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Updated: 4 hours 54 min ago

Education Savings Accounts: Enabling Customized Learning

5 hours 45 min ago

An education option that better targets resources, empowers parents, and tailors a student’s learning experience specifically to his needs—while also enabling families to save for college? Sounds too good to be true, but it’s the reality for families in Arizona and Florida that have access to pioneering education savings accounts (ESAs).

In 2011, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the nation’s first education savings account program into law. Known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts in Arizona, ESAs are true to their name: They empower parents with the ability to fully customize their child’s education.

This year, Florida became the second state to enact an ESA program, which the Sunshine State calls Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs).

Eighteen-year-old Max Ashton is an ESA recipient in Arizona. Max is an exceedingly bright and ambitious young man. He was also born legally blind and has additional needs in school. This is why, when given the option to use an ESA in 2011, Max’s parents jumped at the chance. Marc Ashton, Max’s father, said of the decision:

A blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 dollars per year to educate that student. We took 90 percent of that, paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona—the best education in Arizona—plus all his Braille, all his technology, and then there was still money left over—still money left over—to put toward his college [tuition]. And so he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University…and do extremely well, because we were able to save money even sending him to the best school in Arizona over what the state would normally pay for.

ESAs act like an “education debit card.” With an ESA, 90 percent of the state funding that would have been spent on their child in public school is placed into a restricted-use savings account for parents to use toward a variety of approved education services and products, including private school tuition, private tutoring, curricula, textbooks, individual public school courses, and education therapies. Parents can even roll over unused funds into a college savings account.

In its first year of operation, 34 percent of Arizona families chose to use their ESA funds toward multiple education options. This suggests that when parents are given the ability to customize their child’s education, many will take advantage of the opportunity, tailoring their child’s education to that child’s individual needs.

With this ability to customize, ESAs could be considered “School Choice 2.0”—the next generation of school choice. ESAs restore accountability in education by shifting responsibility in education decision-making back to providers who know the needs of the student best: the parents.

As Kathy Visser, mother of 10-year-old ESA recipient Jordan, explains:

I’m seeing children that are blossoming that were not learning in the traditional system, and to me that’s accountability. We need to look at ways to show that accountability. There is nobody that is going to be more accountable to that child than the parent.

The school choice movement is picking up steam across the country. As of 2014, 41 private school choice programs were operating in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Over 300,000 students are benefitting from school choice. As parents across America grow hungrier for customization in education, ESAs represent the way forward.

The post Education Savings Accounts: Enabling Customized Learning appeared first on Daily Signal.

In Digital Age, Government Fails to Trace Food Stamp Fraud Online

6 hours 35 min ago

States are ill equipped to detect and report food stamp fraud in the digital age, including attempts to sell benefits for cash, alcohol and other services,  a new report says.

Much of the fraud occurs through social media and e-commerce websites such as Craigslist, the investigation by the Government Accountability Office found.

The GAO reviewed state and federal efforts to address fraud committed by recipients of food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report noted:

The Office of Management and Budget has designated SNAP as a high-error program due to the estimated dollar amount in improper payments for fiscal year 2013.

In fiscal 2013, SNAP provided over $76 billion in benefits designed to help about 28 million Americans purchase food. On average, recipient households received about $275 a month in assistance.

>>> Commentary: Why Are Fewer People Using Food Stamps?

In the review, investigators discovered online postings of SNAP recipients offering the program’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards  in exchange for other good and services. EBT cards operate like debit cards and require a pin number for access to benefits.

Examples of fraud identified in the report include:

  • Nov. 29: “iPhone 5 black cracked screen works fine…purchase date of july 2013 so there is still Apple warranty…$350 or best offer…Trades for…Ebt card…”
  • Dec. 2:  “65 food stamps for $30 cash: Really need cash money for the other half of my phone bill…let you use my card and give the pin number…”
  • Dec. 18: “Art for EBT: $10-$3,000”
  • Dec. 19: “Catalytic converters for food stamps”

The misuse of food stamp benefits has been a “long-standing concern,” the GAO report says, while “technology has provided additional opportunities to commit and combat such activities.”

Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, said food stamp fraud actually is on the decline  and the greater problem is the headlong increase in food stamp spending and recipients. She told The Daily Signal:

Food stamps overall is in major need of reform. It is one of the largest welfare programs and has grown rapidly over the last decade.

>>> Commentary: Big Bank? No Problem. You May Still Qualify for Food Stamps

GAO studied fraud in Texas, Florida, New Jersey and eight other states, selected based on the number of household recipients and other criteria.

Most of the selected states reported difficulty conducting fraud investigations because of limited staff and the growing number of recipients. Also, once state agencies identify fraud, they have difficulty prosecuting recipients and recovering overpayments.

“Some state officials suggested changing the financial incentives structure to help support the costs of investigating potential SNAP fraud,” the report said.

The report, published Aug. 21 and titled “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Enhanced Detection Tools and Reporting Could Improve Efforts to Combat Recipient Fraud,” calls for the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service to:

  • Explore ways that federal financial incentives can better support cost-effective anti-fraud activities by states.
  • Establish more guidance to help analyze transaction data to identify food stamp households that obtain replacement cards for potential misuse.
  • Reassess the effectiveness of the current guidance and tools recommended to states for monitoring e-commerce and social media websites.
  • Offer assistance and training to enhance the consistency of what states report about anti-fraud activities.

Most importantly, Sheffield said, food stamps should be reformed to promote self-sufficiency through work:

Able-bodied adults should be required to work, prepare for work, or look for work in exchange for receiving assistance. This would change food stamps from a one-way handout to a program based on reciprocal obligation.

>>> Commentary: Americans Support Stronger Work Requirements for Food Stamps

The post In Digital Age, Government Fails to Trace Food Stamp Fraud Online appeared first on Daily Signal.

This City May Hike Minimum Wage to $13.25 an Hour

7 hours 43 min ago

California’s at it again.

On Labor Day, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to announce a three-year series of hikes to the city’s minimum wage that will raise it to $13.25 an hour, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A labor activist, Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, applauded the move, telling the Times, “There is a crisis in wages for the working poor and we feel strongly about the largest increase as soon as possible.”

But will the hike ultimately help low-income men and women in Los Angeles?

That’s not so clear. First, let’s be clear: most employees aren’t working at minimum wage for years, even in low-skilled jobs. “Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers make above the minimum wage a year later,” wrote Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk in an issue brief released in January.

“This happens because most minimum-wage jobs are entry-level positions,” Sherk explained. “They teach unskilled and inexperienced workers basic employment skills. Without these skills, they cannot qualify for higher-paying jobs. As they acquire these skills, they become more productive and can command higher pay.”

Furthermore, minimum wage workers may not be who you think they are. Many of them are teens and young adults. And among those who are working minimum wage jobs and are 25 or older, the average family income is $42,462, according to Heritage Foundation research. To put that number into context, the official poverty level for a family of four is $23,850.

A higher minimum wage rate can also lead to unintended consequences that hurt low-income Americans. “Higher minimum wages both reduce overall employment and encourage relatively affluent workers to enter the labor force,” Sherk said in testimony before a Senate committee last year. “Minimum wage increases often lead to employers replacing disadvantaged adults who need a job with suburban teenagers who do not.”

“Studies also find higher minimum wages do not reduce poverty rates,” Sherk added.

It’s laudable to want to help Americans struggling economically. But a minimum wage hike, while sounding good, could backfire and hurt the very people it was intended to help.

The post This City May Hike Minimum Wage to $13.25 an Hour appeared first on Daily Signal.

CBO Updated Budget Outlook Shows Economy Headed in Wrong Direction

8 hours 15 min ago

New figures from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirm the ongoing negative economic impact of Obama-era policies such as the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd–Frank Act, controls on energy production and transport, and Keynesian stimulus spending.

In an update to its annual Budget and Economic Outlook yesterday, the CBO projects lower gross domestic product (GDP), lower wages and salaries, and reduced retirement income for Americans in the years ahead.

According to CBO’s updated outlook, recent GDP growth has not met its previous projections, and the economy simply isn’t recovering as fully as it has from past recessions. This lower growth will have a significant impact on long-run economic growth and incomes. Compared to its February 2014 outlook, CBO now projects that GDP will be 0.8 percent (or $1.8 trillion) lower over the 2015–2024 period. Wages and salaries will be 1.0 percent (or $1 trillion) lower.

For a median-income family making $50,000 a year, CBO’s downward revision to wages and salaries amounts to a loss of $4,500 over the next 10 years. But it won’t just be working-age Americans who will have less income. CBO also projects that retirement incomes for older Americans will be smaller due to lower interest rates and lower stock returns.

In short, the CBO report describes an economy on the wrong track. Federal spending and debt are out of control. Federal taxes, regulations, and crowding out of resources are hampering economic growth and preventing the private sector from flourishing. What the nation needs instead are policies that reduce government interference and allow the private sector the freedom to drive job creation and long-run economic growth.

The post CBO Updated Budget Outlook Shows Economy Headed in Wrong Direction appeared first on Daily Signal.

California to Triple Tax Credits to Hollywood

8 hours 25 min ago

In an effort to revive a struggling entertainment industry, California Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislative leaders announced a five-year expansion to the state’s film and television tax credit program.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the governor approved a bipartisan plan to raise the annual allocated tax credits to $330 million, over three times the current allocation.

Between 2004 and 2012, the California entertainment industry lost 16,137 film production jobs. During that same period the state of New York increased its entertainment employment by 25 percent. The Milken Institute attributes this shift in employment to the billions of dollars in robust incentives from competitive states like New York, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana.

As film and television productions move to other states, California state leaders have been under pressure by industry unions to keep jobs within the state.

Thomas Davis, a business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees argued that additional tax credits are essential to California’s entertainment identity.

“We can’t allow California to become another Michigan where we let our signature industry leave,” said Davis. “This is an opportunity to reinforce how important this industry is to the state.”

Curtis Dubay, a tax policy expert at The Heritage Foundation, explained that California’s attempt to lure businesses through incentives does not provide a long-term solution to the state’s problem.

“It’s no surprise California has to bribe its headline industry to stay in the state. Its taxes make it uncompetitive for any industry to operate in the state without such sweeteners. But targeted tax credits are bad tax policy,” said Dubay. “It would be better if California lowered taxes for everyone, rather than bestow indulgences on the politically connected.”

The proposed law would also remove a disputed lottery system, previously used as a means of distributing funds to approved applicants. Instead this law would allocate tax credits based on the economic impact and potential employment for each project.

“This law will make key improvements in our film and television tax credit program and put thousands of Californians to work,” said Brown.

The law is expected to pass the state senate later this week. In total, California will allocate $1.65 billion for film and television tax credits between 2015-2020.


The post California to Triple Tax Credits to Hollywood appeared first on Daily Signal.

How Obama’s Handling of ISIS Could Affect Midterms

11 hours 46 min ago

A lot of voters are questioning the leadership this president has shown, but also the larger party, because you don’t see any other Democrats coming up, saying the president’s been wrong.

The post How Obama’s Handling of ISIS Could Affect Midterms appeared first on Daily Signal.

Jindal Challenges Obama’s “Unlawful Coercion” into Common Core

12 hours 16 min ago

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday against the Obama Administration over its use of federal funding and waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to incentivize states to adopt Common Core national standards and tests.

Jindal contends that these actions put states on “a path toward a national curriculum.” The lawsuit charges that

through regulatory and rule making authority, Defendants have constructed a scheme that effectively forces States down a path toward a national curriculum by requiring, as a condition of funding under the President’s Race to the Top [RTTT] programs, that States join “consortia of states” and agree to adopt a common set of content standards and to implement the assessment protocols and policies created by that consortium, all under the direction of the United States Department of Education [DOE]. It is impossible to square the executive actions at issue with settled Congressional authority or the Tenth Amendment.

The complaint also notes that the DOE “has tethered NCLB waivers and other ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] [grant] conditions to the RTTT program objectives of Common Core standards and assessments, thus coercing States to participate in the objectionable RTTT conditions under the threat of more onerous conditions and/or the loss of funding under ESEA and NCLB.”

Analysis conducted in 2012 by former DOE officials came to a similar conclusion: “The Department has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do. This tactic should not inoculate the Department against the curriculum prohibitions imposed by Congress” (emphasis added).

The DOE granted ESEA waivers to states such as Louisiana under the condition that they meet a variety of new requirements concocted by the DOE. And, pursuant to Section 9401 of the law, codified at 20 U.S. Code § 7861, the Secretary of Education is to waive “any statutory or regulatory requirement” of the ESEA (now known as No Child Left Behind) when a state requests a waiver.

The problem is that rather than wait for states to request waivers if they were unable to meet certain requirements, the Obama Administration actively encouraged non-compliance by developing an ESEA Flexibility program, the details of which were announced in September 2011. This program represented what the Congressional Research Service (CRS) described as “a fundamental redesign of key elements of the ESEA.” The program encouraged states to apply for waivers, insulating them from NCLB sanctions for failure to meet achievement benchmarks.

In order to receive a waiver, however, states were required to adopt standards common to a “significant number” of states (as the CRS report says, “presumably the Common Core State Standards”) or college-and-career readiness standards approved by a state’s Institute of Higher Education network.

Critics of Common Core have long argued that Common Core national standards and tests will inevitably strengthen federal power over education while weakening schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers. They’re also more likely to result in standardizing mediocrity rather than establishing standards of excellence—something that has become more evident as states compare Common Core to the previously excellent standards in place in states such as Massachusetts and Indiana.

Moreover, this might not be legal—something the Governor’s lawsuit highlights. The waiver scheme might violate a number of statutes. The waiver program appears to encourage noncompliance. Furthermore, there are provisions in three federal laws that explicitly prohibit federal direction of curriculum: the General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The federal government will likely argue that it is simply directing “standards” and not “curricula,” but this is something for a federal court to decide. The government will also likely argue that it is barely involved at all, because it is only directing compliance with those standards set up by a “significant number of states.” Yet the federal government has been quite involved in this process, not least by facilitating state development of Common Core and then essentially conditioning waivers on adopting Common Core. The extent of federal involvement is also something for a federal court to decide.

There are also serious constitutional questions. In Jindal’s view, even if (and it’s a big “if”) one presumes that federal law authorizes the President the waiver authority he claims, that federal law might be invalid under the Tenth Amendment to the extent it authorizes the “commandeering” of state law in the field of education. In the 2012 Obamacare case, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, struck down the Medicaid expansion component of the law because, in the Court’s opinion, the “retroactive” imposition of onerous new conditions on federal grants in that case was tantamount to holding a “gun to the head” of states. Such a “gun to the head” might be unconstitutional.

Kudos to Governor Jindal for pushing back against this misguided federal overreach.

The post Jindal Challenges Obama’s “Unlawful Coercion” into Common Core appeared first on Daily Signal.

Group That Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls Makes Alliance of Convenience With ISIS

12 hours 44 min ago

Boko Haram, the terrorist group operating in north-eastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon that drew headlines this spring after kidnapping over 250 female students, aligned itself publicly with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in July.

The decision likely has more to do with fundraising than a realignment of goals and ideologies: Boko Haram was never an officially sanctioned al-Qaeda core affiliate. Boko Haram, also known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad, trained and received funding from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an al-Qaeda core affiliate based in North Africa.  Even groups such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who are now providing technical support to ISIS have not officially left the al-Qaeda core umbrella.

Whether or not Boko Haram officially allies with al-Qaeda or ISIS remains an important question for how to counter the group, particularly to follow its communications and financing, but it’s not the whole picture.  Boko Haram is a self-serving organization, and will do what it needs to continue to garner support, terrorize innocent civilians and achieve its own goals.

Alarms were raised on Sunday after Boko Haram’s leader released a video declaring Gowza and Damboa, cities in northeastern Nigeria, were a part of an Islamic Caliphate.  Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram professed, “We have nothing to do with Nigeria. We don’t believe in this name.” While it remains unclear if Shekau wants his declared Caliphate to form part of al-Baghdadi’s or to create his own rival caliphate, Shekau’s previous statements about Boko Haram’s aims are clear. He has consistently sought to create an Islamic State (or Caliphate) in northern Nigeria to be governed by Sharia (Islamic law).  Shekau’s most recent declaration is in line with Boko Haram’s desired outcome for the region.  Nonetheless, the timing of Shekau’s video is suspect and is likely an attempt to ride on the coattails of al-Baghdadi’s success in Iraq and Syria.

What is most disturbing about the recent events in Nigeria is how Boko Haram is now changing tactics—the group is moving from a hit and run insurgent style strategy to a more traditional military campaign strategy to appropriate and hold territory.  Boko Haram’s evolving strategy ensures protected operating space, additional communities to draw upon for recruitment, and secure supply lines. In many ways is reminiscent of how ISIS rose to prominence in the Levant.  Boko Haram’s capture of Bamboa exhibited sophisticated levels of command and control and the ‘deployment’ of Boko Haram militants.

While the U.S. has fewer strategic interests in northeastern Nigeria than in the heart of the Middle East, Nigeria is now the largest economy in Africa and is of significant geopolitical value to the United States in Africa.  Failing to recognize the threat Boko Haram poses to the region and our interests, and what the evolution of the group means for regional stability could mean a much higher cost for the United States in the near future.

While greater media attention was focused on Boko Haram after Boko Haram kidnapped more than 250 young schoolgirls, the group remains virulent and capable.  The majority of the girls remain missing, and the group continues to kidnap other schoolchildren (boys and girls, Muslims and non-Muslims alike). Labeling Boko Haram as al-Qaeda or ISIS matters little, as long as they continue to wreak havoc, secure territory, and undermine the Nigerian state.


The post Group That Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls Makes Alliance of Convenience With ISIS appeared first on Daily Signal.

How Britain Became a Breeding Ground for Jihadists

13 hours 12 sec ago

The Islamists have … infiltrated a lot of schools in Britain and indoctrinated young British Muslims who have then become jihadists and gone on to fight in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

The post How Britain Became a Breeding Ground for Jihadists appeared first on Daily Signal.

Family Could Lose Home Over Son’s Drug Possession

14 hours 10 min ago

In March, Chris Sourovelis’ son was caught selling $40 of heroin to an undercover police officer.

Officers from the Philadelphia Police Department responded by raiding the Sourovelis’ north Philadelphia home, with guns drawn — one of them pointed at the head of the family dog — and found small amounts of the drug in the 22-year-old’s bedroom. Chris and his wife, Amy, knew nothing of their son’s drug habit and it was the first time he had been busted for possessing narcotics.

A few weeks later, the cops were back to tell the Sourovelis family they had to gather their things and leave the property. The home was being confiscated under civil forfeiture rules, leaving the family homeless and forced to sleep on a neighbor’s couch.

To get their home back, Chris and Amy Sourovelis had to agree that their son would no longer live with them. Even though they agreed, the family could still lose their home permanently as the case winds through the city’s legal system.

Now, the Sourovelis family is one of a group of people bringing a class-action lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department and the city’s District Attorney’s Office,alleging that law enforcement in Philadelphia is routinely and repeatedly violating the due process rights of the city’s citizens.

“I did not do anything wrong, yet Philadelphia is trying to take my house,” said Chris Sourovelis in a statement released by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm involved in the case. “If this can happen to me and my family, it can happen to anybody.”

And it does, more often than might be expected.

From 2002 through 2012, law enforcement in Philadelphia seized more than 1,000 homes, 3,200 vehicles and $44 million in cash, according to data obtained by the Institute for Justice through an open records request.

Those assets provided more than $64 million in revenue to the Philadelphia DA’s office, because Pennsylvania law allows local law enforcement to keep the proceeds from forfeited property after it is seized and resold.

Property can be seized by police without requiring a conviction — or even a criminal charge, in some cases — and the proceeds have padded the Philadelphia District Attorney’s bottom line by 20 percent during the past decade.

Attorneys working on the lawsuit say the city has set up a “forfeiture machine” to take advantage of the perverse incentives created by the law.

In a statement provided to the PA Independent,the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office defended its civil-asset forfeiture policies as part of the city’s overall effort to control the use and distribution of drugs. The office said it uses forfeiture actions against “cars and money that have been used to fuel the drug trade.”

“In all of these efforts, we follow applicable law to protect the rights of all those involved — not only drug deals and those associated with them, but law-abiding citizens who are negatively affected by them,” said Tasha Johnson, communications director for the District Attorney’s Office.

Johnson declined to answer further questions about the lawsuit, as the legal matter is ongoing.

“Allowing law enforcement to keep the proceeds of forfeited property gives them a perverse financial incentive to use civil forfeiture,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice. “No one in the U.S. should lose their property without being convicted of, or even charged with, any crime.”


The post Family Could Lose Home Over Son’s Drug Possession appeared first on Daily Signal.

For This City, Immigrant Surge Proves ‘More Than It Can Handle’

20 hours 10 min ago

Just 10 miles north of Boston is Lynn, Mass., an industrial city once was known for its shoe-making. In fact, a colonial boot graces the official city seal.

Lynn’s blue collar base made it a logical place for affordable housing, which has attracted a large immigrant population.

“Lynn has always been an immigrant community and we have always been welcoming to all of the immigrants that call Lynn home,” Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy told The Daily Signal.

Last month, though, Kennedy began speaking out against a new strand of immigration: an influx of immigrant children from Central America who settle in her city and — the mayor says — drain its resources.

“I have been called a racist and a hater,” Kennedy said. “That’s not true.”

Lynn, Mass.

Kennedy, a Republican, said of her town:

We have never questioned where people come from [or] what their immigration status is. We’ve simply absorbed them and welcomed them into our community. But lately, because of the numbers, we have had to sit up and take notice and ask the [federal] government to help us out.

Late last month, demonstrators stood outside Lynn City Hall to protest comments Kennedy made on television news about the costs attributable to immigrant children, many of them in the United States illegally.

Kennedy told the local Fox affiliate that because of the surge of immigrants, “it’s gotten to the point where the school system is overwhelmed, our Health Department is overwhelmed, the city’s budget is being … altered in order to accommodate all of these [public school] admissions.”

The tension on view in Lynn is similar to that in communities across the country that have become home to unaccompanied immigrant children, here illegally, while they await federal court proceedings.

When an unaccompanied child enters the U.S. illegally and is taken into custody by immigration authorities, federal law requires that the child initially be sheltered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS cares for such children in shelters until it can reunite them with family or other sponsors already living in the United States.

According to HHS data, as of July 31, a total of 989 unaccompanied children had been released to sponsors in Massachusetts.

None of the more than 60,000 Central American minors detained this year has been deported after crossing the Mexican border and into the U.S.

Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy talks about her city’s newcomers at the National Press Club. (Photo: Josh Siegel/Daily Signal)

Reluctantly in Spotlight

Kennedy spoke at the National Press Club during a Wednesday event sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies as a way to magnify the Lynn story. Afterward, she had meetings with congressional staffers to talk about federal assistance.

“I’m not really comfortable being the spokesperson, but I will if I have to,” Kennedy told The Daily Signal after the CIS event. “A community as far north as little old Lynn, Mass., is housing more kids than it can handle.”

The second-term mayor said she has had to divert more money this year to the city’s school district, which under federal law must educate any eligible student, regardless of immigration status.

For the 2015 fiscal year, Kennedy said, she had to increase the school department’s budget 9.3 percent and cut all other city budgets between 2 percent and 5 percent. She said:

 We have had to hire more [teacher] aides, you have to increase class space and you have to spend a certain amount of money per student. We built a new middle school [to open in 2016] even though Lynn has very little land left to develop.

To compensate for added school costs, the mayor said, the city cut a police program in which officers patrolled neighborhoods on bicycles. The program had decreased gang activity in Lynn, which has had a reputation for high crime rates.

Residential apartment units also are scarce. The city hired more nurses and extended hours at its health clinic to serve an increase in students who require vaccinations.

“These are quality-of-life issues that have been affected,” the mayor said.

An Immigrant Community

Lynn long has had a large Latino population. As of the 2010 census, 32 percent of the total population was Latino, including 6 percent Guatemalans.

For the purposes of public education, the city cannot differentiate illegal immigrants from legal immigrants or refugees.


In the 2010-11 school year, 54 newly enrolled students were from outside the U.S. In the 2013-14 school year, that number jumped to 538.

Incomes tend to be relatively low in Lynn, and 81 percent of students in the school district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

It wasn’t until 2012 that Kennedy began seeing a significant increase in unaccompanied children from Guatemala, one of the three Central American countries contributing to the border surge, along with El Salvador and Honduras.

Between September 2012 and June 2013, Lynn Public Schools — the fifth-largest school district in the state — enrolled 56 new ninth-graders from Guatemala. The next school year, that number nearly doubled, to 101.

For the new school year, which begins after Labor Day, only 10 new Guatemalan students are enrolled so far.

Looking for Help

Kennedy said she didn’t plan to ask congressional staffers for a specific solution to slow the border surge. The mayor said  it’s not her place to debate federal immigration policies.

But, she said, she is hopeful that federal officials can assist communities such as Lynn in some way, whether it be providing financial aid or setting up a regional school to serve more students.

“I have been called a racist and a hater,” Kennedy said. “That’s not true. I am just looking at the impact on my community.” She added:

Lynn is a very diverse community and I love that it’s diverse. I am not here to speak about broad immigration policy. I am just looking for a more equitable solution from the federal government.

‘Equitable solution’: Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy (Photo: Josh Siegel/The Daily Signal)




The post For This City, Immigrant Surge Proves ‘More Than It Can Handle’ appeared first on Daily Signal.

IRS Struggling to Figure Out Which Companies Owe This Obamacare Tax

20 hours 10 min ago

NASHVILLE — Internal Revenue Service officials must enforce a new Obamacare tax designed to collect money from medical device manufacturers, but they’re losing money because they don’t know which companies even qualify for the tax, a new audit shows.

On top of that, the IRS wrongly penalized more than 200 of these companies for not paying their taxes when, in fact, they did pay, the audit from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports.

Why doesn’t the IRS know whom to tax?

Medical device manufacturers have to register their products with the Food and Drug Administration.

But the FDA’s registration requirements for medical device manufacturers never quite matched that of the IRS.

Because of the ensuing confusion, tax revenues are far lower than expected, by as much as $117.8 million for one period alone last year.

Members of the Washington, D.C.-based Advanced Medical Technology, a trade association that opposes the tax and wants full repeal, say the findings don’t surprise them.

“We’ve expressed concerns from the outset that the device tax is poorly conceived, applying an excise tax — usually reserved for rubber tires, alcohol and tobacco — to an extremely diverse high-technology manufacturing industry,” said AdvaMed’s Vice President J.C. Scott, in an email to Tennessee Watchdog.

The organization, Scott added, warned the IRS of these potential problems before the law’s implementation.

“The device tax remains a drag on medical innovation and has resulted in the loss or deferral of more than 33,000 industry jobs.”

The post IRS Struggling to Figure Out Which Companies Owe This Obamacare Tax appeared first on Daily Signal.

11 Reasons Why ISIS Might Be More Dangerous Than al-Qaeda

20 hours 10 min ago

ISIS is not just the terror group de jour. They are a hugely successful movement with an apocalyptic, nihilistic philosophy. When they say “convert, join us, or die”, they not only mean it, but they follow through with horrific effect.

But let’s look deeper. What else makes them such a real security threat, to Iraq, to the region, to the world, and to the U.S.? Here are 11 reasons.

1. ISIS is more media sophisticated than al-Qaeda and excels in using social media as a tool of terrorism. The group’s twitter and YouTube postings in English show that the West is often their target audience.

2. ISIS is flush with cash. ISIS’ territorial control allows for consistent stream of funding, and they‘ve developed an extensive extortion racket, as well as selling electricity and exporting oil and gas.

3. Because of ISIS rise to prominence, many al-Qaeda-linked groups are now pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi’s ISIS, including elements of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Dine (Tunisia) Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), giving ISIS access to a global network of terrorists.

4. ISIS controls territory the size of Maryland in the heart of the arab world, which is important for a predominantly Arab revolutionary terrorist group. The al-Qaeda core group along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border controls no territory and is dependent on Afghan and Pakistani Islamist militants who act as hosts.

5. ISIS has evolved into a proto-state, with its own army, civil administration, judiciary and a sophisticated propaganda operation. Al-Qaeda core leaders are fugitives who are forced to live a clandestine existence under the constant threat of drone strikes or commando assaults.

A Peshmerga soldier watches ISIS lines in the distance at a military outpost located at the entrance of Gwer, Iraq. (Photo: Vianney Le Caer/Newscom)

6. ISIS is the most heavily-armed Islamist extremist group in history, having captured huge amounts of military weapons and equipment in Iraq and Syria.

7. ISIS is out-recruiting Al-Qaeda. It is estimated that 80 percent of the foreign militants that flock to Syria join ISIS, rather than al-Qaeda’s franchise, the Al-Nusra Front. ISIS appears to have success with recruitment of Westerners as well.

8. The leader of ISIS, who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, is a charismatic leader who claims descent from the Prophet Mohammed. This will help recruit young, impressionable Muslims. He has much more personal appeal for young Muslim militants than Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a dour and didactic theoretician.

9. ISIS is better placed to not only attract recruits from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States, but get them into the fight. It is much easier to travel across the dissolving borders of Iraq and Syria than it is to travel to Pakistan or Afghanistan.

10. ISIS has declared the rebirth of the Caliphate and the leader of ISIS has proclaimed himself to be Caliph Ibrahim.

11. ISIS is the richest terrorist group in history. It looted at least five banks in Iraq, including Mosul’s central bank, which yielded more than $400 million dollars in gold and Iraqi currency. It controls oil fields in Syria and Iraq that generate income and it has pocketed millions of dollars in ransoms for hostages.

In summary, ISIS is an army, not just a terror group. ISIS is the biggest terror group ever. ISIS is actually established as a state, a caliphate at that, and it’s richer than al-Qaeda. It holds more territory than al-Qaeda, it’s drawing more recruits than al-Qaeda, and it’s more brutal than al-Qaeda.

This group must be forcefully addressed and stopped.


The post 11 Reasons Why ISIS Might Be More Dangerous Than al-Qaeda appeared first on Daily Signal.

Who Was Missing From Acceptance Speeches at the Emmys and VMAs

August 27, 2014 - 5:25pm

The MTV Video Music Awards and Emmy Awards this week offered pop culture fans a foretaste of awards season, which — say those who notice such things — kicks off in November.

As the winners took the stage and clutched their trophies, they voiced immense gratitude to fans, producers, writers, agents, directors and so on.

Few, however, thanked God.

Back in the day, it was almost commonplace for acceptance speeches in the televised awards shows to include thanks to God; arguably the practice waned but then was renewed after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, along with thanks to the first-responders and troops.

In an interview with The Daily Signal, Pat Fagan, senior fellow and director of the  Marriage and Religion Research Institute  at the Family Research Council, said it’s a “pattern of human nature” to forget and remember God depending on the circumstance. Fagan said:

When things get better, people forget God. When things get bad, they turn back to Him again. It’s repeated throughout history. … It’s the way the human heart is made.

Today, movie stars, singers, and athletes tend to make headlines for expressing gratitude to God.

Of 17 awards presented Sunday night during the VMAs, nine speeches — including Beyonce’s acceptance of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award — were available for review online.

Only three — Beyonce; rapper Drake, who won for Best Hip Hop Video; and the group Fifth Harmony, who won for Artist to Watch — thanked God in their acceptance speeches. (Drake accepted his award during a concert Monday.)

After husband Jay Z and daughter Blue Ivy presented her with the Video Vanguard Award, Beyonce told the audience:

I have nothing to say, but I’m filled with so much gratitude. I just thank God for this moment.

Monday night at the Emmys, more than 30 awards were handed out to actors, producers, writers and directors across a variety of television genres.

Of the 21 acceptance speeches published online, none contained thanks to God.

Those who do thank God in their speeches often make headlines for doing so.

In March, accepting the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club,”  McConaughey began his speech like this:

First off, I want to thank God, because that’s who I look up to. He’s graced my life with opportunities that are not of my hand or any other human hand.

The media pounced, and outlets from The Huffington Post to Fox News wrote about the affirmation.

Two months later, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant accepted the MVP award from the National Basketball Association. Durant wowed fans when he thanked both his mother and God for “changing my life.”

Both McConaughey and Durant also faced criticism for expressing gratitude toward God.

On Twitter, detractors called on McConaughey to stop the “stupid God talk.”  During an interview with ESPN in January, a reporter chuckled as Durant said he thanked God for a standout game.

Fagan, though, said it’s natural for folks of many faiths — or no faith at all — to express gratitude when a blessing occurs:

It has its place after people win something they’ve striven for. They’ve needed the help of other people, and it’s not uncommon to thank God for a blessing. Gratitude for a blessing is known as a natural thing for a man or a woman to do.

The post Who Was Missing From Acceptance Speeches at the Emmys and VMAs appeared first on Daily Signal.

Seriously? IRS Says Lois Lerner’s Blackberry Was ‘Wiped Clean’

August 27, 2014 - 4:48pm

August is supposed to be a quiet time in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area when Congress takes its traditional recess and everyone else who makes a living off Congress from lobbyists to journalists take advantage of the members’ absence and go on vacation. But events keep happening in the IRS scandal that are upsetting the usual norm, and the latest is more news about the destruction by the IRS of possible evidence in the case.

In addition to the investigation of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Judicial Watch has been dogged in pursuing litigation under the Freedom of Information Act against the Obama administration over its refusal to turn over documents in the IRS targeting scandal. Judicial Watch convinced the federal judge assigned to its case, Emmet G. Sullivan, that the IRS needed to explain how a significant chunk of Lois Lerner’s emails could have gone missing and why the agency did not bother to inform Judicial Watch or the court. As a result, various IRS officials have been forced to file sworn affidavits with the court explaining the circumstances surrounding the hard drive on Lerner’s laptop going bad and their inability to recover any emails from that hard drive.

But in the midst of those affidavits was another stunning admission: that Lerner’s Blackberry had also been destroyed. Thomas J. Kane, the deputy associate chief counsel of the IRS, said in an affidavit that Lerner’s Blackberry, which had been issued to her on Nov. 12, 2009, had been “wiped clean” and “removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012.” There is no explanation given in Kane’s affidavit as to why this was done – in contrast to the detailed affidavits filed in the Judicial Watch case that describe the problems with Lerner’s hard drive on her laptop.

By June 2012, Lerner knew that the jig was up on the IRS’s targeting of conservative organizations applying for tax exempt status. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio,told Fox News that by June, his staff and that of the Oversight Committee “had sat down with Ms. Lerner and confronted her about information we were getting from conservative groups in the state of Ohio and around the country.”

Since, as one of the affidavits says, “the Blackberry device displays and stores” all of the emails contained in the Microsoft Outlook mailbox on a user’s office computer, Lerner’s Blackberry would have contained all of the emails that have conveniently gone missing due to the destruction of the laptop she used in her office. Yet the Blackberry was suddenly “wiped clean” in June right after Lerner realized that Congress was becoming aware of what her office was doing.

On top of that, Judicial Watch claims that a Justice Department lawyer admitted in a telephone call on August 22 that “Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe.” But the Department of Justice lawyers said that “this back-up system would be too onerous to search.” This is in complete conflict with the statements by IRS officials, including Commissioner John Koskinen, that there are no back-up versions of the missing Lerner emails. DOJ says that Judicial Watch is misinterpreting the telephone call.

Judge Sullivan seems determined to find out what the real story is here since he has not only assigned a federal magistrate judge to oversee the issue but he has encouraged Judicial Watch to submit a request for further discovery into the missing IRS records after Sept. 10.

Cleta Mitchell, who represents True the Vote in its lawsuit against the IRS, says that she has been told about the back-up system by various government officials. And yet there is nothing in any of the affidavits filed by DOJ lawyers in the Judicial Watch case discussing this back-up system. If one does exist and DOJ lawyers have failed to inform Sullivan about it, they – and the administration – will be in deep trouble when they appear before Sullivan again.

The post Seriously? IRS Says Lois Lerner’s Blackberry Was ‘Wiped Clean’ appeared first on Daily Signal.

America’s Allies in Thailand Require Insistent Patience

August 27, 2014 - 4:33pm

General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, leader of the May 2014 coup in Thailand, has capped off his rise to power by essentially appointing himself prime minister. His real accomplishment, however, will come in maintaining his pledge to return Thailand to democracy by October 2015.

Since leading the coup, General Prayuth declared martial law, instituted a temporary curfew, and significantly curtailed freedom of the press, association, and freedom of speech. His leadership has been representative of the military’s interest in tightening its grip on power.

In addition to being prime minister, Prayuth retains his positions as head of the National Council of Peace and Order and the head of the military. While Prayuth plans to resign from his position as head of the military in mid-September, the interim constitution gives the military a degree of “absolutist powers.” Reports indicate that Prayuth will appoint military officers, perhaps retired, to key cabinet posts.

The U.S. and Thailand have historically enjoyed robust military-to-military relations. The U.S. has long provided training and education to the Thai military and partnered with it on several prominent military exercises, including Cobra Gold, the largest multinational exercise in the Asia–Pacific.

Since the coup, the U.S. has suspended at least $3.5 million in foreign military financing assistance and $85,000 in international military education and training assistance. The U.S. also canceled military exercises and high-level exchanges between the two nations. The State Department has not officially revoked additional aid to Thailand, but assistance cannot legally be restored until democracy is restored.

The coup happened. That can’t be changed. But what can be changed is how the coup is handled.

Thailand is approaching a situation unknown to the vast majority of its people—a royal succession. And this on top of an extended period of upheaval surrounding the ambitions and political future of former (now fugitive) Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra. The U.S. should be patient with Thailand as it tries to work through this extraordinarily complex situation.

At the same time, for the sake of the alliance, it should persist in calling for a return to democracy and keep its friends in the military government to their word. While relations between the U.S. and Thailand may not get worse, they can’t get better until a democratically elected government takes office.

The post America’s Allies in Thailand Require Insistent Patience appeared first on Daily Signal.

Q&A: Should the U.S. Bomb ISIS Targets in Syria?

August 27, 2014 - 4:16pm

1. Should the U.S. bomb ISIS targets in Syria?

It depends. Never take the decision to put U.S. troops in harm’s way lightly. First, there ought to be clear U.S .vital interest at stake. America has an interest in seeing ISIS driven out of Iraq. Attacking targets in Syria only make sense if they would be materially contribute to that end. Simply bombing targets alone rarely proves decisive in military operations. Striking targets has to be paired with other activities to take advantage of the effects of an attack. Military operations must also be proportional: they must have a suitable military purpose and take due care to minimize the danger to innocents on the battlefield.  All these issues have to be adequately addressed in order to determine whether attacking ISIS targets in Syria is a suitable, feasible and acceptable course of action.

2. Is it legal?

The administration will have to state the legal basis for any action. ISIS is a trans-national terrorist organization whose leadership was formerly aligned with and part of al-Qaeda. By engaging military action against U.S. persons and allies, and by announcing its intention to continue to attack the United States, our personnel, interests and allies, ISIS is a lawful target for U.S. military action. The administration may rely on the 2001 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF), the president’s Art II powers given in the U.S. Constitution, or both, or it may decide to seek additional authority from Congress.

3. Should the president consult Congress before extending combat operations into Syria?

Yes. It would be prudent for President Obama to seek a resolution from Congress before acting. This initiative would demonstrate that the president was acting with the strong support of the nation through the voice of its elected representatives—and that the president had explained the purpose and scope of the mission.

4. Should the administration work with the Syrian, Iranian and Russian governments to defeat ISIS in Syria?

No.  The Assad regime is despicable and as grave a threat to the people of Syria and peace and security in the region as ISIS. The Iranian government for its part has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism and has one of the world’s worst human rights records. Iran foreign policy has fomented sectarian conflict throughout the Middle East. Russia has been an unrelenting support of both the Iranian and Syrian regimes perpetuating the civil war and propping-up Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to cling to power.

5.  Can ISIS be defeated?

Yes. If the U.S. makes a concerted effort to work with other countries to shut down the pipeline funneling “foreign fighters” and support into Iraq, adequately supports a counteroffensive by Iraqi security forces to take back their country and works with the Iraqi government and friendly and allied nations to overcome the sectarian divide that has crippled the Iraqi political leadership, the Iraqi people have every prospect of winning back their country and their future.

The post Q&A: Should the U.S. Bomb ISIS Targets in Syria? appeared first on Daily Signal.

Tuition Tax Credit Scholarships: Advancing School Choice Through Charitable Contributions

August 27, 2014 - 3:13pm

Nineteen-year-old Jorge Perez will attend Columbia University this fall to study philosophy and economics—something his single mother, Sophia Flores, never dreamed for her son. But when Sophia discovered Florida’s tuition tax credit scholarship program in 2003, the doors of opportunity opened for Jorge.

Sophia was able to use Jorge’s tax credit scholarship toward tuition at Academy Prep Center of Tampa. Jorge left the academy as eighth-grade valedictorian, earning an academic scholarship to attend an elite boarding school in New Hampshire, where he completed his studies last spring.

Florida’s tuition tax credit scholarship is just one of 17 tax credit programs in 14 states around the country. As of 2013, nearly 200,000 students were benefitting from this form of school choice—making tax credits the largest form of school choice in the country.

The K–12 education tax credit scholarship is unique because its funding is made up of private contributions to nonprofits that provide scholarships.

Education tax credits take two forms: donation tax credit scholarships and personal-use tax credits.

With tax credit scholarships, businesses or individuals who donate to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations can receive tax credits for their contributions. Some state tax credit options allow for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit up to 100 percent of the business or individual’s state income tax liability.

The ultimate beneficiary, however, is the student. Most tuition tax credit scholarships are geared toward assisting children from low-income families by empowering parents to send their children to private schools of choice.

Personal-use tax credits, on the other hand, enable families to receive tax relief for their own children’s education-related expenses, such as private school tuition.

According to Education Next’s 2014 opinion poll, 60 percent of the public supports tax credit scholarships. This is the highest public support of any school choice measure.

Tuition tax credits can be constructed to reduce costs to taxpayers while also increasing educational opportunity for children. Education analysts Ken Ardon and Jason Bedrick further explain in their report Giving Kids Credit: Using Scholarship Tax Credits to Increase Educational Opportunity in Massachusetts:

The overwhelming consensus of high-quality research is that educational choice programs increase student achievement, graduation rates, and college matriculation, and parents of students in such programs report very high levels of satisfaction with their chosen schools. Educational choice also benefits students who remain in the public schools because of increased competition.… A scholarship tax credit program would help provide low-income families with a level of opportunity that is more like their higher-income peers who already have a plethora of educational options. Low-income families often have no choice but their assigned public school. A scholarship tax credit program would allow these families to choose the school that best meets the individual needs of their children.

Tuition tax credit scholarships create school choice options that empower families while decreasing the size and scope of government in education.

The post Tuition Tax Credit Scholarships: Advancing School Choice Through Charitable Contributions appeared first on Daily Signal.

New Report Shows U.S. Deficit for Just This Year Is Huge

August 27, 2014 - 2:07pm

While many reports will focus on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2014 deficit and economic forecast released today, a less-told story is what’s driving the growth in government spending over the next decade. Beyond current reporting on the federal government’s balance sheet, CBO reports also serve the important purpose of informing Congressional decision-making.

Today’s report unequivocally communicates: reform entitlement programs or watch government grow.

The Congressional Budget Office’s “Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024reports a federal deficit of $506 billion for fiscal year 2014 (which ends on September 30), slightly above its April projection of $492 billion. Spending in 2014 will be about $3.5 trillion, growing by about 2 percent compared to the previous year. The debt will rise slightly as a percentage of GDP to 74 percent, staying at a level not seen since World War II.

Over the next decade, government spending is projected to grow annually on average by 5.2 percent. Eighty-five percent of this projected growth in spending will be due to three main budget components: Social Security (the largest federal program), health care (spending on which will overtake Social Security spending by 2015), and interest on the debt.

The three major federal entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid— are growing faster than any other budget component, except interest on the debt. Those who seek to limit the size of government need to first understand the drivers of the growth in government spending if they are to be effective.

All of the increase in spending in 2014—all of it— is due to the growth in entitlement spending and interest on the debt, as discretionary spending particularly on defense continues to fall. According to the CBO:

“Outlays for mandatory programs, which are governed by statutory criteria and not normally controlled by the annual appropriation process, are projected to rise by about 4 percent. That increase reflects growth in some of the largest programs—including a 15 percent increase in spending for Medicaid and a roughly 5 percent increase in spending for Social Security.

“Discretionary spending, which is controlled by annual appropriation acts, is anticipated to be 3 percent less in 2014 than it was in 2013. Nondefense discretionary spending is expected to be about the same this year as it was last year, but defense spending is likely to drop by about 5 percent.

“The government’s net interest costs will rise by nearly 5 percent this year, CBO estimates, the result of the continued accumulation of debt and higher inflation (which has boosted the cost of the Treasury’s inflation-protected securities).”

Conservatives who seek to limit government spending should advocate for entitlement reform. Government continues to overreach and harm economic growth with unnecessary and inappropriate federal regulations enforced with discretionary spending. Undoubtedly, many domestic federal programs should be eliminated, consolidated, or privatized. However, an almost singular focus on reducing discretionary spending misses the proverbial forest for the trees. Congress should reform entitlement programs and cut non-defense discretionary spending.

Without entitlement reform, America is heading for European-style spending and taxing levels—and that will be the end of limited government in America.

The post New Report Shows U.S. Deficit for Just This Year Is Huge appeared first on Daily Signal.

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