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When Public Higher Ed Falls into the Government Monopoly Model

I’m not sure what the effect may be, but this, from Melissa Korn in the Wall Street Journal, is certainly interesting in light of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s vote-buying move to force Rhode Island taxpayers to cover two years of college in public institutions of higher education:

Small, private colleges have found a new place to troll for prospective students: At community colleges down the road, or even across the country.

Private colleges regularly discount listed tuition rates, often by more than 50%, to appeal to students, though extreme price cuts can lead to further financial stress. In shifting some aid money to transfer students who would otherwise go to public four-year schools, the private institutions are betting they can win over cost-conscious prospects and book at least a few years of enrollment at small margins, which they say is better than none at all.

One could suggest that government’s providing a free college option would drive down the prices of private-sector competitors, but one suspects the more-likely effect will be to drive them out of business.  It isn’t easy to compete with “free.”

If I had to bet, I’d predict that moving higher education toward the public education near-monopoly approach we see in lower-order grades will, at first, put a lot of private schools out of business, preserving mainly those that serve as markers of social class for wealthy Americans or offer unique curricula.  Then, down the road, as we’ve seen with elementary and secondary schools, as higher ed increasingly follows the government model (rather than being an area in which the government attempts to generally follow a private-sector model), the quality will collapse, and demand will increase to provide subsidies to private colleges and universities as a matter of equity.

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Fix-the-System Reform Means Preserving the Very Things Causing the Problems

Andy Smarick, of the American Enterprise Institute, explains how President Obama wasted a whole lot of money for zero results in education reform:

The final IES report on the SIG program is devastating to the Obama administration’s legacy. An evaluation commissioned by the US Department of Education and conducted by two highly respected research institutions delivered a crushing verdict: The program failed and failed badly.

As I’ve periodically written, fix-the-system education reforms that seek to preserve the very qualities that are causing the problem — predictable labor union incentives, central planning, the disconnect of decision making from bill paying, and a lack of direct accountability to students and parents — cannot work. We must admit this.

In any area of life except government (specifically, progressive government) it would be considered pathological to look for all sorts of complicated ways to avoid addressing the underlying problem of unhealthy behavior.  Unfortunately, the clear objective of those who do such things (specifically, progressives) is to make government do things it shouldn’t be doing, so of course perpetuating that activity becomes the irreducible factor.

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Sleazy Raimondo Political Pitches to Under-Prepared Students Continue

Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo brought her gross pitching-politics-to-public-schoolers road show to Johnston Senior High School this week:

Gov. Gina Raimondo is out on the campaign trail, taking her pitch to high schools.

“You go from kindergarten to twelfth grade with public education. Why should it stop at twelfth grade?” Raimondo asked an auditorium of students at Johnston High School on Tuesday.

Afterward, she told reporters it is indeed a campaign to rally support for her plan to offer two free years of college tuition to Rhode Island high school graduates.

One wonders whether she believes it’s a positive or negative that the school has left her audience poorly equipped to assess the wisdom of her proposal.  More than 82% of Johnston Senior High School students are not proficient in math, and two-thirds miss the mark in reading.

Sadly, it isn’t clear that Rhode Island adults are very proficient in government ethics and simple good political taste.  Whether or not the governor’s political visits to government-run schools violate any campaign finance or ethics laws, this whole campaign is just unseemly.  The governor is using public schools to lobby our children on a politically charged policy proposal.  Just… yuck.

Shame on the school districts for allowing her to take advantage of their access like this, and shame on the parents for taking the abuse quietly.

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When the “Home-School Community” Is Separate from “the Community”

In Tiverton, the School Committee sees public education as promoting government-branded schools, not ensuring educational services that suit the needs of all of our children, as I’ve written on Tiverton Fact Check:

This distinction became clear at the January 24 meeting of the Tiverton School Committee, which introduced a new policy explicitly denying home-schooled students the opportunity to take classes — particularly technical and vocational classes — outside of the district through arrangements that Tiverton has made. Students enrolled in Tiverton schools can take such classes, even attending alternative schools full time at no cost to their families. …

The education officials in Tiverton have already decided that it is the responsibility of taxpayers to cover the tuition of students who want courses of education that they can’t get within the district. They are just applying that policy in a discriminatory way. No matter how much you may pay in taxes or contribute to the town in some other way, unless you put your children under their complete control, you are part of “the home-school community,” which is apparently separate from simply “the community.”

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Toward an Obvious Education Reform

Rachel McGuire is correct when she writes:

The answer is obvious: We shouldn’t deny any parent – or any child – the benefits of school choice. That’s what National School Choice Week is all about. As we gather this week (through Jan. 28), let us reaffirm the value that comes with opportunity and pledge to continue our work to extend that value to every child in Rhode Island.

Stop by the State House this afternoon to see what school choice is already available in Rhode Island and to hear how more could benefit the state.  This is an issue that should cross ideological and partisan lines.  Indeed, it’s only not obvious because the special interests that benefit from the status quo are so well funded (at taxpayer expense).

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The Start of a Trail of Revelations About Obama Administration Deception

Surprise, surprise.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration used bad data to justify a policy attack on for-profit colleges:

In early January the department disclosed that it had discovered a “coding error” that incorrectly computed College Scorecard repayment rates—that is, the percentage of borrowers who haven’t defaulted and have repaid at least one dollar of their loan principal. The department says the error “led to the undercounting of some borrowers who had not reduced their loan balances by at least one dollar.”

The department played down the mistake, but the new average three-year repayment rate has declined by 20 percentage points to 46%.

Oops!  On the pretext of this information, the Obama administration forced only for-profit colleges to put warning notices on all of their promotional materials, while…

When proposing the regulation, the department claimed that its analysis of Scorecard data showed that a large number of for-profits have repayment rates below 50% while very few public or nonprofit schools do. The department said it would not be fair to “burden” public and nonprofit colleges with a regulation that would apply to so few. Yet based on the updated data, 60% of two-year public colleges and nearly all historically black institutions have repayment rates below 50%.

So was the bad data “alternative facts” or “fake news”?  Ah, never mind.  President Trump insists more people watched his inauguration than probably did.  That’s what’s important.

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Surprise: Teachers’ Unions Are Just Political Activist Groups

I’ve written several times in the past that employee representation services are simply the fund raising mechanism for teachers’ unions’ real reason for being: progressive political activism.  Here’s Paul Bedard in the Washington Examiner:

Promoting a “National Day of Action” on Thursday, the NEA said, “On Thursday, January 19, the day before Donald Trump assumes the presidency, thousands of students, parents, educators and community members from across the nation will hold rallies in front of school buildings to inclusively stand up for all students.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t need to represent their members enough to ensure that they stay members (with wide rivers of funding) at the expense of those whom progressives claim to support.  David Harsanyi in The Federalist:

… teachers unions are the only organizations in America that openly support segregated schools. In districts across the country — even ones in cities with some form of limited movement for kids — poor parents, most typically black or Hispanic, are forced to enroll their kids in underperforming schools when there are good ones nearby, sometimes just blocks away.

The National Education Association spent $23 million last cycle alone working to elect politicians to keep low-income Americans right where they are. Public service unions use tax dollars to fund politicians who then turn around and vote for more funding. The worse the schools perform, the more money they demand. In the real world we call this racketeering.

It’s a travesty that teachers give these organizations a prominent, lucrative place in our government.

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Governor Takes Class Time from School with 10% Proficiency in Math to Pitch Free College

Not to belabor Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s free-tuition vote-buying scheme, but doesn’t this seem presumptuous and out of line:

Gov. Gina Raimondo brought her proposal to provide free tuition to students attending Rhode Island’s public colleges to a cheering crowd of juniors, seniors and faculty at Cranston High School East on Wednesday morning.

In keeping with every other news report I’ve seen, Providence Journal reporter G. Wayne Miller doesn’t say whether the governor made her remarks while appearing at the school for some other reason, and she shared the stage with a bunch of like-minded politicians, so it seems as if class time was simply being used for a political event and photo op.  Republican Mayor Allan Fung — a past and possibly future contender for governor — had to offer his views via press release.

One could see allowing the governor to explain her proposal in the context of a debate in front of the students, but something so even-handed and educational is apparently beyond the ken of Rhode Island public schools.  Instead, Rhode Islanders receive the spectacle of their governor sounding like a candidate for class president, promising that all grades will be on a curve and the cafeteria will bring back decent food.

In case you’re wondering, only 30% of Cranston East students are proficient in reading and 10% in math, which makes the event just about a perfect representation of the governor’s political strategy.  Her policies are geared toward and presented to people who stand to benefit directly, who lack the context or experience to understand the likely consequences, and many of whom can’t legally vote.

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Raimondo Insults Your Intelligence with College Plan

This morning, I noted that legislators are the only people in Rhode Island who can promise workers a 10% increase in pay without worrying about where the money will come from.  It just magically appears in their imaginations.  At noon, I suggested that Rhode Islanders should be embarrassed that their state is so dependent on federal government welfare.

The state government’s latest revenue and caseload conference estimated that the government’s revenue will fall $52 million from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2018.  And during the budget process, last year, the state expected that deficits would climb $40-60 million per year, hitting $333 million by 2021.

So how in the world does Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo state the following — and get away with it in G. Wayne Miller’s Providence Journal article — while promising the new $30 million expense of giving all Rhode Islanders two free years of college at a state institution?

We have the money. This is affordable. It’s a smart solution.

It’s a vote-buying giveaway pure and simple that counts on Rhode Islanders’ not noticing that they’re paying the bill.  It’s an insult to our intelligence.

Moreover, we should expect that the estimated cost is laughably low.  Given free tuition, more families will use the colleges and university, and the institutions will surely increase their tuition rates once the cost to the decision makers (students and their families) is zilch (or half-price, for four-year degrees).  And this doesn’t even get into the governor’s assumptions that people who have no financial skin in the game for their degrees will actually take their studies seriously and apply themselves and that those who do will stay in the state rather than taking their subsidized degrees to states that actually have healthy economies.

One can only hope that Rhode Islanders aren’t so far gone, at this point, that they fall for the governor’s snake oil sale.

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The Conversation Starts Tuesday: Opportunity To Become Self-Sufficient

Everyone concerned about the well-being of our state’s families should be alarmed by our unacceptable 48th-place ranking. It is time to challenge the status quo insider mindset and to search for a more holistic path to help real Rhode Islanders improve their quality of life. This week, the Center will co-host a forum at Bryant University, that will provide an ideal opportunity for community, religious, and political leaders to convene and begin the process.

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Watch for the “Universal Pre-K” Money Grab

This New York Post editorial caught my eye (emphasis added):

As Carl Campanile reported in Monday’s Post, the city teachers union is spending more furiously than a drunken sailor: In the year ending last June 30, the UFT upped outlays by $13 million over the year before, to $182.1 million. That equals the entire budget for the city of Albany.

It helped that the union collected an extra $7 million in dues (to $151 million total), thanks to 7,000 new teachers hired under Mayor de Blasio’s Universal Pre-K program.

UFT boss Michael Mulgrew’s smug justification for it all? “Defending public education is increasingly expensive.”

As the push from the governor and the General Assembly for more unionized “universal pre-K” offerings from Rhode Island’s bank-breaking government schools continues, with talk of how it increases equity and all that, remember this central motivation.  Some of those union outlays go politicians, after all.  It certainly isn’t clear that such programs actually benefit children.

Of course, in Rhode Island, we’re a long, long way from putting our children before powerful special interests.

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An Example of Anti-Community Labor Union Influence

Chicago lawyer Michael Hendershot takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to relate an anecdote from his daughter’s public elementary school:

Due to a combination of budget cuts and enrollment numbers that were lower than expected, Pritzker’s librarian was laid off shortly after this school year began. Without a librarian, Pritzker students aren’t allowed to use the library. Dozens of parents have offered to volunteer in the library to keep it open. There was so much interest that the parent-teacher organization created a rotating schedule of regular volunteers to help out.

But before parents could begin volunteering, a teachers union member filed a formal complaint with the school system, objecting to the parents’ plan. Several weeks later, a union representative appeared at a local school council meeting and informed parents that the union would not stand for parental volunteers in the library. Although the parents intended to do nothing more than help students check books in and out, the union claimed that the parents would be impermissibly filling a role reserved for teachers. The volunteer project was shut down following the meeting and the library is currently being used for dance classes.

Yes, as common a practice as it is in the mainstream media, it’s often unfair to pluck such local stories from around the country and hold them up as examples, but one could easily see this coming up in Rhode Island and easily imagine local unionists arguing for the lockout.  As former President of the RI Federation of Teachers Marcia Reback once put it, when the interests of the students and the teachers are different, “I represent the teachers.”

The problem is that this is the intrinsic incentive structure created by unionization.  It might (might) be appropriate within a private company constrained by market forces and without the muddying influence of union members’ being able to elect the management with whom they’ll be negotiating (like fellow union members from neighboring towns), and it might work for jobs that really are easily enumerated and packaged, but this mentality doesn’t belong anywhere near the education of children.

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Horwitz Cranks the Left-Wing Noise Machine on WPRO

Steve Klamkin’s WPRO interview with Roger Williams University Law Professor Andrew Horwitz is unbelievable.  Horwitz is a Rhode Island signatory to a “character assassination” letter promoted by a bunch of his peers about President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions (R, Alabama) as attorney general.

The guy — that is, Professor Horwitz — gave over $5,000 to Rhode Island Democrats between the 2012 and 2016 elections, and to listen to Klamkin’s interview, you’d think he’s either a neutral expert called in to talk about some apolitical topic or a charitable philanthropist who’s organizing for an objectively good cause that Klamkin wants to help him promote.

In reality, the “news” is probably that Horwitz is the typical signer of this letter: not somebody offering a professional assessment, but a political hack.  Glenn Reynolds has it right: “At this point, the Left is mostly just a noise machine.”  The longer it runs, the more people will tune it out, which will be a benefit on the political front, but a detriment when it comes to the news media and even academia.

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Not Surprising a Social Justice Warrior Would Bring Students to a Trump Protest

This is hardly surprising:

Central Falls High School math teacher Seth Kolker has independently organized the group [joining the anti-Trump “Women’s March on Washington”]. He did so to help students “channel their fear, anger and confusion” after the election, when they began asking such questions as, “Will I be deported,” or “Are Latinos going to be allowed to go to high school in America anymore?” 

Some might question the propriety of public school teachers’ using their positions of influence with students as a connecting point for political activism, but remember that Central Falls is the school district that is literally hiring social justice Warriors.  Of course, if we were to flip the politics, the Providence Journal would have written a scandal story rather than a celebrate-the-community story.

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Propaganda Reversing the Impression of Economic Conclusions

On the topic of school choice, Scott Alexander appears to have spotted an example of the way in which the mainstream media phrases research in such a way as to create a false, left-wing impression of the news.  The relevant New York Times headline is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It,” but looking at the data, Alexander suggests:

A more accurate way to summarize this graph is “About twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn’t.”

By leaving it at “only a third of economists support vouchers”, the article implies that there is an economic consensus against the policy. Heck, it more than implies it – its title is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It”. But its own source suggests that, of economists who have an opinion, a large majority are pro-voucher.

In a separate post, Alexander elaborates on why he believes the Times report is skewed, but the most persuasive evidence can be found by going to the Times’s source and reading the comments of the surveyed economists.  Here’s David Autor of MIT, who was marked down as “disagreeing” that school choice would produce “a higher quality [of] education” (rating his confidence at 6 of 10) (emphasis added):

Some students would benefit and the average effect might indeed be positive. But some students would surely be harmed.

By this standard, improvement only counts if universal; indeed, that appears to be the complaint of many “disagreers,” as well as some “uncertains.”  Here’s Ray Fair of Yale, who is level-10 confident in his uncertainty:

I think the majority of public school students would be better off, but certainly not all.

Wondering how much of all expert opinion is really predicated on a priori conclusions, I can’t resist juxtaposing this with progressives’ approach to the minimum wage, regarding which they acknowledge some percentage of people will be worse off but assume the net effect will be positive.

Experts’ differing opinions are, of course, legitimate, but spinning them to create a false impression of consensus isn’t news; it’s propaganda.

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Social Dynamism in Government Policy

A Wall Street Journal editorial has gotten some attention with the headline, “School Choice Saves Money“:

Using data from a crime and graduation study by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the Milwaukee study finds that through 2035 Wisconsin will receive a $473 million benefit from higher graduation rates by choice students. More education translates into higher incomes, more tax revenue and a lower likelihood of reliance on government welfare or other payments. Meanwhile, greater economic opportunity also prevents young adults from turning to crime, which the study estimates will save Wisconsin $1.7 million from fewer misdemeanors and $24 million from fewer felonies over the same 20 years.

Some years back the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity had a victory, in our view, pushing dynamic scoring into the legislative debate with our proposal to eliminate the state sales tax.  Dynamic scoring means that one considers the economic effects of a policy and subtracts the increased tax revenue from the policy’s “static” (“sticker,” or first-order) cost.  The above paragraph reminds us that there is a social dynamism, too, reducing the need for government services as well as increasing the tax take from a healthier economy.

Obviously, this has perverse relevance to Rhode Island’s “government plantation,” which might gain back some lost tax revenue but lose clients and political leverage over them.

But imagine if we had policies that kept kids engaged in good schools (through school choice) and gave them opportunities for more entry-level jobs (through a lower minimum wage and reduced licensing requirements). It might just reduce the cost of paying government to mitigate social problems, create an environment of entrepreneurship, and turn our state around.

Of course, it would require us to shift away from the government plantation, so it won’t happen.

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Education Overreach to Public Violence

Heather Mac Donald’s connection of holiday-season mall violence with federal pressure for public schools not to uphold disciplinary standards that may affect minorities disproportionately is worthy of consideration:

The Trump administration must tear up every guidance and mandate in the Justice and Education Departments that penalize school districts for disproportionate rates of school discipline. Absent clear proof of teacher or administrator racism, Washington should let schools correct student behavioral problems as they see fit. Students in classrooms where disruption is common are far less likely to learn; that is the civil rights problem that should get activists’ attention. Taxpayer dollars should not be funding specious federal crusades against phantom discrimination; school districts might have more resources if their local taxpayers were not also being hit by federal levies, which are redistributed around the country in the delusional pursuit of “social justice.” Until the two-parent family is reconstructed, classrooms remain the only hope for socializing children and for preventing the teen violence that broke out across the country this Christmas. Schools can only accomplish that civilizing mission, however, if they are allowed to insist on strict rules, respect for authority, and consequences for misconduct.

I generally agree with Mac Donald’s reasoning, here, although I’d want to look at some more evidence of the claim that she’s making if such a policy were to come up in Rhode Island.  Assuming she’s correct, though, I can only wonder how we can get people to see such progressive destruction for the misguided meddling that it is.

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Agreement That RI Liberals Should Meet People Outside Their Comfort Zone

I had to chuckle at this paragraph from the Providence Journal’s “R.I. business innovators: 11 trailblazers to follow in 2016“:

As the head of the all-girls Lincoln School in Providence, [Suzanne] Fogarty, 48, is making sure her students have not only the skills but the mindset to be nimble in a fast-changing workplace. She is also pushing her students to experience people and places that extend well beyond their comfort zone.

Sadly, the subsequent paragraph makes clear that she’s not talking about having the school’s students meet, interact, and appreciate the points of view of conservatives, whether locally or in other parts of the country.

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Education Outside of the Progressive Bubble

Education policy is certainly an area in which the establishment Left has been giving greater insight into its true beliefs, lately.  Maybe it’s the shock of following eight years in which the White House floated within the progressive bubble with the sharp prick of its exit under Donald Trump.  Here’s Frederick Hess, writing on National Review Online:

Within days of [Betsy] DeVos’s nomination [for education secretary], the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Columbia University professor Aaron Pallas that included this: “I’ve been joking that Ben Carson’s – Trump’s pick to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – primary qualification is that he grew up in a house. But Betsy DeVos attended private schools and sent her children to them. Her qualification to be Secretary of Education? She doesn’t even have that going for her.”

In a December New Yorker story titled “Betsy DeVos and the Plan to Break Public Schools,” columnist Rebecca Mead lamented that DeVos graduated from Holland Christian High School, “which characterizes its mission thus: ‘to equip minds and nurture hearts to transform the world for Jesus Christ.’” The horror of it all. Apparently, the 5.4 million students enrolled in 33,000 private schools have no standing at the U.S. Department of Education, parents (like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) who send their children to private schools have no standing in education policy, and graduates from religious schools are to be regarded with suspicion.

Education, to these people, is not about informing children; it’s about maintaining a near monopoly for labor unions and an industry for bureaucrats.  Perhaps more centrally, though, its mission is to shape children, and shape them according to the progressive worldview.  Allowing more than a sliver of well-heeled students to be shaped according to the religious views of their parents is, to progressives, heresy.

They know they need the free run of 12-20 years of indoctrination for their delusional, emotion-driven beliefs to stand up against reality when students exit to the real world.  (Of course, it helps if they can then keep the dependency going with corporate and social welfare and other programs, like loan forgiveness.)

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Smart Students, All Students, Deserve an Opportunity to Decide Where They’ll Learn Best

Jay Mathews has it right when it comes to the inadequacy of America’s current method of handling our top students, but I’m not sure I agree with the tilt of his solution:

“There was absolutely no incentive to worry about the achievement of those who had already reached, or were likely to reach, that bar,” the report says. “To put it bluntly, NCLB did some good for America’s struggling pupils, but for high achievers, it mostly hit the education pause button. . . . Those most victimized by this regime were high-achieving poor and minority students — kids who were dependent on the school system to cultivate their potential and accelerate their achievement.”

In keeping with my post earlier today, the broad way of thinking wherein we’ll actually find the solution seems not even to be on the table.  Why do we insist that, throughout a given state or from coast to coast, district school systems must be prepared to answer the needs of every single student, no matter his or her specific aptitude or circumstances?  Empower families and students to choose their own educational environments, and they’ll find their level, including schools that answer their specific needs — needs that are complex enough for individuals and those close to them to discern and that cannot possibly be considered adequately by distant agencies and boards.

There’s a reason families report more satisfaction across every criterion when their children go to private schools, first, or charter schools, second, and it’s not just because those schools tend to be better.  Rather, those schools better answer their students particular needs, whatever they are.

It’s past time for us to acknowledge that our school system’s focus should be placing students where they’ll excel, not on maintaining government control of education.

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