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Amazon loophole fight offers DEMS 2013 Education opening

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by Paul Goldman

It should hopefully be clear that the “jobs” issue will not have a lot of juice next year if the economy continues to improve. Politically, the jobs issue could be a heads we win, tails we lose in 2013: if things are good, Obama wins and McDonnell can claim credit. If the jobs thing is so bad it costs the President the election, then Democrats will still take the blame through 2013.

So I repeat; Education right now is the better Democratic issue. What are Virginia Democrats thinking these days about education? All this happy talk about education in VA being number one is just that: and by the way, Maryland claims to be #1 and so does…every state can jigger the numbers to fit a narrative if they want. resident Bill Clinton says America ranks 18th in the world: not long ago we were easily # 1. It coincides with our beginning to slip in the economic competition.

No way America is 18th, but Virginia is just doing a great job compare to everyone else. Get real.

Enter then the so-called Amazon sales tax loophole closing bill snaking its way through the General Assembly. House Democratic Minority leader Dave Toscano made leveling the playing field for all businesses a priority this year and he seems have been ahead of the curve. We wrote about the need to do this awhile back. Based on the economic impact statement accompanying the Senate bill – it passed 34-6 with a Republican sponsor – the bill’s requirement that taxes owed actually be collected [thus it is not a new tax at all] could bring in an extra $20-25 million a year. This seems a low estimate given the statistics from other states considering the same issue. But it is also true no knows for sure.

So let’s say $20 million. Roughly 2/3 would normally go to the state general fund, the rest either back to localities or the transportation fund.

Let me suggest the following: This might be a good point for Democrats to take a stand and try to project our party as the one must willing to challenge the education status quo by encouraging/rewarding those willing to do just that in the field.

THUS THE NEED TO USE THE AMAZONG “loophole” to send a ED message: It will help make 2013 about Education, usually the DEMS best issue.

I have a 10-point plan but it’s not quite ready for prime time publication yet. Moreover, I want to learn from others before settling on the final particulars. But here is some general thinking in no particular order.

 

1) The physical fitness of our children, as the First Lady has said, is reaching epidemically bad proportions. A Harvard expert has found that financial incentives encourage students to study harder. What about a “sound mind, sound body” pilot project to see if financial incentives can convince high school seniors to shape up as well? Texas now tests all seniors for physical ability using a rough equivalent of the Army test I think. 8% passed or some incredibly bad number! Virginia no longer requires even physical ed. Military leaders have going around the country warning us about this problem. But to deaf ears.

2) Did you know that about people 18-29, they believe China is the strongest economic power in the world…even though our GDP is roughly 300% higher when you factor in the known “pumping up” the stats over in Mao country? Indeed, they have basically thrown in the towel and have decided we are going to be second or worse forever!. What happens when India gets it MO Jo going since there population will be bigger than China’s – ? GDP isn’t even the only or necessarily the best way to determine economic strength.

This hints at the bigger problem: The whole issue of how our kids are getting their information and their learning in the Internet Age is unknown really. But we need to know: and now. We can’t wake up 20 years from now and realize “Houston, we got a problem” kind of thing.

We need to go out, find out what is happening and figure out how to fix it before Sarah Palin is seen as the model of an insightful thinker, we really can’t need an informed public to have the kind of democracy America deserves. .

3) Right now, VA doesn’t reward its best high school students, or teachers in any meaningful way. Other states have competitive scholarship rewards programs, merit based teaching awards for the best educators and incentives to get local school districts to cut administration expenses and plow them back into the classroom. We need to hold out some carrot so the boldest and brightest want to make Virginia education the best, not go to some other state.

4) Under the State Constitution, there are things the State Board of Education could do, should do: and  could do in terms of pilot projects if it had some money to encourage a local school districts to be the first reformers, always the hardest. It doesn’t take a lot of money, but it helps to have some.

5) The best single thing research shows that can be done to help a student is more parental involvement. But for many parents, this is difficult especially those with modest incomes. There have been proposals to hire parental involvement folks at the local level to talk to parents and find out, in real time, what it would take  since it isn’t working right now. A pilot project or two in a couple of school systems might find new ways the bureaucrats haven’t considered. New York City tried this a few years ago, but it proved to be a patronage system, not a educational reform. I read the study. What a shame.

6) Under the State Constitution, it would be possible for the Board of Education to really think outside the box and use a troubled system to get poor performing schools into the hands of business and professional experts – education, finance, whatever- to see if they could do better. What’s to lose in some of our systems? The state puts up some of the Amazon money, it gets matched, we see what happens.

This would take some real political courage. But there are a number of systems that have failed kids too long. And let’s me honest: The biggest one’s are controlled by Democrats.

7) What’s wrong with a real contest between a charter school run by a board of parents and local school run by the school bureaucracy? Competition works everywhere else.

8) The state constitution and state law permit localities to try radical approaches to shifting resources to the classroom despite the opposition of the local school bureaucracy. Few local politicians are willing to take the risk. But if you tie new cash to real change, my experience says you can find people willing to walk on the wild side.

9) Why don’t we have a Governor’s School for To Teach Skilled Trades? We have government, arts, the useful stuff. But having a real aptitude for a skilled trade is just as valuable: why do we not see these children as super assets to the country and state? We should. With a little seed money, maybe we can get an area of the state to get smart for a change.

10) In places like Richmond, all the education studies come out the same, indeed the best one called the Richmond High School system a “dropout” factory. The local politicians refuse to change, and so a system that basically services poor, non-white students continues to pretend social promotion and phony SAT score postings [ they finally had to admit the manipulation last year under pressure from some of us] showed everyone was going in the right direction.

I AM TIRED OF RUINING THESE KIDS LIVES, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH FOR GOD’S SAKE.

We have SOL tests and school accreditation standards that are used to take school officials, elected school board members off the hook. The only winners: the for-profit schools that prey on these youngsters and military veterans as any number of Democratic Senators have said, not to mention the NAACP.

We need to develop a better, tougher test and see how the children due on something that is geared to tell them the truth, not make them think they know more than they do.

Bottom line: It really comes down, as most things do, to have the political courage not to worry about someone shooing the messenger. We don’t have that right now unfortunately in state government.

This is what statewide elections are all about, taking a shot, and trusting the public to respond to what they know in their hearts is true although not said in polite company.

We should use the Amazon issue to highlight the need to challenge the status quo on Education. Some parts of the DEM base will not like it. My response: Tough.

The point is not about blaming, but only about improving, “today is the first day in the rest of your life type of thing.”

If Democrats can seize the mantle of being the ones who have the guts and the credibility to challenge an education system which the leaders of the party at the national level said is not doing what it needs to do for our children and our country, then we have an issue that is worthy next year.

This is not to short-change the economic issue. But every single Democrat who has become Governor has owned the education issue: and some of us helped them do it.