Unleaded Truth: Nevada and Lead Paint Contamination

lead paint One of the side discussions revolving around the death of Freddy Gray in Baltimore concerns lead paint contamination and the hazards it poses for children and adults.  Articles have recently appeared in Salon, and the Chicago Tribune, recently, and in Atlantic in April 2013.  The articles, especially the last one, offer a brief history of the eventual banning of lead paint, and how industry lobbying prevented a ban until 1978.   If it’s banned throughout the country, including Nevada of course, why is it of concern to us now?

Lead paint is still out there.  It might be covered by subsequent layers of paint, or it might have been partially removed but remains under a layer of newer paint, or in the worse instance – the home, room, or apartment hasn’t been painted since ‘78.  In each of these instances it remains extremely harmful.  Popular writing tends to speak of children getting paint flakes or chips in their mouths – toddlers being apt to taste everything in their surroundings – however, lost in some commentary is the fact that the paint turns to dust which is ingested involuntarily – by everyone in the house.

Nor should we forget that the CDC didn’t get involved in lead paint removal and abatement until it was authorized to do so by the Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988.  In addition to including lead in the Safe Drinking Water authority in the EPA, the Lead Contamination Control Act:

“Amends the Public Health Service Act to authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make grants to State and local governments for the initiation and expansion of community programs designed to: (1) screen infants and children for elevated blood lead levels; (2) assure referral for treatment of, and environmental intervention for, infants and children with such blood lead levels; and (3) provide education about childhood lead poisoning. Requires that grant priority be given to programs which will serve areas with a high incidence of elevated blood levels in infants and children. Directs the Secretary to report annually to the Congress on the effectiveness of such programs. Authorizes appropriations for such grant program through FY 1991.”

The CDC has made this a continuing concern, including the abatement of lead paint contamination as part of its Healthy People 2020 program.  From a more critical perspective – this means the CDC hopes we can eliminate lead paint contamination in another five years, although we’ve known it to be a health hazard since the early 20th century.  The program targeting lead poisoning in children is thwarted to some extent because not all states are participating.  When we look at the State Surveillance reports there’s an uncomfortable footnote to the data:

Note: The following states do not submit lead surveillance data to CDC: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming

We can’t mitigate what we don’t investigate.  If we aren’t reporting levels of lead contaminants among children, how about the adults? Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology Surveillance program (ABLES) is NOT among the programs in which the state of Nevada participated.

ables Again, we cannot fully mitigate what we don’t investigate, and we cannot eliminate what we don’t survey and report.

Worse still, the federal  budget axe has fallen on lead contamination programs.  The “Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program” was zeroed out in the FY 2015 and 2016 budgets. [ASTHO]  Other analyses of the budget show a $29 million authorization for lead threat removal in 2011 dropping to a $15 million program by 2015. [GHH]  We were in trouble in this department as of 2012:

“The funding for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) for its lead poisoning and prevention programs (combined with asthma control in the “Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program) was cut from $29 million to $2 million for the 2013 fiscal year. What that means, says Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, is that “the programs that states run to prevent lead poisoning and to respond to children with elevated blood levels will be eliminated.” [Parenting]

The national and state track record is pretty dismal. We didn’t get around to banning the incorporation of lead in household interior paints until 1978, then we didn’t authorize CDC surveillance and reporting until ten years later. Nor during this time have we fully funded programs to remove the health hazard from American homes.

Lead and lead paint contamination is not uniformly investigated or mitigated in Nevada.  Given the inadequate attention and funding for national risk abatement programs for lead poisoning, it’s easy to see why Nevada didn’t fully devise and promote lead risk surveillance and removal programs.

The relevant statutes concerning lead contamination are NRS 439.479 and NRS 439.490. And, herein we find a ‘permissive language’ problem:

NRS 439.479  Regulations; enforcement; notice to district board of health of failure to maintain rental dwelling unit in habitable condition. 1.  In addition to any other powers, duties and authority conferred on a district board of health, the district board of health may by affirmative vote of a majority of all the members of the board adopt regulations consistent with law, which must take effect immediately on their approval by the State Board of Health, to (a) Regulate any health hazard on residential property;(b) Regulate any health hazard in a rental dwelling unit; an  (c) Regulate any health hazard on commercial property. (emphasis added)

In other words, a district board of health MAY adopt regulations on lead contamination and removal.  The first part of the problem is obvious when we look up the “district boards of health” in Nevada – there are only three of them .  District boards exist in Clark County, Washoe County, and Carson City.  Thus, the three local jurisdictions may enact regulations on lead contamination – and it’s to their credit they’ve all addressed the issue – but are not required to do so; and, that leaves “the rurals” without any systematic way to approach the problem at all under the terms of NRS 439.479.  Additionally, it’s of note that the “health hazard” provisions weren’t enacted until 2009.

Residents in rural counties might avail themselves of the State Health Division’s “Healthy Homes” guidelines, and hope for the best if they have to file a complaint with a landlord or seller.  Citizens are directed to two resources, the Rural Nevada Development Corporation and the Nevada Rural Housing Authority. In short, the state provides three pages of advice, two telephone numbers, and its best wishes for a happy resolution.

The good news is that Nevada is a predominantly urban state with 94.2% of the total population living in two metropolitan areas both of which have lead contamination regulations in place; however, that does leave 156,764 people or 5.8% of the population at greater risk.  The bad news is that the state may be expected to “cover” the remaining 109,013.8 square miles of territory containing that 5.8% rural population.  While there are counties which could not be reasonably expected to maintain a full service Health Board, like Esmeralda (926) or Eureka (1,903) others like Lyon (53,344), Elko (53,358), Douglas (48,553) and Nye (45,456) might be capable of forming a serviceable health district board.

Again, the permissive language issue comes to the fore – while some of the larger rural counties could organize a local health district, nothing in NRS 439.479 requires that the board address contamination standards and removal regulations for such things as lead.

111 years after France and Belgium forbid the use of lead paint for interior use, and 37 years after the Consumer Products Safety Commission  banned the use of lead in interior paint, and 27 years after the CDC was authorized to track and report on lead poisoning … the state of Nevada remains in a state of flux concerning the regulation, removal, and restoration of homes in which lead paint still poses a significant health hazard.

References of Interest:

CDC Lead Poisoning from A to Z, CDC  (pdf); Washoe County Health Department, EPI Bulletin April 2009 Lead Exposure in Northern Nevada (pdf); Nevada Revised Statutes NRS 439; Atlantic Magazine, “Why it took decades of blaming parents before we banned lead paint,” April 2013; CDC Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance Tables ABLES.  The Lead Contamination Control Act 1988. Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, Southern Nevada Health District.

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Filed under health, Health Care, nevada health, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, public health

Locked and Overloaded: NV prisons

While the rest of the country is have at least a cursory discussion about what happens when we incarcerate large numbers of our citizens – especially young people – perhaps it’s time to look at the situation in Nevada. 

Nevada’s incarceration rate stands at about 460/100K, or approximately 16% above the national average.  There are 22 jail facilities, 8 prisons, 9 “camps,” a transition housing facility, and a restitution center. [NICIC] If there is any silver lining in these numbers, it may be that they are slowing down.  In 1998 there was a 6.95% YOY increase in Nevada’s correctional population, while in the last three years reported by the Department of Corrections (2009-2011) there have been  YOY decreases of nearly 1%. [NVDoc pdf] This still leaves us with a substantial population of young men incarcerated in the state of Nevada.

NV male prison admissions Notice that some 24% of the male admissions into the Nevada penal system are for drug related offenses.  The picture is similar for female admissions, in which we find (Exhibit 54) that 32.81% of the admissions were for drug related offenses.  58% of the total male admissions were men under the age of 34.  Approximately the same percentage applies to female admissions, 58.24% were under the age of 34. 32.81% of the total female admissions were for drug related crimes.

The current rate also places Nevada in the unfortunate category of those states in which we have more people imprisoned than living in college dormitories.

NV incarceration college [The Grio

In terms of prison demographics, 45.87% of those incarcerated in Nevada are white, 28.43% are Black, 19.55% are Hispanic, 1.83% are Native American, and 2.28% are Asian.  The Census Bureau reports that 9% of Nevada’s population is African American, and 27.5% are Hispanic or Latino. Whites account for 76.7%.  What is obvious in these figures is that while the incarceration levels for whites and Hispanic populations are roughly similar to, or less than,  the percentage of the overall population of the state; while African Americans constitute only 9% of the total population they comprise over 28% of the prison population.

Perhaps these numbers shouldn’t be too surprising because similar disparities show up when we look at high school graduation rates. The overall graduation rate in Nevada is reported as 63%, the graduation rate for whites is 72%, for Hispanics it’s 54%, and for African Americans it’s a dismal 48%. [GovSL]   It costs the taxpayers of Nevada about $20,656 per incarcerated inmate [NICIC] By contrast the total cost per student in Nevada schools was calculated for FY 2011 at $8,527. [GovCSP]

Nevadans knew when Cliven Bundy, racial philosopher, began opining about the state of African Americans that he was speaking of areas like North Las Vegas, which has a 19.9% African American population, compared to a statewide average of 8.1%. [Census] North Las Vegas has a high school graduation rate of 77.1% compared to the statewide 84.6% rate, and the percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree in North Las Vegas is 15% contrasted with the statewide average of 22.4%.  The numbers aren’t surprising given that Clark County is the only jurisdiction with an African American population over 10%. [IndexM]  The numbers associated with Clark County and North Las Vegas aren’t nearly as dramatic as those which came to national attention in the Sandtown area of Baltimore City, but they do indicate that the disparities tend to produce the same depressive effects on educational attainment and employment.

Supporting Ourselves?

At some point we need to ask if we are truly supporting our own.  For example, our state mental health agency spends about $68.32 per person in Nevada. [kkf.org]  In contrast, our neighbor to the south, Arizona spends approximately $221.77, California spends $152.60, and Utah spends slightly less at $64.17. Idaho spends an appallingly low $36.64.  Unfortunately, Nevada’s jails and prisons may be utilized to make up the gap in community mental health services. [TP]  As of 2010 Nevada had a 9.8:1 ratio of persons who were mentally ill and incarcerated to those who were mentally ill and being treated in a hospital setting. [TAC pdf] The Nevada Department of Corrections reported to the 74th Session of the Legislature that over 1,300 prisoners were mentally ill individuals. [leg.state pdf] The most recent report indicates about 12% of inmates have mild to severe mental health issues. [DoCNV pdf]

The same report noted that between 60% and 90% of Nevada’s offenders had substance abuse problems. [leg.state pdf]  It’s difficult to determine from the numbers reported in 2012 how well the prison system is addressing this issue since the report itself lists personal improvement programs for inmates without specifying which are primarily associated with drug and alcohol related issues.  One would have to know that OASIS stands for Offenders Acting In Solidarity to Insure Sobriety. Or, that WINGS is Willing Inmates  in Nevada Gaining Sobriety.  [nv,leg.pdf]

Of course, the trick is – once having been incarcerated how does a person remain free?  This is of special interest in Nevada which has a high rate of probational supervision failures. [CSGJ]

“The majority of people incarcerated or under community supervision in Nevada have substance abuse problems, and a significant percentage of those with a substance abuse problem have co-occurring mental illnesses. Treatment for these disorders is routinely mandated as a condition of release, but people are often unable to comply with this condition.”

Why? Possibly because Nevada has the second highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the nation?  Because the rates of readmission to treatment for meth and amphetamine use is three times the national average? Because we have a high rate of arrests for drug and alcohol related offenses? [CSGJ]

It would also ease both prison crowding and community displacement IF the state were to ease up on the War on Drugs.  We’ve not lost this war – we’ve simple forgotten what we were fighting.  There are probably altogether too many Category E offenders.  Specifically, NRS 453.336, possession of schedule I-IV drugs with no intent to sell, is off target if the purpose of addressing drug related crime was to attack the problem at the retail level.  Why someone addicted to or having problems with an ounce or less of marijuana, or a person who has no intent to sell a scheduled or prescription drug, might face 1-4 years incarceration at $20,000+ per year expenses, defies imagination when drug treatment programs are far less expensive. Locking up the users, who in many ways may indeed be victims themselves, merely serves to exacerbate the problem of “mass incarceration.”

“Mass incarceration has proven to be an ineffective way of dealing with crime. We need to address crime punishment as a whole; especially when our prison population is mostly composed of the poor, underrepresented communities, and people of color. The fact that priority is given to imprisonment, as opposed to rehabilitation, education or other essential social programs, needs to be address with urgency.” [Ramiezgroup]

Nevada has made some progress in its drug and alcohol treatment programs, but has been loath to spend the money required to insure that residents in high crime areas, or hot spots, have affordable access to these programs in their neighborhoods.  Frankly speaking, if we take it as progress that the prison system has emphasized treatment and mental health services then we’ve lost sight of the fact that it would be far more economical and socially beneficial if these services were provided before incarceration.

Nevada also needs to look at its Category E felony list and remove such items as NRS 453.336 – if a person has no intent to deal drugs but simply has prohibited items in his or her possession, then this isn’t “the war on drugs” it is simply punishing the addict or the user.

Nevada should also seek to improve the educational and vocational training available to its students.  We don’t emphasize early childhood education as much as we should, given there is more than ample evidence that it works. Nor do we place as much emphasis on those elements of the curriculum which enhance instruction in the basics, such as art and music programs, as we should.  Do we fund an adequate number of elementary and secondary school counselors?  Do we have a sufficient reserve of classroom aides, child psychologists, local social workers, and other support personnel?

Bluntly put – wouldn’t it be better to spend more than $8,527 in total per pupil than to spend $20,656 on an inmate?

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Filed under Nevada economy, nevada education, Nevada judiciary, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

To Heck With Your Service? Again?

Heck photo

The issue of protecting military families from egregious practices by predatory payday lenders gets a bit mired in Congressional legislative processes.  However, it’s not hard at all to figure out what the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee wanted to do.

“House lawmakers narrowly voted to remove controversial language delaying new rules on payday lenders from their annual defense authorization bill early Thursday morning, calming concerns from advocates who saw the move as potentially undoing financial protections for military families.

By a 32 to 30 vote, members of the House Armed Services Committee stripped provisions from the legislation that would have delayed Defense Department plans to expand the scope of the 2006 Military Lending Act by requiring a new report due next spring on DoD’s rule-making procedures in that regard.” [MilTimes]

Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV3) has a seat on that committee.  Further, Representative Heck is the chair of the subcommittee on Military Personnel. The blurb from the subcommittee’s web page reads:

“The Military Personnel Subcommittee is responsible for military personnel policy, reserve component integration and employment issues, military health care, military education, and POW/MIA issues. This subcommittee makes sure that our troops and their loved ones are receiving the first class benefits that they deserve.”

Remember this for future reference.  For the moment ask how the statement squares with the effort to “delay new rules on payday lenders…?”  And, how does this align with comments made by subcommittee chairman Joe Heck:

“The 2006 lending law was passed by Congress after reports of payday lenders charging unusually high interest rates to troops — 400 percent or more, in some cases — and misleading borrowers about the long-term debt they could incur.

Implementation of the law initially was confined to payday loans, vehicle title loans and tax refund anticipation loans. But last September, defense officials proposed new rules that would expand the types of credit covered by the maximum 36-percent interest rate that can be charged to service members and their dependents.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., chairman of the armed services committee’s military personnel panel, said those moves have raised concerns that defense officials are applying rules too broadly.”  [MilTimes]

It’s the Pentagon’s belief that service members need protection from predatory forms of credit cards, deposit advance loans, installment loans, and unsecured open ended lines of credit.  The bottom line is simple – members of our armed forces can be charged no more than the quite nearly usurious 36% interest rate. Too broadly?  How does applying rules saying no member of the military can be charged no more than 36% cut off credit options? If a lender can’t profit with a 36% margin perhaps they ought not be in business?

Representative Heck’s idea was to have the Pentagon conduct ANOTHER study of the effects of the Military Lending Act, in spite of the completion of the original study. Translation: Congressional studies can be used to delay the implementation of regulations interminably. Meanwhile, member of the military remain threatened by the terms of predatory lenders. [More at TP]  And, was Representative Heck proud of his delaying maneuver?

“The one-year delay of new financial protections for the military appears to come from Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), who chairs the subcommittee that produced the provision without discussion. Heck’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the provision.”  [TP]  (emphasis added)

Members of the Armed Forces should welcome the amendment by Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) which stripped Heck’s language from the appropriations bill, and was adopted by the committee on a 32-30 vote.

But wait, there’s more.

“The House voted 213-210 Thursday against an amendment that would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to discuss medical marijuana with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. Opponents of the amendment underscored marijuana’s federally illegal status and said veterans shouldn’t be prescribed pot for psychological problems.” [IBT]

Representative Heck voted in favor of the amendment, but Nevada Representatives Hardy and Amodei voted against it.  Perhaps Hardy and Amodei are clinging to the old War on Drugs theme, a stale leftover from those days when it seemed like every candidate for every office was running for county sheriff?

The amendment certainly wouldn’t have required the VA to prescribe marijuana or related products to veterans, but it would have aligned the services of the VA more closely with NRS 435A on the medical usage for marijuana.  The state of Illinois is currently hearing a report on studies related to the use of marijuana to assist in the treatment of PTSD.  The American Glaucoma Society isn’t thrilled with the side effects of marijuana, but acknowledges that it does reduce intraocular pressure (IOP) in glaucoma patients.

Contrary to the drum beating of the Old Drug Warriors, marijuana has been used successfully to treat moderate to severe “refractory spasticity” in multiple sclerosis patients, to alleviate loss of appetite associated with HIV/AIDS cachexia, and to inhibit chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting among cancer patients.

In short, given Representative Heck’s attempt to give a handout to the predatory lenders, and Old Drug Warriors Hardy and Amodei’s conviction that medical and marijuana don’t fit together – it wasn’t a complete loss of members of the Armed Forces and Veterans in the House, but it was a near thing.

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Filed under Amodei, Defense Department, Heck, Veterans

School Dazed in the NV Assembled Wisdom

NV Legislature wide It’s School Daze for the Nevada Legislature and its Raucous Caucus, as AB 448 comes forward.  This is the Achievement District bailiwick in which all pretense of “local control” is pitched into oblivion

AN ACT relating to education; establishing the Achievement School District within the Department of Education; (1)  authorizing certain underperforming schools to be converted to achievement charter schools sponsored by the Achievement School District; (2)  prescribing requirements for the conversion of a public school to an achievement charter school and the operation of an achievement charter school; (3) providing for the use of certain school buildings by an achievement charter school without compensation; (4) authorizing a school district to provide services to an achievement charter school under certain circumstances; prescribing certain conditions of employment for a teacher at an achievement charter school; (5)  authorizing the conversion of an achievement charter school to a public school in a school district or a charter school; revising provisions governing the use of school buildings owned by the board of trustees of the school district by a charter school; making reassignment of the employees of an achievement charter school (6) outside the scope of collective bargaining;  [AB 488]

Let’s not bother to pretend this has anything to do with “smaller government,” or other pillars of conservative wisdom.  If a school is categorized as “underperforming” the local school district loses control of it and its operations.  That would be, of course,  the duly elected school board of a school district in this state – losing control of its facilities and operations to the state. Small government this isn’t. More on this point a bit later.

There are three ways a school can be removed from local authority:

Sec. 20. 1. A public school is eligible for conversion to an achievement charter school if: (a) Based upon the most recent annual report of the statewide system of accountability for public schools, the public school is an elementary school or middle school that was rated in the lowest 5 percent of elementary or middle schools in this State in pupil achievement and school performance for the most recent school year; (b) The public school is a high school that had a graduation rate for the immediately preceding school year of less than 60 percent; or (c) Pupil achievement and school performance at the public school is unsatisfactory as determined by the Department pursuant to the criteria established by regulation of the Department.

Let’s look at the first one, based on the annual report.  For all intents and purposes this categorization is based on standardized test scores. Growth measures of achievement,  status measure of achievement, and reduction in achievement gaps are all based on … test scores.  There is one other criterion, and only one other, to date, and that’s average daily attendance.  [NVDoE]

Here’s what I don’t see in the description of the measurements. Does the school serve a struggling socio-economic group?  Is the school over-crowded? Does the school have a teacher-student ratio that indicates some classes are overcrowded? How many of the youngsters are classified as in need of Special Education?  What is the transient rate in that particular school? Is the school adequately staffed with counselors, language specialists, social workers, psychologists, aides and other support personnel? If the school is a secondary one, then what does it mean to say the students are “ready for college?”  Let’s be honest here, not everyone is prepared for or even interested in a four year college program.  So, what does it mean to say a child is ready for… a vocational program? An apprenticeship program? A School to Work transition program?  We know that about 41% of American students continue their education beyond high school.  [NCES]

What of the other 60%? Does this mean that if a student elects to be a truck driver, construction worker, apprentice plumber, landscaper, or apprentice mechanic, or heavy equipment operator they “don’t count?”

What I do see is that if the kids show up and they test well then the school is said to be successful. The bias here appears to be that if the local school district isn’t churning out academically successful students, even if the school has prepared numerous and sundry mechanics, truck drivers, beauticians, file clerks, plumbers, etc., it isn’t “successful.”

A graduation rate? 60% is doable. The state average – one of the worst in the country is 63%. [LVSun] There are diploma options, for example in Clark County one can earn a standard diploma, an advanced diploma, or an advanced honors diploma. [CCSD] Students with learning disabilities can opt out of the “college and career readiness” track, and be evaluated according to their Individual Education Plan.

Statewide there are standard diplomas 63% receiving this form, advanced diplomas 27.2%, adjusted diplomas 4.8%, and certificates of attendance 4.9%. [NVASB pdf]

Nevada is a state with 37% white, 40% Hispanic, 9% black, and 1% Native American students. 19% of the students are classified as Limited English Proficient, 11% have diagnosed learning disabilities, and 54% are come from low income families. [NVASB pdf] By at least one standard – if the schools are majority low income, and the graduation rate is over 60% then some might call this successful? While it may not be ideal, it certainly doesn’t deserve the opprobrium of abject failure.

Item (c) is bureaucracy personified. A school may be declared “unsuccessful” based on Department of Education regulatory criteria. For those who purport to eschew “bureaucracy” and support “local control” by “locally elected officials” this ought to be enraging?  This isn’t small government, it’s grasping government, and personnel policy isn’t all it’s grasping.

Welcome to our accounting nightmare.  As set forth in Section 22.

“2. An achievement charter school must continue to operate in the same building in which the school operated before being converted to an achievement charter school. The board of trustees of the school district in which the school is located must provide such use of the building without compensation. While the school is operated as an achievement charter school, the governing body of the achievement charter school shall pay all costs related to the maintenance and operation of the building and the board of trustees shall pay all capital expenses.”

This is a go broke slowly scheme?  While the charter pays for the maintenance and operations, the local school board has lost control of its building and the capital expenses associated therewith.  If the school district approved a bond issue for the construction of the school (over which it now has no control) it must still pay off the bonds – without any compensation from the entity now using the facility.  But wait, there’s more…

Any financial operation from the lowliest back yard garage service to the most complex corporation has to deal with depreciation expenses, and accounts for capital replacement.  So, we have here a building on which  there are outstanding bonds or not, someone has to pay into accounts for depreciation expense, and into accounts for capital replacement – without any compensation from the charter management firm in charge of the building.  We’re not dealing with insignificant numbers here.

The Clark County School District reports $2,245,000 in depreciation expenses in 2012-2013.  Let’s assume that the “average” functional age of most schools is about 40 years, and that this functionality is dependent on (a) use and (b) renovation.  If we use straight line depreciation then we take the cost of original construction and divide it by the number of years the building is assumed to be serviceable.  If the school district, or any district, is functioning with fiscal intelligence, then the older the building the more must be added to the capital replacement accounts.

Clark County has 8 buildings constructed before 1949, 20 schools constructed during the 1950s, 39 during the 1960s, 31 during the 1970s, 23 during the 1980s, 98 during the 1990s and 119 constructed recently after 2000. [CCSD pdf]   In 1996 the Clark County School Board authorized $89 million in bonds for elementary schools (9), and $104.9 for four middle schools. [LVSun]   We can use these numbers to create an illustration of how expensive depreciation can get for a school district.  The CCSD numbers yield a cost of about $9,888,888 per elementary building included in that bond issue.  If the buildings have a life expectancy of 65 years then the depreciation for those would be $152,136 per building annually.

The way I’m reading this section of the proposed law, the Clark County School District would be responsible for the $152,136 annual depreciation expenses on a building over which it was forced to relinquish control if that school were to be declared “unsuccessful.” And, the charter management firm would be using the building without contributing to the depreciation expenses.

And, now the nightmare compounds.

“4. An achievement charter school may: (a) Acquire by construction, purchase, devise, gift, exchange or lease, or any combination of those methods, and construct, reconstruct, improve, maintain, equip and furnish any building, structure or property to be used for any of its educational purposes and the related appurtenances, easements, rights-of-way, improvements, paving, utilities, landscaping, parking facilities and lands; (b) Mortgage, pledge or otherwise encumber all or any part of its property or assets; (c) Borrow money and otherwise incur indebtedness; and (d) Use public money to purchase real property or buildings with the approval of the Achievement School District.”

Whoa Nelly!  The charter management firm may encumber, mortgage, or pledge any part of its property – the school building – on which the local school district is (a) still paying off capital construction bonds and/or (b) still paying for depreciation expenses?  In a nightmare scenario, the hypothetical  Chatter Charter Achievement School (formerly operated by the local school district) which is still being paid for – can be modified by the Chatter Charter NPO, and who books the depreciation on the renovations? Who’s on the hook for the mortgage if the Chatter Charter outfit goes bankrupt?  If the local school district is “still responsible” for the capital expenses, then is it also ultimately responsible for the  payment of capital outlays for renovation?

There’s something else here I’m not seeing.  The Charter may acquire all manner of equipment and furnishings – but can it sell off equipment and furnishings without the approval of the original donor – the local school district?   Buildings, furnishings, and equipment (anything not classified as supplies and personnel costs) may also be an integral part of the school districts accounting. In our good old fashioned double entry system of bookkeeping in this country, the non-perishable or consumable items are booked as ASSETS of the school district and thus any donation of those items (voluntary or involuntary) depletes the assets of the school district. Deplete enough assets and you deplete the capacity of the district to qualify for future financing.  

In short what we have here is a fiscal system in which the taxpayers who paid into the local school district make all the contributions and the charter firms take all the donations, just keep the floors mopped and the lights on.   Therefore, the penalty for having an unsuccessful school is not only the loss of policy control but the loss of financial assets to boot.

It’s a double whammy for any school district, and one that doesn’t appear to have been entirely thought through to the obvious financial conclusions.

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Filed under education, Nevada, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada news, Nevada politics, nevada taxation

The Ammosexual Assembly: Nevada Legislature and SB 175

NV Legislature wide A much amended SB 175 is still alive in the Nevada Legislature.  [LTN]  This “gun bill” contains several items on the ammosexual wish list, and with copious amendments got out of the Senate on a 14-5 vote.  There’s a subtle, but important revision in Amendment 136 which should given reasonable individuals some hope for sanity in an otherwise irrational session.  In the Kill At Will portion – otherwise known as Stand Your Ground – the language changes from “knew or had reason to believe” that the shooter was imperiled, to “reasonably believed” the victim of the shooting was in the act of perpetrating a violent crime.

This is improved language because merely because I have a reason to think a person is in the act of committing a felony doesn’t necessarily mean I have a good reason, or even a rational explanation.  The improved language now specifies that I must provide a rational explanation, something a reasonable person might believe.  The new language sets a higher and better standard.

The second change of note is that the aforesaid ‘knowledge’ must relate to the act of committing a violent crime, not merely any felony.  If a felonious action is all that is necessary then a person embezzling more than $650 may be said to be in the act of committing a Class C felony in this state – and who gets shot for embezzlement?  Or mortgage fraud? Or even running a chop shop?

The language is still a bit sloppy in the sections dealing with reciprocity of concealed carry permitting.  Existing law requires that the out of state permit be “substantially similar to” or “more stringent than” Nevada statutes. The new language merely says the state will describe any training, class, or program required by the initiating state.  That an issuing agency (sheriff’s department) knows the training level doesn’t necessarily mean it is an appropriate training level, or that the restrictions on an individual seeking  a concealed carry permit can be discerned from a description of training, classes, or programs.

The domestic violence issue is also barely resolved.  Here’s the portion, with the line reference numbers retained:

37 Sec. 5. Chapter 33 of NRS is hereby amended by adding thereto a new 38 section to read as follows: 39 1. If a court issues an extended order pursuant to NRS 33.030, the adverse 40 party shall not subsequently purchase or otherwise acquire any firearm during 41 the period that the extended order is in effect. 42 2. A person who violates the provisions of subsection 1 is guilty of a 43 category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a 44 minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 45 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000.”

Here’s the problem – notice that in line 39 the confiscation of firearms is associated with an extended order of protection.  The related statute is NRS 33.030 and 33.033.   It’s necessary at this point to look at the provisions of NRS 33.020 – which says there can be two types of protection orders: temporary and extended.  A temporary order of protection would not, under the language of SB 175, allow the authorities to confiscate firearms from the ‘adversarial party.’ AKA the abuser.  There’s a hair-splitting argument to be made that getting an extended order allows the abuser to have his or her day in court, and thus wouldn’t violate the 2nd Amendment.  This argument works if, and almost only if, the absolutist theory of the 2nd Amendment applies.

If the absolutist theory is attached to other elements in the Bill of Rights then perhaps one couldn’t be immediately arrested for yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater? Or, for indulging in the ancient Aztec religious ceremony of removing the ‘still beating heart’ to offer to the Sun God? One would have to have “his or her day in court” before any preventative measures could be taken to mitigate further damage? Yes, this is a silly argument, but nonetheless it illustrates the limitations of any absolutist theoretical framework. And there is evidence of ‘immediate damage.’

Nevada, Louisiana, Alaska, and South Carolina have the highest rates of homicide for women who are victims of domestic violence, all with a rate in the range of 2.00 to 2.50. [HuffPo] This is not the Top Four in the Nation category of which we should be proud.

We might be able to get out of this unfortunate ranking by inserting language which allows the removal of firearms from a premise if any order of protection is granted, until the expiration of that order.  The firearms have not been permanently taken from the rightful owner, they’ve just been removed temporarily from a volatile environment in which the two ‘adults’ may not be the only potential victims – bullets have been known for going through apartment walls.

If the ammosexual contingent in the Nevada Legislature can contain its enthusiasm for shootin’ up the state, we might want to have a serious discussion about whether we want the least restrictive statutes for firearm possession and ownership, or those which have the greatest potential for removing obvious threats to public safety.

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Filed under domestic abuse, Gun Issues, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

Tea Party Antics in the Assembled Wisdom

Tea Party Flag

There are 40 days left in the Nevada Legislative Session.  Not that the initial leadership struggles in the Assembly weren’t entertaining, but the decorum on the set appears to be degenerating into sniping sessions worthy of  an agitated  flock of mockingbirds. There’s something about a gun-packin’ right wing Mama telling a fellow member to “Sit your A___ down” which doesn’t quite fit into the image of Legislative debate. Granted, most of what passes for debate in many sessions is essentially soporific and would cure the most intractable insomnia, but Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-NRA) has perhaps ventured a step too far into the realm of the theatrical. But then we could muse that most of what passes for Issues in this session is just that – political theater.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Political Theater, when used to good effect we get The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, the Nixon Checkers Speech, and the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  It’s when the theatrical elements are endowed with more significance than the policy discussions that we get into difficulties.

At the point where posture becomes more important than policy we are treated to things like the offering of 11 gun bills in a single session of the Legislature.  Some of these bills were predictably extreme – guns galore and guns everywhere!  Posturing becomes problematic when the extreme bills are endowed with Sanctity and aren’t part of a compromise process.

In an age of sound bite politics it’s hard to get a good policy discourse going.  If all one side is willing to offer is a parroting of “No new taxes,” then discussions about equitable ways to raise revenue for essential public services is diminished.  If 2nd Amendment rights may not have any responsibilities attached thereto, then common sense legislation to control the proliferation of firearms and the attendant loss of life becomes a stalemate.

If one side is wedded to the notion that the only way to deliver public services is by corporate interests then nothing of much value gets accomplished.

Combining ideological posturing with election politics simply adds another layer of difficulty to an already delicate democratic process.  The fact that SB 169 – a vote suppression bill if there ever was one – was granted an exemption from the Legislature on March 10, 2015 should send chills down the spines of those who are watching the process in the current Legislative session.  It’s companion in the Assembly, AB 253, a photo ID bill which carries with it an unfunded mandate among other baggage, is still percolating through the Assembly.

A restricted electorate plus the sound bite politics of posturing isn’t a recipe for rational legislative decision making.

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Filed under civil liberties, Gun Issues, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Republicans, Vote Suppression

The Something For Nothing Crowd in the Nevada Assembly

Nevada Legislature And Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom totters on:

“Remember what happened yesterday. Just after the Senate’s grandiose SB 252 floor vote, the Assembly devolved into pure “TEA” powered madness with constant recesses, shouting matches over those recesses, a floor fight over blatantly unconstitutional bill language, mind-numbing flip-flopping over outrageously discriminatory legislation, and an epic freakout over online sales tax. Are you scared yet? Ralston and others clearly are.” [LTN]

Why are we not surprised?  The bill now goes to the Assembly, in which the ideologically pure (sort of) and constitutionally correct (rarely) will have a whack at the funding for Governor Sandoval’s budget.

“The scariest prospect is that with a third of the session left, the biggest issue before the state has been left in the hands of a body populated by some GOP members who don’t understand policy, who don’t live on the same planet the rest of us do and who are the most embarrassing legislators the state has ever seen.” [Ralston/RGJ]

For those keeping score, Steve Sebelius provided a handy list of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the almost comprehensible measures before said Assembled Wisdom this season. It’s a handy reference.  … Which gets us to the Something For Nothing Crowd.

Consider this release from the Assembly Policy Committee, and its spokesperson Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Bundyville):

“With all due respect, much of the governor’s proposal is based on the mistaken idea that the way to fix public education in Nevada is to pump more taxpayer dollars into the existing failed system rather than dramatically reforming that system and providing far more school choice to Nevada parents, including the financial assistance necessary to exercise that choice for low-to-moderate income families.

“That said, the unemployment rate in Nevada remains, as Bill Anderson of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation put it last week, ‘stubbornly high’ at 7.1 percent.  As such, the last thing the Legislature should be doing is taking money out of the private sector, where it’s needed to create jobs, and transferring it to the public sector so that government can continue to spend beyond its means.

“Conservatives in the Nevada State Assembly cannot and will not support  SB252 as passed out of the Senate today.”

Let us Parse. First, nothing good ever happens after someone begins with “with all due respect.”  Thence to the heart of the matter – the old privatization refrain, which goes back to the 1874 Kalamazoo Case.

“Kalamazoo Union High School, which many believed to be a necessity for bridging the gap from common school to university, operated with some minor opposition, until 1873. In January of that year, three prominent Kalamazoo property owners filed a suit intended to prevent the school board from funding the high school with tax money. They argued that the 1859 state law had been violated when the high school was established without a vote of the taxpayers. Charles E. Stuart, a former United States Senator from Michigan, along with Theodore P. Sheldon and Henry Brees, initiated the suit. At the time, it was believed to be a “friendly” suit intended to settle the issue legally in favor of the school. However, Stuart’s comments to the Kalamazoo Board of Education years after the suit had been settled, suggest that he and his companions sincerely resented the tax burden that the public high school placed on them. Stuart, like many others of his time, believed that a common school education was sufficient for anyone, and anything beyond that should be paid for privately.” [KPL]

The School Board prevailed in the 1874 litigation, and thus we have public funding for education k-12. [MLive]  The fact that if a school board is charged with administering a k-12 system then it must have the funding to do so raises the second portion of the argument – the part concerning the level of that financial support.

Enter the Something For Nothing Crowd.  What else explains the phrase: “fix public education in Nevada is to pump more taxpayer dollars into the existing failed system rather than dramatically reforming…?” This statement assumes (1) the current level of funding is adequate, or perhaps less is necessary; (2) the schools are failing with the present level of funding and therefore no additional funding is desireable; and, (3) the system needs to be “fixed.”

None of these assumptions can be asserted without challenge.  The first problem is the general issue of the Disappearing Dollars often cited by conservatives. The notion of “pumping in” dollars infers that the dollars are a measure of educational support in themselves.  The concept is a great leap to a highly ideologically framed conclusion.  No. money doesn’t solve educational issues but it does purchase: The services of highly qualified personnel, specialists, aides and assistants, and administrators; school physical facilities, books, libraries, equipment, supplies, etc. 

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Something For Nothing Crowd is channeling the spirit of Charles E. Stuart from the 19th century – if a family wants a better education for their children they should pay for it themselves.  Witness: “dramatically reforming that system and providing far more school choice to Nevada parents, including the financial assistance necessary to exercise that choice for low-to-moderate income families.”   The translation is fairly simple.  School choice equates to a voucher system for attendance at private schools. and “far more schools” usually equates to the establishment of private charter operations.

We’ve touched on the rationales for this thinking before:

“The K-12 schools are “failing” and therefore we should augment the resources for privatization in the form of charter or private schools.  This contention is most often wrapped in “parental choice” camouflage covering.  That the proposed choice doesn’t exist in many rural communities, or that the proposed choice is extremely limited in urban ones, doesn’t enter into the discussion often enough.  Nor is it observed often enough that school voucher programs are a way to siphon off public funds for public schools and channel the money to private ones. [DB 2012]

In addition to the questionable rational for the conservative philosophy as it pertains to public education, there’s the problem of educational standards. What’s “failing?”

The most common measurement of “educational attainment” and the one most often cited by conservatives is standardized test scores.  Standardized testing has its uses.  However, placing them at the center of the argument is to risk overemphasizing their usefulness:

“We can stipulate that most tests manufactured for use in public schools by major publishing houses are statistically reliable and generally statistically valid. What we cannot say with any statistical certainty is whether or not we are measuring what we value in public education.” [DB 2011]

We appear “not to test well” and there may be some valid reasons for that, such as the generally low salaries for teachers, “Teacher salaries have a huge impact when it comes to attracting good instructors. The innovative, smart, highly skilled people you want teaching your kids aren’t exactly in love with the idea of making $38,000 per year (the average for first-year high school teachers) when they could go somewhere else and earn more while doing less.” [ABC]

Or perhaps we should place greater emphasis on early childhood education: “

The OECD found in a separate study that 15-year-olds who had attended at least a year of preschool performed better on reading tests than kids who had not, even when socioeconomic factors were taken into account.  The U.S. spends more on preschool than other countries but money doesn’t do any good unless kids are enrolled, and the U.S. lags on that measure.” [ABC]

The ASCD offers an enlightening summation:

“For several important reasons, standardized achievement tests should not be used to judge the quality of education. The overarching reason that students’ scores on these tests do not provide an accurate index of educational effectiveness is that any inference about educational quality made on the basis of students’ standardized achievement test performances is apt to be invalid.

Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is. Standardized achievement tests should be used to make the comparative interpretations that they were intended to provide. They should not be used to judge educational quality.”

Even if we do apply standardized test score to measure “temperature with a tablespoon” there’s no guarantee that the privatized or charter schools will achieve better results.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at test data from charter schools in 26 states and the District and found that 25 percent of charters outperformed traditional public schools in reading while 29 percent of charters delivered stronger results in math. That marked an improvement over a similar 2009 study by the same research team.

But 56 percent of the charters produced no significant difference in reading and 19 percent had worse results than traditional public schools. In math, 40 percent produced no significant difference and 31 percent were significantly worse than regular public schools. [WaPo]

So, we have the Something For Nothing Crowd in the Nevada Assembly decrying the essence of the Governor’s budget for education with all the old clichés from time gone by, and the tautological statement that if an underfunded school is failing the way to make it better is to further cut its funding.

We can only hope that after the tempers, the tantrums, the protestations, the gnashing of teeth, and the rending of cloth the membership of the Nevada Assembly will manage some form of civility and citizenship, and recognize another time honored statement – You Get What You Pay For.

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Filed under education, nevada education, nevada taxation, Sandoval