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Thursday, September 29, 2016

With History as a Guide, Clinton is the Clear Favorite in November

If you're interested in any historical comparisons: As of today, Clinton's average lead over Trump is 47.4 to 44.4. On this day in 2012, Obama's lead over Romney was 48.7 to 44.6. On this day in 2004, Bush led Kerry 48.6 to 43.4. In the end, Obama won by 3.9% and Bush by 2.5%. On this day in 2008, Obama led McCain 49.9 to 43.9.
Thus far, this race most closely resembles 2012 and 2004 - with Clinton in the Obama position in 2012 and the Bush position in 2004. The question for Trump is, does he under perform like Romney (Obama got a huge hurricane Sandy bump) or close strong like Kerry (Bush took a hit as faith in the Iraq War faltered). But in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012 the candidate in the lead (regardless of the margin) at this point ultimately won the election.

Using history as a guide - and barring some "October Surprise" - Clinton continues to be the clear favorite going into November. That being said, I'm just offering an historical comparison. I am not making a prediction. There is a very angry electorate out there. Trust in government is the lowest ever recorded, and no small number of people are openly angry at government. Trump is the perfect vessel for their anger and frustration. And, given that Clinton is doing better than usual in some red states it is very possible that she could win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Unprepared Trump gave little to move undecided his way

The most watched debate in 2008 wasn’t between John McCain and Barack Obama. It was the vice presidential showdown between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin that attracted all of the attention.
By the time of that debate, Palin’s qualification and preparedness for office had been pilloried by the press and late night comics and people tuned into the debate expecting to see a disaster of epic proportions. Instead, Palin surprised her critics and even her proponents by delivering a competent performance against the more experienced Biden.
How did Palin pull it off? Simple — weeks of intense preparation and mock debates.
The folks who tuned into the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton finally got to see the Palin v. Biden debate they had been expecting in 2008.
Unprepared
From the very first question, it was clear that Trump had done little to no preparation for this debate. And yet, it was the first 20 minutes or so where Trump did best.
In a clear pitch to working class voters, Trump hammered away at trade agreements and the exodus of American manufacturing to other countries. He hung the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) around Clinton’s next.
But even in the midst of his strongest performance he was weak. He couldn’t explain how he would keep jobs from leaving the U.S. He couldn’t explain just how he would punish companies that left. And, he had no answer to Clinton’s correct observation that what Trump was proposing was nothing short of a trade war — which threatens the global economy.
After those initial exchanges, Trump’s lack of preparedness became ever more clear. In response to Clinton’s criticism that Trump’s tax plan would add $5.3 trillion to the debt, Trump’s response was “Your regulations are a disaster, and you’re going to increase regulations all over the place.” Perhaps an example would’ve helped?
Easily goaded by Clinton
On exchange after exchange, Trump could muster little more than broad generalities in response to Clinton. Perhaps worse for Trump is how easily he was goaded by Clinton. Merely a mention of his tax returns and the possibility that he wasn’t as wealthy as he claimed sent Trump on an unnecessary and unhelpful tangent about the combined values of his buildings and total value of his outstanding loans.
Whereas Clinton was able to goad Trump with her responses, Trump was typically unable to muster much more than “it’s a disaster” when he responded to Clinton’s comments.
Perhaps the most damaging segment of the debate was when Clinton made reference to the many small businesses who claim that Trump refused to pay them for services or that Trump used his power to force them to accept greatly reduced payments. The best defense Trump could muster was “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work…”
Trump’s biggest supporters are white, working class voters — many of whom live paycheck to paycheck — and I think he needed a better response. It apparently did not occur to say that in his business he has created thousands of jobs. It didn’t occur to him, because he never prepared for the debate.
By the final 30 minutes, Trump was clearly tired and frustrated and mostly unfocused. Clinton’s performance was far from perfect, but her mistakes were overshadowed by Trump’s.
Qualifications
Late in the 2008 election cycle, a question was raised regarding Barack Obama’s experience and qualifications to be president. One of Obama’s proponents responded that Obama’s successful campaign for the nomination was evidence of his qualifications.
Monday night, on a debate stage with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump proved that a successful campaign for a party’s nomination is not sufficient proof of experience or qualifications. Many Republicans office holders have justified their support for Trump by arguing that he would be a better president than Clinton. Last night’s debate revealed that to be a hollow argument.
Impact?
How will the debate impact the race? It’s hard to say. They entered the race in a virtual tie and it will take about a week to truly see any debate impact.
It is unlikely that the debate will have any effect on the folks who already support Trump, but unlike more recent elections there are many more undecided voters this year. By the time the debates came around in 2012, only 5-7% of the electorate were still up for grabs. Today, roughly 15% of voters are undecided. Trump gave them little reason to choose him.

Friday, September 2, 2016

In Response to Hogan, Senator Ferguson Gets it Right

In response to Governor Hogan's executive order mandating a post Labor Day start for the school year, state Senator Bill Ferguson penned a must read response for MarylandReporter

Ferguson writes "if we are to have a conversation about adjusting our calendar, let it not be about starting the school year later, let it be about making the year longer, richer, and more purposeful... In an era of global competitiveness we need to be talking about a longer school year, not a shorter one." 

He is absolutely correct. In fact, the legislative task force that in 2014 endorsed a post Labor Day start noted that many of those who attended the various task force meetings expressed support for year round schooling - and for good reason. But unlike other calls for a year round school year that simply takes the same 180 day count and just spreads it more evenly across 365 days, Ferguson calls for more days of schooling. And for good reason. Research has shown that a simple year-round approach, that relies on the same number of days, doesn't improve the education outcomes for anyone. What's need are more days of instruction. At present, the American education calendar imposes a tremendous burden on low income and working class families and especially on minority communities. Imagine the benefits of a 240 day school year - children with access to nutritious meals, no retention gap from the long summer, more time for personalized instruction, less stress on families as parents commit less of their limited disposable income on childcare. These are but a few of the benefits of a longer school year. 

I've longed believed that such a policy would go nowhere in Maryland - perhaps I was wrong (perhaps not). It would be wonderful if Governor Hogan's executive order spurs a real conversation about meaningful education reform, instead of just hand wringing and attempts at recrimination.



Thursday, September 1, 2016

Labor Day Showdown in the Free State

This week, Governor Hogan issued an executive order mandating that the Maryland school year begin after Labor Day and end no later than June 15th. The motivation for the post Labor Day start being the desire to generate a little additional revenue from family vacations to Ocean City prior to the start of the school year. Estimates are that the revised start date could generate up to $74 million in economic activity. This is not a new issue in Maryland and multitude of other states have grappled with the Labor Day question as well. The MD General Assembly created a task force back in 2013 to study the issue and that task force recommended adopting the post Labor Day start date, but their recommendation had no authority. 

The task force report noted:
"All 24 local school system superintendents, the State Superintendent, union representatives, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland are opposed to a post-Labor Day start date."
The task force was not moved by that universal opposition, noting instead that "there was no compelling evidence that showed there was any impact on education starting post-Labor Day..." and "there was no quantifiable evidence that a post-Labor Day start is harmful to local schools systems."  

The post Labor Day start has been a favorite of Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot and was endorsed by former Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley. But given opposition by local school systems and the Maryland State Education Association, the Maryland General Assembly was not willing to impose the mandated start date.

So Hogan decided to just do it himself - and the political reaction was predictable and in some cases utterly ridiculous. The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board led the charge against Hogan in an over the top editorial suggestion that nothing less than the future of Maryland's education system was put at risk by shifting roughly 10 days in school calendars. I've been told that one opponent to the plan criticized it by suggesting that the delayed start would deny low income children access to the school lunch program - only to be reminded that the mandate didn't reduce the 180 school day requirement, thereby leaving access to the lunch program unchanged.

Admittedly, I am one of those folks who support year round education (the 2014 task force report noted significant support throughout the state). Year round schooling eliminates the information loss that occurs over summer, it provides improved access to nutritious meals, and it reduces childcare costs. But there's no chance that year round schooling will become law in Maryland so I'll stick with what is in the realm of possibility. As a matter of policy, the post Labor Day start has considerable merit - there is evidence of an economic benefit, a state task force found no evidence that it's harmful to education or local schools, and there are more sources of child care available during the established summer break than there are during the school year when early dismissals and in-service days send parents scrambling to find child care or using paid (or unpaid) leave.

As a matter of law, however, I don't think the governor has the authority to issue the mandate. Maryland law appears to leave such decisions up to the counties.  But even if Hogan does have the authority, the action and the precedent seem to run counter to his prior actions. Hogan has made frequent efforts to restore local authority and reduce the influence of Annapolis on localities - this was especially true with regard to elimination of the so-called Rain Tax and his recent roll back of the septic system rule. Either Annapolis should defer to localities or it shouldn't and if the economic benefit of a post Labor Day start warrants statewide action then so must protection of the Chesapeake Bay. 

But instead of focusing on the legality of the Governor's executive order, most critics have instead chosen to emphasize the possible hardships caused by the executive order. State law mandates 180 instructional days and the requirement that school year end by June 15th introduces a wrinkle that can be problematic. The 15th of June will always fall on the 15th of June, but Labor Day is simply the 1st Monday in September and could be on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd...or 7th day of September. This means that in some years it will be easier to fit 180 instructional days into the calendar - there are literally more days to work with when Labor Day is on the 1st than when it's on the 7th. It's troubling that the executive order didn't take that into consideration. In 2017, Labor Day is on the 4th - making it a good mid-point for exploration.  

Anne Arundel County Public School System issued a press release this morning in which they warned of the possible consequences of the mandated calendar. According to the press release, AACPS schools are slated to open on August 21 and close on July 11 during the 2017/2018 school year and there are 181 scheduled instructional days during that time. Were AACPS to shift to a post Labor Day start date, they would need to find 10 additional days of instruction to makeup for the 10 days lost between August 21 and Labor Day. According to the memo, there are only 9 days available to work with making compliance "mathematically impossible." Though I'm sympathetic to the confines of the AACPS calendar, a review of the memo, the 2017/2018 calendar, and other county calendars suggests that compliance is possible. Calvert County's first day of school in 2017 is August 28th and the last day of school is June 7th. So Calvert County schools could open after Labor Day and close on June 14th and comply with both the 180 day rule and the June 15th close date. And still have a day in reserve for weather related cancellations. And the 180 day requirement can be waived for cancellations caused by bad weather. And the lost time could be made up by eliminating the multitude of early dismissals in the calendar. AACPS has 12 days with a 2 hour early dismissal - the equivalent of 4 school days.

What accounts for the differences between Calvert and Anne Arundel? The AACPS system includes 3 days during the school year in which classes are canceled to accommodate parent/teacher conferences. Calvert county cancels classes for 1 day for conferences. Calvert doesn't include potential snow days in its calendar, Anne Arundel does. But Calvert's calendar demonstrates that compliance is possible. 

More flexibility would be created if the General Assembly repealed the mandate that schools close on the Monday after Easter - it's not a federal holiday. Additionally, teachers are guaranteed a day off to attend the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) convention - which is held during the school year in October. Were the convention to be held in July or August (when schools are not in session) another day of flexibility would be created. So compliance with the executive order is not as difficult as some might suggest. 

Unfortunately, there is little actual discussion taking place regarding the new policy and how to make it work. Hogan's supporters are embracing the move while ignoring the questionable process questions inherent in the executive action and the imposition of a mandate on counties and Hogan's opponents are claiming harms that the General Assembly's own task force and a review of schools system calendars suggest do not exist. 

The biggest unknown may be the legality of the executive order - if a court were to determine that Hogan lacks the authority to issue the order then all of this was for nothing.
The biggest issue may be the