News, Trump Administration

State, national educators say U.S. House tax plan would risk K-12 jobs, funding

School busesState and national education leaders say a U.S. House tax proposal to nix much of the state and local tax deduction (SALT) would “blow a hole” in public school funding from state and local governments.

Its just the latest criticism of ongoing tax wrangling in the nation’s capitol. Teachers are also fired up over a House proposal to do away with a $250 deduction for classroom supplies.

But K-12 leaders with the National Education Association (NEA) and the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) say Congressional Republicans’ SALT plan may put about 250,000 education jobs at risk across the country.

NEA’s state-by-state analysis of the SALT plan says that more than $5 million in revenue to support public schools would be jeopardized in North Carolina over the next 10 years, along with more than 6,000 educator jobs.

On Thursday, public school chiefs with the NEA and NCAE characterized the SALT proposal as a “$5 trillion tax plan giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations.”

From their statement:

“The Republican leadership’s tax plan is another example of misguided priorities in Washington,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “The plan is a tax giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations paid for on the backs of working people, students and educators.”

The NEA analysis also showed that nationally the bill would lead to cuts of approximately $250 billion in public education funding over the next 10 years. Corporations, by the way, get to keep their state and local tax deductions. A cut of this magnitude is akin to eliminating the Title I and IDEA special education programs overnight. If enacted, the elimination of state and local tax deduction could have a negative, ripple effect on states’ and local communities’ ability to fund public services such as public education. In North Carolina, that amounts to nearly $5 billion over ten years.

“Eliminating the state and local tax deduction would jeopardize the ability of our state and local governments to adequately fund public education,” said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “This will translate into cuts to public schools, lost jobs to educators, overcrowded classrooms that deprive students of one-on-one attention, and threats to public education.”

The impact of eliminating SALT on public education is nearly equal to the education jobs lost during the Great Recession. By most accounts, the country lost about 300,000 education jobs during that time. To cope with the economic crisis our country faced, schools made draconian cuts to public education funding that had a negative impact on students. In addition to losing teachers, school aides, and other key education support professionals, some school districts reduced the number of school days from five to four; critical education programs (before and after school programs, kindergarten) also took a hit. Class sizes ballooned.

The Republican leadership bill comes as the nation also faces a teacher shortage. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, every state in the country was facing a teacher shortage. In addition, according to the Washington Post, school districts also are struggling to fill positions in math, reading and English language arts, as well as finding substitute teachers.

“Instead of tax cuts for the wealthy, we must ensure that our students have caring, qualified, and committed educators in order to succeed. Now here come the tax cuts for the rich paid for by students and middle-class families,” said Jewell. “This bill is terrible for our state because it is a giveaway for the wealthy and corporations funded on the backs of our students and the middle class. We urge Congress to reject it.”

The criticism from public school leaders comes with U.S. Senate Republicans expected to announce their own tax plan in the coming days.

Environment, Trump Administration

EPA chief Scott Pruitt appoints Donald van der Vaart to revamped, anti-reg Science Advisory Board

Former  NC Secretary of the Environment Donald van der Vaart joins several anti-regulatory, pro-industry appointees to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. (Photo: NC DEQ)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt today is expected to appoint Donald van der Vaart, the former NC Secretary of the Environment, to a key panel charged with giving scientific advice to the agency’s leadership.

Van der Vaart is one of several new appointees to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board; nearly all Pruitt’s picks have a history of opposing environmental regulation or have worked for corporations that have been regulated by the EPA.

Earlier this year, Pruitt jettisoned members of the SAB — many of them respected scientists — arguing that anyone who has received EPA funding should be excluded from the board. But Pruitt’s justification — that funding recipients would have a conflict of interest — disguised his true intent: To pack the SAB with yesmen and yeswomen, with their own set of ethical conflicts, who would embrace the task of relaxing or eliminating environmental regulations.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the appointees represent “voices from regulated industries, academics and environmental regulators from conservative states, and researchers who have a history of critiquing the science and economics underpinning tighter environmental regulations.”

Van der Vaart fills that bill. Last November, he wrote a letter to President-elect Trump, advocating for a dismantling of the EPA. As DEQ Secretary, Van der Vaart publicly announced that the agency would become more “business-friendly,” which translated into more lenient permitting and enforcement. He joined several states’ environmental departments in suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the US rule.

He now works in DEQ’s Division of Air Quality, where he demoted himself to avoid being fired by the incoming administration.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

As Congress rushes to pass tax legislation, consider the impact to NC’s state and local taxes

Congress is very close to giving a tax bill to President Trump by the holidays that would allow the wealthiest to pay less in taxes and result in a bad deal for everyone else.

As Congress rushes to make all of this happen, it is important to know that the tax framework released by President Trump and Republican leaders contains proposals that will not only put the federal budget on a path to higher deficits, but will also worsen the state’s fiscal health.

Here’s how: President Trump and congressional Republican leaders plan to end the federal deduction for state and local taxes (SALT). As researchers at the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities argue, the SALT deduction supports state and local budgets because it makes higher income filers, in particular, more willing to support increases in their state and local taxes because they can deduct it from their federal income tax return. Eliminating it would make it harder for North Carolinians to maintain funding for schools, roads, public safety, homeownership and other building blocks of thriving communities, at a time when the federal government would shift more of these investments to state and local governments to fund on their own. That is because the repeal of the SALT deduction is being done to pay for rate reductions that benefit the country’s wealthiest taxpayers.

In 2015, 1.2 million North Carolinians claimed SALT and the average value of the deduction was more than $9,500.

Concerns about ending SALT have been expressed by state and local government groups since the president and Congressional leaders presented their tax framework. For example, the National Association of Counties released a statement expressing major concerns:

“Counties are opposed to this $1.3 trillion federal money grab. Eliminating the SALT deduction would force undue burden upon the backs of middle-class homeowners in every state. Even if the standard deduction were doubled, middle-class homeowners would see their federal tax bills increase by an average of $815.”

Tax changes should not put at risk our state’s fiscal health and our nation’s. Instead, we should be pursuing the design of a tax code that can responsibly support the services that our communities need to thrive.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

News, Trump Administration

Chalkbeat: Independent charters distance themselves from networks, Trump

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Despite a clear alliance between some of the U.S.’ largest charter networks and President Trump cohorts such as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, independent charter companies are looking to separate themselves from the fray, Chalkbeat reports.

This week, the site covered a fascinating New York symposium that reportedly touched on, among other things, a divide in the nation’s growing charter movement between major networks and small, “mom-and-pop” charter operators.

From Chalkbeat:

Stand-alone charter schools say they’re often overlooked in favor of big-name networks like KIPP — while at the same time being unfairly tied to Betsy DeVos’s agenda.

At a symposium last week, a number of school leaders agreed to try to change that by launching a new national organization dedicated to independent, or “mom-and-pop,” charters.

“When people think of charters, they do not think of us,” said Steve Zimmerman, an organizer of the conference and founder of two independent charter schools.

In a hotel conference room in Queens, leaders from nearly 200 schools across 20 states unanimously called for the group’s creation. They also adopted a progressive manifesto that tried to separate the members from the Trump administration and common criticisms of the charter schools.

It marks yet another fissure in the nation’s charter school movement, which has seen political and philosophical divides open up in the wake of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s appointment.

And while the loose group of independent charters does not yet have a name or a clear funding plan, its leaders believe they can provide a louder, more democratic voice for their concerns than existing charter advocacy groups, which they say are too focused on expanding networks.

“The National Alliance [for Public Charter Schools] truly believes they act in the interest of all charter schools. And to some degree they do,” said Zimmerman, referring to the country’s top national charter advocacy group. “The truth is, though, that they can’t really represent the real interests of independent charter schools because their funders really believe in the network model.”

National Alliance spokeswoman Vanessa Descalzi said the group supports independent charters.

“Advocating for independent, community-based schools is in the National Alliance’s DNA,” she said. “Where folks feel we could do more, we look forward to continued discussion and seeking solutions together.”

Zimmerman is the co-director of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, an organization for independent charters based in New York City that co-sponsored last week’s conference. That symposium, he said, came out of a desire to shift the discussion around measuring schools away from just test scores.

“We felt that there was too much thinking of outcomes as being the bottom line of the enterprise … and that was keeping our schools from being innovative,” he said. “It felt like a zero sum pissing game of comparing test scores all the time.”

When the Trump administration took office, a new set of concerns arose for many leaders of schools like his. In Zimmerman’s telling, there was “too much coziness between major players in the charter world and the incoming administration.”

He declined to offer specifics. But Eva Moskowitz, the head of the Success Academy network in New York, met with Trump soon after he was elected, and the National Alliance initially praised a Trump budget proposal featuring deep cuts to education spending but an increase for charter schools. Both have since distanced themselves further from the administration.

“To have in any way the charter world associated with that felt that it was really going to hurt our message,” Zimmerman said.

Charter networks nationally and in North Carolina have embraced privatization in some cases. As Policy Watch has reported, school choice advocates connected to networks like TeamCFA, which operates 13 schools in North Carolina, led the push for state lawmakers to approve a controversial charter takeover of low-performing schools last year, a program that may open the door to private control of traditional public facilities.

Read more

News, Trump Administration

Reports point to inappropriate billing, defaulting loans associated with for-profit education

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

As federal backing of for-profit education programs grows under President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, watch-dog reporting on such initiatives will be of the utmost importance.

In that spirit, here’s a pair of fascinating reports emerging today on for-profit initiatives aimed at high school and college students.

First, a ProPublica report examines publicly-funded, “dropout recovery” schools in the state of Ohio, where for-profit companies have sought to fill the void for students departing traditional public schools.

According to the report, at least one of these companies may be billing the state’s taxpayers for students who aren’t actually attending class.

From the report:

Last school year, Ohio’s cash-strapped education department paid Capital High $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars to teach students on the verge of dropping out. But on a Thursday in May, the storefront charter school run by for-profit EdisonLearning was mostly empty.

In one room, vacant chairs faced 25 blank computer monitors. Three students sat in a science lab down the hall, and another nine in an unlit classroom, including one youth who sprawled out, head down, sleeping.

Only three of the more than 170 students on Capital’s rolls attended class the required five hours that day, records obtained by ProPublica show. Almost two-thirds of the school’s students never showed up; others left early. Nearly a third of the roster failed to attend class all week.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has championed charters and for-profit education, contending in Congressional testimony that school choice can lower absenteeism and dropout rates. But at schools like Capital, a ProPublica-USA Today investigation found, the drop-outs rarely drop in—and if they do, they don’t stay long. Such schools aggressively recruit as many students as possible, and sometimes count them even after they stop showing up, a practice that can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for empty desks.

Auditors have accused for-profit dropout recovery schools in Ohio, Illinois and Florida of improperly collecting public money for vanished students.

ProPublica reviewed 38 days of Capital High’s records from late March to late May and found six students skipped 22 or more days straight with no excused absences. Two were gone the entire 38-day period. Under state rules, Capital should have unenrolled them after 21 consecutive unexcused absences.

Though the school is largely funded on a per-student basis, the no-shows didn’t hurt its revenue stream. Capital billed and received payment from the state for teaching the equivalent of 171 students full-time in May.

In 2012, Ohio auditors examined a sample of former students and found Capital High had failed to withdraw 90 percent of them in “a timely manner.” Three years later, a state report placed Capital among seven schools with the largest variances between reported enrollment and actual attendance.

An EdisonLearning spreadsheet charting withdrawals and enrollments in 2015-2016 shows that, on average, the student totals Capital submitted monthly for funding exceeded its internal tally by at least 24 percent.

Told of ProPublica-USA Today’s findings, both Ohio’s state auditor and its Department of Education said they would investigate Capital.

Because enrollment is constantly changing, “a single snapshot of enrollment and withdrawals will more than likely not match” state totals, EdisonLearning said. The company conceded extended absences are a “persistent challenge,” but said it shares all student attendance records in “real time” with state education officials. If issues arise, the company said, it addresses and corrects them.

The school’s program director, Monica Scott, said she urges students, who often have difficult home lives, to come to class. “I’m telling them you have to get your instructional hours,” she said.

Corey Timmons, 19, who graduated from Capital this spring, said he had complained to Scott about students coming and going as they pleased. “It’s not really a school environment,” he said.

According to the report, such programs have emerged in Ohio and Illinois as publicly-backed alternative schools that operate much like charters.

But, while they serve a student population that’s difficult to retain, the ProPublica report notes for-profit programs have a financial incentive to keep their enrollment numbers high.

Read more