Education Left Behind

Jul 31, 2014Edyta Obrzut

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

“Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself’”   — A Nation at Risk, 1983

In August of 1981, Secretary of Education Terrell Bell chartered the National Commission on Excellence to review and synthetize scholarly research on public schools nationwide, with a special focus on the educational experience of teenage youth. In their report, A Nation at Risk, they promised a comprehensive change to the students, their parents, and teachers. Years after National Commission on Excellence’s promise was made, The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Young Invincibles have banded together under the NextGen Illinois project in order to bring a youth-led agenda to state government officials. It is time to assess what has been done and what needs to be improved to completely fulfill the dream of equal access to the quality education and equality of opportunity for young people in the state of Illinois.

To that end, the NextGen project is hosting a series of caucuses across the state that offer an opportunity for young people to brainstorm and create a youth-lead policy agenda for the state of Illinois on issues that matter most to them. They foster discussion about state level politics and some of the most significant problems that are facing Illinois today. Through their participation, young adults offer their own insight about potential solutions to those problems that can result in positive change in their communities.

The NextGen project held its second caucus at DePaul University on Tuesday, May 27, where students pointed out several problems with the current education system in Illinois, including inequality in the distribution of education funding and challenges created by a centralized curriculum. In this system both teachers and students feel pressures created by the demands of accountability and insufficient resources.

Youth from the DePaul caucus further explained that demand for academic achievement and penalties for low-test scores have put extraordinary emphasis on accountability with both students and teachers being measured on their efficiency. The idea of consequences vs. high achievement creates a problem in which teaching in public schools is mostly directed toward test preparation rather than challenging and interesting classes. The lowest scoring schools are struggling with fewer funds and risk being placed on probation or being closed.

The use of standardized tests in high stakes decisions about the individual student is also problematic, as not all students receive an equal opportunity to learn. As recently as 2010, Illinois received a grade of F in equitable distribution of funds per pupil and in relation to the students’ poverty. Education funding distribution in Illinois has been assessed as regressive and unfair. And to make matters worse, in 2009, Illinois law makers cut assistance for P-12 education from the General Fund by more than $861 million (12%). Without addressing these problems, current practices focused on test scores and accountability may only deepen inequality. The top-down accountability model is shifting responsibility for the failure of the educational system from the state to the individuals and hurts not only teachers and parents, but most of all, kids. NextGen youth believe that market-style competition is not working well for them and that it is time to change it.

What can we do to get education back on track? Young people who participated in the caucus at DePaul argue that Illinois has to reevaluate its budget and increase funding for education. Students believe that improved support from the state to schools, granted on a per student basis, will be more effective. They believe that each student should have the same access to quality education and resources so youth can obtain proper preparation for college and competition on the job market. NextGen participants also stress the importance of early career exploration courses and financial counseling, which will help students in their life after high school.

Students’ commitment to the issue of improving the Illinois public schools demonstrates the significance of the problem. They emphasize that improving educational outcomes of students in Illinois requires an effective educational reform that can only take place by including parents, teachers, and most of all- youth into the policy making process. High rate of participation in the NextGen caucuses by Illinois youth proves that if we try hard, we can make a difference!

Edyta Obrzut is the NextGen Illinois Research Fellow for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Leadership Wanted: The College Access Crisis Needs You, Mayor de Blasio

Jul 31, 2014Kevin Stump

Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

This time a year ago, New York City residents were knee-deep in sorting through the promising rhetoric offered by hopeful bureaucrats vying to become the next Mayor of New York City. "The Tale of Two Cities" – the signature campaign phrase that helped propel Bill de Blasio into becoming the next chief executive of America’s largest city – speaks to the severity of the economic inequality that exists in New York City and across the country.

Mayor de Blasio’s election was an overnight mandate for progressive reform, which greatly emphasized increasing resources for New York City’s schools. This year’s final New York City 2014 budget did take steps in the right direction by investing more in the City University of New York (CUNY) and programs like the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs and the Black Male Initiative to help the most at-risk students succeed while at college. These investments are necessary – especially given that 42 percent of CUNY community college students experience housing insecurity, 39 percent experience food insecurity, and 65 percent come from households with incomes less than $30,000.

However, let's be clear: the mayor is not placing equal priority on college access, a choice that is dangerously shortsighted and will be much more costly in the end. The programs and opportunities that at-risk New York City high school students have available to help them access college are just as important as the programs that help students after admission.

While most New York City high school students know that a high school diploma is no longer good enough, and acknowledge the need for a college degree, almost 70 percent of students believed that a high school diploma alone would adequately prepare them for college-level coursework. Yet only 25 percent of students are graduating college ready in New York City. Just 29 percent of high school graduates in the class of 2012 had test scores high enough to avoid remedial courses at the City’s public schools. What’s worse is that 74 percent of first-time freshmen entering CUNY community colleges needed remedial coursework in math, up 15 percent from 2002. Nearly three out of four high school students are either failing to graduate on time or lack the basic academic skills needed to hit the ground running at CUNY.

It is clear that the City should be doing more to help the most at-risk communities access college while simultaneously injecting the CUNY system with enough resources to effectively meet the demand.

There’s no debate: public higher education, while not perfect, is a proven and successful model to help socially and economically prepare young people to become life-long contributing citizens. However, the critical four years leading up to a young person's path to college can make or break a student’s college attainment. The Mayor should seize the opportunity and lead the nation’s cities and the people of New York to address this issue head on by jump-starting an inclusive public policy process that will lay out an aggressive plan for other cities across America to follow.

In addition to the obvious players like the NYC Department of Education, New York State Education Department, and CUNY, the Mayor must bring to the policy table local stakeholders like the College Access Consortium of New York and groups like the Goddard Riverside Community Center as well as national models such as College Track and key stakeholders like the Lumina Foundation to put New York City on a collaborative path to increasing college attainment and by doing so, tackling economic inequality.

To start, initial conversations should include how to best leverage existing government infrastructure and systems to think collaboratively and across agencies about policy solutions. For example, we could analyze programs offered by the New York City Department of Housing to integrate effective and proven programs in public housing facilities. The issue of college access is an intersectional problem and requires intersectional solutions. This issue requires Mayor de Blasio to employ a policy process that is inclusive, grounded in research and analysis, utilizes all the resources we have available, and injects even more resources to change this much-talked about but greatly under-addressed issue of college access or the lack thereof.  

Kevin Stump is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director.

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Quick Thoughts on Ryan's Poverty Plan: What Are the Risks?

Jul 25, 2014Mike Konczal

Paul Ryan released his anti-poverty plan yesterday, and lots of people have written about it. Bob Greenstein has a great overview of the block-granting portion of the plan.

Paul Ryan released his anti-poverty plan yesterday, and lots of people have written about it. Bob Greenstein has a great overview of the block-granting portion of the plan. I'm still reading and thinking about it, but in the interest of answering the call for constructive criticism, a few points jump out that I haven't seen others make yet.

How did we get here?

Republicans obviously have an interest in branding themselves as a "party of ideas." And many liberals and Democrats also have an interest in trying to make the GOP seem like it's been devoid of any ideas in the past several years.

But it's worth noting that within a year of Democrats and liberal thinkers getting actively behind a serious increase in the minimum wage, and many activists making strides toward it on the local level, Paul Ryan just wholesale adopted President Obama's EITC expansion program. That demonstrates the value of pushing the envelope.

Complexity and the EITC

Ryan's plan, correctly, makes a big deal out of the complexity of receiving the EITC. The difficulty of navigating the system, the large number of improper payments, people not receiving what they should, people having to use tax-prep services to get the credit, and so on.

This is why I'm a huge fan of higher minimum wages as a complement to the EITC. Instead of 40 pages of rules and a dozen potential forms to fill out, you just put a sign that reads "$10.10 an hour" on the wall. Bosses and workers can't trick each other or get confused about this, and nobody has to pay a tax-prep service to figure it out. Easy peasy.

Ryan wants to "direct the Treasury Department to investigate further" how to fix this, but in practice Treasury just turns around and yells at the IRS. And if the IRS knew how to fix it, they'd probably be on it.

There is also a simpler plan to fix this issue: just have the government mail people their tax forms already filled out, for them to either sign or correct. When a trial version of this, "Ready Return," was tried in California, people immediately saw the potential for this to fix EITC delivery issues. Perhaps anti-poverty advocates can help provide momentum on this front.

Bosses and the EITC

Both Ryan and Marco Rubio have referred to putting the ETIC credit directly into workers' paychecks. Ryan: "[A]nother potential area of reform should focus upon EITC simplicity and delivery. If families received the credit with their paychecks, the link between work and the EITC would be that much clearer."

I'd be worried if employers were the ones responsible for adding this wage subsidy. I don't think there's a convincing argument that the EITC or food stamps lower wages directly (though there is one indirectly for the EITC), but if employers got a wage subsidy themselves to pass to their workers, it's easy to imagine them pocketing part of it through lower wages, especially in the monopsony of low-wage labor markets.

A discussion of welfare reform

Rather than a "welfare reform -- yay or nay?" conversation, it would be really useful if people arguing for the block-granting of the entire anti-poverty agenda would point out what they do and do not like about what happened in the 1990s. Especially as proponents hold up welfare reform as the model.

As Matt Bruenig notes, the work requirements and other restrictions go against the concept of subsidiarity. Greenstein writes, "the block grant would afford state and local officials tantalizing opportunities to use some block grant funds to replace state and local funds now going for similar services...That’s what happened under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant." In retrospect, TANF didn't survive the business cycle, and it clearly has cut spending by cutting the rolls. Is that what people want to accomplish with food stamps, which have done wonders to boost childhood life outcomes? If not, what can be done other than assert that this time will be different?

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Daily Digest - July 25: The Bad Science Behind the Anti-Woman Agenda

Jul 25, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Debunking the Bad Science on Abortion and Women's Health (The Hill)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Debunking the Bad Science on Abortion and Women's Health (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn explains the truth behind the anti-abortion myths that are presented as fact by lawmakers who pass legislation that harms women's health.

Setting the Table for Housing Reform (Progressive Massachusetts)

Alex Lessin summarizes Roosevelt Institute | Boston's deep dive into housing policy, which led them to focus on increasing public participation at zoning meetings as a key step for fair housing.

Some Republicans Push Compassionate, Anti-Poverty Agenda Ahead of 2016 Contest (WaPo)

Zachary Goldfarb speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal, who says many of these Republican reform ideas only put a nicer spin on radical proposals like the Ryan budget plan.

Parts of Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan Even a Liberal Can Love (U.S. News & World Report)

Fixing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and limiting unnecessary professional licensing in some occupations are opportunities for bipartisan agreement, writes Pat Garofalo.

United Airlines' Outsourcing Jobs to Company That Pays Near-Poverty Wages Is Shameful (HuffPo)

Robert Creamer decries United for eliminating hundreds of middle-class jobs for the sake of financial performance. He writes that companies can't be permitted to put stock performance ahead of people.

Forget Too Big to Fail. Banks Bro-down to Borrow, and It May Cause a New Crash (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore calls on regulators to push new requirements on banks for their short-term lending, which she sees as a key piece of financial regulation to keep banks from failing.

New on Next New Deal

White House Summit Speakers: Look Beyond Congress for Action on Working Families

With Congress in gridlock, Julius Goldberg-Lewis, Midwest Regional Coordinator for Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, praises the White House Summit on Working Families' focus on states and businesses.

Big Data is Watching You

In his speculation on the future for the Next American Economy initiative, Mike Mathieu, founder of high-tech business incubator Front Seat, says data-mining is coming for the human brain.

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White House Summit Speakers: Look Beyond Congress for Action on Working Families

Jul 24, 2014Julius Goldberg-Lewis

The White House Summit on Working Families showed paths to creating change that work around a gridlocked Congress.

The White House Summit on Working Families showed paths to creating change that work around a gridlocked Congress.

On Monday, June 23, Roosevelt Institute Fellows and Campus Network members attended the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, DC. The Summit, which was the culmination of months of town halls across the United States, presented the audience with the stark reality that in order to truly help working families, there must be a dramatic culture shift. The day was filled with speakers like the President, the Vice President, and both their wives, and the CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies and startups alike, all of whom shared anecdotes about their experiences as the breadwinners of working families.

The focus of the conference was the need to change the outdated laws and culture that govern the modern-day workforce. Today, women make up 47% of the labor force, and 60% of children grow up in a family where both parents work. The status quo, however, leaves most Americans without access to any form of guaranteed leave, and even fewer with basic necessities such as paid maternity leave. Everyone has endured challenges finding a work/life balance, and as Vice President Biden explained in his own experience, not all employers are as forgiving as the people of Delaware when one needs to miss work to take care of a child. He pointed out that in his first years in the Senate he had the lowest attendance rate — but that his constituents gave him a chance. The summit challenged its participants to bring that kind of culture of flexibility and empathy to the workplace.

The Summit illuminated the two mutually reinforcing paths that are necessary to ensure that working families have the ability to support themselves and care for their children and elderly parents. On a policy front, there is already the Family and Medical Leave Act, which stands as one of the few policy solutions in place to alleviate the burden on working families. However, this only covers 60% of workers and only guarantees unpaid leave, which is often an unworkable option for families that rely on a daily wage. The United States is alone among OECD countries in that we do not guarantee paid parental leave. Paid leave is necessary not only to soften the financial burden associated with having children, but also, as was repeated throughout breakout groups and panels, because parents who take maternity/paternity leave are far more likely to reenter the workforce than those who don’t. There also need to be long-term policy solutions that will ensure that a working family can earn a living wage. The Summit reiterated the push for a $10.10 minimum wage, and invited several business owners who pay a living wage and provide paid leave to share their success stories.

Legislative change is not the only means of tackling this issue, and the Summit pointed out that as long as Congress remains gridlocked, it is up to businesses to implement higher wages and better leave policies on their own. Change at the business level requires that companies change both their explicit policies and their workplace cultures. Both in multinational companies and small businesses, it’s just as important for managers to offer paid leave as it is for them to take it themselves. While many workers in the US do, in fact, have access to some form of leave, workers often do not take full advantage of these benefits because of stigma or because no one else in the office uses all of their leave. The private sector must lead by proving that businesses can provide paid leave without hurting their bottom line (and sometimes even helping it), and by ensuring that people feel comfortable using that leave.

Working families in the United States face numerous challenges, from providing care to their families when they need it to having the resources to do so, but if there was one message that was repeated throughout the Summit it was that there is a tremendous amount of energy to work with. On the legislative front, vast majorities of voters support a higher minimum wage and family leave. While Congress has not taken up the call to action, cities like New York and Seattle have taken it upon themselves to raise wages and ensure time off. The energy around this issue must be channeled in every way possible: by pressuring elected officials to pass laws, by encouraging business to raise their wages, and by fostering a culture where everyone feels comfortable putting their family first. 

Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Regional Coordinator for the Midwest and a Summer Academy Fellow in Washington, DC.

Photo by Pete Souza.

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Daily Digest - July 23: It's Been a Good Year for Financial Reform

Jul 23, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Ignore the Naysayers: Dodd-Frank Reforms Are Finally Paying Off (TNR)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Ignore the Naysayers: Dodd-Frank Reforms Are Finally Paying Off (TNR)

The past year has seen important successes, like higher capital requirements, writes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal, and the next steps for financial reform are getting clearer.

We’re Arresting Poor Mothers for Our Own Failures (The Nation)

Bryce Covert points to the policy failures of welfare reform, which requires parents to work or look for work to receive benefits but hasn't provided for child care, leading to recent high-profile arrests.

Obama to Sign Bill Improving Worker Training (Time)

In the first significant legislative reform to job training in a decade, Maya Rhodan says the Obama administration and Congress put training programs on a more forward-looking path.

SEC Is Set to Approve Money-Fund Rules (WSJ)

The new rules target institutional investors over individuals, says Andrew Ackerman, aiming to train investors to accept fluctuations and prevent panicked mass sell-offs.

TaskRabbit Redux (New Yorker)

Adrienne Raphel writes that TaskRabbit's recent relaunch makes it more clear that for all their marketing, online tools for hiring labor or transportation are about commerce, not community.

New on Next New Deal

Dr. Strangelove and the Halbig Decision

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal points out the fallacy in right-wing claims that there is a "doomsday machine" in the Affordable Care Act: doomsday machines only work if you tell people about them.

Full-Time Employment May Give Way to a Free Agent Economy

In his speculation on the future for the Next American Economy project, Carl Camden, CEO of Kelly Services, suggests that temporary employment firms like his will become the purveyors of social services.

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Fighting Bad Science in the Senate

Jul 17, 2014Andrea Flynn

The Senate hearing for the Women's Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women's health advocates to push for the facts.

The Senate hearing for the Women's Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women's health advocates to push for the facts.

The propensity of anti-choice advocates to eulogize false science was on full display on Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). That bill is a bold measure that would counter the relentless barrage of anti-choice legislation that has made abortion – a constitutionally protected medical procedure – all together inaccessible for many U.S. women.

The bill was introduced last year by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel and Marcia Fudge. It prohibits states from applying regulations to reproductive health care centers and providers that do not also apply to other low-risk medical procedures. It would, essentially, remove politicians from decisions that – for every other medical issue – remain between individuals and their providers.

The WHPA is long overdue. For the past three years, conservative lawmakers have used the guise of protecting women’s health to pass more than 200 state laws that have closed clinics, eliminated abortion services, and left women across the country without access to critical reproductive health care. The WHPA would reverse many of those policies and prevent others from being passed.

Tuesday's hearing was representative of the broader debate over abortion rights. Those in favor of the bill argued that securing guaranteeing unfettered access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is critical to the health and lives of U.S. women and their families.

Those in opposition used familiar canards about abortion to argue the law would be calamitous for U.S. women. Representative Diane Black of Tennessee had the gall to make the abortion-leads-to-breast cancer claim, one that has been disproven many times over. Others repeatedly cited the horrific cases of Kermit Gosnell, insinuating that all abortion providers (abortionists, in their lingo) are predatory and that late term abortions are a common occurrence. In fact, if women had access to safe, comprehensive and intimidation-free care, Kermit Gosnell would have never been in business. Given the opposition’s testimony, you’d never know that late term abortion is actually a rarity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90 percent of all abortions occur before 13 weeks gestation, with just over 1 percent taking place past 21 weeks.

At one point Representative Black argued that abortion is actually not health care. The one in three U.S. women who have undergone the procedure would surely argue otherwise.

Perhaps the most ironic testimony against the WHPA – and in favor of abortion restrictions – came from Senator Ted Cruz, who hails from Texas, a state with so many abortion restrictions that women are now risking their health and lives by self-inducing abortions or crossing the border to get care in Mexico. Senator Cruz attempted to validate U.S. abortion restrictions by referencing a handful of European countries with gestational restrictions on abortions. This was a popular argument during the hearing for Texas’ HB2 – the bill responsible for shuttering the majority of clinics in that state.

Cruz wins the prize for cherry picking facts to best support his argument. When citing our European counterparts, he conveniently ignored that such abortion restrictions are entrenched in progressive public health systems that enable all individuals to access quality, affordable (often free) health care, including comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Senator Cruz and his colleagues have adamantly opposed similar policies in the U.S., particularly the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for contraceptive coverage and Medicaid expansion. On the one hand conservatives lean on European policies to argue for stricter abortion restrictions at home, and on the other they claim those policies are antithetical to the moral fabric of the United States.

Would Cruz support France’s policies that enable women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and that guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control? Or Belgium’s policy that enables young people to be reimbursed for the cost of emergency contraception? Or the broad exceptions both countries make for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons? He absolutely would not.

Given the House of Representatives seems to be more motivated by suing the President than by voting on – let alone passing – laws that will actually improve the health and lives of their constituents, it’s highly unlikely the WHPA will become law. But Tuesday's debate – and the bill itself – is significant and shows a willingness among pro-choice advocates to go on the offense after too many years of playing defense.

Bills such as the WHPA – even if they face a slim chance of being passed by a gridlocked Congress – provide an opportunity to call out conservatives' use of bad science in their attempts to convince women that lawmakers know best when it comes to their personal medical decisions. And they allow us to remind lawmakers and citizens that despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary, abortion is a common, safe and constitutionally protected medical procedure, and that regulating it into extinction will only force women into back-alley practices like those run by Gosnell, costing them their health and their lives.

Those in support of the WHPA showed anti-choice lawmakers that the days of make a sport of trampling women’s health and rights are numbered.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

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Daily Digest - July 14: Local Actions Hold the Line for Labor

Jul 14, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Why Volkswagen Agreed to UAW Local at Its U.S. Plant (USA Today)

G. Chambers Williams III explains the decision to create a local union at the Chattanooga VW plant despite the United Auto Workers' narrow loss in a February worker vote.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Why Volkswagen Agreed to UAW Local at Its U.S. Plant (USA Today)

G. Chambers Williams III explains the decision to create a local union at the Chattanooga VW plant despite the United Auto Workers' narrow loss in a February worker vote.

U.S. Deficit Continues to Shrink (MSNBC)

The budget deficit has reached its lowest point since 2008, reports Suzy Khimm, thanks to a recovery that has increased tax revenues and reduced demand on safety net programs.

Tracy Morgan Sues Walmart Over Deadly Crash in New Jersey (NYT)

Emma G. Fitzsimmons reports that Morgan and others injured in an accident involving an overtired Walmart truck driver are blaming the accident on the company's poor labor practices.

Here's Definitive Proof That Republicans Don't Care About the Long-Term Unemployed (TNR)

Danny Vinik asks why budget gimmicks were unacceptable for funding the Senate Democrats' extension of unemployment insurance but are fine when the House GOP uses them.

New Study: Lobbying Doesn't Help Company Profits—But It's Great For Executive Pay (MoJo)

Corporate lobbying expenditures, which measure in billions of dollars, do far more to enhance a CEO's earnings than to benefit companies as a whole, reports Alex Park.

State and Local Pensions: A Progress Report (Market Watch)

Alicia H. Munnell looks at recent shifts in local and state pensions, including both the good (increased contributions) and the worrisome (plans still hold too much of their portfolios in equities).

New on Next New Deal

Port Drivers Take on Low Wages in an Industry Built on a Lie

All Americans should support the Los Angeles port truck drivers' strike, writes Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, because all consumers depend on their hard work.

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The Supreme Court's One-Two Punch Against Women's Health: McCullen and Hobby Lobby

Jul 2, 2014Andrea Flynn

The Court's rulings place more barriers, both physical and financial, between U.S. women and basic health care.

The Court's rulings place more barriers, both physical and financial, between U.S. women and basic health care.

In the last week the Supreme Court announced two decisions that could dramatically change the landscape of women’s health access in the United States. It will be some time before we know the full impact of McCullen v. Coakley and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, but in the short term two things are for sure. The decisions will make it more difficult and less safe for many women to get the care they need, and they will undoubtedly embolden a conservative movement that hardly needs fortification.

The last three years brought record setbacks to women’s health and rights. More abortion restrictions were enacted between 2011-2013 (205) than in the entire previous decade (189). Today nearly 90 percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion provider and more than 56 percent of U.S. women live in a state hostile to abortion. In many states the procedure has essentially been regulated out of existence. But it’s not just abortion rights that are under attack. The days of conservatives being “anti-abortion” but pro-family planning are long behind us. Today’s conservatives view birth control as the gateway drug to abortion, and regulate it with the same zeal they once saved for abortion.

Restrictions to Title X funding are closing publicly funded clinics around the country. Those clinics serve to provide reproductive health services to low-income and young women, and the majority do not even provide abortions. There is reason to fear that other conservative states are following the lead of Texas, where thousands of women are dealing with the consequences of a complete lack of access to basic health care thanks to lawmakers who have closed a record number of clinics. 

Making matters worse, today 24 states are not participating in the Medicaid expansion originally mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), leaving two-thirds of poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of low-wage workers uninsured.

It’s against this backdrop that we have McCullen and Hobby Lobby, two decisions that are effectively a one-two punch to U.S. women. They allow employers to erect financial barriers to contraceptive choice and embolden protesters to serve as physical and emotional barriers to women’s basic health care. 

In McCullen, the Court struck down as a violation of free speech a Massachusetts law that provided a 35-foot “buffer zone” around clinics that provide abortion. The law was created to protect patients entering clinics, and many states have similar regulations in place. It’s unclear what will happen to those other buffer zones. It’s also more than slightly ironic that the Supreme Court, the very body responsible for upholding freedom of speech, has a 100-foot buffer zone that is still intact.

Protesters will feel vindicated in their attempt to persuade, intimidate, threaten, and terrorize women from accessing care to which they are constitutionally guaranteed. Last weekend the Boston clinic at the heart of the McCullen case saw a threefold increase in protesters. That’s just in Massachusetts. Clinics in more conservative states regularly see hundreds of protesters on a given day.

Hobby Lobby was just one of more than 50 companies (supported by organizations like the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty) that took issue with the ACA’s “contraceptive mandate,” the requirement that all employer-based health plans fully cover, without cost sharing, all FDA-approved methods of contraception. These companies filed claims against the mandate, arguing that intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraception (EC) constitute abortion and therefore being required to provide coverage for those methods was a violation of their religious liberty. Never mind that by all accepted medical standards those methods prevent, not terminate, pregnancy. The Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, allowing “closely held” companies – generally understood to be those having more than 50 percent of the value of their stock owned by five or fewer individuals – to refuse coverage of certain contraceptive methods.

So, what happens now? Well, most women who work for Hobby Lobby and other such companies will no longer have access to the contraceptive method of their choice. They will have to decide if they want to pay for those methods out of pocket or go to a clinic where they can receive subsidized care, if they are lucky enough to have access to one. This will place additional and unnecessary pressure on an already embattled public health infrastructure.

The majority claimed the Hobby Lobby ruling was narrow and would not have the sweeping consequences suggested in Justice Ginsburg’s scathing and on-point dissent. I’m not convinced. According to Harvard Business Review, 90 percent of U.S. companies are considered closely held, and those companies employ more than 51 percent of U.S. workers. There are already at least 80 other cases waiting to follow in Hobby Lobby’s footsteps. Given conservatives’ strategic organizing and employers’ willingness to carry the anti-reproductive rights, anti-Obama, anti-ACA banner, others will surely join the cause.

For the time being, the ACA – and the mandate – remain intact, even if somewhat fractured. We should continue to fight for the full implementation of the ACA, a historic – and by all measures successful – piece of legislation that is advancing the vision FDR articulated more than 70 years ago when he called for a Second Bill of Rights. That vision included medical care to allow all Americans to achieve and enjoy good health.

In falsely pitting freedom of speech and religion against women’s rights – as if women don’t also have rights to those same freedoms – the Supreme Court has given momentum to an already fast-moving train. Conservatives will only have more resolve to continue tearing down the building blocks of women’s health and rights. It’s going to take a lot to stop them. A lot of outrage, a lot of action, and a lot of engaged voters committed to standing up for women’s rights. Here’s hoping we can make that happen.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Image via Thinkstock

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Summer Vacation is Feeding the Achievement Gap

Jun 27, 2014Sarah Pfeifer VandekerckhoveCandace Richardson

Learning loss during summer vacation is far worse for students of lower socioeconomic status, making low-cost and free educational summer programming essential.

Learning loss during summer vacation is far worse for students of lower socioeconomic status, making low-cost and free educational summer programming essential.

New York City public schools begin summer break today. For many students, summer is a time to rest, travel and play, and a recent study even demonstrates the critical role of play in a student’s future academic and financial success. But extensive research shows that these few months away from the structured activities of school are particularly detrimental to the academic achievement of students of low SES (socioeconomic status) families. Without access and exposure to educational enrichment opportunities during the summer months, these students face substantial setbacks in their academic development.

Of course, all students experience some learning loss during the summer months. Research on the “summer slide” phenomenon shows that nearly all students perform worse on standardized tests taken at the end of summer vacation than the same test taken at the end of the previous school year and lose two months of math skills over the summer months.

For low SES students, however, summer slide does even greater damage to their academic achievement year over year, increasing the achievement gap as well as the likelihood that such students will drop out of high school or not attend college. Summer slide occurring during elementary school alone contributes to at least half of the SES achievement gap by the time students reach 9th grade.  In fact, low SES high school students are eight times less likely to attend a four-year college, compared with their high SES peers.

While only about 20% of students from low-income families participate in summer learning programs, high-income families can afford to expose their children to a variety of enrichment activities, including summer camp. In February, TimeOut published a list of upcoming academic summer camps in New York City that offer exciting sessions on robots, chemistry, reading, and math along with many educational field trips to museums and zoos, with the average cost of these camps totaling $2,176 per month.  For the seventy-eight percent of New York City’s 1.1 million students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch ($43,568 annually for a family of four) that’s nearly 60 percent of their family’s monthly income, meaning these academic summer camps are out of the question for the families whose kids need them the most.

Cost is only one of many barriers to summer program participation for low SES families. Accessibility plays a big role. For instance, the New York City Department of Education’s Summer Quest, a free, five-week enrichment program to combat summer slide, is only available at 22 of the city’s 1700 public schools. And while NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio and NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have strongly encouraged participation in summer enrichment programs, only about 55,000 low SES students will receive free programming this summer.

Despite the efforts to engage students in summer enrichment programs, New York City still has a long way to go.

About one-third of the achievement gap can be attributed to a child’s SES before they even enter kindergarten. Combatting the 31.4% child poverty rate in New York City through expansion of Home Visiting programs can go along way in getting students off on the right foot. This is just one of many policy solutions that arose at the Roosevelt Institute’s recent conference, Inequality Begins at Birth.

Of the 55,000 New York City students receiving free summer programming, De Blasio anticipates that 34,000 of those will be middle-schoolers. Increasing the engagement of elementary school children will mitigate substantial growth in the achievement gap, as early academic setbacks compound over time. The DOE can start by expanding NYC Summer Quest and other programs to target younger students, and over time the focus should be on engaging even more of the 850,000+ low SES students in New York City public schools.

Sarah Pfeifer Vandekerckhove is the Roosevelt Institute's Director of Operations.

Candace Richardson is a Policy Intern for the Four Freedoms Center.

Chart from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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