Monthly Archives: February 2018

Coping with #Parkland

I normally avoid putting my political views out on the web too forcefully because I want my students to feel safe to express their own opinions without worrying about my disagreement. But the #Parkland shooting transcends politics for those of us who teach. Our most fundamental duty is to protect our students, and watching our politicians squirm as they seek to cater to the NRA is just a gruesome spectacle of cowardice.

I’ve spoken out twice in the last 48 hours, first in the Twittersphere last night in an #isedchat dedicated to our reactions to this most recent school shooting, and then this afternoon when I accompanied a contingent of eleven students to a protest outside the offices of a local GOP Congressman, Brian Fitzpatrick.

I’m deeply grateful to Bill Ivey (@bivey) and #isedchat for hosting a cathartic opportunity for independent school educators to share their reactions to the Parkland shooting and its aftermath; which, if you have been hiding under a rock, has featured an incredible response in the form of student voice. I can’t speak as eloquently or powerfully as the student survivors, but I can say unequivocally: I’m not interested in carrying a gun to work. I didn’t choose to work at a Quaker school because I wanted to be a gunslinger; I work at a Quaker school to be a promoter of peace.

Here’s one of my tweets from the chat that seemed to resonate most strongly:

As for today’s IRL protest, student leaders at my school did all the real work; I just got tasked with providing adult chaperones. My passionate and politically active colleagues quickly provided more bodies than we needed to walk with eleven students to the parking lot across from our school, where a weekly protest forms outside Brian Fitzpatrick’s office. After standing in the rain with about thirty other protesters for an hour, we took the protest up four flights of stairs to the congressman’s office, flouting the five-guests-at-a-time policy of the space. There is an occupancy sign in the tiny antechamber of the suite that declares that only five people may be there. So we engaged in a little civil disobedience, which began to fluster the poor junior staffer who had to deal with us. Congressman Fitzpatrick’s chief of staff, Mike Conallen, politely emerged to engage with the protesters in the hall outside of the office suite, thus rescuing the junior staff and getting us out of the office.

Mr. Conallen was generous with his time, and wanted us to hear that “every option” regarding gun control is on the table as far as the Congressman is concerned. Neither I nor the other protesters took much solace in this news, as the GOP leadership appears to have no desire to displease the NRA and stop their gravy train, and the only idea they’ve expressed so far is to arm teachers like me. In the last 24 hours, news has come out that an armed sheriff’s deputy at the school on the day of the shooting hid behind a concrete column outside the school and did not run inside to confront the shooter. Furthermore, we have learned that the FBI was tipped off a month before the attack that the shooter possessed an arsenal of firearms and was a ticking time bomb. The degree to which politicians have let down our children is scandalous, and since trained law enforcement professionals don’t seem able to deal with school shooters carrying assault rifles, imagining that teachers will have more luck is preposterous.

Since Twitter is my jam, I too have observed a change in the tone of the response to this most recent school shooting. It feels different this time. These student protesters aren’t going away. They’ve ridiculed Marco Rubio on CNN, and people in power are beginning to wake up and recalibrate their positions. We are seeing big businesses distance themselves from the NRA, so I think the unassailable NRA glacier is beginning to crack.

The midterms are coming!

 

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On the New 529 Rules

The folks at the Carney Sandoe blog published a post today summarizing what we know about the changes in the tax code that will permit families to pay K-12 independent school tuition using funds drawn from 529 plans. Funds from 529s were heretofore restricted to higher ed expenditures, so this is a significant change. I learned something new from the CSA post, namely that certain individual states have write their own regulations that forbid this expansion of 529 expenditures; New York and Illinois for example. (Yes, this is a politicized red state/blue state matter, but the CSA blog post eschews that angle.)

A lot has been written about all of the problems with this change to 529s, and I won’t repeat it all here. (See Ron Lieber in the NYTimes, here.) While the pundits and analysts agree that this change is mostly a windfall for the wealthy, I haven’t seen enough written about the damage it may do to middle class families trying to save for college.

When I opened a 529 two years ago after the birth of my son, the rules of the game were clear: the money I accrued in the account wouldn’t be touched until he began college. I made calculations regarding how much I would need to save per year based on assumed rates of return on investment and inflation in college tuition. Now that math is under assault.

If my wife and I choose to send our son to independent school at any point in his K-12 years, that school may make financial aid calculations based on an expectation that we will draw upon the funds in our 529 to pay their tuition bill. The more successfully we save for our son’s college education, the more bloated and enticing a pinata our 529 will become for that independent school! Will this force middle class families to abandon the idea of sending their kids to independent schools? The change in the tax code appears on the surface to be a life raft for independent schools that are currently struggling to meet their revenue targets, but what if it has the opposite effect and reduces their admissions funnels?

There simply isn’t enough money to go around in middle class families’ budgets to fund a 529 that will be drawn upon for K-12 and higher ed expenses. College is mostly unaffordable for middle class families now, but the one thing that disciplined savers have going for them is the power of the tax-sheltered compounding inside the 529 that can, if they are lucky, exceed the growth rate of college tuition by a few percentage points over the course of two decades of saving. That will, if one doesn’t bungle one’s asset allocation and get stung by bad timing in the economic cycle, close some of the gap and help one pay for college. If money is being leeched out by K-12 tuition along the way, it won’t be invested long enough to allow the market to do its thing. Yes, it makes sense for anyone making K-12 tuition payments to cycle that cash through the 529, even if just for the minimum amount of time required to get the tax benefit. I worry that financially unsophisticated families without tax advisers won’t be able to handle the extra complexity this brings to their lives, which returns us to the conclusion that this change in the tax code is really just going to benefit the wealthy.