The lead story in today’s NYTimes is the sorry tale of the ability of for-profit post secondary schools continued receipt of federal funds despite their fraudulent behavior. How much money went to the schools who fleeced students? Well one of the “bad actors”, Corinthian College, received $1,250,000,000 in federal funds last year…. $125,000,000 more than was budgeted for learning centers in public schools and more than four times the amount budgeted for SIG grants designed to help struggling K-12 schools. The article rehashes all of the wrongdoing on the part of these for profit entities, who defend themselves by claiming that no charges have been brought against them. My reaction to this report was summarized in the comment I left:
For profit deregulated schools… what could go wrong?
What we’re seeing at the post-secondary level is a larger scale of looting than we’ve witnessed in K-12 education, but the market-driven reforms in K-12 have encouraged the proliferation of for-profit deregulated charters and resulted in an increase in cheating behaviors at the administrative level as jobs are rated based on test scores.
We have now repeatedly witnessed what goes wrong when profit is introduced into public enterprise. When will we fix the problem? Maybe when money is as far removed from politics as possible.
As readers of this blog probably realize, I am a great fan of Naked Capitalism blog edited by Yves Smith with help from fellow blogger Lambert Strether. Strether regularly coordinates afternoon posts under the heading “2:00 PM Water Cooler”offering links to articles that decry the corrosive effects of deregulated capitalism or links to articles that do the opposite with Strether offering pointed comments that undercut the premises of the writer. The “2:00 PM Water Cooler” is divided into segments whose headings often change as various news stories emerge… but one section called “Class Warfare” appear almost every day. Yesterday’s “Class Warfare” section is all about public education and Strether’s commentary– which concludes with the headline of this post— is excellent! The section appears in its entirety:
“If a proposal for a massive expansion of charter schools in Los Angeles moves forward, the casualties probably would include thousands of teachers who currently work in the city’s traditional public schools” [Los Angeles Times]. Spurred by squillionaire Eli Broad, it’s the “Great Public [snort] Schools” program. Ka-ching.
“Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration has dropped a stunningly anti-union, anti-faculty, anti-Connecticut State University proposal on the table as it begins its contract negotiations with the CSU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the union that represents faculty and a variety of education professionals at the four universities of CSU” [Jonathan Pelto].
This development comes on top of the news that Malloy’s political appointees on the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees have authorized a contract with an extremely controversial, high profile, anti-union, Governor Chris Christie affiliated New Jersey law firm to lead the negotiations against the UConn Chapter of the AAUP. That contract could cost taxpayers and students as much as $500,000 or more.
What’s “stunning” about a Democrat hating unions?
As Jeff Bryant’s well researched article for Education Opportunity Network suggests that Arne Duncan’s last actions as Secretary of Education serve as an apt metaphor for his entire tenure. Three days before announcing he was stepping down,
…Duncan rattled the education policy world with news of a controversial grant of $249 million ($157 the first year) to the charter school industry. This announcement was controversial because, as The Washington Post reports, an audit by his department’s own inspector general found “that the agency has done a poor job of overseeing federal dollars sent to charter schools.”
Astonishingly, $71 million of these funds were earmarked for Ohio, a state whose record of charter corruption is among the worst in the United States, a decision that befuddled Ohio politicians in both political parties. Bryant makes a compelling case that links the issuance of the federal dollars to the State’s decision to take over the Youngstown public schools and turn them over to deregulated for profit charters, a ploy the “market based” Duncan champions.
One paragraph in Bryant’s article jumped out for me:
A recent report from the Center for Media and Democracy found that over the past 20 years the federal government has sent over $3.3 billion to the charter school industry with virtually no accountability. That report notes “the federal government maintains no comprehensive list of the charter schools that have received and spent these funds or even a full list of the private or quasi-public entities that have been approved by states to ‘authorize’ charters that receive federal funds.”
As one who worked as a Superintendent for 16 of those 20 years, it is discouraging to realize that $3,300,000,000 was given to charter schools while the federal government continued it’s practice of underfunding special education and mandated reams of paperwork fro public schools to obtain federal funds. Indeed, the paperwork was so daunting for e-rate that it was not feasible for many districts to even seek those funds. And any superintendent, special education director, Title fund director, ELL Director, or School Lunch Director anywhere in the United States can tell you how much time they spend documenting their time and expenditures. And at the same time the government mandates this paperwork for public education, politicians decry the “bloated bureaucracies” that result from them and crow about the efficiently operated charters who don’t need as much administrative overhead. Of course the charters can operate with less administrative overhead!
Bryant’s article describing the $249 million dollar giveaway was titled “The Ugly Charter Mess Duncan Left Behind”. Duncan left behind more than one mess: he left behind a system that gives money away to charter organizations that have no accountability and no evidence of success rates that exceed those of their publicly funded counterparts. Money for nothing for students… but lots of shareholders… and probably a good boost to the political campaigns of charter supporters.
A Truthout article by Cynthia Liu describes Eli Broad’s plan to create charter schools to house 130,000 Los Angeles students as an act of “philanthrocapitalism”, which she defines in this sentence:
“Philanthrocapitalism describes a certain kind of “weaponized generosity” where donors offer their self-interested charitable giving to remedy the very lack they create elsewhere.
Liu offers this description of how philanthrocapitalism served Eli Broad in another venture in LA:
For example: originally, Broad wanted to lease the expensive downtown Los Angeles parcel the Museum sits on for $1 a year over 99 years. Said one county supervisor, “Instead of a project that generates sales and property taxes, we’ll now have an art museum that generates no property or sales taxes and Mr. Broad will get the land for free.” It’s now leased for $7.7 million a year for 99 years, and the 501c3 Broad Foundation housed inside the museum still doesn’t put much by way of revenue back into the city.
Liu shows how Broad, like many “philanthrocapitalists”, funds opposition to initiatives that are intended to provide additional funds for public education and funds support for initiatives that are designed to undercut unions. The ultimate goal in this case is to ensure that their taxes are minimal so that their profits can be maximized.
I look at philanthrocapitalism as a means of giving away seed money to garner profit… in some cases the money goes to political leaders to pave the way to enable for-profit charter schools to thrive and in other cases giving away technology that is on the cusp of being obsolete to prime the pump for future acquisitions. Eva Moskovitz’ benefactors made large campaign contributions to Governor Cuomo and the apparent quid pro quo was assurance that Ms. Moskovitz’ schools would continue receiving rent-free space in NYC public schools and Mayor de Blasio’s control would be limited to one year at a time. The bait-and-switch with computer donations is also a way for technology companies to reap multiple benefits. They get a tax deduction for the giveaway; a de facto tax deduction because the school district budgets in their community do not require the district to spend on the initial acquisition of computers, and the added benefit of effective dictating the operating system and software a school district will be using for years to come, providing them with a new revenue stream.
As Liu suggests, “(t)he cure for oligarchy is more democracy“, which means that parents need to get engaged in the governance of schools. When parents stay home on election day, opportunistic oligarchs will seize the opportunity created by apathy to gain control of the local school board and open the doors for profit-making charters to move in. And school boards, PTAs, and administrators should beware of corporations bearing gifts or grants that require the use of technology: the strings attached will likely cost more money in the long run than the size of the gift. The ink purchases for your printer might be a guide for this reality!