The Center Square

As states and school districts continue to change their back-to-school policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the national debate rages over in-person or virtual learning for instruction, some parents have taken their children’s education into their own hands.

A new form of quasi-homeschooling, called micro-schooling, is emerging. In this not-so-new format, neighboring families have decided to educate their children in a modern version of the 19th century era one-room schoolhouse.

But there’s a difference, Matt Candler, founder of 4.0 Schools, notes.

“What makes a modern micro-school different from a 19th century, one-room schoolhouse is that old school schools only had a few ways to teach?—?certainly no software, no tutors, and probably less structure around student to student learning,” Chandler says. “In a modern micro-school, there are ways to get good data from each of these venues. And the great micro-school of the future will lean on well-designed software to help adults evaluate where each kid is learning.”

Micro-schooling can involve 10 students or less, all at varying ages. The structure allows for extreme flexibility, proponents argue, and the content and approach to learning is determined by the parents.

“The model of a micro school is evolving,” the Micro School Network states. “Most are characterized by small learning communities made up of students working in mixed age groups. Teachers in micro schools do more guiding and less lecturing, and there is extensive use of digital and online resources to create personalized learning paths. Micro schools tend to emphasize project-based learning and community involvement.”

The network provides a platform for families to locate the right school for their children, as well as educational resources. Its “school finder” tool helps parents locate the best microschool for their child’s needs. They can search according to a student’s age, type of school, school attributes, and zip code.

Microschooling allows for personalized learning and individual attention with teachers, while also enabling students to learn in a multiage environment, Nevada Action for School Options explains. Instruction includes core classes of English language arts, math, science, and social studies, but also includes outdoor and other activities tailored to meet the students’ needs.

Nevada Action recently launched MicroschoolingNV in June and created a survey to help match parents and families with schooling options that best fit their needs.

“Families can do this, parents can lead microschools,” says Ashley Campbell, chief of staff at Nevada Action for School Options. “While opening up a schooling group might seem intimidating, parents leading these groups are doing amazing things all over the country, and it really is easier than you might think.”

Campbell says that while there are many licensed teachers opening micro-schools this fall, parents don’t have to be licensed teachers to lead or participate in one.

Micro-schooling takes different forms in different states depending on state laws. In Arizona, they operate as charter schools, in other states, as private schools.

Some families view micro-schooling as a permanent solution to their ongoing frustration with traditional schools not meeting their children’s needs. Others see it as a flexible, temporary solution to an immediate problem.

A recent Ipsos poll found that more than half of the respondents who are parents with a school-aged child said they were very or somewhat likely to switch to at-home learning. 

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

As the nation struggles with record high unemployment, extended job losses, continued statewide shutdowns, and crippling national debt, a new report reveals that congressional leaders will receive an estimated $1 million each in retirement payouts on top of their lifetime pensions, fully funded by taxpayers.


First published by Forbes, OpenTheBooks.com’s report, “Why Are Taxpayers Providing Public Pensions To Millionaire Members Of Congress?” compares the financial benefits that both top leaders in Congress receive.


“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Congress is an exclusive club where members vote for their own benefits,” Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of the nonprofit watchdog organization, says.


By law, all 535 members of Congress receive a public pension plan and a taxpayer-funded, five-percent of salary 401(k)-style savings plan, in addition to salaries of $174,000 and higher. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s net worth is reportedly between $50 million and $72 million; Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s net worth is reportedly roughly $22 million. Their current salaries are $223,500 and $193,400, respectively.
Pelosi has received $5.7 million in total salary for the 34 years she has been in office. McConnell has received $5.5 million for the 36 years he’s been in office.


Both the Speaker and the Majority Leader voted for several spending packages this year, including the CARES Act and the Families First relief bill, which will increase the national debt by $1.76 trillion, and $192 billion, respectively, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The small business relief act added $480 billion to the total.
Spending increases and tax cuts in coronavirus legislation may increase debt initially by roughly $2.4 trillion.
Chris Edwards, an economist at the Cato Institute, estimates that the effect of the recession will reduce federal revenues a further $2.2 trillion over the next few years. With higher spending and lower revenues, federal borrowing costs are expected to be approximately $1.2 trillion higher over the next decade.


The basic CBO estimates exclude these costs, Edwards notes. All told, these decisions will add an estimated $5.8 trillion to the national debt.
And both leaders are expected to vote on another stimulus bill, which will add to this total.


Part of the spending problem contributing to this debt, OpenTheBooks.com notes, is the taxpayer-funded lifetime pension and taxpayer-matched savings plans members of Congress receive.


“Critics question the necessity of such a system,” Andrzejewski writes. “Why are U.S. taxpayers providing public pensions to millionaire members of Congress on top of a 401(k)-style plan? (The median net worth for a member recently exceeded $1.1 million.)”


Auditors at OpenTheBooks.com evaluated the financial benefits Pelosi and McConnell receive from taxpayers.


When Pelosi retires, she will receive $153,967 a year in public pension and Social Security benefits, in addition to an estimated $1 million lump sum through her federal saving account, OpenTheBooks auditors found. They explain this “is just the portion of the account that was taxpayer-funded.”
Taxpayers also paid $282,965 into Pelosi’s federal Thrift Savings Plans, which OpenTheBooks estimates grew to $1.03 million if invested in an S&P 500 index fund, as of Dec. 31, 2019.


Similar to Pelosi, taxpayers invested $273,700 into McConnell’s federal Thrift Savings Plans, which OpenTheBooks auditors estimates grew to $1.1 million if invested in an S&P 500 index fund as of Dec. 31, 2019. They add, this “is just the portion of the account that was taxpayer-funded.”
Researchers at the National Taxpayers Union estimate that McConnell’s pension and annuity package will be $142,902 annually if he retires after the 2020 November election.


U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, has proposed a bill to change the law, arguing that members of Congress have the “option to forego the generous retirement plans offered to representatives and senators and opt instead for a more conservative, savings-based plan like those of the Americans they represent.”


The bill, S.439, passed the U.S. Senate on Dec. 19, 2019, and sits in the House.
Braun notes that the median minimum net worth of members of the 115th Congress was $511,000, while the median net worth of a U.S. household in 2016 was $97,300.


The collective wealth of members of the 115th Congress was at least $2.43 billion, with 43 members who were millionaires, he said.
Even factoring in federal employees, only 23 percent of all U.S. workers contribute to a traditional pension, Braun adds, down from 38 percent in 1980, as traditional pensions continue to be phased out by private sector companies in favor of 401ks and other savings plans.

By Bethany Blankley, Market Square

The U.S. economy added far more jobs than expected in November according to the latest numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The joblessness rate also reached another 50-year low.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 266,000 in November. Job growth has averaged 180,000 per month so far in 2019, BLS reports, compared to the average monthly gain of 223,000 in 2018.

Overall, the private sector added 254,000 new jobs in November, far more than the 178,000 expected jobs, and the 163,000 added in October.

Education and health services industries added 74,000 jobs, more than double the numbers added in October. Business services and leisure also added 38,000 and 45,000 positions, respectively.

The manufacturing sector added 54,000 jobs, exceeding the estimated 40,000 jobs initially projected by economists.

“This is a blowout,” Maria Bartiromo, Fox Business Global Markets Editor Mornings, said. “Look at these manufacturing numbers, a blowout.”

The unemployment rate also dropped to 3.5 percent, matching September’s, the lowest level since 1969.

“The incredible job growth we saw in November is more evidence that now is the perfect time for work-focused welfare reform,” said Kristina Rasmussen, senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountabily, of making sure those who can work, are able to get off the sidelines and into “the hottest job market in a generation.”

By Bethany Blankley, Central Square

Montana’s economic freedom demonstrated the very slightest of improvements over the past year, according to the 2019 Economic Freedom of North America report.

Historically, economic freedom has been declining in North America, according to a new report published by the Economic Research Center at The Buckeye Institute in partnership with Canada’s Fraser Institute.

However, the report indicates that several U.S. states are faring better.

The most economically free state in the U.S. is New Hampshire, followed by Florida, Tennessee, Virginia and Texas, according to the report. Montana ranks 16th, reflecting a four-year trend of improvement.

The least economically free state is New York, followed by West Virginia, Alaska, Vermont, and Oregon.

“As the size of government expands, less room is available for private choice,” the authors of the report conclude. “When the government taxes one person in order to give money to another, it separates individuals from the full benefits of their labor and reduces the real returns of such activity.

“When government owns what would otherwise be private enterprises and engages in more of what would otherwise be private investment, economic freedom is reduced,” they add. ““Policymakers should seize the chance to prioritize workers by lowering their tax burdens and level the private sector playing field with smart regulatory reforms that promote job creation and business investment.”

Over regulation is Montana’s greatest threat to freedom.

“Residents of Big Sky country enjoy ample personal freedom and good fiscal policy, but regulatory policy has seen a worrying, long-term decline in both absolute and relative terms,” said the report.

The report ranks every state and province in North America based on economic freedom, as measured by government spending, taxation, and labor market restrictions. The current rankings are based on data from 2017.

“Economically free states encourage and allow families and businesses to pursue economic prosperity,” the Ohio-based Buckeye Institute said in a statement accompanying the report. “Although governments can never ensure economic success for every citizen, policymakers can take meaningful steps to make success more likely.”

Montana’s tax burden is well below the national average. Insurance freedom is middling, as the state imposes some restrictions on rating criteria but has gone to “file and use” for most lines. It joined the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Compact in 2013–14. There is a general ban on sales below cost, and medical facilities and moving companies both face entry barriers. On lawsuit freedom it is slightly above average (less vulnerable to abusive suits). State taxes have held steady over the last several years at about 5 percent of adjusted personal income. Local taxes spiked in FY 2009 but have settled down since to about 3.1 percent of income. Montanans have virtually no choice in local government, as counties control half of local taxes. Montana’s debt burden has fallen from 20.2 percent of income in FY 2007 to 12.2 percent now. Government employment and consumption have fallen since the Great Recession and are now slightly better than average. Overall, Montana has posted consistent gains on fiscal policy over the time period we analyze.

Land-use freedom and environmental policy have deteriorated since 2007. Building restrictions are now more onerous than average. Eminent domain reform has not gone far. The state’s renewable portfolio standards are among the toughest in the country, raising the cost of electricity. The state has a fairly high minimum wage for its median wage level. Overall, Montana is one of the least free states when it comes to the labor market. Health insurance mandates are extremely expensive. Montana has gone from one of the least regulated states for occupational licensing in 2000 to one of the more regulated today. However, licensing was trimmed in 2016, and nurses enjoy substantial practice freedom. Montana is one of the better states for gun rights, although it has fairly extensive limits on where one may carry within cities. Montana also does well on gambling, where it has an unusual, competitive model for video terminals that does not involve casinos. On criminal justice, Montana is above average. Drug arrests are more than one standard deviation below the national average, but the incarceration rate is about average, when adjusted for crime rates. The state is schizophrenic on cannabis, with a reasonably liberal medical marijuana program but also the possibility of a life sentence for a single cannabis offense not involving minors and a one-year mandatory minimum for any level of cultivation. Montana reformed its terrible asset forfeiture law in 2015 but has not touched the equitable sharing loophole. Tobacco and alcohol freedoms are subpar, with draconian smoking bans, higher-than-average cigarette taxes, and state monopoly liquor stores. Educational freedom is slightly better than average, with fairly light regulation of private schools and homeschools and, since 2015, a strictly limited tax credit scholarship law. The state was forced to legalize same-sex marriage in 2014, and its oppressive super-DOMA was therefore also overturned.

The institute argues that policymakers can improve a state’s economy by reigning in government spending, reducing “needless regulations,” and simplifying a state’s tax structure.

The Fraser Institute has measured economic freedom in every state and province in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for 15 years, “creating a comprehensive assessment of trends in economic freedom.” The Buckeye Institute and its Economic Research Center co-published the report for five years in a row.

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

A new report by the nonpartisan think tank The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) says that Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act is like “Medicare for All Lite,” which has created nothing but “disastrous results.”

If the remaining non-expansion states were to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, FGA argues, about 2 million able-bodied adults risk losing their private insurance. They would then be shifted onto Medicaid and receive less quality care, placing a larger financial burden onto taxpayers.

In “Forced Into Welfare: How Medicaid Expansion Will Kick Millions Of Americans Off Of Private Insurance,” the authors note that the majority of able-bodied adults targeted to enroll in Medicaid already have affordable private insurance through an exchange program.

According to an earlier FGA analysis, nearly 54 percent of potential Medicaid expansion enrollees were already insured, and in some states like Wisconsin, the number was as high as 71 percent.

Chris Jacobs, senior fellow at the New Orleans-based Pelican Institute for Public Policy, reported on the crisis of Louisiana residents being forced to drop their private insurance to enroll in Medicaid, creating a phenomenon known as “crowd out.” After reviewing public records from the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), Jacobs found that 15,000 people dropped their private insurance to enroll in Medicaid every month throughout 2017.

“Crowd out populations pose big potential costs for Louisiana taxpayers,” Jacobs said. “In 2015, the Legislative Fiscal Office assumed that if Louisiana expanded Medicaid, the state would spend between $900 million and $1.3 billion over five years providing Medicaid coverage to individuals with prior health coverage.”

The average expansion enrollee cost per person is $6,286.20 per year in Louisiana, Jacobs calculates based on LDH testimony given to the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year.

Multiplying this average cost-per-enrollee by the number of individuals who dropped private coverage, according to last year’s LSU Health Insurance Survey, the Pelican Institute estimates the potential cost to state and federal taxpayers is $461.6 million per year.

Similar patterns are occurring nationwide, the FGA report notes. Economists, including Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber, have concluded that Medicaid expansions in the late 1990s and early 2000s created a crowd-out effect of roughly 60 percent. In other words, for every 10 new Medicaid enrollees, six left private insurance plans, FGA said.

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

A continuing robust job market has also boosted U.S. consumer confidence to an all-time high in nearly two decades, according to data released by The Conference Board’s index.

Bloomberg News reports the data exceeded all estimates in its survey of economists, with the highest views on the current economic climate at their highest since November 2000.

The index “shows hiring and income gains are keeping consumers upbeat and assuaging concerns about the economy’s prospects in light of slowing global growth, volatile financial markets and escalating U.S.-China trade tensions,” Bloomberg reports.

The majority of respondents saying jobs are plentiful jumped to 51.2 percent, the highest since September 2000, according to the index, while those saying jobs are hard to find declined to the lowest level in three months.

“While other parts of the economy may show some weakening, consumers have remained confident and willing to spend,” Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said in a statement. “However, if the recent escalation in trade and tariff tensions persists, it could potentially dampen consumers’ optimism regarding the short-term economic outlook.”

The report comes after record job numbers were published by the U.S. Department of Labor and record highs were reached by the Dow Jones and S&P 500 in mid-July.

Within a record-setting 24-hour period, the S&P 500 surpassed 3,000 for the first time since its founding in 1896, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 27,000 for the first time since its founding in 1885.

In the first six months of 2019, the Dow rose by 16 percent and the S&P 500 by 20 percent.

In April, 263,000 nonfarm jobs were added to the economy, with hourly wage growth up by two-tenths of a percent and unemployment at 3.6 percent, its lowest level since December 1969. In June, 224,000 nonfarm jobs were added, far more than what economists predicted.

In July, nonfarm payroll employment rose by 164,000, with an unchanged unemployment rate of 3.7 percent.

Positive responses also came after President Donald Trump said in August that he was considering indexing capital gains to inflation. Conservative groups argue this will build on the success of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that spawned economic growth, job creation and wage increases.

“Indexing is something that a lot of people have liked for a long time and it is something that would be very easy to do,” Trump said. “I can say that a majority of the people in the White House, at the level that does this kind of thing, they like indexing. So it is something I’m thinking about.”

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) President Grover Norquist said, “Taxing inflation is wrong and unfair,” adding that ending the taxation of inflation on capital gains would strengthen the economy.

A coalition of 51 conservative groups sent President Trump a letter earlier this year urging him to end the inflation tax on savings and investment. They maintain, “American families and job creators should not have to pay taxes on phantom income.”

ATR notes that because of the TCJA, 90 percent of American wage earners have higher take-home pay.

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