Diane Ravtich wrote a post with a link to an article by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas in Friday’s Connecticut Mirror titled “(Governor) Malloy: Increase Charter school, Cut Neighborhood School Funding”… which is a great way to frame the way funds flow. Fiscal conservatives— both Democrat neoliberals and Republican libertarians— claim to want decisions made at the local level, a claim that is overridden by their passion to run schools like a business. Fiscal conservative’s demand for efficiency in all government operations combined with their faith in market forces makes the model of deregulated charter schools appealing. Deregulate charters can provide the commodity of education much more cheaply than “government run” schools with their bureaucracies, unions, and legacy costs. Their faith in the market leads them to believe that if we break the stranglehold the government has on schools, we can lower taxes and introduce innovations that would otherwise wither on the vine. Branding the schools as “government run” helps the fiscal conservatives make their case… but labelling them as “neighborhood schools” makes it clear that by abandoning public education taxpayers are abandoning their control over what transpires within the four walls of their local institution and may lead to its demise.
The article itself is stomach turning. Mr. Malloy, in an effort to appease those in the legislature who complained bitterly when he markedly increased charter spending at the expense of public schools a year ago, promised to include an increase for public education in this years’ budget— a promise he rescinded. The State’s commissioner of education, an appointee of the Governor, defended the decision to cut public schools while adding millions to charters thusly:
“Those are kids that we made promises to. If we made a promise that a fourth grader is going to have a fifth grade to go to in the same school, then we need to keep that promise,” said Wentzell.
So, the kids in charter schools were promised the ability to continue in their school with the same amount of money and that promise is more important than the requirement that all the other children in the state deserve more funding to sustain the programs in place? And, as I am certain the Governor and the legislature realize, when the state education funds are cut the children who suffer most are those who live in towns and cities that cannot raise local property taxes because they do not have the economic wherewithal to do so. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
One last note: Thanks to ESSA, Malloy and his friends in the legislature get to make MORE decisions about the fate of public schools… and so do Walker, Brownback, Rauner, Kasich, Cuomo, Christie, Abbot…. you get the picture… The federal government is aiding and abetting this distortion of funding that is exacerbating the economic divide that cripples our nation’s progress, a distortion they once were committed to fixing.
In his most recent NYTimes column, “Finding Common Political Ground on Poverty“, Eduardo Porter shares the findings of a team of policy advisors from both sides of the political spectrum who met over a 14 month period to devise a set of goals they could both accept. While the exercise was an academic one, the participants held antithetical views on poverty. Porter summarizes the differing perspectives thusly:
To the left, deprivation is caused mostly by factors beyond the control of the poor. These include globalization that undercut good jobs previously within the reach of the less educated, an educational system segregated by race and class, lack of parental resources, discrimination, excessive use of prison.
Experts on the right, by contrast, put a lot of the weight on personal responsibility, often faulting the bad choices of the poor. And government support, by providing the poor with an income with few strings attached, has made their choices worse.
The bold faced phrases are those that serve as a good synthesis of each side’s solutions when it comes to public education policy. The progressive left (as opposed to the neo-liberal left, which holds the same views of the right) sees the need for wraparound services at an early age to mitigate the factors that children born into poverty face while neo-liberals and the right (a.k.a. “the reformers”) see choice as the solution. In making school choice available, the “reformers” can sidestep the root causes of poverty and blame the parents of poor children for making bad choices when it comes to rearing their children.
The middle ground the policy advisors found was employment opportunities for those in poverty. Both sides agreed (to varying degrees) that a boost in the minimum wage was needed to provide anyone working with a living wage and that song incentives needed to be in place to encourage the creation and sustaining of intact families. Mr. Porter describes the middle ground in this paragraph:
Many liberals are still skeptical that encouraging marriage will do much to help the poor, but most have come to accept that the children of intact families have a better shot in life. Some conservatives have come to acknowledge that though the push to tie work requirements to public assistance may have made sense in the booming 1990s, the approach might require adjustments to fit the present, less dynamic economy.
The one problem that was not addressed? Funding. Mr. Porter concludes his essay with this:
There is another hurdle that may be even harder to overcome: money. The report’s “close tax expenditures” approach to financing useful proposals has become the standard Hail Mary pass. But given all the interests with a stake in the present tax system, it never seems to muster much support.
As Mr. Strain put it, “it’s impossible to deny that conservatives want to spend less money than liberals.” Indeed, when House Speaker Paul D. Ryan proposed expanding the earned-income tax credit, he favored paying for it by cutting funds for other anti-poverty efforts.
Still, it is worth seeking a deal. If the Democrats retain the White House while the Republicans maintain their grip on Congress, neither party will be able to dominate Washington policy making. For the poor, a compromise along these lines would be a lot better than doing nothing.
A compromise would be better for EVERYONE in the country… because doing nothing will lead to more situations like the water crisis in Flint, will perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty, and widen the ever increasing divide between the .1% and the rest of the nation.
Truthdig blogger Chris Hedges writes prolifically and forcefully about the dystopia we have created for those living in poverty and the urgent need for action. “Pity the Children“, his post today, does just that. Using the life story of a young man convicted of murder and sentenced to 35 years in prison, data on crime and poverty, and the writings of criminologist Lonnie Athens and a book about Mr. Athens by Richard Rhodes, Hedges paints a picture of our country that is distressing:
Violent criminals are socialized into violence. And a society that permits this to take place is culpable. Over 15 million of our children go to bed hungry. Every fifth child (16.1 million) in America is poor. Every 10th child (7.1 million) is extremely poor. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We have scaled back or cut social services, including welfare. Our infrastructures—including our inner-city schools, little more than warehouses—are crumbling. Police regularly gun down unarmed people in the streets. The poor spend years, sometimes lifetimes, without meaningful work or nurturing environments. And these forms of state violence fuel acts of personal violence…
In past societies, such as medieval Europe—where corporal punishment, especially of children, was widespread, along with domestic violence, sexual abuse, public floggings and executions—there was a corresponding higher rate of violent crime. In 13th-century England, Rhodes points out in his book on Lonnie Athens, “the national homicide rate was around 18 to 23 per 100,000.” The United States has a homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000. But when you look at impoverished inner cities you find homicide rates that are astronomical. St. Louis has a homicide rate of 59.23 per 100,000, Baltimore 54.98 per 100,000, and Detroit 43.89 per 100,000. Some impoverished neighborhoods within American cities have even higher homicide rates. West Garfield Park in Chicago, for example, with 18,000 people, had 21 murders last year. This gives the neighborhood a homicide rate of 116 per 100,000 people.
Hedges, a radical writer who strongly opposes the neoliberal direction our nation has taken, does not believe things need to be this way. We do not have to impose austerity measures on the poor, cut their social services, and abandon them to commit murders against each other. Given his strong assertion that violent criminals are socialized into violence, a premise that drives the work of Lonnie Athens, he sees a way we could pull people into the world we live in and develop a future that is less dystopian than the current course we are on today.
Violent criminals, like all of us, begin as vulnerable, fragile children. They are made. They are repeatedly violated and traumatized as children, often to the point of numbness. And as adults they turn on a world that violated them, as the criminologist Lonnie Athens—himself raised in a violent household—has pointed out.
All of us, Athens says, carry within us phantom communities, those personalities and experiences that shape us and tell us how to interpret the world. The impact of these phantom communities, Athens writes, “is no less than [that of] the people who are present during our social experiences.” The phantom community, Athens says, is “where someone is coming from.” When your phantom community is a place of violence, you act out with violence. Violent criminal behavior is not a product of race. It is not even, finally, a product of poverty. It is a product of repeated acts of violence by figures of authority, including the state, upon the child.
And Hedges catalogs the way the State as it is constructed now bring violence into the lives of children by placing too many of them in overcrowded and dysfunctional foster homes, placing most of them in dilapidated and underfunded schools, and by shortchanging the very social services that could serve as a lifeline to them. The solution?
“Give the poor a chance economically by providing jobs, integrate them into the social order, provide vigorous protection and quality education for children, make possible a life of dignity for families, secure neighborhoods, end mass incarceration. If those things are done, violent crime and drug addiction will dissipate. If we continue down the road of neoliberalism and austerity, violent crime and drug addiction—the way many of the broken cope with the stress, humiliation and despair of poverty—will grow.”
For schools this does not mean more tests or more “no excuses” schooling, for those both look like the work of authority figures imposing themselves on children in the same way the violent community does so in their everyday lives. Hedges and Athens both want to introduce love and compassion into shelves of those being raised in violence… and and both believe if we continue down our current path we are doing it at our peril.
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.
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.
The Inherent Inequity in Parent Engagement Between Schools Serving Children Raised in Affluence and Those Raised in Poverty
Laura McKenna’s recent Atlantic article describes how school fundraising by affluent parents contributes to inequities in overall school funding and offers an interesting solution to the problems such fundraising creates. She also describes– but underestimates– how the inequity in parent engagement goes beyond funding.
The inequities in fund raising capacity between schools serving affluent children and schools serving middle class and poor children is stark. While wealthy parents can stage auctions that include Super Bowl tickets that pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars poor parents stage ongoing bake sales that yield five figures over the course of a year if they are lucky. These funds are used to acquire playgrounds, technology, field trips to distant museums, and— in some cases— additional staff to reduce class sizes. The booster clubs at these schools— and those of many middle class schools– fund athletic equipment, pre-season trips to Florida for baseball teams, and uniforms that the athletes can keep once they graduate. The disparities that result are obvious to anyone who has worked in both worlds and to anyone who attends sporting events between affluent schools and those serving children raised in poverty.
But Ms. McKenna also notes another more critical difference between the parent engagement in these schools— time and social capital:
Clearly, affluent communities have greater financial resources to support their schools. Parents there also have the time and social capital needed to organize elaborate fundraisers and fill out the lengthy legal paperwork required to establish these foundations. With these enormous resources, parents in affluent communities can raise far more money for their schools than parents in other locations.
But time and social capital provide advantages far beyond the capacity to raise money. A single parent who is working two jobs to make ends meet or two parents who work split shifts often cannot attend their local school’s PTO meetings, cannot be released from work to attend parent-teacher meetings, and do not have the time to help their children with school work or science fair projects. Despite what the middle class media and school reformers believe, the number of time-limited parents far exceeds the number of helicopter parents and this has an even more devastating impact on inequality than money spent on schools…. and does not lend itself to an easy fix.
Ms. McKenna does have an interesting idea for how to close the gap between affluent and poor schools:
Rather than restricting affluent parents from contributing to their public schools or shaming them for their efforts, perhaps they could be encouraged to think about public education beyond their town boundaries—partnering with schools in less affluent areas and forging a fellowship over time. In better understanding that public education extends beyond the five-mile radius of their communities, parents might be willing to share a portion of their considerable resources and social capital to benefit other kids.
The college town I live in— like many communities in New England– has a sister community abroad. Maybe the schools in our town which do an admirable job of raising funds for the children in town could partner with a deprived urban or rural school in our region. In doing so we might emphasize that the impact of poverty is not limited to third world countries but hurts children in our nation as well and that as citizens we should do everything possible to help our nearby neighbors as well as our global neighbors. To those whom much is given, much should be expected.
My daughter sent me a link to a blog post written by Nate Bowling titled “The Conversation I’m Tired of Not Having”. The post is full of insights and great quotes about the state of public education today and the public indifference that led to the state of affairs. The first paragraph sets the tone for the post:
I want to tell you a secret: America really doesn’t care what happens to poor people and most black people. There I said it.
Bowling buttresses this assertion with a series of observations underscoring the fact that white suburbanites would never stand for the deplorable physical conditions visited upon poor minority students nor would they tolerate the kind of leadership and instruction that occurs in those school districts. But, analogizing the desegregation and equity arguments to gun control, he notes that the public’s indifference to the horrific conditions in Detroit and the political will to solve the problem are no different than the public’s indifference and lack of political will to address gun control after the killings of innocent school children at Sandy Hook. Bowling then concludes his overview of the current state of affairs with this paragraph:
So what is to be done? The pessimist in me says nothing can be done. Polite society has walled itself off and policymakers are largely indifferent. Better funding for schools is and will remain elusive, because middle class and wealthy people have been conditioned over the last 35 years to think of themselves as taxpayers, rather than citizens. They consistently oppose higher taxes–especially tax expenditures for programs for “the other.”
Having abandoned hope for funding reform, Bowling looks to teachers themselves. Instead of getting involved in sideshow arguments over the Common Core, teacher evaluation models, or privatization, Mr. Bowling, a Teacher of the Year, pledges to devote his energy to:
Fighting the impacts of systemic racism and white supremacy in our schools and among teachers.
Helping, through my speaking opportunities, to recruit passionate people, especially people of color into the profession.
Supporting policies aimed at identifying, developing and retaining effective teachers.
Advocating for the creation of systems that encourage our most effective and passionate teachers to stay in the profession and supporting them in working with our most needy schools.
Encouraging policymakers to make the work of effective teachers rewarding and sustainable by trusting them and not burdening them with new and ever changing mandates.
Giving teachers opportunities to lead, within the profession, while remaining in the classroom.
These are all worthy goals… but their success relies on providing idealistic and dedicated teachers who share Mr. Bowling’s attitudes with wages and working conditions that will enable equally idealistic and dedicated administrators and school boards to create “…systems that encourage our most effective and passionate teachers to stay in the profession and supporting them in working with our most needy schools”…. and that leads back to the need for more funding for schools. From my perspective this ISN’T a chicken-egg argument. You cannot expect urban schools that, on average, receive $1700 per student less than suburban schools, to perform at the same level…. and you can’t expect a gifted and hardworking teacher to stay in a job in a dilapidated school with a salary that is 80% of that in a well-heeled suburban district unless that teacher’s talent and grit is matched with a high level of idealism. In the end, money matters and while Mr. Bowling works on his end to provide good teachers for children raised in poverty I will try to find ways to get middle class and wealthy people to think of themselves as citizens instead of taxpayers.
- Connecticut Governor’s Funding Decision is Harbinger of ESSA’s Failures
- Think Progress Should Not Be Confused with Thinking Progressively
- A State Report Card that Measures What is Important: Equity and Opportunity
- AlterNet’s Calculations Accurate: USDOE Gave Charters $3,300,000,000+ over six years
- NYTimes Catching On about Flint’s Water… But Still Misses Biggest Point
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