Tag Archives: George W. Bush

Saying goodbye to Arne Duncan (and shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed.)

by Christopher Paslay

Next week we will be getting a new president, and with him, a new Secretary of Education.    

With a new president comes a new cabinet.  And since October 17, 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Department of Education Organization Act—which brought into existence the overbearing and bureaucratic United States Department of Education—this has included the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s appointment, has fit the job perfectly, which is to say he intruded on public education like the big government politician he is.  Now, before education advocates start belly aching about the importance of federally funded education programs, know this: on average, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to a public school district’s budget (90 percent of funds come from state and local government).

Interestingly, this doesn’t stop the federal government from bullying local school districts into following their laws and policies, like George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind or Barack Obama’s recent “National Reform Model” for overhauling failing schools; the U.S. Dept. of Ed. wants all the power, none of the responsibility, and in exchange covers a measly tenth of the cost.

But back to Duncan.  What has marked his tenure?  Duncan has fought to:

  • Increase the use of data and standardized tests to define student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
  • Use performance pay to compensate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
  • End teacher seniority to give principals the autonomy to pick their own staffs.
  • Turn “failing” schools into charters.
  • Overhaul entire staffs of teachers and principals at failing schools.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions to deal with unruly and disruptive students.

After four years of such policies, the racial achievement gap is as big as ever, test scores remain flat, graduation rates haven’t moved, and hundreds of millions of dollars went down the toilet via President Obama’s education stimulus package; for those in Philadelphia, think of the three year tenure of Arlene Ackerman, and the nearly $10 billion she spent (stole/wasted).  What does Philadelphia have to show for it?  A gigantic budget deficit.

Which is why a new education secretary is going to be a much-needed breath of fresh air.  The question, of course, is who?  Who will Romney’s education secretary be?

Before that question can be addressed, there is one fact that will make his appointee better off than Duncan: Romney has talked of shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed. by combining it with another agency, and this may limit the reach of the education secretary; some speculate that there is still a chance Romney will abolish the Dept. of Ed.—and education secretaries—altogether.

Again, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to the budgets of public school districts (in Philadelphia it is about 15 percent), so the Dept. of Ed.’s power should be reeled in; it should have a say in only 10-15 percent of public education policy.  But that’s not how big government and big bureaucracies operate.  They want control at all costs, and maneuver their way in via handouts (Race to the Top) and by making false promises; better to give federal education funds directly to the states, and let local districts, school boards, parents and teachers make their own decisions.

It’s interesting more public educators aren’t more agitated by the U.S. Dept. of Ed., by its intruding reach into their classrooms, by its regulations and red tape, by its out-of-touch policies and visions for reform.  Perhaps the most intrusive, frustratingly bureaucratic years in the past two decades in the Philadelphia School District were the Ackerman years from 2008-2011, driven by scripted curriculum and suffocating central office visits from the clipboard wielding Ackerman Gestapo.  This period was the direct result of Obama/Duncan’s “National Reform Model,” AKA: gotcha policies and stifling regulation trickling down from the control freaks known as the U.S. Dept. of Ed.

So who will Romney pick as his education secretary?  Here’s a list of possibilities, according to Education Week: Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, Tony Bennett (Indiana’s superintendent of Public Instruction), Tom Luna (the Idaho superintendent of public instruction), Chris Cerf (a registered Democrat who works with GOP governor Chris Christie), Robert Scott (former Texas chief), Paul Pastorek (helped schools in Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina), Bill Green (executive chairman at Accenture, a consulting organization), and Joel Kline (former New York City chancellor), among others.  (To read about their backgrounds on education, click here).

But the best hope, of course, is that Romney won’t pick a new secretary.  That is to say, that the newly elected president will make his first order of business to send the U.S. Dept. of Ed. the way of the blue suede shoe, and allow local school boards, parents, and teachers the true freedom to drive policies and reform.

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Filed under Achievement Gap, Arne Duncan, Standardized Testing

Come 2013, teachers will be hit with a wave of new taxes

by Christopher Paslay

Last Sunday marked the start of the 100-day countdown to “Taxmageddon”—the date the largest tax hikes in the history of America will take effect.

On January 1, 2013, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, prompting many of my fellow teachers to say, Great!  Let the richest Americans finally start paying their fair share!  The only problem is, Bush’s tax cuts weren’t simply for the rich (as many Americans have been led to believe), but for all Americans at every tax bracket. 

According to Americans for Tax Reform:

Personal income tax rates will rise on January 1, 2013.  The top income tax rate will rise from 35 to 39.6 percent (this is also the rate at which the majority of small business profits are taxed).  The lowest rate will rise from 10 to 15 percent.  All the rates in between will also rise.  Itemized deductions and personal exemptions will again phase out, which has the same mathematical effect as higher marginal tax rates.  The full list of marginal rate hikes is below:

-The 10% bracket rises to a new and expanded 15%

-The 25% bracket rises to 28%

-The 28% bracket rises to 31%

-The 33% bracket rises to 36%

-The 35% bracket rises to 39.6%

As a Philadelphia school teacher at the top of the pay scale, this income tax increase means I will be taking home approximate $2,500 less in 2012 than I did in 2013 (to calculate your own income tax increase, multiple your current yearly salary by .03).  As if this weren’t bad enough, tax benefits for education and teaching will be reduced:

The deduction for tuition and fees will not be available.  Tax credits for education will be limited.  Teachers will no longer be able to deduct classroom expenses.  Coverdell Education Savings Accounts will be cut.  Employer-provided educational assistance is curtailed.  The student loan interest deduction will be disallowed for hundreds of thousands of families.

This really stings, being that I spent over $12,000 on graduate school tuition this year (which I will no longer be able to deduct from my income taxes in 2013).  To make matters worse, all the money I spent on classroom materials in 2012—such as paper, posters, ink cartridges, CDs, DVDs, pens, markers, magazines, flash-drives, file folders, pencil sharpeners, in/out baskets, computer speakers, etc.—will no longer be able to be deducted from my tax returns. 

But there’s more.  Higher taxes on marriage and family are coming on January 1, 2013: 

The “marriage penalty” (narrower tax brackets for married couples) will return from the first dollar of taxable income.  The child tax credit will be cut in half from $1000 to $500 per child.  The standard deduction will no longer be doubled for married couples relative to the single level.

The Obamacare “Special Needs Kids Tax” also comes online on January 1, 2013:

Imposes a cap on FSAs of $2500 (now unlimited).  Indexed to inflation after 2013. There is one group of FSA owners for whom this new cap will be particularly cruel and onerous: parents of special needs children.  There are thousands of families with special needs children in the United States, and many of them use FSAs to pay for special needs education.  Tuition rates at one leading school that teaches special needs children in Washington, D.C. (National Child Research Center) can easily exceed $14,000 per year. Under tax rules, FSA dollars can be used to pay for this type of special needs education.  This Obamacare cap harms these families.

Curiously, a woman I teach with this semester is married, has a special needs son, and is in graduate school working on a Master’s in Education.  Between the rise in her income tax rate, the Special Needs Kids Tax, and the fact that she will no longer be able to write-off the tens of thousands of dollars she spends on tuition and classroom materials, her finances will be taking a real beating.

The rich may be paying more this January, but the middle class will be getting hammered as well.  Here are some other new tax hikes that will occur on January 1, 2013:

Middle Class Death Tax returns on January 1, 2013.  The death tax is currently 35% with an exemption of $5 million ($10 million for married couples).  For those dying on or after January 1 2013, there is a 55 percent top death tax rate on estates over $1 million.  A person leaving behind two homes and a retirement account could easily pass along a death tax bill to their loved ones.

Higher tax rates on savers and investors on January 1, 2013.  The capital gains tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 23.8 percent in 2013.  The top dividends tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 43.4 percent in 2013.  This is because of scheduled rate hikes plus Obamacare’s investment surtax.

There are twenty new or higher taxes in Obamacare.  Some have already gone into effect (the tanning tax, the medicine cabinet tax, the HSA withdrawal tax, W-2 health insurance reporting, and the “economic substance doctrine”).  Several more will go into effect on January 1, 2013.  They include:

The Obamacare Medical Device Tax begins to be assessed on January 1, 2013.  Medical device manufacturers employ 409,000 people in 12,000 plants across the country. This law imposes a new 2.3% excise tax on gross sales – even if the company does not earn a profit in a given year. Exempts items retailing for <$100.

The Obamacare Medicare Payroll Tax Hike takes effect on January 1, 2013.  The Medicare payroll tax is currently 2.9 percent on all wages and self-employment profits.  Starting in 2013, wages and profits exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of married couples) will face a 3.8 percent rate.

The Obamacare “Haircut” for Medical Itemized Deductions goes into force on January 1, 2013.  Currently, those facing high medical expenses are allowed a deduction for medical expenses to the extent that those expenses exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI).  The new provision imposes a threshold of 10 percent of AGI. Waived for 65+ taxpayers in 2013-2016 only.

When Americans prepare to file their tax returns in January of 2013, they’ll be in for a nasty surprise—the AMT won’t be held harmless, and many tax relief provisions will have expired.  These tax increases will be in force for BOTH 2012 and 2013.  The major items include:

The AMT will ensnare over 31 million families, up from 4 million last year.  According to the left-leaning Tax Policy Center, Congress’ failure to index the AMT will lead to an explosion of AMT taxpaying families—rising from 4 million last year to 31 million.  These families will have to calculate their tax burdens twice, and pay taxes at the higher level.  The AMT was created in 1969 to ensnare a handful of taxpayers.

Full business expensing will disappear.  In 2011, businesses can expense half of their purchases of equipment.  Starting on 2013 tax returns, all of it will have to be “depreciated” (slowly deducted over many years).

Taxes will be raised on all types of businesses.  There are literally scores of tax hikes on business that will take place.  The biggest is the loss of the “research and experimentation tax credit,” but there are many, many others.  Combining high marginal tax rates with the loss of this tax relief will cost jobs.

Charitable Contributions from IRAs no longer allowed.  Under current law, a retired person with an IRA can contribute up to $100,000 per year directly to a charity from their IRA.  This contribution also counts toward an annual “required minimum distribution.”  This ability will no longer be there.

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If Police and Firefighters were Treated Like Teachers

by Christopher Paslay  

While politicians view police and firefighters as heroes, they tend to see schoolteachers as Ichabod Crane.     

In 2002, when No Child Left Behind became law, George W. Bush boasted that it would transform education in America.  By 2014, he insisted, 100 percent of our nation’s children would score at least “proficient” on state exams in reading and math.  Despite learning disabilities, poverty, single parent families, an increase in autism, institutional racism, poor nutrition, the drug culture, and dozens of other biological, psychological and societal ills, every single kid in the U.S. would be able to read and perform math at the highest levels in history.  Those schools not achieving this lofty goal would be shut down or overhauled, and their teachers and principals fired or reassigned.   

From NCLB’s onset, real life teachers in the real life trenches of America’s public school classrooms knew the law was misguided, oversimplified, and pie-in-the-sky.  At its heart it was about control—a politician’s battle for the billions of dollars in raw materials that go along with the institution known as American Public Education. 

To highlight the absurdity of NCLB, imagine this law being applied to police and firefighters, both of which, like teachers, are public servants. 

Let’s start with police.  Imagine a law that required all crime in the United States to be abolished by a given year, say, 2018.  Murder, rape, burglary, assault, etc. would be measured in every precinct in every city in the United States, and the results would be assessed by race and socioeconomic status.  Any precinct not reducing crime levels across all predetermined racial and economic subgroups and meeting “adequate yearly progress” would be eligible to be reconstituted and overhauled.  Officers in neighborhoods with the highest crime would be fired, their captains replaced, and their resources and budgets cut.  Policies on policing would also be rewritten.  The replacements, as well as the new policies, would be filled and enacted by non-police officers with zero law enforcement experience. 

How about firefighters?  Imagine a law that required every building and home in the United States to be up to fire code by 2018.  Any ladder company that didn’t wipe out death by fire and smoke inhalation in their neighborhoods would be up for overhaul.  Money and resources would be cut, their personnel fired and reassigned.  New expert “firefighters,” who were career politicians with no fire-rescue experience, would now run the show. 

People like New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, of course, say you can’t compare teachers with police and firefighters.  Bloomberg has said, according to a story in Capital New York, that police and firefighters are interchangeable widgets, and that teachers aren’t.  Which is why teachers can be evaluated and publically scrutinized, and police and firefighters can’t:

This is not like police and fire.  You think about it. Police and fire, we assign a cop or a firefighter to a station, to a post, to a firehouse, to a piece of equipment. And all of the firefighters and all of the cops are changed. Not only are they interchangeable, we deliberately move them around, because that helps their careers and they learn more things and they’re better able to perform their jobs. . . .

Bloomberg went on to say that education was different.

But is it really?  Under No Child Left Behind, the very reform that was enacted to increase teacher effectiveness, teachers are treated like widgets, too.  “Failing” teachers at “failing” schools are recycled and re-circulated, much like the changing of police and firefighters. 

Recently in Detroit public schools, pink slips were sent to over 4,000 teachers.  The teachers who want their jobs back must reapply for their position.  If they aren’t hired back at their current school, they will be eligible to apply to teach in another school in the district; a similar mass layoff took place in Detroit last year.   

Still, politicians will never hold teachers in the same regard as police and firefighters.  Police and firefighters—especially firefighters—are viewed as heroes.  Schoolteachers, on the other hand, are commonly seen as Ichabod Crane: gangly and self-serving.

Until true educational experts are at the helm of school reform, public schools and their teachers will continue to be at the bottom of the political pecking order.

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Filed under Teacher Bashing

Safe Harbor

 

“SAFE HARBOR”

 by Christopher Paslay

 

You made “safe harbor,” you half-wit of a teacher,

you grunt, you nincompoop, you mule.  You made it

by the skin of your teeth, teeth we’ll wait another year

to punch down your throat.

 

You can thank the former president, George W.—

that gray-haired Texas stooge,

and that Margaret Spellings woman, who never taught

a day in her life, but who was “a mother of school-aged children.”

She was investigated for academic fraud, asleep at the switch

on student loans.  Nonetheless, her reform gives us

the power to fire, to overhaul, to turn you to stone. 

 

You made safe harbor, so we’re not going to blow you to bits,

firebomb your classroom like Dresden, boil the water

in the yellow bucket you use to wash your boards. 

We’re not going to reduce your erasers to ash.        

What about your students?  You think our reforms

are failing them?  You hear them crying-out

in their anger, their disenchantment, their fear?  Are they

panicking, huddled under their wooden desks?            

You must be mistaken. Our data

shows otherwise.       

You made safe harbor, mister.

Congratulations.  You and your deadbeat colleagues

can keep your jobs.

 

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Filed under Standardized Testing