Thursday, November 23, 2017

Tax bill reflects rift between many Republicans, higher education

Ending a tax deduction for interest paid on student loans. Raising taxes for more than 100,000 graduate students who receive tuition waivers. Imposing a levy on endowments at certain private colleges and universities.

These actions are anathema to higher education leaders across the country. Yet they all appear in the House-approved Republican tax overhaul, evidence of a growing disconnect between large segments of the GOP and colleges that, for generations, have wielded enormous clout on Capitol Hill.

"I didn't see it coming," said Robert Caret, chancellor of the public University System of Maryland. "Obviously, there's a very different tenor here in Washington."

The bill the House passed Thursday would deliver a $1.5 trillion tax cut, with benefits tilted toward corporations, business owners and wealthy families. Republicans say the cut will spur economic growth, helping families, students and schools with a simpler set of revenue rules.

"Do we want a complicated tax code that gives these small, sometimes invisible benefits to certain Americans — that by the way, a lot of Americans don't take advantage of because they don't know they exist?" Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said this month as the Ways and Means Committee considered a Democratic measure to preserve education initiatives. "Or do we want a tax code that treats everyone more fairly, that provides growth opportunities for more people, that gives every American the opportunity to rise, to thrive, to flourish? That's the debate we're having here."

Government analysis shows House tax bill would increase cost of college by $71 billion over a decade
Outside Washington, there are signs that Republican support for higher education is ebbing.

In July, the Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country. That was up from 37 percent two years earlier.

By contrast, a large majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents — 72 percent — said this year that colleges have a positive effect.

Gallup pollsters reported a similar partisan split in August, with far fewer Republicans than Democrats expressing confidence in higher education. Many Republican skeptics described colleges as "too liberal" and complained they pushed an agenda that does not allow students to think for themselves.

Those opinions may have been shaped by debates over free speech that have erupted on campuses nationwide. Congress has scrutinized incidents in which conservatives say their views were suppressed. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing in June on what it called "the assault on the First Amendment on college campuses."

Big victory for GOP as tax plan passes in House, but Senate fate unclear

Republicans are also ever-mindful of President Donald Trump's political base. He won the 2016 presidential election with strong support from white voters who do not have a college degree — by a margin of more than 2 to 1, according to network exit polls. White college graduates were more split, favoring Trump by a slim 3 percentage points.

Historically, higher education has drawn bipartisan support from Capitol Hill. Democrats say the House bill breaks with that tradition.

The 1.4 percent excise tax on college endowment income would raise $2.5 billion over a decade, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Treating tuition reductions for graduate students and others as taxable income would raise $5.4 billion. Repealing the student loan interest deduction would raise $21.4 billion.

Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., who holds a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University, said he has been besieged by calls from academics upset about tax hikes on grad students. He accused Republicans of making "a desperate grab to get any source of revenue they can, for the maximum possible tax cut for the wealthy and corporations. That's the starting and ending point for what they're trying to do."

Congressional Republicans can cite accomplishments this year for higher education, including a recent expansion of Pell Grants that enables students in financial need to access the federal aid year-round. Key Senate Republicans support raising the maximum grant, now $5,920 a year, to $6,020.

"I'm hopeful that we can continue building on that progress to help more students get the postsecondary education they need — whether it's a college degree, advanced degree, trade program or certification training — to get ahead," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a statement.

Blunt, former president of Southwest Baptist University, and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, former president of the University of Tennessee, are two of Capitol Hill's most influential Republicans on higher education. The Senate version of the tax bill does not include the tax increase on graduate students and would preserve the student loan interest deduction.

But like the House bill, it would impose a tax on investment income for private colleges with endowments worth at least $250,000 per student. That would affect about 60 to 70 schools, including the Ivy League and small liberal arts colleges.

"Extremely puzzling," said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, which represents top research schools. "Endowments allow universities to do a lot of good in the world."

Higher education lobbyists also worry about other provisions of the Senate bill that they fear could squeeze state funding for public higher education and deter charitable contributions.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, a higher education group, acknowledged that colleges and universities face political hurdles. Many low-income and working-class families, he said, feel the cost of a degree is climbing out of reach even though many schools provide significant financial aid. "It certainly does impact legislators on both sides of the aisle as they hear that from constituents," he said. He said colleges must correct that "narrative."

Mitchell, a former Obama administration education official, said colleges also suffer from the popular impression — misguided, he believes — that they favor liberals and suppress free speech. "The culture wars continue," he said. "They bubble, and sometimes they boil, and we're at a bit of a boiling moment."

Jason Delisle, a former congressional Republican aide who is a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the optics of higher education have shifted on Capitol Hill.

A decade ago, he said, the bipartisan policy mantra was: "We have the best higher education system in the world and we're proud of it. ... The only problem: For some people, it's a little bit out of reach and we should help them."

Now, he said, there is more populist suspicion among many Republicans about "elite institutions" and those who benefit from them. "It's a class warfare thing," he said.


Sex education reforms in Britain

SECONDARY school pupils will be given compulsory sex education classes including subjects such as sexting and revenge porn in radical changes.

Children will also receive lessons on healthy relationships from the age of four from September 2019 after Education Secretary Justine Greening said the current curriculum had become "outdated".

Reforms will see relationship and sex education made compulsory for all secondary-age pupils, while primary schools will be required to teach children about relationships from the age of four.

At present, sex education is compulsory only for secondary pupils in schools run by local authorities.

The reform will make it mandatory in all schools, including academies, independent schools and religious free schools and extend the subject to include relationships as well as modern phenomena such as internet porn and sexting.

Four-year-olds will also learn the importance of not cuddling strangers, it was revealed.

However, Education Secretary Justine Greening has previously said that any education will be "age appropriate" and it is not expected that children as young as four would be taught about the biological mechanics of sex.

Instead, they are likely to be taught about relationship issues.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Relationship and sex education is clearly an important part of preparing children and young people for adult life."

What will children be taught about porn and sexting?

Education secretary Justine Greening has said children should be taught about the dangers of sexting and porn to address concerns about the rising number of children sending indecent images.

Sexual consent and domestic violence are other topics that should be taught in sex education lessons, her department was told.

The calls to change sex education lessons reportedly stems from worrying surveys which reveal that girls saw the act boys slapping their bottoms and sharing naked pictures with boyfriends was seen as normal.

A new survey revealed a large majority of Brits think children should be taught about pornography and sexting in schools.

The poll of 2,000 adults found 75 per cent of Britons want children to be taught about the impact of pornography, while just 7 per cent were opposed to the move.

The survey, commissioned by the charity Plan International UK and carried out by Opinium, also found 71 per cent want lessons on sexting.

And 86 per cent of those surveyed think sexual consent should be taught while 82 per cent want lessons to cover violence and abuse in relationships.

A statement from Ms Greening said: "The statutory guidance for sex and relationships education was introduced in 2000 and is becoming increasingly outdated. It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyber bullying, 'sexting' and staying safe online.

"Parents will continue to have a right to withdraw their children from sex education.

"Schools will have flexibility over how they deliver these subjects, so they can develop an integrated approach that is sensitive to the needs of the local community; and, as now, faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith."

The number of straight 16 to 24-year-olds in Britain who have tried vaginal, oral and anal sex has rocketed.

And the age at which people first had sex is down from 19 for men and 20 for women to 16 for both.

Academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined data from the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.

Experts say the trends are fuelled by internet porn, dating apps and more relaxed social attitudes.

Easy access to contraception also makes people feel more sexually liberated.


Texas Board of Education Rejects Another Mexican American Textbook Submission

A year after the Texas State Board of Education rejected a proposed Mexican American studies textbook for containing racist stereotypes and historical errors, the board rejected the textbook submitted to replace it.

The book in question this time around, The Mexican American Studies Toolkit by Tony Diaz — a Mexican American studies advocate, professor and writer — was rejected on November 10.

After the board rejected the first textbook, they called for a second wave of submissions for a Mexican American studies textbook. Diaz, who was one of the biggest opponents of the first textbook, stepped up to the challenge, and submitted his textbook titled The Mexican American Studies Toolkit to the board in June. 

After a panel found errors in the June draft, criticizing it as having "grave lack of historical context" and "informal tone and language" according to HuffPost, Diaz made some changes to address the panel's concerns by September. He added more than 100 pages of essays by Mexican American studies experts, according to the Texas Tribune. But his efforts ultimately failed to gain the approval of the board. Democrat members argued the process had been unfair to Diaz, who had little guidance from the board and was given one year instead of the usual two years to submit a textbook.

In a blog published in the Huffington Post after the board rejected his textbook, Diaz argued that his book "met and exceeded all the requirements and standards" set by the board, and he recommended they provide more time and clarity.

Diaz also criticized the board for not adopting a Mexican American studies course this session, and for not issuing a third call for submissions for Ethnic Studies textbooks, since the board has been talking about the issue for years but taken no concrete action.

The rejection is the latest update in the board’s unsuccessful mission to come up with an accurate Mexican American textbook.

Mexican American Heritage, which was the first book considered by the board and the only entry in the first submission call back in 2014, was rejected after expert reviewers found racist undertones and over 900 factual errors. According to the inaccurate textbook, Mexican American laborers are lazy compared to “American Industrialists,” the Civil War was a battle over state’s rights that had nothing to do with slavery, and Chicano activists sought to “destroy this society” during the Chicano rights movement of 1970s.

After the board unanimously voted to keep that controversial textbook from being used in public schools across the state, they announced a second call for submissions. But with Diaz's being the second book rejected by the board, it’s unclear when, or even if, the board will be able to approve an appropriate Mexican American textbook anytime soon.

Until then, public school teachers across the state will continue to be without an approved Mexican American studies textbook.


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