Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tax Credits For All

Collin Hitt of the Illinois Policy Institute has a great piece on Spontaneous Solutions a Publication of the Illinois Policy Institute
called Tax Credits For All.

Tax Credits For All

posted by Collin Hitt

The Illinois Policy Institute has partnered with the Illinois chapter of Americans for Prosperity to host a series of education reform forums. The most recent event was in Quincy, and the Herald Whig did a good job covering it.

I've spoken at both events, detailing the new Institute proposal, an "Earned Education Tax Credit." The idea is simple: a $4,000 refundable tuition tax credit (think rebate, or voucher) for every student under the age of twenty three. Among other things, the tax credit would count against incurred tuition costs of preschool, private school and college.

I'm going to be writing and speaking on the topic a lot in the coming year. I'd like to have your thoughts on it, sooner rather than later. So, Conservatives, what do you think of the state underwriting the costs of preschool and college? Liberals, can you reasonably defend a preschool and college subsidy that doesn't also apply to K-12 education - the area where it is needed most?

To read more posts on the BLOG Spontaneous Solutions a Publication of the Illinois Policy Institute click here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Houston Teachers Asked to Return Bonuses After School District Overpayed Them

The following story appeared on

Houston Teachers Asked to Return Bonuses After School District Overpayed Them

Friday , March 09, 2007

The school district that runs the nation's largest merit pay program gave oversized bonuses to nearly 100 teachers and is asking them to give it back. The president of Houston's largest teachers' union is telling members not to return the overpayments, which range from $62.50 to $2,790.
A total of almost $75,000 was overpaid because a computer program mistakenly calculated the bonuses of part-time personnel as if they were full-time employees, according to the Houston Independent School District. Less than 1 percent of teachers were affected, the district said.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the district can't force the 99 teachers to sign forms authorizing it to deduct the money from their paychecks, and promised legal action if it attempts to do so.

"If it's the district's error, then the district should bear the loss," she said.

District spokesman Terry Abbott, however, said the money must be repaid.

The union opposes the merit system unanimously approved by the school board last year. The district doled out $14 million to almost 8,000 teachers two months ago, but distributed another $1 million after officials realized several hundred teachers had been overlooked.

Salaries for full-time teachers in the district range from about $40,000 to nearly $68,000.

Raise your hand if you think that the school should underpay the next paycheck. Do you think the union will just sit back and say it was an error you do not have to pay us more? When will the greed of the unions and teachers end?

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers said "If it's the district's error, then the district should bear the loss." Nice job screwing the taxpayers Gayle.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fixing No Child Left Behind

The following piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Fixing No Child Left Behind
WSJ Editorial: March 6, 2007; Page A18

The No Child Left Behind education law is up for renewal this year, and an independent commission recently released some recommendations for improvement. Not to be outdone, the White House has also put out its own "blueprint" for strengthening the law. The legislation could use a serious reworking, but any fixes won't go far enough unless they do more to expand public and private school choice.

NCLB's political bargain was that, in return for a big increase in federal education spending, the government would hold schools more accountable for results in the classroom. Six years later, taxpayers have done their part. Since 2001 overall NCLB funding has risen by 34%, and federal spending on Title I schools serving low-income students has gone up 45%.

NCLB and the Bush Administration also deserve some credit for shifting the terms of the education debate. The law has focused attention on learning gaps between students of different races and economic backgrounds that persist even at some of the nation's best public schools. The law's requirement that schools test annually in grades 3-8, and report both averages and the results of racial and economic subgroups, has made it much more difficult for administrators to hide the fact that all students aren't learning.

NCLB has been much less successful in bringing pressure to bear on states and school districts that fail to implement the law. That's especially true of the school choice provisions, which are the best way to get the attention of the education bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration abandoned its voucher proposal very early in the 2001 negotiations. What passed was a watered-down version of public school choice, which in theory allows a child in a failing school to transfer to a better public school or get free after-school tutoring from private providers.

* * *

In practice, however, the Education Department has too often allowed school districts to skirt even these limited choice provisions, either by granting exemptions or looking the other way. It took a formal complaint from the Alliance for School Choice before Secretary Margaret Spellings did anything about Los Angeles failing to notify parents of their transfer rights as required under the law. So far she's sent the district a sternly worded letter.

And the Chicago public school system, which has been repeatedly labeled "in need of improvement" and thus should be banned under NCLB from offering its own after-school tutoring, has been given a waiver to do exactly that. So while it would be nice if the Bush Administration enforced its own law, the larger lesson is that school choice "lite" turns out to be no substitute for the real thing.

To be fair, some of these problems are structural. Even if more school districts were implementing NCLB's transfer provisions, there often isn't enough room in decent schools to handle all the children who qualify for a transfer. And many of the private after-school tutoring services allowed under the law are simply employing the same teachers from the local public school system who are failing the kids during regular school hours.

There's also the problem of allowing each state to develop its own standards and tests to determine proficiency in reading and math. The Administration was deferring to federalist principles on an issue that's traditionally been handled at the state and local level. But the reality has been a "race to the bottom," with some states constructing easy tests to avoid federal penalties.

"If you're in Oklahoma right now, you're told that 95% or 96% of your schools are doing fine," says Frederick Hess, who follows education at the American Enterprise Institute. "And if you're in Massachusetts, you're told that 40% to 45% of your schools are doing fine. But if you look at the actual achievement data, it suggests that kids in Massachusetts are doing far better than kids in Oklahoma."

Some education reformers are now calling for "national standards" to address this problem. But we tried national history standards in the 1990s, and the politicized results weren't pretty -- unless, of course, you favor a history curriculum that downgrades the Founding Fathers while playing up the working experiences of midwives in 19th-century Nebraska.

Rather than force a national test on states, the best compromise here may be to require them to benchmark their own assessments against the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a federal standardized test that already exists and that most educators agree is fairly rigorous. "So people at least have a common metric by which to judge the rigor of the state assessment," says Mr. Hess.

It's worth considering, and we wish we could say the same about the Commission on No Child Left Behind, which was funded by private foundations and co-chaired by former Governors Tommy Thompson and Roy Barnes. But the panel's report is more interested in tinkering than fundamental change, and its 75 recommendations don't include the one that would make the biggest difference: school vouchers.

* * *

The Administration's proposed fixes are bolder and potentially more consequential. President Bush's 2008 budget sets aside $250 million for "promise scholarships" for low-income students in schools that have consistently underperformed for five years. The scholarships would average about $4,000 and "the money would follow the child to the public, charter or private school of his or her choice."

Them's fightin' words for the Democrats who now control Congress. But Mr. Bush has the bully pulpit, as well as the moral authority from five years of evidence on failing schools. We hope his Administration uses them to explain why real school choice is essential to any reform in K-12 education.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Education Lags

The following editorial appeared in the Northwest Herald
No further comments are needed.

Education lags

Comments (2)
Most high school students still are not achieving proficiency in math and reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 35 percent of high school seniors scored at or above the proficient level on the 2005 national reading test.

In math, the story is even more troubling: Just 23 percent reached proficiency, which indicates solid but not exceptional academic performance.

Since 1983, billions of dollars have been spent on state and federal school reform programs. Despite this massive investment, national tests show few signs of academic progress.

Clearly, it’s time to take reform in a different direction. It no longer makes sense to pour billions of dollars into an outdated bureaucratic model of public education. Top-down reforms that funnel money through the bureaucracy will never raise the schools above mediocrity.

In the next wave of education reform, money should flow from parents to the schools. Let the decisions of parents push schools toward excellence.

Lawmakers and business leaders need to stop wringing their hands and start pushing for reforms that will make a real difference.

Press-Register, Mobile, Ala.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Neverending tax increases

This article appeared in the Kane County Chronicle. In a state that already can't afford to pay off its giveaways to special interest groups, the Governor wants universal health care and maintenance of the obscene state pension system. They can't print money, so either the overpaid state retirees must sacrifice from their multimillion dollar pensions (paid by private citizens who usually don't have pensions at all) or ordinary taxpayers must suffer. Sadly it seems our lawmakers have chosen the latter path. There are two ways to balance a budget, and its high time the state chooses spending cuts over higher taxes.

Neverending tax increases

To the Editor:

It’s only two cents a gallon.

That two cents increase will equate to $4.5 million a year according to Kane County board member Jan Carlson.

If that was the only increase we anticipate, that would be wonderful.

However, let’s talk about other things that are happening in Kane County. I’ll use myself as an example.

My 2005 real estate taxes bill had a 30 percent tax increase for Kane County, 45 percent increase for Kaneland School District 302, 31 percent increase for Black-berry Township Road District, 22 percent increase for Elburn Village, 28.6 percent increase for Waubonsee Community College, 55 percent increase for Elburn Fire District and 22.8 percent increase for Town and Country Library. I dread to see the increases for the 2006 tax bill.

The governor states that he wants billions more a year for universal health care.

Last week a coalition of business and labor groups called on the state to put $5 billion a year into transportation for five years.

Will Kane County see any of that money? So why the two cents?

Also, recently State Sen. James Meeks and the teachers union unveiled a modified version of the infamous Senate Bill 750, which not only will provide new education dollars and roll back property taxes but also will pump $3 billion into the states under-funded pension systems. Also, Gov. Blagojevich will propose a multibillion dollar “gross receipts tax.”

The tax would zap pretty much every transaction performed by businesses and provide billions of dollars (business groups say maybe as much as $9 billion) a year for state coffers.

I’m sure businesses are not going to pass that on to consumers, just like gas stations are going to eat the two-cent increase.

The county also wants to raise impact fees for new homes and businesses in Kane County.

Do you not think these increases are not going to be passed on to Kane County citizens? So, going back to the two cents, there is a lot more facing taxpayers in Kane County than ever before.

Kane County board chairperson Karen McConnaughy was quoted in October 2005 saying that 2006 tax cuts are part of a new culture at the county.

However, consultant fees alone grew by more than 50 percent last year, just to name one of the increases.

Now the board wants to add only two cents more in gas taxes. The board should be aware we are watching the voting of this board and how it effects our tax dollars.

I oppose any future tax increase and believe board members should remember that the chairman is opposed to increases also or is this just political puffery as they say in Springfield.

James MacRunnels


Quote of the day.

"Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery." Calvin Coolidge