Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Can a Millionaire’s Largesse Be Replicated?

May 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Yesterday afternoon’s NYTimes web page featured a heartwarming story about a Florida millionaire who has donated over $11,000,000 to the Tangelo School district outside of Orlando FL, an investment that has turned around the school district. Harris Rosen, a 75-year old hotel owner, provided these funds to Tangelo, which has roughly 900 youngsters under the age of 18, over an extended time period.…. and the results are unarguably impressive:

Nearly all its seniors graduate from high school, and most go on to college on full scholarships Mr. Rosen has financed.

Young children head for kindergarten primed for learning, or already reading, because of the free day care centers and a prekindergarten program Mr. Rosen provides. Property values have climbed. Houses and lawns, with few exceptions, are welcoming. Crime has plummeted.

This past year, Tangelo schools and child care centers received $500,000, funds that were used to man day care centers and provide scholarships for the 25 students who graduated from high school. But is the project replicable? The bold face, italicized, and underlined words answer the question:

…Tangelo is perhaps hard to mimic… The community is small – with only 3,000 people – and filled with homeowners, a compactness that is unusual for an urban area. Tangelo has organized leaders who were fighting the drug trade even before Mr. Rosen’s arrival. And it has had Mr. Rosen’s focus and financing over 21 years.

“It’s not inexpensive,” Mr. Rosen said. “You stay until the neighborhood needs you.”

But, he added, there are a lot of wealthy people with the resources to do the same thing if they choose.

The factors that made a difference in Tangelo are money and commitment.

How much money?

The $500,000 Rosen donated to Tangelo this year works out to $555/child under 18 years old, an amount that would require 0ver $600,000,000 per year to fund NYC schools and over $17,000,000,00 per year to support every child receiving free or reduced lunch.

How much commitment?

A longer time commitment than we’ve allowed for schools to show improvement in ANY state in the country! I doubt that there is a Governor in the nation would seek millions of dollars this year to realize a payback 21 years from now… and there are even fewer shareholders who would be willing to wait that long for a payback. And do I do NOT think those with pockets deep enough to provide the funding Rosen offered will choose to do so and I doubt that any politician will seek to raise taxes from those individuals to direct funds for community based schooling.

And a deeper community commitment than we’ve expected in years past. The newspaper only mentions the community leadership in the one sentence extracted above… but I know from experience that without that level of commitment making any school improvements is a daunting challenge.

The story underscores the preposterousness of those who believe there is a fast, cheap and school-centered way to “fix” public education. Money, patience, and commitment are the only way to make the kind of changes Tangelo experienced… but I imagine we’ll be reading about the “Tangelo Miracle” and that some Presidential candidate visiting FL will make sure they get their picture taken with Mr. Rosen as evidence that voluntary philanthropy will give students the hope they need to succeed.

Subsidizing Parochial Parents with Public School Funds

May 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Mario Cuomo’s latest stunt involving the use of public funds to subsidize private schools was so blatantly unfair that even the NYTimes editors were appalled! In “A Costly Tax Break for Nonpublic Schools” the Times editorial board saw the effect of Cuomo’s policies. The first paragraph offers a summary of the bill, that would:

…help private and parochial schools, by offering big tax credits to their donors. This… expensive and possibly unconstitutional bill that Mr. Cuomo has named the Parental Choice in Education Act could cost the state more than $150 million a year. That money should be used to help almost 2.7 million public school students in the state, not given to wealthy donors subsidizing mainly private or religious schools.

The editorial goes on to describe who would benefit from the passage of this bill:

The $150 million pool includes millions of dollars in tax credits for donations that could provide scholarships to private or parochial students from families with incomes of up to $300,000 a year, which hardly targets the neediest students.

So while Cuomo is slashing spending on public education he has devised a bill that would effectively provide tax breaks to upper middle class parents who have already enrolled their children in private schools… and called the bill the “Parental Choice in Education Act” to make it sound as if children raised in poverty will have a choice in attending a different school.

In a concluding paragraph the Times editors appear to be onto Cuomo’s ultimate game:

With this misguided bill, Mr. Cuomo may have found plenty of support from religious leaders and private school donors. But his efforts seems jarring, given his record of seeking more accountability in schools. The state has little say in private and parochial schools over testing, the teaching of basic subjects or other data collection required for assessing a good education.

The Times editors have bought into the notion that giving children raised in poverty the opportunity to attend deregulated for-profit charter schools is the best way to address the problem of “failing public schools”. At the same time the editors have overlooked the fact that these schools primarily benefit the shareholders of the schools and that the State has little say in their operations. MAYBE by looking at Cuomo’s motives in securing passage for this bill they will see that Cuomo’s ultimate goal is to monetize a government service that was designed to promote equal opportunity for all children no matter where they were born.


Housing Reform, Social Mobility, School Reform, Equity: Inseparably Inter-related

May 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Several recently published articles indicate that the mainstream media, parents, and politicians are beginning to connect the dots and see that housing reform, social mobility, school reform, and equity of opportunity are all inseparably interrelated.

Last Wednesday’s Washington Post published an article by Emily Badger that provided an overview of the findings of a Southern Education Foundation study indicating that “…America’s public schools had reached a dispiriting milestone: A majority of children attending them are now low-income.”. Featuring an interactive map that graphically displayed the poverty of children on a county by county basis, the article noted that the poverty was not evenly distributed but instead concentrated in several pockets. The article focussed on how this concentration of poverty this led to both racial and segregation and included another map displaying how rural southern blacks are virtually all attending high poverty schools and offered these insights:

This concentration of poverty, which reflects underlying patterns in where the rich and poor live, also means that a poor child in America is much more likely than a middle-class or wealthier child to attend a high-poverty school. About 40 percent of low-income children attend public schools where 75 percent of the other students are low-income, too. The same is true of just 6 percent of non-poor kids.

“This is concentrated disadvantage,” writes Urban Institute researcher Reed Jordan, “the children who need the most are concentrated in schools least likely to have the resources to meet those needs.”

Across the country, black children are also about six times more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white children.

These maps reflect the importance of better integrating schools, creating environments in which poor children learn alongside upper-income peers. But that’s a goal that will be hard to achieve if we don’t talk as well about the housing patterns and policies that helped create these maps.

This past Sunday’s New York Times picked up on the conversation about housing patterns with an editorial titled “Housing Apartheid, American Style”. The article opened with a description of the recent riots in Baltimore and referenced the findings of the Kerner Report nary fifty years earlier that:

…linked the devastating riots that consumed Detroit and Newark in 1967 to residential segregation that had been sustained and made worse by federal policies that concentrated poor black citizens in ghettos. It also said that discrimination and segregation had become a threat to “the future of every American.”

As part of the remedy, the commission called on the government to outlaw housing discrimination in both the sale and rental markets and to “reorient” federal policy so that housing for low- and moderate-income families would be built in integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods, where residents would have better access to jobs and decent schools.

In 1967 Congress reacted to the report by passing the Fair Housing Act, which was intended to accomplish the “reorientation” sought in the Kerner report. As readers of this blog realize, when I was attending graduate school in the early 1970s and beginning my career as a school administrator, there was a hope that this would change the ousting patterns and help bring about the resultant equity of opportunity. But… as the Washington Post reported and anyone who has driven across the country knows, the “reorientation” never happened. Why?

…the effort (to implement the Fair Housing Act) was hampered from the beginning by local officials who ignored or opposed the goal of desegregation and by federal officials, including presidents, who simply declined to enforce it.

The editorial offers a history of the failure to enforce this law by a succession of administrations, noting that the only way any integration has occurred is as a result of housing a civil rights advocacy groups taking local, state, and federal governments to court. The editorial concludes with these paragraphs:

But for these rules to be meaningful, the federal government will have to restructure its own programs so that more affordable housing is built in low-poverty, high opportunity neighborhoods. Federal officials must also be willing to do what they have generally been afraid to do in the past — withhold money from communities that perpetuate housing apartheid.

Given what we now know about the pervasive harm that flows from segregation, the country needs to get on with this crucial mission.

And here’s what is especially maddening about our country’s unwillingness to segregate schools racially and economically: the students attending affluent schools see no diminishment of opportunity or educational quality when low income or black students enroll. Last week the Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote “What’s Good for Poor Kids Isn’t Bad for Rich Kids” describing a study recently completed by Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren that determined that “…some places in America (Baltimore, Detroit, Orlando, Chicago) offer particularly problematic environments for low-income children to grow up if we want them to have economic opportunity as adults.” Their solution, as paraphrased by Badger:

Poor kids and rich kids need a lot of the same things: high-quality schools, healthy neighborhoods, stable homes. What’s good for one is good for the other.

This blog is full of links to articles describing the challenges of obtaining equitable funding for schools and some articles about the political challenges of providing low income housing… and here’s another one to add to the list: “Mayor deBlasio’s Public Housing Plan to Seek City Aid and More Money from Tenants”. The article describes how the NYC mayor intends to address the biggest challenge his city faces— raising money. To meet that challenge the mayor’s plan calls for higher rents and parking fees for tenants, the opportunity for privatization of new housing units, and additional funds from the federal and state government.

The challenges are fiscal, cultural, and psychological, but the outcome politicians should be seeking is the one described in the quote from Emily Badger’s article: poor kids and rich kids need a lot of the same things: high-quality schools, healthy neighborhoods, stable homes…. and these three things are interrelated and interdependent.

Tale of Two Progressive NYC Mayors: Lindsay and deBlasio

May 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Years ago when I was in college one of my political heroes was NYC Mayor John Lindsay. A progressive liberal Republican (no… that’s NOT a misprint), Lindsay advocated racial justice in a city that still had de facto segregation and tried to implement grassroots governance into a highly centralized and bureaucratic city. I hadn’t drawn a parallel between Bill de Blasio’s challenges and Lindsay’s, but an article in today’s NYTimes does so. The format of the article is an interview between columnist John Guida and  Joseph P. Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College and the editor of “Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York and the American Dream”. In the interview, Guida poses several questions that provide Viteritti with an opportunity to compare and contrast the times of Lindsay and de Blasio and they challenges they each faced in their first year. In the final question, Guida asks Viteritti what lessons de Blasio might learn from Lindsay, and Viteritti responds:

Beware of the school wars. Lindsay’s instinct to decentralize governance and give parents a voice made sense. When he set up three experimental districts in minority neighborhoods, he racialized an issue that could have had broad support. When he failed to act after the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school board fired 18 Jewish teachers and administrators without cause, he left the city polarized and alienated many liberal supporters. Except for his pre-K proposal, de Blasio spent his first year carping at Bloomberg policies rather than articulating his own vision for education. In battling charter schools, he lost a chance to take ownership of a popular initiative that could enhance opportunity and advance his egalitarian goals.

Viteritti’s analysis of de Blasio’s education policy is erroneous on at least three counts.

First, Viteritti diminishes de Blasio’s earnest effort to get funding for universal pre-Kindergarten, which was a campaign promise he made.

Secondly, Viteritti’s characterization of de Blasio as devoting his time to “carping at Bloomberg’s policies” downplays his battles against Governor Cuomo to not only seek funding for pre-Kindergarten but to assert his authority to operate schools without interference from Albany. The major point of contention between Cuomo and de Blasio was over the continuation of Bloomberg’s ill advised local policy to provide free, taxpayer funded space to deregulated for-profit charter schools by displacing children from local neighborhoods to make room for children from other parts of the city. When Governor Cuomo sided with the charter profiteers de Blasio was forced to either spend political capital retaining his power over the operation of NYC schools or cede that authority to Albany.


Finally, and most importantly, I’m not at all certain that the “popular” deregulated for-profit charter schools advocated by Bloomberg and Cuomo “could enhance opportunity and advance (de Blasio’s) egalitarian goals”. The reasons deregulated for-profit charter schools are a “popular initiative” is that they receive substantial support from philanthropists thereby avoiding the need for additional funding, they do not require the redrawing of school attendance zones thereby avoiding the need to shift children from affluent schools into nearby schools serving children raised in poverty, and they limit enrollment to children of parents who are intensely interested in their children’s success in school thereby avoiding the challenge of working with disaffected and/or disengaged parents. When affluent and engaged parents can have their needs met without costing the taxpayers anything and without requiring changes to housing patterns it is no surprise that deregulated for profit charter schools are a “popular initiative”. Do they enhance opportunities for ALL children or meet de Blasio’s egalitarian goals? I think not.

I DO agree that de Blasio gets “little help from Washington”, in large measure because the Obama administration’s neo-liberal policies are in conflict with de Blasio’s progressivism. And I also feel that until recently de Blasio has not made his progressive stance explicit, and that has defined his initiatives as reactions against Bloomberg as opposed to being movement toward a clearly defined set of goals.

One parallel Viteritti failed to identify was that both men wanted to empower neighborhoods and disempower those who were previously in charge. In Lindsay’s case he was making an effort to disperse power to neighborhood boards to achieve racial equity. In de Blasio’s its to take power away from the plutocrats to help bring about economic equity. Lindsay did achieve some level of harmony in the city. Here’s hoping de Blasio’s economic equity goals achieve some modicum of success.


Expanded Vouchers in OH, WI Drain Public School Budgets, Add to Inequity… But Cuomo Wants Them for NYS!!!

May 18, 2015 Leave a comment

The Google Public School feed this past weekend had two articles on pending legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio to expand existing voucher programs that enable urban students to attend private suburban school. In both cases the beneficiaries would be parochial schools, who would receive roughly $7,000 per student in WI and $5,700 per student in OH, not enough to pay full tuition but clearly enough to help keep the private sectarian schools in the suburbs afloat. This legislation is terrible on several counts:

  • It requires parents to make up the difference between the tuition charge and the voucher, effectively eliminating the most poverty stricken families from the pool of those who could take advantage of the program.
  • It gives vouchers to parents who have already chosen to enroll their children in private schools! According to the State Department of Public Instruction, 86 percent of voucher applicants for next year don’t even go to public school now. In effect, instead of providing a means for students raised in poverty to attend better schools the vouchers provide a bonus of $5,700 to parents who can afford to send their child to parochial school and take away that sum from public schools who cannot achieve savings from having fewer students enrolled.
  • It directs public funds to specifically identified religiously affiliated schools. It is hard to believe that the legislators would provide vouchers to a school operated by a mosque or a Wiccan group, yet providing funds to Catholic schools is acceptable.
  • There is no evidence that providing vouchers to students in urban districts improves the opportunities for large groups of students or improves the urban schools. Indeed, Milwaukee has had vouchers in place for over 20 years and Cleveland has had vouchers for nearly 20 years and neither city’s schools have improved.

But despite this track record two midwestern states led by Republicans, NY’s Governor Cuomo is promoting a similar law in his state. So vouchers are the silver bullet for Republicans, neo-liberal Democrats, and “reformers” who view schooling as a commodity that customers can select the same way they buy a car. The flaw in this thinking is that “informed consumers” have equitable resources and deregulated schools offer sound programs. One look at the track record of deregulated for-profit charter schools and the vast inequities in wealth puncture these assumptions… but vampire ideas are hard to kill!

Cuomo Seeks Tax Cuts for Private Schools, Cuts Public School Budgets

May 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Andrew Cuomo’s war against public education continues… and voters across the country should take note! Why? Because Cuomo’s playbook is no different than that of the President’s and, in all probability, no different than that of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat nominee for 2016.

An editorial in today’s Journal News calls out Cuomo and the NYS legislature for their latest idea on public school funding: $70 million in tax credits for parents paying private school tuitions and $50 million in tax credits to corporations or private donors to those same schools. Oh… and parochial schools are NOT exempt from this proposed giveaway. Public schools? They get cut. Yonkers, one of the school districts serving children raised in poverty, is a case in point:

The Yonkers schools have cut 535 staff members in the last eight years. The schools now offer one guidance counselor for every 827 students, one social worker for every 2,405 students and one library media specialist for every 3,307 students.

But that’s nothing. Yonkers is looking at a $26 million hole in its 2015-16 school budget. If the state doesn’t fill it, the public school system is prepared to make mind-blowing cuts: 20 out of 38 art teachers; 20 out of 33 music teachers; 10 of 37 physical education teachers; and 10 high school teachers.

Also on the firing line are all sports, extensive transportation, half the budget for supplies and materials and plenty more.

The editors acknowledge that the Yonkers school district has experienced some financial management challenges, but they rightfully note that the fiscal management has been in “disarray”:

It’s true that last year the state wrote Yonkers a one-shot $28 million check to cover part of an accounting mishap. A investigation by the city’s inspector general found that the school system’s undermanned and inexperienced finance department – the product of previous budget cuts – had left the schools’ finances in “complete disarray.”

I know from experience in NYS that the toughest jobs to find are those in finance… and the most crucial jobs in managing a large district (I was superintendent in one of the 10 largest districts) are in finance. When I was appointed Superintendent our record keeping was in “complete disarray” and it took us 18 months of hard work combined with a grant from the then State Senator, Steve Saland, to computerize out bookkeeping to get the house in order. But in the late 1990s the state government was working with public schools. Now, with the State legislature seemingly wants to let districts like Yonkers crash and burn and wants to do everything possible to enhance private education in the name of “school choice”. But here’s the sad reality: Mr. Cuomo’s desire to privatize schools aligns with the Federal Government’s agenda… and that of the Republican party. Unless struggling districts like Yonkers are given the time and financial resources to improve, their fiscal health will never be restored. And I would like to know what school district serving affluent children would allow their local schools to have staffing ratios of “one guidance counselor for every 827 students, one social worker for every 2,405 students and one library media specialist for every 3,307 students” or consider a budget that calls for cuts to 66% of its music staff and 30% of its PE staff. At least the teachers who lose their jobs in Yonkers won’t be unemployed for long: they will be able to find work in nearby private and parochial schools where children raised in poverty will be given the choice to attend. What’s that you say? The children in Yonkers won’t be able to attend the schools getting tax breaks because their enrollments are limited? Oh, never mind. Those kids in Yonkers don’t matter.

The Vicious Cycle of Poverty Among African Americans in Three Paragraphs

May 14, 2015 Leave a comment

NYTimes columnist Mark Bittman began his career at that newspaper writing about food, and his columns on that topic are always interesting and insightful. Yesterday he wrote one titled “No Justice, No…anything” that included three paragraphs that sum up the vicious cycle of poverty and how it affects children. Those paragraphs follow:

The argument (in this column) is a summary of that made by the economist John Komlos; it’s straightforward, logical, nondoctrinaire, irrefutable, and goes like this: If you’re born in a bad neighborhood you will go to a bad school; if you go to a bad school you will get a bad education; if you get a bad education you will get a bad job, or none at all; thus you will have a low (or no) income; with low income you have no wealth (it’s more likely you will have debt). And so … your children, and theirs, are likely to live in bad neighborhoods. Without education or jobs.

And — since I’m the food guy, it’s worth pointing out — without access to good food or nutrition education. This is murder by a thousand cuts. The rate of hunger among black households: 10.1 percent. Among white households: 4.6 percent. The age-adjusted rate of obesity among black Americans: 47.8 percent. Among white Americans: 32.6 percent. The rate of diabetes among black adults aged 20 or older: 13.2 percent. Among white adults: 7.6 percent. Black Americans’ life expectancy, compared to white Americans: four years less. (The life expectancy of black men with some high school compared to white men with some college: minus 14 years.)

These numbers are not a result of a lack of food access but of an abundance of poverty. Lack of education is not a result of a culture of victimhood but of lack of funding for schools. And rather than continuing to allow these realities to divide us, we should do the American thing, which is to fix things. Which we can do, together.

It would be relatively easy to fix things if we increased funds to help the children born into poverty. Let me take Bittman’s synopsis of Komlos’ description of poverty and make a few modifications, which are shown in underlined bold italics:

If you’re born in a bad neighborhood you will go to a bad schoolthat offers the same level of programs and services as the most well-funded one in the state; if you go to a badhigh qualityschool you will get a badhigh qualityeducation; if you get a badhigh quality education you will get a bad job that pays more than minimum wage and has predictable work hoursor none at all; thus you will haveearna decentlow (or no) income; with lowdecentincome you have no accumulate wealth (it’s more likely you will have no debt). And so … your children, and theirs, are likely to live in bad better neighborhoods. WithoutWith even moreeducation or and better jobs.

Based on Bittman’s synopsis of Komlos, they both hold the same conviction as I hold, which is the same conviction education reformers and politicians hold: a high quality education will lead to a high quality life. My belief, AND my common sense, tell me that getting a high quality education in the face of the adversity that comes with poverty, will require a greater investment than we are making now. It is an investment we could make if we chose to… and it is maddening to see us choosing jails over classrooms, police over social workers, and standardized tests over formative assessments.