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SIMMONS: New regulation eyes accounts of charter teachers

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 5, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you thought the battle over public-sector-pay packages was settled in statehouses in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere think again, because you ain't seen nothin' yet.

The IRS has set Feb. 6, as the deadline to express your opinion on a proposed regulation that puts tens of thousands of charter-school teachers at risk of being pushed out of their states' retirement systems by forcing them to either quit their jobs or lose money already in their state-retirement accounts.

More specifically, the new IRS regulation would be retroactive, meaning charter-school teachers who have made contributions to a state retirement account would be permitted to keep their own money, but the state contributions made on their behalf would be forfeited.

"Presently, every single state that authorizes charter schools either requires or permits charter school participation in the states retirement system," the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said in a recent statement. "Therefore, this regulation would negatively impact nearly all charter school teachers in the country."

If this regulation is not stopped in its current tracks, more than 95,000 charter school teachers, or about 90 percent of the U.S. charter workforce — would be hit.

Obviously, this proposal is a blanket indictment of both school choice and school reform, as states from coast to coast reckon with the fact that parents continue to favor charter schools, vouchers and magnet programs rather than the one-size-fits-all approach to traditional schooling.

What's obvious as well is the fact that the collective-bargaining chickens are coming home to roost.

Yet, federal reneging on IOUs given to teachers isn't the only pooper scooper in the henhouse.

Look at what's happening in Maryland.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has proposed in his fiscal 2013 budget to require local school systems to pick up half the cost of their teachers pensions and other retirement benefits, which means whether a family lives in the upper reaches of Cumberland, Md., an inner-city core like Baltimore or affluent Montgomery County, he wants them to pay more today for bad policy and budget choices made in the past.

The pension-sharing proposal by Mr. O'Malley, bless his liberal heart, would shift about $240 million for all teacher pensions to localities amid attempts to close an estimated $1.6 billion budget shortfall — caused because Annapolis spent money that the state simply did not have.

Indeed, as is the case in Maryland, charter teachers are being punished simply because they complied with state laws that mandate they join their state's pension plans.

While only 1,250 current or former charter teachers would be hit in Maryland, the number in California is an estimated 18,000, in Texas 15,600 and Ohio 5,500.

In the District, where charters educate better than 40 percent of the city's school-age population, there is no such state-pension mandate (Thank heaven).

Charter schools have become the educational lifeline of choice in most large urban areas, where the triple threats of low academic performance, violence and crumbling infrastructure continue to fuel the school-choice movement.

Now, in the wake of some states' standout performance against the unsustainable status quo of collective-bargaining rights, the foxlike Obama administration is trying to sneak into the state henhouse with a new IRS regulation.

To be sure, this IRS proposal is another Obama take on a bailout but the motive is far more sinister. For one, it would further erode states' rights and broaden federal intervention regarding education.

For another, it "could effectively prevent many public charter schools from recruiting or retaining veteran public-school teachers, significantly interfering with public charter schools' ability to achieve their educational goals," as the alliance puts it.

And, while the District and 42 states have charter-school laws, staunch supporters of collective bargaining are still fighting mad.

While the deadline for public comment is Monday, the new IRS rule won't likely go into effect until June, which means there remains time this presidential election year.

After all, who's next in line to forfeit their retirement money?

Police officers, firefighters and other first responders?

That is something to ponder, whether you support charter schools, support teachers, oppose school choice or all of the above.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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