Posts tagged ‘politics’

May 22, 2015

New York Governor Cuomo pushes tax credits for private schools

by Grace

New York Governor Cuomo has proposed a “Parental Choice in Education Act”, a $150 million tax credit benefiting private schools.

… The Act provides for $150 million in education tax credits annually that will provide:

  1. Tax credits to low-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools,
  2. Scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend either a public school outside of their district or a nonpublic school,
  3. Incentives to public schools for enhanced educational programming (like after school programs); and,
  4. Tax credits to public school teachers for the purchase of supplies.

It’s no surprise that teacher unions oppose these proposals, while religious leaders support them.  The outlook is uncertain for passage, and the outcome may give a clue about the strength of the school choice movement in New York.

May 4, 2015

Pending version of NCLB bill removes pressure on states to use Common Core Standards

by Grace

The pending successor to No Child Left Behind that is the latest version of the reauthrized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will take federal pressure off states to use Common Core Standards.

The latest bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), was unanimously approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee and appears to have a good chance of approval by both houses.  It does not incentivize states into adopting CCS.  Committee chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R) described it this way.

… our proposal would end federal test-based accountability and restore state and local responsibility for creating systems holding schools and teachers accountable. State accountability systems must meet limited federal guidelines, including challenging academic standards for all students, but the federal government is prohibited from determining or approving state standards or even incentivizing states into adopting specific standards. In other words, whether a state adopts Common Core is entirely that state’s decision. This transfer of responsibility is why we believe our proposal will result in fewer and more appropriate tests.

Our proposal allows, but does not require, states to develop and implement teacher evaluation systems that link student achievement to teacher performance. States will be allowed to use federal funds to implement evaluations the way they see fit.

Without knowing more details, it’s difficult to know if there will be much pressure for states to establish and maintain high academic standards.  How individual states react may be at least partly determined by how much pressure they feel from teacher unions and parents, many of whom have opposed CCS implementation.

Jennifer Rubin sees a compromise that partially placates several groups..

… The president will get NCLB reauthorized, conservatives will make sure the feds’ role is properly restricted, conservative activists can chalk up a win and backers of high standards can disentangle that issue from NCLB.

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Jennifer Rubin, “A big legislative win on education”, Washington Post,  April 24, 2015.

April 17, 2015

Traditional public schools are a “strange value system for the left to embrace’

by Grace

Is Neighborhood-Based Education Liberal?

Jonathan Chait tarnished his liberal credentials by arguing that traditional public schools are actually less progressive than charter schools.

… Traditional, neighborhood-based schools are limited to local residents and pay their teachers based on length of service. Charter schools are open to students regardless of what property their parents can afford, and (generally) have non-unionized teachers with more flexible, merit-based pay scales. Unions care a great deal about preserving traditional tenure systems, so they lionize the neighborhood-based system that comes alongside it. But it’s a very strange value system for the left to embrace.

It is an interesting point to consider.

However, apparently Chait cannot be trusted to uphold traditional liberal values in the area of education because his wife “holds a high level position at the Center City Public Charter Schools and … a chunk of his family’s income is dependent upon the charter school movement”.  That’s interesting to know, and is duly noted.

———

Jonathan Chait, “Is Neighborhood-Based Education Liberal?”, New York Magazine, April 14, 2015.

March 10, 2015

Which are the ‘altruistic’ professions that deserve special treatment?

by Grace

High school history teacher Kate LeSueur wrote that she wishes to “enlighten” us “on the discrepancy between the price of my education and the salary of an altruistic career such that of an educator”.

She compared a master’s in education with a master’s of business administration, pointing out that individuals with MBA degrees typically enjoy substantially higher salaries and lower student debt levels.

Why is it that we both went to school for the same amount of time and both earned master’s, yet my degree costs more and I get paid significantly less? I am not arguing that I deserve $90,000 a year — only that the cost of my education should be comparable to my salary. Society expects us to accept a fate guaranteeing small paychecks and large student loan bills. I am writing to say, America, we aren’t going to accept it much longer.

I find it hard to accept the rather sweeping statement that teaching is an altruistic career.  Although teacher unions have long maintained the message that all their efforts are “for the children”, I don’t buy it.  I’m not claiming that teaching is rampant with evil, money-hungry people, but neither are most other professions.  A typical MBA working to keep his employer profitable is no less deserving of special adoration than is a typical teacher.  And many people who earn generous salaries show their altruism in other ways, such as donating their time and money to worthy causes.

Furthermore, it’s troubling when the government gets in the business of deciding which jobs deserve special treatment, like the most generous Income Based Repayment benefits that are reserved for government and nonprofit employees.  George Leef points out the consequences of this politicized meddling.

… Whenever the government gets involved in an activity that is not properly any of its business, we get the infamous trio: waste, fraud, abuse, and then the politicians feel the need to meddle still more in an effort to solve the problems they’ve created. The federal student-aid programs are a perfect illustration. Repayment of loans is being politicized, with easy terms for students provided they make the “right” choices in employment. That will only further misallocate resources and help to keep the higher-education bubble inflated.

———

Kate LeSueur, “The price of a good education, $80K and counting”, cleveland.com, March 01, 2015.

February 19, 2015

Do kids only need ‘college’ because high schools are failing?

by Grace

Amy Otto believes the Obama administration’s overall push for more school before and after K-12 is a way to avoid solving the real problem”.

The “real problem” that needs urgent attention is K-12 education, but President Obama proposes “to spend money on preschool or community college instead of substantive reform of K-12″.

Do Kids Need ‘College’ Because High Schools Aren’t Doing Their Job?

Mandating “free” thirteenth and fourteenth grades via community college should make one wonder what is going wrong in tenth through twelfth grade that makes two more years of de facto public school now necessary. Only increasing opportunity can reduce poverty. More “free” preschool or thirteenth grade only serves as palliative care for those in poverty. These programs don’t spark real change, as demonstrated from studies from Obama’s own administration. It’s a tacit admission from Democrats that their goal is not to eliminate poverty but to paper over it with politically charged policy. In fact, what would animate the Democratic Party if poverty were significantly reduced? They much prefer the self-satisfaction of saying they care without ever having to produce results. If no one were poor, whom would they have to feel superior to?

That’s the problem Democrats won’t be addressing any time soon and it’s the one that deserves this nation’s attention. Institutionalizing children earlier and longer won’t lead to more creativity and innovation, which are the real stimulus of economic growth. Real-world experiences—whether it play when young or entry-level jobs when they’re teens—are being taken off the table while politicians mandate more isolation and testing within the confines of public school. Don’t fall for the bait and switch. It’s time to tackle the real challenge that we are already paying too much for universal education and getting diminishing returns.

Even though Head Start produces no long-term benefits, Obama pushes for more of the same.  His recent idea of “free” community college only emphasises the failure of our existing K-12 system to produce competent graduates.

… More “free” preschool or thirteenth grade only serves as palliative care for those in poverty. These programs don’t spark real change, as demonstrated from studies from Obama’s own administration….

Otto offers only vague ideas for alternative solutions: more real world experiences in the form of less structured child care and entry-level jobs for teens.  Those may be helpful, in theory at least.  Actually implementing them successfully is a whole other challenge.  Poor single parents are not easily trained to properly nurture their children and jobs are not instantly created by government dictum.  But if Otto’s ideas are not the best solutions, then “free” preschool and college certainly also fail the test for the best use of taxpayer money.

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Amy Otto, “President Obama Pushes Pre-K And ‘Free’ College Because He’s Got Jack For K-12″, The Federalist, January 23, 2015.

February 16, 2015

Scott Walker — destroyer or savior of higher education?

by Grace

In defending his proposal to cut Wisconsin’s higher education budget by $300 million over two years, Governor Scott Walker admonished professors to “work harder”.

“Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work and this authority frees up the [University of Wisconsin] administration to make those sorts of requests,” …

Maybe he should have focused more on administrative costs, which have far outpaced instructional costs in American universities.

But now comes word from UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank that the cuts would come in the form of layoffs of administrative personnel”.

Deans, directors and department heads will be responsible for making decisions on how budget cuts are allocated, but administrative units will take will take larger cuts in an effort to preserve educational functions, she said.

It seems that common sense may prevail, but concern remains that the governor and possible presidential candidate may be trying to kill liberal arts education.

Walker proposed to rewrite the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. He apparently wanted to strip out its frills (stuff like “extended training,” “public service,” improving “the human condition,” and “the search for truth”) and inject it with a more practical goal: meeting “the state’s workforce needs.”

Walker later backtracked and ‘blamed the changes on a last-minute “drafting error”‘.  But skeptics remain suspicious that liberal arts will increasingly take a back seat to vocational programs.

Liberal-arts and humanities programs at public universities are increasingly under siege as state legislatures cut the institutions’ funding, forcing school administrators to make tough decisions about what to eliminate. The obvious targets are the programs that yield a lower return on investment—at least in a concrete, monetary sense—and are more nebulous in their impact on the economy. What sounds like it has more dollar signs and productivity attached to it: philosophy or America’s favorite new acronym, STEM?

Maybe these critics should also focus on New York’s Democratic Governor Cuomo, who has pushed for increased funding of vocational programs in state colleges, and incentivized partnerships between business and schools that promote workforce training through his START-UP NY initiative.  Cuomo also established a STEM scholarship program last year.

I have not heard of any states pouring additional resources into liberal arts higher education.  Which may be a shame, but is understandable.

This workforce-centric approach “is designed for short-term learning and long-term disaster.”

The problem is that, unlike most STEM fields, universities have lowered standards for liberal arts education.

In theory, a college liberal arts degree is a valuable commodity in the job market. In reality, the way colleges have diluted the curriculum means a liberal arts degree offers little added value in qualifying workers for today’s job market.

So the question is, who is actually trying to kill liberal arts education?

———

Lucy McCalmont, “Scott Walker urges professors to work harder”, Politico, January 29, 2015.

Ann Althouse, “How will the University of Wisconsin—Madison absorb something like $90 million in cuts from Scott Walker’s new budget?”, Althouse, February 12, 2015.

Alia Wongfeb, “The Governor Who (Maybe) Tried to Kill Liberal-Arts Education”, Atlantic, February 11, 2015.

February 2, 2015

How the ‘middle class’ saved 529 plans

by Grace

Why did President Obama do such a quick about-face on 529 plans, first proposing to eliminate them and then a few days later dropping that proposal?  Although it was widely believed that this initiative had zero chance of getting through Congress, it appears Obama’s actions were due to the efforts of the elusive “middle class”.

Several news sources have pointed out how poorly this proposal polled, notably with Democratic voters.  It seems the administration could have predicted this reaction, but apparently they were blindsided.  Obama’s proposal would have penalized wealthy families the most, since 70% of 529 “tax benefits go to households earning more than $200,000″.  As such, “middle class” families would not be seriously hurt by this change.  But here’s the rub.  The vast majority of Americans consider themselves middle class, including many with household incomes well into the six-figure range.

Don’t tax me, tax that rich guy over there.

The first rule of modern tax policy is raise taxes only on the rich. The second rule is that your family isn’t rich, even if you make a lot of money.

President Obama’s State of the Union proposal to end the tax benefits for college savings accounts ran afoul of these rules, which is why he abandoned it, under intense pressure from both political parties, within a week.

Tax-free college savings accounts, like the mortgage interest deduction and the state and local tax deduction, principally benefit people who range from affluent to wealthy. In pushing its proposal, the White House pointed to Federal Reserve data showing that 70 percent of balances in the college accounts were held by families making at least $200,000 a year. In theory, tax reform is supposed to be built around cutting back preferences like these, in order to pay for some combination of lower tax rates and tax preferences aimed at people with lower incomes.

Politicians have met with strong resistance to increasing taxes on the “merely affluent”.

But in practice, politicians from both parties have made a point of holding the group you might call the “merely affluent” harmless from tax increases. If you make $150,000 to $225,000, you make about two to three times the national median income for a married couple. The list of occupations that can get you into this income bracket — government official, academic, lobbyist, journalist — can sometimes make it hard for people in political circles to remember that 92 percent of American married couples make less than $200,000 a year.

A lot of people in this category don’t think of themselves as rich, and they benefit from tax provisions like college savings accounts.

So how can politicians raise more tax revenue?  It’s a challenge.

… If you can’t go after tax provisions for the merely affluent, you are exempting almost everyone from tax increases. And if you can’t broaden the tax base, then you are very limited in how much you can finance tax reform.

Where else can they find the money?

Raising taxes on the very rich won’t raise enough revenue to balance the budget, and the bottom 50% of income earners — who only pay about 2% of all federal taxes — are not a likely source.

Peter Suderman of Reason believes the 529 debacle shows that the “existing welfare state is unaffordable”.  On the other hand, Reihan Salam of Slate laments that the upper middle class is ruining all that is great about America.  In essence, both may be saying the same thing.  It’s hard to finance expansive government programs because “eventually you run out of other people’s money”.

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Josh Barro, “A ‘Rich’ Person Is Someone Who Makes 50 Percent More Than You”, New York Times, January 29, 2015.

January 28, 2015

How many college graduates earn minimum wage?

by Grace

7.9% of minimum-wage earners have a college degree.  This translates to be about 260,000 workers

This and other minimum-wage facts are available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

50% of minimum age workers are age 16 to 24.

Most minimum-wage workers are not poor.  So while raising minimum wage would help some workers, it would probably not have much effect in reducing poverty.

… Less than a quarter of minimum wage workers live at or below the poverty line, while two-thirds come from families above 150 percent of the poverty line. In fact, the average family income of a minimum wage worker exceeds $53,000 a year.

President Obama continues to advocate for raising the federal minimum wage, and Oregon is currently engaged in a debate to raise it at the state level.

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Jeffry Bartash, “Breaking down who earns the minimum wage”, MarketWatch, Jan. 23, 2015.

January 26, 2015

What is the most valuable inheritance in a knowledge economy?

by Grace

Inheriting money is certainly nice, but intellectual capital may be the most valuable bequest in today’s knowledge economy.

… today’s rich increasingly pass on to their children an asset that cannot be frittered away in a few nights at a casino. It is far more useful than wealth, and invulnerable to inheritance tax. It is brains.

Intellectual capital drives the knowledge economy, so those who have lots of it get a fat slice of the pie. And it is increasingly heritable. Far more than in previous generations, clever, successful men marry clever, successful women. Such “assortative mating” increases inequality by 25%, by one estimate, since two-degree households typically enjoy two large incomes. Power couples conceive bright children and bring them up in stable homes—only 9% of college-educated mothers who give birth each year are unmarried, compared with 61% of high-school dropouts. They stimulate them relentlessly: children of professionals hear 32m more words by the age of four than those of parents on welfare. They move to pricey neighbourhoods with good schools, spend a packet on flute lessons and pull strings to get junior into a top-notch college.

Yes, all this is true.  But how to address the issue of income inequality?  Thankfully, the author agrees the “solution is not to discourage rich people from investing in their children”.  But he does have other ideas.

  • Improve early childcare for poor children.
  • Move primary control of public school funding from local to state level, and tilt it to favor poor students.  Expand school choice.
  • Change college admission so it is based “solely on academic merit”, and force schools to be more transparent about the financial “return that graduates earn on their degrees”.

Even if these recommended reforms could be magically imposed, I question whether much would change.  Head Start doesn’t work in improving long-term outcomes, and I’m skeptical about the chance for reforming such a massive government program.  State funding of public education would be an improvement, but wealthy parents would always find ways to make sure their own children got a better deal.  School choice would at least offer motivated low-income families better options.  I like the idea of academic merit becoming the primary determinant for college admission, but that in itself would do little to mitigate the effects of inadequate K-12 education.

How much impact would increased income redistribution have?  So far, it appears our attempts to address poverty have ‘been a “success at strengthening the social safety net” but a “failure as an engine of self-improvement”’.

There are important reasons to help all Americans develop the ability to create their own financial success.

Loosening the link between birth and success would make America richer—far too much talent is currently wasted. It might also make the nation more cohesive….

Related:

 “87 percent of poor smart kids escape poverty”

Changes in marriage patterns have affected poverty and income inequality

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“America’s new aristocracy”, The Economist, January 24, 2015.

January 20, 2015

Student loan forgiveness is rising, with taxpayers paying the tab

by Grace

More student loan borrowers are getting a break as taxpayers take over repayment of their debt.  The administration’s policy on this matter is described by the Wall Street Journal:

First encourage more student debt, then promote nonpayment.

One of the slow-rolling and under-reported government debacles is the rising amount of student-loan debt that is guaranteed by taxpayers and will never be repaid. Thanks to the federal takeover of the student-loan market in 2010, the Education Department now stands behind more than $1 trillion in outstanding debt. Less well known is how the same federal government that has promoted and subsidized this debt is also scheming to make sure it doesn’t have to be repaid.

Income-based repayment programs are one way for borrowers to shift responsibility over to taxpayers.

So-called income-based repayment programs reduce a borrower’s monthly payments and then forgive the remaining principal after a period of years. Graduates who choose the nonprofit and government jobs favored by the President can have their loans forgiven entirely after 10 years.

Participation in expanded government debt relief plans has doubled over the last year.

The Obama administration greatly expanded benefits under income-based repayment plans in recent years and has launched efforts to promote them. Enrollments are growing rapidly and now stand at an all-time high. Some 24% of Federal Direct Loan Program balances ($115 billion) that have come due are enrolled in the two most generous plans, Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn. That is up from 14% a little more than a year ago. The number of borrowers using the plans has doubled over that time, to 2.2 million.

At the same time, default rates are trending upward.  This at a time when the economy is supposedly improving.

Student loans are promoted for everyone, regardless of qualifications.  And loans are being made easier “not to repay”.

This all makes sense, however, when you realize that the student-loan program has been designed to achieve two political goals: Loans should be available to any student, at any school, pursuing any credential; and student debt is bad and burdensome, so it should be easy for borrowers not to repay.

Based on these goals, the program is performing quite well for students and the institutions whose coffers swell under such loose lending standards. Loan issuance has grown rapidly in recent years while repayment rates have declined steadily. From the perspective of the taxpayers who must ultimately finance these liabilities, however, the federal student-loan program is performing badly and steadily getting worse.

Here is another prediction that IBR schemes “will dramatically increase in 2015″.

Use and availability of income-based repayment (IBR) schemes, which set repayment expectations at a set percentage of the student borrower’s post-college income, will dramatically increase in 2015. This is because policymakers have narrowly defined the student debt problem as a problem of student borrowers struggling to keep up with payments (i.e., avoid default). Therefore, setting payments at a more affordable level would seem to resolve the problems student debt creates….

William Elliott III
Founding Director of the Assets and Education Initiative at the University of Kansas, School of Social Welfare and an expert on student debt

Meanwhile in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will propose new legislation to forgive the student debt of thousands of college graduates.

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“Your Taxpayer Tuition Bill”, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 30, 2014.

Jason Delisle, “The Hidden Student-Debt Bomb”, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 30, 2014.

NPR Ed Team, “Kindergarten Entry Tests And More Education Predictions for 2015″, NPR, Jan. 3, 2015.

Kate Taylor, “Cuomo to Offer Plan to Cut College Graduates’ Debt”, New York Times, Jan. 3, 2015.

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