Thursday, June 27, 2013

Common Core = An Ever Expanding Educational Bureaucracy

from the Harford County Dagger
In a recent interview focused on education, gubernatorial candidate and Harford County Executive David Craig said that Maryland’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards wasn’t simply a mistake, it was a “great mistake”; ditto for statewide tests and education funding required under the state’s maintenance of effort law (“ridiculous”, both). And don’t get the former educator started on the current head of the local teachers’ union.

On the other hand, Craig also said that Maryland has a “very good” school system, even if he doesn’t buy the #1 ranking touted by other politicians. As for school improvement, Craig said that the success of education really comes down to one person, and it’s not who you might expect.

The Dagger was invited to sit down with Craig on June 20th to discuss education. Below is a summary of the Q&A, Part I:

Dagger: Adopting the Common Core State Standards helped Maryland win federal Race to the Top money ($250 million plus, over 4 years). Yet, teachers say they are inadequately prepared for statewide implementation in 2013-14, and the coming state tests based on the Common Core require technology that is not available in all schools. Was it a mistake for Maryland to sign on to the Common Core?

Craig: “It wasn’t a mistake, it was a great mistake”

Similar proposals, always based on tests, have come along before, Craig said, only to be replaced when they didn’t help. Such cycles have occurred five or six times in the last 30 years, he said.

Regarding the Common Core, Craig predicted that test scores will drop dramatically, as he said they always do with new tests, and that state and federal government would then ask for more money. “It’s all about testing,” he said, “it should be about teaching.”

As for the Common Core’s goal of improving college and career readiness, Craig said that not everyone needs to go to college, and he questioned the value of certain college majors: “I don’t know of any companies that deal in philosophy.” The push to increase college attendance created “customers” for the colleges, he said, but contributed to rising costs.

New state tests aligned with the Common Core, which are being designed to be taken via computer, are “ridiculous”, according to Craig, as are the current state tests, the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) and High School Assessment (HSA). Craig also criticized tests where students are marked wrong if they don’t arrive at the correct answer in the right way, and conversely, where credit is given for wrong answers depending on how the answer was developed.

Craig’s answer to the problem: “We don’t need statewide testing,” and as governor, he would advocate for their abolition. Instead, he said that tests should be developed at the school and classroom level, “That’s why we hire teachers.”

Dagger: Some states have delayed mandatory implementation of the Common Core. Should Maryland follow suit?

Craig: “The only reason Maryland [adopted the Common Core] was they saw they could get all this money. How much went to teachers? How much went to the classroom? None of it.”

Calling the Common Core an unfunded mandate, Craig estimated it would cost Harford County Public Schools between $1 million and $5-6 million at a minimum to get the necessary technology and train teachers, which should be funded by federal government. As for a statewide delay in implementing the Common Core, put Craig down as a “definite yes.”

Dagger: How will Harford County fund the necessary technology?

Craig: “If I’m governor, we won’t have to pay for it because we won’t do it.”

Dagger: Labor unrest has plagued Harford County Public Schools for the past two years as teachers say they are not being paid as well as their peers in other counties. Are Harford County teachers paid enough to attract the best and brightest?

Craig: “I read the same articles in every other county.”

Craig added that advocates cherry pick the salary levels, which are based on teacher experience and education, to show their salaries are the lowest in the state. While acknowledging layoffs in HCPS this year, Craig said that teachers hadn’t been furloughed in the past.

Not all teachers are protesting either, Craig said. Many are unhappy they didn’t get salary increases for next year, but most understand what’s happening to county employees and in private business, where people have lost their jobs or seen salaries decline, he said. Craig conceded that some teachers were protesting but “…only because they are being given really bad information from probably the most inept union leader I’ve ever seen.”

Dagger: You’ve complained that local government funds education without any say over how the money is spent. What changes to the process would you propose?

Craig outlined three options:

1. Local school boards become part of county government, operating as a county department run by the counties as another service they provide. The county executive, in conjunction with the county council or county commissioners, would appoint the superintendent. Craig explained in a rare understatement, “We’re the ones who provide the money, and we should have a little say in how it gets spent.”

2. Give school boards taxing authority. Not the best option, Craig said, because it doesn’t get rid of the duplication in services between county government and local school boards in areas such as human resources, procurement, information technology, and facilities. As an aside, Craig criticized elected school boards, which he said had “undermined the way boards of education used to work in the State of Maryland.” (More on this subject in Part II of the interview)

3. Eliminate local school boards all together. Citing the state-mandated curriculum and state testing, Craig asked why 24 superintendents and 24 curriculum directors were needed, one for each jurisdiction. “If the state wants control over it”, he said,” they can run the whole thing.”

Craig said that none of the above options would be approved, however, because change would be undermined by whoever might lose as a result: “Education should be about the children and it’s obviously not.”

Dagger: The Harford County Board of Education just scaled back its spending plans for next year by $20 million to match funding provided by you and the county council. The school board cut teachers and instituted Pay to Play. Were they the right moves? What would you have cut instead?

Craig: “The school board has 550 more positions than when I started as county executive and the school population has declined by 6%. They need to be more efficient.”

Pressed for an example, Craig said, “I’m sure some teachers have 15 students [in their classes] and others have 35. I don’t think they’re looking at that”. Old programs should also be looked at when new programs are brought in, he said. Asked for examples of programs that could be cut, Craig deferred to Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan, whom he said would know where to cut given her 40 years of experience in HCPS.

Magnet programs were not on Craig’s cut list, but he said that they should have been made available in all high schools. Otherwise, it upsets the distribution of students among the schools. The existing magnet programs are good, he said, but they also could have been expanded to include more vocational and technical programs.

Finally, Pay to Play should not have been instituted, Craig said, because all students in school should have access to extra-curricular activities. He called special exemptions from the policy – currently allowed for the children of teachers and active military, and students on free and reduced meals – unfair.

Coming next in Part II: Taking on Maryland’s #1 ranking in education; how the budget process should work; and the key person responsible for success in education.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thank You for Your Service, Nancy!

from the Baltimore Sun
State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, one of the longest-serving Republican lawmakers in Maryland, said Tuesday that she will not seek re-election in 2014 -- adding to the attrition of the GOP's small band of senators.

Jacobs, who represents Harford and Cecil counties, said she wants to spend more time with her husband, Bruce, and her family. She said she plans to serve out the remainder of her term.

Her retirement means that at least one-quarter of the 12-member Republican caucus in the 47-member Senate wil leave after their current terms. Sen. Barry Glassman is seking election as Harford County executive, while Sen. Allan Kittleman is doing the same in Howard County.

Jacobs, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 1994 and the Senate in 1998, is an outspoken conservative who nonetheless has found ways to work with the Democratic leadership to pass significant legislation on children's issues and crime. During this spring's debate over Gov. Martin O'Malley's firearms legislation, she was the Senate's most passionate opponent, earning admiration in defeat from gun rights advocates across the state.

The 61-year-old lawmaker served as minority whip in 2009 and 2010 and as minority leadr in 2011.

Jacobs represents a district that leans Republican but is not a sure thing for the GOP. In 2010, Jacobs won with 55 percent of the vote but narrowly lost in Harford. She prevailed on the strength of her support in Cecil.

In 2012, Jacobs won the Republican nomination for the 2nd District seat in the US. House but was easily defeatedby incumbent Democratic Rep. C.A.Dutch Ruppersberger.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Maryland - Land of the Levitating Economy

From the Harford County Dagger and Friends of David R. Craig:
Harford County Executive David Craig, who announced his candidacy for Maryland Governor early this month, blasted state spending on the heels of a National Governor’s Association Report that shows the general fund rising over twice the national average. Nationally, state general fund spending increased 4.1% on average between fiscal years 2013 and 2014, while Maryland’s surged 8.9%, the fifth-highest increase in the country.

“Politicians have created the conditions where state government now works for itself and grows accordingly, ” said Craig. “This government taxes too much, takes too much, regulates too much and is expanding at the expense of job creators and taxpayers.”

Maryland’s general fund increase is also the highest in the region. Virginia and Delaware spending increases are in line with the national average, while Pennsylvania’s increase of 2.4% comes in at about half the national average and West Virginia’s spending will actually decline by 3.2%.

“Maryland has no future as the tax-and-spend capitol of the mid-Atlantic,” said Craig. “Businesses and jobs will not come, our people will not stay.”

Maryland is going in the opposite direction of other states. The National Governor’s Association notes that overall state spending in fiscal 2013 is still below the fiscal 2008 pre-recession peak. Yet in Maryland, the Governors’ submitted budgets have risen from $29.6 billion in 2007 to $37.3 billion today.

The NGA report examines the general fund, the part of the budget allocated to Maryland’s departments and agencies. Under Maryland’s constitution, the Governor sets fiscal policy and is given wide latitude over the general fund, which comprises the largest portion of state spending followed by federal, special and higher education funds.

Produced in association with state budget officers, the NGA report surveys state spending twice a year and projects fiscal year 2014 spending compared to fiscal year 2013 levels.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Left Alone to Die - No, Not the Aborted Baby This Time...

from the Daily Mail
The patient who died after visiting the Associates in OB/GYN Care in Baltimore on February 13 was 38-year old Maria Santiago.

Santiago was 12.5 weeks pregnant at the time of the abortion and her doctor, Iris Dominy told Maryland Department of Health inspectors that Santiago slept through her abortion.

The doctor then left the woman in the room with an unqualified worker, according to the inspector's report. The worker filled out paperwork as Santiago lay on the table. She later called for a second worker to help her move Santiago to the recovery area.

The second worker noticed Santiago was pale and not breathing, and they notified Dominy. No one at the clinic had current CPR certification, and there was no attempt to use a defibrillator, which was found to be broken.

Santiago's death certificate showed she died from Severe Pulminary Edema, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, and Hypoxia Brain Injury. It is unknown how long she went without breathing. Inspectors found staff failed to provide proper post-anesthesia care and observation.


Four Maryland abortion clinics have been shut down and three doctors have had their licenses suspended after a patient died at one clinic and regulators say they found lax procedures at all four.

The clinics, run by Associates in OB/GYN Care, were shuttered last month after state regulators received a complaint about a patient receiving an abortion-inducing drug with no doctor present.

The patient, 38-year-old Maria Santiago, underwent the procedure on February 13 in Baltimore and was 'still very drowsy' when she was allegedly left in the care of an unlicensed medical assistant.

She suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest and died later at a hospital. Regulators said her doctor, Iris Dominy, had failed to use a defibrillator - which was later found to be broken.

Dominy is one of the three suspended doctors, according to the Maryland Board of Physicians. Two more, Drs. Michael Basco and Mansour Panah, have also had their licenses suspended.

The allegations appear in documents posted online by the state Office of Health Care Quality, which regulates the clinics - in Baltimore, Cheverly, Frederick and Silver Spring - and ordered them to close.

The clinics are affiliated with American Women's Services, a company controlled by Dr. Steven Brigham, a beleaguered abortionist whose license has been suspended or revoked in five states. He was at one point charged with murder for late-term abortions, but the charges were dropped.

Dominy lost her license because unlicensed employees at the clinic were dispensing drugs to patients, the regulators noted, not because of the patient's death.

Basco was on duty at the Baltimore clinic on May 4 when an unlicensed clinic employee performed an ultrasound on a patient and found that the woman was carrying more than one fetus.

The employee then gave the woman misoprostol, a drug that's used to induce abortions, according to the Maryland Board of Physicians.

After the patient took the drug, Basco arrived and determined that the patient needed a surgical abortion because the multiple fetuses had made her uterus larger, the board said.

Basco told the patient she would have to go elsewhere for a surgical abortion, they said.

Basco and other staff told regulators it was standard procedure in the clinics for patients to be given misoprostol at 11 weeks or later, regardless of whether a doctor was present, the board wrote.

Panah, the medical director of the clinics, was responsible for patient care at the time of Santiago's death.

He previously had his license suspended by the board in 1988 for sexual contact with three patients and again in 1995 for sexual conduct with another patient.

In 2011, he was placed on two years of probation by the board for failing to meet appropriate standards for delivery of quality medical and surgical care.

Bardos, who also represents Panah, said the allegations related to wrongdoing at the abortion clinics do not involve his client. He said the previous sexual contact cases 'involved kisses'.

Marc Cohen, the attorney for Dominy, said that most of the allegations were broad and do not directly involve his client, and that the patient's death at the Baltimore clinic was not her fault.

He said the allegation that unlicensed workers administered drugs on her watch was false.

'She's a well-trained, well-qualified and well-experienced doctor,' Cohen said. 'There just appears to be something that happened to that particular patient, but there wasn't anything wrong with the procedure as far as we know.'

A hearing on the suspensions of the doctors' licenses is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Bardos has requested a hearing before an administrative law judge on the closure of the clinics. That hearing has not yet been scheduled, he said.

Richard Bardos, an attorney who represents Associates in OB/GYN Care, said Dr Steve Brigham is not the owner of the clinics or the LLC. He declined to identify the owners.

But Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, or NAF, which represents abortion providers, said it was common knowledge among providers that the Maryland clinics belong to him.

'It's not surprising that his four Maryland clinics have been suspended,' Saporta said. 'We have been an advocate for his substandard clinics being shut down wherever they operate in the country.'

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Coming to Maryland Soon, The UNaffordable Care Act

from the Baltimore Sun
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler urged state regulators Tuesday to cap the amount that insurers can raise premiums under the new health care law to no more than 5 percent until more is known about how the sweeping federal legislation will affect health costs.

The call comes as the Maryland Insurance Administration reviews requests by insurers to raise rates on those who will buy coverage from a statewide exchange, or open marketplace, established under the Affordable Care Act.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the region's largest insurer, is seeking an average rate increase of 25 percent for those who buy coverage individually. Some of its customers could see increases of 100 percent to 150 percent.

The issue reflects the continued uncertainty and challenges facing states as they implement the federal health care law, key provisions of which will go into effect in January.

No one knows how many people will sign up for health coverage or how much it will cost to implement the system. The Obama administration says costs will go down as more people enter the system.

Critics, including insurers across the country, are bracing for the higher cost of covering more and sicker people. Some say that the practice of denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions helped to keep insurance costs down.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers may no longer refuse policies to those with pre-existing conditions.

Maryland, which is ahead of other states in implementing the provisions of the health care law, is experimenting with its own plan to lower costs. Officials are trying to persuade the federal government to adopt a plan that would tie hospital rates to the state's economy.

But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the federal agency that administers the programs, won't decide on the state's proposal until later this year. In the meantime, state officials must make difficult decisions.

Gansler, a Democrat who is expected to seek his party's nomination for governor in 2014, wrote a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of several states that supported the Affordable Care Act. He argued that Congress had the right to mandate that Americans buy health insurance as a means of regulating the economy under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The rate proposals that Gansler is contesting would not affect most people, who purchase insurance through job-based plans.

Gansler said it is unfair for insurers to request huge increases before the full impact of the health care law is known. He said rates should be capped and then re-examined six months after the law takes effect.

He contends that raising premiums will price people out of the market, defeating the purpose of the federal law, which is to make health insurance more affordable and expand the number who are covered.

"We don't know what is going to happen to health care costs, but the insurance companies are preying upon the idea that they will rise to jack up premium costs," Gansler said.

Under state law, Maryland Insurance Commissioner Therese M. Goldsmith has the sole power to review and approve insurance premiums. Gansler has no legal authority to set the rates, but he could sue to obtain a refund for consumers if it is found that they were gouged by unnecessarily high rates.

Goldsmith declined to be interviewed for this article. Her office released a statement saying that the rate requests are under review and that the commissioner will consider "all relevant factors" under the law.

"The law requires that the commissioner disapprove or modify a proposed premium rate if, based on statistical analysis and reasonable assumptions, the rate appears to be inadequate, unfairly discriminatory, or excessive in relation to benefits under the plan," the statement read.

Chet Burrell, the CEO of CareFirst, has said insurers need to implement a 25 percent premium increase because the cost of health care under the law is uncertain. He said the company's margins leave little room for mistakes.

"As a not-for-profit carrier, CareFirst operates essentially at cost and over the past five years has never produced an operating margin greater than 1 percent," the company said in a statement. "Premiums closely reflect actual cost. That is essentially what CareFirst has sought to achieve in its filings and nothing more."

CareFirst, which has 2.2 million customers in Maryland or 48 percent of the market, said the attorney general should let the rate approval process play out before criticizing it.

Under the Affordable Care Act, small businesses purchasing through an exchange would see CareFirst rates rise on average about 15 percent because of rising health care costs and new taxes, fees and assessments required under health care reform, according to the insurer.

Older individuals could see decreases under the proposed rates, but Burrell has said younger people could see increases of as much as 150 percent, reflecting limits on how much rates can vary based on age.

Kaiser Permanente laid out nine plans for individuals in its proposal to state regulators, and said "the weighted average rate increase" across all is 4.3 percent. The insurer expects to offer 15 plans under the small group market at an average rate increase of 2.8 percent.

"Although some provisions of the Affordable Care Act appear likely to contribute to premium increases, others will likely contribute to reductions in premiums," the insurer said in a statement Tuesday.

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, the Senate Republican leader, is concerned about how the state will pay to insure more people. State officials estimate that one-third of Maryland's 750,000 uninsured residents will gain coverage under the federal act in its first year.

"The fact of the matter is, no one has been able to show how we're going to nationally cover 30 million people without increasing the supply of doctors and medical providers and at the same time keep costs down," the Eastern Shore lawmaker said. "When you look at other states that have done this, if you give insurance to people who don't have insurance, they will use it."

Pipkin also criticized the plan suggested by the state to link hospital spending to the state's economy. He worried that people wouldn't get care when they need it.

"If the state hits its cap on hospital expenses and the doctors said you need a hip replacement, does that mean you don't get the hip replacement because the cap is exceeded?" Pipkin asked.

Gansler's campaign has said that he will not formally announce his plans for 2014 until the fall, but over the weekend he ruled out seeking a third term as attorney general — an alternative he previously had held open.

In January, Gansler's campaign reported $5.1 million in its account — establishing a fundraising lead over Democratic rivals to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley. About $3 million of that was carry-over from the 2010 election, in which Gansler ran unopposed.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat who has declared his candidacy for governor, has made implementing the health care law a top priority.

Brown's office said he would not comment on the insurers' rate requests. His office referred questions to the Governor's Office of Health Care Reform, which is coordinating implementation of the law in the state.

Carolyn A. Quattrocki, executive director of the Governor's Office of Health Care Reform, said it was not right to comment on the hospital proposals while the rate process is under way.

"That is what the rate review process is for," Quattrocki said. "The whole process has been set up to test the assumptions that the insurance companies have put forward as a basis for their rates."

In making his announcement, Gansler showcased the owners of one small business who worry that higher insurance premiums will price them out of providing health coverage to employees.

The owners of Re Fresh Salon & Spa in Baltimore employ nine stylists, technicians and other workers, and say they have found it cost-prohibitive to provide them with insurance.

They are looking for ways to provide supplemental insurance but worry that higher premiums will keep them from doing that and prevent their employees from buying insurance on their own as well.

"When you hear you're going to be outpriced, it's not a good feeling," said JoVonne Day-Miles, co-owner of the salon.