Income Tax Fraud: File Early to Reduce Your Risk

LifeLock is a financial sponsor of National PTA, and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Income tax fraud is on the rise. According to CNBC, the total amount stolen from taxpayers may hit $21 billion in 2016, up from “just” $6.5 billion in 2013.

Federal and state agencies have invested in new technology to thwart fraudsters, but security reporter Brian Krebs reports identity thieves are already testing those defenses.

Why is the problem so bad? LifeLock’s expert Nada Baiz says a big reason is because filing a fraudulent tax return is relatively easy. All you need is a name, date of birth and Social Security number. That’s it! All of the other details— address, employment, salary and refund information —can be made up by the criminal.

Baiz says with all the data breaches we’ve seen lately, criminals can easily find the necessary sensitive information—possibly yours—to file a fraudulent return. Here are a couple of tips that’ll help you get through tax season unscathed:

• The best preventive measure against income tax fraud is to beat the criminal to the punch. File your income taxes ASAP. That way, the fraudster will be the one receiving the message that the IRS already accepted a tax return with your Social Security number.

• Do your homework and research your CPA or your tax prep software. You want to be sure you are filing taxes with a trusted professional tax preparer— one who is properly licensed and has a positive clientele history. The same is true for the software that you are using. Make sure it follows safety protocols.

Take advantage of LifeLock’s protection plans. As a proud supporter of National PTA, LifeLock is offering all PTA members and their families a very special offer. Learn more about the offer.

You can also visit the Identity Theft Resource Center and Internal Revenue Service websites for additional resources.

Cory Warren is the blog editor of LifeLock UnLocked.

I’m Opting Out of Opt-Out

This blog post was originally published on the Huffington Post.

With the arrival of spring comes assessment season for students, families and educators across the country. When my girls were in grade school, I remember dedicating time to helping them be confident and ready to take state tests. I also remember some feelings of anxiety before the tests, but at the same time, the importance of the assessments in helping my children’s teachers and school better support their success through data-driven planning and decision-making.

During testing season last year, reports emerged that a large number of students were opted out of state assessments. While polls have indicated a majority of parents do not support the concept of opt-out, the movement has vocal supporters and it is expected that even more attention will be paid to student participation in assessments.

Understandably, many parents and educators have concerns about the over emphasis on testing and the impact it is having on teaching and learning. Speaking up and taking action is a critical step to improve the overall education system and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach his/her full potential. However, National PTA does not believe that full scale assessment opt-out is an effective strategy to address the frustration over testing or that opting-out helps to improve a given assessment instrument. Mass opt-out comes at a real cost to the goals of educational equity and individual student achievement while leaving the question of assessment quality unanswered.

The consequences of non-participation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. Non-participation can result in a loss of funding, diminished resources and decreased interventions for students. Such ramifications would impact minorities and students with special needs disparately, thereby widening the achievement gap.

For example, states like New York that did not meet the participation requirement last school year received a letter stating that funding–including for English language learners, students with disabilities and other students in need–could be at risk if they have less than 95% participation on exams this spring. Opting out also stalls innovation by inhibiting effective monitoring and improvement of programs, exams and instructional strategies, and could thwart transparency by providing incomplete data for states, districts and schools.

Recognizing the concerns parents and educators have about testing, and the importance of improving assessment systems, National PTA’s Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment. The statement acknowledges the importance of eliminating unnecessary and low-quality assessments while protecting the vital role that good assessments play in measuring student progress so parents and educators have the best information to support teaching and learning, improve outcomes and ensure equity for all children.

While some will solely focus on the statement’s opposition to opt-out policies, when read in its entirety, the statement provides a holistic approach to improving assessment systems. National PTA advocates for improved assessment systems by recommending that states and districts: (1) ensure appropriate development; (2) guarantee reliability and implementation of high quality assessments; (3) clearly articulate to parents the assessment and accountability system in place at their child’s school and (4) bring schools and families together to use the data to support student growth and learning.

National PTA strongly advocates for and continues to support increased inclusion of the parent voice in educational decision making at all levels. Parents and families must be at the table when policymakers are considering policies that affect students. National PTA believes in the power of parents making their voices heard and being a part of the solution through engagement. As vice president of advocacy for the association, I have witnessed the ability of families and schools to come together and make true, meaningful improvement through robust dialogue, deliberate investment and thoughtful consensus.

Now is the time for all of us to work together to ensure assessments are executed properly and provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of students as they are intended to do. We must be effective stewards of education for our nation’s children by improving assessment systems, not opting children out of the system that should be for their benefit.


Shannon Sevier is vice president of advocacy for National PTA, the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association dedicated to ensuring all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Sevier is a proud mother of two high school students and a college student.

Early Exposure to STEM is Key to Driving Continued Interest

Careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will increase over the next few decades, so it’s understandable that many parents are looking for ways to spark their child’s interest in STEM.

And it’s not hard to get them interested! STEM can naturally excite kids because they are innately fascinated with building things, taking them apart and then putting them back together to see how they work. STEM-related activities encourage discovery and open up imaginations!

Affordable, after-school programs and camps in Robotics, Engineering, Coding and Math at Sylvan Learning Centers help kids build a love of STEM at an early age. These school programs and camps benefit students when they enter the workforce, because those who go on to work in STEM fields earn an average of 26% more than their non-STEM counterparts, according to the federal government. It’s also notable that the top 14-highest paying bachelor degrees were all in engineering.

This National Engineers Week, Feb. 21-27, we’d like to offer some advice for parents looking to make STEM a bigger part of their children’s education.

Make it Real

Studies show early exposure to STEM is one of the greatest factors in whether students continue to seriously pursue STEM in their studies. Give your children a strong start by introducing them to STEM professionals that can educate and inspire them on what the future holds. It not only raises awareness of different fields, but it makes a STEM career more tangible. Children love learning about what adults do—and most adults love talking about what they do—so reach out to local engineering, programming, or design firms in your area and ask them to speak at your school or PTA meeting. The more opportunities children get to meet people in STEM-related fields, the cooler (and more real) the future can become.

Give them STEM Experiences

After-school STEM programs and summer camps are on the rise and parents can find lots of affordable experiences in the area. Look for STEM programs that have project-based learning that give kids the hands-on experiences they love. Consider STEM camps during the summer or after-school programs throughout the year. It’s something you can fit in your schedule like other extracurricular activities such as sports or dance—just having them work out those important brain muscles.

Many science and technology museums offer “STEM days” featuring fun STEM-related activities and many libraries have STEM clubs. It’s also exciting to take young ones to a local science event—or even a Maker Faire. When they see what the older kids can create, it can generate a spark like nothing else!

Activate STEM in your school

See if your school is offering after-school STEM programs and enroll. If your school isn’t currently offering after-school programs, we would be happy to talk to you, your PTA or your school administration about options to bring turnkey solutions right to your school for Coding, Engineering, Robotics or Math.

We love STEM. And what’s cool about kids doing STEM is that it challenges them to experiment, test and troubleshoot when something goes wrong, developing strong problem-solving skills that are valuable in all aspects of their life!

Amy Przywara - Sylvan Learning CMOAmy Przywara is the chief marketing officer for Sylvan Learning. She likes to read, attend sporting events and travel with her husband and three children. 

Sylvan Learning is a financial sponsor of National PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Senate Agriculture Committee Moves Forward on Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act

Last month, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unanimously passed bipartisan legislation—Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016—to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act/Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act for five years.

The bipartisan reauthorization in the Senate comes after years of debate on how to move forward with school nutrition standards—even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in October that 97% of schools were successfully meeting updated nutrition standards.

As part of the bipartisan compromise, the bill would keep the current fruits and vegetables requirement intact—that all students must have at least a half cup of fruits and vegetables with every federally funded school meal. However, grain and sodium requirements are expected to change through USDA’s rulemaking process (instead of the legislative process) before the next school year.

The new regulations for rulemaking would consist of delaying target 2 sodium restrictions in schools from school year (SY) 2017-2018 to 2019-2020 and lowering whole grain-rich requirements from 100% of grains served in schools to 80%. Although National PTA is not in favor of these changes, our association is still in support of the overall bill.

The bipartisan compromise preserves the progress made on school nutrition standards as well as school breakfast and lunch programs while keeping the child nutrition reauthorization process moving forward.

The bill also contains many key elements of the School Food Modernizations Act (S. 540)—that National PTA supported. The reauthorization bill would establish loan assistance and grant programs to help school districts upgrade their food service facilities and assist with staff training opportunities.

The Senate child nutrition reauthorization bill would also require studies on the effects of serving children healthy and nutritious meals at school, which include research and reviews of:

  • Nutrition education best practices
  • State training and technical assistance for schools to serve healthy school meals
  • Effects of selling varieties of milk on milk consumption at school
  • Target sodium requirements for schools and the effect on childrens’ health and school nutrition programs

The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act is expected to move to the Senate floor for consideration in the coming months. The House Education and the Workforce Committee has not released their reauthorization of the child nutrition act yet and the possibility of the House taking up the Senate bill is still unclear.

Sign-up to receive our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates on the bill and information on other National PTA legislative priorities.

Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

Department of Education Provides Guidance to Help Reduce and Improve Testing

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance to help states and districts improve the quality of assessments and eliminate redundant and misaligned tests. Of significance to PTA, the guidance encourages Title I schools to conduct assessment literacy nights to increase understanding and communication between families and schools about the use of assessments and how to use test results to support learning at home. Acting U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr., also released this video explaining more about the guidance.

National PTA acknowledges the important role that high-quality assessments play in promoting equity and improving the outcomes of all of our nation’s children. Assessments provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. At the same time, National PTA recognizes the concerns many parents and educators have about the over-emphasis on testing and impact it has on student learning opportunities in the classroom. We applaud the Department’s guidance to help address the current challenges and provide actionable opportunities for states and districts to carry out the work of improving assessments.

The letter to Chief State School Officers by the Department of Education follows President Obama’s Testing Action Plan that was released in October 2015 and identifies key principles for good assessments. While the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages movement away from high stakes testing, the Department’s new document provides immediate opportunities for states and districts to take advantage of current federal resources to reduce testing and support more effective assessment systems since the new law will not take full effect until the 2017–2018 school year.

National PTA recognizes that many states are still working to implement high quality assessment systems that seek to provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. The National PTA Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment that outlines several recommendations that were highlighted in the Department’s guidance such as auditing of assessment systems to reduce unnecessary tests, ensuring appropriate development, reliability and implementation of high quality assessments, clear and multiple means of communication and engagement with families on assessment, improving the timeliness and comprehension of assessment results, and providing adequate professional development to educators on assessment.

As stated in the PTA Board of Directors adopted position statement, National PTA believes a sound and comprehensive assessment system should include multiple measures of student growth and achievement that reflect the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire, as well as their capacity to perform critical competencies. The association has long held that neither one test, nor a single data point should ever be the sole determinant of a student’s academic or work future. High-quality assessments play a vital role in providing valuable information to parents, students and teachers on student progress.

Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

3 Reasons Why PTA Means So Much to Me

Anna-King-grandchildrenA few years ago, a politician said something to me that hit me to my core and helped me find my voice. He was talking about the need for prisons and said they knew whether a child would go to college or prison by how they could read in the third grade.

So I thought, if we know that children are in trouble by the third grade, the answer isn’t to build prisons, it’s to build better schools and help our kids!

I believe in education and I hope you do too—because, now more than ever, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and everyone who cares about children needs to speak out loudly and effectively on their behalf. And no organization helps us do that better than National PTA.

If you’ve ever had kids in your life, PTA needs no introduction. You know about the cookie dough and wrapping paper drives that your school’s PTA puts on. Sometimes they’re trying to buy nicer playground equipment or new technology. Other times they’re making sure kids have the basic supplies, like notebooks and pencils.

It might seem strange because I am a grandmother in Oklahoma who’s raised her kids, but I am still inspired to be a part of the PTA chorus of advocating for every child with one voice. Here’s why:

  • You don’t have to have a student in school to join and use your voice. To me, that’s so inspiring. It shows me what’s possible. My own children are grown, but that doesn’t mean I no longer have a vested interest in today’s kids and schools. I now advocate side by side with my children for my grandchildren. I know that when schools are good, kids have a better chance to succeed—and when kids succeed, our community and country succeeds too. With leadership and guidance from National PTA, I’ve knocked on state and federal legislators’ doors, the governor’s door, spoken up at state and school board meetings and rallied other parents and community lead­ers to get involved. And I’ve seen how we can make a difference together because you can, too.
  • It takes a village of people who care, get more involved. My daughter’s high school didn’t have a PTA when she started as a freshman. But because of family and community involvement, it now has a strong and active group of parents, grandparents, alumni, teachers (and students!), who are working on behalf of their school. Feeding over 300 students bi-weekly with the food pantry is just one thing this PTA is now doing. Because of family and community involvement, local schools where I live have resources from our school district on how to help homeless par­ents and get clothing and shelter to abused moms and kids. Because of family and community involvement, PTAs throughout Oklahoma City and the entire state of Oklahoma are talking to each other, working with each other and speaking up for kids with each other.
  • You can make every child’s dream a reality. Right now, National PTA is leading the charge to restore federal funds that have been cut from education, bring pre-kindergarten to every child, ensure safe and healthy environments in all schools, raise the bar on academic achievement so every child can reach his or her full potential, and more. Whether we’re talking about funding for pre-kindergarten or creating safe schools, this is a fight for our future.

So let’s give our kids the bright future they deserve. We need to stand together to change the world for our children and grandchildren. Will you join me by donating to National PTA, the nation’s most determined and trusted voice for children? We can make a difference!

Anna King is a member of National PTA board of directors, former president of Oklahoma PTA and is a part of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Commission and participates in the Oklahoma Prevention Leadership Collaborative.