‘Waiting For Superman’ Not What We’ve Been Waiting For?

Neal McCluskey points out the producers of Waiting For Superman have their own agenda, beyond charter schools.

Unfortunately, Waiting for “Superman” doesn’t just seem to want to make people wait for good schools by promoting charter schools and not full choice. On its “take action” website, it prominently promotes the very opposite of parent empowerment: Uniform, government-imposed, national standards for every public school in America.

Rather than let parents access the best curriculum for their unique children, the Waiting for “Superman” folks want to give the federal government power. Of course, the website doesn’t say that Washington will control “common” standards, but make no mistake: Federal money has been driving the national standards train, and what Washington funds, it ultimately controls. And there is no better way to complete the public schooling monopoly — to let the teacher unions, administrator associations, and other adult interests do one-stop shopping for domination — than to centralize power in one place.

Ethics Reform Should Be A Priority For Alabama Legislators

Alabama’s ethics law was last updated in 1992.  Since then, we’ve had multiple legislators indicted, and reportedly one of the largest investigations into public corruption in the country. The BGA Integrity Index ranks Alabama 4th in the nation in terms of public corruption.  If ever there was a need for ethics reform, Alabama has it.

Requiring mandatory ethics training for all elected officials, mandatory disclosure of all money spent lobbying [Currently, we only require lobbyists to report anything over $250.], and giving the State Ethics Commission subpoena power would be a good start.  Increased transparency should also be a goal for the next legislature.  A ban on PAC to PAC transfers would bring some clarity to campaign contributions.  It is almost impossible to trace the source of donations to candidates when they have been washed through multiple PACs.  Additionally, Governor Riley has commendably put the state’s checkbook online, but the system is difficult to use and understand, and doesn’t always have up to date information.   Improving this site in a searchable format would also be a step in the right direction.

TAKE ACTION

Here are a few things you can do to make sure the legislature passes real ethics reform:

1.  Call your legislator and let them know you want ethics reform.

2.  Call Governor Riley and let him know you’d like a special session called on ethics reform.

Rolling Reserve Budget Act Key To Solving Alabama’s Problems With Education Funding

For the past two legislative sessions, Rep. Greg Canfield (R-Vestavia) has introduced a budget reform measure entitled the Rolling Reserve Budget Act.  The proposal would cap education spending based on a rolling 15-year average growth rate.  The state currently bases the education budget on a projection of Education Trust Fund revenues.  Extreme revenue fluctuations make forecasting revenues difficult.  For example, actual revenues in 1982 were down 3.4 percent from projections, while revenues in 1983 were 13.7 percent higher than projected.  In order to deal with the extreme variations, Canfield’s bill would average the growth rate of Education Trust Fund revenues for the last 15 years and cap the state’s education budget at that amount.  Any surplus revenue would go into a savings account (Budget Stabilization Fund) to cover years where there is a shortfall.

When the Budget Stabilization Fund reaches an amount equal to 20 percent of the current budget, funds would roll into a capital fund for education and the PEEHIP and Pension (TRS) Liability Funds.  As of September 30, 2007, the unfunded liability for PEEHIP was 12.6 billion and 5.2 billion for TRS.  This 17.8 billion is a threat to Alabama’s future financial stability.

Rep. Canfield had the Legislative Fiscal Office model a rolling reserve budget for FY1996-FY2009.  Under the rolling reserve model, the state could have avoided the 3 years of actual proration and prevented the state’s borrowing from the Constitutional Rainy Day Fund in FY2009.   The model allowed a sustainable increase in education spending while setting aside reserves to prevent proration.

Given the revenue projections for 2011 and the continued economic uncertainty, the state is going to have to find ways to cut back spending.  The next Governor and Legislature face tough challenges where the state’s budget is concerned.  Passing the Rolling Reserve Budget Act is one way to make those hard times a little less challenging in the future.

TAKE ACTION

Your action is the key to passing the Rolling Reserve Budget Act.  Here’s how you can help:

1.  Ask your legislator to co-sponsor the Rolling Reserve Budget Act and work to get it passed.   You can find your legislator’s contact information here.

2.  Write op-eds or letters to the editor:  Many Alabamians are not familiar with the Rolling Reserve Budget Act.  You can help get the word out by writing your local paper and/or weekly papers in your area.

Entitlement Nation

The Chicago Tribune has a good article today re: the growth in federal entitlement spending.

The bad news:

Reports The Wall Street Journal, “Nearly half of all Americans live in a household in which someone receives government benefits, more than at any time in history” (our emphasis). In 2008, that group encompassed 44.4 percent of the U.S. population, and the weak economy has undoubtedly increased the number as people are thrown onto unemployment benefits, early retirement and food stamps.

The really bad news:

As if that trend were not worrisome enough, it coincides with another one: The number of households that pay taxes to finance all that assistance is declining. The Tax Policy Center says that in 2005, 39 percent of households paid no federal income tax. Today, it’s 45 percent. Most of those do contribute to Social Security and Medicare, but not all: 13 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll levies.

As Alexander Tyler said:

A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

Common Core Standards For Public Schools: A Bad Idea

by Phyllis Schlafly

The No Child Left Behind Act, which allowed states to set their own public school standards for “proficiency,” is opposed and considered a failure by all factions in the education world. Therefore, we obviously should force all kids in every state to be held to uniform national standards of proficiency. Right?

No; wrong. But that bad idea is being aggressively promoted by the Obama Administration. The mailed fist in the velvet glove is the extraordinary river of taxpayers’ money used to force compliance.

Having taken over major parts of the banking industry, the mortgage industry, the auto industry, the college student-loan industry, and the health-care industry, the Obama Administration is now taking over the $600 billion public-school industry with taxpayers’ money from the Stimulus package. The White House concedes that “stimulus” is a negative word and avoids its use because it obviously didn’t stimulate jobs, but Stimulus dollars will stimulate the takeover of our children’s minds under Common Core Standards, the moniker for forcing national curriculum standards on all public schools.

Imposing common-core national standards sounds so alluring to those who look to the Obama Administration to solve all our problems. We would get rid of our messy, different 50-state variations of standards, and make our kids smarter by incentivizing them to aspire to a higher bar of achievement, make them all college-ready, enable them to rank higher on international tests, and enable them to better compete in the new global economy.

Au contraire. For starters, the imposition of national standards isn’t constitutional. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution authorizes the federal government to exercise any control over education, and this limitation is reinforced by a longstanding federal law that forbids the federal government “to mandate, direct, or control … school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of state or local resources.”

But the Obama Administration isn’t known for checking out its authority with the Constitution or the law. And control of public school curriculum is a very desirable prize for those who seek to control the future.

Even Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano admitted in 1977, “national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas.” The bait is use of our money, lots of it.

The Obama Administration plans to do an end-run around the Constitution and the federal law by tying the Common Core Standards to the granting or denying of federal appropriations, both the $4.35 billion Race To The Top money and even Title I funding. That effectively makes the Common Core Standards compulsory because state politicians are not likely to turn down billions of dollars.

So far, at least 36 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core Standards. Only Texas and Virginia have indicated reluctance to adopt.

Much of the argument for Common Core Standards is that our decentralized, 50-state control of curriculum is so unlike educational systems in most other countries, but so what! Americans honor our exceptionalism and our federalism, and we don’t want to be “fundamentally transformed” into European-style socialism.

Conclusions offered by the research into systems used in other countries are thin, unpersuasive and largely irrelevant to the United States. The countries cited have a long tradition of central government control plus a largely homogeneous culture, whereas the United States has a diverse population and strong traditions of parental authority, limited government, and state (not federal) control of education.

There is absolutely no assurance that parents or the public will approve the content of the proposed Common Core Standards. Many so-called education “experts” openly advocate imposing curriculum standards on content that parents find offensive, such as non-phonics in reading instruction and left-wing and feminist propaganda in social studies, and on methodology such as deliberately not teaching facts or basic arithmetic skills in order to emphasize creativity.

The better way to go is toward what is known as school choice, i.e., allowing parents to choose the school they want for their children, a.k.a. the free market in education. Private choice would sort out the curricula that do the job of making kids smart.

Children will never be adequately educated under a system run by bureaucrats handing out money and the teachers unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers) spending the money in the classroom. The NEA and the AFT also have extraordinary millions of dollars extracted from their members to lobby for policies they want to have enacted by Congress, state legislatures and school boards and also to elect their favored political candidates.

Insurance Premiums Rising As A Result of Obamacare

Yesterday, The Heritage Foundation published this piece about how Obamacare would simultaneously cause insurance premiums to rise and prevent companies from raising them.

The Heritage article is extremely relevant given this piece from Monday’s Birmingham News:

In filings with the Alabama Department of Insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and VIVA Health reported they already have increased some of their premiums for 2011. Some of the increases are directly related to the federal changes, some are not. And they warn that more increases are on the horizon.

The changes in Alabama, while slight compared to some changes in other parts of the country, are being monitored by federal regulators who say the new Affordable Care Act is not an excuse for companies to inflict massive cost increases on consumers…
…A spokeswoman said most of the increase is directly related to the new health care law’s mandate to eliminate the annual prescription drug maximum. VIVA had set its maximum at $3,000 on plans for companies with fewer than 50 employees, as a way to make them more affordable.

The Federal Takeover of Education

Great article in the American Thinker on national education standards and the Common Core Standards Initiative.  Thanks to State School Board Member Betty Peters for prompting the writing of this piece.

The Federal Takeover of Education

by Bill Costello

Federal control over education has been growing since the 1960s despite the fact that the word education does not appear in the Constitution of the United States.

Now, as the current administration pushes for national education standards, federal control over education is about to expand considerably at the expense of state and local control.

Texas Eduation Commissioner Robert Scott described the push for national education standards as “a step toward a federal takeover of the nation’s public schools.”

A little more than a year ago, state leaders launched the Common Core State Standards Initiative to develop a common set of K-12 standards in English and math. The standards they developed, known as the Common Core, are the first and only common education standards.  Read More…

Dems Pull EPA Appropriations Bill Over Cap and Trade Resolution

This flew a little under the radar, so in case anyone else missed it…

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee was set to vote on an amendment to the Interior-EPA Appropriations bill that would have imposed a one-year ban on global warming regulations.  The amendment would have defunded the EPA’s regulatory program on global warming.  Appropriations are done yearly, hence the one-year ban.  The Obama administration and the EPA have attempted to do what Congress has thus far refused to do, by declaring carbon dioxide a pollutant and regulating it under the Clean Air Act.  Americans have made it clear they don’t support cap and trade legislation, and as a result, Congress has been unable to pass it.  Obama and the EPA are essentially circumventing the democratic process to impose and enforce cap and trade through the EPA…a backdoor method, if you will.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not yet said when a new vote might be scheduled.

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality: Government Takeover of the Internet

What is Net Neutrality?

We all know there are different types of content on the internet–emails, websites, photos, videos, etc.  Certain types of content (especially videos and very large files) take a lot more bandwidth than other types of content.  Think of the internet as a highway, and content as cars.  A simple email with no attachments is like a small, fast sports car.  It can get from point A to point B in a zip.  A You Tube video is more like a big bus.  It gets from point A to point B, but has to go a lot slower because of it’s size.  When the smaller, faster sports cars get stuck behind the big bus, it slows them down significantly.  In order to keep the smaller content like emails from getting slowed down by large files and videos, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) prioritize content that takes less bandwidth.  This would be akin to a fast lane on a highway just for small, fast cars.

Net Neutrality is the principle that all content should be treated equally no matter the size or amount of bandwidth they use.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering a regulatory scheme that would enforce this principle prohibiting ISPs from prioritizing certain kinds of content over others.

Why is this a bad thing?

Net Neutrality is ultimately a huge power grab for the FCC.  It would be the first time in history the internet would be subject to regulation by the federal government.  The FCC is becoming increasingly irrelevant with more and more of our daily communication moving to the internet from radio and television.  The Net Neutrality movement is essentially a way to justify its continued existence.

Net Neutrality would at its base, be another federal government take over, this time, control of the internet.  It will allow the federal government to regulate how ISPs manage content and data that travels across their networks.  This will result in more congestion on the internet and less investment in broadband expansion.

History of Net Neutrality

The FCC has already attempted to enforce Net Neutrality and was prevented from doing so by a federal court in April 2010.  The Federal Court of Appeals in DC said the FCC was trying to “shatter” the bounds of their legal authority by regulating the Internet.  As a result, the FCC is now trying to reclassify the internet as a Title II “telecommunications service” which would allow them to enact Net Neutrality as well as many other harmful provisions.  Title II contains 40+ provisions that were created to address monopoly telephone carriers during WWII.  The FCC claims that they are only going to enforce 6 of these provisions and forebear the rest.  The forebearance, however, is not legally binding and they could enforce any of the provisions they choose.

One of the worrisome provisions in Title II would allow the FCC to set price controls.  They claim they don’t intend to enforce this provision, but they would have a wide open path to set rates for internet service.  Most ISPs currently have a tiered pricing system.  A consumer who just uses the internet to check email and look up the occasional website doesn’t have the same bandwidth needs as someone who downloads a lot of You Tube videos or files.  Thus, ISPs allow consumers to choose a wireless plan that best fits their needs.  FCC enforcement of Net Neutrality will likely eliminate that option.

Who is behind the push for Net Neutrality?

An organization called Free Press is the most vocal advocate for Net Neutrality.  Free Press is a neo-Marxist group whose goal is to eliminate all private media in this country.  They have repeatedly said that Net Neutrality is the first step toward eliminating private media and making broadband service a public utility.  Google has been another ardent supporter of Net Neutrality.  The concern of content providers like Google is that the ISPs will want to charge them to prioritize their content.

While the concerns of content providers are understandable, prioritizing can actually be a good thing.  It creates a fast lane for companies that want to create a high amount of data.  Google is afraid they will have to pay extra for that fast lane.  That too, is not necessarily a bad thing.  Allowing companies to pay extra to make sure that their product is delivered on time is not a new concept.  Many companies switched from USPS to Fed Ex even though Fed Ex was more expensive, because they wanted to make sure their products got delivered on time.  This would also provide another source of revenue for broadband expansion.

What’s the status of the Net Neutrality debate?

The coalition against Net Neutrality is bi-partisan with all House Republicans and 77 House and Senate Democrats sending a letter to the FCC in opposition.  Reports are that the FCC has ended all talks with ISPs at the behest of Free Press, which would seem to be a step toward Title II regulation.  However, there are signs that Google and some of the other content providers are concerned about the possibility of overburdensome regulations under Title II and have stepped back their efforts in favor of Net Neutrality.  Google and Verizon are reportedly in talks, and Amazon is attempting to broker a compromise on Title II reclassification.  It is looking more and more like content providers are going to be forced to work with ISPs to provide the best product to the consumer; thus, enabling free market forces to work without the heavy hand of government.