Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

When the 1% shares: the Kalamazoo Promise, and why Romney got it wrong :)

In the same week that Romney’s secret videotape was leaked, where he revealed his ‘off the cuff’ (read: from the bottom of his heart) remarks that 47% of the country who would vote for Obama “no matter what,” are freeloaders relying on the government, and not hard work, to succeed, The New York Times printed one of its most inspiring Sunday stories in the last year. To sum up: In 2005, a group of anonymous donors pledged to pay up to 100% percent of state college tuition for any high school graduate within the Kalamazoo district. Kalamazoo has high high poverty rates, and many many children come from families where their parents do not have a high school education. The Promise was not just an altruistic gesture, but an experiment, one that would hopefully boost the economy around it.

And for the most part, it has. To quote the article,

High-school test scores in Kalamazoo have improved four years in a row. A higher percentage of African-American girls graduate from the district than they do in the rest of the state, and 85 percent of those go on to college.

Overall, more than 90 percent of Kalamazoo’s graduates today go on to higher education. Six in 10 go to Western Michigan University or Kalamazoo Valley Community College. And over time, a greater number of students are landing at the more selective University of Michigan and Michigan State.”

Equal Opportunity in Education-The Kalamazoo Promise

The measure has also improved the economy. School enrollment has gone up, and new schools have been built. The success of Kalamazoo has encouraged surrounding areas to compete with its success, strengthening the rest of the region. Furthermore, while there was a steady trickle of ‘white flight’ from Kalamazoo to the wealthier suburbs of Portage since the 1970s, since the Promise, that suburban flight has stopped, and the demographic mix in the school system has steadied.

Of course, not everything is rosy. Many of the students have difficulty finishing four year college degrees due to lack of preparation  and resources that students from college-educated, middle-class families take for granted. To that end, the director of The Promise Janice Brown is working on strengthening early-child education so that students are more prepared for a rigorous college environment. Now that they have the resources, this might prove possible.

Romney’s comments may have been focusing on income taxes, but they had broader implications. Part of the dialogue of the right is that when wealth is shared, people become lazy. They aren’t inspired to work hard when things are given to them. The Kalamazoo Promise strongly suggests that contrary to this belief, when young people are given the ‘promise’ of opportunities that were once barred to them because of economic disadvantages, they take them. In the past year, the Occupy Movement has made much of the inequity of a system where 1% of the population holds the majority of the wealth. Does the Kalamazoo Promise reveal all the progress and good that can happen when the 1% shares?

Check out this adorable montage of children from Kalamazoo talking about their dreams ‘when I grow up.’

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Insightful comments on Romney’s 47%: Can we talk about poverty?

So I was reading this breakdown on the 47% that Romney described as ‘paying no income taxes’ and ‘freeloaders’ and I came across two reader comments that I wanted to share with my peeps. I found them to be right on, and truly, inspirational. If mainstream news channels brought in more people like this to share their perspectives, maybe we could have some actual conversations instead of just the usual partisan bickering.

The problem with folks that don’t really do their homework, is they think that folks earning 20K or less do so on purpose. They think folks are lazy and take the easiest, thoughtless jobs so they can spend most of their time doing nothing. If they actually tried living that way they’d see that it isn’t true. There’s also a toxic amount of judgement that happens without a depth of knowledge. I say this as a social worker who works with low income folks. There are many who are tired, stressed out, and cranky … and yes, sometimes it’s hard for them to give up time with their children to flip burgers or wait tables for people that do the same amount of work but make tons more. In America, we say you have to work hard for success but the truth is, we inherit our lifestyles and defend them to the death. In more socialized countries, folks get what they need and you work hard to get that extra. Do you really think Mitt Romney works harder that a miner in Eastern Kentucky? I say this with a healthy acknowledgment that I have been blessed with privilege myself.

And this comment in reply:

I also work with low-income people and have realized that a lot of “poor” people make more money than I do, but face much higher economic barriers because they got a point of destitute poverty.

For example, someone who is homeless and has to rent a hotel room every night for shelter might end up paying $1200/mo. Because it’s owed weekly or daily, there is no point where they actually have that $1200 all at once to use for an apartment rental.

Falling all the way into unassisted poverty incurs great cost to individuals. Going from homeless to housed and employed costs much, much more than being employed and finding new housing.

When was the last time you heard voices this insightful on FOX or MSNBC?

There is, indeed, a crazy amount of judgement towards people who are struggling that come from people who a) have never really struggled and b) have never worked with people who struggled. Furthermore, there is this tendency in our country to make giant, lazy leaps to socialism every time there is a call for greater government involvement. Support labor unions? You’re a socialist. Support a fair minimum wage? You’re a socialist! Support health care? Obvi, you’re a socialist. And of course, any support for these policies means we’re one step away from becoming the old Soviet Union or China … watch out!!!!

OK seriously. Calling someone a socialist for wanting a health care system that protects people from dying is way harsh, Tai. Instead of engaging in one-sided debates that avoid the complexity of the issue, perhaps Americans should  look beyond the confines of their small towns to countries in Western Europe, where people work their asses off despite a more socialized system. Reading this article by an American who lived in the Netherlands for a few years, titled “How I learned to love the Dutch Welfare state,” will prove enlightening. Here are some snippets:

“Over the course of the 20th century, American politics became entrenched in two positions, which remain fixed in many minds: the old left-wing idea of vast and direct government control of social welfare, and the right-wing determination to dismantle any advances toward it, privatize the system and leave people to their own devices. In Europe, meanwhile, the postwar cradle-to-grave idea of a welfare state gave way in the past few decades to some quite sophisticated mixing of public and private. And whether in health care, housing or the pension system (there actually is still a thriving pension system in the Netherlands, which covers about 80 percent of workers), the Dutch have proved to be particularly skilled at finding mixes that work.”

“I think it’s worth pondering how the best bits of the Dutch system might fit. One pretty good reason is this: The Dutch seem to be happier than we are. A 2007 Unicef study of the well-being of children in 21 developed countries ranked Dutch children at the top and American children second from the bottom. And children’s happiness is surely dependent on adult contentment. I used to think the commodious, built-in, paid vacations that Europeans enjoy translated into societies where nobody wants to work and everyone is waiting for the next holiday. That is not the case here. I’ve found that Dutch people take both their work and their time off seriously. Indeed, the two go together.”

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