The war against the working class and poor…
A multi-faceted war is being waged on the working class and the poor. On some of the fronts in this war, Democrats are holding hands with Republicans. Here’s a sampling in the areas of education, prescription drugs, and food.
Tuition: a tool to keep us out of college…
In 1966, when I attended the University of Arizona (UA), tuition was $125 per semester, or $250 per year. That tuition has increased by a factor of 49 to $6,114 per semester, or $12,228 per year, over and above $458 in additional fees students will have to pay and about $800 students typically shell out for books. In a very real sense, working-class folks—and Mexican Americans are squarely in that category—are being priced out of the university.
Historically, community colleges have been the pathway to a university baccalaureate program or to a career for the working-class. Studies show that the majority of working-class students who pursue post-secondary education enroll in community colleges, and Mexican Americans/Latinos(as) enroll in community colleges at a higher rate than students from any other racial or ethnic group.
Open admissions is a bedrock principle of community colleges, but here in Tucson there was an attempt to close the doors of the local community college to our community. The college changed its open-admissions policy and instead required that all prospective students take an entrance qualifying exam. Only after an intense pressure campaign by community activists did the college reinstate the open-admission policy. Another reason community colleges are attractive to the working-class is because they are less expensive. But even that is changing. Recently the local community college voted to raise its tuition to $2,455 (a 3.8% increase) for full-time local students even as it last year lowered the tuition for international students by 14.7%.
Mind you, these university and community college tuition increases are being imposed in a state whose constitution mandates that college tuition “shall be as free as possible.” On their face, tuitions of $12,228 and $2,455 don’t meet that constitutional mandate. While my frame of reference is Arizona, exorbitant tuition rates, which put higher education out of the reach of working-class families, are now the norm in many other states.
Private-school vouchers are classist and racist…
Yet another educational assault on Arizona working-class families is the recent passing of a law by the Republican legislature that will allow public monies, through vouchers, to be used for private- and religious-school education for any student who applies. Arizona public schools receive about $5,000 per student from the state. Under the voucher program, the state will give that money to parents to spend on private school tuition (or other things, such as home schooling).
Arizona ranks 49th in the country when it comes to funding public education. Vouchers will siphon even more money away from public education. There are blatantly classist and racist dimensions to this law. The fact is that the law will disproportionately benefit wealthy—and frankly, white—families. Working-class and poor families cannot afford private school tuition that is often more than what the state provides. For example: The cost of attending a popular religious-based high school is substantially over $10,000, more than twice what the state voucher is for.
This law will promote—and, I submit, is designed to promote—white flight from the public schools. President Trump’s naming Betsy DeVos, a fierce proponent of school vouchers, as Secretary of Education will accelerate the assault on public education.
Big Pharma, Democrats, Republicans gang up on sick folks…
One of the most insidious aspects of the war on the working class and the poor is the pharmaceutical industry’s (aka Big Pharma) greed-driven campaign to increase its already bloated profits by ordering its minions in Congress to not allow the U.S. to import Canadian drugs, which are much cheaper than their U.S. counterparts. People’s health—often their very lives—depend on these drugs. Yet, Big Pharma’s greed forces people of modest means—in particular elderly folks on a fixed income—to choose between buying groceries or paying utility bills and buying the prescription drugs they need to survive. For example:
From one month to the other, the cost of a prescription drug of someone I know went—right after the January, 2017, congressional vote discussed below—from $17.00 to $336.00. Another person I know has to purchase monthly a prescription drug that costs $360.00, a drug that costs $32.00 in Canada. Another person’s monthly prescription costs went from a barely affordable $200.00 to an impossible $3,000.00. Many stories such as these—often describing people having to choose between making rent/mortgage payments or buying groceries and prescriptions— have been widely publicized.
In January, 2017, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced an amendment urging the federal government to allow Americans to purchase pharmaceutical drugs from Canada. Thirteen (13) Democrats and a majority of Republicans stood with Big Pharma and voted down the Sanders amendment. One of those Democrats was New Jersey’s Cory Booker, who over the past six years has received $267,338 from pharmaceutical companies. (The Intercept, January 12, 2017) Yet, many Democrats are gushing over Booker and promoting him as the Democratic presidential nominee for 2020.
But it’s not just Booker. In 2009 Democrats blocked importation of Canadian drugs from becoming part of the Affordable Care Act, and in 2012 a large number of Democrats voted against an FDA bill allowing importation of Canadian drugs. Obviously, some Democrats love Big Pharma and hate poor people as much as Republicans do.
Let’s not feed poor seniors nor educate poor students…
The White House budget director recently unveiled the Trump budget, which calls for deep cuts to social welfare programs such as Meals on Wheels and after-school and summer educational services. The rationale is that these programs don’t show hard results.
Every year, Meals on Wheels provides meals to over 2 million seniors who cannot shop for food or prepare meals for themselves. That 2 million-plus people get to eat at least one nutritious meal a day is in and of itself “results” that merit the program’s continuation. The Washington Post reports that studies have found other obvious benefits of home-delivered meal programs for seniors, such as improved diet and socialization opportunities. (Christopher Ingraham, “Meals on Wheels is ‘not showing any results’ only if you ignore all these results,” Washington Post, March 16, 2017) Most rational (and I daresay, decent) folks would say these are good results.
Research done by Johns Hopkins University found that low-income students lose over two months in reading achievement over summer vacation and estimates that up to two thirds of the 9th-grade achievement gap can be attributed to summer learning loss.
Covington Summer Scholars, an annual collaborative effort among non-profit organizations, a local school district, and the City of Covington in Kentucky, provides a high-quality and effective summer learning program to over 600 students. Significantly, 90% of the students from the participating school district qualify for the federal Free and/or Reduced Price Lunch program.
Assessments in the Spring of 2016 and the Fall of 2016 showed that students who regularly attended the Covington Summer Scholars program not only did not show summer learning loss in either reading or math, they actually showed summer learning growth. In the content area of Reading, students in 2012 showed an average percentile decline of 7%, while in 2016, students showed an average percentile gain of 4%. In Math, students in 2012 showed an average percentile decline of 5%, and in 2016, students showed an average percentile gain of 4%. (Tom Haggard, “Budget cuts for after school and summer programming is just wrong; they do work,” North Kentucky Tribune, April 11, 2017)
In my book, that shows “results.” There are many other success stories about after-school and summer programs from other parts of the country.
The war against the poor and the working class has been going on for a long time, sometimes on a bipartisan basis. The Trump administration is ramping up that war, and Trump’s election is encouraging state legislatures, educational governing boards, and others to wage their own local wars on the poor, the working class, and the non-white communities. c/s
Copyright 2017 by Salomon Baldenegro. To contact Sal write: firstname.lastname@example.org Photos of students copyrighted by barrio Dog Productions, Inc. All other photos are in the public domain.