Everything and Nothing is Going On

cuomo

It’s been tough to come up with stuff to write about lately. It’s an odd time of year, with nothing and everything going on all at once. The stuff I usually write about is quiet – the inside baseball parade of political fumfering and failure. The stuff I generally avoid is really hot – Hillary, Cruz, Rubio, Bush, I can’t care. Not yet. In the meantime, the school budgets are being formulated and that has almost all my free attention as I work with a great team of dedicated volunteers to make sure we do right by schoolkids. Of course, there’s also the imbroglio over “high stakes” testing of whether elementary school kids are learning anything, and the idiotic war that Governor Cuomo has decided to wage on teachers, basically upsetting a long-dormant hornet’s nest, as someone characterized it to me Tuesday night.

I’m up to two (maybe three) people who are running as Democrats for the County Legislature this year who have announced, and whose press releases I’ve received. One in Lancaster/Cheektowaga, one in Amherst. I couldn’t tell you their names, what they stand for, or anything else about them. My guess is that Pigeon’s JV squad will sit this year out, seeing as how Preet’s all up in their business right now. Pigeon’s too busy calling Bob McCarthy every day and chatting him up about Hillary or how Preet’s got nothing on him, etc. To his credit, Bob’s Transcription Service, Ltd. is only too pleased to serve.

On Facebook, I’ve already seen a Hitler / Hillary comparison, so that was quick. I’m also reminded of the 2008 election and how much all the right-wing commentators had effusive praise for Hillary because she wasn’t Obama. Now, of course, she’s Satan, Stalin, and Hitler wrapped up in an ISIS flag waving over Benghazi, and a bucket of deleted emails.  Is she the best candidate the Democrats could put up? I don’t know, but never count the Clintons out. Given the state of the GOP roster so far, she should win in a walk, because Ted Cruz is a hateful demagogue, Jeb Bush is this year’s Romney, Rubio has tons of empathy for the beleaguered ultrawealthy and a healthy hatred of gays, and Rand Paul is an intemperate pseudo-libertarian. Know this: Paris Hilton doesn’t need any more tax cuts, and it’s sickening to witness families whine about paying taxes on estates valued in excess of $10 million. How are we supposed to pay for all of your guys’ wars?

I occasionally switch on Sky News on my Apple TV, and the UK is in the middle of a general election they called on March 31st, and which is being held on May 7th. By contrast, we’re talking about an Iowa Caucus process that’s nine months away, and an election that is a year and a half away. Billions will be spent on our election, voters will be treated like brainless sheep, Hillary will win, and we’ll have four (maybe eight) more years of utter nonsense. Anyone who says our system is the bestest in the whole world, ever, is not very informed.

In the meantime, my Facebook timeline is absolutely overrun with people opting their kids out of the state exams. We did not opt our 3rd grader out because exams are a part of life. I don’t have to like them, and neither does she, but if they’re there, she’ll take them. We don’t put any pressure on her, nor did her teacher. She was told it was all stuff they had already learned, and to just do her best. She came home exclaiming how “easy” they were the first two days, and she high-fived me.

I don’t begrudge parents opting out, nor do I mean them any disrespect – they know their own kids best & you do what you need to do. But in my experience, if I’m anxious about a thing, my kids are going to pick up on that and, in turn, also be anxious about that thing. If I’m ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ NBD do your best, there won’t be tears or trauma.

I understand that it’s unfair the way that Cuomo wants to evaluate teachers (see the hornet’s nest comment, above), and if they manage to legislate these tests away, good for everyone. But some of what I saw being used to advocate for opting out – whether it was tests that the parents can’t understand or don’t like, or the fact that a private company – Pearson – is involved – just wasn’t persuasive. Ultimately, I don’t like teaching a 3rd grader that it’s ok to disobey authority or break the rules. No one’s being asked to do anything untoward or outlandish – just to read a passage and answer questions, or to maybe write a short essay.

I’m not embracing the tests – I’m just not going to intervene to save her from participating in pointless, harmless nuisances because there’s suddenly a movement to do so. Finland, for instance, doesn’t do memorization and testing. Are we going to become like Finland? Not in a million years, but if that’s not the goal, then what is?

if we want young people with the competencies to innovate and make our economy more competitive, we need to model our schools after how innovation actually happens. “Teaching and learning have traditionally been conceptualized as linear, deterministic procedures,” he wrote in a paper on economic competitiveness and education. “Innovation is an organic entity. Teaching and learning in schools should rely on principles of active participation, social interaction and reflection”…

All of this school reform that’s sprung up since “No Child Left Behind” had pretty widespread support a decade ago, and few alternatives have been publicly discussed or debated beyond just going back to how things used to be. Instead of focusing on the tests, which are merely a symptom of the testing & accountability scheme, why aren’t we discussing adopting the Finnish model? Or something.

As for the “I can’t do my kid’s homework”, frankly, I should hope that education has progressed enough in the 30 years since I graduated high school that the work my kids do is somehow done differently, and something I can’t comprehend or recognize. I should hope that ways of teaching concepts has evolved over time, and that maybe my kids can teach me a thing or two.  The whole thing reminds me of jokes in Mad Magazines from the 1960s with obscure jokes about the “new math”.

I also saw articles excoriating Governor Cuomo because StartupNY has only created about 76 jobs. The Conservative Fusion Party has entered an unholy alliance with the the Working Families Fusion Party and other progressive activist organizations to demand its destruction. They’ve declared StartupNY to be a failure because it’s spent a lot on marketing, and has little to show for it.

StartupNY, however, cannot by definition add millions of jobs in just a few years. It is set up to help new and existing businesses grow tax-free within certain areas, but these companies are either small or brand-new. According to the last press release from the governor’s office, the 83 businesses that have joined the program have pledged to create over 2,000 new jobs. The program launched in 2013, and how many jobs did people expect in less than two years? If you look at the roster of companies, they’re all brand-new, still developing their product, or otherwise in transition. I know that people can’t be patient anymore, but maybe we can take a little bit of time and let this program run its course. Simply abolishing it in mid-stream, violating agreements with the schools and companies who have signed on, doesn’t seem very prudent.

But the most obnoxious, most cynical thing about this is the Conservative Fusion Party or Working Families Fusion Party demanding StartupNY be abolished and that taxes be lowered across the board. Great, guys! Considering how you’ve both been in existence for at least a decade, and how each of you purportedly vets, endorses, and runs candidates on your line who eventually win and enter government, why is it that none of this has happened? Are you so weak and ineffectual that you can’t influence your own candidates to accomplish things you agitate for? If anything, the ineffectiveness of StartupNY is dwarfed by the collossal pointless waste of the fusion system and its beneficiaries throwing shade at a Cuomo program that’s still in its infancy.

Here’s something new, though. I was recently appointed a trustee of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Everyone there has been so welcoming, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the library system that I never before knew. The system itself, and the staff at the central branch are simply incredible. They are so knowledgable, so enthusiastic about what they do, and incredibly eager to make the library a safe, welcoming place to learn.

But the rare books – Tuesday night I attended a reception hosted by trustee Wayne Wisbaum, and library staff were present along with priceless, incredible treasures. These materials are owned by a library system in a small city that’s just starting to, at least psychically, overcome generations of decline. Yet here is an original edition of the Federalist Papers that John Jay gave to Thomas Jefferson, and in the margins of the book are Jefferson’s hand-written annotations and notes. I was inches away from it, and I could have stared at that annotation for hours, mesmerised. There were cuneiform tablets, a handwritten letter from George Washington asking for troop reinforcements, a handwritten letter from Thomas Jefferson about smallpox innoculation, a letter from Mark Twain that had been found in a first edition of one of his books, a book with incredible, intricate fore-edge art, and a unique and incredible map of the world from 1475. These are things that I had never seen, or was completely ignorant about, or had no idea existed in Buffalo before a few months ago.

Hey, at least it stopped snowing.

Cuomo vs. the Teachers

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Courtesy the Albany Project

The quoted text below is an open letter to Governor Cuomo penned by seven recent New York State “teachers of the year.” It comes in response to the Governor’s astonishing criticism of teachers—not the teachers’ union, but teachers themselves—during his state of the state address in January.

It also comes with the context of something confusingly referred to as the “Gap Elimination Adjustment.” The GEA is Albanyspeak for “starving public schools to help balance the state’s budget.” Some might say that the GEA starves schools of funding to cover Albany’s own profligate overspending, and that underfunding schools will lead to poor results and will help promote the school privatization agenda.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment pulls money out of local districts, placing financial hardship on them and forcing them to raise school taxes in order to adequately fund basic district needs. It should come as no surprise that, when given the opportunity, Albany picks the most harmful and cynical way to “govern.”

Dear Governor Cuomo: We are teachers. We have given our hearts and souls to this noble profession. We have pursued intellectual rigor. We have fed students who were hungry. We have celebrated at student weddings and wept at student funerals. Education is our life. For this, you have made us the enemy. This is personal. Under your leadership, schools have endured the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap, which have caused layoffs and draconian budget cuts across the state. Classes are larger and support services are fewer, particularly for our neediest students.

We have also endured a difficult rollout of the Common Core Standards. A reasonable implementation would have started the new standards in kindergarten and advanced those standards one grade at a time. Instead, the new standards were rushed into all grades at once, without any time to see if they were developmentally appropriate or useful.

Then our students were given new tests — of questionable validity — before they had a chance to develop the skills necessary to be successful. These flawed tests reinforced the false narrative that all public schools — and therefore all teachers — are in drastic need of reform. In our many years of teaching, we’ve never found that denigrating others is a useful strategy for improvement.

Now you are doubling down on test scores as a proxy for teacher effectiveness. The state has focused on test scores for years and this approach has proven to be fraught with peril. Testing scandals erupted. Teachers who questioned the validity of tests were given gag orders. Parents in wealthier districts hired test-prep tutors, which exacerbated the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Beyond those concerns, if the state places this much emphasis on test scores who will want to teach our neediest students? Will you assume that the teachers in wealthier districts are highly effective and the teachers in poorer districts are ineffective, simply based on test scores?

Most of us have failed an exam or two along life’s path. From those results, can we conclude that our teachers were ineffective? We understand the value of collecting data, but it must be interpreted wisely. Using test scores as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation does not meet this criterion.

Your other proposals are also unlikely to succeed. Merit pay, charter schools and increased scrutiny of teachers won’t work because they fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. It’s not that teachers or schools are horrible. Rather, the problem is that students with an achievement gap also have an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a family gap and a safety gap, just to name a few. If we truly want to improve educational outcomes, these are the real issues that must be addressed.

Much is right in public education today. We invite you to visit our classrooms and see for yourself. Most teachers, administrators and school board members are doing quality work. Our students and alumni have accomplished great things. Let’s stop the narrative of systemic failure.

Instead, let’s talk about ways to help the kids who are struggling. Let’s talk about addressing the concentration of poverty in our cities. Let’s talk about creating a culture of family so that our weakest students feel emotionally connected to their schools. Let’s talk about fostering collaboration between teachers, administrators and elected officials. It is by working together, not competing for test scores, that we will advance our cause.

None of these suggestions are easily measured with a No. 2 pencil, but they would work. On behalf of teachers across the state, we say these are our kids, we love them, and this is personal.

Some backstory on the Cuomo war with teachers is found here.

To add insult to injury, the Cuomo administration refuses to release to school districts estimates of how much state aid they’ll receive this year. Instead of helping local taxpayers and districts by maintaining some level of predictability in the process—if not adequately funding by finding other ways to “adjust” the state budget in order to accomplish “gap elimination”—Cuomo’s Albany is keeping them in the dark and making it painful for districts to formulate their own budgets.

Are districts to assume they’re receiving the same state aid as last year, or are they to assume no aid whatsoever and shunt all of the lost funding on local taxpayers? If it’s the latter, districts throughout the state will face outright tax revolt, and the goal of the wealthy privatizers will be closer to reality—as a reminder, here’s the thumbnail equation:

1. De-fund the schools;

2. Cut electives and programs; fire teachers;

3. Break the teachers’ union;

4. Label schools as “low performing”;

5. Create “charter” schools;

6. Segregate better students into charters; exclude troubled, poor, and special education students;

7. Ensure that charters rent space from private landlords;

8. Profit.

NYAG Wants to Prosecute Police Violence Cases

@schneidermanNY
Courtesy of my friends at the new and improved Albany Project comes news that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman formally asked Governor Cuomo to transfer the investigation and prosecution of excessive police violence cases over to the AG’s office.

The problem stems from the fact that local DAs and police work hand-in-hand as colleagues, and there are questions as to whether these cases are taken seriously and prosecuted as vigorously as non-police violence cases.

DAs are already opposed to the idea.

In the wake of the gobsmackingly unreasonable and astonishing refusal by a Staten Island grand jury to indict the officers who killed Eric Garner, Governor Cuomo demanded a “soup to nuts” review of the justice system, but for some reason lawmakers who think themselves “law and order” types are resisting any such query.

 

Not just that, but in the minds of some of these mostly Republican “law and order” people, that term doesn’t apply to cop conduct. Even body cameras, additional training – not to mention the use of special prosecutors for police brutality cases – appear to be non-starters in New York State.

Now, it’s up to Governor Cuomo to decide whether to let Schneiderman’s office take excessive force cases. Albany Project isn’t hopeful,

No way he hands Schneiderman a victory, even if it means denying meaningful justice for victims of police violence.

Erie County’s D-LAN and Right-Wing Stormtrolls

Logo_ErieCo_tpDuring the Snowvember / Knife storm, some municipalities made complaints about county or state aid, and there was a concerted push on local Squadrismo Radio (traffic, weather, and sedition on the tens – these guys, who think it’s cute to assault & batter former First Ladies), to criticize elected officials (all of them Democrats) for, e.g., not getting small town side streets plowed as soon as people would have liked. There was some legitimate debate over the speed with which the Thruway was closed, and how quickly people were freed from their cars, but as we discovered later on, when Cuomo allegedly criticized the National Weather Service’s forecast, there was ample warning of a historic snow event on Monday night into Tuesday.

All of a sudden, personal responsibility goes out the window when there’s a Democrat available to criticize. The WBEN Snowtrolling was amazing and unprecedented.

County Executive Poloncarz sent a warning about the storm to his disaster response team on Sunday night, and by all reasonable and impartial accounts, they performed admirably; “real leadership”, the Buffalo News called it.

But some towns have been complaining about the lack of county plows, despite the fact that they apparently had not bothered to use the decade-old computerized system to request them. In 2004, the County implemented the “DisasterLAN” or “DLAN” system for municipalities to use to request – and the county to coordinate – disaster response, including county plows.

The DLAN system is specialized for disasters and is heavily used around New York State, he said, but ignored by many Western New York highway officials.

“The problem was that only one or two people even knew about the system,” he said, despite county insistence upon its use.

Even conference calls proved inconsistent, he said, with Boston never participating in the daily planning and Orchard Park “hit and miss.”

The county executive pointed to Lake Avenue in Hamburg, a hard-hit road visited by Cuomo on Thursday. It was inserted into the DLAN system because of the volume and underlying ice pack, and therefore became a priority.

“The county knows how to use it, and 95 percent of the towns know how to use it, but not all did,” Poloncarz said. “If those people don’t utilize it, we can’t help it.”

And Lancaster Village Mayor (because we totally need a village overlaying a town government) Paul Maute “never heard of” DLAN, which is apparently everybody’s fault but his own, despite the fact that it’s been used for 10 years.

According to both Fudoli and Hoffman, halfway through the storm they became aware that in order to receive resources such as additional plows and other machinery, they had to use a Web-based system called DLan, but they had little success in doing so.

“The entire storm we were told we had equipment coming,” said Hoffman.

“We never heard of DLan until a couple of days into it,” added Maute.

According to Fudoli, requests submitted by Lancaster employees were not fulfilled, but the system repeatedly labeled them as “completed.”

So, there’s a computerized system that’s a decade old that works perfectly well, but a few highway superintendents don’t understand or use it, so it’s everybody else’s fault that, e.g., the Town of Boston didn’t get a call from the County, or the Mayor of Lancaster never heard of the county’s disaster system. How about using the DLAN or picking up your own phone? All you need to use DLAN is a connected browser. Personal responsibility gone, waiting for big government to bail them out.

Lancaster Supervisor Dino Fudoli learned that he was supposed to use DLAN “halfway through the storm”, but he was a legislator for the entity that set up and runs DLAN – Erie County?! 

That’s before we get to the concept of there being 7 feet of snow on the ground as another 2 feet dumped down just a couple of days later. You can’t just snap your fingers and get every side street in WNY plowed out overnight under those conditions.

Another meme that’s popped up has to do with how Governor Cuomo was preening for the cameras when he showed up with his entourage (read: cabinet) to stay in WNY for several days to help coordinate storm clean-up and response.

Right. Photo-op. Except that Governor Cuomo did exactly what any rational person would expect a governor to do – show up and offer state aid, money, and manpower to get the Southtowns up and running again. Had he not showed up, these same people would be whining about how Cuomo abandoned WNY again.

Cuomo is an arrogant downstater who doesn’t brook much dissent and is rude to the press and critics, plus he took some guns off the market and limited how many bullets can go in there, so he’s been likened to Hitler.

If you want to criticize the speed with which the Thruway closed, or how he came across poorly when talking about the weather service, that’s fine. But hammering the governor for showing up at a disaster area and ordering that help be given? Don’t be a dick.

Cuomo: Epic Trolling of Paladino

On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo’s official Facebook page displayed this message:

Governor Andrew Cuomo - Google Chrome 2014-11-26 11.36.45

 

An observant local Twitter user identifies the house on the left as that belonging to Carl Paladino.

Indeed, a check of relevant records, and of Google Maps reveals that the house on the left in this image is the one belonging to Paladino – you can tell by the flags and political signs.

An epic troll by Governor Cuomo of his 2010 rival and consistent critic – using Paladino’s house to raise money for the Food Bank and Meals on Wheels.

slow-clap

 

Slow clap.

NYS THRUWAY UNDER MARTIAL LAW

Not really.

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How soon before some wingnut on WBEN starts yelling about liberty and trees being rewatered and the NWO?

 

The Borscht Belt Debate

Courtesy WNED and CBS2 New York

Despite Brian Meyer’s desperate efforts to keep the format tight and moving, it was unwieldy. With four gubernatorial candidates being provided with equal time, it seemed at times that Cuomo and Astorino were afterthoughts. After all, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Party candidate Michael McDermott threw some good ideas at people last night at WNED’s studio.

McDermott liked to cut through the BS and had one of the best answers about fracking; that his philosophy was that it was important to wait and see what it does to the environment, because you’re allowed to do on your property whatever you want unless it harms someone else. For his part, Hawkins gave super-liberals the red meat they crave – single-payer, a hard no on fracking, social justice, funding for mass transit. 

Alas, Hawkins and McDermott don’t have a credible chance. 

The format gave candidates one minute to answer questions that often seemed to run on for twice that time, and then occasionally a 30 second rebuttal. One of the problems with contemporary political speech is that we’re too reliant on dopey ads and sound bites, and this sort of debate-by-one-liner exacerbates the situation. No one watched that and learned anything. It treated us like dumb assholes, and yet again we’ll get the Albany government we’ll deserve. 

Take my wife, please. 

Republican Rob Astorino came out swinging at Andrew Cuomo, and didn’t get an opportunity to tell us very much about what he’d do. Cuomo gave as good as he got. It was a good time, but not at all a substantive one. 

Where did you get your haircut, the pet shop?

Here’s how it went, as it went along. 

Spitzer Unloaded, No One Exploded

“Jail” FINAL :30 from Rob Astorino on Vimeo.

Right? Wow.

This is the perfect distillation of a desperate campaign looking to get some attention. Frankly, this reboot of the Daisy ad is perfect in its utter stupidity. Now, I know that Cuomo has been hitting Astorino hard on some nonsense lawsuit down in Westchester, but I thought that the “soup is nice” ad was pretty damn effective. (Dentures are an optional Medicaid coverage that New York State offers, and that Astorino wants to eliminate). The ad resonates because it reminds people that Republicans love to cut, cut, cut things that help actual New Yorkers. True, paying for seniors’ oral care won’t benefit the extremely wealthy, like Carl Paladino and indictee Rick Perry, both of whom can feasibly pay for their own dentures and dental work, but it will do much for seniors for whom budgets are often tighter. 

Astorino’s suggestion that Cuomo could go to jail is pure hyperbole – there’s absolutely zero chance of that happening. Secondly, by bringing that up, it reminds me – hey, isn’t Astorino up to some shady shenanigans, too? Thirdly, if Cuomo went to jail, there would not be a catastrophic nuclear holocaust; there would, instead, be an orderly substitution of Kathy Hochul. Remember Spitzer? Spitzer unloaded, but no one exploded.

 

Erie County Republicans Support Free Tuition for All

I applaud the Erie County Republican Committee’s efforts to make a college education free for all in-state children. The problems that the students in this video identify are all wholly solvable through legislation, and I’m sure that our local Republican delegation is working feverishly to ensure that every New Yorker attending a state school gets the free quality education that our post-industrial society requires. 

Attica U.

Via Wikimedia Commons

New York State’s prisons are not necessarily filled with bad people. 

They are, however, filled with people who have made bad – sometimes violent – choices. They are filled with people who have broken our laws. 

Many of them, for instance, have been imprisoned falsely. Some are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes. Many are just straight up murderers, rapists, assailants, batterers, burglars, armed robbers, kidnappers – people who have deliberately or recklessly done harm to innocent people. 

It’s very, very easy to forget the purposes of incarcerating criminals. It’s not always just punitive – there is supposed to be a degree of redemption and rehabilitation built into the system. However, it hasn’t worked that way, and people are loath to try because “coddling criminals”. 

How we treat New York’s inmates reflects on us as human beings. It also speaks to whether we’re smart or not. As it stands, we’re not. 

America has the highest incarceration rate in the world; about 3/4th of 1% of our population is behind bars. About 22% of America’s detainees are awaiting trial; presumed innocent, having been convicted of nothing. Incarceration rates have skyrocketed since the early 1980s, and New York is 37th in the nation in terms of the rate of its people who are behind bars – about 1/3 of 1% of New Yorkers. Of those, the prison population is overwhelmingly black and Latino – the disparity between the general population and the prison population is dramatic. Most state prisons are upstate, and these newpats are counted as part of the local population for election purposes. 

It costs $60,000 to house, feed, and guard New York prisoners, and also to give them just enough entertainment so they don’t murder each other or the men and women who guard them. Anyone who thinks that New York’s prisoners are guests at a country club facility should arrange a visit to, say, Attica. These are grim fortresses housing a great many people who never had a fighting chance at doing anything else with their lives. 

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he wanted to implement a program to give inmates a chance to earn a free college degree. A private initiative operated by Bard College has found that recidivism rates among prisoners who earned a degree while behind bars plummeted from 40% to 4%

The knee-jerk reactions from outraged people was swift, furious, and downright disheartening. I believe that people deserve a chance, and even a second chance, at least.  I believe that a $5,000 annual investment to provide an eager, motivated inmate with a second chance at a productive life outside prison is an investment well made. Would we rather shove him out of the prison environment back into the environment from where he came, with no help, services, skills, or education? What do you think is going to happen? Shall we do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? Would you rather that a man fresh out of prison with nothing more than a probation officer is going to magically find his way to building the sort of life that you or I enjoy, without any guidance, mentoring, or life skills? 

I would rather not pay for an inmate’s return to prison. I would rather that society save the money on pretrial detention, police services, court time, court personnel, transportation, post-conviction detention, food, housing, clothes, etc., through a program to redirect and truly attempt to rehabilitate people motivated to find a new way. 

This doesn’t mean we’re going to be handing out Bachelor’s degrees to murderers, but if there’s a drug dealer behind bars at 21 who’s due to be released in his 30s, doesn’t it make sense to give that person hope and life skills for a future where he’s not relying on crime or the victimization of others? 

In 1995, Governor Pataki dismantled an already existing program. This Huffington Post contributor wrote this, at the time

We the imprisoned people of New York State, 85% of whom are black and Latino, 75% of whom come from 26 assembly districts in 7 neighborhoods in New York City, to which 98% will someday return, possibly no better off than when we left, uneducated and lacking employable skills, declare this Kairos in response to the elimination of the prison college programs, GED and vocational training programs and education beyond the eighth-grade level. The elimination of prison education programs is part of Governor Pataki’s proposed budget cuts. It amounts to less than one third of one percent of the total state budget, but it will cost taxpayers billions of dollars in the years to come.

I went on to state that many studies, even one conducted by the New York State Department of Correctional Services, have demonstrated empirically what people know intuitively: that prisoners who earn college degrees are far less likely to return to a life of crime upon release. According to research conducted by the Department, of the inmates who earned a college degree in 1986, 26% had returned to state prison, whereas 45% of inmates who did not earn a degree were returned to custody. For many prisoners, gaining an education signals an end to personal failure and a ladder out of poverty and crime. Without it, the governor may as well change the name “Department of Correctional Services” to “Department of Correctional Warehousing.” As the former Chief Justice Warren Burger stated: “To confine offenders without trying to rehabilitate them is expensive folly.”

The author of that passage was imprisoned at Sing Sing for a nonviolent drug offense under the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws – he went in the system in 1985 and was released in 1997.  During that time, he took advantage of a then-extant program at Sing Sing operated by the Bronx Community College. 

My two year degree opened my eyes to the value of getting a college education. After that I received my B.S. in Behavioral Science from Mercy College, then went on to receive a graduate degree from New York Theological Seminary. I survived imprisonment because of my ability to transcend the negativity around me because of the rehabilitative qualities of a college education.

When I was released from prison after receiving executive clemency for Governor George Pataki in 1997 my reentry into society was eased because of my college education. But it was not an easy deal. When some people found out about where I got my college education they were not too happy. I remember going on a few television shows and talking about my college education. Instead of being happy for me they talked about how I got a free college education instead of being punished. My response was that I did not get a free education, I paid dearly for it serving 12 years in prison and I did everything I could to make a bad situation good.

Our prisons should not be equipped with revolving doors for poor, uneducated, downstate black and Latinos; kids who more often than not came from dysfunctional homes, bad neighborhoods, and who had no one to teach them the value of anything. At some point, some effort should be made to ensure that there is no return visit. Through that investment, we can – in the long run – help save the taxpayers billions. 

Former inmate Anthony Cardenales, 39, of the Bronx, earned degrees from Bard College during his 16-year prison sentence on manslaughter charges. He is now vice president of an electronics recycling company in Mount Vernon.

 The costs of our high recidivism rate is throwing good money after bad. The people convicted of crimes deserve to be punished, yes. But we as a society are completely ignorant and blind to the societal costs of reintroducing ex-cons to society without the support and tools they need to make it. We don’t spend $60,000 per year to rehabilitate them – just to cage them. The New York system already uses their slave labor to build furniture. (Here is another article about other penitentiary work programs).

We already run GED programs and high-school level courses for inmates. 

If we can exploit their labor, certainly we can give those who want it an education and a chance at a better life as productive members of society. 

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