Vivek Bavda Q & A

1) What is the No. 1 issue in your district and how would you address it?

The number one issue is jobs.  However, the second question is about jobs.  Consequently, I’m using this question to answer the second most important issue facing the 10th District, which is education.

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The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was a startling display of bipartisan legislation enacted to bring every student in the country to proficiency by the year 2014.  The crux of the act was to force states to set standards, test all students, and force schools to meet increasing requirements of success or face remedial measures.  If we continue without change, 60 to 80 percent of schools will fail.  I have bullet pointed the key solutions with a longer explanation afterwards.  Beyond NCLB, we need to invest in community colleges to get our students to the next level of skill, resulting in a better job.

We need to do the following:

•    Create binding national standards of excellence

While states were given the authority to create standards to customize their systems, many states have watered down standards to “cheat” their way into compliance.  We need national standards of excellence, not just proficiency.  If states want even higher standards, they should be allowed to do so.

•    Test in all subjects to prevent a myopic focus only on math, science, and language arts

NCLB only requires tests in math, science, and language arts.  This creates an incentive to cut out other subject areas, leading to myopia in student knowledge especially in poverty-stricken areas.  We need to test in all subject areas to make student proficient in all academic areas. 

•    Create tests worth teaching to, assess in multiple ways, and test to learn absolute and relative progress of students

Another problem to emerge is teaching to the test.  Schools and teachers learn the testing mechanism and make gains on the test through style and test-taking strategies, rather than increasing substantive student learning.  To mitigate this natural instinct by schools, tests have to become worth teaching to.  If you look at the Maryland model prior to the passage of NCLB, a variation of these tests would take us in the right direction.  The reason Maryland replaced these tests is that they were costly to administer and were unpopular because they suggested how far behind we really are.  Change benefited the adults, not the students.   Test should also be self-auditing.  Self-auditing tests use different mechanisms of assessment all within a singular test.  They corroborate that a student has learned a particular concept using a different testing mechanism.  By testing in multiple ways, we reduce the incentive and ability of teachers to teach to the test.  In addition, we should require a singular test that is both criterion-reference and norm-referenced.  This allows parents, educators, legislators, and the public to gauge progress on an absolute and relative scale, respectively.

•    Use actual test scores to measure progress not statistical confidence intervals

Another problem that has emerged is the use of statistical confidence intervals at the school level to disguise failure to avoid the negative consequences of failing to meet the increasing proficiency rates of federal law.  We should require the use of the actual test scores rather than any confidence interval to meet adequate yearly progress to prevent any future statistical tinkering.

•    Require a linear model of progress for adequate yearly progress.

Another problem that has emerged is the attempt to backload the proficiency progress.  While states have much flexibility to apportion, we should require a linear model of progress in the reauthorization.  In other words, there must be equal improvements over the time period in question rather than saving most of the progress for the end.

•    Use a growth model for adequate yearly progress decisions.

Another problem is the incentives the current adequate yearly progress calculation creates.  The first incentive is to neglect higher achieving students because they will pass proficiency without any problem.  There is no incentive to make them reach their God given potential.  The second incentive is to focus resources on students who are close to passing.  Students who are the farthest behind will be left behind because the NCLB treats the passage of the farthest student as equivalent to a marginal student.  This means a student can be taught three years worth of material and still fail the proficiency test.  This student’s gain is not reflected in the year’s adequate yearly progress.  We need a growth model for schools.  This growth model incentivizes learning by counting and crediting schools with each year of learning rather than setting one passage score that determines adequate yearly progress.  Average students who start at 5.0 grade levels worth of knowledge in 5th grade and learn one year’s knowledge will be deemed as 1.0 students achieving proficiency for the adequate yearly progress calculation.  If this student learns 1.5 years worth of knowledge, 1.5 students will be deemed to have passed for purposes of the adequate yearly progress calculation.  In addition, this means students who are ahead have to be taught advanced material in order for them to be counted as passing in the next year’s calculation.  Moreover, if the advanced students learn more than one year’s worth of material, the school is credited with an increase in adequate yearly progress.  For example, let’s take a fifth grader who is somewhat advanced for his age with 5.2 grade levels worth of knowledge.  For this student to pass for purposes of adequate yearly progress, this student must achieve a 6.2 grade levels worth of knowledge.  If the student learns more and achieves a 6.7 grade level knowledge, 1.5 students will be deemed to be proficient for the purpose of the adequate yearly progress calculation.  

Schools also have an incentive to teach students who are currently being left behind.  The low achieving student who is at 3.7 grade level in 5th grade will be counted as many times as he or she is behind.  So this student will be counted as a minimum of 2.3 students because he is this far behind of where he needs to be by the end of the school year.  If he achieves only a 5.0 grade level, 1.3 out of 2.3 students will be deemed as passing.  If he achieves 6th grade level, then 2.3 students will be deemed proficient.  If he achieves a 7th grade level, 3.3 students will be deemed to be proficient for purposes of the adequate yearly progress.  The point is that teachers will be incentivized to increase learning.  One downside to this system is that the adequate yearly progress calculation will become an index rather than simple passage rate.  Given this, we should require that adequate yearly progress calculations will be made public in both the old method as well as the new indexed growth model (with the new method counting toward the remedial measures of failing adequate yearly progress of NCLB)

•    Double teacher salaries in restructured schools in exchange for hire and fire flexibility

Another problem of NCLB is the failure of the remedial measures to increase performance.  This legislation would allow principals to double the salary scale of teachers who agree to work on an at-will basis at the discretion of the principal in restructured schools.  By doubling the salary scale, restructured schools could expect to recruit the best teachers for the most difficult teaching areas.  Given the greatest single factor on student performance is an excellent teacher, this would be an effective way to make sure that no child is left behind.  To ensure that only the best performers receive this incentive, principals need to have hire and fire flexibility.  It should also be pointed out that any teacher could choose either to have an ordinary contract and union provisions or take the risk that comes with the increased salary.

•    Provide aid to community colleges

Community colleges are facing a huge demand of students.  They have been forced to turn students away.  This includes people who have lost their jobs.  Without the ability to retrain, this puts the unemployed in a difficult position.  Moreover, it retards the progress of our high school graduates who want to continue their education but are turned away.  Given the importance of post high school skills, we need to invest in community colleges.

2) How would you promote job growth in your district?

I am committed to creating jobs.  As a public finance consultant, a student of Economics and Political Economy at Northwestern, and a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago employee, I have a firm grounding in economic policy and the interactions of government and business, giving me the know how to create jobs.

From what I have learned, I know that further federal funding is required.  By funding projects, paying contractors, and paying employees, these people will have money to buy other products in the economy.  This demand will mean the private sector will produce more and add jobs to increase production.

While the stimulus can be anything, ideally, we should invest the money in best interests of the nation.  This would be infrastructure projects like transportation projects, aid to state and local governments, and research and development to name a few things.  However, the Republicans will filibuster any national stimulus plan like the ones my opponents support.  

Consequently, I propose a Chicagoland jobs plan that would double the number of lanes on Interstates 90 and 94 from the Loop to the airport and Tower Rd, respectively.  94 is critical, connecting the 10th district to Chicago.  Moreover, we should provide smart grid funding from the federal government rather than increase utility rates.  Finally, we should provide aid to state and local governments.  If we do all three, we can bring unemployment down to 2004-2005 levels.  

This will all require money.  I am committed to trading votes for funding these three projects. As a public finance consultant with Munifinancial, I learned how politicians built support for infrastructure projects like these.   While this may be sausage-making, it is also necessary to make sure our friends and neighbors have jobs until the economy recovers.  All this requires the proper political packaging.  Even the most ardent Republican believes in creating roads like 94/90.  Moreover, if the smart-grid is sold in the context of tax relief given the rate hike, it can be slid into an appropriations bill.  Finally, the third would be addressed in the context of preventing future need for this aid.  By requiring state governments in good times to deposit a certain percentage of state tax revenue with the federal government, the federal government would have money to provide back in bad times, meaning nurses, teachers, and firefighters wouldn’t be laid off.  This would be a rainy day fund that couldn’t be raided. The good and bad times GDP growth level that would result in a transfer of funds would be negotiated by states and the federal government.  The Federal Reserve would report the state growth levels.  By exchanging federal funds for this requirement, the law would pass constitutional muster.  While it is time honored for elected leaders to bring money into the district, this would be a good use of our tax dollars to lower commute times, reduce pollution and energy use, create countercyclical economic policy, and create jobs.

3) Should the federal government cut spending and where?

As we are in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the immediate concern is deficit spending to stimulate the economy to mitigate unemployment and the suffering it entails.  While the debt is about 100% of GDP, it is important to remember that the government owes itself about 30% of the debt.  This makes the immediate concern of lowering the deficit, balancing the budget, and decreasing the debt misplaced.  At about 120% of Debt to GDP rather than 70% is when a sovereign debt crisis becomes likely.   Furthermore, given the U.S. is the biggest economy in the world, the dollar is the reserve currency of the world, and U.S. debt is the safest investment in the world, the percentage is likely higher.  Interest rates have also stayed low and will likely continue to stay low, alleviating the concern for crowding out of private investment.  At the end of the day, the debt and deficit matter, but they matter in the long run after this recession is over.  At that point, we have to attack the deficit and debt.  The main drivers of deficit and debt in the long run are recessions and entitlements with health care spending the most critical.  

We have to find ways to grow the economy and increase income to increase revenue by creating a fairer and flatter tax code with less corporate loopholes and lower rates.  We also need to gain more revenue from the estate tax as inheritances are the opposite of equality of opportunity.  They give some Americans a leg up based on little effort of their own.  We have to look at every part of government for savings including expanding on health care reform.  The Affordable Care Act's ideas such as the independent payment advisory board, electronic records, preventative care, comparative effectiveness research, and new ways to pay for health care including bundling and accountable care organizations all will help bring health care spending down.  We also need to let Medicare negotiate bulk drug prices.  We can also address the slowing health care costs while dealing with lack of access to care.  The lack of medical professionals in rural and inner-city areas for Medicare patients can be mitigated effectively through a reverse Dutch auction payment system (competitive bidding) and will save money.  

Beyond health care, Social Security also needs to be addressed to tackle the deficit and debt.  We have to remove the cap on the income subject to the payroll tax.  Moreover, we need an accurate inflation index that is chain weighted for Social Security and the rest of government.  Chain weighted simply means accounting for substitutions if one price goes up.  These reforms will preserve Social Security in the long run.  All of this together will address our long term deficit and debt concerns.

4)  If Republican, which GOP presidential candidate do you support?

I’m not a Republican and look forward to the President’s second term.

5) Give an example of something you’ve done that is bipartisanship in nature.

I created and organized an interfaith youth conference to bring people of all faiths and all partisan affiliations to work on problems like drug and alcohol abuse.  As reported in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the conference included people of many faiths including Lutherans, Hindus, and Scientologists.  The leaders of the Missouri State Senate learned about the ideas that high school students had come up with at the conference to curtail drug and alcohol abuse by teens.  Working on common problems brought people together, created trust, and added a greater degree of appreciation for the diversity that is this nation.

6) Name one good policy idea that comes from the opposing party.

The earned income tax credit was created by Secretary Mellon and revived by President Ford.  This is a great poverty fighter idea that Republicans created, and Democrats should support.  Cap and trade was originally a Republican idea that was championed by the elder President Bush.  This should be supported.  Finally, Candidate Romney call for lower tax rates on a broader base of income.  I agree.

7) How do you define family values?

Moral and/or ethical beliefs such as honesty, integrity, justice, empathy, responsibility, and love taught from one generation to another from adults who express and exemplify these values to children and other adults.

8) What are your thoughts on the healthcare law?

I support the President and The Affordable Care Act. This act's provisions will expand access, lower costs and increase the quality of care.  The independent payment advisory board will be insulated from politics, allowing common sense reforms.  Electronic records will prevent errors and reduce bureaucracy.  Preventative care will allow people to go to a primary care physician instead of emergency rooms and catch diseases early, lowering costs and saving lives.  Comparative effectiveness research will ensure that the best medical intervention will be used.  New ways to pay for health care including bundling and accountable care organizations will spur reform to rid us of fee for service billing and help bring health care spending under control.  We need to do more.  We need to let Medicare negotiate drug prices to further bend the cost curve.

We can also address slowing health care costs while dealing with lack of access to care.  The lack of medical professionals in rural and inner-city areas for Medicare patients can be mitigated effectively through a reverse Dutch auction payment system and will save money.  Currently, many health care professionals are highly concentrated in suburban and/or affluent areas.  The shortage in rural and inner-city areas means that low-income people have to wait longer for services and travel further to get to services.  Medicare is paying a higher rate than it should because it supports the fixed costs of the professionals in high concentration areas even though there are fewer patients than optimal.  Using a reverse Dutch auction, Medicare would look at its population data and determine the optimal level of services in each geographical area.  Using internet software, Medicare would list each geographical area, the number of each type of professional needed, and the bid (pay).  As the bid increases for each area, more professionals would take the bid on each geographical area that they would like to live and work.  Presumably, the popular geographical areas would be chosen first at a lower cost.  Meanwhile, other professionals would wait for the current shortage area prices to be increased until the pay is worth practicing there and the need is met.  A limited number of positions would create market discipline, ensuring that people don’t wait for obscene prices.  Moreover, anti-trust laws could be used to prevent collusion.  This concept could save money and remove a barrier to health care for low-income people.  This system could also become a model for insurance companies, saving even more money.

While I accept the need to cut costs and support the President, I believe in single payer health care systems.  This mechanism is the quickest and easiest way to bring health care spending down.  I predict single payer's lure to the middle class will increase as we go further down the health care road over decades, and the Affordable Care Act will be replaced by single payer.  With single payer, there will be increases in salary since employers won't provide coverage.  This will mean additional tax revenue to allocate to health care since benefits have been tax free except for Cadillac Heath Care Plans.  With single payer models around the world that manage costs better than our model, the U.S. will be able to customize the system to take care of everybody and still cut costs to prevent budget busting

9) Who is your political role model?

While I disagree with him on many issues, Daniel Patrick Moynihan is my role model because he believed that everyone is entitled to his opinion, not his own facts.  He believed in evidence based policy.  Using objective data and evidence seems to be a lost art in Washington D.C.  Instead, numbers are manipulated to suit ideology.  When I am elected, I will choose evidence and pragmatic approaches over ideology and demand my colleagues use objective facts to support their positions.  We have to be on the same playing field if we hope to end gridlock and help the middle class.

10) What’s on your iPod?

My iphone has The Beatles, Tori Amos, Flo Rida, Dave Matthews Band, Ricky Martin, Peter Townshend, Peter Gabriel, Beethoven, Bach, and U2

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