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Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

A State Report Card that Measures What is Important: Equity and Opportunity

February 5, 2016 Leave a comment

The Network for Public Education (NPE), a non-profit organization that promotes progressive education, recently issued its first report card of State education policies, a report card that counters those devised by conservative organizations funded by pro-privatization billionaires. Mother Jones writer Kristina Riga interviewed Diane Ravitch, the founder of NPE, on why a new report crd was needed… and as expected Ms. Ravitch made a compelling case.

There were all of these state reports coming out from right-wing groups like Students First and the American Legislative Exchange Council arguing that the definition of success is getting rid of public education and taking away any right that teachers might have. These create a climate when there is report card after report card agreeing that the future should be privately managed [charter] schools. There is nobody on the other side other than the unions, which are immediately discredited. There need to be two sides to the debate. Right now [the education conversation] is presented as what Students First is promoting is all that works.

We felt it was important to set up this other criteria and show how effective school systems operate: They are adequately funded, have preschools; they make sure that their teachers are professionals, and they don’t give away their authority. This is how the best nations in the world operate. They don’t operate through vouchers and charters.

Unsurprisingly, when the states were measured against the criteria NPE established, they fell short of the mark as the map below indicates:Maps

One of the factors Rizga flagged was the NPE data point that indicated the gap in spending per student in poor schools compared to rich schools had grown 44 percent in the last decade. Ms. Ravitch’s explanation for this widening gap?

One important reason is that the federal policy has tilted completely toward testing and accountability and away from equity. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was all about equity and equitable resources for low-income students, and then in the 1990s that began to change. In DC, policymakers think that if we can only have high enough standards, tough enough tests, and hold people accountable, we can close the achievement gap. And it hasn’t happened. Yet the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, is based on the same test-based and market-driven framework and ideology, except it lets the states do it.

Ms. Ravitch could have also noted that when states cut back on their funding it has an especially devastating effect on those communities that do not have the local property tax base to offset the cuts and this exacerbates the difference between per pupil spending in rich districts and poor ones. Underfunded equalization formulas lose their impact, and almost every state has diminished their funding since the 2008 market collapse and few have restored their funding since the economy “recovered”.

In the coming months it would be heartening to see the NPE report card referenced in the mainstream media the way Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst Report Cards were promoted… but based on my Google feed it does not appear that local small town newspapers are reporting on NPE’s findings… but then more and more of those “small town” papers are owned by the people who are drawn to “reform” and want to believe that schools can be fixed by “getting rid of bad teachers” the same way that the deficit can be closed by “eliminating waste fraud and abuse”. Wishful thinking is always preferable to hard work.

AlterNet’s Calculations Accurate: USDOE Gave Charters $3,300,000,000+ over six years

February 4, 2016 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago Alternate blogger Dustin Beilke wrote up his findings on the USDOE’s spending on charter schools in a post titled “Obama Administration Enables Billionaire Takeover of America’s Public Schools.” The article describes the Herculean effort required to get the figures from the USDOE and noted that absent the provision by the Department he and some colleagues calculated that $3,300,000,000 of taxpayers funds went to deregulated charter schools, many of which were for profit enterprises funded by billionaires. What happened next?

In October 2015, after waiting for incomplete answers from ED and state agencies, CMD published “Charter School Black Hole,” a special investigation of federal charter school spending and its links to ALEC.

Two months later, on Christmas Eve 2015, ED released a list of the charter schools that had received federal funding since 2006. The list was incomplete, the dollar figures were still unclear, and everyone knows that you release information on Christmas Eve because you don’t want anyone to see it. Still, it was something.

It WAS something… and Beilke was on the mark when he identified what it showed and what he concluded. The $3,300,000,000 spent on charters shows:

…the extent to which the Department of Education’s charter school agenda matches that of the anti-education, pro-privatization movement that funds and promotes so much of the misinformation about public education.

And as Beilke accurately concludes:

This movement already gets all the support it needs from the Waltons, the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, Bill and Melinda Gates, and tech billionaires.

Let’s put the taxpayers’ money to better use.

Why are we spending millions on for-profit charters while public schools are starved for funds and subject to hostile takeovers by “emergency managers”? Could campaign contributions play a role As always, it helps to follow the money….

NYTimes Catching On about Flint’s Water… But Still Misses Biggest Point

February 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes editorializes against the emergency manager legislation in Michigan noting the anti-demotic nature of the law and also noting that similar laws are on the books in several other states. But they miss one huge point: it’s no accident that laws establishing an emergency manager function were passed in several states: the oligarchs wrote the law and passed it along to governors they helped elect on the platform of being “open for business” and fighting “waste fraud and abuse”.

This law came right out of the ALEC playbook… and the ultimate purpose was to eviscerate public employee unions and privatize public functions like schools, police protection, fire fighting, and—yes— water. This kind of legislation takes money out of the pockets of middle class and transfers it to the shareholders of the private corporations and it does so through the totalitarian rule of an emergency manager who does not have to pay any attention to those affected by his or her desire to run cities and schools like a business. And here’s what’s even worse: the financial problems in the cities and schools where emergency managers are in place were often the result of cuts in State funds…. cuts made to fund the private sector. Alas, I do not expect Congress to do much about this: they, like their brethren in Michigan, are beholden to their donors who, in turn, are raking in profits thanks to tax cuts. It’s a vicious circle that is hard to break.

And here’s the VERY bad news for public education. As I am writing this the ALEC think tank is writing laws to help states introduce “reforms” in public education… reforms that will work in tandem with budget cuts to drive more and more districts into financial crises and into the oversight of the states where “innovations” like vouchers will be introduced to “help those in poverty” have choices outside the “public school monopoly” that feeds teachers at the expense of students.

Resegregation Facilitated by Charters? Not to Worry “..because “this is not the civil rights era.”

January 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss’ post today discusses School Choice Week and, as her headline accurately notes, “What passes for acceptable school choice rhetoric is appalling”. Ms. Strauss’ opening section of her post includes this concise description of pro and anti choice groups:

School choice proponents say that charter schools (including ones run by for-profit companies) offer parents important options for their children’s education and that traditional public schools have failed in many places. School choice opponents say that school choice is aimed at privatizing the public education system and that many of the choices being offered are not well-regulated, sometimes discriminatory and siphon funding away from local school districts.  

She then reprints a blog post from Sarah Lahm, a Minneapolis based writer who formerly worked in public education, who attended a National School Choice Forum at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis… and what she heard would have enraged the namesake of that institution. From my perspective as a progressive, however, it was not surprising.

Ms. Lahm noted that she was disappointed at the lack of bi-partisanship because the panelists consisted of one Democrat who was an advocate of charter schools, one right-leaning Republican, plus one far-right lawyer who wholeheartedly endorsed public funding of religiously affiliated charter schools. Ms. Lahm “...quickly realized how thoroughly (bipartisanship) has become cover for groupthink. If both Democrats and Republicans support the dismantling of our public institutions, then shouldn’t you, too?” Any progressive observing the passage of the “bipartisan” Every Child Succeeds Legislation” rallies that ESSA, like NCLB and RTTT before it implicitly– but perhaps more subtly— supports the dismantling of public schools. It succeeded because neoliberal thinking has captured the center and consequently both Democrats and Republicans support the notion that markets can solve every problem and save every child…. and charter schools are predicated on the notion that schools, like groceries and hardware supplies, are commodities.

And one of the major consequences of the commodification of schools is the notion that segregation is a choice made by consumers. A concept that was appallingly underscored in this section of Lahm’s post:

The morning’s panel began with a quick dismissal of the desegregation lawsuit filed in Minnesota last fall, which, if successful, could require the state’s charter schools to develop and implement integration plans. The panelists seemed to agree that the resegregation happening across the country now is simply due to “parental choice.” Reichgott Junge — the Democrat — declared herself “not neutral” on this topic, and told the audience not to worry because “this is not the civil rights era.” 

Given the free market attitude of charter school providers, Ms. Junge is right, this is NOT the civil rights era… it’s the New Jim Crow era where African American “consumers” are “choosing” to live in neighborhoods full of substandard housing or in dilapidated housing projects while affluent whites “consumers” are choosing to live in pristine suburbs. It’s the same as the bad old days before Brown vs. Board of Education where blacks chose separate but equal schools.

Ms. Lahm, sitting in a forum in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis wonders:

What would our education policy discussions be like today, if America had turned out “less Reaganite” and “more Humphreyish”? The hammering narrative of failure, applied with force to our nation’s public school system, found fertile groundin the Reagan era, of course, through the hyped “Nation at Risk” report. That report helped propel America away from further investment in public schools, and towards school choice schemes (hint: privatization).

Now we have another crossroads: will we sustain the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the free market neoliberalism he espoused or find out what America could be if it were “more Humphreyish”? The next few weeks will tell us.

Call for More Computer Education Misses the Point: Education Without Access is Meaningless

January 30, 2016 Leave a comment

Here we go again! The NYTimes reports that in an effort to develop a competitive workforce the President is asking Congress for $4,000,000,000 in new funds to improve computer education in the country. And how will this money be used?

…the money will pay for teacher training and instructional materials to increase the amount of instruction in computer science, especially for girls and minorities, the officials said.

The $4,000,000,000 only scratches the surface of the funds needed if we want to improve computer instruction especially for children in poverty or in rural schools. I am currently working as a consultant in a rural VT school district that serves roughly 1000 students housed in seven different schools. As part of the project we needed to determine the costs for infrastructure in the schools in the near future. The administrator responsible for computers estimates that it will cost roughly $300,000 to $500,000 to make it possible for students and teachers to have access to wi-fi in the school. But having wi-fi and access to computers in the school is insufficient if the goal is to provide instruction in computer science. Students need to have computers available to them at home and need to have access to wi-fi in their homes as well.

So… what good is it to train teachers on the use of computers and about computer science if they are housed in schools without access to the web or classrooms without computers. Read my previous post about Flint MI schools and ask yourself what is needed in those schools in order to improve computer instruction…

I doubt that Congress will improve $4,000,000,000 to improve computer instruction even if the amount was sufficient… but if that money were earmarked to fund for-profit charter schools? It might be a different story!

Michigan Voters Who Want to Avoid Taxes as Culpable as Governor Snyder

January 30, 2016 Leave a comment

The more I read about and think about the crisis of drinking water in Flint Michigan, the more convinced I am that it should serve as a wake-up call for voters across the country. Today’s NYTimes has an article by Amy Goodnough on the long term impact of the short-term “savings” realized by the emergency manager appointed by MI Governor Rick Snyder. In the article Goodnough flagged both the health costs and the costs to schools, which were described in these paragraphs:

About 57 percent of Flint’s 99,000 residents are black, and 40 percent live in poverty, one of the highest rates in the nation for a city its size. Bilal Tawwab, the superintendent of the city school system, said that one school nurse serves the 5,400 students in the district, but that he hoped some of the money flowing into Flint might help open health centers in every school.

He also hoped to make prekindergarten available to every 4-year-old — spaces are limited — and to hire more experienced teachers for special education.

“That’s the piece that keeps me up at night,” he said. “It costs almost double to educate a student with special needs. And our wages, our salaries, are so low.”

Why does Flint have only one nurse for the entire district? Why doesn’t Flint have enough classroom space for a prekindergarten programming every school? Why can’t Flint hire “more experienced teachers for special education“? And why are Flint’s wages and salaries so low? The answer is that Flint is starved for revenues. It’s local property tax base crashed when the auto industry crashed and the State decided the imposition of “emergency managers” was a cheaper and faster way to get the city and State budgets in line.

And when you look deeply into the root causes of this tragedy it becomes evident that Flint’s water problem is the result of the short-sighted thinking that dominates corporations in our country. The anti-democratic laws that enabled the creation of “emergency managers” came from the ALEC playbook and reflect the mentality that ANY government regulation is bad. And what have emergency managers done to the financially troubled cities and school districts in MI? They have imposed austerity measures on citizens and employees in order to make certain bondholders receive their payments on time and that the taxes of their fellow-citizens in the suburbs have low taxes. Rick Snyder appointed the emergency manager who made bad decisions in order to keep the costs low but the MI voters who want to keep their taxes low need to think twice before putting him behind bars… as do those voters who seek low taxes at the expense of those living in poverty.

The corroded pipes, the dilapidated and underfunded schools, and the lack of health care are not limited to Flint MI.  As citizens in this nation we should be willing to pay more in taxes to ensure that our neighbors’ children in cities like Flint MI and destitute small rural communities have the same opportunities as children in the most affluent communities in the state.

An Under-Reported Statistic: Spending on Education Declined for 4 Straight Years

January 27, 2016 Leave a comment

To read reports in the media, one would surmise that school budgets have risen uncontrollably over the years and are higher now than they’ve ever been. I was therefore surprised to read in the Politico education blog that school spending had declined for the previous four years… and the decline was substantial! Here’s a paste from the post that was sent to my email address:

National spending on public school students has fallen for the fourth straight year in a row, but decreases in per student spending are starting to slow down, according to two new school finance reports from the National Center for Education Statistics. That means education spending in the U.S. is starting to get a boost from the gradual economic recovery, said Stephen Cornman, author of the reports. Nationally, spending per student increased steadily each year between 2003-04 and 2007-08, peaking in 2008-09 at $11,621 per student. While it has decreased each year since then, it only decreased by a marginal 0.6 percent between FY 2012 and FY 2013. “I think it’s possible that expenditures per pupil will increase in the next fiscal year we report, which is 2014, just because this trend of decreases has been dwindling down,” Cornman said. National spending per public school student was $10,763 in FY 2013, ranging from $6,432 per student in Utah to $20,530 per student in D.C. All 50 states and D.C. reported more than $603 billion collected in total funding for public education in 2013, 91 percent of which came from state and local governments.

That works out to being roughly 8% less spending over a four year period, a time when both political parties have been paying lip service to the need for more Pre-school programs, better results from public schools, and the need for us to upgrade our schools to compete globally. The NCES study also indicated how the funding is disparate based on the location of the schools:

Nationally, and without any geographic cost adjustment, median spending per student was $9,353 in cities, $11,041 in suburbs, $9,214 in towns and $10,347 in rural areas.

These figures undercut the claim that money doesn’t matter. When suburban schools spend nearly $1700 more per student than urban schools is it any surprise that they get higher test scores? Higher per pupil spending translates to higher salaries, lower class sizes, better facilities, and more access to technology and materials of instruction. Any one of those items would make a difference… but taken together they illustrate the inequities that exist in public education funding today.