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According to Politicians and Pundits, the Road to Riches is the Road to Fulfillment

May 23, 2019 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an Upshot article by Kevin Carey titled “Can Data Ward Off College Debt? New Strategy Focuses on Results”. Unsurprisingly given the avariciousness of the current POTUS, the pro-privatization tilt of his Secretary of State, the GOP, and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the unfailing faith in Capitalism on the part of many voters, the EARNINGS are the “results” the “new strategy” intends to measure. Need evidence of this assertion? Here are two paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s essay, describing the “new accountability system” proposed by Senator Lamar Alexander:

Mr. Alexander proposed a “new accountability system” based on loan repayment rates for individual programs within colleges. This, said Mr. Alexander, “should provide colleges with an incentive to lower tuition and help their students finish their degrees and find jobs so they can repay their loans.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Alexander, despite their strong criticism of President Obama on education, are following in the footsteps of his regulatory crackdown on for-profit colleges and short-term certificate programs. Rather than evaluate sprawling educational conglomerates based on the average results of hundreds of programs, the Obama rules disqualified specific programs whose graduates didn’t earn enough money to pay back their loans.

In earlier blog posts I railed against President Obama’s metrics because, like those of Mr. Alexander and the POTUS, they assumed that the purpose of college was to land a job that pays enough to allow the student to pay back loans for college. In effect, college exists to make certain banks collect enough interest to remain profitable.

Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos know the facts about debt… and presumably Mr. Carey does as well. While only 6% of college students in NYS attended for-profit schools, 41% of those who defaulted came from those schools. Discussions that link earnings to majors sidestep this issue. The founder of Trump University, his Secretary of Education, and the many legislators who receive donations from profiteers who want less regulation are banding together to divert our collective attention away from the real problem and, at the same time, reinforcing the idea that college is about getting a high paying job and not “guiding people toward more enlightened, fulfilling lives.”

And here’s the bottom line: the policies promulgated by our legislators and pundits, assume our lives can only be fulfilled if we make a lot of money… and the more we earn the more we will be fulfilled.

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Millions of Federal $$$ for Charters Wasted Since 2006. Note the Date, Please!

April 23, 2019 Comments off

Jeff Bryant, co-author of a recently released report from the Network for Public Education (NPE), wrote a post for Common Dreams describing Betsy DeVos’ most recent reaction to the report, which was an ad hominem attack of the writers. Mr. Bryant’s summarized Ms. DeVos’ reaction and the NPE’s response in this paragraph:

By denying, distracting, and personally attacking the report authors, she encouraged us to delve further into the evidence that much of the money awarded by the program went to charter schools that are, at best, bungling attempts to start up education businesses that should never have been financed to begin with or, at worst, scam operations that willfully intended to make off with taxpayer money and not suffer any negative consequences.

What I find particularly alarming after reading this post is that the easiest defense of DeVos COULD have been: “The waste, fraud, and abuse happened under the watch of previous administrations and I will be taking the following steps to correct this problem”… because almost all of the documented cases in the NPE report come from actions taken by the DOE under the Obama administration.

She didn’t say that… which means she does not care at all about the need to regulate for profit charter schools or the impact those schools have on the lives of parents, children, and community members.

But here’s what I find even MORE alarming: there are probably at least a dozen Democratic candidates who WILL defend charter schools using that line of reasoning.

My bottom line on charters is that they should be governed by democratically elected boards and subject to the same regulations as public schools.

Washington Post’s Explains DeVos’ Complicated Shell Game Involving ESAs, Justifiably Awards Her 3 Pinocchios for Lying

April 9, 2019 Comments off

As Washington Post writer Salvador Rizzo’s article on Betsy DeVos’ latest budget illustrates, the ALEC gambit of Education Savings Accounts is easy to sell to voters under the rubric of “choice” and complicated to explain as a device to siphon scarce tax dollars out of the pockets of public employees and into the pockets of billionaires. Here’s the way the gambit works:

Billionaires donate a large sum of tax deductible money to a charitable “Education Savings Account” that a presumably “needy” family can use as a de facto voucher to attend a school of their choice if their child has the misfortune of being assigned to a “failing school.” The effect of this writ large is that the federal government loses income— in the case of the DeVos budget $5,000,000,000 worth— and local districts are “held harmless”. The fact that the funds lost at the federal level are not necessarily those earmarked for schools is offset by the fact that at the same time as Ms. DeVos is advocating for this income loss at the Federal level she is also proposing a budget that cuts $8,800,000,000! In the words of Mr. Rizzo: “A clever bureaucratic design cannot paper over the reality of money going in and out.” 

If this concept were floated in a world where the use of these funds for sectarian schools or unregulated for-profit schools was prohibited it might be a means of helping “needy” children escape from “failing” schools. But the world we live in isn’t set up that way. In the world we live in STATES get to define which schools are deemed to be “failing” and too often they base that determination on flawed metrics that identify over 70% of the public schools as deficient. In the world we live in STATES get to define which students are deemed to be “needy” and too often they base that determination on income levels that identify over 70% of the families as requiring subsidies to attend non-public schools— including those families who are already enrolling their children in those schools. In the world we live in STATES get to pass legislation based on the same kind of “clever bureaucratic design” and end up diminishing STATE funds away from their budgets while diminishing funds for public schools since most state funding formulas are based on enrollments.

Long story short: if this kind of “clever bureaucratic design” was limited to the federal government it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as it is if STATES were not using the same “clever bureaucratic design” to cut public school funding. As Woodward and Bernstein learned decades ago when they were unravelling the Watergate scandal, if you want to find the source of a problem… follow the money. And in this case the money is leaving the pockets of teachers and going into the pockets of the billionaires who get tax deductions when they make contributions to Education Savings Accounts.

Jeff Bryant’s Three Questions Wreaked Havoc at the US Department of Education… But Shine Light of Duncan’s and Devos’ Lax Oversight of Charters

April 9, 2019 Comments off

As noted in a previous blog post, Jeff Bryant co-authored a recent report demonstrating that billions of federal dollars were wasted on charter schools that never opened or operated for only a short period of time. One of Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism posts over the past weekend drew from one of Bryant’s recent articles in AlterNet describing how three questions he posed to several Department of Education bureaucrats reportedly “created havoc” in that department. It seems that during the Obama administration some of the charter schools that received large sums of money from the federal government basically took the money and ran. As a result a directive was issued requiring that some kind of audit be issued by any entity receiving funds for charter schools. That, in turn, led to Mr. Bryant’s recent inquiry at the Department of Education. He wrote:

This is to inquire about the current grant application review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities. Specifically, in 2015, the Department published an “Overview of the 2015 CSP SEA Review Process.” My questions:

  1. Can you provide a similar document describing how the grant review process is currently being conducted for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities?

  2. If not, can you briefly comment on how the grant review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities aligns with or varies from the Overview referenced above?

  3. Regarding a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to State Education Agencies in 2015 emphasizing the importance of financial accountability for charter schools receiving federal dollars, was there any follow-up by the Charter School Program to ascertain how many SEAs complied with this request and what was the nature of the new systems and processes put into place by SEAs to provide for greater accountability?

Send on March 8, the emails he received a voice mail in response on March 15. Here’s Mr. Bryant’s recounting of what happened (or more accurately what DIDN’T happen) next:

On March 15, I received a voicemail message from an official in the public affairs division of the department asking me to call her back. The message started out nice enough but then veered toward criticism. “Apparently you have sent his request to multiple people,” she said (emphasis original), “and that just creates havoc for everyone.”

When I immediately called her back, I explained I had merely sent my inquiry to the contacts provided on the relevant sections of the department’s website. “That’s understandable,” she replied, but for “future reference” I was told to send inquiries to “a director”—though I’m not sure who that is. And I was told again my questions had “created havoc” in the office but that department staff members were “working on it” and would “take a few days.”

As of this writing, I’ve yet to receive any other replies.

Mr. Bryant went on to report that this kind of stonewalling regarding the performance of charter schools is nothing new: it happened in the Obama administration as well as the Trump administration. The sentiment in favor of charters and opposed to “traditional” public schools seems to be baked into the DNA of the department. Here are the concluding paragraphs of Mr. Bryant’s report:

On the issue of how a federal agency could allow charter operators to rip off American taxpayers with impunity, and generally suffer no adverse consequences for their acts, DeVos acknowledged that waste and fraud in the charter grant program had been around for “some time.”

That much is true.

It was under Arne Duncan’s watch that the federal charter grants program was greatly expanded, states were required to lift caps on the numbers of charter schools in order to receive precious federal dollars, and the administration Duncan served in insulted public school teachers by proclaiming National Charter School Week on dates identical to what had always been observed as Teacher Appreciation Week.

And most of the wanton charter fraud we detailed in our report that ran rampant during the Duncan years is now simply continuing under DeVos, with little to no explanation of why this is allowed to occur.

So at least we have that clear.

When and will it change? That is a question every candidate for President in the Democratic party should be asked and their answer should be heeded… for if it isn’t the “waste and fraud in the charter grant program” that has been around for “some time” will certainly continue in perpetuity.

“Dog Bites Man”: Devos Denies Defrauded Students Debt Forgiveness Despite Court Order

April 6, 2019 Comments off

In a “dog bites man” story, the NYTimes reported that the Department of Education under Betsy Devos’ leadership has refused to comply with a court order that they forgive the debts incurred by students who were defrauded by profiteering colleges. The Times’ Erica Green writes:

The Education Department failed to approve a single application for federal student loan relief in the second half of last year, according to new department data that signals that students who claim they were cheated by their colleges cannot count on help from Washington anytime soon…

Since taking office, Ms. DeVos has tried to overhaul the 2016 process started by the Obama administration that was supposed to pave an easier road for students to secure loan relief after their colleges are found to have misled them with inflated claims of false promises of jobs. The Obama administration approved nearly 30,000 such claims, estimated at $450 million, in its last year in office. The Education Department approved 16,155 from Jan. 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018.

To translate: in the final ONE year of the Obama administration, 30,000 secured debt relief. I the first TWO years of the Trump administration 16,155— roughly half as many students secured debt relief. And contrary to Ms. Devos’ protests it has less to due with litigation by plaintiffs trying to pry more money from profiteers and more to do with the mindset of those leading the department.

Roughly midway through the article there was this exchange between Senator Dick Durbin and Ms. DeVos:

“Don’t you have a heart?” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, asked Ms. DeVos at a hearing on the department’s budget, where he cited 140,000 “victim students waiting on your department to give them relief so they can get on with their lives.”

“No student should be defrauded, and if fraud is involved, there are consequences, and there will be consequences,” Ms. DeVos replied. “But we should not be judging institutions by their tax status. Let’s be very honest here; there are bad actors on both sides of the equation.”

She added, with some indignance, “Let’s talk about the nonprofits that are doing a bad job, that are subject to bribes, that are lying in order to improve their U.S. News and World Report statistics,” referring to the recent college admissions scandal rocking Ivy League and other elite institutions.

Were I Mr. Durbin, I would express my complete agreement with Ms. DeVos on her final point and then pose the question of what she intends to do with those colleges who are found to be lying in order to improve their US News and World Report standings and ask what kinds of metrics her department is working on to replace those metrics…. for absent metrics like those that resulted in evidence of students being defrauded the entire college landscape will soon be dominated by snake-oil salesmen.

Ms. Devos, her boss— Mr. Trump, and the GOP are all in favor of Darwinian Caveat Emptor Capitalism where the consumer is at fault when they are misled. Maybe a form of Darwinian Democracy will result in a change of thinking in Washington DC.

ESSA and the “Death of the Compassionate Democracy”

March 18, 2019 Comments off

NYTimes columnist Margaret Renkyl offers a scary and scathing insight into the synergistic efforts of the religious right and pro-business libertarians to undermine democracy in Tennessee in the name of God and mammon. In so doing she describes how the notorious Koch brothers use the causes of the religious right to help advance their goals, which are described in Nancy Maclean’s book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America”as follows:

According to Dr. MacLean, the Koch network’s goal — and the goal of all legislators in thrall to the Kochs’ PACs — is to weaken unions, suppress voter turnout, privatize public education, undercut climate science, roll back existing environmental protections, dismantle the social safety net and, of course, stack the courts with sympathetic judges.To enact that unpopular agenda, they’ve had to make common cause with the religious right.

And so we have a world where religious zealots who presumably believe in the teachings of Jesus are stripping poor people of medical coverage, relegating their children to substandard schools, and subjecting all of their fellow citizens to polluted air and water… all in the name increasing the bottom line of corporations.

Ms. Renkyl’s column is full of excellent insights, but it’s closing paragraph overlooks one reality that is most unsettling:

For all its often-empty swagger, the Tennessee General Assembly has made one thing very clear: If Americans don’t start paying closer attention to what’s happening in statehouses across the country, the republic may never recover.

The one reality that Ms. Renkyl overlooks is that Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the champion of the bi-partisan disaster known as ESSA, has enabled states like Tennessee to set their own standards for education and, in so doing, effectively support the notion that STATES should be able to define curriculum standards… and if Ms. Renkyl doesn’t think that the Koch brothers are willing to throw science education standards, reading lists, and literacy under the bus in the name of free enterprise she is not paying attention herself.

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A Predictable Meltdown Results When a Former Investor in For-Profit Schools Oversees the Dismantling of Regulations Governing Those Schools

March 8, 2019 Comments off

NYTimes reporters Stacy Cowley and Erica Green describe the rapid meltdown of a college chain that resulted when Betsy DeVos aggressively deregulated post secondary schools in the name of giving “new life” to an industry that was “on its heels” during the Obama administration. And why was it on its heels? Because, as the Obama administration’s Department of Education recognized, the profiteers who operated private (mostly proprietary) colleges misled students who went deeply in debt to get the education they understood they needed to be successful in the global economy. The students never got their degrees because the colleges did not have the wherewithal to provide the education they promised. When the Obama administration fined the colleges to help pay back either the students’ personal loans or the government who provided loans for the schools the profiteering colleges either went out of business or transferred their ownership to a different entity. The winners in all of this were the investors and the college administrators who received unseemly high salaries. The losers were the students who hoped to better themselves only to find themselves deep in debt. I am certain that the laissez faire capitalists will shrug their shoulders and say that’s the way the market works: caveat emptor! One can only hope that every disaffected student will at least learn that the policy of deregulation— UNDER-governing— is the problem and not the government itself. But that unit was probably not included in the introductory economics courses offered.