Yves Smith wrote a post today about an investigative report recently completed by the Chicago Tribune describing the adverse consequences of the Chicago School District’s decision to “…obtain $1 billion of needed ten-year financing not through the time-and-tested route of a simple ten year bond sale but the supposedly cost-saving mechanism of issuing a floating-rate bond and swapping it into a fixed rate.” While the technical flaws inherent in this decision by the school district are dense and arcane, it appears that MANY school districts and public entities fell prey to the use of questionable investment tools. Here’s Smith’s overview:
What is important about this story is that the CPS’ sorry experience has been replicated at state and local entities all over the US and abroad, yet remarkably few have been willing to sue. In some cases, it’s likely that rank corruption was involved, that the consultants hired to vet the deal were cronies and not up to the task, or worse, that key people at the issuer were overly close to the banks involved. In other cases, officials are afraid of banks, that if they sue them, they’ll be put on a financing black list and will have trouble fundraising. That’s nonsense by virtue of how competitive and fee-hungry bank are. And the more government authorities that got the nerve to sue, the less noteworthy any particular case would be.
Smith then summarizes the Tribune’s findings, which indicate that the Chicago school district experienced every problem in the highlighted phrase above. And here’s what is maddening about this:
- Mayor Emmanuel’s unwillingness to sue the banks will shift the blame to the school district in the same way victims of predatory loans are blamed for their gullibility in accepting liar loans from banks.
- The school district will be required to make budget cuts to offset the revenue lost as a result of financial mismanagement… and the budget cuts will affect the children in the schools while the banks who made the loans will be held harmless
- The involvement of investors who make contributions to political campaigns and stand to gain if more for-profit charter schools open is suspicious.
- It appears that these financial decisions were made during Duncan’s tenure as CEO of the CPS… a link that Smith did not make but which is not lost on many education policy wonks like me.
From my perspective, this is yet another example where de-regulation failed, where banks take the risk and taxpayers pay the price, and government takes the blame.
In a case that could have national implications, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the state has “…no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students” in a school district that the state turned over to a charter school that has not improved its performance. This overturned a lower court decision that the State has a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.”
Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Michigan who filed the suit on behalf of eight students of nearly 1,000 children attending K-12 public schools in Highland Park, MI, stated that “This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system. The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”
The suit, which named as defendants the State of Michigan, its agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District, maintained that the state failed to take effective steps to ensure that students are reading at grade level.
“Let’s remember it was the state that turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter management company with no track record of success with low performing schools,” said Moss. “It is the state that has not enforced the law that requires literacy intervention to children not reading at grade level. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure and maintain a system of education that serves all children.”
Why could this have national implications? As noted in earlier posts, school districts in “failing districts” are often taken over by the State who, presumably, have the ability to overcome the effects of poverty more effectively than the local school boards and, increasingly, States look to privatization as the answer (e.g. Newark and Camden NJ; Philadelphia PA; Chicago IL, to name a few). If State’s are not responsible for providing a quality education, who is? Are parents in affluent districts the only ones who will have their children attending quality public schools? Will for-profit schools be allowed to continue to operate even if they fail to get results?
While I am not well versed in the structure of MI’s court set up, I have to assume their Supreme Court will have the find say on this… and I assume the MI State “…agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District” will continue to argue that they are not responsible for ensuring that every child gets a quality education.
Here’s my final question: how can the state defend it’s willingness deny a quality education to all children while at the same time wresting the control of “failing schools” from local boards who are more than willing to make every effort to achieve that goal?
This Public School $hakedown blog post by Jan Ressenger describes the American Enterprise Institute’s unwillingness to hear bad news about the impact of the two-decade-long takeover of Newark NJ public schools on the parents and students who reside in that city. The mismanagement of urban schools several decades ago combined with (or perhaps cause by) patronage by mayors and school board members made State takeovers a popular solution twenty years ago. The reasoning in the 1980s was that State Departments of Education had the expertise to operate underperforming school districts effectively and under their apolitical oversight the district’s would shed the patronage assignments and be organized more efficiently. Once the state intervened, so the thinking went, the State’s expertise would increase test scores and their administrative skill would reduce operational costs. Twenty years later, as this post indicates, Newark still flounders academically and the patronage associated with locally elected officials has been replaced with state-level patronage (aka privatization). In the meantime, in the past thirty years the expertise of State Departments has diminished due to deep budget cuts making the whole notion of State control preposterous. And now instead of Newark being able to determine it’s own destiny with locally elected officials it is being privatized clumsily and dictatorially by the State appointed Superintendent who answers only to the Governor.
It would be good to see State legislatures who have “state takeovers” as a solution to underperforming schools either repeal those laws or provide the State with funds to oversee the schools they are mandated to operate. Instead, I expect the majority of states to move in the direction of “market based” solutions whereby an administrator is given the authority to oversee the dismantling of the public schools and their replacement with for-profit charters…. because we ALL know that making money is the primary reason people go into the field of education.
A few weeks ago Time magazine hit the news stands with this horrific cover:
When the article came out progressive bloggers went ballistic and Facebook was full of links to send letters to the editors of Time to decry their cover, which stated (wrongly) that is was impossible to fire a teacher. Having written several posts on this topic, I clicked on the AFT’s link and sent a letter explaining the reality of the situation, namely that teachers have a probationary period that is typically three years and that some of the teachers who “opted out” of the profession were, in fact, counseled out. Because of this, the reality is that 98% of the teachers are doing well in their work even though this fact vexes politicians like Andrew Cuomo.
My daughter in Brooklyn who shares my frustration at the bashing of public education sent me a link to this blog post from Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, who dedicated most of the space to a well researched letter to Time in response to their reprehensible cover. Written by Nancy F. Chewning, assistant principal of William Byrd High School in Roanoke, VA, the letter includes the following points, some of which I have not made in my earlier posts decrying the bashing of teachers:
- Aspiring teachers are held in low esteem on campuses
- Teachers make substantially less than others with an equal education
- The OECD reports that “American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad.”
- No other professions are held to a 100% standard- Only teachers!
- And this gem: “According to a new study from the Journal of Patient Safety, 440,000 people per year die from preventable medical errors. In fact, this study found that medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the United States today.” Are we closing hospitals because of this? Are doctors losing tenure because of this?
- The NEA [National Education Association] ranks 221st in terms of lobbying expenditures… WELL behind banks, military, and other professions— like doctors– who are not depicted as “Rotten Apples”
The letter describes the money teachers spend on their own supplies and to provide their students with food, school supplies, and clothing. It describes the time teachers spend advocating for their children outside of school. It describes the responsibilities teachers are asked to assume for the well-being of their children. And it describes the devastating impact poverty has on the children in Roanoke, VA, impact that is felt in every district that serves children who are raised in poverty across the country.
I wish some political leader in our country would stand up for public education and especially for the teachers who work tirelessly to help children raised in poverty…. but it’s easier to blame teachers than to blame poverty because “fixing” poverty requires the redistribution of wealth and (gasp) spending money on people in our country who are in need. Here’s hoping the silence about poverty ends as we consider who to elect for President in 2016.