Breonna Taylor and (Not) Indicting Cops

Yesterday was a sad day in Louisville. A grand jury opted to indict just one officer involved in the police killing of Breonna Taylor on March 13. The charges themselves do not relate to Taylor’s death, but to the shots fired into neighboring apartments. If this case had been lower profile, I have to wonder if even those charges would ever have been filed.

It’s easy to argue that the grand jury probably got it right given the laws in Kentucky, but that’s a small consolation when the laws on the books effectively prevented precisely the kind of public accountability that protestors want following Taylor’s death.

Here’s a quick podcast with Clark Neily on some of the troubling implications that this case has for policing:

The violence that followed last night will probably continue for several nights to come. Two police officers were shot, and reactions like that will continue to incentivize people who are relatively less affected by police violence to either ignore efforts to reform policing or dig in their heels to “back the blue” wherever possible.

Organized groups aiming to “defund” or “abolish” police are smaller than they look. Most people don’t want to end public responses to crime. Still, part of the promise of modern American life is that the justice system will give you a fair shake, and that when your rights have been violated, that the people responsible will be given a similarly fair shake. Right now, our legal system seems absolutely incapable of delivering on that promise.

Waiting for a Grand Jury in Louisville

The nervousness in Louisville right now reminds me of a similar case involving a man named James Taylor who, despite being handcuffed behind his back, was shot several times by Louisville police in his own apartment.

Police claimed that Taylor, despite the handcuffs, was swinging a box cutter at officers. Officers responded, not by knocking Taylor down, but by firing several shots into his body.

The grand jury in that case returned no indictments. I believe that was in no small part because prosecutors and grand jurors themselves tend to feel that jurors are there to function as an arm of the prosecution. Prosecutors, as you are probably aware, have to work with police on a regular basis and the incentive to push for indictments of cops is, well, delicate.

There also seems to be some confusion about how grand juries function, what their powers are, and why Louisville is preparing for violence downtown now rather than, say, next week when the grand jury will officially finish its work.

Here’s a story I wrote for Snitch Newsweekly in March, 2003 about the Taylor case and about grand juries more broadly.

By Caleb O. Brown
Staff Writer (Snitch)

Their powers are enormous, wielded in almost total secrecy. They can subpoena you and force you to give sworn statements about whatever they please. They are random civilians brought together to examine evidence, conduct investigations and issue indictments when appropriate.

They are grand juries.

The protests over the shooting of James Taylor by Louisville Police have been, in part, over the Jefferson County grand jury’s decision not to indict. Taylor was handcuffed behind his back when he was shot by Detective Mike O’Neil.

Part of the difficulty in quelling that unrest has been the fact that few will ever know what brought about the grand jury’s decision. The jurors are sworn to secrecy about what they heard, how they voted and what they feel were the critical factors in their decision.

The element of secrecy, at least in this case, troubles Commonwealth Attorney David Stengel, who tried to get the entire grand jury proceedings released so the community would know what was brought before the grand jury, what questions were asked and how they were answered.

To say the least, that kind of request doesn’t come along very often. Judge Geoffrey Morris denied the commonwealth’s motion and stated simply in his ruling that grand jury proceedings “permit charges to be brought without substantive evidence,” charges that the accused could not readily rebut.

His ruling said the limitations of the grand jury system “are part and parcel of why the United States Supreme Court and the lower courts of this nation have shrouded the grand jury in confidentiality.”

But the grand jury system, its secrecy, its powers and how grand juries are allowed to function are matters of debate. And reformers have a few ideas about how to fix it.

Before the revolution

The existence of grand juries and their secrecy is laid out in the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights, but the institution dates back – at least in this country – to Colonial America.

England used “assistants” in the colonies to make laws, accuse suspects and then decide guilt or innocence. Sensing the inherent problems in such an arrangement, colonists convened a grand jury and charged some of the assistants with crimes.

In the years leading up to the American revolution, three consecutive grand juries refused to indict newspaperman John Peter Zenger after he was accused of seditious libel for criticizing the royal authorities for doing away with jury trials.

Following the revolution and the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution – the Bill of Rights – grand jury secrecy was meant to protect jurors from undue influences, threats of revenge for an unfavorable decision chief among them.

Big power, few rules

“They can do just about anything they want,” said Stengel. He said Kentucky’s grand juries are rarely investigative bodies, usually only indicting on possible crimes that the prosecutor brings before them.

But “anything they want” covers a lot of ground.

Grand juries have wide latitude to investigate any wrongdoing, official or otherwise, within their venue. Kentucky Practice, Criminal Practice and Procedure (co-written by University of Louisville law professor Les Abramson) states “the grand jury may initiate investigations on its own initiative, based either upon the personal knowledge of any of its members or upon information furnished by any citizen.” Kentucky’s rules of criminal procedure state that grand juries can ask the Commonwealth Attorney to leave while jurors question witnesses. The appearance of those witnesses, the rules state, “may be coerced as in other judicial proceedings.”

Defendants can request that a grand jury hear evidence, but jurors don’t have to agree to hear it.

Nothing we hear leaves this room

Police dramas rarely show the grand jury. It’s hardly Twelve Angry Men. Grand juries don’t pronounce judgment of guilt or innocence, they merely judge whether there is enough information to send someone to trial.

And it’s not glamorous. Stengel estimates jurors make about $12 per day working on the grand jury.

So why can’t grand jurors grab just a little spotlight after refusing to issue an indictment on a highly charged case? Why can’t we know what happened or didn’t happen in that grand jury room?

“It’s not an arbitrary decision” according to Susan Brenner, a law professor at the University of Dayton and scholar on grand juries. Brenner was cited by Judge Morris in his ruling denying the release of grand jury proceedings in the Taylor shooting.

Aside from the bribery, threats or retribution that might await jurors after a controversial decision, the proceedings are secret to protect lots of other people.

“It also prevents letting the person who is being investigated from fleeing,” said Susan Brenner. “As the Supreme Court has said, (grand jury secrecy) also protects the innocent accused, people who are accused but are not charged.”

Stengel agrees, in principle, on the importance of grand jury secrecy.

He said, “If I had political opponents, I could investigate somebody who I didn’t like … and then issue a big thing where there were ‘unanswered questions’ and that sort of stuff. That’s what (grand jury secrecy) precludes, I think.”

However, Stengel charges there were few protection interests at stake to provide any good reason to keep the Taylor grand jury proceedings secret, saying that both officers involved in the shooting didn’t object to the release of the material.

“This was just such an important case and so difficult to understand how anything like that could be justifiable,” said Stengel. “I wanted everyone to see what the grand jury heard. And I also wanted to shut down the complainers who said ‘Stengel did something behind closed doors.’ I wanted them to see exactly what I did behind closed doors.”

Secrecy is so important to grand jury proceedings that anyone connected with the release of that material would be held criminally liable.

“If a court reporter went rogue and decided to release samples of the transcript without going through proper procedures, that court reporter would be committing the crime of criminal contempt for releasing those transcripts,” said Brenner. “Anyone who publishes those or releases them would be guilty as an accomplice in criminal contempt.”

Secrecy is generally maintained in grand jury proceedings, save the occasional “runaway grand jury,” in which jurors decide that they’re going to go public with their findings without the consent of the court. Those jurors usually find themselves under indictment by a future grand jury.

People not governed by the rules of secrecy are witnesses, who can walk directly out of the courthouse and up to a microphone and start talking about everything they told the grand jury.

Fix the system

“If the grand jury is not independent, there is not any reason to have it,” according to Professor Brenner. She advocates a more independent grand jury system.

“As it works now, prosecutors work closely with grand juries,” she said. “If you look at the law in most states, it will say that the grand jury is an arm of the court. And it is an independent agency.”

Brenner says the grand juries in centuries past were very independent and tended to conduct their own investigations on ordinary citizens and on local governments.

“If you go back to that time, people understood that a grand jury is not at all like a trial jury,” she said. “Trial juries are very passive. They just sit. Grand jurors are able to take an active part in the proceeding.”

A key component of grand jury independence, according to Brenner, is giving jurors the ability to have their own legal counsel separate from the office of the prosecutor.

“In dealing with the law, (grand jurors) need some legal adviser,” she said. “The way it’s developed in our system is that the prosecutor is at once their legal adviser.”

Stengel says it’s a “matter of course for his office to offer grand juries advice on indictments, but he says grand juries rarely ask for such advice once they come to understand their role on the jury.

“Our role basically is to say, ‘Here’s the law on it,’” and then recommend if an indictment should be issued. Stengel said his office offers recommendations in about “90 percent of cases” and that those recommendations are followed about “90 percent of the time.”

Brenner said the prosecutors who work closely with grand juries must therefore play two roles: the adviser and the advocate.

“That, by definition, means that the prosecutor is trying to encourage them, is trying to steer them in certain directions and may not want to explore other issues of interest to the grand jury,” she said.

Brenner would prefer to see more states do what Hawaii does with its grand juries and allow the jurors to retain their own legal counsel.

Stengel doesn’t see the conflict in the dual roles his office must play and said Brenner’s theory has some problems.

“Will that counsel be familiar with the workings of the criminal justice system to the degree that we are as prosecutors?” he asked. “Will that person take into account our ability to prosecute something? It’ll have some advantages, but it will have a lot of disadvantages. You’re going to get a lot of stuff through the grand jury that we would screen out as unprosecutable.”

Attorney Aubrey Williams, who represents the family of James Taylor and who has filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the family, agrees with Stengel, and they don’t agree on much these days.

“That attorney won’t have to go before the public for a vote,” said Williams. “He will not have to answer to the public for his actions.”

Brenner also believes that grand juries should serve longer than the 20 days spelled out in Kentucky’s law, mostly so jurors would get used to their roles and not depend on prosecutors for advice on conducting investigations. Stengel said the time that people must take away from their jobs (and the low compensation) already provide significant inconvenience to jurors.

Brenner said that the fight over a civilian police review board might be eased with greater independence among grand juries, allowing them to look into all manner of possible misconduct, not just among police officers.

On that point, Brenner and Stengel agree.

“That’s what we’ve always said from the beginning,” Stengel said. “Your grand jury is a civilian review board and it’s got the power to subpoena, the power to cross-examine. You’ve got a civilian review board there.”

Protest Movements That Work

I chatted recently with Fabio Rojas of Indiana University about how protest movements go from anger to concrete change.

The bottom line for Rojas is this: However justified violence might be, it doesn’t tend to produce the policy change that earnest protestors would want.

In my limited experience, it takes days or week for protestors to even begin thinking about transferring righteous anger into demands for policy change. As we continue to wait for the Supreme Court to decide if they’ll take a case involving “qualified immunity,” it seems fitting that protestors might demand a federal legislative fix to the court-invented doctrine.

Tonight in Louisville: More #BreonnaTaylor Protests

It’s gut-wrenching to see my hometown like this.

It’s pretty clear what protestors are asking for. They want to feel that justice for Breonna Taylor is done, and they have every right to demand it.

My fear right now is that protests last night have set the stage for a potentially very different and more violent engagement with police tonight. Here’s hoping that police decide that the best response isn’t heavy handed.

What Drives the Anger of Kentucky’s Education Establishment?

I submitted a brief commentary to several of Kentucky’s public radio stations on the teacher protests and subsequent political activity. So far, no takers. The audio is here. The text is below. Please forgive textual errors. This was written to be read aloud. You radio people know what I’m saying, right? Enjoy.

Teachers are angry at state government. So many teachers feigned illness in order to protest that many districts had to close on multiple days. Many teachers are now running for office. But why are they so angry? And more importantly, how justified is that anger? “A pension is a promise,” is the slogan so visible at teacher protests. The slogan is, at the very least, seriously misplaced. After all, lawmakers left pensions for current teachers and retirees virtually untouched. It’s safe to say that the crude rhetoric aimed at the governor and lawmakers is NOT over a nonexistent change.

So what’s driving it? Teachers seem to be angry about three things: Reforms to Kentucky pensions adopted by the General Assembly and Governor Bevin, cuts to public sector spending, and a third thing that I’ll get to later.

First, pensions …

Teachers say they’re upset about two things with regard to pensions. The first is the way lawmakers did reform. I agree almost entirely. Late-night legislating included using another bill as a vehicle for some substantial, but let’s face it, overdue, pension changes. The tactics, separate from the substance, should strike everyone as a bit underhanded. The lack of transparency in the reform is the most reasonable source of outrage among teachers.

But I suspect transparency isn’t what this is about …

Teachers also say they’re upset about the reform as applied to future pension beneficiaries. They say the changes will make it harder for Kentucky’s public schools to attract and keep good teachers.

That claim is silly.

Data adjusted for cost of living and reported by National Public Radio in March shows that the average Kentucky school teacher earns more than the average teacher in 42 of the other 49 states. That same average teacher also earns more than the average Kentucky household. If you’re going to be a teacher, Kentucky is one of the best places to do it.

But I doubt that concern about future teachers is the real source of anger among Kentucky’s education establishment.

So, how about spending cuts …

Yes, K-12 education spending as a share of Kentucky’s GDP has been in decline since 2009, but that’s also true for the rest of the country. According to the National Science Foundation, in 2014 Kentucky devoted 7% more of its available resources to K-12 education than the nation as a whole. That’s a big difference.

But I suspect the real reason Kentucky teachers are so apprehensive about change … is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could be handed down at any time: Janus v. AFSCME.

Janus is Mark Janus, a child-support specialist working for the government in Illinois. AFSCME is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Janus’s labor union.

Mr. Janus wants nothing to do with the union. He wants to opt out of the chunk of his paycheck he must fork over for union activities, political or otherwise.

If the Supreme Court goes for Mr. Janus’s claims, public sector unions might never be able to compel contributions from government workers ever again.

It’s a basic First Amendment issue of free association, and being able to decide what causes your money supports.

So this anger, these protests, the teachers running for office, may just be the last hurrah for public sector unions and their waning political power. For Kentucky taxpayers who will pay for the past mismanagement of pensions, and Kentucky parents, who have been languishing in an education system that has consistently opposed even a little educational freedom, this change is overdue, as well.

‘Nation’s Top Teachers’ Air Grievances with EdSec DeVos

Some of the “Nation’s Top Teachers” met with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and aired some of their concerns.

Jon Hazell, Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, told DeVos that school choice policies are draining traditional public schools of resources in his state. He specifically referenced charter schools and private schools in voucher programs, Hazell told HuffPost. His comment received support from other teachers in the room.

But Hazell, a Republican who voted for President Donald Trump, said he found DeVos’ responses to his concerns unsatisfactory.

DeVos told Hazell that students might be choosing these schools to get out of low-performing public schools, he said.

“I said, ‘You’re the one creating the ‘bad’ schools by taking all the kids that can afford to get out and leaving the kids who can’t behind,’” Hazell said he told DeVos in response. (Hazell said he was not referring to DeVos specifically as creating the “bad” schools but to school choice policies generally.)

Emphasis mine. Let’s take this complaint seriously: By allowing wealthy (or merely resourceful) parents to take their children out of certain schools to pursue a better education, public schools can become bad. This comes from the loss of funds when parents remove their children. That’s average daily attendance money and funding tied to individual students. In states where school choice is more prevalent, it may also mean money that follows the student to the school that parents choose, and thus draining the “common schools” of some additional fraction of funding. These reductions will reduce resources available for instructional staff and materials.

But Mr. Hazell may also be implicitly arguing that by exercising a choice, parents are “taking” better students to schools of choice. The argument here seems to be this: Test scores look bad because all the choosy parents chose a different school, and that sorting process makes some schools look better than others on paper. Regulators and state lawmakers will inevitably look to the poor-performing schools and say, “Why can’t you be more like this school that the wealthy parents chose?” It’s just an unfair comparison.

If I’ve presented an accurate picture of Mr. Hazell’s concerns, the argument has intuitive appeal, but it holds some pretty troubling implications for what to do about the perceived problems: the draining of resources and allowing some students to leave (the ones who “can afford to get out”) while others must languish.

If this represents the opinion of teachers generally, and not just Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, what would they propose as the fix?

As a legal matter, it could necessarily mean overturning a case known as Pierce. The Supreme Court in that case threw out an Oregon law that required all young people to attend public schools. The decision in the case upheld the basic civil liberty of parents to play a decisive role in how their own children become educated.

I can’t imagine that teachers want to overturn a landmark civil liberties case just so they can more effectively protect public schools from parents who just want their kids to get a more robust education. And if you view every parent as a potential threat to your preferred status quo, what does that say about your desire as an educator to serve their needs?

Thankfully, this is simply not where the debate sits with respect to school choice. Public school teachers, however well-intentioned, know in their hearts that the ability of parents to choose a better school for their kids is a fundamental decision and one that no parent wants taken away. Any political move to rein in every parent who would otherwise exercise school choice will be met with outrage. Such a move would end the image of schoolteachers as lovable/underpaid/devoted public servants.

In Kentucky, the animosity aimed at any form of school choice has become palpable, especially after teachers in Jefferson County appear to view the possible takeover of the school district by the state as a shadowy conspiracy to impose charter schools from Frankfort. Whether or not that’s a fair characterization, there’s no question that Kentucky’s largest school district has a long history of disappointing performance, most especially for the low-income and minority students who reside there. A state takeover might well be a starting point to provide those parents a more-than-passively-helpless role in ensuring a quality education for their children.

(Story via Walter Olson)

RIP Patrick F. McManus

My freshman year in high school, I joined the school’s speech team, reputed to be one of the best in the state. My family and I had just moved from Tennessee to Kentucky and I didn’t know a soul. Speech team offered me an opportunity to express my inner buffoon (with tested, scripted material) and possibly make a friend or impress a girl and win a trophy or two in the process.
Storytelling was one of my categories. The first story I did was “Muldoon in Love” from Patrick F. McManus’s They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?
I can’t remember exactly how I got the book. I suspect my dad bought it for me since he seemed to be a McManus fan from various short stories in Field and Stream and other magazines.
“Muldoon in Love” is a story about a young idiot observing his friend (also a young idiot) trying to impress a teacher with various gifts. The teacher was obviously unfamiliar with the ways in which country boys expressed their undying devotion to a teacher. She was eventually driven mad by the process of receiving such unorthodox and disgusting gifts.
The story killed in competition. It destroyed. I cleaned up.
If you want to read to your kids and have any kind of knack for voices and gestures, the short stories of Patrick F. McManus make a great place to start. The stories are unerringly vivid and hilarious. RIP.

Kentucky Teachers Stand Up to Big Taxpayer, Issue Demands

Edit (04/07/18): I want to clarify that I sincerely hope that this list of demands (likely produced by a group called “Teachers in the Lead”) doesn’t represent the views of the average teacher. If you are a teacher, please comment and let me know if you support this list.

It’s been fun observing the fight over state pensions in Kentucky. What teachers don’t want seems pretty clear to me. What they do want is more of a mystery. A massive banner that reads “We’ve Had Enough” isn’t often accompanied by a white paper.

This is the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual substantive policy proposal from teachers. I saw it here originally. I invite anyone who does or does not endorse this document to say so in the comments. My comments on each of these demands are in bold.

We are experiencing a historic moment of positive change driven by educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and elsewhere. Rather than waste this moment by merely standing guard over the status quo or reacting to incessant depredations, we want to move Kentucky education forward in ways that will benefit all stakeholders. We can no longer allow the Koch brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and their lapdogs in Frankfort (who don’t even bother to read the legislation written on their behalf!) to dictate the agenda for our commonwealth. Therefore, we present this list of demands in support of Kentucky education.

Make sure you file your state tax return before you sign the petition, because this shopping list looks pretty pricey.

1. We demand that our pension and retirement plans be improved, not dismantled.

1a. We want the inviolable contract for past, current, and future teachers to be honored in order to make teaching in Kentucky an attractive option for talented potential teachers inside and outside of the Commonwealth.

1b. Pension and retirement plans should be fully funded for current, retired, and future teachers. This fund should be legally off-limits for raiding to address revenue shortfalls.

1c. Teachers should be able to retire after 25 years of service, regardless of teacher age, or five years of service at age 65. No “Rule of 87.” Older teachers should be incentivized, not penalized, for working past 25 years.

The inviolable contract essentially is a contract that the state cannot break. What these teachers want is to make that contract essentially open-ended. They want the current pension system (currently running pretty heavily in the red) to apply to all future teachers for the foreseeable future. I do wonder if financial economists can even estimate these kinds of costs out to, well, I guess infinity. It’s laughably absurd that an open-ended individual benefit be contractually extended to people who do not yet work for the government.

Also, I’m not aware of any field of work outside the public sector where you simply retire with most of your salary until your death after a mere 25 years of service. Can you? Genuinely interested to know if these jobs exist. I might like one of them.

2. We demand that public funds only be spent on public schools.

2a. Research shows that overall, charter schools do not improve educational outcomes for students. Too many charter school operators have taken public tax money for profit and left their students struggling. Public funds should go to public schools.

2b. No public education funds should be diverted to for-profit or non-profit charter schools or for vouchers to attend private schools.

2c. No tax credits should be granted for donations or tuition payments to private schools.

This seems like the core of what teachers want. The first demand on this list is essentially that generous open-ended benefits be given to all future teachers forever and never mind about the cost. The second demand is essentially that the state prohibit Kentucky’s low-income parents from ever having the kinds of choices that those same parents would have in the vast majority of other states.

While I secretly suspect that these teachers really just don’t want parents to know what they’re missing in terms of educational choice, they’re clearly concerned that some revenues earmarked for education might someday be used by (gasp!) someone else to (gasp!) do just as good a job for (gasp!) less money. It’s got to be a horrifying thought if you’re a member of a well-coddled group of workers in Kentucky.

Of course, the most enduring difference between a failing charter school and a failing public school is that failing charter schools usually close when students no longer want to go there. Why on earth would teachers be afraid of a business model like that? I have a few thoughts.

It’s worth noting here that charter schools are public schools, they abide by many of the same regulations, and opening one in Kentucky is a gargantuan task that requires at least one level of government approval.

These teachers might want to study up on Kentucky’s state constitution, as well. It already prohibits some of the choices that these teachers demand must never, ever, ever, ever be made available to Kentucky’s parents.

3. We demand that legislators prioritize new funding sources over cuts to existing programs. Finding funding for pensions/benefits in our inviolable contract is not the job of teachers. It is the job of legislators. But part of the reason we’re at this historical juncture is that both political parties have raided teachers’ retirement funds to cover state expenses because they were afraid to raise corporate and income taxes. The governor and his allies argue that low taxes will attract new businesses; we argue that those same businesses expect well-educated employees for that reason ought to be willing to finance public education through taxation. The success of Kentucky’s students depends on the state’s ability to hold up its financial commitments to the education system. To that end we demand:

Raise taxes. Do it now. Don’t look at the state budget. Stop it. There’s literally nothing wrong with any spending in the state budget. We looked. Well, OK, we didn’t look very hard. OK, fine, we didn’t look at all. We just don’t want to annoy anyone who currently receives a special state privilege to get miffed at us for trying to transfer that benefit over to us. Solidarity! We want new money. Fresh money. Now go get our money!

3a. No imposition of new sales taxes. Sales taxes are regressive taxation that disproportionately hurt small businesses, the poor, and the middle class, and should not be raised on non-luxury goods or services. The state should seek out new forms of revenue that don’t come at the expense of the poor and middle class while cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

Why on earth would teachers care about where the money they extract from the private sector actually comes from?

3b. No imposition of regressive flat taxes. The tax rate should remain 5.8% of federal Adjusted Gross Income for those earning between $8000 and $75000. In addition, rates should increase for the those earning above $75000 with the creation of at least two new tax brackets for the super-wealthy. For example, 6.5% for those earning above $150000, 7% for those whose federal AGI is between $250,000 and $999,999, 8% for those whose federal AGI is above a million dollars. Corporations based in Kentucky should pay taxes to Kentucky based on their earnings, not merely based on their in-state revenue and the rate should be progressive, and not flat, so as not to disproportionately burden small businesses.

Ditto here. I admire the substance, but I can’t for the life of me understand why these teachers care about where the brackets break down for the purposes of revenue.

3c. Pensions should remain tax-free up to $50,000. This tax exclusion should not be lowered by one cent (much less by $10,000 as the current tax bill proposes).

Raise taxes, sure, just not on us. Thanks.

3d. Find new funding sources by raising taxes, closing tax loopholes, and/or legalizing and taxing the same revenue sources that are already legal in other states (for example, recreational cannabis or casino gambling).

OK, guys. I could have sworn I just read somewhere in this list of demands that you don’t want any new sales taxes.

4. We demand that our students’ safety, health, and educational needs be prioritized. We demand that our students be provided a safe and welcoming educational environment. We understand that for some of our students, our schools are the only place they can count on for support, nourishing meals, counseling, and safety. We demand an end to the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition, we demand:

4a. No more state funds devoted to building new juvenile detention centers, public or private.

4b. An end to zero-tolerance policies that disproportionately target underprivileged youth, LGBTQ youth, and youth of color. Eliminate SB 169.

4c. Increased funding for Family Resource and Youth Service Centers and funding for full-time trained therapists, youth service workers, effective restorative justice discipline programs, and crisis intervention specialists instead of armed school resource officers, regardless of Title I status. If we must have armed school resource officers, we want them to receive ongoing nonviolent conflict resolution training.

4d. Increased funding for all school breakfast and lunch programs.

4e. Increased funding for textbooks, classroom supplies, and technology.

4f. Increased funding for teachers’ professional development including maintaining funding for KTIP and increased funding for subsidization of teachers’ continuing education, National Board Certification and tuition reimbursement.

4g. Provide state-funded preschool for all three and four year-old children.

More funding. These are the least controversial demands mainly because they’re leveled every single year.

5. We demand an end to the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset. These laws, which both took effect in 1983, basically eliminate Social Security benefits for Kentucky pension recipients and their spouses. Eliminating the WEP and GPO have to be a priority for Kentucky’s senators and representatives in Washington DC. If our legislators stab us in the back again, we want to be able to count on the same Social Security that everyone else in the nation has.

5a. Teachers who have already paid into Social Security in their early careers should be allowed to collect their benefits upon retirement.

This is probably the most salient point in this list. When Kentucky teachers were removed from Social Security, they were guaranteed a pension. That’s a promise that really ought to be taken very seriously given the fact that there’s no true fallback option. This is where future reforms should tread carefully.

Unfortunately, I believe Kentucky teachers, at least the ones behind this list of demands, are utterly and completely unconcerned with anything outside their sphere of influence, and they’re not exactly brimming with ideas about how to get more bang for the buck in the classroom. There’s absolutely nothing in these demands about improving outcomes, raising Kentucky from its below-average performance for all that above-average pay to teachers.

After watching the fights in Frankfort over all of this, I’m increasingly confident that sphere of influence won’t include my own children. I should get a hearty “thank you” when I save the public school system from spending that money, but I won’t hold my breath.

First Thought on Kentucky Tax Reform

This is only my very first thought on tax reform. Yes, let’s broaden the base. Yes, taxes on consumption are superior to taxes on productive activity. However, if you’re trying to make a point about who should and should not be taxed relatively more or less, this is not putting your best foot forward:

… someone earning $8 million a year — such as John Calipari, the head coach of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team — would receive a tax cut of close to $80,000 a year …

As a practical matter, it’s not a good idea to argue that the most popular person in Kentucky shouldn’t get a big tax cut.