In New York, Rich Disabled Kids Get the City to Send Them to Private School. Poor Disabled Kids Get Screwed. School choice is about extending the privileges of the upper middle class to everyone else.

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New York City is home to some of the world’s worst public schools for children with special needs, places that warehouse students in chaotic and unsupportive environments. A growing number of affluent families have successfully sued the city on the grounds that these schools are so bad that taxpayers should pay to send their learning-disabled children to elite private institutions instead. It’s a de facto private voucher system that is largely inaccessible to poor families.

What if the city were to provide all families with school choice, so that even disabled kids from poor homes could get an excellent education?

The status quo is the source of enormous inequities: Upper-middle-class parents are able to work the system to get the very best for their kids. But who can blame them?

Faith Retali, who asked that we use a pseudonym in this story to protect the privacy of her family, is a single mother of three boys. She lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In the third grade, her oldest son was diagnosed with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and severe anxiety.

“From second to third grade, he was vomiting every single morning before going to school,” she says. The city recommended that she send him to a public school that specializes in serving children with disabilities. When she took a tour, she was horrified.

“You could see the students in the back of the classroom talking, disrupting,” she says. “One teacher came out in the hallway and started yelling.”

Although she couldn’t afford the tuition, she enrolled her son in one of Brooklyn’s premier private schools for children with learning disabilities. To cover the annual cost of about $45,000, she sued the city on the grounds that it had failed to provide him with an appropriate public option as required under the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

When her second son also turned out to have learning disabilities, Retali again sued the city to cover private school tuition. Now she’s about to do it again for her youngest.

Annual city spending on private school tuition for learning disabled children was $244.1 million last school year, according to data obtained from the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) through a Freedom of Information Law request. That’s up from $103.6 million in the 2009–2010 school year.

The city spent $55,049 on tuition for each of the 4,435 learning disabled children attending private school on the city’s dime last year. That figure is likely to keep going up because settlements between parents and the NYC DOE have become more generous since Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014.

David Bernstein, a publishing executive who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, toured some of the special education programs within the public system after his then-12-year-old daughter started experiencing crippling anxiety.

“These are places where they no longer send kids who are on an academic track,” says Bernstein. “And they’re no longer on a therapeutic track.”

So he and his ex-wife sued. Now his daughter attends a boarding school for kids with emotional and psychological difficulties, and the city covers the entire tuition bill of $138,000 per year.

“I guarantee there are kids sitting in some of these warehouse schools who would benefit from being in the same environment my daughter is in,” says Bernstein.

Though it works out well for the minority of parents able to sue, the city simply can’t afford to send every learning disabled kid to private school at an average cost of $55,000 per pupil.

“It is draining hundreds of millions of dollars from classrooms that desperately need those resources,” says Eric Nadelstern, who served as the second-highest ranking education official under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent whose administration fought back against families suing for private school tuition.

Though Nadelstern acknowledges that the city’s special education offerings are lacking, he says that “diverting resources to a few is not a solution to the problem.”

“This is not an option that parents are just happily deciding to do, they’re doing it because they really feel their children need this,” says attorney Alexandra Hindes, who works at the Law Offices of Neal Rosenberg, a firm that handles about 1,000 cases a year of this sort.

She says that if the system did a better job educating kids with special needs, her clients would gladly send their kids to public schools. But in the 15 years she has worked on this issue, “there haven’t been significant changes that would bring parents back to the system.”

Although a handful of nonprofits, such as Advocates for Children, can help needy families navigate this process pro bono, suing is out of reach for most parents without resources. “It required the ability to navigate this legal maze of stuff,” says Bernstein. It cost money to hire “high-powered” lawyers and consultants. Many families don’t even know such suits are an option.

The biggest obstacle is that the process often involves fronting the money for private school tuition while waiting for the lawsuits to be settled or adjudicated. Bernstein had to put up about $40,000 before the city started reimbursing him.

“It had to be borrowed and scraped together from pennies in the couch,” says Bernstein. “Most people don’t have the ability to raise one-tenth of that amount of money.”

Suing school districts to pay for private school for learning disabled kids happens all over the country, and it’s a practice that’s been affirmed by U.S. Supreme Court decisions in cases originating in Burlington, Massachusetts; Florence, South Carolina; and Forest Grove, Oregon.

But it’s a deeply flawed system. How can we provide poor families the same quality services without bankrupting municipalities?

One approach would be simply to give parents the money for private school without requiring that they sue. There are currently 13 states with special education voucher programs, some of which base the amount students receive on the severity of their disability.

Charter schools are another solution. While private vouchers are anathema to New York’s progressive political establishment, the city has a robust charter school movement, and there’s a push within that sector to better serve learning disabled students.

Democracy Prep Pathways, a charter school program in Harlem that serves 32 middle-school kids with learning disabilities, is part of that effort. The school has a 3-to-1 staff-to-student ratio and a full-time speech and language pathologist. And it serves students at a price point where the city could afford to serve many more learning disabled students—not just those lucky enough to come from families with the wherewithal to sue. Per pupil spending at Democracy Prep Pathways last year was about $33,590, compared to the $55,000 the city spends to send the average learning disabled student to a private school.

“I’m not saying there’s no private institution that would be able to deliver what Pathways has delivered, but what I’ve seen is tremendous,” says Richard Charlton, the father of a 12-year-old named Rachel whose learning disabilities stem from the fact that she was born at just 23 weeks. Charlton and his wife, Shakeria, had no idea that they could sue the city for private school tuition.

Whether it’s through the real estate market or through hiring top-notch lawyers and consultants, middle-class parents have always managed to get great options for their kids. What the school choice movement is really about is extending that same privilege to everyone else.

By Jim Epstein/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Did You Catch the Huge Loophole in the GOP Tax Plan? The Rich Sure Did.

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In September, shortly after the GOP released the initial framework for its so-called middle-class tax plan, multiple independent analyses revealed that millionaires would reap the greatest benefit, both as a share of the entire tax cut and as a percentage of their income.

The public narrative quickly shifted to the tax plan being a giveaway to the wealthy, and opinion polling revealed the plan was unpopular. So when House leaders unveiled formal legislation on Thursday, they made sure to highlight a provision that maintains a top rate of 39.6% for those reporting income of $1 million or more.

It’s a clever talking point that may temporarily provide political cover, but it is not a game-changer. The nation’s most affluent families tend to earn their money in different ways than the rest of us, and the House bill either creates or retains special loopholes for those types of income that dramatically water down the effect of the 39.6% rate. This is not breaking news. Tax writers are fully aware of this.

Under current law, the top tax rate on most investment income (capital gains and dividends) tops out at just 23.8%—far below the 39.6% rate applied to salaries and wages. This preference for income earned from investments over ordinary wages is the reason Warren Buffett, as he says, pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. The House tax plan leaves this loophole in place. As long as this loophole remains untouched, it will make little difference to wealthy investors whether the top ordinary income tax rate is 35%, 39.6%, or any other level because that rate will not apply to investment income. If lawmakers genuinely wanted to signal to the public that they intend to focus on the middle class, they would have closed this controversial loophole.

Instead, tax writers created more special carve-outs for the highest-income households that make the 39.6% top rate seem far less significant by comparison. Most notably, the plan eliminates the estate tax, which only the wealthiest 0.2% pay, as the first $11 million in wealth is exempt from the tax. The sole reason for repealing this tax is to shower more tax benefits on the wealthy. The legislation also dramatically reduces tax rates for corporations and other highly profitable businesses, and repeals the backstop Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which ensures that high-income taxpayers pay at least some basic amount of tax, no matter how many loopholes their accounts helped them find. All these provisions would offer an enormous windfall to the nation’s wealthiest families, despite a 39.6% top rate being left in place for salaries and wages.

House leadership essentially has chosen to answer public concerns about inequities in our current tax system by making them much worse, but in ways that can be difficult for everyone except tax accountants and analysts to understand.

Consider the proposed top rate of 25% that would apply to most types of business profits. Business owners would pay rates of no more than 25% on their income, while their employees would still be subject to rates ranging up to 39.6%. This creates a clear inequity and special tax preference for the types of income earned by the most affluent taxpayers. Business income, which makes up around a quarter of the earnings of the nation’s millionaires, is another reason House leaders were so quick to abandon their plan to cut the top tax rate on salaries and wages: precisely the types of income that millionaires are less likely to rely upon.

There likely won’t be much outcry over the top tax rate staying at 39.6%, even among wealthy special interests who are pushing for tax reform, because they’ve already succeeded in ensuring that the House proposal will include enough loopholes to stop that top tax rate from applying most of the time.

My colleagues at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy produced an analysis of the September framework, which would have cut the top rate to 35%, and found that the share of the overall tax cut going to millionaires would have fallen by less than 2 percentage points, from 58.6% to 56.8%, if that top rate cut had been left out while the other tax cuts for the wealthy remained intact.

The unfortunate truth is that this so-called millionaires’ tax is little more than a talking point developed to assuage public concern about income inequality and a tax plan that could make it worse by substantially boosting the after-tax income of the wealthiest Americans.

By Alan Essig/Fortune

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Ted Cruz warns of “Watergate-style blowout” in 2018

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Wealthy conservative donors and influential Republican lawmakers say they increasingly fear a historic backlash at the ballot box next year if the GOP effort to pass a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s tax laws falls short in the coming months.

Image: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Lincoln Center

At a two-day midtown Manhattan summit of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers’ powerful donor network, GOP patrons, senators and strategists spoke in cataclysmic terms about the price they expect to pay in the midterm elections if their tax reform effort does not win passage.

They voiced concerns a demoralized Republican base would stay home, financiers would stop writing campaign donation checks to incumbents and the congressional majorities the party has built in the House and Senate could evaporate overnight.

To head that off, the same Republicans said they are waging an intense, multi-front effort in and outside of Congress and the White House to shepherd the endeavor to the finish line.

Koch network officials said they have invested more than $10 million this year in advocating for the GOP tax plan.

Art Pope, a major conservative donor from North Carolina, put it this way: “When you have lack of success, that may depress voter turnout for Republicans, that may depress donations for Republicans and conservatives.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) warned that Republicans could face a “Watergate-level blowout” in the midterm elections if they don’t make major legislative strides on taxes and health care, invoking the political scandal that brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency and set back the GOP considerably in subsequent elections.

“If tax reform crashes and burns, if [on] Obamacare, nothing happens, we could face a bloodbath,” said Cruz, who spoke in a moderated discussion.

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Tim Scott Slammed For Defending Trump’s Tax Plan: ‘Keep Yo Money’

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Image: newsone

The only Black Republican senator has come under fire for making an overt appeal to Black people and working class Americans to support President Donald Trump‘s tax plan that would only benefit the rich. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott used slang in an effort to convince “the average American” that the president’s plan would allow them to “take home more of their pay by taking less out of their pay.”

But it was how Scott followed up those words that caused many to react in disbelief. The senator — who was among the loudest voices to condemn Trump’s apparent defense of White nationalists in the wake of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month — looked right into a camera while recording a promo spot for the tax plan and said, “We want to help you keep yo money.

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Study: Yep, American Presidents Are Guided By Wealthy Elites

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Echoing a much-discussed paper out of Princeton last year that argued the U.S. is no longer a proper representative democracy, the book, “Who Governs?” is an exploration of presidents, public opinion, and manipulation.

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Rand Paul Risks Wrath of Conservatives by Exposing the Truth About Their God, Ronald Reagan

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Image: Wikipedia

 The path to the Republican Party presidential nomination travels through Ronald Reagan’s ghost. From Iowa to South Carolina, GOP primaries are often reduced to a competition for the number of times a candidate can invoke his name. If Jesus hadn’t died at such a youthful age, Reagan’s image would have been what right-wing Americans imagined when they thought of an elderly Messiah. For a conservative to offer anything less than pious servitude to his memory is to violate the fourth of the Ten Commandments: thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain, which is exactly the sin committed by one of the 2016 GOP packleaders, Sen. Rand Paul.

In a speech given to student Republicans at Western Kentucky University, Paul said you can trace the Republican Party’s hypocrisy on spending and deficits back to Reagan:

Some say, well that’s fine, but there were good old days. We did at one time … When we had Reagan, we were fiscal conservatives. Well, unfortunately, even that wasn’t true. When Reagan was elected in 1980, the first bill they passed was called the Gramm-Latta bill of 1981, and Republicans pegged it as this great step forward. Well, Jimmy Carter’s last budget was about $34 or $36 billion in debt. Well, it turns out, Reagan’s first budget turned out to be $110 billion dollars in debt. And each successive year, the deficit rose throughout Reagan’s two terms.

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Brooklyn Tenants Say Landlord Is Trying To Force Them Out Of Rent-Stabilized Apartments

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Image: Wired New York

Some Brooklyn tenants claim their landlord is discriminating against them and trying to force them out of their rent-stabilized apartments to collect higher rents from younger, white tenants.

Black tenants of Homewood Gardens Estates in the Prospect Lefferts Garden neighborhood have filed a federal lawsuit against the complex and owner Yeshaya Wasserman.

They allege the landlord failed to make repairs and seldom cashed rent checks in a scheme to evict them from their rent-controlled apartments.

“He fails routinely to cash rent checks and then turns around and sues plaintiffs for allegedly not paying their rent,” attorney Pavita Krishnaswamy said.

 

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