Medicare more efficient than private health care

From Politifact

Amid a fierce debate over the future of Medicare, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., recently compared the administrative costs for the government-run program with the costs for private insurers.

“There’s a 1.5 percent to 2 percent overhead in Medicare,” Boxer said during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on May 24, 2011. “The insurance companies have a 20 percent to 30 percent overhead.”

The issue is timely because Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has proposed reducing the government role in Medicare for people now younger than 55. They would receive financial support to buy coverage on the private market. Supporters say such a plan is needed to keep the program fiscally solvent, while detractors say it would gut longstanding protections and promises to seniors.

Boxer’s comment cuts to the core of whether a government-run program like Medicare has advantages over one in which private insurers take a primary role.

First, we should define “overhead.” People may think of it as things such as rent and electricity. But in health care, the term typically refers more broadly to administrative costs, including expenses that are not strictly medical, such as marketing, customer service, billing, claims review, quality assurance, information technology and profits.

To measure the administrative costs for Medicare, we first turned to the 2011 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds — the document prepared by Medicare’s fiscal overseers.

The trustees’ summary listed total Medicare expenditures of $522.8 billion for 2010, of which $7 billion was characterized as “administrative expenses.” That works out to 1.3 percent — not far off from what Boxer stated.

For the private insurance market, we turned to a 2008 study by the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan number-crunching arm of Congress. CBO cited data, compiled by the McKinsey Global Institute, that estimated administrative costs for private insurers at 12 percent. That’s quite a bit lower than the 20 percent to 30 percent Boxer cited.

A different measurement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pegged the amount for private insurers at 11.1 percent for 2009 — in the same ballpark.

However, the administrative burden for private plans get more complicated the deeper you dig. There are large variations between different types of insurance plans. The data cited by CBO found that administrative costs were about 7 percent for employers with at least 1,000 employees, but 26 percent for firms with 25 or fewer employees. Meanwhile, in the individual insurance market — that is, plans secured by individuals on their own, rather than through an employer — the rate was nearly 30 percent, CBO said.

A big reason for this variation, CBO and others have concluded, is that bigger plans can spread costs over a larger number of people.

When we asked Boxer’s office for their source for the 20 percent-to-30 percent statistic, spokesman Andy Stone told us that prior to passage of the Democratic health care bill in 2010, health plans in California were only required to spend 70 percent of premiums on medical care, with insurers able to spend up to 30 percent on profits and administrative costs. He also cited some opinion and news articles that cited figures in the 20 percent to 30 percent range, and even higher.

We don’t doubt that there are cases in which overhead reaches or exceeds 30 percent, but those cases are both anecdotal and at the high end of the range. The averages cited by CBO and CMS are significantly lower — 11 percent to 12 percent — and many of the bigger plans undercut even that level.

There are a few other factors to consider:

Is Medicare’s administrative cost really that low?

A lively academic debate has broken out over whether Medicare’s administrative costs are really as low as 1 percent or 2 percent.

The difference stems from whether Medicare essentially freeloads off other parts of the federal government for services that private insurers have to pay for on their own. Adjusted estimates for Medicare’s administrative costs cited by the Urban Institute, a think tank that does research on issues such as poverty and economics, range from 3.6 percent to 5 percent, rather than the 1.3 percent using the data in the trustees’ report.

But Edwin Park, a health policy specialist at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the differences are overblown, since Medicare’s administrative cost total already includes payments to other agencies for such services.

We won’t settle this question, but we will point out evidence that even when you control for the differences, Medicare is still considerably more cost-efficient. In one study, CBO found that privately run Medicare plans had 11 percent overhead, compared to 2 percent for traditional Medicare.

Are “overhead” costs a useful way to measure the efficiency of a health plan?

Not necessarily. As the insurance industry often says — and independent experts generally agree — the right kind of administrative expenses may actually lead to cost savings and improved outcomes. These include disease management, wellness programs and quality improvement programs. CBO notes that a heavily managed insurance plan may spend more on overhead but may end up with lower premiums and better outcomes, whereas a lightly managed program may spend less on overhead but end up charging its policyholders more, with less positive results. By this logic, a higher-overhead plan might actually be preferable.

In addition, Henry Aaron, a health care specialist at the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution, suggested that over the long run, Medicare could benefit financially from having higher administrative costs in at least one area — anti-fraud enforcement.

In other words, measuring overhead is worthwhile, but it has its limitations.

Our ruling

There is some disagreement over how much Medicare pays in overhead. It could be a few percentage points higher than the 1 to 2 percent that Boxer cites. But Boxer’s numbers are defensible since they come straight from the Medicare trustees’ report.

Meanwhile, Boxer’s 20 percent-to-30 percent figure for the private sector is more squishy. Some plans have overhead rates that high, but only a fraction do, and the industry-wide average is quite a bit lower — 11 to 12 percent.

We’re convinced that Boxer’s underlying point — that private plans have higher overhead than government plans — is correct, if for no other reason than that profits matter only for private insurers. But for most plans and patients, the difference between Medicare overhead and private-sector overhead is not as great as she suggests. So we rate her statement Half True.

The Stunning Hypocrisy of Rick Scott

From the Florida Ledger

by Julie Delegal

As a long-time advocate for public education causes, I have never been as outraged by the Florida Legislature’s complete and utter disregard for our children as I am this year. Our lawmakers’ callousness is exceeded only by their post-session hypocrisy.

Governor Rick Scott, who originally wanted a ten percent cut to public education, now cries crocodile tears over the legislature’s failure to hold education harmless. Not to be upstaged, Speaker of the House Dean Cannon outs the governor for his “sudden emphasis on K-12 education.”

Cannon told the St. Petersburg Times, “The Governor communicated numerous priorities during session, and we did our best to accommodate him. It would have been helpful if the Governor had shared this new-found emphasis with us before the budget was finalized.”

With all due respect, Speaker Cannon, it would have been “helpful” if our elected lawmakers followed the law of the land as written in the Florida Constitution, specifically Article IX, Section 1. The key passage there tells you the peoples’ priority. “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” Lawmakers, your first priority is not playing footsie with the governor over what appears in the budget. The law says you’re to fund education first. Period!

You didn’t, and that hurts our children. Locally, our Duval County School Board is deliberating over whether to cut off its arms or its legs. Elementary art and music? Transportation? Varsity sports? Mondays? Or will they go with furloughs? Voters should remember that these cuts come on top of three years of previous cuts, and that Florida is still 50th in the nation when it comes to per capita funding for public schools. As for the ubiquitous excuse—recessionary times—they’re good times for priority setting. Indeed, Speaker Cannon implies in his statement that his budget priorities might have looked different if only he’d known how badly education cuts were bound to be received by the body politic. In Jacksonville, exit pollsters say that the number one issue for voters in the mayoral race was education, an issue gaining municipal attention as the state continues to ignore its paramount duty.

Two local school board members have seized on the miniscule crumb that Governor Scott threw out in his budget speech—a 0.6% “savings” that could be re-allocated to education.

Voters should absolutely be encouraged to shame their lawmakers into restoring that measly six-tenths of one percent to the education budget. But more important than begging for crumbs on the ground will be scrutinizing the upcoming redistricting process that begins in January. If we want to elect different people with different priorities to represent us in Tallahassee, we’re going to have to watch that those in power don’t keep gerrymandering the districts to their continued advantage. The foxes are guarding the henhouse, voters, and the crumbs they’re throwing us now are nothing but bait.

Julie Delegal is an education advocate and contributing writer for Folio Weekly and The Jacksonville Ledger online.

Florida’s public workers take it on the chin… hard…

by Scott Maddox

Recently the chairman of the Florida Republican Party wrote a My View (“Scott and GOP legislators got it done,” May 19) touting the accomplishments of the legislative session — and the governor just signed the budget into law, touting its perceived effectiveness.

The picture, however, is not so rosy. Simply put, I am distressed by the changing attitude toward public employees.

In full disclosure, I am certainly biased. My wife was a Leon County teacher, and both of my parents worked for government; my father was a police officer, and my mother spent three decades in the classroom.

I am also biased because I seem to recall that public service was once an honored profession in which dedicated public servants gave up dreams of riches in exchange for a lifetime of service. I also recall that teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and public servants of all stripes were universally respected for the lives they led and the professions they chose.

But those were different times. And that’s what angers me.

Today’s teachers are no less dedicated than they were when my mother first entered a classroom. They give so much to the future of our community and do so with very little financial gain. No, that has not changed.
Nor has the life of a police officer changed since my father first wore the badge. Bullets are still bullets, and dangerous people still see officers as targets.

And for that matter, nor has the work done by all public employees, regardless of the profession — from the state employee to the firefighter to the electric line worker, government employees are still made up of our dedicated, hard-working neighbors.

But what has changed is that some elected “leaders” — who are themselves, ironically, government employees — have tried to make these hardworking folks the scapegoats for what ails our nation and our state.

At a time when the word “tax” is toxic, they feel it is somehow okay to tax public employees. Those who championed this outrageous act somehow claim, “It is not a tax.”

You take 3 percent of a state employees’ pay, send it to general revenue — and brag how it helped balance our budget — that is a tax. Remember the adage: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck —it must be a duck.”

The 3-percent payroll deduction taken from all state employees that is going into general revenue is walking and quacking a lot like a tax.
The governor and every state leader profess to be creating jobs, yet their actions show a different story.

This year’s budget will result in the loss of 4,500 government jobs, and the $150 million raid on the transportation trust fund is expected to cost more than 8,000 private-sector jobs. Thousands of jobs will be lost on the city, county and school district level.

While I am grateful that local legislative leaders like Sen. Bill Montford, Rep. Alan Williams and Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda stood strong on behalf of government employees, I am truly sickened to see a new crop of lawmakers who treat hardworking public employees with disdain.
If anyone has any doubt that this issue transcends the 3-percent pay cut, look at the bevy of bills that were crawling through the system (but thankfully did not pass).

From drug testing, to loss of payroll deduction, to retirement reductions, state and local employees were under fire.

While public servants unfairly took it on the chin, here is the remarkable thing. Our teachers will still find a way to do a great job for our children, our first responders will still risk their lives, and every other government employee will still approach each day with same exceptional professionalism as they did before the lashings began.

A famous coach once said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” I know that our public servants will get back up and continue to serve with distinction.

As a small-business owner, I believe very strongly in private enterprise, but I know that we need an efficient government in order to prosper as a state. If we continue down the path of degrading public employees, we will never achieve this goal.

It’s a stark reality. Our state and government employees simply do not get the respect they deserve. It may be a reality, but I don’t have to like it.

Read more: Scott Maddox: Attitude toward public employees is distressing | | Tallahassee Democrat

Should Florida’s women just be barefoot and pregnant?


by Robin Marty

Florida Governor Rick Scott has been giving Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker a run for the money when it comes to creating fiscal crisis to enable him to enact a right-wing business and social agenda in the state. Scott has finished the year in fine form by adding insult to injury for the women of Florida — after proposing nearly 20 anti-reproductive health bills and passing a large group, including mandatory ultrasounds before an abortion and slashing family planning funding for the state, Scott is finishing up the work of the anti-women legislators with the help of his veto pen.

The Florida Independent reports:

Gov. Rick Scott yesterday vetoed almost $1.5 million for a handful of community health care clinics in Florida that provide adult and pediatric primary health care services, family planning, immunizations and STD and HIV screening, among other services, to low-income and minority patients.

Scott vetoed $500,000 for the AGAPE Community Health Center in Duval County and another half a million dollars for Apopka Health Center for rural and minority health.

Apopka is a community health center that provides health care to migrant communities in Florida. AGAPE provides a range of women’s health services. Among the many serves listed, the center’s website mentions Pap smears, clinical breast exams, STD testing and treatment, family planning, birth control, pregnancy testing and maternal/prenatal care. Apopka Health Center also lists obstetrical and gynecological care as services it provides.

Together, these two line-item vetoes mean a million dollar loss in preventative care for women in Florida.

Lost among the vetoes? Funding for low income and at risk pregnant women and early childhood health — the governor chose to eliminate and reduce programs that were set up to help address infant mortality in the state.

But what he left untouched was even more problematic. The governor left intact all funding for state sponsored “crisis pregnancy centers,” who’s primary function is to talk women who are interested getting abortions out of their choice, claiming they would provide assistance to the women if they will continue their pregnancies.

Cutting programs that prevent pregnancies or assist with prenatal care, and health care for poor women and children, while continuing to fund centers who try to talk women into having babies even if they don’t want them, many of which have religious agendas? How can this be seen as anything but trying to force women to have children, then yanking away their resources as soon as they say they will continue their pregnancies?

It’s a debate that is happening on the national level and the local levels, and new DNC Chairwoman and Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz is involved in both aspects, condemning the GOP’s anti-women stance as an obvious battle in the war on women. And Florida state congresswomen are fighting as well, with one local rep claiming this is all “to make sure that women stay pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen.”

With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and a Republican Governor, Florida is a true example of what would happen to women if Republicans had full control federally. So far we have been lucky enough that nothing the House has proposed has been able to make it through the Senate, and if it did, wouldn’t withstand a Presidential veto.

But if it all were under Republican control? Just take a look at Florida to see what that would mean for women.

Rick Scott’s 343 million dollar travesty

When Rick Scott did his budget he requested an additional 343 million for the governors office as you can imagine a dramatic increase. Though if you are a silver lining type, maybe you can find solace in that he was going to use some of this money to create 91 extra jobs. However it got me to thinking what else could we have spent the money on.

The first thing that comes to mind is the raid of the transportation trust fund of 150 million dollars. This will cancel a number of projects that would improve our infrastructure and according to the Orlando Sentinel cost eighty-four hundred jobs. Hmm isn’t that two of the states biggest needs, infrastructure and jobs?

I am a teacher but the cuts to education were to massive to be paid for by Scott’s treasure trove (about 20 thousand education jobs state wide lost and that’s before the ten percent pay cut, pension and benefits increase, that will also take billions more out of the economy and cost more jobs) but I find children important so the next thing that came to mind was the 171 million he cut from the department of Children and Family. This can’t help but decrease the level of care some of our most vulnerable citizens but is also going to cost two thousand workers their jobs.

We’re now up to 321 million dollars which leaves only a little over twenty to spend. So I picked the cuts to our libraries (twenty million) public broadcasting (a little over 500 thousand) and the dental van that served Jacksonville’s indigents without dental care (another 500k). That’s right a nearly seventy billion-dollar budget and we couldn’t find enough change in the couch to help poor people with their teeth. These cuts will only cost the state a few hundred jobs at most but it has the effect of dumbing us down, we need libraries and impartial sources of information, and making us cruel to our less fortunate neighbors. You know who else doesn’t have libraries, public television and dental care for it’s poor; Somalia and dozens of other countries on the fringe of civilization and chaos.

So what did we lose so the governor can have a few more assistants and work on his pet projects? Over ten thousand jobs, needed improvements to our infrastructure, protection of our children, and necessary things that separate us from third world countries. This all cut from a budget that is only about a billion less than last years (don’t forget the 1.7 billion dollar cut to education either). Friend’s social services, education, the environment, the middle class and the poor all just took a very bad beating. Since the amount of government spending only went down by a negligible amount, I hope this isn’t what those who voted for him had in mind.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Florida education majors have few options


by Joe Callahan

“Home’s not a bad place,” Kat McPadden, 21, said while giving her dad Ed McPadden a hug at her parent’s home in Ocklawaha Wednesday afternoon, May 25, 2011 as her mother Gail McPadden pats her on the back. McPadden just graduated from FSU and moved back home with her parents due to the harsh economic climate. “I work as a substitute where ever they need me,” McPadden said. McPadden has no idea whether she will have a job next year because of the budget cuts. There were 1 million less summer jobs in 2010, a 50 percent reduction from 1998-2010, for kids 16 to 19 years old. More college graduates than ever before are having to move home after graduation because of the slumping job market.

At a time when Kat McPadden should be thinking about how to decorate her classroom for the new school year, the recent Florida State University graduate instead is spending her days unpacking boxes back in her childhood bedroom.

Troubling signs for young workersSince the recession hit in December 2007, the number of workers ages 65 and older has increased by 15.6 percent, while the number of all workers ages 16 and older has decreased by 4.6 percent.

In 2006, just before the recession, 67 percent of all college graduates said they moved back home with their parents. In 2010, that number ballooned to 85 percent, according to a CNN Money poll conducted last year.

The average age of a fast-food restaurant worker has increased by 7.5 years in the last decade. In 2000, the average age of a fast-food worker was 22. Today it is 29.5, indicating a shift away from younger people.

Summer jobs for workers ages 16 to 19 have plummeted by 41.3 percent since December 2007.

The aspiring English teacher hopes to get a full-time job in August with the financially strapped Marion County School District, but for now she must settle for part-time work as a substitute teacher.

Few teachers will be hired for 2011-12, and district officials will not employ substitute teachers beginning July 1.

So for McPadden, moving back to her Moss Bluff home with her parents in a dismal job market was the only answer.

Like McPadden, Eugenio Torrens, who graduated from the University of Florida with a journalism degree on April 30, will move back in with his mother in Tampa. After jaw surgery over the summer, he will attempt to get a job — or at least some type of freelance position. If job opportunities do not open up, he will go back to school in the fall of 2012.

“If I can’t find a (full-time) job by then, I will apply for graduate school,” he said.

McPadden, 21, and Torrens, 22, are among a growing number of recently graduated people who are forced to return home because their job prospects are so poor in this stagnant economy.

In 2006, just before the recession, 67 percent of all college graduates said they moved back home with their parents. In 2010, that number swelled to 85 percent, according to a CNN Money poll conducted last year.

The name for these college graduates: “Boomerang kids.”

McPadden and Torrens are discovering what economists already know — that the bad economy can be the most brutal on the youngest members of the workforce.

And it’s not just college graduates who are feeling the pinch.

The job market for workers ages 16 to 19 is the worst it has been since 1949, the year the U.S. Department of Labor first compiled such statistics. Since the summer of 2007, summer jobs nationally have declined by 41.3 percent.

And with more senior citizens re-entering the workforce to make ends meet, jobs that usually went to young people are now being filled by people who, in better times, would be content and financially stable in retirement.

Since the recession hit in December 2007, the number of workers ages 65 and older has increased by 15.6 percent, while the number of all workers ages 16 and older has decreased by 4.6 percent, according to U.S. labor statistics.

With so many seniors remaining in or returning to the workforce, it takes several years longer for workers to be promoted within a company.

Vanguard High School Principal Rick Lankford said his 29-year-old son, Jeff, works part time in food service at a Mount Dora country club. Jeff Lankford wants to move to the next level. But jobs are harder to get, mainly because there are so many people with more experience looking for jobs. His son feels “trapped,” Lankford said.

Even fast-food jobs that once went to teenagers are now going to older employees.

The average age of a fast-food restaurant worker has increased from 22 in 2000 to 29.5 today, illustrating the shift away from younger people.

Brea Nail doesn’t need the U.S. Department of Labor to tell her that. A couple of times a week, the North Marion High School senior drives 40 miles round-trip to Ocala to look for work, putting in applications at all types of businesses.

She has been to the mall, restaurants, fast-food chains, anywhere that might be willing to pay for her services. The bottom line: Few businesses are hiring teenagers.

“I’m desperate just to get one interview,” said Brea, who plans to attend College of Central Florida in the fall to complete her associate’s degree.

For the few jobs that are available, students must calculate whether they can even afford to work now that gas prices have soared, hitting nearly $4 per gallon just a few weeks ago.

“They have to weigh the cost of the job,” said Colleen Wade, International Baccalaureate coordinator at Vanguard High School, a magnet school. “Can they really afford the job? It really is tough times for kids right now. It is scary during a time when the economy is as uncertain as it is.”

Career experts say there are hopeful signs amid the gloomy employment landscape, however.

Heather White, the interim director of the University of Florida’s Career Resource Center, said more employers are recruiting on campus this year.

She said the National Association of College and Employers (NACE) projects that employers nationwide are expected to hire about 19 percent more graduates in 2010-11 than in 2009-10.

The NACE — — is a nonprofit agency that brings together human resource staffing professionals who help new college graduates find employment.

Many of those who can’t find work choose to return to school to get graduate degrees, she said. But those students are finding it harder to get into programs because of the sheer number of people vying for a limited number of seats.

Overall, White believes students are learning valuable lessons.

“I do think the job market is more challenging than in recent years,” she said. “But I think students can learn how to navigate in this type of job market.”

The lesson is that once the students get a job and the economy bounces back, they can apply what they have learned today to find new jobs if there is another downturn in the future.

Deborah Jenkins, director of Marion County Community Technical & Adult Education, known as CTAE, said although the job situation does not seem very good for workers in their 20s, there is hope.

CTAE graduates are finding work in some vocational fields. In fact, 74 percent of graduates are being placed. The jobs showing positive signs of growth are health care and welding. However, these jobs are not always available locally, and students may have to move to find work.

The age range of students attending CTAE is 28 to 55. Jenkins has seen more students with bachelor’s degrees attending CTAE to learn a new trade to make ends meet.

A bad job market typically attracts more people to CTAE.

“And not just the job market, but life itself,” Jenkins said, adding that some people have had to quit CTAE because they can’t afford gas and other expenses. Jenkins said they do have programs to help students financially and there are “all kinds of financial aid available for students.”

CF President Charles “Chick” Dassance said that students in some careers, such as nursing, do have options after graduation.

And while more and more students head to community colleges to get degrees, Dassance said he is “very concerned about the slow job growth.”

“We can do the education part,” he said, “but we can’t create the jobs.”

Contact Joe Callahan at 867-4113 or at Follow him on Twitter at JoeOcalaNews.

The Corporate Dream, teachers as temps

From Common

by Glen Ford

As Democrats hustle to shovel a billion dollars into President Obama’s campaign coffers – making promises to rich people and their corporations every step of the way – America’s billionaires are spending even more money to seize control of the nation’s public schools. Although super-wealthy capitalists like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, fellow computer mogul Michael Dell, real estate magnate Eli Broad, and the rapacious owners of Wal-Mart, the Walton Family, would like people to think of them as philanthropists, they are nothing more than down-and-dirty investors who hope to reap much more than they sow. This mega-buck mafia’s goal is to gain access to the $600 billion per year that taxpayers pump into public schools, and then to profit in perpetuity by shaping the nation’s educational system to their corporate needs. The corporate education project has nothing to do with growing new generations of smarter, socially aware, independent-thinking citizens, but is designed to raid public treasuries through wholesale contracting-out of public schooling.

Teachers are the biggest obstacle in the way of the corporate educational coup, which is why the billionaires, eagerly assisted by their servants in the Obama administration, have made demonization and eventual destruction of teachers unions their top priority. Corporations hate collective bargaining, or working people’s power of any kind, but their vision goes way beyond simply neutralizing teachers unions. The billionaires, and the politicians they have purchased, want nothing less than to destroy teaching as a profession. Plutocrats like Bill Gates and politicians like Barack Obama may make noises about respecting teachers’ life-long commitment to learning, but their actions prove the opposite. At every opportunity, whenever a real or manufactured educational crisis presents itself, the corporate gang champions charter schools and imports platoons of young, mostly white, inexperienced rookies from programs like Teach for America. Most of these neophytes have no intention of making teaching a career, so they accept low wages, turnover is high, and they have no long term interest in any particular school, or school system, or the profession in general. They are temporary teachers – which is precisely the point.

Just as corporations have revamped the private white collar workforce, replacing full-time, salaried personnel with “temporary” workers – a system in which some managers are officially temps – such are the prospects for teachers in the brave new corporate world of education “reform.”

The billionaires’ propaganda machinery claims the corporatization of American education is necessary to make the United States “competitive,” internationally. But teachers in most of the countries that lead the U.S. in learning are highly respected, if not revered, and relatively well compensated. Under the guise of “reform,” the United States is moving in exactly the opposite direction as the rest of the world. The American people are being conned by billionaire hustlers who are stealing the public schools – and the national future – right in front of our eyes.

Why Art Education is Important

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Scott Maxwell

Judging solely by the statistics, students at Fern Creek Elementary School should be struggling.

Twenty percent of them are homeless. More than 80 percent receive free or reduced–price lunches.

Yet when FCAT scores came back last week, they were sky-high — with 84 percent of third-graders scoring at grade level or higher on reading and 86 percent for math.

Though some schools have cut arts and music programs in the face of budget woes, Principal Patrick Galatowitsch has kept his cultural offerings at full strength.

And the result of mixing violins and water colors with multiplication tables and vocabulary lists speaks for itself.

Young minds, you see, are like sponges. And when you wet them with just a bit of knowledge, they become thirsty for more.

“There’s very scientific evidence behind all this,” said Mary Beth Perkins, the art teacher at Fern Creek who has children sculpting with old tire pieces and creating mosaics with unused stickers.”It hits a part of their brain that just connects. And things come alive.”

Sometimes the sparks are obvious.

Patterns in an arpeggio have similarities to sequences in math. Unique color names enhance vocabulary. A student moved by the music of “Les Miserables” suddenly wants to know more about the French Revolution.

But the arts can also improve a student’s entire outlook on life.

Just ask Kara Herbert. Her music class at Fern Creek is a vibrant and happy place, full of steel drums, xylophones and conga drums. Third-graders play violins. First-graders dance.

And Herbert has seen students’ confidence skyrocket after they master an instrument they had previously eyed from afar.

“Learning music helps them in so many ways,” she said. “In general, it makes them more well-rounded students.”

National studies say students involved in the arts have higher self-esteem, are more involved in their communities and often do better on everything from SAT scores to critical analysis … as Fern Creek’s FCAT scores reflect.

Galatowitsch beamed when he looked down at the scores he had just received Thursday morning. But he stressed that educating kids is about more than teaching them to pencil in the right bubbles.

“We’re preparing children for life,” he said. “And to prepare them for life, we need to expose them to all that is wonderful about the world.”

It’s not always easy.

Florida schools are already funded below the national average. So the teachers at Fern Creek work hard to provide their 320 students many of the things that lawmakers in Tallahassee do not.

They work with nonprofits such as A Gift for Teaching. They coordinate with students at the University of Central Florida and artistic scholars at Rollins. Local dance troupes, such as Voci Dance, introduce the kids to movement classes they might never otherwise experience.

“The community support we have for the arts is incredible,” Galatowitsch said. “And our school staff and teachers work above and beyond, uncompensated, to ensure that our students have these opportunities.”

That’s why it galls this overachieving principal when he hears politicians poor-mouthing teachers — and trying to further gut the state’s underfunded school system.

This year, Gov. Rick Scott proposed a record-breaking $3 billion hit to Florida schools.

The Republican-led Legislature wanted to take $1.35 billion.

They settled on the latter, slicing an additional $542 per student from an already strapped system.

After approving the cuts, Scott then had the gall to stage a media event Thursday where he unveiled a new slogan: “Less waste. More for education.”

Galatowitsch simply couldn’t comprehend.

But by Tuesday, he and the rest of the staff at Fern Creek won’t be fretting about Tallahassee. They’ll be back on their tiny campus just north of downtown Orlando focused on their needy students … and budding artists.

The kids may even get back the pieces of art they recently displayed at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.

“These kids were just so excited,” Perkins recalled of the night their museum show opened. “They felt like real artists.”

Because they were. or 407-420-6141,0,444668,full.column

Andy Ford Speaks out about Govenor Scotts Massive Education Cuts

When Gov. Rick Scott announced his budget proposal in February, the word “education” was notably absent from the political event. And when he did roll out his education budget proposal, it called for slashing already underfunded public schools by more than 10 percent.

The education budget approved by the Legislature did not cut schools as deeply as the governor recommended, but it was almost as irresponsible. Teachers and other school employees will lose their jobs, programs will be drastically cut, and in some places school days shortened and schools closed.

On Thursday, at his political event announcing what items he would veto out of the state budget, the governor made a big show of saying he was putting money back in the schools budget. That would be a laughable statement if it were not so frustrating. It is meaningless to suggest putting the money back into education, since it would require the unlikely occurrence of another session and a new appropriations bill. It was a politically expedient message for a governor with plummeting poll numbers but a cruel suggestion for school employees who face layoffs and furloughs, and for schoolchildren who attend Florida’s inadequately funded schools.

This Legislature handed out more than $300 million in tax cuts in a year when education was slashed. The governor lobbied hard for these tax cuts, but didn’t lift a finger to prevent the real harm that will be caused by cuts in education and health and human services. His sudden interested in education at a campaign-style event won’t mask the reality of his priorities.

President, Florida Education Association

How voucher proponenets buy votes

From Flagler

by Lilly Rockwell

When Florida voted in 2001 to create a corporate tax credit voucher program for low-income students, only one Democrat supported the idea.

Ten years later, when it came time to vote on a bill (HB 965) that expanded the amount of tax credit a company gets for making a donation to a school voucher program, 24 Democrats chose to support the bill.

That’s a remarkable policy shift for Democrats, who started out nearly united in their opposition to vouchers.

The votes also coincide with an increasing number of campaign donations and political advertising support of Democrats by individuals or groups that back voucher programs, including the corporate tax credit scholarship program.

Democrats say their support of voucher programs is not connected to contributions but rather an awakening that that private school vouchers help many low-income students receive a good education.

“I support it because this money goes toward scholarships for children of African-Americans in low income areas,” said Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, who received donations from a voucher proponent. Black caucus members especially have embraced some voucher programs and say it reflects demands of their constituents – who are more likely to live in areas with poor-performing public schools.

Since 2004, about $5 million was spent by two “527″ groups, which are political fundraising organizations that spend money advocating for an issue, according to campaign finance records.

These groups – All Children Matter and Florida Federation for Children – specifically support school voucher programs. These groups have ties with national pro-voucher organizations such as the American Federation for Children. Both of these political advocacy groups are run by John Kirtley, who successfully lobbied in 2001 to get the corporate tax credit scholarship program approved by the Legislature.

Kirtley sits on the board of Step Up For Students, one of the groups that provide private school vouchers to low-income students through the corporate tax credit scholarship program.

Through his own personal contributions, Kirtley, his wife, and to a much lesser extent his two daughters, have spent about $125,000 in the last two election cycles on Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Kirtley said expenditures by his political advocacy group are designed to “inform voters about the records of candidates.” He said candidates are picked “solely on their views on parental choice for low-income families.”

His personal contributions, he said, were made based on the same standards. “I’m a single issue person,” he said. “I don’t care about their position on anything but parental choice for low income families.”

Kirtley’s eagerness to help lawmakers that support vouchers appears to be a family affair.

His wife is a regular contributor to many of the same candidates that Kirtley chooses to donate to. And his two daughters – Peyton and Kendyl – each donated $500 in their name to former Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, and Taylor in 2009. Kirtley declined to provide his daughter’s ages and in an email interview asked that the focus stay on him, so it’s not clear if the daughters’ donations violate a state law that limits contributions by children to $100.

State law limits donations by adults to $500 for each candidate per election. But 527 groups are allowed to spend freely on political advertisements, such as direct mail or television advertising. The only limit on these communications is they cannot explicitly urge the election or defeat of a candidate.

All of the Democrats and Republicans that received funding from Kirtley ended up backing the bill that allowed companies claiming a corporate tax credit for donating to voucher groups to get a larger tax credit.

Last year an even bigger expansion of the corporate tax credit voucher program was approved with about half of the Democratic caucus supporting it and many of the same Democrats voted similarly this year.

Some Democrats that support voucher bills, though, did not receive direct donations from Kirtley, such as Sen. Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale and Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove.

House Minority Leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West, said he voted for the voucher bill because it saves the state money on education. That’s because students who receive vouchers through the corporate tax credit program only get a percentage of the per-student funding they would receive if they went to a public school.

Saunders also received donations from Kirtley and his wife.

“I generally have supported the tax scholarship program because it relieves pressure (on education spending),” Saunders said. When asked about campaign support, Saunders said “I think I got those contributions after I voted the first time on it. They support the people that support the program.”

Saunders said Democrats have never taken a caucus position on vouchers. “It’s an issue people don’t agree on.”

Indeed, other Democrats and black caucus members contacted for this story say they are against expansions of vouchers. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said she voted against the voucher bill because she believes it harms public schools. “My biggest concern is that there is no data that shows once a student gets a voucher and leaves the public school, it is not proven they perform better in the private school,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she believes voucher supporters have become politically influential. “They are attempting, in terms of their political power, to link their contributions with the votes that members take,” Thompson said.

But other Democrats and Kirtley say there is no “quid pro quo” of votes for political support.

“The idea that Democratic support for parent choice has been bought is absurd,” Kirtley said. He said the reason more Democrats have become supporters of voucher programs is broadening support on the issue from constituents. He pointed out that several Democrats voted for voucher programs without any assistance from him or his fundraising arm.

“It is actually the natural order of things that a majority of the black caucus would support the tax credit program and parental choice for low income families,” Kirtley said. “It would be unnatural if they didn’t.”

Kirtley said the need to become more involved in political donations was driven by a desire to compete against the big dogs in education politics: the teachers union, also known as the Florida Education Association.

“For too long, there was only one main player in education reform political space….teacher’s unions,” Kirtley said. He said nationally teachers unions spent $70 million on political races last year. That figure could not be confirmed.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said comparing political expenditures between the two groups is comparing apples to oranges. The FEA examines a wide range of issues when it considers which candidates to support, Pudlow said, such as the budget, class size, merit pay and voucher programs.

“(Kirtley) is dealing with a single issue,” Pudlow said. “Comparing what we spend to him isn’t exactly fair.”

With Republicans holding large majorities in the House and Senate, and a governor supportive of expanding school options beyond traditional public schools, Kirtley certainly doesn’t need Democratic votes to press his agenda. But he said he donates to Democrats because the issue is non-partisan.

“These legislators are voting to give low income parents more educational opportunity and they deserve support for doing so,” Kirtley said. “The pendulum always swings back.”

How School-Voucher Lobbyist John Kirtley Buys Florida Lawmakers’ Votes