Virtual School Meanderings

October 11, 2018

Review Describes Remarkably Weak Study Of School Cost And Productivity

Note this review from the National Education Policy Center’s think twice project.

Wisconsin report lacks a theoretical or practical base and uses superficial and inaccurate methods that render it useless for policymaking purposes.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

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KEY TAKEAWAY:

Wisconsin report lacks a theoretical or practical base and uses superficial and inaccurate methods that render it useless for policymaking purposes.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

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BOULDER, CO (October 11, 2018) – A recent report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty claims that Wisconsin does not get a good return on its educational investment.

William J. Mathis, Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, reviewed Money for Nothing: The Relationship Between Various Types of School Spending and Academic Outcomes, and found overwhelming methodological shortcomings.

The report suggests that districts employ too many non-teachers, that per-pupil spending is not linked to higher outcomes, and that teacher pay makes no difference in test scores. But Dr. Mathis’ review points to critical errors in study design that fundamentally negate these conclusions. The report flounders in arguing causality from correlation and misinterpreting statistical significance as representing meaningful policy effects.

This leads to false or unsupported conclusions clouded by the omission of critical details that prevent replication or confirmation. Rife with undocumented policy claims, the results run contrary to the literature on spending, administrator effects, and teacher effects. In fact, no literature review is provided at all, and the report fails to address the efficacy of interventions such as class size and early high-quality childhood education.

The off-point theoretical base, flawed assumptions and meager findings lead Mathis to conclude that the report earned its title, “money for nothing,” which could leave unsuspecting policymakers in dire straits.

Find the review, by William J. Mathis, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-money-for-nothing

Find Money for Nothing: The Relationship Between Various Types of School Spending and Academic Outcomes, written by Will Flanders and published by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, at:

http://www.will-law.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mfn-final.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

October 10, 2018

What Should We Really Learn From New Orleans After The Storm? A Q&A With NEPC Fellow Bruce Baker

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

What Should We Really Learn From New Orleans After the Storm? A Q&A With NEPC Fellow Bruce Baker

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

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Since its publication in July, a policy brief on New Orleans schools has attracted a great deal of attention from journalistscharter school supporters, and skeptics of the post-Katrina reforms.

Authored by Doug Harris and Matthew Larsen of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University, The Effects of the New Orleans Post-Katrina Market-Based School Reforms on Student Achievement, High School Graduation, and College Outcomes finds that the post-storm reforms led to improvements in test scores, high school graduation rates, and postsecondary outcomes. These reforms entailed transforming most of the district’s schools into charters.

In August, Harris addressed the report and its methodology in an extensive Q&A with the NEPC newsletter.

For this installment of the newsletter, NEPC returns to the Harris and Larsen report in an interview with Bruce Baker, NEPC Fellow and professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Baker critiqued the report in “What Should We Really Learn From New Orleans After the Storm?”, published by the Network for Public Education.

 In the Q&A below, Baker discusses that critique with NEPC. 

QHarris and Larsen downplay the likelihood that post-Katrina changes to New Orleans students, families and neighborhoods may have caused part (or all) of the outcome improvements found by their research team. You disagree. In your critique, you make a case that demographic changes in particular were substantial, concluding, “In summary, by many measures, things look better now in New Orleans than they did before the storm.” Do you think there is and other evidence to resolve the disagreement? What would it take, in terms of further analysis, to attribute none/some/most of the measured improvements to demographic changes?

Baker: I guess I’m just not sure it can be done. There are so many layers of disruptive change to housing stock, gradients of child and family poverty, the spatial distribution of poverty and housing stock and so on. Some things are just too complex to parse cleanly. This is one of those cases. There’s just way too much that went on – way too much that changed – as a result of “the storm.” Too many unmeasurable, unobservable changes. The only way to capture them is with a single event “Katrina” dummy variable, absorbing all of the observables and unobservables and at the same time, washing away any of the reform effects.

QRegarding the increased spending of almost $1,400 annually per student, Harris and Larsen note that this probably helped, but you argue that it likely played a larger role than they acknowledge in their report. Did spending increase enough, and did concentrated poverty decrease enough, to adequately explain all of the improvements in educational outcomes identified in the Harris and Larsen study? More pointedly, do you leave open the possibility that the market-based reforms in NOLA may also be a cause of those improvements?

Baker: In my view it’s really that combination of a) disrupting concentrated poverty and b) increasing resources that likely played the biggest role. I might argue that the introduction of certain reforms, including sending kids all over the city, and increasing administrative complexities and redundancies actually marginally reduced the effectiveness (efficiency) of the additional funding. Of course, one additional advantage was the reduction of labor costs due to large scale replacement of the labor force. This makes the post-Katrina dollar go a little further (in staffing ratios), but that’s a temporary effect. Not sustainable.

I do leave open the possibility that some of the schools which were introduced during the reform period did have substantive positive effects on measured student outcomes. But a) we can’t really discern how much and b) this is about specific schools which may have had positive effects – within the reform mix/ blender. It’s not about the “reforms” which are hard to define as any specific treatment which might affect those measured outcomes. It’s about the package of schools, programs and services which emerged under the reform model, but might not emerge under a similarly structured reform model in other cities under other conditions.

Q: On page 16 of your critique, you write that your Figure 5 “shows that the share of children attending schools that have greater than 90% low-income children initially plummeted quite significantly, but have since rebounded.” In fact, the rates now appear to be higher than they were pre-Katrina. Wouldn’t that tend to support the idea that the current population of students is actually more disadvantaged than the pre-Katrina population? How difficult is it for researchers (and readers) to agree on a fair counterfactual and complete control variables for these analyses?

Baker: Here, my analysis is also hampered by the inability to identify the gradients of economic disadvantage as reported in the Brookings study. Yes, by these cut points on income, the levels of low-income kids have rebounded to marginally higher than pre-Katrina levels. But the findings of higher outcomes are over the period where those levels were on the rebound, but were still generally lower than pre-Katrina levels.

I think many of us would agree that it would be useful to have finer grained data on income status of kids and families and neighborhood and classroom peer concentrations of those kids. But we don’t have that. The disagreement here lies in whether and to what extent we (I versus Doug and colleagues) think it’s problematic that the measures are imprecise and incomplete. I think it’s a major problem in isolating “reform” effects, but the authors of the NOLA studies seem to downplay that.

QYou make the point (based on earlier research of the Tulane team) that much of the additional funding went toward transportation and administrative salaries rather than toward employees (e.g., teachers) with direct contact with students. Couldn’t this help make the case that funding is NOT what led to improved outcomes, especially if the funding went to resources that one might not expect to substantially improve student outcomes?

Baker: My argument is that the funding may have had even more positive effects, had more of that funding gone to classroom teachers and other instructional resources. In fact, the infusion of funding coupled with the reforms may have led to a less efficient infusion of funding. But we have no way to know what would have happened had more of the funding been spent traditionally.

Q: Most of the philanthropic resources provided for NOLA were likely one-time or otherwise temporary grants that will be (or already have been) spent out after a couple of years. How should research and researchers account for this sort of short-term infusion? To what extent should the temporary nature of the spending be a concern for those hoping for improvements in NOLA schools?

Baker: Researchers need to not only measure the magnitude of additional investments, but also track the changes to core resource levels/allocations over time. For example, how did the competitiveness of employee wages change over time? How did staffing ratios change over time? It is less likely that short-term infusions of philanthropic dollars have had persistent effects on wages and staffing ratios. Unlikely that these funds shifted wages and staffing ratios to a new equilibrium and more likely that these dollars went into consulting contracts and other start-up expenses.

QThere are straightforward mechanisms by which added resources and changed demographics would contribute meaningfully to the measured improvement. But if the market-based reforms did in fact contribute meaningfully to the measured improvement, could you offer any informed speculation about how or why that may have happened? Harris has suggested, for example, that performance may have benefitted simply by the district ridding itself of a dysfunctional bureaucracy and otherwise moribund operation.

Baker: Again, I don’t think it has so much to do with “market-based reforms” as it does with the mix of providers who may have entered this particular market, at this time, under these conditions. It’s the individual providers, and the aggregate of them that have the measured effects – not the market mechanism or governance structure. We have no way to know if we provided a similar “market-based” governance structure elsewhere whether similar quality providers would enter that market and whether they would have access to similar quality labor at a competitive price.  There were many unique conditions in place in NOLA, including an “all-hands-on-deck” national interest in saving a beloved, culturally unique American city. Clearly, the provision of reasonable funding levels encouraged participation of high-quality charter management companies, unlike what’s happened in cities like Detroit or Memphis, where some high-profile charter operators have jumped ship due to paltry funding levels.

Harris and colleagues note the interest among bright college grads to pursue employment in NOLA charter schools. The draw of Detroit, or Memphis hasn’t quite been the same.

NOLA may indeed have been a corrupt bureaucracy prior to the storm and may not have leveraged additional resources effectively or efficiently. I don’t know – empirically – whether it was or not. And Doug Harris’ claims in his report(s) have done little to convince me one way or the other. It’s really easy to chastise any poor American city as corrupt and inefficient. I think the authors had a little more obligation to prove that – and there are relevant methods for doing so.

QFor researchers, the discussions that have occurred since the release of the Harris and Larsen study is a healthy part of the knowledge-building exercise. But for policymakers and others, the back-and-forth might feed the dismissive reaction that ‘research can be made to say anything.’ How would you respond to those who have that reaction?

Baker: To me, the message here for policymakers is that caution is warranted in drawing any policy conclusions from such a unique set of circumstances. This doesn’t negate the usefulness of other policy research which is better able to establish counterfactuals and isolate treatments and their effects. But the NOLA situation is just too unique and there’s just too much that went on to make any legitimate inferences about how to achieve similar changes to student outcomes in other U.S. cities. “The storm” as treatment is just too dramatic – too multifaceted – and most importantly an event that from an ethical standpoint is not something we should ever strive to replicate. For that matter, we also need to consider more carefully and define more precisely those “treatments” over which we did have control – the actual schools, models, programs and services that emerged after the storm – and not some broadly conceived “package of market-based reforms.”

QI believe that only the Tulane researchers have access to the data set. Are there additional analyses that you would encourage them to carry out?

Baker: I’m not convinced that the data available have sufficient additional precision to answer any more useful policy questions. Perhaps more importantly, the uniqueness of the policy context, conditions and changes induced by “the storm” will always severely limit any policy implications for other settings. One thing that might be worth exploring is the heterogeneity of student outcomes across different school models, programs and services that emerged across the city.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

October 4, 2018

High-Quality MIT Study Finds That Charter Expansion Under The Conditions In Massachusetts Is Benign And Even Positive

A rare find of a good think tank study for the National Education Policy Center.

High-quality MIT study finds that charter expansion under the conditions in Massachusetts is benign and even positive.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Publication Announcement

A Useful and Informative Study of

Charter School Expansion

KEY TAKEAWAY:

High-quality MIT study finds that charter expansion under the conditions in Massachusetts is benign and even positive.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Clive Belfield:

(917) 821-9219

Clive.Belfield@gmail.com

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (October 4, 2018) – A recent report from the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examines the consequences that followed from an expansion in the number of charter school places available for enrollment.

Professor Clive Belfield of Queens College, City University of New York, reviewed Fiscal and Education Spillovers from Charter School Expansion and found that it provides important, high-quality evidence on the impacts of expanding charter schools, at least under relatively restrictive conditions.

The study uses data from Massachusetts, where charter school growth has been carefully managed and where there was significant excess demand for charter school places. In 2011, the state increased the cap on enrollments for charter schools located in school districts with low test scores, resulting in an increase in charter school enrollment in some of these districts. The paper analyzes three outcomes: (a) changes across charter and non-charter public schools in funding (how much resource was available per student), (b) resource allocation (how schools spent their funds), and (c) achievement (how well students performed on academic tests).

The paper reaches three key findings. First, due to a subsidy provided by Massachusetts law, per-pupil expenditures in the impacted public schools increased as charter schools expanded. Second, these districts appeared to respond to competitive pressures from charter schools by moving funding toward inputs directly related to instruction. Third, test scores in math and English language arts in the existing public schools increased very slightly. Yet all three of these impacts disappear after six years of initial charter school expansion.

The paper affirms a two-part consensus from past studies on the economic and academic impacts of charter schooling. First, the flows of public funds to charter and public schools are complex, idiosyncratic, and variable. These features make economic evaluation of charter schooling very difficult. Second, the academic influence of competition between charter schools and public schools is small and, in this case, positive. This second finding suggests that expanding charter schools, at least under the relatively restrictive conditions that existed in Massachusetts, will have a benign effect on the overall education system. However, because of the first finding, it is extremely difficult to determine how cost-effective or equitable such expansions might be.

Professor Belfield concludes that the research paper is a rigorous and intensive examination of the fiscal and educational consequences of increased enrollments in charter schools in Massachusetts. It serves as a benchmark against which other charter school studies might be compared, to explore whether results from Massachusetts are similar to those in different states and contexts.

Find the review, by Clive Belfield, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-charter-spillover

Find Fiscal and Education Spillovers from Charter School Expansion, written by Matt Ridley and Camille Terrier and published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at:

https://seii.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/SEII-Discussion-Paper-2018.02-Ridley-Terrier.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

October 3, 2018

Irony At The IRS: Cracking Down On Blue State Tactic Borrowed From Red State Playbook

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Irony at the IRS: Cracking Down on Blue State Tactic Borrowed From Red State Playbook

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

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Irony at the IRS: Cracking Down on Blue State Tactic Borrowed From Red State Playbook

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The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service are not particularly well-known for their sense of irony. But in August, things took a turn in that direction when the two agencies suggested new rules that crack down on states that try to circumvent the “SALT-cap,” a provision of the new Republican-backed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that prevents wealthy taxpayers from writing off more than $10,000 of state and local taxes when filling out their federal tax forms. The circumventions, which are concentrated in Democrat-controlled states with higher taxes, are modelled on “neovouchers”—state policies that offer tax credits in exchange for donations to non-profits that bundle the donations into vouchers that pay for private school tuition. In a nutshell, the blue states learned a trick from the red states, so the IRS is now compelled to step in and put an end to all the mischief. Though designed to target the provisions recently adopted by blue states, the new IRS/Treasury rules could also curtail a program popular on the other side of the aisle.

As NEPC director Kevin Welner writes in this policy memo, neovouchers were created by Republicans to make an end run around state constitutions that prohibit public funds from flowing directly to private, religious schools. They mirror the effect of direct governmental spending, but the money never actually finds its way into state coffers.

Carl Davis is a tax policy expert who is the research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts analyses of tax and economic proposals and provides data-driven recommendations on how to shape equitable and sustainable tax systems. For years, Davis has been in the forefront of tax issues around neovouchers, documenting the unusually generous benefits that wealthy taxpayers can gain from the laws, and now documenting the IRS/Treasury response to the SALT-cap laws in blue states. In this Q & A with NEPC, he sheds light on the proposed rules and on some of the issues raised by Welner’s memo.

Questions:

1. Quickly, before our readers see “tax law” and run away: What do typical taxpayers, especially those with an interest in K-12 education, most need to understand about the debate? Why should they care?

Right now the tax system is being used to pay off rich people who steer public dollars into private K-12 school voucher programs. It’s an egregious tax shelter and it’s fueling the growth of neovoucher programs in many states. The tax rewards associated with “donating” to support school vouchers have become so supersized that they’re attracting not just people who genuinely want to support private and religious schools, but also a whole slew of opportunists who are just looking to make a buck. Ultimately the money flowing into these neovoucher programs—and into the opportunists’ pockets—is coming out of state and federal coffers, meaning that there are fewer resources left over to support public education and other public services.

2. Can you give us a sense of the size of the impact of neovouchers on state revenues?

Nationwide, these neovoucher programs are draining over $1 billion annually from state revenue streams, and that loss is growing rapidly. In Florida, the program automatically grows by 25 percent per year, while one of Arizona’s programs grows by 20 percent annually. Lawmakers in Arizona and Georgia, meanwhile, recently expanded their highly-controversial programs via legislation.

3. How have wealthy taxpayers been able to take advantage of state neovoucher laws in the past?

The short version is that neovoucher “donors” are getting most, or all, of their “donations” reimbursed by their state governments, and yet they’re writing off these “donations” as if they were genuine charitable gifts when they fill out their federal tax forms. By stacking federal tax breaks on stop of state tax breaks, many wealthy families have been able to reap tax rewards larger than their actual donations. They’re turning a profit at taxpayer expense.

To elaborate a bit: The state neovoucher laws take a familiar idea—charitable giving tax incentives—and inflate them to the point of absurdity. It’s very common for states to offer their residents a tax break when they donate to support charitable causes. Usually, that break is worth about 5 or 10 cents on the dollar. Somebody donating $100 to a local homeless shelter, for example, might save $5 or $10 on their state tax bill.

A donation under a neovoucher program, by contrast, often earns the donor a tax break of between 75 and 100 cents on the dollar. In other words, somebody “donating” $100 to fund private K-12 school vouchers is saving $75 or $100 on their state tax bill. The result is that most, or all, of the money isn’t really coming out of the so-called “donor’s” pocket at all. It’s coming out of the state’s budget.

In effect, these states have decided that they’re going to treat private school voucher donors much more favorably than the people who prefer to give their money to homeless shelters, or veterans groups, or almost any other cause.

The tax shelter comes into play when these donors claim not just a state neovoucher tax credit, but also a federal-level charitable deduction. The donors are already getting their money back from their state government, and yet they’re writing off these so-called “donations” on their federal tax forms nonetheless.

This problem stems from the fact that Congress never envisioned states enacting charitable giving incentives as large as these neovouchers. There’s a blind spot in the federal tax code surrounding state tax credits. There’s no mechanism for recognizing when a taxpayer actually saw their donation reimbursed with a state tax credit, and thus the IRS has always treated these donations as genuine charitable gifts.

The tax shelter varies by state and by taxpayer, but for a high-income person claiming both a state neovoucher credit and the maximum federal charitable deduction, it’s not uncommon for a $10,000 “donation” to yield about $13,700 in tax cuts. That’s a 37 percent profit just for filling out some paperwork, and it can be repeated year after year. It’s the exact opposite of genuine charity.

In some states, the profits can be even larger. The average donation by a business under Arizona’s neovoucher program, for example, was over $120,000 this year. A donation of that size could potentially yield tens of thousands of dollars in annual profits for the donor.

4. How, if at all, did the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 change the potential for wealthy taxpayers to take advantage of state neovoucher laws?

The new federal tax law treats charitable giving much more favorably than payments of state and local taxes (SALT). For high-income taxpayers, charitable giving is deductible almost without limit, whereas SALT payments are only deductible up to the first $10,000 paid.

The predictable result of this discrepancy is that high-income taxpayers would much rather make a charitable gift than pay a tax. If you make a donation to support private schools, that donation will likely be fully deductible. If you make a tax payment to support public schools, you won’t receive any further deduction if you’re already above the $10,000 cap.

What’s happening now is that accountants in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, and elsewhere are telling their clients: you’d be foolish to pay your state taxes now, and you should make a donation to one of these neovoucher programs instead. This was already happening to some extent before last year’s federal tax overhaul was enacted, but the problem has been made much worse by the new law. Taxpayers in Alabama and Arizona, for instance, responded in a particularly dramatic fashion to the expanded federal tax avoidance opportunity. Both states saw their neovoucher credits claimed at record speed this year, with Arizona’s $89 million neovoucher for businesses being claimed in full in just two minutes.

5. How might the new IRS/Treasury regulations change the potential for wealthy taxpayers to take advantage of state neovoucher laws?

The proposed regulations would inject a welcome bit of common sense into the federal tax code’s measurement of real charity. If you donate and then get all your money back in state tax credits, then you haven’t actually done anything charitable and you will no longer receive a federal charitable deduction. If you donate and get half of your money back in state tax credits, then you can only deduct the other half of your donation—the part that was not reimbursed.

Wealthy taxpayers are still going to receive very large state tax credits when they contribute to neovoucher programs. But under these regulations, the federal tax benefits of contributing would be drastically reduced or eliminated. People who are only participating in the programs to reap a profit for themselves will suddenly drop out of the donor pool, as the reduced federal tax benefits cause those profits to evaporate.

6. IRS/Treasury recently released a clarification on the proposed rules. How and why did that clarification come about? What does it say and how might it impact the rule’s effect on neovouchers?

The clarification appears to have been a pet project of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). Sen. Toomey’s home state of Pennsylvania has one of the largest neovoucher programs in the country, and he helped convinced the IRS and Treasury Department to issue parallel statements suggesting that business owners could get around the new regulations by writing off their donations to neovoucher programs as “business expenses” rather than “charitable gifts.”

These statements caught most tax policy experts by surprise, and they seem to partly undercut the good work the IRS is doing overall on this topic.

In his release, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin specifically referred to “business-related donations to school choice programs.” But right now it’s unclear how difficult it will be for businesses to prove whether their neovoucher donations are truly “business-related,” which has a technical meaning in the tax law.

In short, the so-called “clarification” has created more confusion than clarity. The IRS needs to elaborate on when it plans to allow businesses to write off their donations as business expenses. As things currently stand, it seems that some businesses may be able to keep turning a profit on their neovoucher donations if they can stack state neovoucher credits and federal business expense deductions on top of each other. The clarification doesn’t answer this question definitively, but it indicates that the IRS may look the other way when reviewing these types of transactions.

7. What are the odds that the new rules will be approved?

There is no doubt that a regulation on this broad topic (state tax credits received in return for making charitable gifts) will be finalized, but whether the final regulation will include neovouchers within its scope remains in doubt. Some of the largest school choice groups, including the American Federation for Children and EdChoice, harshly criticized the regulations upon their release. Private school advocates across the country have also been writing official comments to the IRS asking that their programs be exempted from the regulations.

On the other hand, many public education advocates have been making the case that the IRS should reject those appeals. The regulations as currently drafted are even-handed, meaning that they don’t include special rules and exceptions for donations to certain types of causes. I’m hopeful that the IRS will stick to its principles, but we won’t know for sure until we see the final regulations. Final regulations are expected late this year or early next year, just in time for people who have made these donations to know how to fill out their 2018 tax forms.

8. Would you expect legal challenges? If so, what are the issues that might be framed by any litigation?

The main reason the IRS is pursuing this effort right now is that a handful of blue states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Oregon) recently took note of the neovoucher tax shelter, and decided to adapt it to their own purposes. Specifically, these states are encouraging taxpayers to make “donations” (rather than tax payments) to support public education and public health, and to reap a hefty federal tax cut in the process. If these blue-state efforts stand, the potential federal revenue loss would be enormous, which is why we know for a fact that regulations on this topic will be finalized. The IRS will not allow such an enormous tax shelter to spread without at least putting up a fight.

New Jersey’s attorney general has already indicated that he is likely to challenge the IRS regulations in court. His argument will likely hinge on the fact that the IRS is departing from its past treatment of donations benefiting from state charitable tax credits. For years, the IRS simply ignored those credits. Some lawmakers in New Jersey would like the IRS to keep ignoring them. I think that would be a mistake.

Federal agencies are usually given fairly broad discretion in interpreting the law, so New Jersey and any other state challenging these regulations will face an uphill battle in court. But the outcome is impossible to predict with certainty.

9. In the end, what do you expect the federal rules to do with regard to wealthy taxpayers taking advantage of state neovoucher laws?

I’m hopeful that the tax shelter being exploited by neovoucher donors will be shut down or at least drastically curtailed. The biggest danger right now is that private school groups might succeed in slipping a carveout into the regulations before they are finalized late this year or early next year. They know that it’s a lot easier to raise money for their cause when they can promise their so-called “donors” a profit in exchange for their donations.

It’s important that the IRS reject those calls for a carveout. If they do, then we’re likely to see a good outcome on the neovoucher question.

After the regulations are finalized, the only remaining obstacles are a potential court challenge from New Jersey and a possible push from school choice supporters in Congress to enact a carveout via legislation. But the regulations have a good chance of holding up in court, and I find it very doubtful that Congress could muster support to reopen this tax shelter for private school donors anytime soon.

10. What is the key message that you believe the IRS needs to hear?

The key message that I believe the IRS needs to hear is that it should reject calls to include a special carveout for neovouchers as it finalizes these regulations. I find the proposed regulations to be principled and even-handed. Watering them down with special exceptions for people who donate to particular causes—including private K-12 school voucher programs—would be unfair and unnecessarily complex. We know for a fact that tax accountants and private schools have been advising taxpayers that neovoucher programs provide a lucrative federal tax shelter. This is the perfect opportunity to shut that tax shelter down. There’s no reason for the IRS to turn a blind eye to this loophole at this pivotal moment.

11. If our readers are interested in impacting the outcome of the IRS/Treasury proposed rules, or even just learning more about the debate, what actions would you recommend taking? What resources would you recommend reviewing?

The most important thing that public education advocates and interested individuals can do is to submit a public comment to the IRS before the October 11 deadline. The online comment form is fairly simple and can be accessed here: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=IRS-2018-0025-0001

Individuals interested in commenting can type their comment directly into the website. Organizations that wish to comment should consider putting their comment on their official letterhead and uploading it as a PDF.

Anyone who may be near Washington, DC on November 5thshould also consider requesting to speak at the official public hearing on this topic being hosted by the IRS.

For anyone interested in learning more about this subject, ITEP has a list of resources available online at: https://itep.org/itep-resources-on-the-upcoming-salt-workaround-regulations/

NEPC Resources on Neovouchers:

How Voucher Advocates Created a Blue-State Loophole to Trump’s Tax Law

How to Calculate the Costs or Savings of Tax Credit Voucher Policies

The Neovoucher: A Kissing Cousin in Disguise

Under the Voucher Radar

For those of you in the DC region, please don’t forget to RSVP for AERA’s Brown lecture, given this year by NEPC Fellow and Vanderbilt professor Rich Milner. His talk is titled, Disrupting Punitive Practices and Policies: Rac(e)ing Back to Teaching, Teacher Preparation, and Brown, and it will be on Oct. 25th at 6pm. RSVP here.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

September 28, 2018

How School Systems Manage Teaching And Learning

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Each type of educational system guides learning differently —understanding the difference can help families and communities more effectively shape learning locally.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Publication Announcement

How School Systems Manage Teaching and Learning

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Each type of educational system guides learning differently —understanding the difference can help families and communities more effectively shape learning locally.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Donald J. Peurach:

(734) 353-9840

peurach@umich.edu

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BOULDER, CO (September 27, 2018) – Federal policies, state policies, and philanthropic initiatives all force school district redesign in hopes of improving outcomes and closing gaps in students’ educational experiences. Over the years, these reforms have dramatically altered how districts organize and manage instruction and shape school days and school years.

A brief released today by the National Education Policy Center draws on a comprehensive review of research on district redesign to construct a new typology for understanding the ways that public school districts are organizing and managing instruction. The brief suggests how states can support positive district change and examines the leverage points for families and communities to engage each type of school district.

Donald J. Peurach of the University of Michigan and Maxwell Yurkofsky of Harvard University authored the brief, titled Organizing and Managing Instruction in US Public School Districts: Considerations for Families, Communities, and States.

As the brief explains, families and communities work individually and together to influence their students’ educational experiences. This includes everything from supporting individual students in completing homework, to organizing collectively to expand access to rich learning opportunities to all children in a district. Yet as the education reform landscape gets more and more complex, organized family and community groups face a challenge in figuring out how to exercise collective voice.

This brief assists in that effort by describing and clarifying the different ways that districts are reforming instructional organization and management. This understanding can help family and community organizations strategically direct their efforts. The brief describes each system and its primary points of leverage in asserting influence.

Peurach and Yurkofsky conclude with four recommendations for states committed to sustaining new patterns of instructional organization and management while also expanding the influence of family and community organizations:

  • Sustain the state-level press to improve instruction, its organization, and its management, to make progress in improving outcomes and closing gaps and to prevent a regression to the harmful effects of past systems.
  • Support districts in understanding where and how family and community organizations can contribute to efforts to organize and manage instruction in new ways.
  • Support families and communities in engaging district reform efforts by providing guidance and resources for organizing themselves, for analyzing efforts in districts to organize and manage instruction in new ways, and for asserting influence.
  • Carefully study the evolution of instructional organization and management with the goal of understanding (a) shifts toward the four types of education systems identified in this analysis, (b) the emergence of different types of systems not yet evident in the literature, and (c) the strengths and weaknesses of each in specific district and school contexts.

Find Organizing and Managing Instruction in US Public School Districts: Considerations for Families, Communities, and States, by Donald J. Peurach and Maxwell Yurkofsky, at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/instruction

This policy brief was made possible in part by funding from the Education Justice Network and the Spencer Systems Study at Northwestern University and University of Michigan.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

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