Posts Tagged "HD 115"

As part of the graduating class of 2002 from Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado, I was part of the last class to not have annualized standardized tests. The classes below me, unfortunately, didn’t fare so well.

As a student, I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant for how my curriculum was shaped each year, and how the students just a year below me had an entire different lesson plan than I did even when taking the same courses the following year.

For my entire class, our teachers were able to develop lesson plans based on what we needed to learn and understand in order to grow and further our knowledge. They were not subject to what test-development contractors appointed by the state had dictated. Our teachers taught with the vigor, excitement and passion that, as a parent, I want to see in my own children’s classrooms.

I had wonderful teachers who taught me how to problem solve, formulate a theory and defend it. Since they didn’t have to waste 25% or more of our class time prepping for standardized tests, we were able to hone those skills and dive deeper into how to apply them across subject areas. These skills have come in handy for me on a daily basis when it comes to tackling real life problems.

Why Standardized Tests Exist

Let’s be frank: we’re never doing away with all standardized tests. They do serve a purpose as a metric from which we can measure competency (namely at one’s ability to take a given test). In fact, I think AP & IB tests, as well as the SAT and ACT, are great tools to help transition students to college.

But the reality is that there can be too much of a good thing. Currently, the Florida Standards Assessments are administered to all 3rd through 10th graders (there are a couple of End-of-Course tests for specific classes like Algebra too). Their stated reason for existing is,

“The Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) provide parents and families, teachers, policy makers, and the general public with information regarding how well students are learning the Florida Standards.”

If all it does is tell us how good our students are at taking a specific test, why are we spending so much time on it?

The Truth Behind the FSA

Standardized tests started out as a universal way to measure schools against each other; in essence, they were a diagnostic tool. It made sense: if we can determine what every fourth grader should know, then we can test all the fourth graders and see if they know the material.

Then, if a school’s 4th grade class, on average, tests lower or higher than another school – we can start to quantify and rank schools.

But this information raised a significant problem: what do we do about the schools that don’t test well?

The Problem

We tie a school’s funding to their student’s test scores (test well, more funding; test poorly, less funding). While this may seem a logical way to respond to these scores, it actually presents a huge problem that our entire state is facing. Because, at its root, schools live or die by a pointless test.

Testing high across the board, for each grade level, logically becomes each school’s mission. More important than how well a child is learning, or what they are learning – a school is entirely focused on how well their students can pass a test. Nothing more.

These tests become the deciding point of school’s survival.

In the end, this derails our children’s education. And perhaps more disturbing, our own students are responsible for their own school’s funding.

The Solution

In my experience, the people with the best solutions are the ones seeing the problem firsthand, day-in and day-out. They are in the best position to see the root of the problem, not just the symptoms.

So I went ahead and asked a few teachers that I know their thoughts on how to fix failing schools. Here are the three things they each told me:

1. Don’t do away with charters – but make sure they play by the same rules. Most important: don’t let them have different admissions standards than traditional public schools (sidenote: most of the teachers — including teachers at charters — want separate funding pools from public schools. They don’t think we should be pitting charters versus traditional public schools — and I fully agree with them).

2. Give Principals more autonomy. Parents, Teachers, and Principals know which teachers do a good job and which ones don’t. Giving the Principal more room to help struggling teachers & students will change things more than any test. Simultaneously, to hold the Principal accountable, let teachers and parents fill out annual surveys for the School Board and Superintendent to review.

3. Change how we punish bad behavior. Right now, we have a schools-to-prisons pipeline. We need alternative ways to get kids back on track and not let them fall further behind as a punishment.

Our public education system in Florida is in desperate need to be fixed; one of the reasons I’m running is to get government out of the testing business and let our teachers teach. If you agree with me and want to see ideas like this pursued, please help me win this race. The Democratic Primary is on August 28th and I’d love your support.

If you have any questions (or even if you completely disagree with me), please feel free to shoot me an email. 

It’s not news to declare that Unions are under attack – they have been a main target of the GOP for decades.

The biggest problem is that the GOP is winning that battle. What is even more problematic is that the people who are best served by a union, are voting against them. Some 60-70 years ago, more than 33% of private sector employees were unionized; today that number is less than 6%. As this astute article by Jonathan Rauch states,

“I had come to see the decline of unions as one of the country’s most pressing problems—and at least as much a social and political problem as an economic one. Old-style, mid-20th-century industrial unions had their flaws, unquestionably. But when unions work as they should, they serve important social functions. They can smooth the jagged edges of globalization by giving workers bargaining power. They are associated with lower income inequality, as the accompanying graph shows. Perhaps most important, they offer workers a way to be heard.”

There’s no other way around it – Unions serve a vital function in our society. And they are dying.

From a Small Business Owner’s Point of View 

I understand why executives at publicly traded companies have a whole lot of anger towards Unions. They have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, and they see their employees are relatively interchangeable (lose an IT guy? Just hire a new one), so giving their employees more bargaining power just so they can get a fair share of the company’s profits goes against their ethos.

But it’s totally different when we start talking about a small business. I live and die by my team. If they don’t do a good job, my clients aren’t taken care of, and then the business unravels rather quickly. So it’s my job to make sure that my team is happy, being heard, and in the best position to do their job. If I do that, they are more productive and do better work.

So where’s the disconnect?

I think a lot comes in how big businesses are taught to think about their revenues. There is one book in particular, The E-Myth, that is considered a bible for many in the business world. To over-simplify, it praises companies such as McDonald’s that operate under a franchise model, allowing the business to provide a consistent product (or service) through a churn-and-repeat business model. This idea has been pummeled into businesses to such a level that it has been taken to the extreme: every aspect of a business needs to have clear-cut guidelines so that it is just a conglomeration of interchangeable parts.

The good news is that these views are starting to shift. There are more and more reports that raising the minimum wage is helping companies retain their employees and increase productivity. The more businesses start to see that investing in their employees (at ALL levels of the company) encourages them to work more efficiently, with more dedication – while simultaneously boosting their bottom line, the more these businesses will start to make right decisions by their employees.

But this doesn’t solve another problem plaguing workers: the rapid expansion of the Gig Economy.

Pluses and Minuses for Gigs

Businesses love the gig economy: why hire someone full-time, and have to pay for healthcare, their 401k, et cetera when you can bring someone onboard as-needed? And (some) people love it too: it gives you more flexibility and, if you have an in-demand skill set, you can actually make more money this way.

But there are significant problems: this shift makes it almost impossible to enter the workforce. When a company uses a freelancer, the first thing they ask is to see a portfolio. If you’re just starting out,  getting a gig beyond driving for Lyft or shopping for Instacart can be a stretch.

Enter Unions

The Atlantic article by Rauch linked to above introduces an interesting idea for Union reform, called the Ghent System. It’s modeled after Unions in Denmark and Sweden, where the Unions administer unemployment benefits, shifting their mission from protecting people’s jobs to protecting their livelihoods. Sounds like it’s one and the same, sure, but there is a huge difference.

Just think about it: if we were able to implement something similar here, Unions could administer their members’ health insurance, their retirement plans, and unemployment benefits when the need arises.

Unions could provide job-specific training, creating another avenue for people who can’t afford (or don’t have the time) to go to college to get good, reliable jobs.

Union membership would give people more flexibility (as their health insurance and retirement plan would come from the Union) and provide the safety net people are losing with the Gig Economy. What’s more, Unions could take a large portion of a company’s human resources tasks off the their plate, allowing companies to focus their resources more directly on their business rather than making sure their employees have their basic needs met.

This is not to say that this would work flawlessly; in fact, (as Rauch’s article states), this idea isn’t even a possibility yet. We would need a waiver from the federal government to even try to legislate a path forward to try this idea at the state level. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t something worth trying.

Ideas like this are not seeing the light of day in politics anymore. I think that is a problem; in fact, it’s a large reason why I’m running for office. If you agree with me and want to see ideas like this pursued, please help me out with a donation. Even $5 will make an impact. 

 

 

 

 

As a small business owner, I owe a lot to Obamacare. My wife and I both have pre-existing conditions, so going off on our own before the ACA was practically unthinkable.

We’ve never qualified for a subsidy, and since Governor Scott refused to expand Medicaid, we’ve seen our premiums skyrocket along with our deductibles even though we are those 30-somethings the insurance companies are supposed to be drooling over.

So if anyone can speak from first-hand experience about how Obamacare is a huge step forward, but still has a lot of serious problems, it’s me.

The Problem(s) With Obamacare

I totally agree with Joe Biden that Obamacare is a big (cue the expletive) deal. The expansion of Medicaid, the protections for people with pre-existing conditions, the establishment of essential health benefits and putting an end to absurd things like lifetime caps transformed millions of people’s lives. It stopped people from going bankrupt just because they got sick.

But there are two main problems.

The first is allowing states to opt-out of the Medicaid expansion. Now, I’m not making a statement about states’ rights or anything of the sort. It’s just common sense when you look at a map of insurance premium increases. The states with the biggest increases didn’t expand Medicaid. This compromise of allowing states to make the decision over whether or not to expand Medicaid never should have been included in the ACA, as it allows states to make their residents suffer unnecessarily.

Fortunately, at least for now, there is a remedy. We need to elect state government leaders that will expand Medicaid (side-note: this is something I would fight for tooth-and-nail) and enable the exchanges to work the way they were designed.

The second problem is the fact that the U.S. Senate (or, rather, one Senator) killed the public option. Looking at you, Joe Lieberman.

Why I Like the Public Option

If you listen to Pod Save America (if you don’t, you should), you’ve probably heard Jon Lovett rant about how Joe Lieberman 86’d the public option. And it’s a shame, as it is a pragmatic compromise between the people for single-payer and those that are against it.

The standard complaints against Obamacare are:

  • Insurers are pulling out of a lot of counties
  • Premiums and deductibles are skyrocketing.

They’re fair complaints. And guess what? The public option would be a superb solution to both of them.

If a county were left with no insurers, they’d still have the ability to buy insurance. And if the premiums and deductibles of the private insurers were going too high, the competition the public option would provide would bring them back down to earth.

But while the public option was nixed from Obamacare, that doesn’t mean Floridians are stuck until we can get Democrats back in the majority in Congress and in the White House. We can fix it from Tallahassee.

Medicaid is administered at the state level. This means that the state government can make the rules about how it works and who can get access. With this in mind, Nevada just came close to passing a public option. If we can take back the state in 2018, we can open up Medicaid (or, more likely, make a parallel plan that has some premiums, deductibles and co-pays) for the general public to enter.

Like the idea of a public option? Help me get to Florida’s State House; the Democratic Primary is on August 28th I would love your support. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to reach out.

 

 

 

I am not one of those people to claim credit for a good idea. In fact, when I see or hear a good idea – I want to champion it. No matter who came up with it.

With that in mind, there’s a great idea for a carbon tax; and it’s not mine. It’s actually a Republican idea.

The Big Idea Behind a Carbon Tax

The concept is actually pretty simple: the state charges a flat tax of $40 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. With approximately 227,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted per year by Florida, if we were to implement this tax statewide it would mean an additional $9 billion in revenue for the state. $9 billion. That’s a big number.

The Republican idea is to make this a revenue neutral tax by allowing for tax cuts in other places. This simple move would allow us to take positive steps towards cleaner sources of energy, transportation, and products. Overall, a pretty solid idea.

I would like to take the idea just a bit further. I suggest we take that $9 billion and put it towards protecting our state from the rising sea levels. With 1,350 miles of coastline, and more than 6.5 million Floridians living at an altitude of less than 6 feet above sea level (and most of them living in Miami), we desperately need to invest in protecting ourselves from the coming floods.

But Wait: There’s More!

Ideally, the revenue from the Carbon Tax could fund a Florida Corps of Engineers that works to prepare our state for the rising sea levels. We could build it into a public-private partnership where we hire engineering firms to start prepping our homes and our communities to survive the rising sea levels. Bottom line: more jobs.

Done right, this could become a strong industry for Florida and something we can export globally. Currently, Dutch water engineers account for about 2% of their exports (more than $10 billion annually) as they have this expertise. This market is only going to grow as sea levels continue to rise, and we don’t need to cede the market to the Dutch. We can use this money to create a homegrown industry.

The benefits would be threefold:

  • Reduce our carbon footprint and thus stop furthering the initial problem
  • Ensure Miami doesn’t go the way of Atlantis
  • Develop a new local industry that can become a global leader

So why hasn’t this already happened?

There’s Always a Catch

The biggest emitter of CO2 nationwide is Electricity production (accounting for about 29% of all Greenhouse Gas Emissions), followed by Transportation (27%), and Industry (21%).

In Florida, Electric Utilities are some of the biggest donors to state political campaigns. You do the math.

But I’m not willing to just throw up my hands and give up. Our homes are literally on the line with this one, and I won’t back down.

If you agree with me that this is not only a good idea but something we need to do, I’d ask you to help me win this election. The Democratic Primary is on August 28th; I’d love your support. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

 

 

Political advertisement paid for and approved by James Linwood Schulman, Democrat, for State Representative, District 115.