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America’s School Funding Crisis: Budget Cuts, Rising Costs And No Help In Sight




LA Johnson/NPR

Back in May, school funding experts predicted a looming financial disaster for the nation’s K-12 schools.

“I think we’re about to see a school funding crisis unlike anything we have ever seen in modern history,” warned Rebecca Sibilia, the founder of EdBuild, a school finance advocacy organization. “We are looking at devastation that we could not have imagined … a year ago.”

But those warnings, like everything else that happened in May, feel like a lifetime ago. Where do things stand now? First, a little good news:

“So we’re not looking at a disastrous year this year,” says Michael Griffith at the Learning Policy Institute. He says the CARES Act, signed in March, helped states avoid a short-term school funding disaster.

Remember, schools get about half of their funding from state tax revenues, which have taken a big hit in the pandemic. States were facing budget cuts in the 20-30% range, Griffith says. But thanks, in part, to those federal CARES Act dollars, it’s just “a bad year,” he explains — “between 15 and 20%.”

The bad news is that those cuts are still pretty deep.

“There are about 570,000 fewer local education jobs” this year compared to the start of the previous school year, says Michael Leachman, who studies state fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Those are teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, secretaries, librarians, counselors.”

Sibilia says one reason we haven’t seen even more cuts is “because all of our elected leaders are putting their head in the sand.”

Many politicians are wary of making big, unpopular cuts before the election, Sibilia explains, and instead are draining their rainy day funds or hiding the pain with budgeting tricks. Some states are also stalling, Leachman says, “because they hope the federal government will step in.”

It’s not clear when — or even if — lawmakers in Washington will agree on another relief package for schools. The CARES Act was seven months ago, and, while the coronavirus relief bill did provide K-12 schools with more than $13 billion in emergency funding (an average boost of about $270 per student), the money came with tight restrictions on how it could be spent and won’t begin to cover schools’ continuing costs — costs that are currently skyrocketing.

“In this moment, I think schools, regardless of what their setup is, need to spend more money than they are used to spending,” says Rebecca Gifford Goldberg at Bellwether Education Partners.

Where kids are back in person, schools have to spend big on things like sanitizer and facility cleaning. If schools run online-only, they’re buying extra laptops and internet hot spots. For schools attempting to do both, it’s a double whammy of new costs to go along with all those budget cuts. “And we haven’t even talked about the financial impact of the catastrophic learning loss that we know is happening, and has happened already,” Gifford Goldberg says.

Many kids have likely lost months of learning, especially students from low-income families. And schools will need to spend a lot to catch them up, potentially hiring teachers and tutors, shrinking class sizes, maybe even extending the school year. And that’s just academics. This pandemic has also set kids back socially and emotionally.

Seven months in, Sibilia says her warning in May — that “we are looking at devastation that we could not have imagined … a year ago” — is not just budget talk about red ink and rainy day funds. “Devastation” is also what happens if an entire generation of vulnerable kids falls behind.



How Canadian Retailers Are Handling The COVID-19 Lockdown





The COVID-19 lockdown has impacted businesses in different industries of different sizes. Even big corporations are suffering as a result of the quarantine while smaller businesses start closing completely. For example, comics shop owners in the United States are having a hard time right now and some have announced that they will not reopen after the quarantine ends.

Thankfully, there are many people helping each other, especially those living in the same community or those working in the same niche. Here’s how Canadian retailers are handling the COVID-19 lockdown.

How Has the Lockdown Affected Businesses?

Most businesses are divided in their positions during the lockdown. The problem is that some businesses are allowed to operate still because they either sell essential products or provide essential services. On the other hand, there are businesses that are forced to shut down completely during the lockdown simply because they are not essential.

What this means is that the workers from the first group of businesses risk their lives more by going to work while the workers from the second group of businesses can’t earn anything while they sit at home. And still, there are different circumstances even within these two major groups.

For example, the first group has some businesses asking their workers to stay at home and work from there. Some even start hiring freelance or remote workers to replace their main body of employees. Writing services review site like Pick The Writer is one of the most popular places to find freelance writers while other platforms can assist with finding other specialists like designers, consultants, and so on.

The issue with this is that some of the businesses replacing their employees, for the time being, can potentially fire their permanent workers which are not very good for these very workers. It is important to be mindful of your team’s well-being, and experienced business owners know this and make sure to look after their employees.

The second group of businesses has some challenges too. There are some businesses within this group that pay their workers even while they sit at home (either for sitting at home and working or for solely sitting at home), but there are also businesses who don’t pay their workers which is even a greater problem.

The thing is that not everyone is prepared for such long periods without receiving a salary. Those who are used to being paid on a monthly basis for their work don’t always set aside money just in case something happens. This is exactly why it is vital to keep in mind that not all of your employees will be able to “survive” the lockdown. Many decide to take out loans or borrow money, but if the quarantine is prolonged further, these might not be enough.

That being said, some employees who are forced to sit at home without work and without being paid are starting to look for other jobs they can work on remotely. This can result in an effect similar to the one where businesses fire their regular workers in favor of freelance workers. If the employees suddenly realize that they prefer freelance work, they can quit their jobs leaving the business with a new problem of finding employees after the lockdown ends


How Can You Improve Your Strategy During the Lockdown?



So, how can you improve your business strategy during the lockdown? Here are some practices Canadian retailers have been using to handle the COVID-19 lockdown:

  1. Streamline Processes: One of the best things to do when you have so much more free time is to analyze how well your business is working and think about which things can and should be improved. By streamlining processes, you will be able to significantly increase your revenue, reduce expenses, and so on.
  2. Reduce Costs: Actually, reducing costs does not necessarily mean that you will first need to streamline your processes. You will need to examine your expenses and decide what things take too much from your budget and whether or not these costs can be reduced in some way. If this is possible, then definitely go for it.
  3. Take a Break: It’s true that for a business to function properly, you need to keep it working and continue moving forward. However, the lockdown provides you with a unique opportunity to finally take a break. This is especially useful for small business owners who are either the only employee or have one or two employees besides themselves. You can’t open it right now, so sit back and relax at home. You won’t have a vacation like this anytime soon.
  4. Support Customers: During the lockdown, most business owners tend to think about their businesses first which are completely natural. However, you need to understand that your customers also need support, especially if you sell products that are essential for them. Provide them with discounts and gifts, offer delivery options, and so on.
  5. Evaluate Prices: Evaluating your prices is also a way to support your customers. Maybe you could sell some products for a reduced price during the lockdown and raise the prices back up once you go back to the usual business.
  6. Keep the Focus: Online: Keeping the focus online means that you dedicate more time to your online efforts instead of thinking merely about your physical store as you do on a regular basis. Improve your social media marketing strategy, update or redesign your website, and so on.
  7. Limit Store Access: When it comes to businesses that are still open, it is important to remember the necessary regulations. Don’t let too many customers inside your store at the same time, ensure that you disinfect your store at all the set times, and maybe even provide your customers with free face masks or gloves.
  8. Do Research: Doing online research is now much easier because almost everyone is spending their time online because of all the free time they have. You can survey your customers all you like and get a lot of valuable statistical data that you can then use in your marketing and product development.
  9. Publish Content: Publishing content is an aspect of keeping the focus online, but there’s still something more to it. By publishing entertaining, educational, and other content online during the lockdown, you can improve your company’s reputation, raises your brand awareness, get extra exposure, and so much more.
  10. Renovate and Innovate: Renovation and innovation go hand in hand with progress, so if you want your business to develop, you will need to think of these two. Now that you have more time, you can renovate your store, find new approaches to advertising, improve your products, and so on.
  11. Plan A Re-Opening Sale: Last but not least, retailers are getting ready for what will come after the lockdown. You need to plan a re-opening sale which is what will come right after businesses can finally open and let in customers.

Final Thoughts

All in all, there are many things you can do to make the quarantine easier to bear for you and your business. In general, Canadian retailers are doing fine right now, but some admit that the lockdown brings challenges they haven’t experienced before.


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Visualizing the Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface




Biodiversity benefits humanity in many ways.

It helps make the global economy more resilient, it functions as an integral part of our culture and identity, and research has shown it’s even linked to our physical health.

However, despite its importance, Earth’s biodiversity has decreased significantly over the last few decades. In fact, between 1970 and 2016, the population of vertebrate species fell by 68% on average worldwide. What’s causing this global decline?

Today’s graphic uses data from WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 to illustrate the biggest threats to Earth’s biodiversity, and the impact each threat has had globally.

Measuring the Loss of Biodiversity

Before looking at biodiversity’s biggest threats, first thing’s first—how exactly has biodiversity changed over the years?

WWF uses the Living Planet Index (LPI) to measure biodiversity worldwide. Using data from over 4,000 different species, LPI tracks the abundance of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians across the globe.

Here’s a look at each region’s average decline between 1970 and 2016:

Rank Region Average decline (between 1970 and 2016)
1 Latin America & Caribbean 94%
2 Africa 65%
3 Asia Pacific 45%
4 North America 33%
5 Europe and Central Asia 24%

Latin America & Caribbean has seen the biggest drop in biodiversity at 94%. This region’s drastic decline has been mainly driven by declining reptile, amphibian, and fish populations.

Despite varying rates of loss between regions, it’s clear that overall, biodiversity is on the decline. What main factors are driving this loss, and how do these threats differ from region to region?

Biggest Threats to Biodiversity, Overall

While it’s challenging to create an exhaustive list, WWF has identified five major threats and shown each threats proportional impact, averaged across all regions:

Threat Proportion of threat (average across all regions)
Changes in land and sea use 50%
Species overexploitation 24%
Invasive species and disease 13%
Pollution 7%
Climate Change 6%

Across the board, changes in land and sea use account for the largest portion of loss, making up 50% of recorded threats to biodiversity on average. This makes sense, considering that approximately one acre of the Earth’s rainforests is disappearing every two seconds.

Species overexploitation is the second biggest threat at 24% on average, while invasive species takes the third spot at 13%.

Biggest Threats to Biodiversity, By Region

When looking at the regional breakdown, the order of threats in terms of biodiversity impact is relatively consistent across all regions—however, there are a few discrepancies:

In Latin America and Caribbean, climate change has been a bigger biodiversity threat than in other regions, and this is possibly linked to an increase in natural disasters. Between 2000 and 2013, the region experienced 613 extreme climate and hydro-meteorological events, from typhoons and hurricanes to flash floods and droughts.

Another notable variation from the mean is species over-exploitation in Africa, which makes up 35% of the region’s threats. This is higher than in other regions, which sit around 18-27%.

While the regional breakdowns differ slightly from place to place, one thing remains constant across the board—all species, no matter how small, play an important role in the maintenance of Earth’s ecosystems.

Will we continue to see a steady decline in Earth’s biodiversity, or will things level out in the near future?


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Forex Market: Unlocking Opportunities for Investors




In 2019, the global foreign exchange market (forex) was valued at a jaw-dropping $2.4 quadrillion.

In fact, this is equal to more than 50 times China, Japan, Germany, India and the U.S.’s economic output combined. Institutional investors, such as investment banks, pension funds, and large corporations have typically dominated this space, but there are avenues for individuals to enter the market as well.

This infographic from Compare Forex Brokers breaks down the world’s most interconnected financial market, and how individual investors can start trading.

The Forex Market: A Global Landscape

Across the forex market, 170 major, minor, and exotic currency pairs can be traded as contracts for difference (CFDs). A CFD enables you to speculate on whether the price of an asset will rise or fall.

Here, trades are conducted on over the counter (OTC) markets—non-centralized markets made up of a network of participants. This is different from traditional markets, such as the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, which operate on formal, centralized exchanges.

While the forex market is by nature, decentralized, these core regions show where forex transactions are most concentrated by market participants including banks, commercial businesses, or individual investors.

Globally, the majority of forex trading takes place within the following hubs.

Forex Trading Centers (2019) Country Share of Global Over the Counter (OTC) Forex Turnover
1 UK 43.1%
2 U.S. 16.5%
3 Singapore 7.6%
4 Hong Kong 7.6%
5 Japan 4.5%
6 Switzerland 3.3%
7 France 2.0%
8 China 1.6%
9 Germany 1.5%
10 Australia 1.4%

Source: BIS

The UK accounts for over 43% of global forex trading, averaging $2.7 trillion daily according to the 2019 Triennial Central Bank Survey by the Bank for International Settlements. London’s geographic location between the U.S. and Asia makes it an optimal forex trading centre—a trend that has held strong over the last 50 years.

With forex trading in the U.S. jumping over 50% in the last decade, the U.S. is the next most active forex market. Meanwhile, averaging $633 billion in trading volumes in 2019, Singapore is Asia’s largest forex trading center, with Hong Kong following close behind.

The Top Seven Currency Pairs

What are the most highly-traded currency pairs?

Overall, 68% of global forex trading falls into seven major currency pairs.

  Top Seven Currency Pairs Percentage of Total
1 United States Dollar vs Euro 24.0%
2 United States Dollar vs Japanese Yen 17.8%
3 United States Dollar vs Great British Pound 9.3%
4 United States Dollar vs Australian Dollar 5.2%
5 United States Dollar vs Canadian Dollar 4.3%
6 United States Dollar vs Chinese Yuan 3.8%
7 United States Dollar vs Swiss Franc 3.6%

Source: BIS

Currency prices are impacted by factors including inflation, international trade, political stability, among other macroeconomic factors.

Breaking Down Institutional and Retail Trading

While commercial and central banks, hedge funds, and investment managers make up most of the forex market, only 5.5% are individual investors.

Importantly, they differ in a few key ways.

Institutional Forex Trading Retail Forex Trading
– Buy and sell the physical currency

Interdealer market: Large institutions trade on an interdealer market, which is a non-centralized network of dealers

Less formal: Often trades are conducted by phone, email or instant message.

Non-transparent: Execution prices and buy/sell orders are not visible to the market.

– Buy and sell contracts for difference (CFD)

Contracts for Difference (CFD): CFDs allow traders to speculate on the price of an underlying asset. Traders do not own the underlying asset.

Long and Short Trades: Traders can take a long or short position:

Long position: buying a CFD with the expectation the asset’s market price will increase.

Short position: selling a CFD with the expectation the asset’s market price will decrease.

For various reasons, retail forex trading increases in popularity year after year. However, before diving in, it is important to know the stakes involved in this speculative market.

Understanding the High Risk of Forex Trading

Retail forex trading is, at is core, very risky.

In 2019, 71% of all retail forex trades lost money. One explanation is the highly leveraged nature of the market—many investors trade using borrowed money. But while trading with leverage can magnify losses, it also applies to gains.

Key Benefits of the Forex Market

While there is risk inherent in the market, what are some of the advantages in forex trading?

  1. Low transaction costs: No exchange or regulatory fees. Overall trading costs are low with both commission and no commission pricing structures available.
  2. High liquidity: Along with being the largest market globally, it is also the most liquid with $6.6 trillion in daily trading volume.
  3. 24-hour market: Trading is not confined to limited hours or time zones.
  4. Leverage: Forex brokers offer retail traders leverage which allows the to increase their exposure

Unlike equities, currency trading is all about relativity. A currency can depreciate overall, but can also appreciate relative to a currency that has depreciated even more.

Connect to New Markets

While big gains are possible, many trades lose money, but regulatory improvements have helped build trust in the market.

Meanwhile, multiple digital platforms provide a link to global currencies, allowing retail forex traders to enter the market and trade from any location. For those comfortable taking more risk, currency markets offer opportunities with outsized potential.


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5 Big Picture Trends Being Accelerated by the Pandemic




View a more detailed version of the above by clicking here

Every year it feels like the gaming industry sees the same stories—record sales, unfathomable market reach, and questions of how much higher the market can go.

We’re already far past the point of gaming being the biggest earning media sector, with an estimated $165 billion revenue generated in 2020.

But as our graphic above helps illustrate, it’s important to break down shifting growth within the market. Research from Pelham Smithers shows that while the tidal wave of gaming has only continued to swell, the driving factors have shifted over the course of gaming history.

1970–1983: The Pre-Crash Era

At first, there was Atari.

Early prototypes of video games were developed in labs in the 1960s, but it was Atari’s release of Pong in 1972 that helped to kickstart the industry.

The arcade table-tennis game was a sensation, drawing in consumers eager to play and companies that started to produce their own knock-off versions. Likewise, it was Atari that sold a home console version of Pong in 1975, and eventually its own Atari 2600 home console in 1977, which would become the first console to sell more than a million units.

In short order, the arcade market began to plateau. After dwindling due to a glut of Pong clones, the release of Space Invaders in 1978 reinvigorated the market.

Arcade machines started to be installed everywhere, and new franchises like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong drove further growth. By 1982, arcades were already generating more money than both the pop music industry and the box office.

1985–2000: The Tech Advancement Race

Unfortunately, the gaming industry grew too quickly to maintain.

Eager to capitalize on a growing home console market, Atari licensed extremely high budget ports of Pac-Man and a game adaptation of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. They were rushed to market, released in poor quality, and cost the company millions in returns and more in brand damage.

As other companies also looked to capitalize on the market, many other poor attempts at games and consoles caused a downturn across the industry. At the same time, personal computers were becoming the new flavor of gaming, especially with the release of the Commodore 64 in 1982.

It was a sign of what was to define this era of gaming history: a technological race. In the coming years, Nintendo would release the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) home console in 1985 (released in Japan as the Famicom), prioritizing high quality games and consistent marketing to recapture the wary market.

On the backs of games like Duck Hunt, Excitebike, and the introduction of Mario in Super Mario Bros, the massive success of the NES revived the console market.

Estimated Total Console Sales by Manufacturer (1970-2020)

Manufacturer Home Console sales Handheld Console Sales Total Sales
Nintendo 318 M 430 M 754 M
Sony 445 M 90 M 535 M
Microsoft 149 M 149 M
Sega 64-67 M 14 M 81 M
Atari 31 M 1 M 32 M
Hudson Soft/NEC 10 M 10 M
Bandai 3.5 M 3.5 M

Source: Wikipedia

Nintendo looked to continue its dominance in the field, with the release of the Game Boy handheld and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. At the same time, other competitors stepped in to beat them at their own game.

In 1988, arcade company Sega entered the fray with the Sega Mega Drive console (released as the Genesis in North America) and then later the Game Gear handheld, putting its marketing emphasis on processing power.

Electronics maker Sony released the PlayStation in 1994, which used CD-ROMs instead of cartridges to enhance storage capacity for individual games. It became the first console in history to sell more than 100 million units, and the focus on software formats would carry on with the PlayStation 2 (DVDs) and PlayStation 3 (Blu-rays).

Even Microsoft recognized the importance of gaming on PCs and developed the DirectX API to assist in game programming. That “X” branding would make its way to the company’s entry into the console market, the Xbox.

2001–Present: The Online Boom

It was the rise of the internet and mobile, however, that grew the gaming industry from tens of billions to hundreds of billions in revenue.

A primer was the viability of subscription and freemium services. In 2001, Microsoft launched the Xbox Live online gaming platform for a monthly subscription fee, giving players access to multiplayer matchmaking and voice chat services, quickly becoming a must-have for consumers.

Meanwhile on PCs, Blizzard was tapping into the Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) subscription market with the 2004 release of World of Warcraft, which saw a peak of more than 14 million monthly paying subscribers.

All the while, companies saw a future in mobile gaming that they were struggling to tap into. Nintendo continued to hold onto the handheld market with updated Game Boy consoles, and Nokia and BlackBerry tried their hands at integrating game apps into their phones.

But it was Apple’s iPhone that solidified the transition of gaming to a mobile platform. The company’s release of the App Store for its smartphones (followed closely by Google’s own store for Android devices) paved the way for app developers to create free, paid, and pay-per-feature games catered to a mass market.

Now, everyone has their eyes on that growing $85 billion mobile slice of the gaming market, and game companies are starting to heavily consolidate.

Major Gaming Acquisitions Since 2014

Date Acquirer Target and Sector Deal Value (US$)
Apr. 2014 Facebook Oculus – VR $3 Billion
Aug. 2014 Amazon Twitch – Streaming $970 Million
Nov. 2014 Microsoft Mojang – Games $2.5 Billion
Feb. 2016 Activision Blizzard King – Games $5.9 Billion
Jun. 2016 Tencent Supercell – Games $8.6 Billion
Feb. 2020 Embracer Group Saber Interactive – Games $525 Million
Sep. 2020 Microsoft ZeniMax Media – Games $7.5 Billion
Nov. 2020 Take-Two Interactive Codemasters – Games $994 Million

Console makers like Microsoft and Sony are launching cloud-based subscription services even while they continue to develop new consoles. Meanwhile, Amazon and Google are launching their own services that work on multiple devices, mobile included.

After seeing the success that games like Pokémon Go had on smartphones—reaching more than $1 billion in yearly revenue—and Grand Theft Auto V’s record breaking haul of $1 billion in just three days, companies are targeting as much of the market as they can.

And with the proliferation of smartphones, social media games, and streaming services, they’re on the right track. There are more than 2.7 billion gamers worldwide in 2020, and how they choose to spend their money will continue to shape gaming history as we know it.


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