Where does California’s STEM workforce come from? Not US schools

California is the land of high tech innovation, but according to the San Francisco area based Mercury News, “Immigrants are 42 percent of California’s STEM workforce.”

If you have not kept up with education fad acronyms, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in other words, all the “stuff” that high tech comes from. And, the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area is the techiest place in the country.

This has some very disturbing implications for K to 12 education in the US. How come such a high percentage of our nation’s STEM innovators don’t come from our own school systems? Why do our colleges and high tech industries have to search overseas to find employees with the math and science skills needed to get the work done?

And, when our current education system says it is all about increasing STEM preparedness and then goes and adopts less than world class standards like Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards (which don’t even teach kids about electric circuits, for goodness sakes!), is it likely the low numbers of US native born citizens in STEM careers is likely to improve soon?

Electrocution Cartoon

By the way, in Singapore they start teaching electric circuits as early as preschool! Here, our education science folks don’t think electric circuits are worth coverage at any school level.

No wonder so many STEM folks in the US don’t come from here.

Anti-right-to-work zealots need a new act

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicates statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Like comedian Kathy Griffin, who despicably held up a simulation of President Donald Trump’s head, leaders of the anti-right-to-work movement desperately need new material.

In fact, they need a brand-new act.

Following are some direct questions that should cause them to see the futility of a lawsuit they have filed opposing Kentucky’s new and effective right-to-work law:    

  • You claim the legal action is all about helping workers harmed by right-to-work. Can you name one single worker injured by this law?

If so, why isn’t their name on the lawsuit, instead of AFL-CIO chief Bill Londrigan and Teamsters 89 boss Fred Zuckerman?

How do these union heads even have standing, considering their claim is built on the premise that Kentucky’s right-to-work law harms workers?

Could they not get even one union dues-paying employee to step up and sign on the proverbial dotted line to take on this state’s governor and Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey instead of the general “affiliated unions and their members?”

Could it be that Gov. Matt Bevin was spot-on when he suggested, in his response to the lawsuit’s filing, that union bosses use these types of doomed-to-fail legal actions to “get re-elected to a job where you’re paid well?”

  • Why would you file a lawsuit to try and stop the growth in economic momentum that right-to-work is bringing to Kentucky?

Try as they may, it’s impossible for the plaintiffs and their political pals to deny this clear claim from Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard, who, at the ribbon-cutting celebrating arguably the largest industry announcement in Appalachia’s history, stated: “If Kentucky was not a right-to-work state, you wouldn’t have gotten on the list because it’s so important to us.”

Attempting to unravel a policy that will help create 550 jobs paying blue-collar workers $70,000 annually confirms this lawsuit isn’t about protecting workers.

Rather, it’s about forcing the 99 percent to indulge the 1 percent at the top, where union bosses who engineer this type of senseless opposition perch and, with knee-jerking consistency, condemn labor-freedom policies like right-to-work, which simply allow individuals to forego union membership or payment of dues without losing their jobs.

  • Since federal labor law allows states to pass right-to-work policies, why are you wasting your remaining members’ dues on a frivolous lawsuit doomed to fail?

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, charges the lawsuit is “an embarrassment” and makes claims that are “outlandish and similar to those rejected all over the country,” including by the Indiana Supreme Court after the Hoosier State passed its right-to-work law in 2012.

Perhaps these anti-right-to-work zealots believe they will get a favorable ruling just because they filed their inane litigation in a county overwhelmingly Democratic in registration and politics.

In pushing for the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear the case posthaste, they also have deluded themselves into believing a law passed by the duly-elected legislature will be overturned simply because most of the justices are registered Democrats with some ideological ax to grind.

But this isn’t a partisan issue, as indicated by many votes from both Democrat and Republican magistrates who supported local right-to-work ordinances in several counties before the statewide law passed in January.

To rule for the unions and upend Kentucky’s right-to-work law, the Supreme Court would have to totally invalidate the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause mandating that federal law preempts state policy.

It would “require a judge to dishonor their robe, and they’re not going to do that,” said Nemes, who previously served as chief of staff and counsel for retired Chief Justice Joseph Lambert.

Bevin has filed a motion to dismiss the legal challenge.

However, even if the courts don’t grant his request, this lawsuit will result in another devastating legal loss for labor-union bosses and a correspondingly large victory for job seekers, economic progress and individual liberty.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

JCPS collective-bargaining agreement faces warranted scrutiny

CEI Trey KovacsKentucky’s Department of Education is trying to get a handle on problems with labor union contracts negotiated by the state’s largest school district.

Last month, the agency sent out a request for contractors to review the collective bargaining negotiations and agreements between Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and its union. This is part of a sweeping audit of the school system to find out “whether the contracts were negotiated in good faith, followed best practices and focused only on areas that were permissive subjects of bargaining, among other things,” as reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The planned review has ignited a turf war of sorts. The school board chairman is campaigning for the state Attorney General, Andy Beshear, to conduct the review, instead. But regardless of who does the review, there’s at least one big problem in need of public scrutiny: so-called “association leave.” It may sound benign, but it amounts to a taxpayer-funded subsidy to the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Association leave grants teachers paid time off from the classroom to perform union business unrelated to their job duties. Instead of educating students, teachers receive a significant amount of paid leave to perform union activities on the taxpayer dime. No one knows how much is money is wasted on association time. Neither the school district nor the union publicize the cost or amount of association leave they receive.

In terms of number of days wasted, the union is supposed to get 275 full days of association leave annually. Apparently, the union has been known to blow past that limit, according to a 2010 analysis of Kentucky District collective bargaining agreements conducted by the Legislative Research Commission Office of Education Accountability. The “OEA discovered that the number of days permitted by JCPS Human Resources staff far exceeded the number of days allowed in the contract.”

Another question is: what exactly are public employees doing while they’re on association leave? The union’s contract states association leave is “for attendance at regional, state or national meetings for the conduct of necessary Association business.” Already, some evidence suggests those limitations don’t garner much respect.

My organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, sent public records requests to the school district asking for the activity performed by JCTA members on association leave during fiscal year 2013. Here are some of the activities union members performed instead of serving the students of Jefferson County: attended JCTA board meetings, as well as organizing committee meetings; union staff interviews; National Education Association conferences; and board meetings of Jobs with Justice (a union front group that conducts campaigns against employers).

Clearly, association leave isn’t serving any public purpose or helping to educate children. Tax dollars need to go to the classroom, a sentiment expressed by Andrew Bailey, a JCPS high school teacher and board member during contract negotiations in 2014. Meanwhile, Bailey himself had spent days away from the classroom to perform union activity, according to CEI’s public records request.

Unfortunately, the scope of the problem is bigger than one school district. Numerous city governments and schools districts, like the City of Louisville, needlessly pay public employees to perform union business unrelated to their public duties while paid by the taxpayer.

It’s a good start that the Department of Education is scrutinizing one school district’s union contracts, but now they need to take action to root out the waste in it. Kentucky taxpayers deserve an explanation for how giving away their tax dollars to unions count as a proper use of their money.

Guest columnist Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Will digital learning replace teachers with others?

Some sharp-eyed parents just caught my attention with their Facebook post about a very interesting section of the Boone County School District’s application to be one of Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation.

Check out this waiver request (in red type) to the existing statute (in black type) to use teaching assistants (aides) in place of certified teachers to monitor and even instruct students doing digital learning.

Boone Co DOI Application Regarding Subing Aides for Teachers

This will further reduce student interaction with certified teachers.

It will also save the school district a ton of money, of course. If aides are assisting with virtual/digital content, certified teachers are not needed.

Despite the claims in the Boone County waiver, I need to point out that aides may not be very useful in the education system, especially in upper level grades.

In 2014 the firm of Picus, Odden & Associates created a report for the Kentucky Council for Better Education that has this interesting comment on Page 84:

“Instructional aides, as they are typically used in schools, do not positively impact student academic achievement (Gerber, Finn, Achilles & Boyd-Zaharias, 2001).”

Other comments on Page 62 in the Picus report discus other research from Tennessee that also indicates aides were not useful in even elementary school classrooms.

In fact, Picus and his group were so unimpressed with the value of aides that they called for no instructional aides and only a very few supervisory aides at any school level (elementary, middle or high school) in a school model they proposed for Kentucky on Page 51 of their report.

So, a very serious question needs to be addressed:

Has digital learning for public school students advanced to the point that most students no longer will require teachers to learn? If so, members of the teaching profession might need to start thinking about other employment options.

At the very least, the District of Innovation experiments in Boone County just got a lot more interesting.

Bluegrass Beacon: Detractors wrong about right-to-work

BluegrassBeaconLogoOriginators of the “Right to Work: Wrong for Kentucky” sign that has adorned a billboard alongside Louisville’s Watterson Expressway will have a harder time making that case now than even just a few months ago.

Since lawmakers passed right-to-work on the first Saturday of 2017 – itself a historic event – history being made is becoming a frequent accomplishment when it comes to announcements of new investment in the Bluegrass State.

First, before right-to-work had even been on the books for a month, Amazon shook the entire retail industry’s center of gravity by deciding to place its $1.5 billion worldwide cargo hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

The project will bring 3,000 jobs to the commonwealth and is the largest single business deal ever executed in Northern Kentucky, a distinction previously held by Delta Air Lines’ investment in 1993, which would represent $630 million in today’s dollars.

Then, Toyota announced less than two weeks later that it would make its largest-ever investment at the Georgetown plant – where 8,200 employees already thrive – by devoting more than $1.3 billion toward replacing and repairing equipment and upgrading technology.

While no new jobs were included in Toyota’s announcement, this upgrade is taking place at a plant where, according to the Kentucky Economic Development Authority as reported by WDRB News, workers make more than $45 an hour, which adds up to more than $93,000 annually – and that’s without including any overtime pay.

It’s all part of Toyota’s plan to spend $10 billion at its American plants by 2022.

Can anyone say: “Make Kentucky’s economy great again?”

But the commonwealth’s brand new right-to-work law also is making history even in eastern Kentucky.

Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard announced toward the end of April that his company would build a $1.3 billion aluminum mill in Greenup County’s South Shore that will employ 550 employees and pay them $70,000 annually.

Also, the first phase of the project, which will begin in early 2018, will result in the hiring of 1,000 construction workers.

How much does right-to-work have to do with this historic announcement?

“If Kentucky was not a right-to-work state, you wouldn’t have gotten on the list because it’s so important to us,” Bouchard said at an event announcing the new project, which will produce more than 300,000 tons of aluminum each year to serve automakers and the aerospace industry, which is a top exporter in the state.

The “list” included 24 other potential locations.

Still, despite Bouchard’s clear statement about how essential a right-to-work policy was in terms of deciding where to build this mill, which Gov. Matt Bevin said could wind up being “as significant as any economic deal ever made in the history of Kentucky,” ideological naysayers still try to deny its impact on the decision-making process.

In the end, House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, was forced to admit the Braidy announcement means a “tremendous” addition to Kentucky’s economy, even though he led the charge against right-to-work during the debate in the legislature on that cold, snowy first Saturday in January by fuming: “I will never cast a vote that I know will drive down the wages of the hard-working middle class.”

A $70,000 paycheck in northeast Kentucky doesn’t exactly sound like driving down wages to me.

Such potential should also provide some optimism for many across the political spectrum who wondered if there was any hope for replacing coal jobs – the only good positions found in many areas of the region for decades – lost to market forces and the Obama administration’s stifling regulations.

Manufacturers in the four months since Kentucky became a right-to-work state have made announcements historic to the northern, central and eastern part of the commonwealth that will result in more than $4 billion and create 3,550 direct jobs.

And that’s only three of the many more smaller announcements made just since right-to-work came to Kentucky.

Few policies were ever more right for Kentucky.

It’s time for that sign to come down.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

State looks for legal help to examine JCPS collective bargaining agreements

The Courier-Journal reports that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is now advertising for legal help to dig into collective bargaining contracts with Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) as part of the department’s ongoing and massive management audit of this troubled school system.

According to the Courier, the KDE

“…said it wants an analysis as to whether the contracts were negotiated in good faith, followed best practices and focused only on areas that were permissive subjects of bargaining, among other things.”

It certainly seems like KDE already smells smoke here and wants to see if there is a real fire behind it.

[Read more…]

Quote of the day: So you think right-to-work doesn’t matter?

If Kentucky was not a right-to-work state, you wouldn’t have gotten on the list because it’s so important to us.” –Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard

Bluegrass Beacon: Right-to-work means more jobs – in suits and boots

BluegrassBeaconLogoIn a single day during the first week of the legislative session — not to speak of the entire week itself — Bowling Green Rep. Jim DeCesare’s Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee did more to bring meaningful growth to Kentucky than the former Democratically controlled House did in 95 years.

While labor-union representatives filled the hallway outside Room 171 at the Capitol Annex with chants of “suits in there, boots in there,” committee members – meeting for the first time under the new GOP banner flying high in Frankfort after being folded up for nearly a century – removed serious economic barriers to making Kentucky’s economy great again by fast-tracking bills that will implement right-to-work protections for employees and remove expensive prevailing-wage mandates on public projects.

The right-to-work legislation was one of seven bills — three of which involved important labor reforms — passed in the historic Saturday session held later that same week. Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature soon thereafter made Kentucky the 27th right-to-work state in America.

DeCesare handled his first meeting as committee chairman masterfully, allowing full debate from both sides while insisting on civility and a respectful tone.

“We are doing things a different way,” newly anointed House Speaker Jeff Hoover told the committee.

“Different” is an understatement.

It’s been exasperating for years to watch politicians eat up precious taxpayers’ resources in Frankfort funding a January coma in which nothing beyond filing awkward, meaningless bills got done before Groundhog Day rolled around.

Actually producing? Unheard of.

And, during the first week? Has it ever happened?

The first week of this year’s legislative session was like walking into a bright, sunny day after being stuck for nearly a century in a room darkened by the pessimism and sheer obstructionism of the past and failed ruling elite.

The initial “Whoa! That’s bright!” turned into a “Wow, what an awesome day!” which led to “What an awesome week!” after it began to sink in just how pivotal the beginning of this year’s General Assembly session would be in Kentucky’s history.

With passage of right-to-work, Kentuckians can expect solid economic improvement.

Compare what happened in West Virginia, which, like Kentucky, dragged its heels on right-to-work for years until passing it last year, to what happened in Indiana and Michigan.

Vincent Vernuccio of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy found:

  • Average wages in both Indiana and Michigan increased after right-to-work laws were passed.
  • Since Indiana became a right-to-work state in 2012, its average wage rose faster than West Virginia’s.
  • Between 2012 – when Michigan passed its right-to-work law – and mid-2015, incomes in the Great Lakes State rose more than 9 percent, which was faster than both West Virginia and the national average.
  • Between 2012 and 2014, average hourly wages rose by 56 cents to $19.94 in Indiana, 56 cents to $21.70 in Michigan but only 37 cents to $18.21 in West Virginia.

Vernuccio also reports that when cost-of-living is taken into consideration and “you look at what people can actually buy with their money, workers in right-to-work states have 4.1 percent higher incomes than workers in non-right-to-work states.”

But if you doubt those state-to-state comparisons, consider what’s happened right here in Kentucky.

Since passing the nation’s first local right-to-work ordinance, Warren County has landed more than $1 billion in capital investment from companies who’ve signed to expand or relocate in southcentral Kentucky.

Per Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, there currently are 55,000 available job openings today in that one county.

Plus, Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon says he anticipates another 12,000 job prospects in the very near future.

If such growth can occur in a single county in southcentral Kentucky, imagine what will happen across the Bluegrass State with a right-to-work policy that attracts business and protects individual workers from being forced to pay union dues.

All kinds of jobs are coming to Kentucky. Some require suits; some boots.

Doesn’t Kentucky need more of both?

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read his weekly Bluegrass Beacon column at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

News release: It’s a new day in My Old Kentucky Home

For Immediate Release: Friday, January 7, 2017

Contact: Jim Waters @ 859.444-5630 (office) 270.320.4376 (cell) 

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) — Legislators today in a historic Saturday session replaced the “Closed for Business” signs that had kept opportunity out of the Bluegrass State with an unmistakable statement that the commonwealth is now “Open for Business” by passing legislation making Kentucky the nation’s 27th right-to-work state.

“Just like we saw in Thursday’s passage by the Kentucky House of Representatives, lawmakers’ courageous determination to do the right thing was on full display today with the state Senate’s final passage of House Bill 1 by a 25-12 margin,” Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said.

“We’re thankful for our supporters who have partnered with us for more than a decade as we made both the economic and liberty cases for right-to-work protections for hardworking Kentuckians. Without them, this day doesn’t happen,” Waters said.

The Legislature today also repealed prevailing-wage mandates on public projects and enacted paycheck protection for workers, allowing workers to choose whether to have union dues withheld from their paychecks. Currently workers must choose to opt out of having an employer withhold their dues. Legislative pension transparency also became a reality today.

“Right-to-work is good for Kentucky and good for America,” Waters said. “Incomes are up and opportunities abound in right-to-work states; but most importantly, this policy defends individual liberties of hardworking Kentuckians by giving them the right to decide how to spend their own hard-earned money.”

HB 1 was undergirded by the fact that many Kentucky counties which have passed local right-to-work ordinances during the past couple of years.

Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon says the county – the nation’s first to pass a right-to-work ordinance – has attracted more than $1 billion capital investment since passing its local ordinance in December 2014.

“With that kind of growth in one Kentucky county, just imagine what could happen across this entire commonwealth with free-market policies.” Waters said. “We’ve got counties and entire regions throughout the Bluegrass State facing Depression-like economic conditions, but it’s a new day in my old Kentucky home.”

For more information, please contact Jim Waters at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).

Bluegrass Beacon: Kentucky’s new GOP ready to drain the swamp

BluegrassBeaconLogoSpeaker-elect Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, whose Republican caucus will control the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time since 1921, made it clear: Frankfort should focus on policies that bring economic growth and employment opportunities to the Big Blue State.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, who presides over a body that’s passed pro-growth bills by increasingly larger numbers and wider margins for years concurs with the Speaker, as does Gov. Matt Bevin.

The fact that so many of those bills were blocked by departing Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo’s strong-arm political tactics galvanized Republican senators.

Many senators – even those who didn’t face re-election themselves – had grown so tired of working hard to pass sound legislation only to see it die in some obscure House committee without even a hearing that they feverishly campaigned to help their fellow House Republicans win on Election Night and transform Kentucky’s political landscape.

Stumbo’s obstructionism provided a unifying force in both raising the level of and providing a common target toward which Republicans in Frankfort could aim their collective good-for-the-citizenry frustration.

It also unified and sharpened the GOP’s spear, readying the party to bolt from the gate, jabbing with job-friendly legislation while using a retro-but-relevant “it’s the economy, stupid” approach rather than simply being satisfied with some election victory, even one that put the finishing touches on making Stumbo – already a political dinosaur – extinct.

Like Max Euwe, the great 20th century Dutch chess Grandmaster and mathematician, observed: “Whoever sees no other aim in the game than that of giving checkmate to one’s opponent will never become a good chess player.”

Or an effective game-changing majority party, either.

What happened on Election Night is best viewed as an important milestone towards winning future policy battles that ultimately will change Kentucky’s economic trajectory from one of decline and dependency to growth and even greatness.

We must make Kentucky – as Hoover put it – “a state that is more attractive to companies wanting to locate here or companies wanting to expand to create jobs.”

Opposition now will arise primarily in the form of temptations common to all politicians, including placing a higher priority on getting re-elected than on doing the right thing.

Substantive debate that includes testimony from fiscal conservatives who reformed tax policies in other states – particularly ones with whom Kentucky competes for economic-development projects – is the right thing.

Why not invite former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, for example, to come and tell about how he led the economic turnaround in the Hoosier State, all while reforming its tax, pension and education policies?

Temptations to limit tax-code debates to endless discussions about feeding crocodiles rather than draining the swamp in a manner that makes compliance simpler, rates lower and the commonwealth more prosperous must be resisted at all cost.

Such temptations can be easily overcome if House Republicans – especially its 23 new members – will just consider how downright fun it will be to cast votes like ones that free up millions of dollars currently sunk in that swamp by costly prevailing-wage requirements on public projects.

School Planning and Management magazine reports that during 2014 school districts in Region 4, which includes Kentucky, spent more than $900 million on construction, primarily new schools.

Tom Shelton, executive director of Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, told a state Senate committee earlier this year that prevailing-wage mandates consume “20 to 30 percent in overall cost for construction.”

Wrap it all up with a Big Blue blow consisting of happy legislators dreaming about unlocking millions of these dollars for new schools, textbooks and opportunities, and we’re on our way to the commonwealth’s best holiday season in at least 95 years.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.