schools provide a quality education at an affordable cost at a scam-free school.”

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Source: Amid Student Debt Fight, Corinthian Colleges To Shut Down All Campuses | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

DOJ Report Slams For-Profit Texas Immigrant Prison

Reeves County Detention Center is understaffed and ignores security problems, report finds

by: Nadia Prupis

Reeves County Detention Center, which houses immigrants who committed low-level offenses, is run by the private GEO Group corporation on a $493 million contract with the federal government. The DOJ found numerous problems with the operation. (Photo: H. Michael Karshis/flickr/cc)Reeves County Detention Center in West Texas, which houses mostly immigrants and was the scene of prisoner unrest in 2008 and 2009, is understaffed and has repeatedly failed to address administrative and security problems, according to a new report (pdf) published Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice.The 2,400-bed prison, which houses immigrants who committed low-level offenses, is the largest of its kind and run by the private correctional corporation The GEO Group, which also runs 100 other prisons and rehab centers around the world.Between October 2008 and December 2013, Reeves did not have enough medical or correctional personnel on staff, used an improper area of the prison to isolate inmates, and failed to address problems with security, health services, and record-keeping, the DOJ found.The GEO Group has a $493 million contract with the DOJ to operate Reeves—the second-largest contract awarded by the department in the 2014 fiscal year—although the jail is overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The contract is set to run through 2017.In June of last year, a study by the ACLU found that the GEO Group was one of a few companies operating Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities where immigrants detained for illegally entering the U.S. are held in inhumane conditions.According to the DOJ report, the GEO Group “[c]onsistently struggled to meet or exceed baseline contractual standards; received an unacceptable number of deficiencies and notices of concern; was unresponsive to (Bureau of Prison) inquiries; struggled with staffing issues in health services and correctional services; and frequently submitted inaccurate routine paperwork, including erroneous disciplinary hearing records and monthly invoices.”DOJ auditors also found that nearly $3 million in expenses charged to the government by GEO Group was “unallowable or unsupported,” meaning that the money could have been used more appropriately.Thursday’s report also criticized an area of Reeves prison known as the “J-Unit,” a section ordinarily used for general housing but which prison officials recently began using to segregate certain inmates perceived to be troublesome.That change came in October 2013, after inmates held a facility-wide demonstration demanding better treatment from officials. Following the protest, “the new purpose of the J-Unit would be to isolate the ‘representatives’ or leaders and their associates from the rest of the compound’s population, to prevent them from exerting control over other… inmates,” the report states.However, the report found that in many cases, inmates were sent to J-Unit with no explanation, and often lost their privileges to attend classes and work—as is standard for those housed in that section of the prison.

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Source: DOJ Report Slams For-Profit Texas Immigrant Prison | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community