Mike Klein Online

Tax Freedom Day — The Feeling of Not So Much Freedom

Mike Klein

There is this idea out there that the country has a tax code.   Actually, it has a tax obstacle course.  It is almost impossible to decipher the obstacle course with its many minefields and politicians constantly argue about how to “simplify” it.  That is why the annual dust-up between the Tax Foundation and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a fascinating spat.

Each year the Foundation announces Tax Freedom Day – the date on which it says we have worked long enough to pay federal, state and local taxes.  This year the Foundation says freedom will arrive next Monday in Georgia and one week later nationally, on Monday, April 17.  Are you feeling better?

The theory is that we will work for ourselves the remainder of the year because collectively we will have earned enough to pay our fair share — $2.62 trillion for federal taxes and $1.42 trillion for state and local taxes.  Every year the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities debunks the report because it does not like the analysis method. This has become an annual ritual and both organizations talk about each other on their websites.

Monday, April 17 is also when 2011 federal and state returns must be filed unless you receive an extension.  First quarter payments for next year federal and state taxes are due the same day so perhaps a lot of folks won’t be feeling like they have Tax Freedom!

Freedom this year is calculated on an “average” American paying 29.2 percent in federal, local and state taxes.   Here’s where the Tax Foundation and the Center disagree about what the numbers mean.  The Center says the Foundation overstates middle class tax levels and it says states with the highest wage earners are penalized in the formula.  The Foundation’s position is that the highly progressive federal tax code creates the result because high wage earners are paying more real tax dollars than low wage earners.

Georgia has a low percentage of the nation’s highest wage earners.  The Tax Foundation ranked the state 35th nationally.  Last year tax freedom arrived in Georgia on April 3, so we slipped by a week in new rankings, and our overall position changed by two spots from 37th last year.  When it recently wrote about Georgia’s 2012 tax reform legislation, the Tax Foundation favored changes that will impact business-to-business transactions, but it said the plan to collect online sales tax is unconstitutional and the Foundation described the reinstated sales tax holidays as a gimmick.

Southern states with their lower comparative personal incomes generally rank low.  North Carolina (31) placed slightly ahead of Georgia but Alabama (43), South Carolina (47) and Tennessee (50) trailed.  Connecticut is ranked first (tax freedom on May 5) followed by New York and New Jersey tied for second (tax freedom on May 1).  Those three states have higher percentages of the most affluent wage earners so their residents are paying lots of taxes.

The Tax Foundation and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities are caught in a data argument that they seem likely to continue in a sporting fashion.  The deep level economic arguments on both sides are fairly fascinating stuff that you can examine in depth on their websites … click here for the Tax Foundation and click here for the Center on Budget and Policy.

Methods aside, the most profound message is the undeniable impact of government expansion and taxation on individuals.  The Tax Foundation says Americans will spend more dollars on federal, state and local taxes this year than on food, clothing and housing combined.  When you consider that about half of all Americans pay no federal income taxes, those who do pay taxes are paying a lot, their fair share and someone else’s fair share, too.

The Tax Foundation anticipates that state income taxes will eat up 40 working days for the average American, the equivalent of eight working weeks.  That figure is slightly skewed because millions of Americans who live in seven states including Florida and Tennessee pay no state income taxes.  Georgia has a 6 percent maximum income tax rate that funds about half of the state budget.

The report estimates you will work eleven days to pay your share of corporate income taxes because business taxes flow downhill to consumers. It will take 24 working days – almost five weeks – to pay for Social Security, Medicare and other social programs, 15 days for sales and excise taxes, 12 days for property taxes and seven days for various miscellaneous taxes.

Tax Freedom Day was first calculated in 1948 by a Florida businessman who later deeded his formula to the Tax Foundation when he retired in 1971.  Data has been analyzed going backward to 1900 when tax freedom was on January 22.   Tax freedom moved in sync with dramatic events such as both World Wars, the expansion of federal government social programs in the 1960’s and the Vietnam War in the 1970’s.  The latest date was May 1, 2000, during the final year of President Bill Clinton’s eight-year administration.

Federal stimulus spending, tax cuts, large numbers of laid off workers, and workers earning low wages were factors in the early tax freedom date on April 1, 2009.   But the growing canyon between federal revenue and spending has changed the game again.  This will be the fourth consecutive year in which Washington will borrow at least $1 trillion.  The Tax Foundation said tax freedom this year would not be reached until May 14 if federal deficit borrowing was included in the calculation.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

April 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Charter Schools: Entrenched Status Quo Won Out Over Enlightenment

Mike Klein

Two weeks ago hope and change seemed possible.  Two thousand students, parents and start-up charter school supporters gathered on a sunny winter morning outside the State Capitol to rally on behalf of the principle that equal opportunity begins in school.  Now we know that too few inside the great stone building cared to hear their message.  Entrenched status quo has won out over enlightenment.

On Wednesday the state House rejected HR 1162 which sought to place a constitutional amendment question on the November ballot that would ask voters:  “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”  The measure fell ten votes short of the 120 two-thirds majority it needed.

Georgia is precariously close to earning a reputation – if it has not already earned that onerous reputation – as a state that prefers education entitlement to innovation.

The establishment of charter schools – as one vehicle to improve education everywhere, for all kids –was forcefully championed by former President Bill Clinton.  During the Clinton administration charters grew from literally just a handful to thousands nationwide.  And whatever else you might think about President Barack Obama, his administration has been an equally forceful supporter of charter schools.

Georgia has 1.65 million public school students.  Fewer than 30,000 attend start-up charter schools.  Fewer than 4 percent attend any charter school.  Whatever threat charter schools pose to traditional public education, it is hard to imagine that their success would topple the existing business.

And isn’t that what this is really all about, the public money of public education.   Public education spending — K-12 and higher education — accounts for more than half of the state’s $18.6 billion budget.  Local property tax dollars add billions more dollars to public education spending.   Money = control.  Control = power.  Nobody in power willingly cedes power.  It is a rule of politics and war:  Never cede power or surrender territory.

Therefore, we have wealthy public school districts, whose superintendents earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, arguing that the establishment of a few start-up charter schools constitutes a threat to the financial monopoly that controls public education.  The monopoly is a partnership of convenience between school boards, teacher organizations and politicians who support status quo.

At least temporarily, they have won.  What now?  One of the bill sponsors moved to reconsider the motion, so that means the House will have at least one more chance to reverse course.

Start-up charter school supporters, thousands of families, Governor Nathan Deal’s office and others with a dog in this fight have worked on the constitutional amendment strategy since May when the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the state charter schools commission.  Now they have only whatever time remains in the current General Assembly, probably two months, to address this problem.

The 2008 Legislature was correct when it created the state charter schools commission as an alternate authorizer after local school boards reject charter school applications.  The Supreme Court was wrong.  And the 2012 Legislature, to date, is wrong to reject the constitutional amendment option that would enable voters to decide the question.

(Update:  Thursday morning the House voted 114 – 49 to reconsider which means HR 1162 will receive a second vote.)

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marian Wright Edelman Tells Educators “U.S. Is Going To Miss The Boat”

Mike Klein

Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan were blunt about the failure of American education to prepare children for a brave new world when they addressed the National Charters School Conference Wednesday in Atlanta.

“The United States is going to miss the boat to lead and compete in our globalizing world because we are not preparing a majority of our children for the future,” said Edelman.  “This is a disaster.  If children cannot read in this globalizing world they are being sentenced to social and economic death.  They are being sentenced to the prison pipeline.”

“One of the most insidious things that happened in the country over the past couple decades is the dumbing down of standards for children,” said Duncan who appeared by satellite from his office in Washington, D.C.  “In far too many states, including the state that I come from, Illinois, we’ve been lying to children and lying to families, telling them they are prepared for college and careers when in fact they are nowhere near ready.”

About 2 million students attend more than 5,200 charter schools nationally.  Here in Georgia, more than 72,000 students attend 177 schools.  That is a tiny fraction of the state’s 1.65 million public school students. By comparison, the Gwinnett County public school system has about 160,000 students.

The celebration tone that existed at Tuesday morning’s opening general session was replaced by Wednesday’s reality check that whatever charter schools have accomplished, there is a long and difficult road ahead for students in all schools, charters, traditional or any other kind.  Edelman told charter educators they should take risks, plan ahead and not be deterred, adding, “The Ark was built by amateurs.  The Titanic was built by professionals.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Duncan’s presentation included one Georgia specific headline.  Responding to an audience question, he said the state cannot use Race to the Top Dollars to assist any of 16 former state commission charter schools.  “We are holding the states accountable to the plan they put in place and this was not in there,” Duncan said.

Georgia will receive $100 million annually for the next four years from the Race to the Top federal grant program.  Duncan said he has spoken with Governor Nathan Deal about the impact from last month’s Georgia Supreme Court charter schools decision.  “We’re talking through a range of different issues. Whatever we can do to help, we’re prepared to do that.”

Wednesday morning general session attendance was noticeably smaller than the 4,000 who heard former President Bill Clinton’s keynote address on Tuesday morning.  Those who did manage to find the ballroom were treated to a tour de force from Marian Wright Edelman.

“Incarceration is becoming the new American apartheid.  Poor children of color are the fodder.   As educators you must see it, understand it, sound the alarm and make sure that this threat to American unity and community stops,” said Edelman, who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom eleven years ago for her lifelong devotion to seeking rights for disadvantaged people.

Marian Wright Edelman

“We have got to stop the growing criminalization of children at younger and younger ages,” Edelman said.  “Schools are a major feeder system into the cradle-to-prison pipeline.  We’ve got to challenge low expectations, poor quality education in charters and traditional public schools. Children are entitled to a quality education wherever they are.”

Nationally, Edelman said one child drops out of school every 11 seconds on school days and one child is born into poverty every 32 seconds.  A majority of children in all racial and income demographics cannot read or compute proficiently in 4th, 8th and 12th grades.  She said that disturbing percentage grows to 80% for Latinos and blacks who have not already dropped out.

“Education is the civil rights issue, the human rights issue of this time,” Edelman said.  “We’ve all got to be mindful of the responsibilities that we have to get it right, to do it right because so much is at stake.”  Edelman noted that state governments spend on average three times more per prisoner than per public school student.  “I can’t think of a dumber investment policy.”

The conference will end Thursday with a late morning rally outside the Georgia State Capitol.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After Supreme Court: “How We Answer Will Define Us For Generations”

Mike Klein

Georgia became the national battleground over charter public schools alternative authorization last month when the state Supreme Court ruled the three-year-old charter schools commission is unconstitutional.  So it was not surprising that there very pointed references to that decision Tuesday when the 2011 National Charters School Conference opened in Atlanta.

“Fifteen thousand students have been left in limbo by a dreadful decision from the Georgia Supreme Court,” said National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Peter Groff.  “How we answer will define us for generations.”  Groff invoked the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he called for a “next generation of high quality schools fueled by technology.”

Moments earlier, and not entirely in jest, Georgia Charter Schools Association President Tony Roberts welcomed some 4,000 conference goers to “Georgia where anyone can grow up to be a state Supreme Court justice even if you cannot read the state Constitution.”

President Bill Clinton

Charter school educators have come from across the nation to discuss alternative authorization, digital learning applications, crisis message management, how to start and fund schools, learning accountability and literally dozens of other educationally relevant topics.

During a 45-minute address former President Bill Clinton told charter educators to “put our country back in the future business” after accepting the NAPCS inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.  Clinton described the current “food fight” in most contemporary political dialogue.  Click here for additional coverage of the former President’s address.

Tuesday’s opening session included two of the charter schools world genuine superstars, New York City educator Eva Moskowitz and Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker.

“I understood a long time ago that schools and politics are inextricably linked,” said Moskowitz who opened the first Harlem Success Academy five years ago in New York City.  “Our schools are knocking the ball out of the park which now means we are considered a threat, not only to public schools, but to the political establishment.”

Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success Academy

The Harlem Success Academy story was chronicled in two charter school movement films, “The Lottery” and “Waiting for Superman.”  Moskowitz encountered stiff opposition from the New York City teachers union and also some community groups.  Two years ago the New York Times cited Harlem Success Academy as #1 in math statewide among all 3,500 public schools.  Six more Success Academies have followed in just five years, with plans to open 40 more.

“We are tasked with building a better mousetrap, introducing innovation to a sector that has long resisted it,” Moskowitz said. “I believe we are on the cusp of a golden era in education.  I raise the question, what is possible for our children?  I don’t know but it is our job to find out.  We must innovate every day.  We must resist the temptation to do things the same way they have always been done and we must question our own perception of what is possible.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is well known for creating a partnership with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who contributed $100 million to improve Newark student success and champion great teachers.  Booker is energy unleashed; his magnetism compels attention.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker

“We are in the most important fight for justice in generations,” Booker said.  “Audacity, audacity, always audacity.  We have underestimated the profound genius, the ability of our children.  We have become comfortable with failure and it is time for a wake-up call.  We are here to disturb the comfortable.  We were not born for mediocrity.  We were born to stand out.”

Booker issued fair warning to underperforming schools:  “We cannot accept mediocrity or failure in the charter movement.  I don’t care how a school came into existence.  I distinguish between schools of excellence, and I distinguish between schools that suck.  If that school happens to be a charter school then that school should either improve or move out of the way and let somebody else do the job.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman will speak Wednesday.  Duncan’s address will be by satellite from Washington.  The conference ends Thursday with a rally at the State Capitol, across from the Supreme Court.  Click here to learn more about the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clinton Tells Charter Educators: Put America Back in the Future Business

Mike Klein

Former President Bill Clinton challenged charter school educators to “put our country back in the future business” during his keynote address Tuesday morning that opened the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta.

“People look to you to keep America changing for the better,” Clinton said toward the end of his nearly 45-minute address. “Too many people have given up on us and it looks like a food fight half the time in Washington and across the country because we’ve forgotten that evidence, experience and the aspirations of everyday people tells us what works.

“This is not about ideology.  It’s not about theology.  It’s about what we can do to give our kids a better tomorrow by putting our country back in the future business. Charter schools showed we can put our schools in the future business.  Now we have to do what is clearly called upon to grow and expand charter schools and have that idea infect every other part of our lives.”

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools honored Clinton with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.  Public charter schools nationwide grew from one when he Clinton entered the White House to 2,000 after eight years.  His administration also established a $256 million grant fund to benefit charter schools.  Today two million students attend 5,277 public charter schools, which are 5% of all public schools nationwide.

Former President Bill Clinton

The former President’s address made 4,000 attendees half an hour late for lunch as he waded through historical data about improvements to Arkansas public schools while he was governor, cost issues associated with Medicare, why cholera has spread across Haiti, his initiatives to put millions of Americans back to work and other subjects.

Clinton discussed several of his Foundation initiatives, including putting Americans back to work retrofitting schools and public buildings for energy conservation and his Alliance for a Healthier Generation which combats childhood obesity.  The 42nd President also encouraged charter educators to have their students take advantage of the reworked federal student loan program.

“The real challenge for America is to get back into business,” Clinton reiterated.  “The government should be no more immune from change than the private sector.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Clinton at Charters Conference; Deal Meets With Gates Foundation Today

Mike Klein

Good morning from the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.  Former President Bill Clinton will deliver the morning keynote address to some 4,000 conference attendees.  The 42nd President pushed charter schools development during his eight-year administration, increasing them from virtually none to more than 2,000.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has learned Governor Nathan Deal, state schools Superintendent John Barge, legislators and several influential business leaders will meet with a representative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today to discuss Georgia education reform and potentially, financial assistance for the former state commission charter schools.

Topic Number One in Georgia is the fallout from last month’s state Supreme Court decision that overturned the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  The state is determining how many of 16 state commission schools can re-open in August, serving about 15,600 students.  Two sources have said it is unlikely that all 16 commission-approved schools will re-open in August.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a significant education footprint, noting on its website, “The foundation has set an ambitious goal in K-12 education: to graduate all students college-ready. Currently, only a third of students graduate on-time with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed beyond high school.  Together with our partners, we are working to provide all students—especially low-income and minority students—with the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

Mike Klein Online and the GPPF Forum will update today and Wednesday from the Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bill Clinton to Address Charter Schools Conference Tuesday in Atlanta

Mike Klein

Former President Bill Clinton will headline Tuesday’s opening session of the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Georgia where the state has become a national battleground over alternative authorization of public charter schools.  The 42nd President will receive the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award and deliver an acceptance speech to 4,000 attendees.

It is entirely coincidental that the year’s biggest annual charter schools conference is being hosted in Atlanta about one mile from the state Supreme Court.  Last month a one-vote majority of the state high Court’s seven justices declared that the state Charter Schools Commission is unconstitutional, ending a three-year experiment with alternative authorization.

Implications from the Georgia Supreme Court decision and the path forward will be discussed Tuesday afternoon during a conference session in the Sidney Marcus Auditorium.  Scheduled panelists include Georgia House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones who was the chief sponsor of 2008 legislation that created the state Charter Schools Commission.

Speaking off-the-record, two sources who are familiar with behind the scenes events said the combination of new charters with acceptable funding will probably not happen for some schools that received 2011– 2012 year approval from the state Charter Schools Commission.  Sixteen schools that planned to enroll as many as 16,000 students were affected by the Court’s opinion.

Former President Bill Clinton

Georgia Cyber Academy and its brick-and-mortar cousin Odyssey School received state board of education charters on June 9.  DeKalb County offered one-year temporary charters to The Museum School of Avondale Estates and Peachtree Hope Charter School.  Ivy Preparatory Academy turned down a Gwinnett County charter because of unequal funding.  The state board is expected to vote next Tuesday on charter applications from any schools that still want one.

Thousands have traveled to stifling hot and humid Atlanta for the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference at the Georgia World Congress Center.  Former President Clinton will be honored for kick starting the public charter schools movement.  The number of public charter schools grew from one prior to his 1992 election to more than 2,000 during his Presidency.

Tuesday morning’s general session will include musical performances by eighth grader Mariana Guzman from Ivy Prep Academy in Georgia and Pride Percussion ensemble which represents Pine Lake Preparatory, the largest charter school in North Carolina.  Other Tuesday speakers are Success Charter Network founder Eva Moskowitz and Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will appear by teleconference Wednesday. This year Georgia will receive the first of four $100 million annual Race to the Top grants from the U.S. DOE which approved Georgia in part because of leadership in the charter schools movement.

Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman will also speak Wednesday and the Junior Academy Dance Ensemble of Atlanta’s Drew Charter School will perform.  The conference will conclude with a rally Thursday morning at the State Capitol.

Click here to learn more about the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment