Home > Uncategorized > State Takeovers of Schools Enable Legislators to Sidestep Real Issues: Poverty and Racism

State Takeovers of Schools Enable Legislators to Sidestep Real Issues: Poverty and Racism

February 12, 2016

“Would a State Takeover Help Chicago’s Troubled Schools”, Atlantic writer Lauren McKenna’s February 11 post, oversells the success of charter schools in urban areas but offers some insights into the dilemmas public education faces when bureaucracies swell. As has been widely reported in the media, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are operating in the red, facing the possibility of a teacher’s strike, and have millions of dollars of deferred maintenance needs. Neither the mayor or a succession of “CEO” style Superintendents have been able to make the system work effectively and the appointed school board has done little to improve the situation. The lack of leadership over the past several years has left Chicago in a seemingly irreparable condition and the latest means of “fixing the schools” is to have them taken over by the State.

The fiscal dilemmas, as well as the unrest among teachers, compound (the) ongoing academic challenges. (Illinois Governor) Rauner and a group of Republican lawmakers say that a state takeover, which would wrest control from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is the only way to fix a system that is “absolutely collapsing on itself.” Indeed, according to editors at the Chicago Tribune, the recent bond deal won’t fix the city’s upcoming financial collapse; they chastise union leaders and local political leaders for rejecting compromise measures with the state. “The school system is heading toward implosion and the mayor and legislative leaders—all from Chicago—are not offering a way to manage this debacle so the teachers can continue to educate the children while the financial disaster is resolved,” the editors wrote. As part of the takeover, the Illinois State Board of Education would appoint an oversight board to examine the books, and the state would have the option to file for bankruptcy for the city’s schools, opening the possibility of cuts to pension benefits and the termination of tenured teachers.

And therein lies the problem with “State takeovers”. From the State’s perspective the Chicago schools are a financial problem and the best way to solve a financial problem is to apply hard-nosed business methods… to find ways to cut costs by either laying off people, cutting their wages and/or benefits, and/or reneging on pensions that were negotiated and, in some cases, co-funded by the teachers.

But the teachers aren’t the problem with student performance. The problems are related to poverty and segregated housing patterns– or racism– and the solutions– cutting back on teachers– will do nothing to solve the issue. Worse, when local oversight is removed, even when that local oversight might be contributing to the problem by offering patronage or failing to make tough decisions, bad decision making is virtually always the result. The emergency manager appointments and authoritarian “CEO” Superintendents are cases in point. In an effort to display toughness these outsiders often impose decisions that work against the best interests of particular schools and ignore the valid protests in the name of financial savings. Flint MI water crisis is a case in point.

Addressing the problems associated with children raised in poverty, especially black and Latino children raised in poverty, will require more funding than we have available now and will require collaborative problem solving as close to the situation as possible. Handing these problems to someone appointed by the mayor or– even worse– someone appointed by a State agency will NOT work unless local officials are engaged and invited to participate in the solution. After decades of failed takeovers (e.g. Chester-Upland and Philadelphia schools; Newark and Camden schools; and virtually all MI districts) one would hope that state takeovers would be abandoned altogether… but they are fast, cheap, and politically expedient.

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