Monday, August 10, 2015

Should School Start Times Be Considered from a Public Health and Public Education Perspective?

School start/end times are a great discussion for policy consideration, particularly if we're to be concerned about public health and public education outcomes. While there are practical reasons why school times start and end when they do -- including accommodating the work schedules of many, if not most working parents -- providing the most productive learning environment should be the first order for public schools. That ideal comprises lots of areas, but scheduling is certainly among them.

According to a new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which surveyed the start times of 8000 middle and high schools across the country, five out of six schools started before 8:30 a.m., which was too early according to the researchers. This piece in NPR reported that American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The goal is to accommodate the "natural sleep rhythms" of teenagers.

The report quotes Anne Wheaton, an epidemiologist and the lead research of the CDC report, as saying "other research suggests nearly two-thirds of young people are seriously sleep deprived. And that can lead in turn to obesity, depression, smoking, drinking, and lower grades. It can even be a contributing factor to car crashes for young drivers."

Read the piece on NPR here. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Newark's Vacant Lot Fire Sale Is Not Neighborhood Stabilization

I think anything to create a positive buzz is a good thing, and this fire sale of vacant lots in Newark certainly falls into that category, but if you know the lay of the land there (and I work in a lot of these neighborhoods) you'll know that there needs to be critical mass to generate vibrancy and neighborhood continuity here. This effort by the city, while valiant, isn't urban planning -- it's not even market-based "urban renewal." The neighborhoods where many of the lots are located are so much in need. I hope this makes a dent, but I also hope the city has much better policy approach to boosting its communities.

For several years, I worked closely with the Essex County Community Land Trust, a nonprofit composed of residents, neighborhood associations, small businesses, etc. that basically owns the land underneath a home (the home belongs to the homeowner) to ensure affordability in perpetuity (usually 99 years) so properties are not subject to vultures. The CLT also provides the critical mass necessary for keeping blocks, and perhaps entire neighborhoods, from falling into disrepair. You need critical mass to save these neighborhoods. It would have been nice if the city could arrange with a CLT to manage these lots for sale.

Finally, another, and perhaps most important way to create thriving, populated neighborhoods - any neighborhood - is to reinvest in the city's public schools, and particularly the neighborhood schools in the hardest-hit neighborhoods. Given a "school choice," many parents send their child to schools in safer neighborhoods, but what that does is drain the already underserved neighborhoods, perpetuates socio-economic divides, and worsens imbalance in this city's delicate socio-economic infrastructure. Remember, New Jersey is among the most segregated states in the Union -- we need to replenish resources in the hardest-hit communities, not relocate them.


Land for $1,000: Homeowner hopefuls flock to Newark Valentines Day Sale, NJ Advance Media for, February 14, 2015

Operation Neighborhood Recovery, Shelterforce, Spring 2009

Essex Community Land Trust

Newark politicians react to 'One Newark' open enrollment process, Star-Ledger, August 21, 2014

The most segregated schools may not be in the states you’d expect, Washington Post, May 15, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

With Cromnibus Bill, Our Regulatory Oversight Is at Risk

In 2010, I sat down with Rep. Barney Frank, then the Chairman of the House Financial Service Committee to discuss the abolition of Fannie and Freddie, as well as the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a key portion of Dodd-Frank, which created an independent consumer protection agency that ensures fairness when it comes to things like student loans, mortgages, and credit cards.
With the passage of the recent so-called "Cromnibus" bill, which was ostensibly both a continuing resolution and an omnibus spending bill, part of the compromise that allowed passage was the bank-lobbied removal of Dodd-Frank's Lincoln Amendment, "which insists that the largest banks hold their exotic, customized, and non-cleared derivatives outside of their FDIC-insured entities in separately capitalized subsidiaries" (quote taken from the Next New Deal). While the CFPB isn't directly involved in the types of products the Lincoln Amendment addresses, its oversight ideal is at risk. 
I'm very proud of my Senators, Robert Senator Menendez and Senator Cory Booker for voting against the Cromnibus bill. It's expected that the banking industry will lobby heavily against these arcane regulations, and they can do it because it's very hard for ordinary people to wrap their brains around these things. This is why I'm supporting Elizabeth Warren in 2016. She was a fierce advocate for the creation of the CFPB and she was able to communicate that advocacy in practical, populist terms. That's the kind of advocate we need in the White House.

See how your senator voted here.

As a matter of policy, my philosophical core dictates fairness and equity as an absolute end. The means, however, vary. They are composed of direct action organizing to raise awareness, informing a dispassionate public that is knowledgeable of the practical effects of these types of maneuvers (resulting in not only better policy but also better personal financial decision-making), and, unfortunately, an understanding of the seemingly insignificant policy minutiae that is anything but insignificant. If we're not informed, the banking industry will exploit it, regular folks will suffer for it, and the big wheel keep on turnin'.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Brunswick Trash Ordinance Could Disproportionately Affect Students. Where's Rutgers?

The City of New Brunswick, NJ, is considering an ordinance that places a moratorium on bulk trash pickup between May and June. This, of course, just so happens to be when most Rutgers students living off campus move out of their apartments resulting in large levels of bulk items lining city streets. To be sure, it's a massive undertaking for the city to handle bulk pickup this time of year, but as the host of a University whose students call New Brunswick home, it's striking that this law specifically targets students, leaving them, and their landlords, in the lurch.

Why? Because if tenants don't want to risk losing their security deposits due to city fines levied on their landlords, they're going to have to pay to have their trash removed, or take other measures that aren't necessary other times of the year when there would be regular bulk pickup. This makes this measure unfair because it disproportionately affects a specific portion of the city's resident base.

According to a news release from Amy Braunstein, an elected member of the municipal Democratic Party committee, "first-offense fines of $250-$500, plus $100 per item, will be levied on the property owner, but will likely be passed along to tenants by way of deducting it from their security deposits. Third offenses carry a fine of $2,000, and all violations require a court appearance."

Whether this is a necessary measure taken by the city or an unfair "tax" levied on landlords of student rental housing is up for discussion, but at the heart of the issue is another key point that often gets lost. When it comes to the larger problem of off-campus student housing in New Brunswick, where's Rutgers?

Rutgers University is notorious for its hands-off approach to off-campus student rental housing, choosing to let the local housing market dictate demand, quality, and location. This approach is not only unsustainable, but destructive. Slumlords are given the ability to rent out subpar rentals to students willing to live in squalor, and subsequently, many (not all) students respond by treating city neighborhoods much like their landlords do -- that is, with neglect, disrespect, and disregard.

The University has been directly complicit for the city's inability to retain any University-oriented resident base, as well for the squalid conditions in campus-adjacent neighborhoods. These neighborhoods, many of which are historic, are close to downtown, transit, restaurants, and commerce and should be livable. They are not, and the city's seeming indifference, coupled with the University's dispassion, keep these neighborhoods down. The market keeps them populated, but the government and institutions keep them from thriving.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Edison Artist Displays Work Reflecting Travels Across U.S., India, and Europe at HP Library

From The Home News Tribune:

HIGHLAND PARK — Indrani Choudhury is not
formally trained in art.

But the Edison resident has spent the last five years
working full time on her water color paintings,
which mostly include landscapes.

Her wide range of subjects reflects a life across
continents and cultures. Her paintings, which span
her whole universe, take us into courtyards and
bustling streets of her childhood in Calcutta, India
and on her travels across Europe and America.

"I take pictures of beautiful landscapes and paint
from that," the 59-year-old self-taught artist said.

Choudhury, who has had a career as a biomedical
research scientist for 25 years in both India and the
United States, worked most recently at the University
of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in

In mid-2005, she decided to take a break from her
job and focus on her first love: painting.

What was planned as a one or two year break
developed into something more and now she
doesn't plan to go back to work as a scientist.

"I set up an easel in my guest room and returned to
a childhood passion," Choudhury said. "Since then,
my work has been developing in new technical and
imaginative directions."

She has even set up a website and sold couple of
her paintings, she said.

The Highland Park Public Library, 31 N. Fifth Ave.,
will exhibit, "Dreams Deferred, Dreams Fulfilled," a
water color show by Choudhury, through the end of
this month.

"It is a very inspiring exhibit," library spokesperson
Valeri Drach Weidmann said. "It shows that
somebody who has had a long career in a different
area can just pick up from their childhood and
explore their interests."

Additional information is available by calling the
library at 732-572-2750 or visiting www.hpplnj.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Submit Yer Face for NB Free Public Library Exhibit

From the New Brunswick Free Public Library:

The New Brunswick Free Public Library and Alfa Art Gallery are bringing the photographs of local residents to public attention in an exhibition entitled ”Faces of New Brunswick.” Entrants in the New Brunswick Free Public Library’s summer photography contest will be featured in exhibitions in the Alfa Art Gallery and the Library’s Community Room. The reception will be held on Friday, August 27 6:00-8.30pm. at the Alfa Art Gallery. First, second and third place award winners in the photography contest will be announced at the reception. Please note that the photo submission deadline has been extended from Tuesday August 3, 2010 to Tuesday August 10, 2010. Photos will be on display at both locations from. August 27th- September 13, 2010.

This program has been made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Art/ Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; through a grant provided by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission / Board of Chosen Freeholders.

For more information on the exhibition or reception, contact Kavita Pandey at 732-745-5108, ext. 20 or For information about the Alfa Art Gallery, contact Galina Kourtev at 732-296-6720.