Albany Times Union. February 1, 2023.
Editorial: Unbridled restraint
Protecting children from the overuse of last-resort behavioral interventions starts with collecting better data.
For educators and other school staffers, the decision to put a child with disabilities in physical restraints is supposed to be a last resort. But in some private and state-run schools serving special-needs students, these “emergency interventions” are used regularly, sometimes multiple times per day. That’s a blot on the good work educators do, and on the educational system tasked with protecting these vulnerable children.
As the Times Union’s Emilie Munson reported, students in some schools around the state were restrained — immobilized either through physical contact or with devices such as straps — and sent to time-out rooms hundreds of times per month, according to state records. Sometimes the same child would be restrained and put in time-out rooms dozens of times in a month.
State data reflects just the incidents that have been reported to the Education Department — and not all schools for children with significant disabilities participate in the state’s survey.
In one sense, this situation is slightly better than what happens in New York’s public schools: The state doesn’t make them report restraint incidents as part of regular data collection.
Ms. Munson’s story is part of a yearlong Hearst investigation into the use of “restraint and seclusion” in educational settings nationwide. In New York, thousands of students, most often children with disabilities, have been physically restrained by staff members in recent years. For children, restraint and isolation can cause emotional trauma or physical injury. In rare cases, students have died.
Collecting better data is the first step toward putting these intervention methods back in the last-resort category where they belong. Mandatory reporting on restraint incidents from special-needs schools and general-education public schools, along with regular audits, will provide a clearer picture — and better accountability.
We won’t dispute that there are times a child must be physically stopped from hurting themselves or others. That’s a judgment call caregivers should be trained to make. But it’s the state’s responsibility to make sure everyone has that training, and then to ensure they’re putting it into practice. And it’s the state’s responsibility to make sure classrooms are adequately staffed so teachers aren’t relying on last-resort methods simply because they’re stretched too thin to use any other intervention. Better data will help pinpoint the reasons some schools use restraints too often.
A bill signed last year requires that if a child is restrained at school, parents must be informed the same day. The state should make sure that’s happening, and give the law some teeth if it isn’t.
And lawmakers have more to do, starting with a ban on prone — or face-down — restraints, or any other type of restraint that restricts breathing. New York is one of the few states that allows their use.
Next: Narrow the rules on when restraint or isolation may be used. New York allows these interventions not only to stop children from harming themselves or others, but also to prevent property damage or classroom disruption. That’s too broad.
And finally, New Yorkers deserve more transparency: Though the Education Department has been collecting this data on special-needs schools for years, it’s never before been publicly released. A spokesperson says the department is “having discussions internally and with the field.” This is not something to handle quietly. Families and the general public share an interest in knowing whether we’re doing enough to protect some of our state’s most vulnerable.
Auburn Citizen. January 29, 2023.
Editorial: NY caucus exceptions invite secrecy
The state Open Meetings Law is pretty clear in its plain text that the overwhelming majority of government board discussions have to be conducted in view of the public, with advance notice of when boards meet and what will be discussed.
Even when boards go into closed-door executive sessions to have private talks related to a narrowly defined set of exceptions — such as the employment history of a specific person or pending litigation — a public vote must be taken with an explanation of why the executive session is necessary. And any official action/votes arising from that session must be reported publicly.
But there’s a massive loophole in state law that allows for far too many local elected board decisions to be hashed out secretly, with no notice to the public. It’s the caucus loophole, and it’s time to make changes to stop its abuse.
The nonprofit New York Coalition for Open Government, which monitors transparency issues at the state and local government level, issued an eye-opening report last week on how far too many boards work out the public’s key business in caucus meetings, which allow elected board members of the same political party to gather in private and talk about anything.
Such meetings have been used by both parties in Cayuga County for many years, and as the coalition has shown in its report, the practice is common throughout the state.
“Elected members of the same political party are allowed to hold a private political caucus meeting, where they can discuss political party business and public business,” the report states. “The political party in control of a public body can hold a private meeting, bring in staff and department heads, run through the night’s public meeting agenda and work everything out before the public meeting occurs.
“These secret meetings, make the public meeting a sham as the real discussion has already occurred in private,” the report continued.
The coalition concluded its report with a recommendation to change state law to eliminate caucus meetings at the local level. One way to do this is to update Open Meetings Law to state that public transparency requirements apply any time at least two-thirds of a public body is meeting regardless of political party affiliation, unless discussion is specifically related to party business.
As with many things in Albany, waiting for this happen may not be productive, so the coalition also suggests that local governments can show true commitment to transparency by passing their own local laws limiting how caucus meetings can be used.
We urge our local governments to give this a serious look, but that won’t happen unless local residents encourage their elected officials to pursue this recommendation.
New York Post. February 1, 2023.
Editorial: Hochul takes a good step toward fixing bail laws — but not remotely enough to rein in crime
Good for Gov. Kathy Hochul for pushing at least one significant step toward fixing the state’s disastrous bail reforms — yet there’s a ton more to fix to roll back New York’s out-of-control crime.
In presenting her budget Wednesday, Hochul called to eliminate “confusion” by scrapping the requirement for judges to apply the “least restrictive” means to ensure a defendant returns to court. That, she correctly argues, conflicts with other language in the same law giving judges discretion to consider other factors, such as a defendant’s record, when determining bail.
Some judges do consider those factors, she notes, yet others feel bound by the “least restrictive” standard and quickly set defendants free without bail. “We have an inconsistency in the law.”
Hochul is absolutely right that courts should consider the accused’s record, as the law now allows, particularly if they represent a threat to public safety or show a clear risk of re-offending. And judges should know, for sure, that they have that discretion.
Alas, progressives balk at any change (unless it means fewer bad guys locked up). Hochul’s proposal “would soak the hands of politicians in blood,” howls NY Communities for Change’s Lucas Sánchez. “Judges don’t need more discretion, they need more accountability,” rails Envision Freedom Fund’s Zoë Adel.
So the governor will likely have to go to the mat to get this done.
Meanwhile, she’s pushing nothing to rein in crimes by under-18s, often against fellow teens. Such offenses quickly soared after the Raise the Age law (which keeps 16- and 17-year-olds from facing serious consequences) took full effect in 2019.
Indeed, since then, under-18 shooters more than doubled in the city, as did teens struck by gunfire. Yet Hochul didn’t say boo about that misguided law in Wednesday’s budget presentation.
And while she wants more funding to help prosecutors deal with the near-impossible rules for gathering and sharing evidence, she refuses to actually fix those rules, which have forced district attorneys to drop cases and led to record staff burnout.
Yes, softie judges and let-’em-loose DAs are part of the problem. Yet that’s all the more reason to get the laws right and refocus the justice system on public safety. The gov’s pushing in the right direction, but it seems New Yorkers will have needlessly high levels of crime for far too long before the Legislature agrees to fix all the defects.
New York Times. January 28, 2023.
Editorial: See Workers as Workers, Not as a College Credential
In one of the richest nations on earth, the path to prosperity has narrowed significantly in recent decades — especially for those without a college education. More than 62% of Americans ages 25 and up do not hold bachelor’s degrees, and the earnings gap between those with a college education and those without one has never been wider. In 2021, the difference between the median earnings of younger workers with bachelor’s degrees and workers of the same age with high-school diplomas only was $22,000 — the largest since the Federal Reserve Bank of New York began tracking earnings in 1990. That’s happening even as the cost of college spirals upward, putting it out of reach for many. This has fueled anxiety, bitterness and a sense of alienation among the millions who see themselves as shut out of an economy that does not value them.
Making college more affordable is important, but there are other keys to the doors of opportunity as well. With an executive order issued on Jan. 18, his first full day as governor, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania used one of them: He eliminated the requirement of a four-year college degree for the vast majority of jobs in the state government, a change similar to one that Maryland and Utah made last year. This demonstrates both good policy and good leadership, representing a concrete change in hiring philosophy that stops reducing people to a credential and conveys that everyone — college-educated or not — has experience and worth that employers should consider. It is a step — and a mind-set — that other leaders should consider as well.
The decision was driven in part by the realities of a tight labor market. Unemployment in Pennsylvania is 3.9% — close to the national average of 3.5% — and lower than it was before the pandemic. Public and private employers have been struggling to find qualified applicants, prompting a re-evaluation of hiring criteria. As Mr. Shapiro’s order notes, “In the modern labor market, applicants gain knowledge, skills and abilities through a variety of means, including apprenticeships, on-the-job training, military training and trade schools.”
His move opens up 92% of state government jobs — approximately 65,000 positions — to anyone with “the relevant work experience and skills-based training, regardless of their educational attainment.” Job postings will emphasize experience over education.
The nonprofit organization Opportunity@Work has been promoting the idea of skills- and experience-based hiring since 2015. It estimates that 50% of the American work force comprises workers who have gained their skills through alternative routes such as apprenticeships, military service, trade schools, certificate programs and on-the-job training rather than acquiring bachelor’s degrees — a deep pool of underutilized and undercompensated talent. If employers don’t have a strategy for engaging this pool, said Byron Auguste, the group’s chief executive and co-founder, “they don’t have a talent strategy — they only have half a talent strategy.”
If the United States can’t find ways to tap into all of this talent, we will not be able to solve our most urgent problems, like climate change and pandemic preparedness, or build a stronger and fairer country. Too many Americans see our society and economy as profoundly unfair, set up to serve the needs of well-connected elites and providing more benefits to people who went to college or know how to work the system. And too many feel that political leaders don’t care about them and that government and institutions don’t work for them. Opening up jobs may seem small-bore, but it shows that government is listening and helps build trust among those who may feel unseen or looked down upon by parts of the labor market.
The private sector has been moving gradually in this direction already. Major players to embrace skill-based hiring include General Motors, Bank of America, Google, Apple and Accenture. IBM is recognized as a particular leader; about half of its U.S. job openings no longer require a four-year degree.
This trend has been concentrated among what is termed “middle-skill jobs,” which call for some education or training beyond high school, according to a 2022 report by researchers from Harvard Business School and Emsi Burning Glass, a labor market data firm. These middle-skill jobs, the report notes, “have long served as an important steppingstone to the middle class.”
During the Great Recession, many of those steppingstones were removed. Unemployment was high, and many employers responded with “degree inflation” — larding college education requirements onto jobs that previously had not called for them — even though the work involved remained the same. As a result, the report notes, “key avenues for upward mobility were closed to roughly 80 million prime working age Americans at a time when income inequality was already widening.”
Over the last few years, this degree inflation has begun to recede. If this “degree reset” continues, an additional 1.4 million jobs would be opened to workers without college degrees over the next five years.
This could also help make the American work force more diverse and inclusive in several ways. Black and Hispanic job-seekers are less likely to have bachelor’s degrees than non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans. Rural Americans would also benefit; only 25 percent of them hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. “No part of the country is more disadvantaged by degree screening than rural America,” Mr. Auguste said.
The public sector should join this reset more aggressively. In June 2020, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to make skills more important than degrees in federal hiring. The Biden administration has also taken a couple of steps in that direction.
Getting more states on board could provide a valuable boost; state governments are among the largest employers in many states, so their hiring criteria play a special role in validating workers without college degrees. Last March, Larry Hogan of Maryland became the first governor to announce that his state was doing away with college degree requirements for many jobs. In December, his fellow Republican, Spencer Cox of Utah, followed suit. “Degrees have become a blanketed barrier to entry in too many jobs,” Mr. Cox said. “Instead of focusing on demonstrated competence, the focus too often has been on a piece of paper.”
With Mr. Shapiro, a Democrat, weighing in for Pennsylvania, the nation’s fifth most populous state, the movement’s bipartisan credentials have been burnished. It is a move that Americans in every state should actively encourage.
Expanding the terms for who can get hired is a change that would reverberate far beyond individual jobs and job seekers. It would bring a greater degree of openness and fairness into the labor market and send a message about government’s ability to adapt and respond to the concerns of its citizens. In a country where a majority of people do not have bachelor’s degrees, policies that automatically close off jobs to so many people contribute to the perception that the system is rigged against them.
A healthy democracy recognizes and promotes opportunity for everyone. Americans need to hear that message.
Wall Street Journal. January 30, 2023.
Editorial: The State Tax-Cut Movement
By year-end, about half of the states will have cut rates on income within three years.
Good news for taxpayers, or at least some of you: Statehouses across the country are continuing to cut taxes in a movement that shows no sign of slowing down. By year-end, nearly half of all states will have cut their income-tax rates within a three-year period. The good results so far confirm that we’re in a virtuous economic-political cycle.
At least six states have kicked off their 2023 legislative sessions with income-tax cut proposals. Newly inaugurated Governors in Arkansas and Nebraska campaigned on rate cuts and are asking legislators to follow through. Leaders in Virginia and Montana want to cut rates modestly with bipartisan support. Large GOP majorities in West Virginia and Utah are considering significant cuts after hesitating last year.
Each of these states has at least one neighbor where tax rates have dropped recently, and competition is sustaining the trend. “We were the cool kid on the block 15 years ago when we moved to 5% flat,” said Rusty Cannon, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, referring to his state’s flat income-tax rate this month. But in the past two years Colorado has adopted a 4.4% top rate on income, and Arizona dropped its rate to 2.5%. “We’re no longer the cool kid on the block at all,” said Mr. Cannon.
The tax-cutting trend took off in 2021 as state revenues boomed, driven by postpandemic reopening, rising stock prices and capital gains, and federal aid. By September 2022, 31 states were outperforming their prepandemic revenue trajectories, according to Pew Research. Twenty-one states have cut their income taxes in this period, according to the Tax Foundation, and they’re betting that returning revenue to taxpayers will spur faster economic growth.
The results so far vindicate these choices. Many states that cut taxes in the early stage of the revenue boom have sustained or expanded their surpluses. That’s what happened in Idaho, which boasts one of the best-performing state budgets according to Pew. In May 2021 Gov. Brad Little cut the top rate on income to 6.5% from 6.93% amid a $900 million surplus. The state’s surplus grew by more than 50% the next year, and Gov. Little followed up by reducing the income tax to a flat 5.8%.
Flat-rate tax reforms are also spreading. Last year Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi and Arizona joined Idaho in enacting one. That brings the nationwide total to 13, after public-employee unions finally won a referendum that nixed Massachusetts’s flat 5% income-tax rate last year. Now the top Bay State rate is 9%, an invitation to move to Nashua, N.H. Flat rates on income help restrain the upward creep of taxes by forcing politicians to raise rates on everyone in order to reach for more revenue.
Tax-cut critics always predict that a revenue bust is around the corner, pointing to disappointing results after Kansas cut taxes in 2012. Yet Governors of late have moved carefully, often cutting less than official revenue estimates would allow.
Leaders in Mississippi and West Virginia rejected optimistic budget projections and opted for more limited cuts than were originally proposed. States such as Iowa and Montana have reduced taxes in phases spread out over years, while rate cuts in states like Kentucky and Indiana kick in only when certain revenue levels are exceeded. These phased cuts blunt the immediate economic benefit of lower rates, but they help allay political fears that budgets will spontaneously combust years after the cuts.
States that don’t cut taxes in times of surplus invariably spend more, often building commitments that are hard to sustain and lead to pressure to raise taxes in the lean economic years. That’s what happened last year in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom followed a $97 billion surplus with a $300 billion budget, including new climate spending and expanded Medicaid for illegal migrants. This month the state announced a $23 billion deficit.
The tax-cutting spree is increasing the tax divide between GOP-led and progressive Democratic states. This in turn contributes to more cross-state migration. From Florida to Texas and Idaho, the states that draw the most new residents from other states tend to have much lower tax rates. Population losers like New Jersey, New York and California are among the most punitive taxers.
Competition is moving states toward better tax codes, and the trend is compounding. Americans in states that haven’t joined the tax cutters at least have more places to move to.