Tag Archives: congress

This Report Card for Betsy DeVos’ Favorite Education Policy Is Pretty Bad

Mother Jones

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Students in Washington, DC’s federally funded voucher program performed worse academically, particularly on math test scores, after a year of private school, according to a new federal analysis released Thursday.

The study, conducted by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, found that students who left public schools as part of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program performed significantly lower on math scores than those who did not. (They also scored lower in reading, but researchers noted that those results were not statistically significant.) In 2010, when the DOE’s research division previously evaluated the voucher program, it found that it had no significant impact on reading and math scores but a significant increase in high school graduation. Notably, Thursday’s study found that parents in the voucher program were more likely to feel like their child’s school was safe.

US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences

The analysis comes as President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continue to promote the expansion of school choice at the national level. The administration has proposed a $1.4 billion investment toward school choice programs for the coming fiscal year, including $168 million in spending for charter schools and $250 million in school vouchers for families.

While decades of research has shown voucher programs have had little to no effect on student achievement, studies of newer programs in the last two years have mostly revealed worse academic outcomes for participating students:

A November 2015 study of Indiana’s voucher program determined that students who attended private school through the program scored lower on math and reading tests than kids in public school.
In Louisiana, students who attend private schools through the voucher program showed significant drops in both math and reading in the first two years of the program’s operation, according to a February 2016 study by researchers at the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans. The program had no impact on students’ non-academic skills.
Researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, concluded in a July 2016 study of Ohio’s voucher program that students who took part in the voucher program fared worse academically than those who attended public schools.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program, created by Congress in 2004, provides tuition vouchers for 1,100 low-income students who transfer from public schools to private ones in the nation’s capital. Earlier this year, House Republicans filed legislation to renew the DC voucher program, even as a majority of city council members submitted a letter in March expressing “serious concerns” about the use of public funds to send kids to private school. Mayor Muriel Bowser split from the council, saying at the time she supported the program’s extension. Last year, Sen. Ted Cruz filed a bill that would expand the voucher program to cover the entire school district.

In response to the study, DeVos said in a statement that people should look beyond its one-year assessment, arguing that voucher programs didn’t hurt public schools. “When school choice policies are fully implemented,” she said, “there should be no differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” But Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, slammed the DC voucher program in a statement to the Associated Press. “We know that these failed programs drain public schools of limited resources,” he said, “only to deliver broken promises of academic success to parents and students.”

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This Report Card for Betsy DeVos’ Favorite Education Policy Is Pretty Bad

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It’s Not a Big Mystery Why Jason Chaffetz Is Quitting Congress

Mother Jones

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The latest from Capitol Hill:

Ever since Jason Chaffetz announced he would be leaving Congress, people have been trying to figure out what’s going on. Why would he do that?

But it doesn’t seem like much of a mystery to me. Chaffetz is a very ambitious guy. Like everyone else, he assumed Hillary Clinton would win the election and provide him with endless fodder for high-profile investigations from his perch as chairman of the Oversight Committee. He’d be on the front page all the time, doing CNN hits, and just generally gaining lots of name recognition for the next step in his career. President Chaffetz? It could happen!

Then Trump won. Suddenly the Oversight Committee was all but shut down. There would be no investigations. In fact, it was even worse than that. There was a real possibility that Trump would do something so outrageous that he’d have no choice but to hold hearings. Then he’d really be in trouble. He’d be caught between loyalty to party and the need to avoid looking like a total shill. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

tl;dr version: Trump’s election transformed the Oversight Committee from a platform for fame and fortune into a backwater at best and an endless tightrope with career-ending risk at worst. So Chaffetz decided to quit. In the meantime, though, he might as well get his foot fixed on the taxpayer’s dime, amirite? Plus it gets him out of the line of fire even quicker. What’s not to like?

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It’s Not a Big Mystery Why Jason Chaffetz Is Quitting Congress

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Trump Tax Plan Unveiled!

Mother Jones

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Last night I wrote that the Trump tax plan would be little more a than a rewrite of his campaign document. I was wrong. Here it is:

It’s not worth the 60 seconds it would take to check this, but I’m pretty sure this is less detailed than Trump’s campaign document. What a fucking embarrassment. It’s like something a high school class would put together. Even with only five days to work with, you’d think the Treasury Department of the United States of America could produce a little more than this.

But let’s go through the whole thing. There’s a little more than you see in the tweet above:

Three tax brackets instead of seven. However, there’s no telling how this affects taxes until Steve Mnuchin tells us where the cutoff points are.

Doubles the personal exemption from $12,000 to $24,000. This will help middle-class families, but it’s a little hard to know how much it will help them until we get details on….

Elimination of itemized deductions. Which ones? All of them? Good luck with that. But you can be sure that one of the targets will be the deduction for state income taxes, since that mostly benefits the hated blue states of California and New York.

Elimination of the estate tax. A huge boon for the super-duper rich.

Elimination of the AMT. A huge boon for the rich.

Elimination of Obamacare’s 3.8 percent tax on investment. A huge boon for the rich.

Reduce business tax rate to 15 percent. A huge boon for corporations and the rich, especially those with income from pass-through businesses. Apparently Mnuchin doesn’t care that Senate rules make this almost literally unpassable.

Tax repatriation holiday. A huge boon for corporations and the rich.

Territorial taxation system for corporations. There’s no telling what effect this would have. There are good territorial systems and bad ones. It’s all in the details—though it’s a pretty good guess that Trump will opt for one of the bad ones.

The driving force behind this appears to be Trump’s desire to call this the biggest tax cut in American history. The previous champ was Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, which cost 3.9 percent of GDP. That means Trump is gunning for 4 percent of GDP.

The Congressional Budget Office pegs GDP over the next ten years at $239 trillion. To get to 4 percent, Trump’s tax plan will need to cut taxes by $9.5 trillion. This is obviously ridiculous. Maybe Trump isn’t accounting for inflation or something. That would get him down to $4.3 trillion.

Really, who knows? I suppose Trump will call it the biggest tax cut in history regardless of how big it is. He doesn’t care. The one thing we can be sure of is that the rich will swoon. At a guess, something like 90 percent of that $9.5 (or $4.3 or whatever) trillion will go to the top 10 percent. The rest of us get a few crumbs.

Of course, this whole thing is DOA in Congress anyway, which will pretty much ignore Trump and create its own tax plan for the rich. This one-page “plan” is really just a publicity stunt so Trump can say he introduced it during his first hundred days. What a doofus.

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Trump Tax Plan Unveiled!

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Trump Plans to Cram His Entire Legislative Agenda Into Days 96-99

Mother Jones

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Did Mack Sennett ever make “The Keystone Cops Go to Washington”? No? No matter. That’s what it feels like right now.

Let’s see if I can do justice to our current legislative follies. For starters, it appears that we’re going to get health care, tax reform, and infrastructure all in one week. Why? I guess so that President Trump can say he got going on all of them in his first hundred days. Which totally doesn’t matter and Trump couldn’t care less about it. But he released a truly comical list of all his accomplishments anyway. Not that he cares. But anyway. Let’s move on.

Health care: The House Freedom Caucus has allegedly agreed to an amendment to the previous House bill—the one that crashed and burned last month thanks to the HFC’s opposition—that now makes it acceptable. They haven’t actually said so in public yet, but maybe tomorrow they will. Maybe. Basically, it allows states to opt out of the essential coverage requirements of Obamacare. Except for Capitol Hill, that is. Members of Congress will continue to get every last thing on the list. And there’s no change to pre-existing conditions except for one teensy little thing: insurance companies can charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition. How much more? The sky’s the limit, apparently. Does $10 million sound good? In practice, of course, this means that they don’t have to offer coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition.

Tax reform: It turns out the Treasury Department really was taken by surprise on this, so Wednesday’s announcement will be little more than the same stuff Trump released on the campaign trail. Corporate taxes get cut by nearly two-thirds, to 15 percent. Ditto for “pass through” corporations like, oh, just to pull an example out of the air, The Trump Organization. There will be no offsetting spending cuts. There will be no border tax. There will be nothing much for the non-rich except a modest change to the standard deduction. There will, of course, be no details about which deductions and loopholes, if any, Trump plans to plug. It will be a gigantic deficit buster. And just for good measure, it’s probably literally unpassable under the Senate’s rules.

Infrastructure: In a laughable attempt to get Democratic support for his tax bill, Trump plans to add infrastructure spending and a child tax credit to it. The problem is that Trump’s infrastructure plan is little more than a giveaway to big construction companies, and his child tax credit—designed by Ivanka!—is little more than a giveaway to the well off. In other words, instead of one thing Democrats hate, the bill now has three things Democrats hate. I’m just spitballing here, but I’m not sure this is how you make deals.

This is lunacy. The barely revised health care bill probably won’t pass the House, let alone the Senate. Tax reform is just a PowerPoint presentation, not an actual plan. Plus it’s such an unbelievable giveaway to the rich that even Republicans will have a hard time swallowing it. And the infrastructure stuff is DOA. It will almost certainly be opposed by both Republicans and Democrats.

This is like watching kids make mud pies. I guess that’s OK, since this is all terrible stuff that I hope never sees the light of day. Still, I guess I prefer even my political opponents to show a little bit of respect for the legislative process.

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Trump Plans to Cram His Entire Legislative Agenda Into Days 96-99

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Trump’s Latest Plan to Undo Obama’s Legacy May Be Illegal

Mother Jones

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Sixteen presidents have cemented their legacies by designating new public lands and national monuments, a power granted to them under the 1906 Antiquities Act. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, wants to go in the opposite direction: If he actually follows through on his threat to reverse any monuments created by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, he’d be the first commander-in-chief to revoke a monument designated by a predecessor. He’d also be stretching the legal authority of his office beyond what Congress ever granted.

Trump’s latest executive order, which he’ll sign at the Interior on Wednesday, directs the department to review 24 monument designations dating back to January 1996. The oldest monument under review is the 1996 Grand Staircase-Escalante monument; the most recent is Bears Ears, a twin rock formation that was President Obama’s last designation. (Both are southern Utah monuments criticized by local and state officials who oppose federal land control and want to keep the areas open for mining, logging, and grazing.) Everything in between, including Obama’s record 554 million acres of land and ocean set aside, will be up for review until August 24, 120 days from when Trump signs the executive order. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will then recommend legislative or executive changes to monument designations. Trump’s next actions could include shrinking them or revoking their designation entirely.

While Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are expected to top Trump’s list, environmentalists don’t think the review will stop there. “An attack on one monument is an attack on all of them,” says Dan Hartinger, the Wilderness Society’s deputy director for Parks and Public Lands Defense.

But as Zinke, a self-described Teddy Roosevelt conservationist, admitted on a White House press call on Tuesday night, it’s “untested whether the president can do that.”

That’s because no president has even tried to revoke a national monument since 1938, when President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to reverse Calvin Coolidge’s designation of the Castle Pinckney National Monument in South Carolina. The attorney general at the time, however, decided that the Act “does not authorize the President to abolish national monuments after they have been established.” In the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Congress again affirmed that only it had the power to revoke or modify national monuments, says Mark Squillace, a University of Colorado Law professor and expert on the Antiquities Act.

Some presidents have managed to shrink monuments. Woodrow Wilson, for example, shrunk Washington State’s Mt. Olympus National Monument to open up more than 300,000 acres to logging, but he didn’t face lawsuits over the decision as Trump almost certainly will.

Congress has the power to reverse these monuments and has done so in the past, but Republicans in favor of the idea may be wary of the political backlash they would face with such a move. When Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) attempted to introduce legislation transferring 3 million acres of federal lands to states, he drew so much criticism from constituents he back-tracked.

For months, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) has lobbied the White House to use executive action to reverse Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears monument. The Trump administration and Bishop claim that monuments cost local communities jobs by limiting grazing acreage and logging—though proponents argue that tourism and recreation resulting from the monument declaration have also boosted jobs.

Trump’s executive order isn’t breaking any laws yet—but as he continues down the path to reverse public lands decisions from the Obama and Clinton administrations, environmentalists are already counting on challenging him in court, says the Wilderness Society’s Hartinger. “By reversing protections on a single monument you leave open the question if any of them are permanent.”

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Trump’s Latest Plan to Undo Obama’s Legacy May Be Illegal

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