Editorial roundup – October 5

Pay could be key to Indiana’s teacher shortage

KPC News Service

A 50-member blue ribbon commission met for the first time recently in Indianapolis, and its members will try to figure out why a teacher shortage is developing in Indiana and what to do about it.

We fear the commission may avoid one obvious answer: Indiana is beyond frugal — call us downright chintzy — when it comes to paying teachers.

First, let’s look at why the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Recruitment and Retention of Excellent Educators became necessary.

Reports this summer showed Indiana has seen an 18 percent drop over the last five years in the number of new teaching licenses. As older teachers retire, not enough college graduates are joining the profession to replace them.

Urban school districts, such as Indianapolis, are finding it hard to keep existing teachers on staff.

One expert said new teachers don’t get enough mentoring and support. Others say teachers are discouraged by the pressure of being judged — with pay raises at stake — on the results of unpopular tests such as ISTEP+.

No one seems to want to talk directly about Indiana’s teacher pay levels.

We reported earlier this year that the average Indiana teacher salary in 2014 — $50,644 — runs far behind the U.S. average of $56,689. We’re even farther behind our neighboring states of Michigan ($61,866), Illinois ($60,124) and Ohio ($57,270).

What’s worse is that we’re falling further behind — fast. Back in 2000, we actually ranked ahead of Ohio and much closer to Michigan and Illinois.

When adjusted for inflation, the average Indiana teacher’s salary today is 13 percent lower than in 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Indiana’s loss in “real” teacher income ranks second-worst in the nation.

It wasn’t always this way. Indiana teacher pay made huge leaps in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, which may have led Hoosier politicians to over-correct in this century.

Average pay for Indiana teachers increased only 1.3 percent from 2010 to 2014. That’s not 1.3 percent per year — it’s the five-year total.

We suggest hiring some good Hoosier math experts to conduct an unbiased study of Indiana teacher pay as it compares to the nation and Midwest.

Let’s find out if potential new teachers are looking at Indiana’s pay scale and taking their talents elsewhere.

Just what is a ‘fair’ tax system? For a start, one that doesn’t waste our money

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

It’s so unfair here in Indiana, at least when it comes to taxes. That is the verdict of WalletHub, which has conducted a survey showing that Indiana ranks only 42nd when it comes to the fairness of state tax systems. Only Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Arkansas, Hawaii, Georgia and Washington are more unfair.

But what does that mean exactly?

There is surprising agreement about that among Americans who identify as liberals and conservatives. “There is a clear upward trend,” WalletHub said after analyzing the results of a survey of 1,050 individuals, in that “respondents think state and local tax systems are fair when higher-income households pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes than lower-income households.”

A progressive tax, in other words, like the federal tax code is and the state income tax isn’t.

But just why is a progressive tax more “fair” than a flat tax?

If you look at it a certain way, all taxes are unfair because they take away, with the force of law, money from individuals who have earned it or accumulated it and put it into a common pot for the benefit of people who may or may not deserve it but certainly haven’t earned it. And all taxes are a hardship for those taxed. There isn’t any way around the fact that the hardships will be worse for the poor.

And a flat tax ensures that those well off will pay more into the pot than those not so well off. Under a progressive rate, there are so many exemptions and loopholes that the rich find ways to game the system, with many of them paying much lower effective rates than the poor.

And a progressive rate discourages the creation of wealth, while a flat rate does not. So exactly what is unfair about applying the same rate to everybody?

What kind of tax system should the state try for? How about a system that gives citizens value for their dollar? The state should take in just enough to meet its needs and not a penny more, and it should try to keep waste, fraud and abuse to an absolute minimum, while trying to see at every turn that a productive economy isn’t hindered.

Postal Service, bleeding cash, should be privatized

The Orange County Register (TNS)

The U.S. Postal Service has long been plagued by financial problems, and there is plenty of blame to go around. The Postal Service has not turned a profit since 2006 and has lost a total of $51.7 billion from 2007-14, according to a new Tax Foundation report.

Things are not off to a good start this year either, with the agency posting $2.8 billion in losses for the first two quarters of 2015.

During that 2007-14 period, First-Class Mail volume has fallen 34 percent. It has actually been steadily declining since 2001 — as email, social media and online bill payment have replaced traditional mail — and has now dropped to levels not seen since 1982.

Some of the losses are attributed to the roughly $5.5 billion in annual payments the Postal Service must make to prepay its retiree health care obligations as a result of a 2006 law, on which it has defaulted the past three years and will again this year and next year.

Some of it is due to congressional micromanaging. The Postal Service could save $2 billion a year, for example, by closing more than half its processing facilities, which the agency says are duplicative, but politicians have prohibited it from doing so for fear of job losses and upset constituents in their districts. Moreover, the USPS is required to deliver mail to remote, rural locations for the same price as letters delivered in heavily populated, urban areas.

Some of it is self-inflicted. While the Postal Service has reduced staff and undertaken other cost-cutting measures, it still has not gotten its labor costs under control and struggles to innovate, largely because its monopoly status has insulated it from competitive pressures.

Its performance has also suffered. Despite relaxing performance standards for First-Class and Periodical Mail at the beginning of the year, on-time delivery rates for the first two quarters are down significantly from last year.

In order to avoid a massive bailout, Congress should remove its strings, privatize the Postal Service and open it up to competition — as numerous other countries have done — and relax the universal service law. Let supply and demand — not politicians and bureaucrats — determine the proper price of mail, which services are offered and whether these prices and services should vary by location.