Monthly Archives: January 2015

House leaders make clear they want health coverage for bus drivers

State House leaders made it clear Tuesday that they want part-time school staffers like bus drivers to get health insurance.

House leaders sent that message in the mid-year budget the chamber is expected to approve Thursday. The move was in reaction to Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal to eliminate state funding for coverage to about 11,500 part-time employees starting next year.

Deal’s office said the change would save $103 million and be in line with the state’s health policy toward other part-time employees who currently don’t get subsidized coverage under the State Health Benefit Plan.

House leaders make clear they want health coverage for bus drivers photo
Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed ending state funding to pay for health insurance for about 11,500 part-time school workers, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers
The governor’s proposal to cut the health care funding is part of the budget for fiscal 2016, which begins July 1. The mid-year budget already has the part-time workers covered, but funding for that coverage would end at the end of the year.

While rewriting the mid-year budget, House leaders inserted language in a section on a State Health Benefit Plan cost study saying, “The General Assembly also finds that non-certificated school employees are an essential part of the education delivery system and directs that any such report include an examination of options to provide health benefits to these workers.”

The statement was a sign of the fight to come over maintaining health coverage for bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Members of both parties have raised concerns about Deal’s proposal since he released it almost two weeks ago.

However, they will have to find $103 million to make up for the cut in Deal’s budget plan. That may mean shifting more of the cost of health coverage to local school districts, or the employees through higher premiums.


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White House Abandons Plan to End College Savings Accounts

Your 529 Plan Is Safe. Here’s Why the White House Changed Course.

President Obama is abandoning his controversial plan to tax the interest on 529 savings accounts, the White House announced Tuesday.

The 529 plans are savings accounts in which parents and families can invest after-tax dollars. If the money is used for specified college costs, they don’t have to pay federal tax on the interest accumulated in these accounts.

The president’s proposal, which faced bipartisan opposition, would have “effectively end[ed]” the plans, according to the New York Times.

“Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the president’s broader package of tax relief for child care and working families,” a White House official told the New York Times.

Earlier on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that 529 plans “help middle-class families save for college,” and said that taxing these accounts should not be included in the president’s budget proposal.

Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, said that the president’s plan would have hurt middle-class families.

“Taxing college savings accounts would have created disincentives for those who save for college in favor of the federal government directing college spending, lending and handouts—through proposals like ‘free’ community college and student loan ‘forgiveness,’” Burke told The Daily Signal.

“It became clear pretty quickly that the proposal to tax college savings accounts in no way benefited middle-income families,” Burke added. “Families who have diligently worked to save for their children’s college education would have been penalized under this proposal. It seems, at least for the moment, that the administration is dropping its quest for this bad policy.”

>>> Obama Proposes Eliminating Tax Cut Designed to Help Families Save for College

Corie Whalen Stephens, a spokeswoman for Generation Opportunity, said taxing the interest on 529 plans hurts middle-class students and their families.

“It’s encouraging to see our president respond to the needs of our generation by dropping his ill-conceived idea to tax 529 college savings plans. His misguided proposal, intended to fund his unaffordable government policies, would have fallen squarely on the backs of middle-class students and their families,” said Stephens.

She added that funding a broken system doesn’t help students.

“Finding new ways for the government to finance a failing higher education system isn’t a solution. In fact, these endless subsidies with no reforms attached to them are the problem. To fix this, our leaders must look to policies that foster innovation and competition to lower overall costs—not repackage failed big government policies,” said Stephens.

By Kate Scanlon
Kate Scanlon is a news reporter for The Daily Signal and graduate of The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.

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Making Sense of the Uproar Over Obama’s 529 Proposal

President Barack Obama’s proposal to scale back tax breaks for college-savings accounts, the 529 plans, provoked an immediate uproar. There’s no doubt the proposal would make future contributions to  529s much less attractive. (It doesn’t affect money already in 529s.) But the loud opposition misses the rationale for changing the way the government encourages saving for college and underscores the reasons tax reform is so hard.

Who benefits from the 529 tax break?

The White House says about 70% of the benefits of 529 plans go to households with incomes above $200,000. That’s fewer than 4% of all tax returns, according to the latest IRS data. There are no income limits on 529 plans; anyone can use them, no matter how affluent.

In general, tax breaks that involve deductions (mortgage interest) or excluding income from taxes (401k retirement accounts) benefit upper-income taxpayers more than others because they are in the highest tax brackets. (A $1,000 deduction reduces the tax bill by $250 for a family in the 25% bracket and $396 for a family in the 39.6% bracket.) Replacing tax deductions with tax credits can give everyone the same dollar amount, regardless of tax bracket.

If we’re uneasy about widening income inequality and want to use the tax code to lean against that (which not everyone does), then swapping deductions for credits makes sense. That is the essence of the president’s proposal.  He’d curb the use of 529s, which disproportionately benefit upper-income families, to finance expansion of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which is available only to families with pretax incomes up to $180,000.  Families that don’t make enough money to owe income taxes can get up to $1,000 in cash from the AOTC today; the president would increase that to $1,500, an obvious winner for lower-income families.  He’d also extend the benefit to part-time students and allow students to take it for up to five years (instead of the current four).

Now the tax credit isn’t a perfect substitute for the 529 tax break, but the president’s plan for 529s piece can’t be viewed in isolation. He means to move tax subsidies for college savings down the income ladder. “The plan overall would do MORE to help both middle-class and lower-income families afford college,” Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says in a recent defense of the president’s proposals.

If we’re going to use the tax code to encourage saving for college, then there’s a good case for targeting tax breaks at lower- and (truly) middle-class families. Government help will make more of difference for them – and certainly will reduce the amount of debt they take to go to college — instead of helping affluent families who are going to send their kids to college no matter what the government does.

Do we really prize simplicity in the tax code?

Everyone wants a simpler tax code. Almost everyone says there are too many deductions, credits, exemptions and loopholes. (What’s the difference between a deduction or credit and a loophole? If you get the benefit, it’s a deduction or credit. If someone else gets it, it’s a loophole. )

The president’s proposal is a small step towards simplicity. It would, the White House says, “consolidate education incentives into one vehicle.”  That means doing away with some tax breaks – the Coverdell college-savings accounts, the little-used deduction for interest on new student loans, the Lifetime Learning Credit – and sweetening others.  It turns out that a lot of people prefer complexity to simplicity if simplicity means doing away with a tax break they get.

Do tax breaks really encourage savings?

Much of the U.S. tax code is based on the logical economic argument that tax breaks get Americans to save. The argument: If you increase the after-tax return on savings (by giving people a tax break for putting some of their wages into a 401k or by making the capital gains, interest and dividends on a 529 tax free), people will save more than they otherwise would.

But do they? That’s long been debated by economists. Recent research from Harvard’s Raj Chetty and colleagues suggests tax breaks for retirement savings  reward people who would have saved the money anyhow and don’t increase the total amount of saving.

Better to skip the tax breaks, they say, and rely on “nudges,” such as automatically enrolling workers in retirement-savings programs. Most people are what the researchers call “passive savers.” They don’t respond much to tax incentives. Of course, that’s one risk the president is running here. One advantage of 529 plans is that they are widely marketed by states and mutual funds and that may help nudge people to save for college. Curtail the benefit and there’ll be less of that marketing.

By David Wessel
Director, The Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy
Senior Fellow, Economic Studies
The Brookings Institution

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Foreign teachers come at a price, experts say

While still relatively new, hiring foreign teachers to work in Georgia schools has long-term risks to students, school districts and the teachers themselves, according to experts interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

School districts across the state have spent more than $52.5 million on contracts for international teachers, an AJC analysis found, mostly for hard-to-staff positions in math, science and special education.

University of California Santa Cruz education professor Lora Bartlett said there are benefits from hiring international teachers, but school districts do their students no favors when they set up a “transient” workforce of teachers bouncing from school to school, year after year.

“High turnover of teachers is a negative for schools no matter how effective any individual teacher is,” she said.

International teachers usually are sent into the most challenging classrooms in the poorest districts, and school districts see foreigners as a way to fill vacancies in these troubled schools.

Foreign teachers face unequal working conditions

Interactive Graphic: International teachers in Georgia

Exploitive labor practices targeted in other states

“Rather than attempting to address those teacher working conditions and pay scenarios, they found a source of teachers they could hire at the conditions and pay they are willing to offer,” she said.

In Georgia, districts increasingly rely on recruiting firms to find the teachers and bring them to America on H-1B visas, a three-year work visa reserved for workers who are in short supply in America. Because the teachers remain employees of the recruiting firms who brought them here, they can move between districts from year to year or return to their home countries.

Marshall Orson, a school board member in DeKalb County, which is the largest contractee of international teaching talent in the state, is worried the district’s reliance on recruiting firms to find teachers does not serve the district well in the long run.

“I am concerned that we default to finding an outside agency to find us teachers on a temporary basis,” he said. “It has to be about how we build our permanent teaching corps.”

There are other problems too. In Georgia, the largest recruiting firm is Jonesboro-based Global Teachers Research and Resources, which is the subject of a U.S. Department of Labor investigation related to allegations of unfair labor practices.

In November, some Global teachers received a letter from a Labor Department investigator asking to “discuss with you certain aspects of your employment by this firm such as the conditions of your work and the wages you were paid.” The letter says the department is investigating Global but that “does not mean that the firm has violated any law.”

This is the second time in a decade the company has been scrutinized for its labor practices. In 2011, the Labor Department found the company had not properly paid some of its teachers and forced Global to pay $75,000 in back pay.

As part of an AJC investigation, several Global teachers said they experienced periods where they were without full-time work and were made to pay expenses federal visa regulations require employers to pay. In addition, most Global teachers that spoke to the newspaper said they pay an “administrative fee” — up to 10 percent — out of their paycheck to company, which also receives between $10,000 and $11,500 per teacher from school districts every year.

The use of these firms by school districts can lead to exploitative conditions for the teachers, said Bartlett, who spent years researching her recently published book on the subject, “Migrant Teachers: How American Schools Import Labor.”

Bartlett is part of an emerging group of academics and rights advocates attempting to create a set of best practices and a code of ethics for the international recruitment of educators.

“It’s problematic to suggest that schools stop recruiting internationally. The question is how do we recruit internationally in a way that is ethical and effective for everyone involved,” she said.

Bartlett said scandals involving recruiting of international teachers around the nation have often hit the teachers hardest. Indeed, some teachers hired by Global fear bad news about company will scare away Georgia school districts. That’s a problem for teachers who depend on Global for their visa.

Global’s president and other corporate officers have not returned calls and emails seeking comment. The company’s chief operating officer, State Rep. Mike Glanton, D-Jonesboro, did talk to the AJC but said he did not know anything about the family-owned company’s finances or visa practices.

After the initial three years, the H-1B visa is renewable for another three. The teachers can pursue a “green card” for permanent lawful residence, a move that can extend their stay for years while their application is processed, but nothing is guaranteed.

Meanwhile the terms of Global’s contracts forbid the school systems from recruiting its teachers as permanent staff, while some other companies have imposed a “placement fee” if the district hires teachers who have received their “green card.”

None of this impresses Orson as a smart strategy for building math and science faculty.

At a school board meeting last summer, Orson asked about recruiting more from Teach for America, but that program provides inexperienced teachers usually teaching on a provisional certificate. Meanwhile, international teachers generally have advanced degrees and years of classroom experience in their home countries.

It’s a trade off, Orson said. But clearly immigrant teachers are not the long-term solution.

Bartlett said school districts could address this problem by directly sponsoring the H-1B visas of international teachers, rather than filtering them through a recruiting company over which they have no control. But directly sponsoring teachers is a risk some districts are unwilling to take.

In 2011, the school system in Prince George’s County, Md., paid nearly $6 million in back pay and penalties for forcing international teachers to pay fees that should have been paid by the district, illegally reducing their wages below that of similarly paid American teachers.

Orson said allegations that Global is mistreating its employees by charging them fees not allowed under the H-1B program as “additionally troubling.”

“What concerns me is, are we by extension being exposed to liability?” he said. “Beyond that we need to be doing the right things and treating our employees correctly.”

By Chris Joyner
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia state super intends to personalize education

ATLANTA — Georgia’s new state superintendent, Richard Woods, said the standardization of education was a misstep that hurt the state as a whole and he plans to implement more choices for students during his first four year term.

“If we were manufacturing machine parts, it would be great,” he said in a Thursday interview with the Marietta Daily Journal.

“But anyone who has been around children knows that … they’re individual works of art.”

Woods, who previously worked as a social studies teacher in Irwin County, was elected Nov. 4 after defeating Democrat Valarie Wilson, 55 to 45 percent. He was sworn into office Jan. 12 by Gov. Nathan Deal.

Woods said his priorities during his first term include the continued tweaking of Common Core and creating more choices for students, particularly at the high school level, so they can personalize their education.


Two bills — one in the House, one in the Senate — are expected to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes Monday that, if passed, would make the state superintendent position an appointed one, rather than elected as it is now. The Senate bill, sponsored by state Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna), would also switch how the state school board is determined, making it elected rather than appointed as it is now.

Woods said he would not support such a measure because he fears it would be taking power away from the people.

“I think anytime we look at our system of government, I prefer the representative form of government,” he said. “I think anytime you surrender a liberty, that’s a liberty lost. So I’m very hesitant to remove the voice of the people from any position.”

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has introduced a bill that would allow students who meet certain requirements to graduate high school in less than four years.

Woods said he is in favor of the idea because it would motivate students.

“They could actually, in some ways, determine when they possibly can graduate,” he said. “Going back to when I was in school, that was really an option. There was a time where I was able to graduate early if I wanted to. It does provide some intrinsic value there.”

Woods said he’d like to see students have the ability to graduate early and with job certifications in addition to a Georgia high school diploma.

“I think that a combination of things — whether they’re graduating early or graduating with something more than just a diploma — will go a long way in enhancing the educational experience for our kids,” Woods said.

He also said he supports the push for more dual enrollment programs, which allow students to take college-level courses while still in high school.

“With the dual enrollment, we’re not holding kids back,” he said. “That’s one of the things we do want to stress: We’re not only trying to reach those that perhaps are struggling some, but those kids who are academically strong and ready to move on and pursue things; I think that’s another option we have.”

Tippins said he is very much in favor of providing an educational system that trains students for a career.

“The needs of the workplace is what ought to be driving our education system,” he said. “We ought to be training our students for the jobs that are available. If you have a trained workforce, you’re more likely to attract business to come in.”

As for actively supporting legislation, Woods said he is more concerned about setting school board policy.

“I prefer to handle (things) through state board policy and not legislation because once it’s law, it’s hard to address anything,” he said. “If our issue is with policy, we can address (that). If our issue is with law, we have to wait an entire year until the General Assembly reconvenes.”


The state school board recently made some changes to the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, altering the language in most cases to provide clarity.

Woods said while he has problems with Common Core, he is in favor of tweaking the standards rather than a complete overhaul. He said he doesn’t want to completely throw out Common Core because it would just be replaced with another set of standards that would also need tweaking.

“(The state school board) wants to make sure it’s Georgia specific,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re looking at wholesale, ‘Let’s throw out the baby with the bathwater.’”

He said there are good standards in Common Core that are worth keeping — such as having a student be able to count to 100 in kindergarten — noting it’s important to keep the standards age-appropriate.

“Everything we do, I want to assure people it’ll be measured and it’ll be well thought out,” Woods said. “We’re not going to come in … and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to get rid of everything and start from scratch.’ We’re going to evaluate the merits of everything that’s out there. … I think looking at standards is going to be a continual process.”

Woods’ platform while running for state superintendent was decidedly anti-Common Core, and he said he wants to make sure the federal government isn’t calling all of the shots.

“I think, with the grant process, that was a big concern because we did have to agree to a lot of stipulations that were basically federal mandates once we agreed to take the grant money,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that Georgia maintains its autonomy.”

Right now, Georgia only has Common Core standards for math and English language arts. Woods said there are standards for science and social studies on the horizon and he plans to incorporate them into the Georgia Performance Standards.

“Those standards will be Georgia’s — there will be an adoption of the Common Core standards but they will be something we develop and work with here,” Woods said.


Georgia’s graduation rate continues to be on the lower end of the spectrum, coming in at 72.5 percent for the 2013-14 school year, compared to the national rate of 81 percent. While it is increasing — the state’s 2010-11 rate was 67 percent — it is still in need of improvement.

Cobb’s graduation rate for 2013-14 was 78.2 percent while Marietta High School’s graduation rate was 71.4 percent.

Woods said he thinks Georgia’s low graduation rate is partially a result of No Child Left Behind and the overemphasis on testing.

“We put every kid in the same hole, the same format,” he said. “In my view, we were basically trying to manufacture machine parts. Everything was supposed to look the same. … I think that really did hurt us statewide.”

Woods said it’s impossible to really create an educational model that works for every single kid.

“That education light bulb, it would be nice if it all came on at the same time. It would make teaching a whole lot easier. But the reality is it’s just not that way,” he said. “Some kids, they can build Saturn V rockets. Some kids, you’d think they’ve barely been out of their diapers.”

Woods said the key is to go back to the K-5 years and work on the foundation of education.

“Literacy is something very key,” he said. “If you look at the data out there, there’s almost a one-to-one correlation between opportunity and educational success based on literacy.”

Woods said once students get to middle school and high school, they should be provided more choices in course offerings.

“One of the things we have found out, especially after No Child Left Behind, is we assumed every child is going to college,” Woods said. “Basically, we said every child will take the same math, they’ll take the same English, they’ll take the same science and it just went down the line.”

He said an example of course flexibility he’d like to see is allow students to take a computer science class that would count as a core math course.

He said with the emergence of more career-oriented high schools and academies, there should be more flexibility afforded to the students.

“I think allowing them to pursue things that actually build on their strengths and their desires will motivate them to come to school,” Woods said. “I look forward to working with the lieutenant governor (Casey Cagle), who’s done a lot of work with that.”

He also said he’d like to change the model from STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — to STEAM by adding an art component.

“These are areas that are so critical as far as developing thought processes, enhancing the academic mindset of our kids and critical thinking,” Woods said.

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A Country Where Teachers Have a Voice

In the Netherlands, educators decide what happens in their classrooms—not bureaucrats.

UTRECHT, The Netherlands—This summer, when the Dutch government debated mandating that all schools provide three hours of physical education a week to students, Jasper Bunt, the principal at a Montessori school called Oog in Al, argued against it. He already offered the required two hours of gym at his school in Utrecht, a city 30 miles south of Amsterdam. Another 60 minutes would mean giving up time in another subject.

Bunt has each of his 350 students for 200 days a year—four weeks more than the average U.S. school year. That amounts to 930 hours a year, more than what’s required by half of the states in the U.S. and most countries worldwide. Bunt believes that he and his teachers should decide what to do with that time—not the government. It’s a pervasive belief in the Netherlands, where increased school time also comes with increased principal and teacher autonomy.

As schools across America experiment with adding more hours to the school day and more days to the school year, the Netherlands offers examples of what extra time looks like in a largely successful education system. Last fall, I traveled there to see firsthand what lessons the United States could learn and found that several aspects often dictated by law or by district policy in America are decided at individual schools across the Netherlands.

With complete control of their schools’ budgets and no laws about class size or extracurricular programming, principals can opt to have two classes of 15 second-graders each or to have one class of 30 and hire an art teacher, for example. They decide how to evaluate their teachers. They even pick when the school day starts and ends for each grade. Teachers across the Netherlands say that while they have certain topics they’re required to cover, they feel free to teach how they want. The idea of a scripted curriculum with pre-prepared lessons, used by thousands in the U.S., is alien. Bunt for his part does require his teachers to make lesson plans to ensure they’re thinking ahead, but he never checks them. “I don’t know what they’re doing right now,” he said. “I don’t have to know.”

In a 2008 report, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that 94 percent of decisions for middle schools in the Netherlands are made by individual school administrators and teachers, while 6 percent are made at the federal level. In a 2011 OECD analysis, Dutch schools reported the second-highest amount of autonomy in the world in picking tests and teaching materials. The U.S. was ranked 21st out of 32 countries. The same report found that, broadly, the more control that a country’s schools have over these decisions, the better the country does on international assessments. Indeed, the Netherlands is among the top quarter of countries in reading, math, and science, according to the Program for International Student Assessment. The country significantly outperforms the U.S., whose scores fall in the middle.

Both countries would like to move up in the international rankings. Unlike many places in the U.S., though, in the Netherlands teacher autonomy is a crucial part of the education-reform discussion. “We are so entrenched in this culture of top-down authority right now,” said Kim Farris-Berg, an American education consultant and lead author of Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots. The Dutch, she added, “somehow see that path forward” to greater teacher control of schools.

Many Dutch teachers still feel as though they don’t have the authority to make important decisions about their schools, like picking what to teach. In many cases, however, Dutch teachers face fewer constraints than their American peers. For example, although educators in the Netherlands also express concern about pressure to “teach to the test,” and although Dutch students also must pass standardized tests in many subjects to graduate from high school, the Dutch students are required to take only three standardized tests in primary school: one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end. Some principals elect to have students take more, but the choice is theirs. Most American students take standardized tests in multiple subjects each year in third through eighth grade.

The Dutch government also develops standards that dictate what a student should have learned by the end of primary and secondary school. By the end of eighth grade, students should be able to meet 58 targets across all subject areas, like being able to solve simple geometry problems and understand key concepts about weather and climate. By comparison, the Common Core State Standards, benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states in the U.S., have 70 total math and English Language Arts standards for eighth-graders.

In high school, Dutch students are required to learn certain things in each subject, but the sequence and details are left up to the schools. Like Bunt, Hiltje Rookmaker, the principal of Leon van Gelder high school in Groningen, says she only steps in when a teacher’s students are failing exams. Otherwise, teachers say, they’re free to do what they want.

“We have a program … but everyone does it their own way,” said Sophie Traas, a French teacher at Leon van Gelder.

The Dutch constitution guarantees freedom of education, meaning anyone can open a school and determine how they want to teach there. More than 60 percent of the 8,000 or so schools in the Netherlands are private with a religious affiliation—but unlike the U.S., in this country these institutions are still publicly funded. Among the rest, many schools are based on a specific educational philosophy, like Montessori, in which group lessons are mostly abandoned in favor of students working independently. (The U.S. has a few thousand Montessori schools, but most are private and charge tuition.)

Outside factors, like the small number of Dutch textbook publishing companies, indirectly limit how different schools can be in practice. Still, educators vigorously defend the right to have those differences, and some experts say there is a great deal of innovation in how schools are structured or what kinds of teaching strategies they use. In some ways, the educational system in the Netherlands, a country that’s comparable in size to Massachusetts and Connecticut combined and serves a population of 17 million people, functions like a group of 8,000 charter schools.

Like charters, in exchange for their freedom, Dutch schools are expected to show results. The government inspects the schools once every four years by visiting the schools, meeting with students and parents, and looking at test scores and finances. The small number of schools—a couple hundred or so—that are deemed weak are watched more closely, but the rest are free to carry on. Since the 1990s, all schools have been overseen by boards that monitor progress and provide support. While half of the school boards in the country are responsible for only one school each, large boards can control several dozen, similar to how American charter school networks operate.

Some Dutch teachers told me they fear that the school boards, made up of members of the community but not educators, are eroding teacher’s freedoms. Some boards, for instance, pick which textbooks teachers should use or assign additional standardized tests. This sentiment resembles that of the American teachers who are pushing back against district mandates.

“The autonomy that was supposed to come of the decentralization got stuck with the boards and never reaches the teachers and schools,” said Walter Dresscher, president of the Algemene Onderwijsbond, one of the country’s two teachers unions. (The country is home to some 240,000 teachers total in both public and private schools.) “Freedom in the classroom is going backwards quickly.”

But other Dutch educators say the threat is more perceived than actual. “If you’re doing okay, they leave you alone,” Rookmaker said of her school board, which oversees five schools. “I can do what I want.”

Leon van Gelder is one of 3,000 schools participating in the government’s School aan Zet program, or “school in charge.”  The 40-million-Euro (about $50 million) program aims help schools figure out how to improve on their own and ultimately emphasizes their autonomy.

Rookmaker says she places a premium on the school not having to answer to school board or government mandates. Taking part in government-funded initiatives, like School aan Zet, doesn’t threaten that independence. “It’s not a program where every school does the same thing,” she said. “It’s what’s good for my school.”

Sarah Butrymowicz is a staff writer at The Hechinger Report.

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State scholarships fund (QEE) depleted in one day

If you waited until this week to apply for a private school scholarship for your child, you waited too long.
The Georgia Department of Revenue has announced that the program hit its $58 million cap for the year on Jan. 1., about three weeks earlier than the money ran out last year.

The General Assembly created the program in 2008 to give Georgia parents who can’t afford private school on their own an alternative other than sending their kids to a public school in a state beset with low test scores and a high dropout rate.

Under the law, individuals who contribute to the scholarships program receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $1,000, and married couples filing jointly get up to $2,500.

Businesses can receive credits of up to 75 percent of their state income tax liability.

The program has been controversial from the outset. It passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly largely along party lines.
Since then, critics have complained that it steers public money toward private schools, many run by religious institutions. A lawsuit was filed in Fulton County Superior Court last year seeking to have the program overturned as unconstitutional.

But the program’s defenders point to its popularity, as demonstrated by the almost instantaneous depletion of the cap. A poll released last spring by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation showed more than 70 percent of Georgians endorse the program, while 61.8 percent said the annual cap should be raised to $100 million.

Supporters are planning to push for an increase in the cap during the General Assembly session that begins next week.

Dave Williams
Staff Writer – Atlanta Business Chronicle

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