In “You can’t make this stuff up” news, Michigan Attorney General “quietly issued an opinion” that state taxes earmarked for schools could be used to build a new arena in downtown Detroit. At stake in this particular instance are “only $15 million per year” which some Republican legislators described as a “pittance sum”. The billionaires who are asking the taxpayers to pony up $261,000,000 claim the new arena will “…create 400 part- and full-time jobs, and the city will receive about $16 million in total income tax revenue”.
Here’s another way to calculate the economic impact: if the school district received the $15,000,000 per year it is entitled to they could hire 300 teachers per year (assuming $50,000/year in total compensation) or maybe renovate one or more schools per year thereby creating employment opportunities for contractors in the area and refurbishing schools that are in disrepair.
Oh… and that additional “total income tax revenue”? How much is likely to end up in the school budget? Any way you look at this, using $261,000,000 of taxpayers money to underwrite the costs of an arena to house a team owned by a billionaire is a bad deal… especially for the children of Detroit.
Today’s NYTimes has an excellent article by Nikole Hannah-Jones on the horrific racial imbalances in MO schools, imbalances that persist despite numerous lawsuits and persistent efforts on the part of minority parents who want a better life and an equal opportunity for their children. I’m sure many who read this will shake their heads at the “racism in the South and Midwest”… but in doing so they will miss a major point: virtually every state in the union has inherently inequitable funding formulas and one of the consequences is a corresponding inequity in opportunity for students raised in poverty.
In 1972 as a graduate student at the University of PA I wrote a term paper for an education law course titled “Exclusionary Zoning: The Ultimate Roadblock to Equal Educational Opportunity”. The research I did at that time illustrated how zoning regulations in affluent suburbs close to Philadelphia and other low income communities precluded affordable housing and contributed to economic and racial segregation. Things have only gotten worse since then… and not just in Philadelphia. Since that time, all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding, evidence that we are not even meeting the Plessy v. Ferguson standard of ” separate but equal” let alone the Brown v. Board of Education standard.
Politicians like to claim that every child deserves an opportunity to succeed in the 21st Century economy and virtually everyone agrees that a good education is the crucial first step to make this happen. The solution racial and economic inequity that the MO legislature came up with to address the deficiencies in the Normandy School district was to allow some Normandy students to take a bus to a distant district with surplus space. The result? Normandy parents were elated… but…
Parents in the school district that had to take Normandy’s students — Francis Howell, an 85 percent white district 26 miles away — were not. Officials there held a public forum to address community concerns. More than 2,500 parents packed into the high school gym.
Would the district install metal detectors? What about the violence their children would be subjected to, an elementary school parent asked. Wouldn’t test scores plummet? The issue wasn’t about race, one parent said, “but trash.”
If the MO state legislature is any indication, State elected officials do not want to upgrade “low performing” districts by providing more money— especially if that money needs to be drawn from state funds currently being sent to middle class and affluent districts.
Nor did the legislature want they want to provide more opportunities for African American children by redrawing boundaries so that nearby affluent districts would merge with districts like Normandy… and the answer was provided in the article:
…students were not sent to the high-performing, mostly white districts nearby (and) Michael Jones, a state board of education official, was blunt about the reason: “You’d have had a civil war.”
And here’s what is frustrating: even though 45 states have had lawsuits brought because of funding and racial inequities, I don’t recall ANY gubernatorial candidate, or congressional candidate making this an issue in 2014 and, to date, no “serious” Presidential aspirant is making this an issue for 2016.
When I wrote that term paper 42 years ago I was confident that political leaders would see this injustice and provide a remedy. I hope some graduate student today still holds out that same hope.
When John King, NYS’s “reform” commissioner announced he was leaving last week, the reaction among most progressive educators was one of relief and hope. But as the events of the past week indicate, the hope for a change in direction was misplaced because, as the Capital New York blog explained, and today’s NYImes article on Cuomo’s education agenda indicates, King’s departure won’t impact the education agenda one iota.
The Capital New York blog post offered this background information on the de facto role of the Commissioner and Board of Regents and why King’s departure is inconsequential in the scheme of things in Albany:
In part, that’s because Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have been increasingly willing during King’s tenure to legislate education policy, even though the State Board of Regents and education department are statutorily tasked with shaping the state’s schools agenda….
Also, the governor and lawmakers are responsible for crafting the state budget, a process that gives them great control over which programs to fund and leaves education officials in an advisory role.
And what is the agenda the Governor asking the Board of Regents and Commissioner to implement? The Times article provides their synopsis of the steps King and Board of Regents Chair Meryl Tisch have taken to date:
Mr. King and Ms. Tisch have overseen a period of rapid change in the state’s education policies, from the rollout of standardized tests aligned to the Common Core curriculum standards to a new teacher evaluation system, both of which have caused enormous controversy and have turned Mr. King into something of a lightning rod among parents and teachers. The new, more difficult tests have caused large drops in passing rates across the state.
My own perspective is that King and Tisch have instituted a cycle of testing children to discredit public education to enable legislators to create a “free market” where deregulated for-profit non-union schools can undercut the cost of education in the existing regulated union schools need to pay. How? By paying teachers less; by offering fewer “frills” like art, music, and PE; by screening out children from homes of disengaged parents and/or students with special needs; and by using existing facilities for free.
The winners in this new paradigm are “reformers”, and, as the Times reports they are elated at the direction Cuomo, the Regents, AND the new Commissioner are headed:
“Governor Cuomo continues to show his genuine commitment to our state’s students and is asking all the right questions to get them the education they deserve,” said Jenny Sedlis, the executive director of StudentsFirst NY, a group that advocates tougher teacher evaluations, fewer teacher tenure protections and the creation of more charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. Several of the group’s board members were major donors to Mr. Cuomo’s re-election campaign.
But here’s what the Times downplays: groups like StudentsFirst NY are fronts for the investors in for-profit schools, predominantly hedge fund managers who see low cost for-profit schools as the tax-funded cash cow of the future.
And one other fact the Times and most media outlets neglect: NYS’s ending formula short changes the districts that are already starved for resources and full of children being raised in poverty. If public education is the means for children born in poverty to have an opportunity to improve, the governor and the Regents are on the wrong track… and it’s clear they will be seeking another engineer to move the train forward to an even more inequitable future.
After the Republicans swept into office a month ago, it is now clear that both NCLB and RTTT are going to be eliminated AND there will be an increase in the maximum amount available for Pell grants AND the incoming House Education Committee leader is pledging full funding for special education. Yet there is no sense of elation among those of us who have advocated for their demise. Why?
Progressive educators are sitting in stunned silence because they se that the increase in the number of Republican State legislatures and the increase in Republican governors the path for wholesale privatization and ALEC-inspired legislation is clear.
Progressive educators are dismayed because they see that NCLB’s punitive approach, RTTT’s overreach, and the CCSS backlash has played into the hands of privatizers and ALEC… and they see that if the GOP DOES increase funding for special education it will warm the hearts of local property taxpayers and school boards who have absorbed costs for special education for decades.
Here’s a dystopian scenario for the next few months:
- Urban school districts are turned over to States who then turn them over to for-profit “school management” firms
- Suburban and rural school boards, parents, and taxpayers are thrilled by the increase in special education funding and are elated that their state tax dollars will be “saved” by the state’s takeover of urban schools
- Think tanks and university education and economics professors funded by the oligarchs will issue data supporting the cost-effectiveness of the privatized urban school districts
- Voters with no children in public schools and/or no children in URBAN public schools will indicate their support for these changes in focus groups and neither party will want to undo what the 2015-16 legislature has done
- Public education will exacerbate the economic divide instead of serving as a means of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty.
After November’s election results, the de-funding of the loathed RTTT, the likely demise of the CCSS, and the plans to fully fund special education it is hard to envision a different scenario that the one outlined above…. but one needs to be developed soon or social mobility will be even more challenging in the future.
AlJazeera America posted an article describing the pending recommendation of the State-appointed “Chief Recovery Officer” to turn all York City schools over to for-profit charters. This action was made possible by enabling legislation passed during Governor Thomas Corbett’s soon-to-be-concluded term, legislation that effectively turned the entire operation of “failing” school districts over to the State. Why the PA legislature would think that state intervention is the solution to “failing schools” is a mystery: they assumed control of the Chester-Upland school district decades ago and it hasn’t improved and the sad saga of the State’s intervention in the Philadelphia district has been lamented in many posts on this site. The bottom line: there is NO evidence that ANY for-profit charter operation will improve student outcomes and NO evidence that the loss of local control contains costs in the schools without cutting services to unacceptably low levels.
And here’s what is really happening in the urban areas in state receivership: democracy and local rule are being thrown out and a “chief recovery officer” appointed by the state is being given complete and total authority. Voters and taxpayers in York City, Chester-Upland, and Philadelphia should be pushing back on this and insisting that the local school board be given the tools (and money) needed to improve the schools. It doesn’t take an degree in political science or an MBA to see what is going on here: the plutocrats who funded ALEC are getting lower corporate taxes, the opportunity to make profits through the privatization of public services, and the elimination of democracy at the local level. Here’s hoping the incoming Governor will undo this… and here’s hoping his actions are reported in the mainstream media as well as ÂlJazeera.
In the last election cycle many States elected “fiscal conservatives” who believe corporate tax cuts are the road to prosperity. Sam Brownback (and his like minded colleagues Chris Christie and Scott Walker) decided four years ago that cutting corporate taxes would stimulate the economy in his state. But, as today’s NYTimes reports, that hasn’t happened. The new jobs haven’t materialized and new revenues that would result from those new jobs is non-existent and as a result Kansas is facing a large deficit…. and Brownback is faced with a dilemma: he either needs to cut far deeper than the public will support or face the music and roll back the tax. The sad reality for KS teachers and school children is that he seems intent on cutting even more deeply into their state funds. In addition to making cuts to pension funds, infrastructure projects, and every government program outside of schools and Medicare (more on this below), Governor Brownback is proposing the redirection of funds for early childhood education:
A state advocacy organization for children said that the governor’s proposal to transfer $14.5 million out of an endowment for early-childhood education programs could affect services in the future. The money comes from a settlement with tobacco companies and is used to fund things like Early Head Start, preschool and a program that trains parents to teach their young children skills at home.
With the transfer, the endowment balance is less than $100,000. Each year, the fund receives a check for $50 million to $70 million, said Christie Appelhanz, the vice president for public affairs for Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group. But the programs cost about $50 million a year to administer, she said.
“We’re really calling into question the stability of early-childhood programs in Kansas for the future,” she said.
And why isn’t Brownback cutting education funding? Because the courts ruled that the current funds are inadequate to provide fair and equitable funding for schools in accordance with the state constitution. So based on my reading of previous articles on this State’s woeful legislature, here’s what KS will be considering to balance the budget going forward:
- Amending the constitution so that fewer tax dollars go to schools
- Unilaterally changing pension formulas
- Selling off as many state owned assets as possible to yield one-time savings that will help balance the budget for a year
- Transferring money from categorical funds like those cited above to help keep other government services afloat
- Privatizing to save money (and pay people less)
When this is kind of government strategy is transferred to the national level— and it looks more and more like it will be— expect the same kind of scenario at the Federal level with a slightly different twist since the Federal government, unlike the States, can operate in a deficit for the short term:
- Convince voters that deficits are bad
- Convince voters that spending at the Federal government level is “out of control” and full of “waste fraud, and corruption”, especially spending for social services
- Convince voters that tax cuts will stimulate the economy to help close the deficit
- Give huge tax breaks to private corporations
- Sell as many assets as possible (the Onion suggested selling Grand Canyon to China— which may not be so far fetched after we recently appropriated parklands from Native Americans to allow fracking)
- Cut as many pension obligations as possible
- Privatize services (and lower wages to make this pay off)
If the first four items on the list sound familiar, it’s because they’ve already happened. And if you don’t think the next three items on the list are possibilities, look no further than Kansas, NY, and Wisconsin— they’ve successfully accomplished the first four steps and to balance their budgets they are implementing the next three… and school children in those states— especially the children raise in poverty– are suffering as a result.
A post about “Grit” from blogger Paul Thomas came my way recently from multiple sources, and the post if full of graphs and links all of which debunk the notion that “grit” can help African American students and students raised in poverty advance terms of the socio-economic status…. and all of which demonstrate, in the words of the blog post, that the grit narrative is a “…veneer for white, wealth privilege”. Thomas’ opening paragraph lays out the current conventional wisdom:
Political leaders and the mainstream media feed two enduring claims to the public, who nearly universally embraces both: Doing well in school and attaining advanced education are essential to overcoming any obstacles, and the key to succeeding in school is grit, effort and perseverance.
Thomas then presents data and charts that show this “key to success” is a myth. The real key to success is being born to white, well educated parents. After all the data and analyses are presented, Thomas presents his ultimate conclusion:
My argument is that instead of crediting educational attainment as the key to adult success, educational attainment is a marker for home privilege, the valid source of adult success.
So… where and to whom you were born matters a lot more than “effort” in school and because of that, where and to whom you were born matters a lot more in terms of your ability to attain high earnings as an adult.
Mitigating accidents of birth requires that schools in areas of disadvantage have the funds needed to provide the kinds of programs routinely available to schools in affluent areas… and that requires political leadership that is sadly lacking at all levels of government.
- December 2014
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- October 2009