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NCLB Outrages

Leave No Tax Cheat Behind

by John C. Fager

At the same time President Bush preaches that no child be left behind, he is
proposing the biggest cut in federal aid to education, continues to press
for huge tax cuts for the superrich and, by undermining the IRS, is
encouraging tax avoidance and cheating to the tune of $345 billion a year.
His and the Republican Congress's "cut and cheat" tax policies are
detrimental to almost all domestic programs--but especially education. This
is doubly offensive to the vast majority of Americans who believe that all
citizens should pay their fair share of taxes and that providing an
educational opportunity to all children is an important American value and
crucial to the future of our country.

Currently, two-thirds of American schoolchildren are not being prepared to
go to and graduate from college. One major cause is the lack of qualified
teachers; all fifty states recently failed to meet the requirement of the No
Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that every core class has a "highly qualified"
teacher. Lack of funding is the main cause, but it is also worth noting that
the financial gap between wealthy and poor schools is widening. It may be
that not every student should graduate from college, but the opportunity
should not depend on his or her parents' income and ZIP code.

Massive new funding is the place to start; it is needed to address the
inequities in our separate and unequal public school systems. We have one
system that is well funded and generally serves the upper middle class and
the rich who don't send their children to private schools, and there's the
other system that often inadequately serves the rest of the families and
their children.

It is time for Washington to put up some serious money that matches its new
dominant role in setting education policy. Washington can no longer resist
by saying schools are a local and state responsibility because when Bush and
Congress enacted NCLB, they made the US Department of Education the de facto
National Board of Education.

With this federal assumption of power, the federal government should no
longer be supplying only 8.2 percent (around $45 billion) of the $555
billion the country spends on K-12 education. It should be providing a full
third, and the money should go to schools that serve families with incomes
in the bottom two-thirds of our society, whose children are being left

So in a time of huge deficits, where can this new funding be found? The
money could be raised without increasing taxes if Bush and Congress ended
their "cut and cheat" tax policies. Citizens know that there have been
trillion-dollar tax cuts for the superrich, but many are not aware that we
have a huge and growing problem with cheating on taxes and other
noncompliance--the so-called tax gap that conservatively amounts to $345
billion in lost revenue a year.

The Republicans are vulnerable on the tax cheating issue because the problem
is huge and has grown worse on their watch--if you can call it that--and
their policies seem to be encouraging the criminal evasion of the tax laws.
What else would you call it when the tax laws have grown more complex and,
at the same time, the ranks of IRS auditors have been slashed. Dr. Mark
Mazor, director of research analysis and statistics at the IRS, testified at
a Senate Finance Committee hearing on July 26 about "very low audit rates by
historical standards." And just three days earlier, the New York Times
reported that the IRS will cut almost half of the lawyers who audit large
estates of the superrich. It's as though there's a crime wave in a city and
the mayor and city council have responded by firing police.

And last February even the Republican chair of the Finance Committee,
Senator Chuck Grassley, showed his frustration. "It's easy for politicians
to stand on the soap box and criticize the tax gap," he said, "but I find
it's pretty lonely when I need people to join me and get their hands dirty
and try to solve these problems." Senator Max Baucus said about the next ten
years, "The Administration is proposing a $3.5 billion solution to a $3.5
trillion problem." He concluded, "It's time for a comprehensive plan to go
after scofflaws and tax cheats."

It should be noted in fairness that Congress has done more than hold
hearings and "coddle scofflaws and tax cheats." Congress did order the IRS
to mount an extensive auditing campaign against the working poor who were
legitimately claiming refunds under the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
Congress provided the IRS with $875 million dollars to go after people with
a median adjusted gross income of $13,000.

The IRS's national taxpayer advocate, Nina Olson, studied this enforcement
action. "The IRS is doing little to address the largest component of the tax
gap--the cash economy," she said. "Meanwhile, the IRS is expending
significant resources on a criminal investigation program that probably
freezes over 300,000 refunds each year, classifies taxpayers as 'criminals'
without providing them an opportunity to produce exculpatory evidence...and
causes financial hardship for tens of thousands of taxpayers whose claims
are legitimate."

So the money is there to massively increase the federal contribution to
education if Congress and President Bush would get off the backs of the
working poor and go after the real "scofflaws and tax cheats." The money
could be used to train, hire and retain a "highly qualified teacher" in
every classroom, reduce class size, build and modernize schools to solve
widespread overcrowding and wire them for the information age, provide
quality early childhood education for every child, fund special education,
etc. That would be the beginning of truly leaving no child behind.

— John C. Fager
The Nation


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