Monday Roundup: Gates, Milk and Art

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We have heard of “community supported agriculture,” where buyers purchase an upfront share of what a farmer produces. Now we have “community supported art,” substituting artists for the farmer.

A rural economic trick comes to the city. 

• The Gates Foundation is trying to “reform” the nation’s education system. And it’s spending a lot of money to do it — $373 million in 2009 alone.

The New York Times tells how Gates is using his tax-exempt foundation to change public policy, including efforts to change basic labor agreements made between teachers and school boards. 

Sam Dillon writes:

For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

• The Boston Globe took the side of Amish farmer Dan Allgyer, who has incurred the wrath of the Food and Drug Administration for selling raw milk.

The FDA has been investigating his farm for a year and, last month, filed a 10-page complaint in federal court saying Allgyer sold raw milk across state lines. The paper editorialized:

(T)his is an awful lot of energy and manpower to invest in a seemingly minor matter. It’s one thing to require vendors to post prominent warnings about the dangers of raw milk. But it’s another to make a federal case out of a small farmer’s sale of milk straight from the cow to customers who want it that way.

• Eastern Montana is booming, thanks to oil. That means school taxes are up — way up. The town of Baker has $43.5 million in the bank, according to the Los Angeles Times, more than 13 times its entire annual operating budget.

The state thinks Eastern Montana needs to share. You can imagine the rest of the story

• Julius Genachowski, chair of the Federal Communications Commission, met with the Des Moines Register editorial board last week. You can find a full transcript here. Below are some excerpts from what Genachowski said: 

The only part of America that is going to receive funding for broadband deployment is rural America. At 4 megabytes initially, we would have the highest speeds in the world for funding broadband. The 4 megabytes is an initial amount. If it makes sense over time to increase it, obviously the FCC would.

The question now is what should consumers and taxpayers pay for. The argument that taxpayers should pay for more than 4 megabytes is both very weak and one that would lead to tremendous financial burdens on consumers paying into the fund. But 4 megabytes will be a revolution in the parts of rural America that have nothing. A small business with 4 megabytes can expand its service, can reach new markets, can use cloud-based services. A small business with nothing can do nothing.

We have a commitment to universal service in this country that grows out of our experience with electricity and telephone service. It’s done tremendous good in bringing economic opportunity and connectivity to people in rural America. We should continue that. But we should work with the funds we have to fund broadband at a smart level.

• Ken Ward Jr. has a two part series in the Charleston Gazette on the disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine, the Massey Energy mine that exploded and killed 29 miners last year. Great explanation of what happened. 

 

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