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How Teachers Can Drive Education Reform

Teachers often feel helpless when trying to reform their own schools, but they may not be as powerless as they think. That’s the message that Rick Hess, the Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, tries to empower teachers with in his book, The Cage-Busting Teacher.

Cage-busting isn’t when teachers meet with policymakers or sit on a new committee, Hess said at an book event on Wednesday. “It’s cage-busting when teachers identify the things that stop them from doing their best work, come up with better solutions that they can share with colleagues, or administrators or policymakers, and find constructive ways to push those solutions so that they have more time, passion and energy to do the stuff that they’re in the classroom to do.”

A common theme at the event was turning complaints into solutions. “Teachers ought to focus on identifying problems,” Hess, a former high school social studies teacher, said. “They ought to focus not just on complaining about them, but on offering solutions, alternatives, ways to do it better.”

The event highlighted teachers who took education reform into their own hands and helped better their schools.

That reform often requires principals who are open to changing the system and new ideas. Within that parameter, a lot can be accomplished if teachers just ask.

Jason Karmas taught math for eight years at John Philip Sousa Middle School in Washington, D.C. He was struggling to teach his students three years of math in one year, but told his principal that, with double the class time, it might be possible. His principal was open to the idea and told Karmas they could move forward if he found a way to make it work with the schedule.

Read the rest at the Washington Examiner…

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Daily Links — ‘Fast Track’ Trade Bill, Free Speech in China, DEA Spyware, Obama’s Immigration Action, South China Sea Dispute, Unpaid Debts

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Working for the Tax Man

Though April 15 has passed, Americans are still a week away from the finish line when it comes to paying their taxes. This year, it will take the average American until April 24 to work enough to pay off their share of federal, state, and local taxes. We spend 30 percent of the year working to pay the government before we can start to keep the money that we earn.

April 24 is the average Tax Freedom Day, as calculated by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. But the date when Americans are free to start working for themselves varies across states and income levels.

In total, Americans will pay about $4.8 trillion in taxes this year, which is more than they’ll spend on food, clothing and housing combined. Of this total, $3.3 trillion goes to the federal government and $1.5 trillion is paid to state and local governments.

Connecticut and New Jersey share the infamous honor of having the latest Tax Freedom Day. Average residents of these states are not free to keep the money that they earn for about another month, until May 13. On the other end of the spectrum, Louisiana residents had their average total tax bill paid off two weeks ago, on April 2.

This spread between high- and low-tax states would be even wider if not for the federal deduction of state and local taxes, which totaled $56 billion last year. Currently, these taxes can be subtracted from total federal taxable income, which creates a large subsidy for high-tax jurisdictions.

Taxpayers in low-tax states are forced to pay higher federal taxes to cover the reduced burden on those in high-tax states. State and local governments are rewarded for poor fiscal management since they can export part of their costs to residents of other states.

Read the rest at U.S. News…

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Three Liberal Myths About Taxes Debunked

April 15 marked Tax Day in the United States and sparked an expected national conversation about the role of government.

One would think the day millions of Americans scramble to send off their returns to the IRS wouldn’t be the most ideal to advocate raising taxes, but many prominent liberal pundits nevertheless called for squeezing “the rich.”

One such voice is Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration and social media superstar. Reich reposted one of his popular videos on Facebook yesterday listing “three reasons why taxes have to be raised on the richest Americans.”

Reich’s reasons are actually common myths among the left that deserve some serious scrutiny from a free-market perspective.

We have a large budget deficit and need more tax revenue.

With a federal deficit of $468 billion in 2015 and a national debt of $18 trillion, there’s no doubt that the U.S. is in big fiscal trouble. However, this is ultimately a problem of spending, not revenue. That is, the government is in debt because it’s spending beyond its means, not because it’s failing to raise enough money.

In fact, federal revenues have only increased after adjusting for inflation since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Mandatory spending on entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is out of control, and discretionary spending on bloated bureaucracies like the Department of Defense isn’t much better. The key to fixing America’s deficits is budget reform, not tax hikes.

Read the rest at Rare…

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Review – Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young

Government is shortchanging young people on everything from education and healthcare to employment and retirement, according to Manhattan Institute senior fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth and policy analyst Jared Meyer, co-authors of the forthcoming book Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young.

“This betrayal is not intentional,” they begin. “In this book we lay out the scope of the problem and what will be necessary to solve it. Plainly stated, Washington is robbing America’s young. Our country is facing a crisis, and change is essential in order for young people to achieve the future they deserve.”

In retirement, Millennials will be at a dismal financial crossroads, relative to their parents and grandparents, according to the author pair.

“They can either pay substantially higher taxes than their parents do, while not receiving any more benefits, or they can pay the same rate as their elders and receive far fewer benefits,” the write. “Both outcomes are grossly unfair … If trends continue, workers could be paying a combined employer-employee payroll tax rate of 32 percent in 2050 just to cover Medicare and Social Security payments.”

The book also examines state pension and healthcare expenditures, which are massively underfunded in many states (in part due to unrealistic investment return assumptions and various accounting sleights of hand), leading the authors to wonder whether the bankruptcy of a state would require a federal bailout from future taxpayers, e.g. today’s young.

On education, Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer give evidence of the effectiveness of charter schools in states ranging from New York to Arizona and Louisiana, where the Obama administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) sued to block school vouchers in the name of fighting desegregation. However, the pair points out, “Desegregation expert Christine Rossell looked at Louisiana’s voucher program and found that in most districts, voucher programs actually reduced racial imbalance. The DOJ has since withdrawn the suit, but the fact that it was filed at all on such spurious grounds underscores the extreme hostility of the federal government to state initiative to improve education.”

Disinherited takes a harsh stance against secondary school administrators who push students into four-year college degree programs, eventually leading them to be saddled with an average of $25,000 in debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Yet many of these degrees have little value in the marketplace, with the New York Federal Reserve estimating 44 percent of recent graduates work in jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. And Wells Fargo found that one-fourth of millennials do not think college was worth the cost.

Read the rest at Opportunity Lives…

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Dems Stubbornly Refuse to Embrace Any Form of School Choice

It is well-known that most, but not all, Democrats oppose school choice programs. In the last week, Democrats have reaffirmed this opposition, even in the case of programs that do not harm or take resources from public schools.

On Tuesday, Senate Education Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-Wash., released a bipartisan draft bill to reform No Child Left Behind. Missing from the draft bill was portability for Title I funding, which would allow students in impoverished families to use their federal education funding at any public school of their choice.

Portable funding, also known as “backpack funding” because it follows the child, was included as an option in a draft bill released by Alexander earlier this year and a K-12 education reform bill that passed the House education committee in February.

An important nuance in the plan: States would be allowed, but not mandated, to implement portable federal funding. But allowing some states to use this formula for school choice funding was too much for Democrats. President Obama’s veto threat of the House education bill specifically cited the portability section as a reason to veto the bill. Committed to education reform that might actually pass the Senate and still be a net benefit for students, Alexander didn’t force portability into the draft bill negotiated with Murray.

Read the rest at the Washington Examiner…

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Drug Reform Is About Animal Rights, Too

As the United States prepares to enter its 44th year waging a “war on drugs,” more and more Americans have come tounderstand the consequences of this failed policy. But while economists underline theinordinate financial costs and civil rights activists lament over disproportionate arrest rates, Fourth Amendment violations and the human cost of police militarization, there’s a group of drug war casualties that many often neglect: animals.

Shortly after 9 pm on March 9, an Ohio SWAT team executing a no-knock raid,busted down the front door of Susan Smith’s home and tossed inside a flashbang grenade. Susan’s husband, obeying police command, rushed to cage their pit bull, Lulu. But in the panicked frenzy, Lulu managed to break free from her cage and darted around the house, prompting one of the police officers to discharge his weapon. In a split second, Lulu had been shot. The wounded dog then limped out the broken-down door to the front yard, where neighbors say she was shot at least three more times. The reason for the raid? Police suspected that the Smith family had marijuana in the house.

Stories like Lulu’s are tragic to hear, but they highlight an important group of drug war casualties that is often neglected. Most people are so preoccupied by the use of excessive force and the human casualties claimed during drug searches, that they often overlook “man’s best friend,” who often just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Today, a dog is shot by law enforcement every 98 minutes, while the number of officers who have been killed by a dog over the past 50 years rests at zero.

Surely, a large factor in the excessive number of shootings is the inadequate training police have in dealing with canines – a pet nearly half of all US households have. But do dogs really pose that big of a threat to police? As Radley Balko pointed out in the Daily Beast back in 2009, “If dangerous dogs are so common, one would expect to find frequent reports of vicious attacks on meter readers, postal workers, firemen, and delivery workers.” Yet this has not been the case.

Read the rest at Truthout…

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Union Bosses Use Fast-Food Workers For Personal Gain

On April 15, the Service Employees International Union is organizing nationwide fast food worker strikes to draw attention to its push for a $15 hourly wage. While such protests may seem to be grassroots efforts led by struggling workers, major unions fund and promote them. Unions desperately need to extend their reach to the high-turnover fast food industry if they are to stem sharply declining membership rolls.

Unions often make contact and generate political activism from low-wage employees through what they call “worker centers,” which conduct activities similar to those of unions but with fewer legal restrictions and oversight. My Manhattan Institute colleague Diana Furchtgott-Roth argues these worker centers are doing unions’ dirty work. As she wrote during similar strikes in November 2013, “Unlike worker centers, unions must hold supervised elections so that members can elect union officials as representatives. Worker centers do not necessarily represent employees. Employees can decertify a union—dismiss it from representing them—but they cannot dismiss a worker center” (emphasis added).

Worker Centers Are Union Branches

Unions are organized as 501(c)(5) entities. They need to hold elections, file detailed financial reports with the Labor Department, and cannot receive tax-deductible contributions. Alternatively, many worker centers are organized as 501(c)(3) charities, which means they can receive tax-deductible donations and they are not accountable to the workers they claim to represent.

Recently-released union financial reports show the strong financial connections between unions and worker centers. Among the prominent worker centers that received funding from the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU’s) national headquarters in 2014 were Interfaith Worker Justice ($50,000) and New York Communities for Change ($50,000). NYCC is a remnant of the disgraced community organizing group ACORN, which was investigated multiple times for fraudulent voter registration and financial fraud. The rebranding effort was not comprehensive, as NYCC remains at the same Brooklyn address that ACORN occupied. Jobs with Justice, a labor organizing group that does not consider itself a worker center, received $226,600 from SEIU.

Union financial support of worker centers does not end with the SEIU. Last year, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union gave Jobs with Justice $223,000, Interfaith Worker Justice $117,000, and NYCC $5,000. These two unions stand to benefit the most from unionizing fast food workers.

Read the rest at the Federalist…

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Millennials Don’t Want to Join Unions, Here’s Why

Unions are in trouble. Membership is declining, public pension plans are dangerously underfunded, and young workers are not interested in diverting a portion of their paychecks to dues that offer them few benefits in return. Half the states have passed “right to work” legislation that says that workers cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. In the face of these challenges, the union membership rate has fallen to a 100-year low.

Membership rates continue to fall as traditionally unionized industries such as steel and textiles move offshore and younger workers choose the non-union sector. Only 4 percent of employed 16 to 24 year-olds are union members, and the membership rate for workers 25 to 34 years old is less than 10 percent. Union shops tend to value tenure over skill, and merit bonuses are nowhere to be found. Young workers are the first to be fired, even if they are more competent than experienced employees. Workers aged 45 to 64 have the highest union participation rate at 14 percent.

Given the costs of joining a union, it is unsurprising that unionization rates increase with age and few young people clamor to sign up. Younger workers already ask what that FICA tax is doing in their paycheck, and union dues add another 2 percent to 4 percent tax. United Food and Commercial Workers dues range from <href=”#dues”>$19 to $60 a month, according to the union’s website. Initiation fees can add another $50 to $100, the price of a year’s worth of Netflix.

Reasonable people would expect union bosses to reevaluate unpopular policies in an attempt to attract and retain new members. Reasonable people would be mistaken. Rather than competing in the labor market, union bosses favor influencing government policy by doubling down on political donations.

Unions are required to file annual financial and membership data with the Department of Labor, and recently-released LM-2 forms show that unions continue to struggle to gain new members.

United Food & Commercial Workers International Union membership has fallen 4 percent from its peak in 2009, to 1.3 million. Over this same time, employment has risen by 7 percent. Service Employees International Union membership has fallen 2 percent from its peak in 2011, to 1.9 million. AFL-CIO membership has fallen 7 percent from its peak in 2005 to 12.7 million, although membership has risen over the past few years.

Read the rest at Townhall…

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Death Sentences for Drug Crimes

An Indonesian court last Monday rejected the appeal of two Australian nationals on death row for drug offenses, exhausting the duo’s final effort to avoid the country’s next firing-squad execution, which is slated for this year. While the ruling brings to light the extreme measures some nations take to punish drug offenders, it also calls attention to the involvement of the U.S. government and the United Nations, both of which are indirectly supporting these efforts through their attempts to prosecute the War on Drugs internationally.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were arrested in 2005 on drug-trafficking charges for leading a plot to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia. The other seven members of the drug ring, which has become known as the Bali Nine, were more fortunate and narrowly evaded death sentences. While Indonesia underwent a four-year capital-punishment hiatus in 2008, it resumed executions in 2013, with the most recent round — six drug offenders — held this past January. Although January’s executions elicited an international outcry, with both Brazil and the Netherlands recalling their ambassadors from Jakarta, Indonesian president Joko Widodo has remained steadfast on capital punishment for drug criminals.

In fact, 33 countries have capital drug laws. Most of these laws are never used, but some countries execute drug criminals regularly. In Malaysia, for example, there were 648 drug offenders on death row in September 2012. Many legal experts have argued that these policies violate international law, citing the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which limits death sentences to the “most serious crimes,” and U.N. committee rulings that suggest drug offenses do not qualify under this criterion.

Despite widespread awareness of these laws, both the U.S. and the U.N. continue to provide counter-narcotics support to countries that execute drug offenders. The DEA has spent roughly $400 million each year for the past four years on international drug enforcement, some of which has ended up in these countries.

Read the rest at RealClearPolicy…