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Today's Opinions

  • The ins and outs of 529 college savings plans

    For many people, their biggest expenses in life are funding retirement, buying a home and paying for their children’s college education — or a portion of it, anyway. Setting aside money for these and other financial goals is difficult, especially when you’re trying to save for them all simultaneously and from a young age.
    One of the more popular college savings vehicles is the 529 College Savings Plan. Every state and Washington, D.C. offers at least one 529 plan option, although most offer several. Key features include:
    • You make contributions using after-tax dollars; their investment earnings grow tax-free.
    • Withdrawals aren’t taxed if they’re used to pay for qualified higher-education expenses (e.g., tuition, room and board, fees, books, supplies and equipment).
    • If you withdraw the money for non-qualified expenses, you’ll have to pay income tax and a 10 percent penalty tax on the earnings portion of the withdrawal — plus possible state penalties, depending on where you live.
    • Many states that have a state income tax give accountholders a full or partial tax deduction for contributions made to their own state’s plan. Three states (Indiana, Utah and Vermont) also offer tax credits for contributions.

  • Standardized tests are the wrong way to go

    As mothers helping to lead the fight against harmful policies inflicted on our children in New Mexico and Tennessee, we felt compelled to respond to the July 24 opinion piece written by education leaders Hanna Skandera and Kevin Huffman that appeared in the Washington Post.
    In classrooms across New Mexico and Tennessee, standardized tests are taking away valuable classroom learning. Of the 174 days our children attend school in New Mexico, 76 of those days are impacted by some standardized test or another. In Tennessee, teachers estimate that at least 1/3 of the year is devoted to testing or test preparation.
    Meanwhile, classroom budgets in New Mexico and Tennessee have shrunk while class sizes have increased. Millions are being diverted to standardized test companies. Skandera holds much-needed revenues hostage by requiring districts to agree to give certain tests like DIBELS in order to receive “grant money.”
    Despite what Huffman and Skandera claim, parents and teachers have never said the old way our states evaluated teachers is the only way to do so. What we have said is that linking a teacher’s evaluation score to standardized tests is the wrong way to go.

  • Clubbing the graduation rate

    Newspapers recently cheered the announcement by the United States Department of Education that, for the first time in U.S. history, high school graduation rates had exceeded the 80 percent threshold.
    This is fantastic news! Just think, one out of five students doesn’t graduate! Now that is truly a reason to celebrate!
    Hmmmm, when you say it that way, it doesn’t prompt the masses to start dancing in the streets, does it?
    And when you consider the additional fact that a significant percentage of those who do graduate are not “college ready,” there’s even less reason to start shooting off fireworks. Less than half of students entering college are sufficiently prepared for college level coursework.
    And so I found it very encouraging when I read another report about how high school clubs aid in educational progress. It’s not hard to understand why joining a club would help improve a student’s class work. Much of the difficulty students encounter in high school has little to do with what’s written in textbooks and much more to do with the learning environment in which they are immersed for four years.
    Joining a single club can significantly improve a student’s chance of graduating. What more reason do we need that that to strongly encourage our students to join a club?

  • Seek details before owning pet pygmy goats

    With their playful temperaments and small, compact size, it is no surprise that pygmy goats are often sought after as pets. However, since goats are deemed livestock, you must check with your homeowners’ association or deed restriction before bringing one home. If in doing this you discover it is allowed, here are some tips for keeping your pet pygmy goats happy and healthy in their new home.
    “Although some people do keep their pet goats indoors, they are not easy to house train and due to their activity level, curiosity, and dietary needs, we recommend they are kept outdoors,” said Dr. Philippa Sprake, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “They should have an outside area to play and a shelter from the elements, where hay, straw, or shavings serve as good bedding sources.”
    Their bedding, of whichever type you choose, should be changed regularly depending on the weather, size of shelter and number of goats. Keep in mind that goats do not like getting wet, and they also require a cool area to withstand the summer heat. Since goats are herd animals, having at least two housed together will help to decrease stress and allow them company.

  • Doing business with the private sector

    To serve the people of New Mexico, state government relies on goods and services provided by private-sector businesses. To ensure it spends taxpayer dollars responsibly and gets the best products at the best price, the state uses a competitive purchasing system.
    Thousands of businesses each year participate in this $5 billion economy, selling the state everything from cars, trucks, pencils and supercomputers to support services for crime victims, architectural services and museum exhibits.
    These businesses all start by learning how to navigate the procurement system — a set of procedures designed to protect public resources. The process isn’t complicated, but it can take time.
    Governor Susana Martinez created a Procurement Reform Task Force in early 2011. Led by the General Services Department, it has produced dramatic system improvements.
    All chief purchasing officers from state agencies and local governments are now required to register with the State Purchasing Agent. And starting in January, 2015, chief purchasing officers must pass a certification exam to make purchases for their agencies.

  • Support Sage Cottage nonprofit preschool

    I appreciate the stories you have been publishing regarding poverty and hunger in Los Alamos.
    I am on the board of directors for Sage Cottage Montessori Preschool, currently the only preschool in Los Alamos that accepts state-aid children. About six years ago, Cheri Host, the former owner and executive director (now deceased), decided to make Sage Cottage a nonprofit preschool so that she could provide a place for low-income children and request grants and donations to cover the cost differential.
    The aid provided by the state for childcare covers only a fraction of the costs for a full-time child, and because of various circumstances most of these children are not full-time.
    Currently, Sage Cottage has four state-aid children. Sage Cottage receives some generous support from Casa Mesita, Los Alamos National Bank, Smith’s Earn and Learn, and from designated giving through United Way. But support over the past several years has decreased, jeopardizing our ability to continue to provide this necessary service to our community.
    Those who would like to support this cause can make a tax-deductible donation by check to Sage Cottage, 142 Meadow Lane, Los Alamos, NM.
    If you would like more information about Sage Cottage, call Director Sandra Sorensen at 672-0534.

  • The quicker picker-uppers

    We have just experienced one of the many benefits of living in Los Alamos. Our loss of a large piñon tree resulted in a very sizable pile of limbs and debris.
    The bulk pick-up truck arrived on schedule and the operator efficiently and quickly loaded everything and left the area clean and presentable. Our thanks to this employee and to the county for this great service!
    Joseph and Lois Thompson
    Los Alamos

  • Great performance from Missoula

    On behalf of the Los Alamos Arts Council, I would like to thank the cast members of Missoula Children’s Theatre’s production of “Blackbeard the Pirate” for their wonderful performance.
    The Arts Council would like to thank the County of Los Alamos for co-sponsoring this event, which was also partially funded by a grant from the New Mexico Children’s Foundation.
    We would also like to thank all the parents and friends of the cast who attended the play on Saturday, as well as the staff of Crossroads Bible Church. They were wonderful to work with and made the week a complete success.  Thanks also to the Christian Church for graciously hosting our Tuesday rehearsals.
    Additionally, many thanks go the Los Alamos Arts Council board members who volunteered their time to help make this year’s production a wonderful experience for the participants and to all of LAAC supporters whose annual membership fees make programs like this possible.  
    Finally, thanks, as always to the community of Los Alamos for supporting the many programs and events presented by Los Alamos Arts Council.
    Margaret McIntyre
    MCT Chair, LAAC