Bachelors (Degrees) Dominate In This State

In the Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card released earlier this summer, Massachusetts led the way in percentage of the population with at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s not too surprising considering the prevalence of higher education institutions in the Boston area and the state’s entrepreneurial, tech-based economy.

(Indiana, by the way, was 39th in the 2015 statistics with 26.7% of resident possessing at least a four-year degree).

The update, according to a report from the independent Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center:

Half of all workers in Massachusetts held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2016, marking the first time any U.S. state has reached that educational threshold.

The same analysis points to a growing wage chasm in the state, with the college-educated earning on average 99% – or nearly double – the wages of those in the labor force with only a high school education. That difference, often referred to as the “college wage premium,” was 56.6% across the entire nation in 2016.

In Massachusetts, 50.2% of individuals participating in the state’s labor force had attained at minimum a four-year degree from a college or university in 2016. The next highest states were New Jersey (45.2%), New York (43.7%), Maryland (43%) and Connecticut (42.7%), according to the Current Population Survey data. The U.S. average was 35.5% in 2016.

The numbers point to a dramatic shift in recent decades. In 1979, only about 20% of the Massachusetts labor force had bachelor’s degrees, and the college wage premium was 50%.

Health Care Just Keeps Getting Bigger

16446238A few health care economic facts to consider:

  • The United States spends more on health care than any other country – $3 trillion in 2014. That equals $9,523 per person or 17% of gross domestic product
  • In the six years after the recession, health care added 2.1 million jobs, more than the next three industries combined – leisure and hospitality, professional services and education
  • Employment in health care is projected to grow by 19% from 2014 to 2014, adding about 2.3 million new jobs
  • Nearly one in 11 overall jobs is in the health care field. In 2014, that was 12.2 million jobs
  • The top five states with highest percentage of jobs classified as health care jobs: West Virginia, 11.4%; Rhode Island, 11%; Maine, 10.8%; Ohio, 10.6%; and Massachusetts, 10.4%

Licks or Clicks: Take Your Pick

I'll risk showing my age by asking how many remember the advertising phrase: "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?" The ads on U.S. television go back to 1970.

I was somehow reminded of that when reading a recent headline that said: "How many clicks does it take to get to state tax information online?" Not quite as exciting or tasty a subject, but there is that alliteration.

The Tax Foundation asked the second question. Indiana was one of five states at the bottom of that list, requiring five clicks in order for a visitor to the state web site to find 2012 individual income tax rates. Three states (Colorado, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) provided access with only two clicks.

A second query focused more on quantity of information rather than ease of locating. States were evaluated on the availability of 2012 and 2013 tax rate schedules, tax tables and tax forms. Five states had a perfect six score; Indiana was one of 11 with a five out of six.

What does it all mean? One takeaway is that states would be well served to reduce taxpayer frustration at an already frustrating time for many by making tax information available in an easy-to-locate manner. And, anytime you can pull out a 43-year-old Tootsie Pop reference, you have to take advantage of it.

The Tax Foundation has the details.

Parties Fight for U.S. Senate Majority

Republicans are vying hard to capture 51 seats in the U.S. Senate. Likely holding onto their House majority, a Senate victory would prove incredibly useful for them — even moreso if Mitt Romney were to win the Presidency, in what remains a very tight contest. Indiana is now a focal point as Richard Mourdock and Joe Donnelly are also in a remarkably close race. Brandon J. Gaylord of the Daily Caller opines on the chances of both parties:

Until “legitimate rape” became part of the political lexicon, the Republican path to a Senate majority was straightforward. Take the four Democratic seats in Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, and Montana, while accepting a loss in Maine, for a net of +3 Senate seats. This would create an even 50/50 split in the Senate. From that baseline the GOP would have needed to hold Scott Brown’s seat and win just one of the toss-ups in Wisconsin or Virginia. Other, less favorable options were open in Florida and Ohio.

In the past month, much has changed on the Senate landscape, but I’m still projecting the GOP will pick up three seats this November. Missouri is no longer a GOP lock. In fact, it barely qualifies as a toss-up. However, Republicans have expanded the map to compensate for the loss of one of their most favorable pick-up opportunities. In Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson survived his primary and is a consistent favorite over the Democrat, Tammy Baldwin. Josh Mandel in Ohio and Linda McMahon in Connecticut have drawn even with their Democratic opponents in recent polling. The races in Virginia and Massachusetts have hardly budged and remain true toss-ups.

Democrats have also received encouraging news. Besides a much better chance to keep Missouri, Bob Nelson is maintaining his lead in Florida, although his numbers are still very shaky for an incumbent. Democrats are also hopeful that a new round of polling will validate favorable surveys taken over the summer in Indiana and North Dakota. Despite Republicans being expected to win in North Dakota and Nebraska, Democrats believe they have superior candidates and fundraising. In Nevada, Shelley Berkley’s ethics problems have not yet hurt her campaign. She consistently trails her Republican opponent, incumbent Dean Heller, by less than five points.

Education Innovation Welcome in Any Form

The headline, subhead and opening sentence of this item found on the Governing magazine web site are wrong, wrong, wrong. Check them out and then I’ll share why and the fact that what is taking place is a very, very good thing.

Creating Competition for Charter Schools
Massachusetts is opening more “innovation schools” this fall to keep kids from transferring to charter schools and taking education dollars with them.

Every time a student is accepted into a publicly funded but independently-run charter school, the traditional public school he or she leaves loses money. To stay competitive with charter schools, Massachusetts enacted a law last year to allow for the creation of "innovation schools," a hybrid between charter and public schools, reports the Boston Globe. Like charters, a committee at each innovation school has control over all curriculum, staffing and budget decisions, allowing for the needs of the individual students and school to be taken into account. Unlike charters, though, the hybrid-model schools have to negotiate their freedom with the superintendent and abide by all contract provisions from the unions, which support the new schools. About a dozen innovation schools are expected to open this fall, following another dozen next year. They can be created from scratch or converted from existing ones (if two-thirds of the teachers agree). This past year, three districts tested the idea by launching schools with unique focuses: one caters to the emotional and social well-being of students in poverty, another operates almost entirely in cyberspace, while another focuses on college prep. Similar schools have also been seen in Baltimore, Colorado and Cleveland.

So what are the problems?

  • I hope traditional school districts aren’t trying to best serve their students with a variety of strong education options simply to "compete with charter schools"
  • Pretty much the same reasoning applies for the subhead. Sure, the district doesn’t want to lose students, but would it really embrace innovation solely for that reason?
  • Finally, the subhead and first sentence both state that a student goes to a charter school and the home district loses money. That fight has been played out endlessly in Indiana in recent years during debates on charter school caps, school funding and related legislation. The simple response: Are taxpayers funding schools or are they funding students? Why shouldn’t the money follow the child?

Despite my qualms with the beginning of the story, what’s taking place in Massachusetts (and other cities cited in the story and I’m sure a few other places) is exactly what should be happening in school districts across the country. It’s what charter school supporters have said would happen — the education establishment embracing innovation.

Are they doing it because of the competition, because of the serious shortcomings for students with the "we’ll do it this way because we’ve always done it this way" mentality or because it’s simply the right thing to do? I would like to assume it’s the latter reason, but maybe the best answer is that the reason doesn’t matter as long as innovation is embraced and our young people benefit.

No Business Like Snow Business

While some government services are at risk due to budget cuts, one that will always continue (where necessary) is winter snow removal. But a Massachusetts community has a new approach – paying per inches plowed rather than number of hours worked.

Under the new program, contractors are required to set aside a specific number of plows – both large and small – to cover the full neighborhood and get paid based on the size of the snowstorm. That eliminates the costly idling time that have traditionally been charged by contractors, especially considering weather forecasts can very substantially, Prendeville said.

Most importantly, Prendeville said, the new system has a created a "tremendous level of accountability," that has cut down on the number of resident complaints and streamlined the overall operation during snowstorms, he said.

"This is performance-based, so the incentive is there for the contractor to do the best job possible, which is critical to us," Prendeville said. "We saw a marked difference in the number of calls from residents. There’s always room for improvement, but we think we are making great progress."

Third Party Candidates Shaking Up Elections

If you’re a moderate or just someone who’s not too enthused about either of the two main political parties, you may find this interesting. According to an article on Stateline, third party candidates are making serious impacts on races around the country. Granted, some of these candidates are former senators and office holders so they’re hardly outsiders, but it is rather noteworthy. (Oh, and the full article also discusses Jesse Ventura, so that alone is worth a few minutes of your time):

In this volatile election year, third-party and independent candidates are making serious bids for governor in a diverse array of states. Most of them won’t get many votes, but a fair number stand to influence the results and it’s possible that at least one may make it into office.

In Rhode Island alone, a handful of independents are running. The most prominent one is former U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee, who served in Congress as a moderate Republican until his defeat in 2006. Polling has showed Chafee either leading the race for governor or modestly trailing Democratic nominee Frank Caprio.

In Massachusetts, state Treasurer Tim Cahill broke with his Democratic roots to run as an independent against incumbent Democratic Governor Deval Patrick. Recent polls show that he could get as much as 10 percent of the vote, which is greater than Patrick’s current margin over Republican nominee Charles Baker.

In Minnesota, Tom Horner is running under the banner of the Independence Party, the successor to the party once led by Jesse Ventura. Horner, a moderate with a Republican pedigree, is hoping to draw Democrats who see their party’s nominee, former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton, as too liberal, and Republicans who see GOP candidate Tom Emmer as too conservative. Horner has been polling at about 14 percent, which is much more than Dayton’s four-point lead over Emmer.

And in Colorado, former Republican U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo, who has been an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, may end up outpolling the official Republican nominee, Dan Maes, a Tea Party activist who inherited the nomination after the leading GOP candidate stumbled in a plagiarism scandal. Current polls show Tancredo taking 18 percent of the vote, about the same percentage by which Democrat John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, is leading over Maes.

Given the number of these credible outsider challenges, it seems appropriate to look back at recent third-party governors to see how they fared once they won office, given that they lacked a major-party infrastructure and fellow partisans in the legislature.

Tax Issues Taxing Voters Across the Country

Statewide ballot measures are much more common outside Indiana than on Hoosier ballots. More than 140 such initiatives are being left to voters this fall, with significant fiscal consequences for many. The efforts include both tax increases and cutbacks:

Washington State is one of nine states without a state income tax. Bill Gates Sr., the father of the Microsoft founder, wants to change that. Gates is lending his high-profile name and influence to a ballot measure that would tax the income of individuals who earn more than $200,000 and couples who earn more than $400,000. His son — the world’s second-richest person — definitely falls into that category.

The elder Gates, who also co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says Initiative 1098 would generate $1 billion a year in new revenue dedicated to education and health care. He also says it would put an end to Washington being “the most regressively taxed state in the country.” If approved, the measure would gin up an extra $11 billion over five years by taxing 38,400 high-wage earners in Washington, while lowering certain business and occupation taxes and cutting property taxes by 20 percent. “The very future of Washington hangs in the balance,” Gates says.

Opponents of Initiative1098 contend the measure would open the door to taxing not just the rich, but residents who earn all levels of income. They also say the measure, if it passes, would eliminate a key advantage the state has to lure businesses. “Don’t Calitaxicate Washington,” they plead.

Washington is one of several states where voters this fall will weigh in on ballot measures that, if passed, would have enormous fiscal consequences. Voters in California, Colorado and Massachusetts will take up tax questions that could expand or shrink the foundations on which future budgets are built. Drama awaits on the spending side of budgets, too. In Arizona, voters could blow a $450 million hole in the state’s current budget if they reject two key measures this fall. And in Florida, voters will decide whether to save billions of dollars by relaxing limits on class sizes at schools.

In total, more than 140 statewide measures have qualified for the November ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Stateline has compiled a guide to the most crucial ones to watch here.

Not Enough Time on Their Hands in D.C.?

Quirky Congressional calendars and policy stalemates are nothing new in Washington. For those of that mindset, it appears the rest of 2010 won’t be too upsetting. And with some of the damage Congress has inflicted on businesses of all sizes and their employees over the last few years, maybe that isn’t all bad.

In the House (which doesn’t return until Tuesday), it’s less than three weeks until the August break (starting a week earlier than normal). House members will not be back in Washington until mid-September, with a targeted adjournment date of October 8 in order to hit the campaign trail fulltime in the weeks leading up to the November 2 election. Are we looking at a lame-duck session in November or December — or no action on major items until 2011?

For the Senate, the legislative backlog includes:

  • Seeking two votes (Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe are the top targets) to move the financial regulatory reform conference report
  • A lending pool/tax incentives increase for small businesses, which was originally seen as an opportunity to address other financial issues — including the expiring Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003
  • A $75 billion war supplemental that faces a White House veto over issues unrelated to the original intent. The House added $16 billion, including $10 billion to local school districts to help avoid teacher layoffs. Part of the offsets feature recissions in education programs (among them Race to the Top); hence, the White House opposition

CongressDaily reports the following on that bill:

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye did not include funding for teachers in the measure the Senate approved in May because it was unclear if there was enough support to pass the bill. 

Supporters of the teacher funding will also have to overcome opposition from a group of 13 Democratic senators led by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who called the proposed cuts to education programs "unacceptable" in a letter to Inouye earlier this month.

"Choosing between preserving teacher jobs and supporting vital education reforms is a false choice and would set a dangerous precedent," the letter said.

Or school districts could utilize any number of other cost reduction methods instead of simply cutting teachers. If only that suggestion would become part of the common practice.

Education: Days + Hours = Improvement

I wrote two days ago about an Expanded Learning Time pilot program in Massachusetts that has generated improved academic performance. Didn’t really think it would be time to harp on the same subject again, but …

Hawaii has passed a new law that guarantees 180 days per school year. (Our 50th state had the fiasco in 2009-2010 of furlough Fridays when state budget shortages sent teachers home at the end of the week and resulted in 163 days of instruction). Indiana and a large number of other states have been at that 180 number for years.

Big deal! Other countries around the world are at 190, 200, 220 days and more. They’re greatly exceeding the five-hour daily instructional average that Hawaii is also putting into law and others undoubtedly are following. And those countries are somehow ending up with better test scores than their U.S. counterparts in international comparisons.

Let’s review. More days in school plus more time on task each day helps equal better results. Sounds like a basic elementary school equation.

Oh, by the way, in Hawaii, leaders indicate the next challenge is bargaining with teachers unions on how to implement the new requirements. Don’t get me started on that.

Read the Hawaii story if you wish; more importantly, speak up and support school reform efforts before more students pay the consequences.