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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Investing in Education Elections

October 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Minnpost blog post describes a “Tsunami” of cash flowing into the school board election in Minneapolis MN (hat tip to Diane Ravitch). It seems that there hare hundreds of thousands being spent on the election for two at-large seats in Minneapolis, and based on some on line research it is unclear to even political insiders why there is so much money flowing into this election… But given the sources of funding flowing into the newly created “Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund (Bloomberg’s giving $100,000 and TFA’s giving $90,000) and the fact that one of the candidates endorsed by the group has stated his desire to eliminate tenure, it is possible that those investing in the election hope to invest in for-profit charter schools. ele

The fact that the school board candidates have platitudinous campaigns makes it easy for them to sidestep questions like “Why are you allowing outside money to help fund your election?” or, perhaps more pointedly, “What do you think the outside investors will ask you to do on their behalf once you are elected and how comfortable are you with they likely requests?” or, to allow as little wiggle room as possible:”When he was mayor on NYC, Bloomberg replaced “failing public schools” with for-profit schools staffed by inexperienced teachers from TFA. What is your position on that strategy?” In elections where hundreds of thousands of dollars are flowing in, these questions need to be posed to those running for office and the candidates responses need to be shared widely. But as MN blogger Eric Ferguson noted in one of his posts, many voters are completely unaware of local elections…. but that may change this time since the new money flowing in is resulting in negative campaign flyers being sent to homes and negative robocalls being placed to voters. As the school board election in Minneapolis demonstrates, money makes a difference in campaigns— and not in a good way!

Duncan’s Memo Redux

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I posted on an article the NYTimes wrote touting a 37 page letter from Arne Duncan urging “…state officials, superintendents and principals to monitor policies and facilities and to make sure they are equitably distributed among students of all races.” As I noted in my earlier post, the letter is full of data that readers of this blog and other progressive blogs are well aware of: black students have fewer opportunities to take AP courses, advanced math courses, to be taught be certified teachers, and to attend school facilities that are equal to those available to affluent students. This letter is no different from ones I recall receiving from secretaries of education from the Reagan administration through this one… and they have probably been coming out since Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954.

Today the Times editors wrote a piece touting this memo again… but instead of focussing on the need for equitable allocation of school funds at the State level, they focused on teacher quality. at the district level. Here’s the closing paragraph:

The new guidance rightly focuses on teacher quality and says the department’s investigations will seek to expose school districts that unjustifiably provide minority children with ineffective, poorly trained teachers. Policies don’t have to be intentionally discriminatory to be illegal; race-neutral but ill-considered strategies can also have a terrible effect on minority students.

Residential housing patterns and historic town boundaries create the inequities that exist among school districts NOT district practices. Demonstrably unfair funding formulas create resource disparities NOT district practices. Duncan and Obama and the NYTimes are all blaming school districts from inequities that are not of their own making. Given this reality, I wrote the following letter to the editors of the Times: 

Secretary Duncan and President Obama need to stop exhorting DISTRICTS to equalize resources and take action where STATES have failed to do so. Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. Mr. Duncan wanted to ensure that resources applied more equitably he could take action in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems by directing all federal funds to those districts that state courts identified as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so…. and writing persuasive memos will not change anyone’s behavior in the next two years any more than it has for the past 60.

 

You cannot expect the Philadelphia school district to adhere to a guideline that resources be equitably allocated when their budget provides roughly $7,000/student less than Lower Merion School District. It is not Philadelphia’s fault that they are under-resourced and allocating scarce funds among decrepit undermanned schools is no remedy. Secretary Duncan, President Obama, and the Times should put the spotlight where it belongs: on State legislatures who have not addressed lawsuits that call for changes in the funding formulas.

Disinvestment in Public Education

October 28, 2014 Leave a comment

This just in: most states are spending less on colleges and K-12 education. As a result:

  • Tuition costs for colleges are increasing (see chart below) making it increasingly difficult for students raised in poverty to afford college and increasing the debt of those who CAN afford to get in.
  • School districts who serve children raised in poverty and therefore rely heavily on State funding are receiving less per pupil making it increasingly difficult for them to succeed in schools
  • Public colleges and K-12 schools are either increasing class sizes or laying off teachers or both… and neither public colleges or public schools are compensating teachers at the levels they received before the recession.

We are in the midst of state and national campaigns… and no one running for office in my state (NH) is talking about increasing funding levels for public education at any level and from what I’ve read NO one is campaigning on a platform that advocates increased spending for education… but EVERYONE who is running claims to be in full support of “improving” education. It would be nice if those seeking improvements acknowledged that school improvement, like , say, home improvement, required more money. When it comes to college, the cost is shifted to students and when it comes to K-12 schooling, the cost is shifted to homeowners, and affluent homeowners can and will dig a little deeper to retain good schools while those in less affluent areas cannot increase their taxes to get the same yield. …. and the divide widens….

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American Dream Out of Order

October 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Nick Kristof’s column in today’s NYTimes, “The American Dream is Leaving America”, is on the mark. In the column he draws on the finding of a recent OECD study that showed that our country is no longer turing out the most college graduates and no longer has the class mobility that we WANT to believe is in place. Why? Kristof believes that “THE best escalator to opportunity in America is education” and then offers lots of evidence to support his conclusion that the escalator is broken. To readers of this blog and many other progressive blogs this is not news. Nor is the fact that our funding mechanism for public schools is one of the primary reasons for this breakdown, as Kristof notes in his column:

A new Pew survey finds that Americans consider the greatest threat to our country to be the growing gap between the rich and poor. Yet we have constructed an education system, dependent on local property taxes, that provides great schools for the rich kids in the suburbs who need the least help, and broken, dangerous schools for inner-city children who desperately need a helping hand. Too often, America’s education system amplifies not opportunity but inequality. 

The education escalator DOES exist for those who can afford to live in a school district where dollars are available. The less affluent residents of wealthy districts will have an array of academic support services, special education programs, and counseling services that would be the envy of the urban districts where a helping hand would be needed. I believe the escalator is also available for children whose parents are looking out for their children’s interest and WANT their children to succeed in school and do better in life than they did. Kristof implies or suggests three solutions: honoring the teaching profession more, paying our teachers more, and offering more Pre-K programs. In the end he offers the following insight:

Fixing the education system is the civil rights challenge of our era. A starting point is to embrace an ethos that was born in America but is now an expatriate: that we owe all children a fair start in life in the form of access to an education escalator.

As I see it, our challenge now is twofold. First, we need to recognize that pre-K is too late and ACADEMIC pre-K is insufficient. We need to fund early intervention programs to support prenatal care and support for economically disadvantaged parents of toddlers. As many previous NYTimes OpEd columns and blog posts here have noted, pre-K is too late and academic pre-K programs miss the point. The second challenge is to convince parents who are struggling to make ends meet that the system in place today is not rigged against them and their children. The children of the 5% of the workforce who have stopped looking for jobs, the children of minimum wage workers, and the children of single parents working two jobs to make ends meet are unlikely to believe the American Dream is in play for them.

We COULD restore the American Dream if we believed in the fundamental principles that underlie that notion. We COULD restore the American Dream if we thought of ALL children as OUR children and ALL Americans as neighbors. Unfortunately no one is running for office on that platform. Instead of offering solutions to the brown escalator our officials running for office are telling us who broke the escalator or suggesting that it’s still thee for those who are fit enough… those who have grit.

The Slippery Slope of Bible Distribution

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

The Google feed provided a link to a thought provoking article that appeared in the Independent Journal Review (IJR) titled “The Pamphlet Give Out to Kids in Public Schools, An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible” is Unacceptable”.

Here’s the background: The Freedom from Religion Foundation, (FFRF) announced plans to hand out materials at 11 public schools within Orange County, Florida, on January 16, National Religious Freedom Day. The Orange County Board sued to prevent the distribution of the materials, in part because the cover of the pamphlet, depicted below, was deemed by many people to be a smear against Christianity. Andrew Seidel, the FFRF attorney, rebutted this charge by noting that “some of the things that are in the Bible in terms of sex and compare that to the cover [of the pamphlet], the cover is pretty tame compared to anything that is in the Bible”. 

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The article goes on to note that “Seidel contended that despite the fact that the material may offend Christians, it is only fair since atheists feel the same way when Bibles are handed out in public schools.”

In many respects members of other religions should be grateful to the FFRF for raising this issue in a “religion vs. atheism” context because I believe that Muslims would feel as unsettled by the distribution of the Bible as Christians might feel unsettled by the distribution of the Koran. I recall from debates held at school board meetings regarding the provision of an opportunity for the distribution of Gideon’s Bibles on school grounds that we ultimately denied permission on the “slippery slope” argument. Namely, if we granted permission to one religious group we’d have to allow opportunities for ANY religious group to distribute materials…. which is precisely the argument the FFRF is making…. and what is the result?

On January 3, 2014 OCPS and FFRF came to an agreement and on June 3, 2014 a Motion to Dismiss was handed down which detailed that the “defendant unconditionally agreed to allow Plaintiffs to distribute the materials that Defendant had previously prohibited.”

Seidel has concluded that OCPS had backed down due to the illegality that the school could not forbid the distribution of FFRF material while simultaneously allowing the dissemination of the Bible in its schools.

Seidel indicated that the FFRF intends to launch similar actions against other school boards who allow the distribution of Bibles. My continued advice to boards: beware of the slippery slope!

IS Public Education a Deciding Issue?

October 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Education blogger Jeff Bryant asserted in his column yesterday that education policy could be a determining factor in several gubernatorial races in the coming weeks. But, as he notes, in some cases it will result in the election of a “lesser-of-two-evils” candidate as opposed to the election of a candidate who is willing to undo the budget cuts, evisceration of contracts, and emphasis on standardized testing. While polling data indicates that “The top testing turnout message overall emphasizes education, specifically Republicans’ efforts to cut programs for students while giving tax cuts to the wealthy”, the fact remains that several candidates getting hefty support from teachers unions are NOT advocates of increased funding but rather less strident in they opposition to education than their opponents.

As I’ve noted in several earlier posts, I hope that public education advocates will NOT be forced to choose between the lesser of two evils in 2016. Those who seek increased public education funding should rally behind whichever Presidential aspirant pledges to end the standardized testing regimen that has been in place for a generation and the privatization movement that NCLB and RTTT has aided and abetted. If the testing is not stopped the drumbeat of “failing public schools” will continue and the public will be increasingly disinclined to fund a failing enterprise.

Fee-For-Service Redux

October 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Yesterday I wrote a post describing the latest funding scheme advocated by the business community and taxpayers groups whereby schools are starved of funds and private foundations and/or school fundraisers are expected to fill the void. The post was prompted by a NYTimes article by Mokoto Rich describing how this gambit is effectively adding to the disparity between affluent schools and schools serving children in poverty and effectively diminishing the support for increases in broad based taxes needed to increase the base funding for public education.

For readers who might have concluded that this was a problem only in the Northeast because it was reported in the NYTimes, today’s Google feed offered evidence that the same phenomenon is occurring in the heartland by providing a more detailed analysis of the study completed by the University of Indiana-Bloomington that was the basis of Rich’s article. According to the study, private funds for schools have increased but the schools serving lower income students have benefited least and… the increase in “voluntary funds” has not offset the aggregate loss in taxes:

Nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping support public schools have grown dramatically over the past two decades. And they are raising a lot more money than a few years ago.

But the growth hasn’t come close to offsetting the reduction in tax revenues for schools that came with the recent recession, according to a study by Indiana University researchers. And the support is uneven, with students in high-poverty schools less likely to benefit from voluntary fundraising.

This whole gambit of shifting the burden to “end-users” has consequences that match my personal experience as a superintendent during the time frame the study covers:

The researchers analyzed trends and relationships in data from thousands of U.S. nonprofit school-supporting organizations that filed annual IRS reports between 1995 and 2010. Findings included:

  • The number of such organizations, including local school foundations, booster clubs and parent-teacher organizations, grew from 3,475 in 1995 to 11,453 in 2010.
  • The money they raised, adjusted for inflation, grew from $197 million to $880 million, or nearly 350 percent.
  • The share of school districts with at least one such nonprofit organization increased from 12 percent in 1995 to 29 percent in 2010.
  • Large school districts are more likely to be served by at least one fundraising organization; but the money raised, per pupil, declines as district enrollment gets larger.

School districts with greater capacity — as measured by property tax revenues per pupil, the share of individuals with a bachelor’s degree or more, median household income, and relatively low unemployment rates — have higher probabilities of being served by at least one school-supporting nonprofit and receive more money, per pupil, from the nonprofits.

While school-supporting nonprofits have exploded in number and revenue, the researchers conclude the money they raise isn’t enough to tip the balance in how schools are funded. Among school districts that got help from one or more nonprofit organization, average voluntary per-pupil funding in 2010 was $28; that compares to approximately $10,600 per student that public schools spent. Meanwhile, state tax receipts — a key source of support for schools in many states — have declined by 12 percent since the start of the Great Recession in 2008.

I believe the researchers were charitable in assigning the decline in state revenues to “the Great Recession”. The decline in revenues has also been helped by an increase in corporate tax breaks and reductions in state income taxes that were sold to the public as a means of stimulating economic growth. The privatization movement has only made matters worse for students in high poverty schools. The fact that these tax cuts and privatization movements happened in States under the leadership of Republicans who want to “starve the beast” and neoliberals who want to “run government like a business” is no coincidence. The sad reality is that once broad based taxes are reduced and privatization is introduced, the funding States ultimately provide to “students in high poverty schools” is unlikely to return unless some politician is courageous enough to insist that better schools will require higher taxes. In the meantime the mainstream media like TIME magazine will run cover stories blaming teachers for the failings of underfunded schools…. and the death spiral will continue.