Friday, January 30, 2015

Your education savings 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.”

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.


Choose To Refuse: Say 'No' to PARCC/SBAC Testing

This is National School Choice Week, but I want to talk about parents' school testing choice.

Moms and dads, you have the inherent right and responsibility to protect your children. You can choose to refuse the top-down Common Core racket of costly standardized tests of dubious academic value, reliability and validity.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

I'm reminding you of your right to choose because the spring season of testing tyranny is about to hit the fan. Do you object to the time being taken away from your kids' classroom learning? Are you alarmed by the intrusive data-sharing and data-mining enabled by assessment-driven special interests? Are you opposed to the usurpation of local control by corporate testing giants and federal lobbyists?

You are not alone, although the testing racketeers are doing everything they can to marginalize you.

In Maryland, a mom of a 9-year-old special needs student is suing her Frederick County school district to assert her parental prerogative. Cindy Rose writes that her school district "says the law requires our children be tested, but could not point to a specific law or regulation" forcing her child to take Common Core-tied tests. Rose's pre-trial conference is scheduled for Feb. 4.

The vigilant mom warns parents nationwide: "While we are being treated like serfs of the State, Pearson publishing is raking in billions off our children." And she is not just going to lie down and surrender because some bloviating suits told her "it's the law."

Pearson, as I've reported extensively, is the multibillion-dollar educational publishing and testing conglomerate — not to mention a chief corporate sponsor of Jeb Bush's Fed Ed ventures — that snagged $23 million in contracts to design the first wave of so-called "PARCC" tests.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers raked in $186 million through the federal Race to the Top program to develop the nationalized tests "aligned" to the Common Core standards developed in Beltway backrooms.

As more families, administrators and teachers realized the classroom and cost burdens the guinea-pig field-testing scheme would impose, they pressured their states to withdraw. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of states actively signed up for PARCC dropped from 24 (plus the District of Columbia) to 10 (plus D.C.). Education researcher Mercedes Schneider reports that the remaining 10 are Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio and Rhode Island

State legislators and state education boards in Utah, Kansas, Alaska, Iowa, South Carolina and Alabama have withdrawn from the other federally funded testing consortium, the $180-million tax-subsidized Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which administered field tests last spring to three million students in 23 states.

In New Jersey, the parental opt-out movement is "exploding," according to activist Jean McTavish. Many superintendents have conceded that "they can't force a student to take a test," reports.

Last week, Missouri withdrew from PARCC, while parents, administrators and the school board of the Chicago Public Schools spurned PARCC in the majority of their 600 schools.

In California, the Pacific Justice Institute offers a privacy protection opt-out form for parents to submit to school districts at PJI head Brad Dacus advises families to send the notices as certified letters if they get ignored. Then, be prepared to go to court. PJI will help. The Thomas More Law Center in Michigan also offers a student privacy opt-out form at

Don't let the bureaucratic smokescreens fool you. A federal No Child Left Behind mandate on states to administer assessments is not a mandate on you and your kids to submit to the testing diktats. And the absence of an opt-out law or regulation is not a prohibition on your choice to refuse.

Here in Colorado, the State Board of Education voted this month to allow districts to opt out of PARCC testing. Parents and activists continue to pressure a state task force — packed with Gates Foundation and edu-tech special interest-conflicted members -- to reduce the testing burden statewide. For those who don't live in PARCC-waivered districts, it's important to know your rights and know the spin.

In Colorado Springs, where I have a high-schooler whose district will sacrifice a total of six full academic days for PARCC testing this spring, parents are calling the testing drones' bluff about losing their accreditation and funding.

"The Colorado Department of Education is threatening schools to ensure that 95 percent of students take these tests," an El Paso County parent watch group reports. "Be assured that MANY parents across Colorado -- FAR ABOVE 5 percent in many schools -- are refusing the tests, and not one school yet is facing the loss of accreditation, funding, etc. As long as schools can show that they gave a 'good faith attempt to get 95 percent to test, they can appeal a loss of accreditation' due to parental refusals to test."

You also have the power to exercise a parental nuclear option: If edu-bullies play hardball and oppose your right to refuse, tell them you'll have your kid take the test and intentionally answer every question wrong — and that you'll advise every parent you know to tell their kids to do the same. How's that for accountability?

Be prepared to push back against threats and ostracism. Find strength in numbers. And always remember: You are your kids' primary educational providers.


School inspectors challenged over claims a pupil was asked if she was a VIRGIN

Ofsted inspectors were today challenged over claims they asked a girl in a failing school if she was a virgin.

The extraordinary allegation emerged amid growing anger at the way inspections are carried out to check that schools are teaching 'British values'.

Chief Inspector of Schools Sir Michael Wilshaw flatly denied the claim, but admitted officials investigating claims of homophobic bullying would ask pupils if they call each other 'gay or lesbo'.

This month it emerged that Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland had made a formal complaint over an 'intrusive' inspection conducted in the wake of the Trojan Horse controversy over Islamist attempts to infiltrate schools.

Inspectors are also said to have questioned pupils about transsexuality and asked if any of their friends felt trapped in the 'wrong body'

A mother has told of her ten-year-old daughter's devastation that her school was branded 'intolerant' after she gave the wrong answer when asked 'what is a lesbian'.

Parent Lena Wilkinson told of how her ten-year-old daughter Ariella came home crying after she gave the wrong answer when asked 'what is a lesbian'.

The government also withdrew funding from the Durham Free School after it was heavily criticised by inspectors.

But Sir Michael was challenged by MPs on the education select committee about the decision, at a time when parents said it was a good school.

Labour MP Alex Cunningham suggested some parents believe there is a 'political agenda' against Christian schools, and raised concerns about the way inspections were carried out.

'Some parents claim there were some inappropriate approaches to the inspection,' Mr Cunningham said.

'A Member of Parliament said to me last night one parent had claimed that a girl was even asked if she was a virgin. Is that something that you would investigate?'

Sir Michael insisted that the claims had been thoroughly investigated, adding: 'Those allegations are false.

'We looked at the evidence base thoroughly, and we found no evidence to suggest that inspectors used inappropriate language and terminology to these children.'

But he defended the right of inspectors to quiz young pupils about bullying and bad behaviour in language they can understand,

'I think it has to be understood that if there are allegations for example of homophobic bullying - and there were - then it's really difficult for an inspector to establish that.

'If you approach a group of children or a child and say is there homophobic bullying in this school, they wouldn't know what you were talking about.

'But if the inspector says are children calling each other gay here or lesbo here, then they would understand what that means.

'And there was very, very bad homophobic bullying going on in these schools.'

He rejected claims from parents that the two schools were good, insisting inspectors found poor behaviour and declining standards in both schools.

'They saw a lot of bullying taking place, and I think it has to be recognised that parents always, even when schools are declining very badly, always try to support the school. 'These two schools are doing badly and parents deserve better.'

Mr Cunningham warned that some of the parents claim there is a 'political agenda, a small-p political agenda and that Ofsted has got it in for Christian schools'.

But Sir Michael insisted Ofsted was committed to taking tough action against all schools, regardless of their religious make-up.

There was 'absolutely not' an agenda against Christian schools, but made clear every school had to teach British values.

'We are going into schools in Birmingham, in Bradford, in Luton, in Tower Hamlets with children from predominantly Asian heritage, who are predominantly Muslim, we are failing those schools, we are putting them into special measures, we are saying some tough things about those schools because they are not promoting British values, they are narrowing the curriculum, and they are not doing what they should be doing to widen the horizons of those youngsters.

'We are going to apply exactly those principles to other schools in the country, including those schools.'

Ministers ordered schools to teach British values in the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan last night told a think-tank that students should be taught about values such as tolerance, respect, democracy and the rule of law regardless of faith or cultural alignment.

She said it was right that schools inspection watchdog Ofsted was now monitoring the promotion of such values in classrooms.

She said: 'The events in Birmingham last year showed what happened, when those that don't subscribe to our fundamental British values try to hijack our education system, radicalise our children and break those societal bonds. What happened in Paris this month showed what can happen when people like that succeed.

'But promoting fundamental British values is about far more than combating extremism. The very reason that fundamental British values are successful in tackling extremist ideology is because they help to open young people's minds, making them into citizens who respect difference, who welcome disagreement and who challenge intolerance.

'I'm afraid I have no sympathy for those who say that British values need not apply to them, that this should purely be a special test for schools in predominantly Muslim communities or our inner cities.

'Every school regardless, faith or none - should be promoting British values, because it's the right thing to do.'


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