President Obama didn’t discuss the nation’s massive, swelling debt in his State of the Union address. Mitch Daniels did, and good for him: the flood of red ink really is the Niagara. Our accelerating drift toard the cliff, moreover, entails not only fiscal and economic but also institutional and constitutional consequences of grave import. State and local debts are a comparatively small tributary to the great stream, but they illustrate the point. State and local debts are composed of about upwards of $4 trillion in unfunded pension obligations; upwards of a half-trillion in other pension benefit obligations (mostly for health benefits), also unfunded; and about $2.9 trillion in municipal (state and local bonds). These debts will not be paid (at least not in real dollars), because they cannot be paid. The question is how and to whom our federal system is going to administer the haircut—and what changes it is likely to undergo in the process. Today’s post deals with the background causes and conditions of state debt; tomorrow’s, with federal bailouts; Monday’s, with fiscal federalism’s future. (It’s not the EU. It’s Argentina.) Read more
Common Core Nation
In this discussion I talk with Professor Sandra Stotsky who has emerged as one of the leading critics of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Stotsky has testified before numerous state legislatures and has written reports and op-eds documenting its deficiencies. Common Core aims to be a national solution to the problems of performance that have dogged education in America. As such, its scope is comprehensive in its attempt to impose education standards, testing requirements, teacher and student evaluations, among other items, on all 50 states. Currently, 45 states have accepted the standards and are implementing curricula around them. But do the standards actually raise the knowledge bar? Stotsky, who was for a time a member of the validation committee, argues the opposite. Educations standards are lowered by the Common Core in an attempt to get to the next-best result. Its own writers seem to agree.
This process, as noted by Stotsky, has never been driven by the states. Rather, it is the outcome of philanthro-policy making, notably the Gates Foundation and the National Governors Association, and a heaping dose of cartel federalism courtesy of being tied to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top legislation. As Stotsky and I discuss, slighted by the process have been parents, teachers, and local school boards who have somewhat helplessly watched their State Boards of Education adopt the standards, in many cases before they were even finalized, in order to receive largesse. States accepting the Common Core standards and testing apparatus received money and a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements—the last successful attempt at national education policy.
In almost 4 years, the Common Core standards have swept the country and only now is a real push-back beginning to occur.