Rumors around Frankfort still have Gov. Steve Beshear calling a special session before the end of the year to raise taxes.
I’m wondering now if we will have to have a new session to create a road plan. Beshear could add his tax increase to that.
General Motors is showing a brave face to the world today after announcing another quarter of devastating losses.
“The second quarter this year has been one of the fastest-changing markets I have ever seen,” GM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young told reporters. “We’re going to get this quarter behind us and move ahead.”
Some future Kentucky governor will have to remember this approach when the same tidal wave that is drowning GM — unsustainable employee benefits — starts to take our state under.
The last half-century at General Motors should have served as a valuable object lesson for Kentucky’s policymakers, but it didn’t. GM’s ability to invest in itself and make its products more competitive has been severely hampered for decades while foreign automakers have whizzed past them and their Detroit brethren who negotiated the same union contracts.
Now they have inferior products, smaller market share, and bills they can’t afford to pay. Their picture will become Kentucky’s picture as our benefits-driven fiscal situation worsens.
Hang on; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Just when I thought our youth unemployment rates couldn’t get any worse compared to other states, I found the 2007 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the 16 to 19 year old and all age group unemployment rates. It looks like our youngest KERA educated kids in the job market are more unemployable than ever before.
The first figure shows how our 16 to 19 year old unemployment rate compares to the average for the seven states that surround us. As you can see, we are in the worst position ever, with a rate 6.7 points higher than the average for our neighboring states. The growing trend of decay for Kentucky is also unmistakable in this figure.
Not shown in the figure, our 2007 youth unemployment rate of 23.1 percent is also the highest among Kentucky and its seven neighboring states.
OK, you say, maybe the overall rate in Kentucky is up, too. Maybe the youth increase is just following an overall trend. Well, guess again.
I checked that excuse out, and it didn’t wash. This next figure shows the youth rate and the rate averaged across all age groups in Kentucky.
Notice that the overall average unemployment in the state stayed fairly stable over the years. The growth is in youth unemployment only, as the next figure shows. The gap between the youth unemployment rate and the overall average rate in Kentucky has been growing ever since the KERA school assessments started in 1992.
This leads us to a major promise from KERA — that our kids would get better educations that would make them more employable.
Well, it isn’t happening. Despite the fact that the overall unemployment rate trend shows jobs are not drying up here, the kids are not getting hired out of high school.
This is a major problem — one that policymakers simply cannot ignore any longer. KERA is failing these kids, and failing them in sharply increasing numbers.
If you want to see the latest BLS report, click here. It won’t be happy reading, unless you are an older Kentuckian who was educated before KERA came along.
Bellarmine University hosted a High School Dropout Solutions Summit yesterday.
Organizers originally expected about 100 participants, but in the end nearly 450 showed up – clear testimony that tons of people in this state get it – high school dropouts are a major problem – and one that KERA most definitely has not solved.
The event’s logo was a stylistic artwork proclaiming “1 in 4 is too many!” That says it about right – at least in so far as we can get any sort of handle on the true dimensions of the high school dropout problem in Kentucky.
The very well-done morning keynote presentations accurately pointed out many things that lead to the conclusion that the high school graduation rate problem is indeed a crisis for this state and country. Speakers noted the proliferation of confusing graduation rate calculations over the past few years that just create a smokescreen around the truth, showing that you can find “official” graduation rates for Jefferson County schools running from only 63 percent up to 75 percent. Keynote presenters pointed a well-aimed finger at the US Department of Education’s inexcusable failure to fix this problem when No Child Left Behind came along. There were no smiles in the room when the main speaker pointed out that the US graduation rate now ranks only 15th in the world.
Overall, I was impressed with the keynote presentations. Thus, I looked forward to the afternoon breakout session I had selected to attend where the Web announcement of the conference promised, “participants in this track will identify policy issues that hinder students from graduating…and make recommendations for policy and legislative changes that will work toward getting young people to graduate and become prepared for careers and/or postsecondary education.” Sadly, that wasn’t what happened at all.
Instead we were run through a fairly typical “Delphi Technique” effort to get participants to legitimize and rank order a set of 26 policy ideas that had already been worked up in advance by “others.” There was a totally inadequate time to discuss these suggestions – some very good, some loaded with unintended consequences, and some that had only a most tenuous relationship to dropout rates, at best.
Worse, there was little time for the very well qualified participants (which included MANY college professors and public school educators) to add additional items, and there was no time for the group as a whole to discuss these newly added items and ask any questions about them.
Thus, the vote on the final list was inadequately informed, rushed and ultimately unreliable. It is a shame that the collection of so much talent and knowledge was so poorly utilized as a consequence of selecting the Delphi process to manage the working groups – a lesson the conference organizers need to carry forward if summits are attempted in other cities.
By the way, the dubious character of the Delphi rankings was indirectly emphasized by Dr. Shelly Berman’s surprise at the end of the conference that some other very important items like a renewed commitment to academic rigor were not on any working group’s final list. Ultimately, if kids are not learning material, they become prime candidates to drop out later, so our currently high dropout rates obviously signal a need to reexamine our academic requirements for all grades. Bravo to Dr. Berman, who is the superintendent of the Jefferson County School District, for spotting this obvious problem in the results of the conference. I guess you were not one of the chosen “others” who put my working groups’ pre-ordained list of 26 items together, either.
I hope Dr. Berman and others take the rank ordering of the recommendations from my working group for what it is – an inadequately deliberated, rushed product that can’t be considered trustworthy. I suggest looking at the 26 items without paying any attention to the bogus rankings, but be aware some are minefields (like bad ideas to use GEDs to inflate graduation rates for high schools), while others do appear to have value. If you don’t trust your own judgment, set up your own committee to advise you, but give them adequate time to do research and deliberate before taking any votes. Delphi meetings won’t get you what you need.
I must add that the day was not lost, however. After my working group shut down, the room quickly emptied except for me and a college intern. She was left behind to clean up the mess of left over office supplies. I started to talk to her, and she wistfully mentioned that no-one listens to her, but she has some ideas about what is really behind the Jefferson County dropout problem. I told her I was listening, and she explained she came from the West side of Louisville and grew up with lots of kids who later dropped out. She saw a common thread in their failures – drug abuse, plain and simple.
This is something that adults talking to kids who have dropped out are not likely to find out. After all, do you think a kid who is probably still abusing drugs is likely to admit that to some strange adult? But that dropout might tell one of his friends, like my young intern. Maybe Dr. Berman needs to listen to her – I can confirm she presents herself very well indeed. You just have to take time to listen.
So, in the end, I came away from the conference with several things of value. Some of the 26 ideas are worthwhile, and I am going to see if there is some way to expand on the young intern’s observations. After all, while the drug problem was one of the 26 policy items on the “others” list, it didn’t make it into the top five in the Delphi voting process. Maybe, if more had listened to this young intern, it might have.
I didn’t expect Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd to cancel the road bill because it was passed using the legislature’s “stop the clock” trick, but that is what he did.
The trick involves pretending that the last day of the General Assembly session doesn’t end at midnight, but instead that it goes on until lawmakers feel like stopping.
Now might be a good time to remind them that if will only move the filing deadine to after the end of the session, this last-minute game playing probably be an issue.
Each election year, lawmakers sit around the first month doing practically nothing while they wait for the election filing deadline to pass. That is clearly a luxury we can no longer afford to allow them.
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