Saturday, December 16, 2006

Extreme MakeOver: School Choice Edition

Why can't we fund the student instead of the educational bureaucracy? Lidia Downs of the Family Taxpayers Foundation in a current editorial letter brings the bony finger of indignation to bear on the Illinois legislature and Illinois Education:
The fact is that public schools are like other monopolies - they squander money.

Their newest ploy is this so-called “tax swap” which would raise both individual and corporate state income taxes by 67% in exchange for a promise of temporary property tax relief, which they can’t guarantee. Under this bill, 6¼ % sales tax would also get applied to such services as movie tickets, hair salons, parking, golf courses, car repairs and more. The result would be about $6 billion more for state government, plus less local control of our schools. A better name for this bill would be a “tax swindle!”

The real test for state leaders AND for education bureaucrats is to find solutions like charter schools, virtual schools, and opportunity scholarships, that have actually been proven to result in vastly improved academic achievement. It’s time we funded the student instead of the system.

Jump cut to another excellent analysis of why some "vouchers" are bad and some are very good according to anti-school choice folks.

When is a voucher not a voucher? When is is for college! The Heritage Foundation's Dan Lips
points out:
When the scholarship is for higher education, rather than for elementary, junior, or high school. Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill, and Hope Scholarships--all essentially vouchers--earn wholehearted support from liberals who demonize "vouchers."

Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill, "Lifetime Learning" tax credits, and college scholarships are all school choice initiatives. Why is ok for some age students and not for others?

President Clinton embodies Democrats' strange position on school vouchers. In 1998, he vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have provided school vouchers to 2,000 low-income children in Washington, D.C., calling the plan "fundamentally misguided." But just a year earlier, he signed a tax package that included the Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning tax credits. At the time, those tax subsidies were projected to help 13 million Americans enroll in a postsecondary institution of their choice after high school.
Mr. Lips continues,

There is no magic reform proposal that will fix all of the failures of our K-12 system. That’s why it's important to shift the focus from the system to the student. Students have diverse needs, and there are many schools that could meet those needs, including private schools.

That's why school choice programs, including vouchers, hold great promise and promote equal opportunity. Like Pell grants, existing school voucher programs in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C., are structured to give disadvantaged families the same opportunity that more affluent families already have -- the ability to enroll their children in safe and high quality schools.

Say no to the "Tax Swipe" and yes to school choice. Let's fund the kids and not the system.

The Ethanol's coming, The Ethanol's coming!

The Daily Pantagraph reports Greg Jackson and Kyle Ham believe at least one ethanol production facility is in Woodford County's near future.

The interests here in the County being what they are we seriously doubt that there will be much media coverage of some of the rather unpleasant facts attending the ethanol boom. That leaves us with the job and placing the bulls-eye directly on our back.

First off, if ethanol is a way to fight foreign oil dependence, why the heck is there a tariff on Brazilian ethanol and not on Saudi oil? Just a question.

Alright then, let's see 4 up to 70 jobs created! (We wonder if that range could be pinned down a bit better.) Higher prices for grain! Higher property values! Decreased dependence on oil!

The first person to say it's "win-win" may just get slapped.

Let's take the last first. Without going nuts on the numbers, suffice it to say they just don't add up. According to the USDA's latest figures the fossil fuel input is almost equal to the ethanol output! On top of this, of course are the huge corn subsidies, the 51 cent per gallon direct subsidy (not the net ethanol, but rather the gross which is mostly recycled fossil fuels). Granted - there are huge oil and gas subsidies as well. That's worked out real well for us, hasn't it?

Now for no extra charge, you get huge demands on water tables and higher food prices with reduced corn exports. This is all presumably to replace a minuscule percentage of our national oil and gas consumption.

That's not to say this would not be good to some farmers, ethanol producers, and ag conglomerates because it will. Perhaps there even would be a financial windfall for the County Government.

Most commodities folks we know say if you haven't already invested in your ethanol plant, you probably shouldn't, because corn-based ethanol will only last 5 years or so and then the plants will be converted to other biomass like grass, cellulose, etc.

At any rate - here's the uncomfortable question:

Why on earth would we want to turn agriculture on its head in this way for what all the world looks to be a short term profit? Why have we embarked on such a dangerous public policy initiative? Every time the government gets involved in the markets it mucks them up.

We realize that Woodford County is going to ride this wave. We just hope the local effects justify the state and national policies, and no one falls off the surf board.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Woodford County Journal Nails the "Tax Swipe", ehh "Swap"

The Woodford County Journal today hits one completely out of the park with its editorial entitled, "Tax Swap Plan Needs To Stay Shelved".

Our compliments to the staff over there, and we hope they won't sue us for linking to a photocopy of the piece. In fact, run out and buy a copy of the paper, just to be safe.

The proponents of the Big Swipe feel they have momentum but we're not so sure the folks won't rise up when they see what is really going on, who's behind it, and what is at stake.

We particularly enjoy the passage which fearlessly states:
"It is easy to point to increased property taxes as arguments for a funding crisis. It is more logical, however, to address the increasing spending - on transportation, utilities and especially salaries and benefits - to see the money feeds a proverbial elephant growing in the living room . . . most of the money won't go to educate children, it will go to pay for past (and we dare say, future) poor choices at the state level"
The emphases, as always, are our own.

Peoria Journal Star Stands Up (heh, heh)

In another hard hitting editorial, the Peoria Journal Star has called on the newly elected County Board Chairmen of Woodford and Tazwell Counties to "mend fences". Such sage advice can only be ignored at the Counties' peril.

This courageous stand is best illustrated by the final line of the piece:
"Whatever hatchets are out there, residents of both counties will be best served if those they elected bury them."
With a solid policy compass like this is it any wonder our Board depends so heavily on the paper's opinion for direction?

The editorial board did manage to get in the obligatory Woodford County dig, though:
"He's [Tazwell Board Chairman Prather] lucky to have a bipartisan board, if Woodford is any indication. Stable finances should help, too."
We sure hope their jobs are safe over there at the paper with the announcement of their imminent sale. We hear David Geffen is ready to pony up $2 Billion for the L.A. Times. Maybe he'd like the PJS as well. We'd miss those nuts.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

PTELL machinations, games, and other "fun"

Two very interesting articles for your consideration popped up in the Illinois print media the last couple of days. One is from the Pontiac Daily Leader and deals with Pontiac Township High School District's new levy. The other is from Journal Gazette reporting on Matoon's School District and their new levy rate.

The articles are instructive about how some taxing authorities feel regarding the concept of capped spending.
The district [Pontiac] is "asking for almost every single penny we can," the board of education heard in a review of the 2006 levy by Amy Smith, director of the Livingston Area Vocational Center, who worked on preparing it. The district "will not see a lot of extra money" because of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), or tax caps, she said. The increase in EAV means the district can levy about $77,000 more than in 2005; without being limited by PTELL, the board could have levied $240,000 to $250,000 more than in 2005, Smith estimated.
In other words, PTELL prevented them from spending another $170, 000 - darn it! Even more astounding is the attitude reflected here, and unusual in it's frankness:
. . . board President Scott Bauknecht . . . added that, in the future, the board will have to ask voters for a tax-rate increase in a referendum.

Superintendent Harlen "Butch" Cotter reminded the current board members that past boards also tried to keep the overall tax rate down, and resisted taking some actions, such as selling bonds, to get the tax rate up, before PTELL became effective in Livingston County, for taxes levied in 2000. PTELL allows a taxing district to receive an increase in tax extensions on existing property, plus an additional amount for new construction. The increase on existing property from one year to the next is limited to 5 percent or the national consumer price index, whichever is less. The CPI for 2006 levies will be 3.4 percent.

"We made that call years ago, said Bauknecht, who was on the board when voters in the county approved PTELL in 1999, noted after Cotter's comment. The hope of past boards was that when the district needed a higher tax rate, voters would give it to the board, Bauknecht added.
So they didn't inflate their needs before PTELL as so many taxing authorities did. They did the right thing counting on asking the taxpayers for money if they needed it. The taxpayers have said no. Now they're looking on this as a mistake and are listening to advice to circumvent what the wishes of the taxpayers seem to indicate. More of the same comes from Mattoon:
MATTOON -- A request for about $11 million in property tax revenue drew mixed reactions from school board members and residents alike, with supporters of the 2007-08 tax levy ultimately prevailing during a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday.

Opponents of the 6-percent total increase -- what officials said the district can expect in property taxes -- said it defies the intentions of local residents who overwhelmingly passed the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) four years ago to curb tax hikes.

. . .
Administrators said they are not trying to circumvent the requirements or “spirit” of PTELL, because this law does not apply to the property tax revenue sought to repay the money borrowed for Mattoon’s two new elementary schools.

Not including the funds for paying these bonds, the new request for tax revenue is higher than last year’s by 3.4 percent, which effectively is the cap imposed by PTELL. This figure also accounts for the estimated taxable value of land in the district, said administrators.

. . .
board Vice President Charles Young said . . . Ask the people for the money, rather than finding ways to just take it,” Young said Tuesday. “When we find ways to maneuver around PTELL, we risk ruining (the public’s) trust.”
Ahh, that last seems somewhat sane.

If the School Administrations and School Boards would concentrate as hard on holding the line on spending as they do on worrying about "tax caps" and how to get around asking for money we could begin to make some real progress in taxation.

I think my favorite snippet is from the Gazette:
Superintendent Larry Lilly said . . . “If we don’t approve the levy that’s presented, we’re going to have to take a hard look at (reducing) people and programs.”
This, of course, is the over used threat that's supposed to scare taxpayers with children and families of school employees.

We fall into both categories and we say, "REDUCE AWAY! ! ! You can start with pensions and benefits!"

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Support Wind, Feel Good - Burn Money!

We suppose you'd get just as much and generate a little heat for your own home this winter if you'd just take a match to some cash, but if you'd rather, you can give it to Renewable Choice Energy in Colorado.

They're unselfishly providing regular consumers with the opportunity to buy "Wind Power Cards". Renewable Choice Energy is big into selling "renewable energy credits" to businesses and government entities. With the Wind Power Card regular folks can get in on the game.

There's only one slight problem. The card doesn't give you any energy, or credits, or anything else. It is magnetized so you can stick it on your fridge, but that's about it. We guess the "credit" they're selling you is credit for being dumb. The money just goes into the Renewable Choice Energy coffers.

But you can feel good about helping "the environment"?! Sometimes we just shake our heads.
Pretty clever if you can get away with it.