Sunday, November 11, 2018

Speech in Wayland, Michigan for Veterans Day 2018

Veterans Day
Wayland Pine Street Elementary
November 9, 2018

Thank you for inviting me here, today. I’m certainly honored to return to Wayland and speak on such an important occasion. We’re here to honor our heroes and to simply say “thank you" for your sacrifices.

Today’s ceremony, like many that will be held around the country this weekend, honors our veterans who came from all walks of life, but shared several fundamental qualities: They possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity -- the qualities necessary to serve a cause more important than one’s self.

Many of our veterans didn’t ask to leave home to fight on distant battlefields. Many didn’t actually volunteer. They didn’t join necessarily to go off to war because they loved to fight. They were called to be part of something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary folks who responded in extraordinary ways during difficult times. They rose to our nation’s call because they wanted to serve a country that has given them --- has given us --- so much.

Since the first shots at Lexington and Concord were fired in 1775, American men and women have been answering the call to duty. Millions fought and many paid the price on battlefields, here and around the globe, to defend our way of life. Today, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines continue to stand up against those who seek to destroy freedom in many places around the world.

As we all know, Veterans Day began as a day of celebration and remembrance at the conclusion of the first World War. That war ended 100 years ago this Sunday, and the law that created Armistice Day, as it was called, directed that it be, quote, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated.” Following World War 2 and the Korean War, the name was changed to Veterans Day, to honor all veterans from every war and conflict, and also those who served during peacetime.

So, this morning it would be fitting to take a quick moment and reflect back 100 years ago, to the bloody battlefields of Europe, and the two million Americans who helped bring that horrific war to an end. The Army regiment in which I proudly served during my military career is known as the 126th Infantry. In 1918, it included men from across west and southeast Michigan, and was part of the famed 32nd “Red Arrow Division.” The division had fought four very difficult exhausting battles over a six-month period, in some of the worst conditions possible, that only veterans who have experienced them could appreciate. The regiment had suffered the loss of many men but was still preparing to continue the fight even right up to the war’s very last day.

A soldier in the 126th had kept a diary and his commanding officer later published a book. I would like to briefly share what Captain Emil B. Gansser had to say on that very last day of war:

“The morning of November 11, 1918, broke with the usual accompaniments of battle. The boom of artillery guns and the crash of exploding shells, with their clouds of smoke and dirt, were still with us. The immediate cessation of fighting was not evident during the early morning hours, and no one expected such a contingency to happen so soon.

“About 9 o’clock in the morning messages were received that an armistice, or cessation of fighting, had been signed, and that hostilities would cease at 11 o’clock. This news was too good to be true, and after hearing so many rumors, this news was regarded as another hoax and little belief given to it.

“The enemy kept sending over an occasional artillery shell all along the front line until 11 o’clock, and our artillery responded in kind.

“At last the designated hour arrived, and as if to mock us for our unbelief, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, the great cannons ceased their roar, and the continual sounds of the machine gun became silent. The scream of the flying shells and the whistle of the bullet was no more. The curtain was drawn on History’s greatest and bloodiest of conflicts between man.

“The suddenness of the end and the quiet created a sort of dumbness and one did not know whether to laugh or to cry. Contrary to ordinary belief, the tired soldier did not cheer. He still doubted the truth and feared it might be another trick, and waited until that night came and passed before he was convinced.

“When morning came and all was quiet, we felt assured that the peace was real and all were happy.”

America is fortunate to have had millions of brave men and women stand for freedom since our country’s founding. We owe it to them all to ensure that their service and sacrifice is always honored. And, we also want to continue to remember their families who have sacrificed much as well.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Link to photos from the ceremony:

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Persistent Funding Gaps in Michigan K-12 Schools

Almost a year to the date, I posted on the continuing inequity of K-12 school funding in Michigan. I have since retired but you can go back and read (or re-read) that post at:

One More Time on Equity in School Funding

It is a fairly comprehensive post yet updating it with school funding data from this current school year would not make any difference. The inequity persists.

"Overall, the funding inequities we documented in the 2015 report appear slightly smaller, but persist. Compared to 2015, the national funding gap between high and low poverty districts decreased slightly — by 3 percentage points — from 10 percent to 7 percent. The national funding gap between districts with the highest and lowest percentages of students of color went from 15 percent to 13 percent, representing a 2 percentage point drop." ~ Education Trust, Funding Gaps 2018

Education Trust has released a new analysis of inequity in school funding just this past week. Here's what the report says about U.S. and Michigan schools when it comes to K-12 funding for affluent versus those schools predominantly serving low-income students. You can go back to my post linked above and see specific examples of this persistent inequity. Since our state Republican-led legislature votes each year on school funding, the blame for this inequity lies with the politicians.

Education Trust, Funding Gaps 2018

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Governor's K-12 Funding Proposal Doesn't Do Enough

I'm no longer in a school superintendent's seat but that doesn't eliminate my concern as a citizen and taxpayer for the continuing underfunding of our public schools in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder has proposed an increase for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year but it still falls way short of making up the huge $470 per pupil cut implement in Snyder's first year. In fact, as the following slide shows, my former school district lost close to a total of $2 million since that cut. This is a district that serves a high-needs population but receives less per student in the foundation allowance -- the major share of K-12 funding -- than several other districts in the county, as well as several very affluent districts in Oakland County on the east side of the state.

A study mandated by the Republican legislature (which tried to stop the study before it happened and then simply shelved the results when they were presented) found that K-12 funding was becoming less equal as noted by the conservative-leaning Detroit News. The study used a "successful schools" model that concluded the base foundation allowance should be raised immediately to $8,667. In addition, districts like Godfrey-Lee should be receiving additional funding for at-risk and English-learners well beyond that provided by state or federal grants. 

The study failed to analyze the growing need for additional special education funding, a category that has NEVER been fully funded by federal or state governments. Lieutenant Governor Calley put together a subcommittee to review special education funding and in 2017 the group reported:
"...special education funding experienced a 15.6 percent reduction (between) 2011-12 (and) 2015-16. It can be expected that a student in special education will have greater need, and therefore require additional services at a greater cost than a student not in special education. However, state and federal funding do not cover most of those additional costs." (emphasis added)
Because the law requires full services for special education-eligible students, those costs continue to be covered by a school's general fund budget that primarily comes from the foundation allowance. That means less funding for classroom instruction as a whole.

Because the legislature and governor have refused thus far to implement the recommendations of the 2016 study, a second study was initiated and the results were recently publicized. It concludes that:
"The base per-pupil cost to educate a regular education K-12 student in Michigan is $9,590, which does not include transportation, food service or capital costs, and only includes pension costs at 4.6% of wages." (emphasis added)
The study also calls for increases for students with special needs, transportation costs, and for school districts serving less than 7,500 students. When adjusting for inflation and comparing to the foundation allowance in 1995, the study's recommended $9,590 has a value of approximately $6,061 per pupil. Not quite what is needed but it takes a strong step towards closing the gap in lost revenue.

Given the legislature's propensity for personal tax cuts and massive business tax cuts that have little to do with the growing needs of our state or making our Michigan education system a "Top 10 in 10," it's highly unlikely that gap will ever shrink. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Republican Tax Plan Widens Economic Gap to Further Attack Public Schools

The final version of the House and Senate tax plan which will likely be voted on this week includes a provision to expand the benefits of "529 savings plans" to include tax-free distributions to pay for K-12 tuition and/or homeschool expenses. According to Forbes, "The best sign this is smart policy is that the Left is going completely apoplectic. They hate the idea that parents can free themselves from the big teachers' unions..." In other words, the tax bill is intended by the wealthy, who have money to invest, to further cripple one of our most venerable and important public institutions, but is that all it is? No.

Previously, 529 plans have offered tax-free earnings growth and tax-free withdrawals when invested funds are used to pay for college. With the new law, families will be also able to withdraw up to $10,000 per year tax-free for elementary, high school or homeschool expenses. But here's the catch according to the Chronicle of Higher Education: "In order to save money, you have to have money. While some families with incomes below $50,000 hold accounts, the bulk of account holders make more."

Richard V. Reeves of the Brookings Institute, author of Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It, claims: "As we show in our new paper, 'A tax break for "Dream Hoarders": What to do about 529 college savings plans,' almost all of the benefits of the deductions go to families at the top of the income distribution (emphasis added).  In other words, the folks who don't really need the tax breaks to send their kids to private schools, and on average didn't need them to meet college costs, will now enjoy a further economic advantage with an expanded 529 plan.

The Brookings Institute published several charts to illustrate who benefits the most from 529 plans. They pretty much speak for themselves:

President Obama, recognizing the inequity of the 529 plans initiated by President G.W. Bush, attempted in 2015 to change them so that the benefits would go to a broader range of families. This was shot down by not only the Republicans but also members of his own party, which once again demonstrates that the wealthy have all the power when it comes to politics. Those of us on the lower end of the economic scale have none. At that time, the GAO pointed out that the main beneficiaries to 529 plans are upper-middle-class families. It found that back in 2010, nearly half of all families with 529 plans had an annual income of over $150,000. Of course they do, because they have the money to invest to accrue the long-term tax benefits. But most in the upper brackets, don't need them.

Voices for Kids provides a concise summary of the potential damage and further inequity created by this last minute amendment to satisfy anti-government conservatives:
Both the House and Senate bills included provisions that would expand the 529 college saving account plan, which allows parents to save money and withdraw that money for higher education expenses (tax-free) to also cover up to $10,000 of tuition at private and parochial schools. (Language in the Senate bill also covers home schooling expenses.) The provision is a federal subsidy for private and parochial school tuition. 
As it currently stands, 529 plans are used by largely upper-income households (median income of $142,400) and by making the proposed changes, it will only increase the growing inequality in educational attainment between high-income families and low and middle-income families. The planned expansion of this tax break is welcomed by school choice advocates, who argue that public schools are unable to properly educate students and should be more market-oriented. However, this planned expansion would be largely unavailable to low and middle-income families. 
In reality, this plan does not really expand school choice options to anyone. It actually undercuts the savings benefits of the plan if they are used for private and parochial K-12 tuition. Pulling out the money sooner both lessens the tax benefit of the plan and leaves less money available in the plan for college. If you are a wealthy family, this is not much of a problem. But if you are a middle class or low-income family, it would be very unwise to use this money before college. The only real beneficiaries of this expansion would be people who are high-income and wish to have the government subsidize their kids private school tuition. 
Withdrawing funds from the savings plans sooner rather than later could also have implications on the investment strategies employed by states and fund managers. Such changes could impact the eventual rates of return for all participants in 529 programs.
Along with capping the deduction for local property taxes and/or state and local income and sales taxes at $10,000, the 529 measures could set back public funding for education. Combined with the trillion dollar plus increase to the federal deficit the tax bill could bring, it’s another demonstration of why our members of Congress need to vote down this bill.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities is also concerned that 529 plans would not only harm public schools but further limit quality educational opportunities for students with disabilities:
First, expanding the use of 529 plans in this way would benefit only some families. These savings plans are not accessible to low- and middle-income families who cannot pay out-of-pocket for private school tuition. Only those parents who can afford to save thousands of dollars to pay for private school out-of-pocket will be able to use a 529 plan. 
In addition, expanding the 529 will allow money to be spent on private school tuition tax-free. This incentivizes wealthy families to send their children to private and religious schools. Tax incentive programs like this are closely related to private school voucher programs and serve to redirect public funds to pay for private school tuition. 
Instead of creating a federal tax incentive program that reduces tax revenue for some families and diverts public funding to pay for private education, we should be investing in our public schools and providing resources to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

100 Years Ago: 126th Infantry finalizes training and prepares for embarkation to France

West Michigan's 126th Infantry and its parent 32nd Division (Michigan and Wisconsin) were ensconced in in a rigid training camp at Waco, Texas throughout the fall and early winter of 1917-18, as they awaited impending orders for transport to Europe.

Toward the latter part of November, new training schedules were taken up including instruction in the "new infantry weapons and specialties for all troops." This included new offensive maneuvers based on lessons learned from the European battlefields. The all-important training in the wearing of a gas mask and the digging of trenches were undertaken. Full-pack night marches as long as nine miles was part of the regular regimen.

The disciplined training paid off.
"During the latter part of November and early in December the Division was visited and carefully examined by War Department artillery and infantry inspectors, and was judged ready for overseas service. Their reports to Washington indicated that the 32nd was more advanced in its training at that time than any other division then in the U.S. Its equipment was very nearly complete, and the spirit which had developed no doubt also influenced the inspectors. Accordingly notice was shortly forthcoming from Washington that the Division would be sent to France at the earliest practicable date.
"Many officers and men, of course, desired furloughs to say good-bye to the folks at home; but the journey north was a long one, and there was considerable uncertainty as to just when the movement would begin, so leaves were impracticable, and relatives who took the hint that there might shortley be 'something doing' came to Waco for the final farewells."
Despite large numbers of men received from Camp Custer (Michigan) and Camp Grant (Illinois) during the last three months, the division would still be greatly under strength at the time of embarkation in January 1918.

The 32nd Division was organized with the following principle units:

63rd Infantry Brigade
125th Infantry Regiment (Michigan)
126th Infantry Regiment (Michigan)
120th Machine Gun Battalion

64th Infantry Brigade
127th Infantry Regiment (Wisconsin)
128th Infantry Regiment (Wisconsin)
121st Machine Gun Battalion

57th Field Artillery Brigade
119th Field Artillery Regiment (75mm)
120th Field Artillery Regiment (75mm)
121st Field Artillery Regiment (155mm)
107th Trench Mortar Battery

Divisional Troops
Headquarters Troop
119th Machine Gun Battalion
107th Engineer Regiment
107th Field Signal Battalion
Division Trains (supply and service)

There had been several significant reorganizations of the division and regiments during the train-up period which resulted in the following organization of 126th elements and cities each originated from:

1st Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company A, Coldwater
Company B, Adrian
Company C, Kalamazoo
Company D, Ionia

2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company E, Ann Arbor
Company F, Jackson
Company G, Detroit
Company H, Detroit

3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company I, Big Rapids and Muskegon
Company K, Grand Rapids
Company L, Grand Haven and Muskegon
Company M, Grand Rapids

The Machine Gun Company, Supply Company, Sanitary Detachment, and Band, all from Grand Rapids, virtually remained unchanged except to receive personnel from throughout the regiment to bring them to full strength. The regimental headquarters detachment was also from Grand Rapids and made up of men from the former Company L.

About this time, Brigadier General William G. Haan, a regular army officer, was placed permanently in command of the Division. He would come to be respected and loved by his soldiers.
"The period of training at Camp MacArthur until the middle of January was onecontinual round of hard work from early morning until late at night. It was a period, Ithink when we first realized the possibilities of the human body and mind to withstandfatigue." (Hamburger)


Gansser, Emil B. History of The 126th Infantry in the War with Germany. Grand Rapids, MI. 1920

Britten, David G., Lieutenant Colonel. Courage Without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard. Xlibris, 2004

American Battle Monuments Commission: 32d Division Summary of Operations in the World War, 1943

Joint War History Commissions of Michigan and Wisconsin: The 32nd Division in the World War. 1920

Crothers, Herbert D. Diary of Company M 126th Infantry, 32nd Division in the World War. Unpublished Manuscript.

Hamburger, Kenneth E., Learning Lessons in the American Expeditionary Forces. Publication 24-1. United States Army Center for Military History.