Archive for December, 2016

We Should Heed Jeff Bryant’s Call to Arms

December 30, 2016 Comments off

Progressive education blogger Jeff Bryant wrote a Common Dreams blog post that could well save as a  call to arms for progressive pro-public education advocates across the country. In his essay Mr. Bryant delineates the flaws in the “free market” direction Mr. Trump intends to take public education and the weak-kneed responses thus far on the part of Democrats. This section of his post is particularly damning of “the opposition”:

A burning question is, “Where are the Democrats?”

As for the outgoing US Secretary John King, according to Education Week, he’d like all “supporters of public education” to “set aside the policy differences that we have let divide us and move forward together courageously to defend and extend this fundamental American institution.”

While we should appreciate the Secretary’s respect for decorum, what needs to be made clear is who are the real “supporters of education” and what “differences” are appropriate for setting aside and which are worth fighting for.

Education marketers have rebranded “public schools” to mean any institution that gets tax dollars. And the phrase “doing what’s best for kids” has been turned into an empty PR slogan.

Mr. Bryant then chastises the narrow gauge of the five “progressive” senators’ opposition to DeVos on the basis of an unpaid fine before using a Think Progress article to drive home the point that Democrats will have a problem opposing charters given their recent track record:

As Casey Quinlan observes for Think Progress, Democratic advocates for charter schools, like King, are “stuck” in a difficult space between those who are increasingly alarmed with school choice run amok across the nation and “a new administration that’s hostile to public education.”

Exhibit A in Quinlan’s argument is US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who “has been a staunch advocate for the expansion of charter schools and of school choice,” but has now felt pressured to publicly declare he has “healthy skepticism” and “serious early concerns” about DeVos.

Quinlan points to national teachers’ unions as the force driving Democrats into these difficult spaces, but the opposition to the oncoming Trump education doctrinaire goes well beyond the national unions.

Bryant concludes his post with a heartening summary of State charter expansion initiatives that were defeated at the polls by grassroots efforts… efforts that prevailed in the face of prodigious spending by the pro-charter lobby. He concludes his article with these paragraphs:

“What our children don’t need is the federal government trying to divert any amount of that funding to private and religious schools,” writes David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center. His recommendations include “start[ing] state-level conversations about rejecting offers of federal funding that come at the price of defunding public education and causing even more inequity and disparity of opportunity for students” and “legislative campaigns for charter school reform.”

The Nation’s Dana Goldstein has good advice too. “If progressive education … is to be effective over the next several years, it will have to focus strategically on statehouses, school boards, city councils, and mayoral races.”

We know what’s at stake. Let’s get to it!

I’m ready to keep an eye on New Hampshire’s education bills… I’m going to go to it in 2017!

Medicaid Block Grants = De Facto Cuts to Voiceless Children Board in Poverty

December 29, 2016 Comments off

For the past several years, austerity minded Republicans have championed the need to cut back on entitlements in order to achieve a balanced budget. The notion of balancing the federal budget seems commonsensical: a household cannot spend moe than it takes in and a government shouldn’t do so either. But of course a responsible household almost always spends more than it takes in so that it can afford a house and, in many cases, an automobile, furniture, and other large acquisitions that it acquires on credit…. including the payment for health insurance to pay for unforeseen medical expenses. Analogously, the federal government sets aside funds to pay for medical insurance to cover expenses incurred by the elderly (Medicare) and the financially strapped (Medicaid). These funds are characterized by those seeking to balance the budget as “entitlements”, a convenient misnomer that reinforces the notion that they are provided to undeserving recipients.

In “The Quiet War on Medicaid“, an op ed piece in this past Monday’s NYTimes, Gene Sperling, who served as director of the National Economic Council from 1996 to 2001 and from 2011 until 2014, warns progressives to keep an eye on Medicaid when the debate on cuts to medical “entitlements” ensues in the coming year because he foresees a shell game about to play out. Here’s the way it will work. Paul Ryan and his fellow austerity-minded colleagues will propose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The seniors, who vote in large numbers, will lead a charge to push back against Medicare cuts and as a result they will be taken off the table. In the meantime progressives will argue that cuts to Medicaid will hurt those with the greatest needs. To show their magnanimity, the Republican leadership will offer block grants to states that marginally increase the budget and argue that by giving the money to the states with “greater flexibility” and “less bureaucracy” that there will be no harm done to the neediest. The reduction in the increase will result in an overall cut to the budget, but will do far more harm than the austerity minded congressmen will lead the public to believe. But Mr. Sperling describes how this gambit will play out:

Sweeping cuts to Medicaid would hurt tens of millions of low-income and middle-income families who had a family member with a disability or were in need of nursing home care. About 60 percent of the costs of traditional Medicaid come from providing nursing home care and other types of care for the elderly and those with disabilities.

While Republicans resist characterizations of their block grant or cap proposals as tearing away health benefits from children, older people in nursing homes or middle-class families heroically coping with children with serious disabilities, the tyranny of the math does not allow for any other conclusion. If one tried to cut off all 30 million poor kids now enrolled in Medicaid, it would save 19 percent of the program’s spending. Among the Medicaid programs at greatest risk would be those optional state programs that seek to help middle-income families who become “medically needy” because of the costs of having a child with a serious disability like autism or Down syndrome.

In the concluding paragraph to his op ed piece, Sperling notes that this gambit effectively shifts the costs for Medicaid to the states– the majority of whom are led by Republican governors– and ultimately to the local hospitals who will not turn away a patient for lack of funds. Sterling concludes that ultimately

…these anodyne-sounding proposals would lead to an assault on health care for those in nursing homes and for working families straining to deal with a serious disability, as well as for the poorest Americans.  

And assuming the worst, that these cuts DO find their way through the budget process, you can bet that the ultimate victims will not be the “…working families straining to deal with a serious disability” for they have a voice in the State houses. It will be the poorest Americans… the children who are being raised in poverty.

Bruce Baker’s Thorough Analysis Overlooks One Major Issue: Public Schools Interface with Public Agencies

December 28, 2016 Comments off

Economic Policy Institute writer Bruce Baker recently issued a lengthy white paper on the consequences of charter school expansion in the United States that offered dozens of charts and graphs supporting his overarching assertion that school choice in and of itself will not lead to the outcome of “great schools” for all children. In order for schools to achieve both equity and excellence, Mr. Baker suggests centralization and regulation are required as outlined in the concluding section of the report’s Executive Summary:

If the broad, long-term policy objective is to move toward the provision of a “system of great schools” in each of America’s communities, then those systems must be responsibly, centrally managed to achieve an equitable distribution of excellent (or at the very least adequate) educational opportunities for all children, while protecting the interests and legal rights of children, parents, taxpayers, and employees. Achieving this lofty goal requires determining which functions of the system must be centrally and publicly regulated and governed. Systemwide public responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  • The equitable management of enrollments and schooling access
  • The equitable distribution of financial and other resources across the system, including allocation of resources to centralized functions that serve all schools
  • The centralized management and equitable use/allocation, maintenance, and operations of the public’s capital stock of schools and related land and facilities
  • The centralized management of systemwide debt obligations and long-term liabilities including employee retirement and health benefits

Numerous analyses have found chartering to lead to an imbalanced distribution of students by race, income, language proficiency, and disability status. So too does magnet schooling, or concentration of any specialized services across buildings within districts. The point is not that all such variations must necessarily be erased, or even could be, but that these variations must be acknowledged, and managed for the good of the system as a whole. To the extent that student needs continue to vary across school settings, resources must be targeted to accommodate those needs. This is a central function, and includes budget allocations, space allocations, and personnel allocations that draw on a substantial body of research on costs associated with providing equal educational opportunities (Duncombe and Yinger 2008).

Capital stock—publicly owned land and buildings—should not be sold off to private entities for lease to charter operators, but rather, centrally managed both to ensure flexibility (options to change course) and to protect the public’s assets (taxpayer interests). Increasingly, districts such as those discussed herein, have sold land and buildings to charter operators and related business entities, and now lack sufficient space to serve all children should the charter sector, or any significant portion of it, fail. Districts and state policymakers should not put themselves in a position where the costs of repurchasing land and buildings to serve all eligible children far exceed fiscal capacity and debt limits.

Finally, pension and health care costs are systemwide concerns that cannot be ignored by shifting students, and thus teachers and public dollars, across sectors.

Mr. Baker’s list of systemwide public responsibilities overlooks one important element: the need for public schools to interface seamlessly with other public agencies that support the well being of children, especially those children who are raised in poverty. Over 15 years ago I wrote an op ed article that was published in Education Week titled “A Homeland Security Bill for Public Education” that suggested that social agencies be able to communicate seamlessly in order to provide wraparound services to children struggling in schools. The article cited specific cases I encountered as a county Superintendent in Maryland where the lack of these formal interfaces resulted in uncoordinated efforts in dealing with children, a lack of coordination that arguably put schools at risk, had agencies working against each other in the case management of children, and clearly resulted in duplicative ends. As I read Bruce Baker’s analysis of the flaws of private charters, one issue he overlooked was whether a private charter would be obligated to report suspected child abuse; or whether a social worker or parole and probation officer would be allowed to discuss a child’s performance with them; or whether a privately funded health provider would be required to report cases of infectious disease to the public health department. These issues don’t cross the mind of for profit charter operators because their interest in earning money  means that their first and only obligation is to their shareholders— not to the public at large and certainly not to the school district.

So my suggestion is that advocates for equity keep in mind that publicly funded wraparound services might not be available for privately operated charter schools— a factor that will contribute to more inequity and a greater disparity in opportunity.