May 24, 2018

(SCHOOL CHOICE AND VOUCHERS, GUEST BLOGS, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

Guest Post: IRS Considers Action Against SALT Credits. Will it Give the Voucher Tax Shelter a Free Pass?

By Carl Davis, Research Director for the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy

When Congress was considering capping the deduction for state and local tax (SALT) payments last year, numerous lawyers warned that states would likely circumvent the hastily devised cap by helping their residents convert state tax payments into fully deductible charitable gifts.

To make this conversion, states would offer “workaround tax credits” offsetting most or all of the cost of “donating” to support public services (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Oregon have since enacted these credits). Lawyers knew to offer this warning, which Congress ignored, because this abuse of the charitable giving deduction was already taking place in many “red states” with tax credits supporting K-12 private school vouchers.

A new ITEP report explains the close parallels between the new workaround credits and existing state tax credits, including those benefiting private schools. The report comes the same day that the IRS and Treasury Department announced they would seek new regulations related to these tax credits. It notes that the SALT workarounds are emblematic of a broader weakness with the federal charitable deduction. And it cautions regulators to avoid a “narrow fix” that will only address the newest SALT workarounds (which, so far, have only been enacted in blue states) without also addressing other abuses of the deduction, which have long been employed by red states.

The new IRS notice is light on details, suggesting that regulators do not yet know how they will navigate this complex policy area. ITEP’s new report discusses in detail the two main options that the IRS could choose to pursue:

  1. Broad action that improves the tax code’s measurement of charitable giving, and requires taxpayers to subtract state tax benefits they received when calculating the portion of each gift that was truly “charitable.”  For example: if a taxpayer donates $100 and receives a $60 state tax credit in return, only the remaining $40 would be considered a charitable gift for federal tax purposes.

Or

  1. Narrow action that requires examining every entity (government agencies, public universities, nonprofit organizations, etc.) receiving a donation reimbursed with a tax credit. Based on the outcome of that examination (using criteria that are not yet known), the IRS would either: (a) turn a blind eye and grant a full federal charitable deduction even when the alleged “donation” was reimbursed with a state tax credit, or (b) categorize the reimbursed portion of the donation as a state tax payment subject to the $10,000 SALT cap.

Pursuing the narrow fix would require drawing arbitrary distinctions within the wide range of public entities, quasi-public entities, and heavily-regulated nonprofits currently benefiting from state charitable tax credits. It would also lead to perverse outcomes in which red-state tax shelters would be left intact while the newer, and sometimes less-lucrative, blue-state equivalents would be shut down. As the report explains:

It turns out that high-income taxpayers living in states such as Alabama and Pennsylvania are already enjoying the personal financial benefits of SALT cap workarounds, while those living in California, New York, and elsewhere are still waiting for their lawmakers to finish debating or implementing workaround credits.

Accountants in Alabama and elsewhere are marketing existing state tax credits for private schools using the exact same sales pitch that drew the IRS’s attention to the new credits in New York and other states.  For example, an accounting firm’s tax advice that has been promoted by the Medical Association of Alabama explains that making a “donation” to support private school vouchers is “an opportunity to preserve your state tax deduction.” In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, a similar tax credit is being touted as a tool for “bypassing the $10k state and local tax deduction limitation.”

These sales pitches are not merely idle chatter.  This year, Alabama’s entire allotment of $30 million in tax credits was snatched up in just two months, and SALT cap avoidance was reportedly on the minds of many claimants.

These private school voucher shelters have been problematic for years, as ITEP and AASA have explained. Any IRS action targeting the newest “workaround credits” needs to address these longer-running tax shelters as well. Failing to do so would be unfair and arbitrary, and a step backward for federal tax policy.

May 24, 2018(1)

(ESEA, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

USED Announces Upcoming Webinars for LEAs re: Student-Centered Funding Pilot

AASA received the following information in an email from the US Education Department:

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced a new pilot to afford local educational agencies (LEAs) flexibility to create equitable, student-centered funding systems.  The purpose of this pilot is to provide an LEA with the flexibility to combine state, local, and eligible federal funds that it will allocate to schools using a formula that provides additional funding for students from low-income families, English learners, and other disadvantaged students.  In exchange for meeting the requirements of the pilot and using a student-centered funding formula, the LEA receives freedom from many of the federal require-ments for the funds included in the system (e.g., tracking time and attendance; creating schoolwide needs assessments and schoolwide plans for operating a schoolwide program under Title I, Part A; spending funds on particular allowable uses). 

The Department first accepted applications in March and will accept a second round of applications by July 15, 2018.  Please note that the Department recently updated the application, which is available on our website.

To support LEAs interested in applying this summer, the Department is hosting a series of two webinars, each of which will be repeated. 

 

 

The intended audience is LEA staff, though other interested parties are also welcome.  To join a webinar, please select the link for the relevant session.  The webinars will be recorded, and the recordings as well as slides will be posted with related resources on our website.  

An LEA applying by July 15, 2018, will be proposing a system that would be implemented in the 2019-2020 school year, which provides time for transition to implementing an approved plan.  We are eager to receive applications from interested LEAs who share our enthusiasm about the program, the flexibility it gives local leaders, and its potential impact on equity and transparency in resource allocation.  If you have questions about the webinars or the application, please contact WeightedFundingPilot@ed.gov

 

 

May 24, 2018

(ESEA) Permanent link

Meaningful Local Engagement Under ESSA: Issue 2

AASA was pleased to collaborate and contribute with a handful of education organizations to the latest handbook from Opportunity Institute and Council of Chief State School Officers to support local leaders working more collaboratively to include students, families, educators and partners into the ESSA policy making and implementation process. 

The handbook is titled Meaningful Local Engagement Under ESSA Issue 2: A Handbook for Local Leaders  on Engagement in School Improvement and is designed for state education leaders, school and district leaders and advocates to inform efforts to engage peers and stakeholders in all aspects of planning and implementation of ESSA. This handbook is a follow up to Meaningful Local Engagement Under ESSA: Issue 1.

Access the handbook

May 22, 2018

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AASA Recommends Against Considering the PROSPER Act

House GOP members have scheduled a meeting for tomorrow, May 23 to discuss bringing to a vote the PROSPER Act, the GOP bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. AASA, along with AESA, ASBO, and NREAC, sent a letter urging House leadership to refrain from taking up this partisan bill. The PROSPER Act would greatly increase the problem of educator shortages and the student loan burden on teachers.

May 21, 2018

(RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS) Permanent link

New USED Initiative Assists with Website Accessibility

Is your school district’s website ADA compliant? As a school leader, knowing the answer to this question is more important than you may realize, and if you are unsure whether that answer is yes, or no, then you need to have a conversation with whomever manages your schools’ website to find out.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has been serving notices to school districts across the country whose school websites are not accessible to individuals with disabilities. And since you don’t want that complaint hitting your desk, our team wanted to alert you to a new website accessibility technical assistance initiative that the OCR launched to provide schools and districts with vital information on website accessibility, including tips for making online programs accessible.

OCR will offer three initial webinars to jumpstart this initiative on the following dates:

  • Webinar I: May 29, 2018, at 1:00 p.m. EDT
  • Webinar II: June 5, 2018, at 1:00 p.m. EDT
  • Webinar III: June 12, 2018, at 1:00 p.m. EDT

Feel free to share this information with your webmaster, but also plan to attend yourself if you’d like to learn more about the OCR’s expectations for your website and how to ensure your webpages aren’t discriminating any persons with disabilities, because it's not just the homepage that needs to be compliant.

May 15, 2018

(E-RATE, ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

Advocacy Round Up: DACA, Rescission, and Net Neutrality

Time for a document dump! AASA advocacy has engaged in a handful of activity--outside of Sasha's continued efforts with Impact Aid and Leslie's work on the Farm Bill. This blog post is a quick bit on those items. 

 

  •  DACA: AASA joined a handful of other organizations in an amicus brief for a DACA-related case in the Ninth Circuit. The case was heard on Tuesday of this week.
  • Net Neutrality: AASA sent a letter to the full US Senate in advance of their vote to force the FCC to reverse their ending of network neutrality. The vote is viewed as largely symbolic. While Ds have the votes they need to pass it. the bill will not get any traction on the House side. 
  • Rescission: AASA joined forces with AESA and ASBO to send a letter to both the House and Senate appropriations committees, opposing President Trump's proposed funding rescission.

 

May 14, 2018

(IDEA) Permanent link

AASA Comments on Significant Disproportionality Regulation Delay

AASA was pleased to offer comments on the U.S. Department of Education's proposed delay of regulations on how to calculate significant disproportionality in IDEA. AASA had serious concerns with the 2016 disproportionality regulations issued in the waning days of the Obama Administration. 

While we agree and disagree with various aspects of the 2016 regulations issued under the Obama Administration we do not quibble on whether the Department had the authority to determine a methodology for findings of significant disproportionality including setting an “n” size for districts and assessing whether a risk-ratio threshold is reasonable. The Department did not have the legal authority to issue these regulatory provisions. Furthermore, the 2016 significant disproportionality regulations vary considerably from prior regulation and the underlying statute. After careful review we support a delay and reconsideration of the 2016 significant disproportionality regulations by the Trump Administration.

You can read our complete comments here

May 10, 2018

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

AASA Sends Letter on Farm Bill

Today, AASA and over 50 other groups sent a letter to the House urging Representatives to oppose the nutrition program changes made in H.R. 2, the Farm Bill reauthorization bill currently under consideration. The bill increases work requirements for families to qualify for SNAP, which could force 1 million families, many with children, to lose their access to these critical nutrition benefits. It also makes cuts to categorical eligibility, which could lead 265,000 children to lose automatic access to meals and would call into question the 9.7 million students currently served through the Community Eligibility Provision. Please join us in telling your Representatives to oppose these changes to nutrition programs.

May 9, 2018(1)

(ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED TECH, RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS, GUEST BLOGS) Permanent link

Guest Blog: Professional Development Resources to Help Students with Learning and Attention Issues

Today's guest blog comes from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). It links to their latest toolkit [crossposted here] and addresses the important topic of school-wide professional development.  

Seven out of 10 students who receive special education supports for learning disabilities and ADHD spend 80% or more of the school day in the general education classroom.  This means that general educators must be prepared with evidence-based strategies that support all learners, including those with learning and attention issues.  Two strategies proven to benefit all learners are a multi-tier system of support (MTSS) and universal design for learning (UDL), and there are funding opportunities in Title II and Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to support the scaling of these approaches in schools.  

Conversations about supporting, implementing, and scaling these strategies must begin at a local level so they can be customized to meet local needs, and teachers can use these strategies to improve student outcomes. That’s why the National Center for Learning Disabilities and Understood.org, developed a toolkit for parents and advocates to use in their schools and districts to share the importance of using frameworks like UDL, MTSS, personalized learning, and strengths-based IEPs and to help link schools to funding streams that can support these approaches. To learn more, you can download the toolkit.

 

 

May 9, 2018

(SCHOOL CHOICE AND VOUCHERS, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

The Advocate, May 2018

By Sasha Pudelski, advocacy director, AASA

 

The VOUCHER Fight Of 2018: Are You Weighing In?

It’s no secret the Trump/DeVos Administration favors efforts to privatize federal education dollars. With the help of a Republican-controlled Congress, they have eked out a few wins this session that furthers the pro-voucher agenda. 

First, in the FY17 Omnibus last year, voucher proponents were successful in getting the only federally-funded voucher program—the DC voucher program—reauthorized for 5 years despite a widely publicized study conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Education that found D.C. students using vouchers to attend private schools were performing worse than their public school counterparts in math and reading.

Second, during the tax reform debate in Congress, voucher advocates received support for a change to 529 college savings accounts that permits taxpayers in some states to use these tax-free accounts to set aside $10,000 in K-12 private school expenses as well.

However, as soon as the ink dried on tax reform, AASA began fighting the most significant of battles that threaten public education dollars this Congress. Working closely with our friends at the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS) and many other education, civil rights, disability rights, religious and secular groups that belong to the National Coalition for Public Education (which AASA co-chairs), we honed in on a new voucher proposal that would allow active duty military families living on military bases to obtain a $2,500 (or in some exceptional cases a $4,500) voucher that they could use for private school, homeschool, virtual school, summer camp, tutoring and therapies, or college savings.

The scheme was flexible and straightforward: As long as an active-duty military family would not send their child to a public school full-time they could receive a small but very flexible voucher known as an “education savings account.” How would these vouchers be subsidized? Only through the oldest, most respected and most bipartisan funding stream at the federal level: Impact Aid.

Impact Aid was designed to direct federal dollars to districts who lack tax revenue due to the presence of federal land (forests, military bases/depots, Indian reservations, etc). It was never meant to be doled out on a per-pupil basis and it was never meant to be used solely to support military-connected kids. However, the Heritage Foundation, the most powerful conservative organization in the country along with their friends like ALEC, EdChoice, The American Federation of Children, The Club for Growth, and about 20 other heavy-hitting conservative pro-voucher organizations decided this was the education fight for 2018 and they proposed legislation called, “The Military Education Savings Account” (HR 5199/S.2517).

To up the ante to get the bill passed, Heritage took the unusual step of adding co-sponsorship of the bill to its political scorecard—which means a Republican hoping to be in Heritage’s good policy and funding graces during this election cycle would lose points even if they failed to co-sponsor (little less vote for) the bill. To date, there are more than 60 Republicans in the House who are signed on as co-sponsors. That’s 1 out of every 4 Republicans in the House.

The good news? We’ve already won round 1 in the fight. Despite having considerably fewer resources to go toe-to-toe with these well-funded political organizations, the education community (helped considerably by allies in the military community that we engaged) has succeeded in making Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee  uncomfortable enough with this specific proposal that the Committee vote planned for May 9th on the bill will not come up for a vote. While we may have won the first battle to protect Impact Aid funding from vouchers the war is far from over.

Because they were denied a vote in Committee, Heritage and its allies need to rally enough votes to pass this on the floor of the House. The week of May 21st is when the House will be considering this bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). NDAA is a must-pass bill to fund the Department of Defense every year. The Senate Armed Services Committee will also be considering this bill as part of their mark-up of NDAA.

If you haven’t weighed in yet with House or Senate representatives—please do! YOUR voice makes a difference in debate. After personally attending dozens of meetings with House staff over the past three months about the Impact Aid voucher bill, I was repeatedly heartened to hear that they had already heard from school leaders who expressed “strong concerns” with this proposal and that your voices were making a meaningful difference in how Congressional offices viewed the bill.

The takeaway for school leaders: It doesn’t matter the opponent—your voice matters.

You are a highly-respected constituent and all the money and political pressure from the other side doesn’t always equate to victory. Keep weighing in. We must stop this new federal education voucher scheme from coming to fruition.  

May 2, 2018

 Permanent link

AASA Releases Findings From School Discipline Survey

Today AASA is releasing an important survey of 950 superintendents in 47 states that analyzes the influence the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline (referred to hereafter as “the 2014 discipline guidance) on district discipline policies and practices. You can access the analysis here.

Originally when the 2014 guidance and the application of a disparate impact analysis was issued to by the Office of Civil Rights, AASA released a strongly worded statement that we did not think this analysis was appropriate and we felt it was going to be especially difficult for districts to comply with the new requirements given that no funding was dedicated at the federal level to improving discipline practices and policies.

 There has been intense speculation that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will rescind the 2014 discipline guidance and AASA had the opportunity to meet with officials at the U.S. Department of Education about the guidance this spring to share our views. To better inform our discussions with the Department and other stakeholders AASA partnered with the Association of Educational Service Agencies and ASBO International to ascertain the impact of the 2014 discipline guidance on school districts. Specifically, we sought to understand how the 2014 discipline guidance is perceived in the field as well as how the increasingly aggressive processes that existed under the Obama Administration for investigating individual discipline complaints under Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act had influenced district policies and practices.

FINDINGS

  •  The 2014 discipline guidance itself had a very limited impact on changing district discipline policies and practices. Given that only 16 percent of district leaders surveyed in 2018 indicated their district has modified their school discipline policies and practices because of the 2014 discipline guidance, we cannot say that it is having the positive or negative effects some advocates are claiming.
  • More generalized pressure from OCR to address discipline disparities has changed local policies and practices in a different and more substantial way than the guidance. Beginning in 2009, OCR opened hundreds of investigations or compliance reviews that forced districts to change discipline practices and policies. The noticeable uptick in investigations and compliance reviews over the last nine years seems to have acted as a more powerful lever in influencing districts to reduce out-of-school time for students even if teachers, parents or students preferred for that specific child to be removed from class.

CONTINUATION OF THE 2014 DISCIPLINE GUIDANCE

Whether the 2014 discipline guidance should stay or go is not something AASA can adequately weigh in on, given the feedback from our survey and our interviews with school leaders. AASA continues to worry about the application of the disparate impact analysis in the K-12 educational context and whether it is appropriate. However, AASA believes the expanded reach of OCR in how it investigates districts for alleged discrimination in student discipline practices is the most substantial problem for districts that can and should be addressed at the federal level. The adoption of a new case-processing manual at OCR and a narrowing of the types of unwritten disciplinary practices OCR can request should make a meaningful positive difference. Outside of OCR’s pace and style of investigating discipline discrimination, the 2014 discipline guidance itself has not been transformative in changing discipline policies and practices for districts.