$1,000,000,000 for Non-Existent Schools in Afghanistan… But We Can’t Afford $$$ for Schools and Need to Cut Food Stamps
“Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, and Ghost Schools“, Buzzfeed’s expose on the appalling abuse of USAID funds intended for the construction and operation of schools in Afghanistan, describes how money earmarked for schools went into the pockets of warlords instead. The idea of offering public education to educate young men and especially young women in that war-torn nation is sound and reflects the abiding belief that education is the most effective way to change the culture in a country. And the idea that these schools were thriving was especially heartening to those who hoped some long-term benefits might come from the billions being spent in that country. But sadly, the Buzzfeed journalists found we were being misled:
Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.
But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
The statistics about school construction are disheartening to read. The State Department and Defense Department both overstated the number of schools constructed by at least 20% and the quality of the construction, based on their own internal reports, was shoddy:
As for the schools America truly did build, U.S. officials repeatedly emphasized to Congress that they were constructed to high-quality standards. But in 2010, USAID’s inspector general published a review based on site visits to 30 schools. More than three-quarters suffered from physical problems, poor hardware, or other deficiencies that might expose students to “unhealthy and even dangerous conditions.” Also, the review found that “the International Building Code was not adhered to” in USAID’s school-building program.
This year, BuzzFeed News found that the overwhelming majority of the more than 50 U.S.-funded schools it visited resemble abandoned buildings — marred by collapsing roofs, shattered glass, boarded-up windows, protruding electrical wires, decaying doors, or other structural defects. At least a quarter of the schools BuzzFeed News visited do not have running water.
But the lack of accountability doesn’t stop with money spent on the construction of schools:
By obtaining internal records from the Afghan Ministry of Education, never before made public, BuzzFeed News also learned that more than 1,100 schools that the ministry publicly reported as active in 2011 were in fact not operating at all. Provincial documents show that teacher salaries — largely paid for with U.S. funds — continued to pour into ghost schools.
Some local officials even allege that those salaries sometimes end up in the hands of the Taliban. Certainly, U.S.-funded school projects have often lined the pockets of brutal warlords and reviled strongmen, which sometimes soured the local population on the U.S. and the Afghan government.
So we spent billions to construct non-existent school, even more money to pay the salaries of non-existent teachers, and no one seems to know where the money went!
Since 2002, the United States has invested more than $1 billion to provide education to Afghan children. But the American government does not know how many schools it has built, how many Afghan students are actually attending school, or how many teachers are actually teaching. What’s certain is the numbers for all of those are far less than what it has been peddling.
Education can make a difference. Unregulated education cannot. I loathed the mountains of paperwork we needed to do when I was a Superintendent for 29 years… but in the end it assured that the money we raised in taxes was accounted for carefully and went into the pockets of teachers who delivered instruction to students. At the very least, our government should spend money to make certain that the dollars we are spending to educate children in Afghanistan are not going to warlords who only want to teach the Koran.
“Follow the Money” was the advice Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein in the book All The President’s Men. NYTimes reporter Kate Taylor did just that in researching her article titled “Groups that Back Bloomberg’s Education Agenda Enjoy Great Success in Albany” and here’s what she found: three individuals who are on the Board of StudentsFirstNY, the lobbying group that advocates for “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” contributed over $250,000 to Cuomo’s re-election campaign and are in the process of amassing a “War Chest” to make certain legislators who believe in “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” are elected in 2016 so that Cuomo can pass the bills that will permanently enshrine those policies. And what are those policies?
Making teacher evaluations more dependent on test scores, reforming tenure and increasing the number of charter schools in the city were all priorities of StudentsFirstNY and became significant pieces of the governor’s agenda for the 2015 legislative session, which he announced in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21.
This Governor, who managed to undercut any competition from the progressive voters in the State by winning the endorsement of the Working Families Party by promising to work tirelessly to get a Democrat majority in the Senate, acted to implement an education agenda from a group that was working twice as hard (and spending millions of dollars) to accomplish the OPPOSITE goal. From here, it appears that Mr. Cuomo used none of his political capital to promote ANY Democrat running for the Senate and used lots of capital from StudentsFirstNY to implement the market-based for-profit model Bloomberg advocates. And the billionaires funding StudentsFirstNY did act alone in advancing “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” in Albany. Taylor’s article also profiles Families for Excellent Schools. who are they and what do they stand for? Taylor writes:
Last year, it spent $9.6 million on lobbying, more than any other entity in the state, according to state records. Much of this money was spent on advertisements attacking Mr. de Blasio for his opposition to charter schools and a later ad praising Mr. Cuomo for coming to their aid.
The group has also become closely associated with Eva S. Moskowitz, the chief executive of Success Academy, the city’s biggest charter school network, and one of Mr. de Blasio’s sharpest critics.
Families for Excellent Schools is approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 organization, referring to the section of the tax code regarding charities, meaning that donations are tax-deductible, and, under New York State law, it need not disclose donors.
So two lobbying groups, one of whom spent more than “any other entity in the State”, are promoting the “Bloomberg Education Agenda” and StudentsFirstNY has extraordinary influence in legislation:
(StudentsFirstNY) is so plugged into the capital that (it’s Executive Director) Ms. Sedlis has sometimes served as a go-between among different government offices, relaying messages and scouting information about education bills being considered.
When the Executive Director of a lobbying group that has three board members who donated $250,000 to the Governor’s campaign serves “…as a go-between among different government offices” it appears that our government has been bought and sold. Here’s hoping the NYTimes digs a little deeper to follow the money and amplify its corrosive effect on legislation.
As noted in previous posts, corporations threaten to move in order to get PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreements for existing sites to reduce paying local and/or state property taxes. The costs for services are then shifted to taxpayers, many of whom do not connect the dots on the cause of their tax increases and/or want to retain their jobs but don’t want to pick up the costs shifted to their neighbors. This article describes even more blatant examples of tax avoidance. Shame on all those corporations who complain about “bad schools” and then diminish the resources by avoiding state and local taxes.