Gordon Campbell on the funding changes in special needs education, and Uber

The plan to strip out the educational support for older “special needs” children in order to meet the existing shortfall in funding for special needs in early childhood education is so miserly and relentlessly stupid as to defy belief… and that’s even before you get to the news that the “consultation” on this draconian change will be so token and/or rushed, the reported timetable is for this change to be up and running by March of next year. Here’s the basic idea, and what’s wrong with it:

Documents show the government wants to greatly increase its spending on under-5s with special needs, at the expense of spending on school-aged children.

One of the areas it has singled out for urgent review is the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme for children with the most significant special needs, and in particular, the those aged 18 to 21 who use it. Secondary Principals’ Association president Sandy Pasley said secondary schools would not cope well with a cut.

“We haven’t got enough as it is and to lose some funding from secondary sector would be quite dramatic for schools. We understand that it’s good to put it into the early years but not at the expense of students in secondary schools because often the special education needs don’t go away and sometimes they’re exacerbated by adolescence.”

Exactly. Only concerted /widespread opposition can stop this proposal. In the past, The Key government has shown itself to be gunshy whenever strong community opposition is voiced to some of its loopier ideologically driven ideas. This one would do a lot of damage in an already underfunded system of primary/secondary school provision of assistance for special needs.

Also: the government rails against the term “special needs” because it allegedly marginalizes children:

The term “special needs” marginalises children with disabilities and will be phased out as part of a wider ongoing review, the government says. A Cabinet paper from the review of special education said the term could be a barrier to including children with disabilities in the education system. “The use of the term ‘special needs’ singles people out, and by concentrating on learner’s deficits, can marginalise individuals and create a barrier to a fully inclusive education system,” it said.

The paper said preferred terms were “learning support” and “inclusive education”.

This is the same government – so concerned with marginalising and stigmatising kids – that has just created a Ministry For Vulnerable Children. Go figure.

Uber Ugly

From Brazil to France and points in between – Uber has been locked in disputes with its drivers, with competing urban transport providers, with host governments, and with the courts. To the point where rivals (such as Juno) cite Uber’s treatment of its drivers as being one of the major things that Uber’s competitors have going for them.

The reasons for the bad sentiments? Well, there’s

(a) the sizeable fixed share of each driver’s fare that Uber extracts
(b) the control Uber exerts over the structure and trigger point of surge pricing
(c) the way Uber allows ‘cash only’ tipping for drivers, within a digital fare environment ‘
(d) Uber’s flouting of the legally required safety checks on its drivers and
(e) Uber’s imposition of share riding, even though many passengers reportedly dislike sharing rides and resent the 35% service charge Uber extracts on each of say, three customers sharing the drive. Inevitably, customers tend to penalize the driver for such practices over which the driver often has little or no control, by giving the driver a lower customer satisfaction rating.

Welcome to the gig economy, where most of the frustrations are shouldered by frontline workers and few of the usual employer responsibilities are shouldered by the people calling the shots. Much as it may like to project an image of cool, Uber isn’t about freedom or anything resembling it – and when pushed to the wall, its own drivers have begun fighting back.

Amid all the court actions being taken around the globe against Uber, the most closely watched one has been occurring in California. This is the crunch case on the employment status of Uber drivers. Ultimately, if the US courts do finally decide that Uber drivers really are employees – and not “independent” contractors – then Uber could well end up owing its drivers a whacking great compensation payment, for the sick leave, holiday pay, insurance and all the other normal attributes of being an employee that so far, Uber has dodged on its way to becoming a $62.5 billion company. To avert this outcome in California, Uber has been angling for an out-of-court settlement.

Earlier this year, that process in California appeared to end in an $84 million compensation settlement to the drivers, with $16 million more being hedged with certain conditions being met in future. A few days ago though, the California court threw out the entire proposed settlement, on a variety of grounds:

[Judge Edward] Chen said that Uber’s proposed deal – in which the drivers would have been paid roughly $84m to give up their claims that Uber broke rules on tips and other labor rights – was too much in favor of Uber and did not afford the drivers adequate protections. Specifically, Chen said, the non-cash portions of the deal would not bring drivers the additional employment protections, higher pay, and arbitration rights they had been seeking when they filed suit.

“The Settlement Agreement is, of course, not limited to the $84 million payment, but includes a number of non-monetary relief that also provide benefits to the class,” Chen said. “However, much of this non-monetary relief is not as valuable as the parties suggest, limiting their worth in considering the amount being offered in settlement.”

Chen notes a number of problem areas, including the proposed arbitration process (for handling driver suspensions and terminations), as well as a revised tips policy that doesn’t do enough to ensure better pay for the drivers, in ordering that the proposed deal be scrapped.

Clearly, this battle is not yet over. After all, in a parallel legal universe, Uber is continuing to challenge the whole basis of the class action by arguing that (a) since there is no ‘typical’ Uber driver the drivers can’t legitimately be joined in a class action and (b) the fine print of the driver contract stipulates that any participation in subsequent court action against Uber is only possible if the budding driver had explicitly ‘opted out’ of the provision. By Uber’s reckoning only 8,000 of the 400,000 drivers currently joined in the class action took that ‘opt out’ route.

As New Zealand found out earlier this year – Uber tends to regard itself as being above the law in this country.

It is risky to challenge them, as this story below indicates. Late last year, when a Yale University academic/passenger was flagged as a potential witness in an anti-trust (ie, price-fixing) case involving Uber, the company hired an outside agency to find out whatever it could on the witness. A couple of months ago, a US court ruled that Uber’s hired guns had crossed the line:

A federal judge on Monday banned Uber and its CEO, Travis Kalanick, from using information from a background check on a passenger bringing a price-fixing lawsuit, saying the investigative firm conducting the inquiry may have engaged in criminal conduct… Rakoff called it a “sad day” that Uber felt compelled to authorize what became an “intrusive and clandestine”, and ultimately unsuccessful, investigation to unearth damaging information about the plaintiff, Spencer Meyer, and his lawyer.

“The court finds perfectly appropriate an order enjoining defendants from making use of the fruits of their own troubling conduct,” Rakoff wrote. “The court cannot help but be troubled by this whole dismal incident.”

Enjoy the ride.

Olympics Footnote

Sports Minister Jonathan Coleman has now joined the chorus claiming Rio as the most successful Olympics ever for New Zealand. By contrast… in yesterday’s column I pointed out that arguably (a) we earned fewer medals per taxpayer and (b) fewer medals per athletes sent to the Games than ever before. Also, if its all about the winning – and they give gold medals only to winners, right? – is it entirely churlish to point out that we won six gold medals in London in 2012, and only four in Rio? As a result, we ended up 15th on the table of nations in London and only 19th in Rio de Janeiro. So… how do we conclude this was our most successful ever Olympics meet, if most overseas tabulations put us four rungs lower on the medals table than four years ago?

Yes, we did win a bigger bag of medals of all kinds, all up. But that’s a very narrow criterion for calling Rio our most successful Olympics. No aspersions on the efforts of this year’s athletes, but did any of them make a bigger splash on the world stage in Rio than when Peter Snell won the 1500 metres in Tokyo? Or when Valerie Adams won shot put gold in Beijing and London? No, not really.

Calling this year’s efforts out most successful team achievement is spin, pure and simple – and that spin being repeated in the media (which has its own motives for maximising the hype) is intended to soften up the public to facilitate the government’s allocation of more money for our Games athletes in future. Arguably, pouring so much money into top end, high performance sport can only reduce what’s available to nurture sport at the grassroots level. Since there is already evidence that millennials may be tuning out of sport viewing, that mightn’t be such a wise move, longer term. It might be even better to put the money into special needs education, right?

The Price of Normality

As Matthew Perpetua recently pointed out, there’s a type of band that routinely slips below the radar – too ‘normal’ and apparently accessible to gain an indie niche, yet also too retro savvy to find the wide audience that in some other era or universe, they once might have been expected to find. The Slow Club duo of Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor are the perfect case in point: they hail from Sheffield in England, and over the past six years they’ve turned out album after album of good melodies with sly, unsettling lyrics, and packaged them in some of the most inventive videos this side of FKA twigs.

And yet… it’s almost impossible to ever imagine them transcending their current small following. There’s much to like and admire about Slow Club, but they don’t inspire a lot of passion, among many. Still, if they were the standard, the world would definitely be a better place. Here’s the simple/brilliant video for a typically smart track (“In Waves”) from their new album One Day All Of This Won’t Matter Anymore….

And for old times sake, here’s the classic, beautifully conceived and danced video for their “Two Cousins” from a few years ago:

4 Comments on Gordon Campbell on the funding changes in special needs education, and Uber

  1. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is standard operating procedure for this government. We have seen it in social assistance, where greater funding for so-called vulnerable children has come from money cribbed from equally needy services; and in health where shiny new projects are funded by money siphoned from last year’s shiny projects. That his has happened to Special Ed (with a budget is already shrinking in real terms) is not surprising. It is, however, petty, mean and so very very National.

  2. @ Donna I’m afraid the political party is irrelevant.

    The banking cabal’s Crown wanted National party in for this part of their plan (just like they want the Greens in latter) they want the people to still believe in ” choice” & “democracy” and ignorantly think they can somehow vote the “Crown” out of the “Crown NZ govt” .

    The same disability and social welfare cuts are being done in the UK.
    Only the people of NZ are being robbed not “shiny projects” just cuts and more costs of the nutty bureaucrats and the economic hit-men.

  3. The NZ govt has always been full of the ” other parties” .The irony is the so called “opposing party’s” purpose is to strengthen the National party.
    So take another look , a look past the “specialeducation”/indoctrination you received from the Crown govt as a child in NZ .
    The opposing politicians just spend their time creating the appearance of being in conflict with National ( so you don’t have to and so you identify with them ).The “other political parties” in govt are paid a lot of money to insult each other, blame each other for the problems they created, to lie, create conflicts and basically to just “say a lot things”.
    Verbally fighting with each other in the beehive like the bunch of monkeys they are.
    The Crown’s cast of monkeys are voted for time and again, doing the same thing over and over without questioning it and thinking it will change…what is that called?

  4. @ Anabel it is called insanity.
    And we vote over and over, and it always changes nothing as the Crown govt structure, and economic system =the moneylenders, remain owned by the same group.

    Disability cuts and disability funding that goes against what we know works.
    A viral letter from a primary school teacher in Texas was well received when she used common sense and was refusing to give homework to the little kids as there is no benefit to forcing extra work at home at that age .
    She told them to spend school homework time enjoying themselves with family.

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