Jury still out on U.S. education law
Hawaii students fall low in comparison of states on a national test.
DISAPPOINTING results for Hawaii students on a national test
confirm what state exams have shown previously and the breadth of challenges public schools across the country face in complying with a federal education law.
The scores also bring into question the efficacy of the No Child Left Behind law that the Bush administration has championed, whether its goals are achievable and whether students in some states are truly improving or if their tests are devised to side step the law.
Comparisons of scores of a sampling of fourth- and eight-grade children from 50 states and the District of Columbia place Hawaii's students near the bottom in reading and math. Though there are wide variations state to state in demographics, school systems and the range of students who took the test -- called the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- the results generally reflect what Hawaii's test show about achievement levels.
Not so in other states. An evaluation by an independent group found that gains touted by more than 15 states did not match results of the national test, indicating how the varied levels of proficiency set by individual states skew the real picture. That, however, lends Hawaii little comfort as public schools continue to struggle for improvement.
The national test was the first conducted since the federal law was implemented, and the results satisfied few. Despite President Bush's attempts to accentuate the positive, the test showed no virtually no changes in reading skills for fourth-graders and dips for eighth-graders. In math, both groups made slight gains, but the rate of overall improvement was faster in the years before the law.
One bright note was that a smaller portion of fourth-grade minority students fell below basic achievement levels, suggesting that younger children in general could be the bigger beneficiaries of the new focus. Still, the slow pace of improvement emphasizes the difficulties confronting Hawaii as the state races the law's 2014 deadline for all students to reach proficiency.
Tax reform plan is deeply flawed
A presidential advisory panel has called for limiting tax deductions for interest on home loans and state income taxes.
REFORM is needed to simplify federal income taxes, but the revisions proposed by President Bush's tax advisory commission would gouge people in areas with high housing prices and state or local income taxes. Congress is not likely to enact the proposal, but further efforts could threaten to disrupt many family budgets.
The panel agreed that the alternative minimum tax, which was aimed at wealthy people but now hits millions of Americans, should be eliminated. That would cost the government $1.2 trillion in lost revenue over 10 years.
To find other revenue, the panel focused on limiting tax deductions for mortgage interest and employer-provided health insurance, and eliminating the deduction for state and local income taxes. A combination of the three could create havoc for many taxpayers.
Hawaii alone requires companies to provide health insurance to employees, but the entire cost is tax-deductible. The tax panel's proposed lid on the tax break would reduce an incentive that assures employees of adequate health insurance.
The panel's intrusion on the mortgage-interest deduction, now allowed for interest on a loan of up to $1 million, would have little effect on most Hawaii homeowners, but taxpayers in other high-cost areas are sure to complain loudly. It would allow them to deduct interest on a home loan as much as the Federal Housing Administration's loan cap, which varies by region.
The FHA limit ranges up to $312,895 on the mainland, but a special provision places Honolulu's cap at 150 percent of that, or $469,342. A Honolulu family making a down payment of 20 percent for today's median price of $615,000 would need a loan of $500,000, the interest for nearly all of it tax-deductible. In San Francisco, where the median price is $726,900, the base for deductible interest would shrink by more than $250,000. That inequity would not stand.