The Elusive Search for Stability and Objectivity

My friend E.J. McMahan at the Empire Center in Albany has a great headline for his blog post this morning: ?Volatility, thy name is `income tax.'? ??Though no one in government these days should need reminding of the problem in predicting public revenues, McMahon cites a new study from the Pew Center on the States and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute in Albany which calls incomes taxes ?the biggest culprit? in thwarting government's prognostic powers.?

Quoting from the report:

Traditionally, personal income taxes are a more volatile income stream than the sales tax. That is in large part because many states rely heavily on non-wage income such as dividends from investments, which can rise and fall with the performance of the stock market.

McMahon then notes:

As if on cue, on the same day that the Pew-Rockefeller report was released, [New York State] Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said his 99-member Democratic majority will push for a budget bill that makes New York more dependent on the income tax?.

Also, as if on cue, Silver scuttled a bill -- passed by the Republican-controlled Senate by a vote of 33 to 27 ? that would have allowed districts to lay off teachers based on factors like performance and disciplinary records, rather than seniority. ?Silver, according to the New York Times, said that he wanted to wait until the Education Department, in collaboration with the teachers union, ?creat[ed] an objective system to evaluate teachers.??

Thus, on the same day that Silver is increasing funding volatility for schools, he's pursuing an evaluation system that he hopes will take all guess work out of the process of laying off teachers.? What the two have in common is the further erosion of local autonomy.

Since income tax remains a federal and state government duty, the more school funding relies on it, the more dependent districts are on distant legislatures.? And the more those powerbrokers try to create so-called objective systems, the less control districts (already strapped by mandates)?have over the process of hiring and firing.?

It will no doubt be tricky to negotiate the potholes of the current collaborative moment ? I refer to the recent Denver confab not the mayhem in Madison ? but the obsession with creating the perfect, ?objective? teacher evaluation system through that process?also has its corner cliffs. As we put union and education bureaucrats in a room to devise something (will it be longer and denser than our district's proposed nine-page anti-bullying policy, I wonder?) that takes management discretion out of a process that Randi Weingarten says must have ?due process? -- well, as Mike said,?the result?could just be ?Nuts.?

If teachers fear arbitrary and capricious principals, parents and taxpayers should fear the 100-page teacher evaluation system that will tie up their money and their schools in ever-growing rolls of red tape.? ?

All these roads seem to lead back to the one place where decisions are best made: the local level.? Just as autonomous schools can be the most nimble educators in the face of funding volatility, those schools are probably the best judges of effective teachers. At least, we shouldn't forget that it was tens of thousands of tiny and autonomous school districts ? funded locally! -- that created the world's best public education system. ?Go figure. ??

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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