August 7, 2014



Chicago Tribune: Appeals court rules against Preckwinkle tax on businesses

A state appellate court has shot down Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s use tax on certain big ticket items purchased outside the county, upholding a lower court ruling last year that froze collections on one of her signature revenue raisers.

In a finding issued Monday, the appellate court ruled the tax on many purchases of more than $3,500 made outside Cook County by individuals or businesses based in the county amounts to a sales tax on such purchases, which counties are prohibited from levying under state code.

Preckwinkle’s office is considering appealing the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.

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Chicago Tribune: Study shows many teachers not credentialed in their subjects

Illinois school districts have employed hundreds of educators to teach everything from science to special education even though they lacked proper credentials in those subjects, a Tribune investigation has found.

The assignment of teachers not properly trained and credentialed to teach a specific course— a practice that has come under fire nationwide — is facilitated by loopholes in state laws and rules as well as by district hiring practices. It has occurred even when applicants with the required qualifications were available, the newspaper found.

At the same time, the system designed to monitor teacher licensing allows some educators to work for months or even years before getting proper credentials.

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Pantagraph: Quinn administration refuses to explain hiring fix

When a good-government campaigner sued Gov. Pat Quinn in April over political hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation, the administration responded that it had already taken action by reviewing and reclassifying jobs, which wouldn’t be subject to political considerations in the future.

But asked to explain what it did, the Quinn administration has refused to identify which jobs were redefined or how state officials determined whether anti-patronage rules applied – because it has made no final decisions.

The administration’s rejection of a Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press, citing a clause in the law that protects preliminary deliberations, contradicts its earlier declaration that it had reviewed job descriptions, reclassified posts, and fixed the political hiring practice after the release of a critical watchdog report last year.

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AEI: Did cutting jobless benefits promote work? Not so much

What happens to the unemployed in the worst labor market in living memory when their long-term jobless benefits end? Some people, including many Republican lawmakers, had a theory: ending benefits would give the unemployed a nudge. With no more government checks coming, these folks would start looking harder — much harder — for a job or perhaps accept a job they wouldn’t have earlier. This is the logic behind Congress declining this year to renew the federal program funding extended jobless benefits.

Two pieces of evidence suggest this “bootstraps” theory might be wrong. First, a new paper from the Boston Fed paper looking at the Not-So-Great Recovery finds that, yes, the unemployed tended to remain so until their UI benefits were exhausted. But their next move wasn’t into a job. Rather, they became “more likely to drop out of the labor force; transitions to a job appear to be unaffected by UI benefit extensions, ” writes Katharine Bradbury in “Labor Market Transitions and the Availability of Unemployment Insurance.”

Second, economist Justin Wolfers looks at what happened in North Carolina after the state in July last year lost its eligibility for the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. While employment grew over the next six months, it actually grew a bit slower than in neighboring South Carolina, which has a similar economy. After also comparing North Carolina to Georgia and Tennessee, Wolfers concludes, “The bottom line is that North Carolina looks quite similar to its peers, and certainly not better.” Nor has South Carolina performed better than North Carolina this year after the feds cut long-term UI benefits.

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Reuters: Detroit working to secure loan for bankruptcy exit -lawyers

The city of Detroit is zeroing in on financing for its exit from bankruptcy and intends to have a committed lender in coming weeks, its lawyers told Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes on Wednesday.

The city interviewed a small group of lenders about a $300 million loan on Tuesday and expects to receive a second round of bids based on those meetings in the next few days. It intends to confirm the lead lender by the start of the hearing to confirm the bankruptcy plan on Aug. 21, according to city attorneys.

The exit financing will likely be laid out in an amended version of Detroit’s plan for adjusting $18 billion of debt and exiting the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

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Wall Street Journal: ‘Sweet Populism’ Awaits Its Leader

We are in a populist moment, as political strategists of every ideological strain recognize. No leader and no party has harnessed this populist energy, though it surges around every political issue, every election. Our politics will become increasingly convoluted until someone captures and focuses this energy, giving the populist movement a vision for the future consistent with a widely received version of the past. This is a sweet populism, one that affirms American society and institutions.

Sweet populism is a peculiarly American species, organized around a version of the country’s history that is positive and incomplete; stresses the importance of self-reliance; seeks to remove obstacles to individual empowerment when they emerge; and aims any anger it produces at those who deny the essential goodness of the American idea.

In short: Sweet populism concerns what is necessary for retention not transformation, for progress rather than revolution, for love of what is American and suspicion of anything that threatens the independence and self-rule at the heart of the American story.

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Wall Street Journal: Making Math Education Even Worse

I first encountered the Common Core State Standards last fall, when my grandson started sixth grade in a public middle school here in Berkeley, Calif. This was the first year that the Berkeley school district began to implement the standards, and I had heard that a considerable amount of money had been given to states for implementing them. As a mathematician I was intrigued, thinking that there must be something really special about the Common Core. Otherwise, why not adopt the curriculum and the excellent textbooks of highly achieving countries in math instead of putting millions of dollars into creating something new?

Reading about the new math standards—outlining what students should be able to learn and understand by each grade—I found hardly any academic mathematicians who could say the standards were higher than the old California standards, which were among the nation’s best. I learned that at the 2010 annual conference of mathematics societies, Bill McCallum, a leading writer of Common Core math standards, said that the new standards “would not be too high” in comparison with other nations where math education excels. Jason Zimba, another lead writer of the mathematics standards, told the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the new standards wouldn’t prepare students for colleges to which “most parents aspire” to send their children.

I also read that the Common Core offers “fewer standards” but “deeper” and “more rigorous” understanding of math. That there were “fewer standards” became obvious when I saw that they were vastly inferior to the old California standards in rigor, depth and the scope of topics. Many topics—for instance, calculus and pre-calculus, about half of algebra II and parts of geometry—were taken out and many were moved to higher grades.

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