January 20, 2009

Tax Cuts for Teachers

Ok, I admit it. I am a history buff and political junkie. I grew up reading everything I could about history, and then I would spend summers with my grandfathers having political debates. I was taught debating and politics from those men, and those lessons still resonate within me.

Right about now you are wondering what this has to do with The Educator's Retirement. In a word, everything.

History has taught us many things, and sometimes we learn, and sometimes we forget. What it has shown though is a short-sighted plan is usually ill-equipped to handle a long term problem. I can say this about several past Presidents including President Bush, who will be replaced today, and I hope that President Obama is not pulled into this group of Presidents by a short-sighted Congress.

The current Democratic Congress it would seem is out to make everyone happy. Let's throw money here and there (this happened in the Republican Congress too so neither is without fault), and we will be the heroes and continue to reign supreme. The problem is what are the long term benefits of the plans? Reelection? Debt? You get the point.

In the January 11th New York Times, Mr. Thomas L. Friedman wrote an Op-Ed Column that had staying power to solve a long term problem. Simply put, have educators pay zero income taxes.

The idea has been proposed before, but his arguments are well thought out and explained. They are not just being thrown against a wall to see if it sticks.

Suddenly, being an educator would be a sought after position. We would no longer lose the best and brightest due to wages, educators could live close to their schools, etc., etc.

I could go on and on, but I will let you read and decide for yourself. Hopefully, Congress has listened.

Tax Cuts for Teachers
By Thomas L. Friedman
January 11, 2009

Over the next couple of years, two very big countries, America and China, will give birth to something very important. They’re each going to give birth to close to $1 trillion worth of economic stimulus — in the form of tax cuts, infrastructure, highways, mass transit and new energy systems. But a lot is riding on these two babies. If China and America each give birth to a pig — a big, energy-devouring, climate-spoiling stimulus hog — our kids are done for. It will be the burden of their lifetimes. If they each give birth to a gazelle — a lean, energy-efficient and innovation-friendly stimulus — it will be the opportunity of their lifetimes.

So here’s hoping that our new administration and Congress will be guided in shaping the stimulus by reading John Maynard Keynes in one hand — to get as much money injected as quickly as possible — and by reading “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” with the other.

“Gathering Storm” was the outstanding 2005 report produced by our National Academies on how to keep America competitive by vastly improving math and science education, investing in long-term research, recruiting top students from abroad and making U.S. laws the most conducive in the world for innovation.

You see, even before the current financial crisis, we were already in a deep competitive hole — a long period in which too many people were making money from money, or money from flipping houses or hamburgers, and too few people were making money by making new stuff, with hard-earned science, math, biology and engineering skills.

The financial crisis just made the hole deeper, which is why our stimulus needs to be both big and smart, both financially and educationally stimulating. It needs to be able to produce not only more shovel-ready jobs and shovel-ready workers, but more Google-ready jobs and Windows-ready and knowledge-ready workers.

If we spend $1 trillion on a stimulus and just get better highways and bridges — and not a new Google, Apple, Intel or Microsoft — your kids will thank you for making it so much easier for them to commute to the unemployment office or mediocre jobs.

Barack Obama gets it, but I’m not sure Congress does. “Yes,” Mr. Obama said on Thursday, “we’ll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects. But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy.” Sure that means more smart grids and broadband highways, he added, but it also “means investing in the science, research and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries and entire new industries.”

But clean-tech projects like intelligent grids and broadband take a long time to implement. Can we stimulate both our economy and our people in time? Maybe rather than just giving everyone a quick $1,500 to hit the mall to buy flat-screen TVs imported from China, or creating those all-important green-collar jobs for low-skilled workers — to put people to work installing solar panels and insulating homes — we should also give everyone who is academically eligible and willing a quick $5,000 to go back to school. Universities today are the biggest employers in many Congressional districts, and they’re all having to downsize.

My wife teaches public school in Montgomery County, Md., where more and more teachers can’t afford to buy homes near the schools where they teach, and now have long, dirty commutes from distant suburbs. One of the smartest stimulus moves we could make would be to eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers. I’d also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science — instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home — and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years.

J.F.K. took us to the moon. Let B.H.O. take America back to school.

But that will take time. There’s simply no shortcut for a stimulus that stimulates minds not just salaries. “You can bail out a bank; you can’t bail out a generation,” says the great American inventor, Dean Kamen, who has designed everything from the Segway to artificial limbs. “You can print money, but you can’t print knowledge. It takes 12 years.”

Sure, we’ll waste some money doing that. That will happen with bridges, too. But a bridge is just a bridge. Once it’s up, it stops stimulating. A student who normally would not be interested in science but gets stimulated by a better teacher or more exposure to a lab, or a scientist who gets the funding for new research, is potentially the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. They create good jobs for years. Perhaps more bridges can bail us out of a depression, but only more Bills and Steves can bail us into prosperity.

Source: New York Times

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