Maybe

I apologize if this seems unpolished or slipshod. I wrote it at one o’clock in the morning, but I just needed to say this. Thank you for reading my delirious ramblings.

I often feel that I should be done. Maybe we should all be done. My generation finds ourselves in a world strip of its resources, a world with little hope of survival. We find ourselves in an era of declining democracy, an era with tyranny ascendant. All of this can be credited to humanity’s apathy and selfishness. We want something, and then, we take it. We see an evil, and we ignore it. We are all guilty of it. I am. You are. Even if we try our best to be good all of the time, there will be some moment of weakness. So, I wonder shouldn’t I be done? Why fight, if it is all for nothing? What are the chances we actually manage to change our ways in the next 12 years? That is how much time we have before many of the apocalyptic effects of climate change become irreversible. I just read an article on how, despite polling data showing that the majority of people understand climate change and wish to take action against, people will vote the other way. I understand that. Sometimes, I drive to work when I am running late, instead of riding my bike. I eat meat, knowing the environmental effects. I use plastics. I am an American, meaning I consume way more than my fair share. Short-term is so much easier than long-term. But, come on. 57% of Americans think climate change is a serious and pressing issue, and yet, they vote for the party that doubts the very existence of it. Seriously? Why? Because you think the economy is going to collapse under the other guy? I have news for you. According to research from Stanford, the global GDP is probably going to be reduce by about 20% by the end of the century due to the effects of climate change. That reduction is about five times that of the Great Recession. Still, we don’t act. We don’t vote. We don’t protest. We don’t fight. You may be wondering why I am saying ‘we’ when you personally may be the most successful climate change activist in the world who does everything one possibly can. I say ‘we’ because as far as I see it, no matter what one person does, we are failing as a species to address this. I say we because as we fail as a species we will suffer as a species. A lot of people will die, but what can I do? Why should I fight? Why shouldn’t I just lie down and enjoy my life? There is nothing I can do, right? I mean how much can I really do with my voice and actions. Even if by some miracle we manage to stop emissions and I contribute, we may already be too late, so why fight?

Maybe, it isn’t about whether or not the world can be saved. Maybe it’s about kindness. Maybe it’s about empathy. Maybe it’s about showing that, no matter our sins, humanity can be good for the sake of being good. Maybe it’s about proving that compassion can win out. Even when facing our own destruction, when all we want to do is lie down, we can stand up for no reason other than to help someone else even if it’s just a little bit. Maybe for every moment of weakness, there can be a moment of strength. I don’t know whether the world can be saved, but I know that we need to try. I will never be done.

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Education is the Great Determinant – Part Two

Hello and welcome to part two of three of my blog series, “Education is the Great Determinant.” For those of you who came to part two before part one, for some unknown reason, I will be referencing both research and subjects from that post as well as the response post from Nick Jacobson. Due to this, I would highly recommend you read both of those posts first. Both of them can be found on the Young Minds blog. I look forward to addressing some of Nick’s points from his response, which was extremely thoughtful and well-crafted. Now observe as I propose solutions to a fundamental problem that has confounded our greatest leaders. Please have patience with me.

There is no one solution to any one problem in education. To be honest, education is so intertwined with other issues that fixing our public schools will take more than changing education policy alone, but it is a place to begin. Let’s start with the teachers. Quality teachers are vital to a healthy education system. They wield incredible influence over the future of both our children and our nation. Unfortunately, as my last post discussed, teachers factor into the plight of our education system. Not only do teachers in low-income districts get paid less, but they also generally have less experience. Perpetuating that trend, there is a high turnover rate for teachers, especially among schools that serve low-income kids and kids of color. Turnover is normal, but due to the difficult and important work teachers do, turnover can damage a child’s education. Whether it be inexperience or a lack of time to build relationships, high attrition among teachers is devastating to students. The Learning Policy Institute study cited above found that turnover was lower in the Northeast where teachers are on average paid more, so a possible solution to the issue would be higher pay. However, that idea alone may be too simplistic as there is another solution that could be used to supplement higher pay. A federal loan forgiveness program for college students who commit to a certain number of years as a public educator. This policy could deal with a more subtle problem that gnaws on the supply of qualified teachers, those who are dissuaded from even entering the profession. With both higher pay and this program, many of the current barriers to becoming a teacher would be eliminated. Also, Nick, your question on whether a competitive job market for teachers would help the quality of our teachers is hard to answer. It seems to me that an increase in competition would increase the standards for teachers. However, competition is a double-edged sword as it could cause more inequality with teachers of higher quality becoming even more concentrated in schools with the ability to pay them more. Essentially, it could just exacerbate the existing problem. The only way to fix that issue would be to make a universal salary and benefits programs for public school teachers. Though, that fix once again comes with its own host of problems. Coming back from that little tangent, I reckon that the most effective first step that we can take to improving the quality of teachers in this country is increasing pay and instituting a policy to aid the education of our educators. (Quick Addition: There is something to be said for raising the prerequisites for becoming a teacher.)

One of the focal points of my previous post was the inequality of funding in education mainly due to property taxes. Addressing this problem will probably need to come in two major parts. First, the overturning of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of San Antonio Independent School District vs. Rodriguez. The plaintiffs, in this case, were suing the school district on the basis that the unequal distribution of education funding via the property tax, or an ad valorem tax, was a violation of equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. They lost the case in a 5-4 decision due to public education not being “a fundamental right explicitly or implicitly protected by the Constitution.”  However, if that decision was reversed, it would pave the way for Congress to pass legislation that would equalize the funding of public education. Congress could look at how Canada funds its schools at the provincial level, which is pretty much the equivalent of state level.  The provinces that have adopted this method still allow a lot of local control over the funding while increasing equality of funding. Nick, in your response, you questioned whether homogenizing and thereby centralizing education funding could mean that the funding is more vulnerable to cutting by administrations like our current one. I believe that there is truth to that. However, our current position is untenable. Changes must be made, and the constitutional delegation of education to the states prevents the federal government from meddling that much in education. If we keep major control of education funding to the states while requiring equity of funding through a reversal of the aforementioned Supreme Court case, we could prevent the expansion of centralized power while leveling the playing field.

For nearly all of these two posts, I have been referring to public institutions of education. However, I now feel I must address the issue of private schools. I will be honest. I have no love for private schools. Many of them are, to me, bastions of inequality, embodiments of the most toxic ideals of our education system. The average tuition of a private high school is 14,575 dollars. This cost is prohibiting by its very nature. Then, there is the fact that private school students are over-represented at our country’s most prestigious colleges. However, the solution to this inequality is just improving public education in every way we can. Unfortunately, due to the gap between the quality of private and public schools, equity between the two may never be achieved since the government apparently can’t be bothered to put more resources into education than rich parents do. Nick, on your question about alternatives to public schools, I think there are none. Relying on private schools would create a chasm between the education of the classes with those who can’t afford an elite school being forced into schools that have few resources and have intentions outside of the students’ best interest. A different problem arises with the use of charter schools. There is a huge lack of oversight. Embezzlement and mismanagement are far too common for charter schools to be relied upon as a solid alternative to public schools. Revolutionizing public schools are almost certainly the only way to bring some semblance of equity and fairness to education in our country.

While there is much more that could be and needs to be discussed about solutions to the crisis, I think this is where I will leave it for now. Next time, I will pick up with a discussion of why education needs to be a priority even when we are faced with countless crises of similar magnitude.                                                                                                  

On being Compact and Contiguous

The daily Update of legislative activity from the Pennsylvania General Assembly reported that on June 7, 2019, a bill amending the State’s election laws was introduced in the State House of Representatives. The bill’s sponsors are Representatives Garth Everett (R-Lycoming and Union Counties) and Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties) — respectively, the majority and minority chairs of the House Committee on State Government.

House Bill 1588 stipulates that, during the three-year period from December 2019 through November 2022, there should be no power to establish, abolish, divide, consolidate, or alter election districts, but with one exception.  During the 13 month period from December 1, 2019 until the end of 2020, election districts may be combined if “the boundary of each resulting district is composed entirely of portions of the original boundaries of the election districts which were combined.”

The Update included no link to a prior Memorandum by the bill’s sponsors which would customarily provide a preliminary notice or explanation of the purpose of the bill.  The bill has been referred for consideration to the Committee which the sponsors chair.  Absent any changes, should the bill eventually be enacted into law, its terms stipulate that it would take effect immediately.

We do notice in the text of the bill that it reflects changes to language of existing law which had been enacted immediately before the previous decennial census of the population.  That language (which would now be superseded if this new bill is enacted) similarly provided that there would be no power to change election districts during the three year period from July 2009 through November 2012, except that, during the 18-month period from July 2009 through-2010, election districts could be divided if “the boundary of each resulting district is composed entirely of clearly visible physical features conforming with the census block lines or portions of the original boundary of the election district which was divided.”

A curious quid pro quo.  It may be worth watching to see what impact the change would have.

Education is the Great Determinant – Part One

Hi,  I am Sam Howe. I was told I should introduce myself, but for both my sake and yours, I will keep it brief. I recently graduated from Lewisburg. My passion for politics lead to me taking an internship with the Democratic Coordinated Campaign during the 2018 midterm elections. I tried to foster discourse in my school through the creation of a competitive debate team and open forums. My goal with this blog is Continue reading

Return to Proposals Already Made?

The following activity was noted in the daily Update of legislative news from the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

In the State Senate, Senate Bill 22, co-sponsored by Senators Boscola, (D-Lehigh County) and Follmer (R-Dauphin) was laid on the table and then removed from the table.  You may recall that this bill calls for an amendment to the State Constitution which would establish an 11 member independent commission of citizens to have responsibility for legislative redistricting and reapportionment of the population into representative Congressional districts.  The bill had received the first of three required considerations by the Senate in April, when the Committee on State Government (of which Follmer is the Chair), by a vote of 6-4, reported it out to the Senate in the form in which it had been committed.

Also, in the Senate, Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia County) has re-introduced a proposal which was put forth in the previous legislative session and seen in some other bills pending in the current session.  Senate Bill 608 would change Pennsylvania’s voter registration system from an “opt-in” system to an “opt-out” system, when an individual transacts business with PennDOT or other state agencies.  The automatic registration system would be modeled after a similar law in effectively used in Oregon.  The Bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

In the State House of Representatives, Representative Jeff Wheeland (R-Lyoming County) has introduced House Bill 1579, resurrecting a call to buttress Voter ID requirements.  As he described the bill in his Memorandum introducing the bill:  “In light of challenges to photo ID laws in other states and a Commonwealth Court ruling that nullified Pennsylvania’s 2012 voter ID law, I am proposing a bill that applies the voter ID requirement to each and every election and includes both photo and non-photo options on the list of acceptable forms of ID. “

Wheeland proposes that, if a voter is unable to present a valid photo ID, then that voter would be required to present two forms of non-photo ID.   Pointing out that 35 states require voters to show some form of ID at the polls, he says that his proposal “strikes a balance between the goal of protecting the integrity of each vote cast and the goal of ensuring that eligible voters possess or can obtain necessary valid ID.“  The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government.

If any of these bills are of concern to you, your comment about them or other legislative activity reported on this blog is invited.  Your thoughts would be much appreciated, and will help us to learn whether the information provided by our contributed blog postings has been useful or effective in increasing your knowledge or involvement in civic activities. If you have read this posting, please let us know what your thoughts are and how you may have used the information. Thank you. fff

More Reform Proposals

Today’s Update of legislative activity in the Pennsylvania General Assembly brings us news of two further suggestions for reform of the State’s election laws.

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-Delaware County) has introduced a bill calling for a change in the law to provide for “early voting,,” permitting voters to go to the County Election Board or other temporarily designated places to vote at any time within 30 days preceding the day of an election. House Bill 1558 has been referred to the Committee on State Government for its consideration.

Representative Christopher Rabb (D-Philadelphia County) appears to have offered a much broader suggestion. House Bill 1560 is an omnibus reform proposal, including ideas that have been put forth in a number of bills you might have seen mentioned in our previous posts. As described in his introductory memorandum to his fellow legislators, Rabb calls upon them to do the following:

“Allow citizens to pre-register to vote at age 16 and receive a postcard from their county board of elections upon their 18th birthday with information about where and how to vote.
“Automatically register qualified electors to vote when they interact with state agencies or apply for state employment, admission to a state-owned or state-related university or apply for state funding for college. Individuals would have an option to decline registration.
“Allow prospective voters to register to vote on Election Day and cast a provisional ballot – subject to their registration’s approval – at their local polling location.
“Enable portable voter registration when voters change residences within the Commonwealth. This would allow voters to go to their new polling location on Election Day, fill out a certificate updating their registration address and cast a ballot at one time.
“Provide for no-excuse absentee voting and create the option for a permanent absentee voter status for those who are disabled or otherwise unable to travel to the polls.
“Establish early voting 30 days before Election Day and ending at 6 p.m. on the Sunday before the election.
“Require county prison officials and the Department of Corrections to automatically notify returning citizens’ home county election bureaus when they have been released from prison so that their voter registration, if registered, would be reactivated.
“Require any changes to election or voting laws or procedures to be quickly and widely publicized to voters by the state, county or municipality. It would also require the establishment of voter education campaigns.
“Finally, in jurisdictions where a single language minority exceeds 3 percent of the population, election officials must provide all voting and election materials – including notices of changes in law or procedures and voter education campaigns – in English and any minority languages.”

Rabb points out that “Many of these voting and election reforms have been enacted widely in states across the nation. As of 2019, numerous states offer early voting, and in over two dozen states and the District of Columbia, voting by absentee ballot does not require a reason or excuse. Another reform, automatic voter registration, has increasingly been enacted into state law and is now being considered by the majority of state legislatures nationwide.”

Your comment about these bills and other legislative activity reported on this blog is invited, would be much appreciated, and will help us to learn whether the information provided by our contributed blog postings has been useful or effective in increasing your knowledge or involvement in civic activities. If you have read this posting, please let us know what your thoughts are and how you may have used the information.

Better yet, if you’ve not done anything with regard to these new bills, we’d encourage you to pick up the phone and call one of the legislators or, if you are a member of a political party, call your party leaders and tell them whether or not you are in favor of any of the proposed legislation. Or, write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper and express your thoughts. Yours may very well be the voice that the Legislature an others need to hear. Thank you.

Election Law Reforms Suggested

Four items relating to Pennsylvania’s election laws were noticed in today’s Update of activity reported by the State General Assembly.

Senator Patrick Stefano’s (R-Fayette County) bill, Senate Bill 412, received its second of three required considerations by the State Senate and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee to review what fiscal impact it might have. The bill calls for a Constitutional amendment to repeal an existing provision that prohibits public employees from serving as poll workers. As amended in the Committee on State Government, the proposal would not affect the prohibition on such employees serving as Judges of Election or Inspectors.

In the House of Representatives, Representative Jake Wheatley, Jr. (R-Allegheny County) has introduced a bill (House Bill 1535) proposing to end “prison gerrymandering.” His proposal is that, for purposes of setting election district boundaries, incarcerated individuals should be considered as having residence in the district of their last known legal residence rather than in the district where they are incarcerated. The current system, he points out, results in an unfair distribution of legislative representation by artificially inflating the population of districts where prisons are located, since the incarcerated individuals in those districts cannot vote. The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Representative Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion County) has introduced a bill (House Bill 1543) calling for automatic mailing of absentee ballots to voters who apply for and are granted status as “permanent absentee voters,” so that such individual do not have to request an absentee ballot for each primary or election. The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Representative Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny County) has introduced a bill (House Bill 1556) modeled after laws in some other states which provide for a system of automatic voter registration of unregistered individuals when they transact business with PennDOT or with state health and human services agencies, unless the individuals affirmatively opt out of such registration. That bill, too, has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Your comment about these bills and other legislative activity reported on this blog is invited, would be much appreciated, and will help us to learn whether the information provided by our contributed blog postings has been useful or effective in increasing your knowledge or involvement in civic activities. If you have read this posting, please let us know what your thoughts are and how you may have used the information. Thank you.

A Vision for Summer 2019

What used to be the future, but now isn’t… (for those among you who do not get the reference, please see “A Vision for the Future” published by me, Nick Jacobson, in 2018).

That said, hello again! As yet another summer begins, the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area has hired me once more to organize some blog operations. This year, however, instead of just hearing from me, (at least) every other week, a new author will post an article on the blog. The articles may be stand-alone or may be the start of series that will be published throughout the summer.

On off-weeks, I will write a response to one of the recent posts and the blog will be open to others who would like to respond, including League members and other students. If you are reading this now and thinking “I would like to write a blog post this summer” then reach out to us! There is plenty of blogspace to go around.

To more easily locate the blog posts from students, at the top of the website, you should see a menu option titled “Young Minds.” Clicking on this option will take you to the list of student blogs posted, beginning with the most recent and ending with my first post in 2018.

With that said, please spread the news far and wide! And make sure to check back on the blog for new posts. Like last year, we are planning on posting new blogs on Fridays, although responses may appear throughout the week.

And the first blog of 2019 (present one excluded) will be this Friday, the 7th of June… stay tuned for the words of Sam Howe!

Who’s on First?

The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s daily Update of legislative activity reports today that, yesterday, Senator Williams (D-Philadelphia County) introduced Senate Bill 693. He proposes that in his district the names of candidates on election ballots be listed alphabetically by surname (as they are now), but that the name of the person whose name appears first on the ballot be rotated so that a candidate whose name is at the top of the list on the ballot will be different in each of the wards of his district. This will allow each of the candidates to share the privilege of having his or her name at the top of the ballot and be the first name the voters see. (The proposal has been noted in a previous blog post. It may or may not express a concern of other candidates whose surnames — like that of Senator Williams — begin with a letter near the end of the alphabet). Senate Bill 693 has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Your comment about this bill and other legislative activity reported on this blog is invited, would be much appreciated, and will help us to learn whether the information provided by our contributed blog postings has been useful or effective in increasing your knowledge or involvement in civic activities. If you have read this posting, please let us know what your thoughts are and how you may have used the information. Thank you.