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New Orleans Tribune’s Withering Editorial Shines a Light on Failure of “Reform”

November 23, 2017 Leave a comment

In an editorial that excoriates the “reform” movement in their city, the New Orleans Tribune bluntly outlines the shenanigans that took place at all levels in order to reinforce their “success” narrative. Near the beginning of their extended editorial, the writers offer this grim description of how the takeover by privatizers affected parents:

Schools opening.

Schools closing.

Schools changing from one charter manager to another.

A tortuous admissions in which parents crossed their fingers and hoped—no prayed—that some computer algorithm’s random selection would work in their favor. It was also a process that some schools were allowed to exclude themselves from altogether.

This brings us to the bogus notion of school “choice” that reformers have held up as a blessing for parents and students, when, in fact, the only entities that exercise any real choice in admissions have been the charter schools—not parents, not students.

Unelected boards not bound to parents or taxpayers determining school policies and deciding how money is spent.

Many parents even uncertain as to who they could or should call if they had problems, questions or complaints—the OPSB member they elected or the board actually governing the school.

Kids waiting in the early dawn to catch a school bus from one part of the city to another and getting home at dusk because neighborhood schools have become non-existent. And even if there was one just a block away from home, the question became was it a quality school? And even if it was, could your child get a seat there?

In one section of their essay they describe how the state department manipulated test scores to help “prove” their reform efforts were succeeding, how they willfully hid problems they identified with some of the privatizers, and how difficult it was for parents to get the information they needed to make an informed choice about the schools:

The state education department, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana legislature have messed with the numbers since Katrina—lowering the minimum SPS to facilitate the takeover, raising it again to hide its failure. It is hard to tell up from down, especially with a LDE and other leaders that have done everything in their power to “muddy up the narrative” and “take some air out of the room” (LDE Superintendent John White’s words from 2012 taken from e-mails in which he was discussing damage control in response to revelations about sketchy private schools receiving state money through school vouchers). The LDE has even taken to withholding comprehensive data from those attempting independent analysis and research into the academic progress and education reform.

Under the state’s Freedom of Information law, citizens have requested data such as voucher programs’ exact enrollments and costs, and demographics of voucher students; test-score distributions and technical reports; details of School and District Performance Score calculations to verify accuracy and credibility; charter schools’ enrollments, charters and leases; and exact enrollment numbers. Those requests have been repeatedly thwarted by John White. So do we really know how these scores and letter grades are being determined? Do they line up with the same standards the state used to engineer the wholesale takeover of our schools? Or does the game remain rigged?

Meanwhile, a state audit released in early October 2017 panned how Louisiana’s education department monitors charter schools and urged the LDE to improve how it measures school performance of the charter schools attended by more than 53,000 public school students—most of them here in New Orleans, but also across the state.

As the editors note throughout their essay, none of these actions was a surprise to them, for they had attempted to alert the public to the failure of “reform” all along. Their conclusion, after their blistering assessment of “reform” is this:

There are those who suggest the local education battle is a lost cause and that the widespread operation of our schools by charter managers is here to stay. From time to time, we become a bit dismayed and almost accept that position ourselves. But we have fought too long for what is right, and we won’t stop demanding the complete and absolute return of local schools to real local control, even if we stand alone.

Our mantra of late—taken from the words of Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, founder of the historic New Orleans Tribune—is that it is time for us to be leaders ourselves. It is way past time that those who portend themselves as leaders of our community take a stand on the issue of public education in New Orleans. Far too much time has already been wasted.

In New Orleans, the privatization of all public schools has not worked… and as noted in earlier blog posts the takeover by states has proven to be a failure in every state…. and 35 states have lawsuits pending on the issue of inequitable funding. Is possible that providing more funds for the schools serving children in poverty might be the best solution to this problem?

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Net Neutrality Is Dead… and So, Too, is the Opportunity for Technology as a Means of Achieving Equitable Education

November 22, 2017 Leave a comment

To no one’s surprise (or at least not to MY surprise), the GOP dominated FCC yesterday announced that it was repealing a set of regulations that resulted in “net neutrality”. As described in Steve Lohr’s article in today’s NYTimes, this does not appear to be a big deal for public schools. Here’s his description of th backdrop:

The net neutrality rules were passed in 2015 during the Obama administration when Democrats controlled the F.C.C.

The goal was to adapt regulations in such a way as to acknowledge the essential role of high-speed internet access as a gateway to modern communication, information, entertainment and economic opportunity. So the F.C.C. opted to regulate broadband service as a utility — making the internet the digital equivalent of electricity and the telephone.

By making “the internet the digital equivalent of electricity and the telephone” the FCC was guaranteeing that every customer served would receive the same level of service… which means that every customer would have the same rate of uploading and downloading speeds. Thus, presumably, a child who has a smartphone in public housing in the Bronx would get the same speed internet as a child in a posh penthouse in Manhattan and a school with internet access in a poverty stricken community in Appalachia would have the same speed internet as a student at, say, Phillips Exeter Academy.

But with the repeal of net neutrality, these rules no longer apply. As Mr. Lohr writes, the biggest concern of those who support net neutrality:

…is that the internet will become pay-to-play technology with two tiers: one that has speedy service and one that doesn’t. The high-speed lane would be occupied by big internet and media companies, and affluent households. For everyone else there would be the slow lane.

If this rule applied to electricity and telephone service, electrical companies and phone companies could charge higher rates for those in geographically remote areas and, arguably, lower their baseline services to offer different levels of service for different kinds of customers. This is what could easily occur with the internet where homes like mine (and similar “geographically remote” homes) that are not served by cable companies will never get the same level of service as homes a half-mile away that DO have connectivity to the cable system. Moreover, the current speeds for the internet will be the baseline moving forward, which means that those seeking higher speeds (and the computer applications that are available with hose higher speeds) will need to pay more or settle for what they have. This will inevitably result in a widening divide between the affluent and the-rest-of-us and will bake in the existing disparities forever…. and potentially make them worse in rural America where competitive markets do not exist, as Mr. Lohr explains:

But a weakness in the free-market argument, industry analysts say, is that in some regional and rural markets, households have only one internet provider available to them. That undermines the theory that competition will protect consumers.

Roger L. Kay, an independent technology analyst, predicted that larger bills — not content blocking — would be the most likely result. If the big internet and media companies will have to pay their carriers more for high-speed services, the expenses will trickle down to households.

Consumers, Mr. Kay said, “will end up paying higher prices for essentially the same service.”

The parents of children in affluent households will pay the bills and their children will have access to all the advances that occur in the delivery of services… and so will the schools that serve those children. The parents of children in poverty-stricken households and the schools they attend may opt out of the internet altogether… And, as a result, their children will miss out on learning opportunities and the economic divide will widen.

This Just In: If You Pay Teachers Less and Disrespect Them Teacher Supply Will Diminish

November 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Mother Jones reporter Patrick Caldwell offered a gloomy but predictable result of six years of Scott Walker’s leadership in Wisconsin:

Wisconsin’s attack on public sector unions has created a shortage of public school teachers, as teachers retire and look for jobs in other states and fewer young people embark on careers in education:

The school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison never used to have trouble attracting applicants with dreams of becoming teachers. Its graduate program is ranked fourth in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and until recently, its undergraduate program in elementary education typically received between 300 and 400 applications for its 125 spots. Now, says Michael Apple, a professor in the program, it only gets about one applicant per opening.

And why might teacher candidates in Wisconsin look elsewhere? Mr. Caldwell offers one very good reason: the compensation for teachers has dramatically fallen over the past six years! How much?

A new study from the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) offers a new set of numbers to quantify the effects of Act 10 on public education in Wisconsin. Median compensation—salary and benefits—was $10,843 lower in the 2015-2016 school year than before Act 10, a 12.6 percent reduction.

And while the compensation for the “greedy teachers” has diminished the taxpayers did find the money needed to “attract new businesses” to Wisconsin by offering outlandish incentives to the tune of $3,000,000,000! It’s always important to attract new businesses! New teachers? Not so much! But instead of offering higher compensation, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the GOP in the state have a better idea! Lower the standards for certification!

But as Mr. Walker launches his campaign for a third term as Governor, he remains undaunted and unaffected by the facts. He’s certain he’s improved schools and will continue to do so if elected, as Mr. Caldwell notes in his closing paragraph:

Meanwhile, earlier this month Walker announced his intention to run for a third terms as governor. “I love traveling the state and hearing how the things we’re doing are helping,” Walker said in a digital ad kicking off his reelection campaign. “But there’s more to be done. Investing in training for our workers. Helping people create jobs. Making our schools even better.” But as he continues traveling the state, Walker will have to explain how the teacher shortage created by his anti-union law has improved schools.

 

School Choice Bill Advances in New Hampshire… Depressed District Budgets Sure to Follow

November 19, 2017 Leave a comment

I read with despair a brief report from AP describing the narrow passage of SB 193, erroneously referred to as “the school choice” bill. Here’s the description:

The House Education Committee last week narrowly approved an overhauled version of a Senate-passed bill that would allow parents to use public money to send children to private schools.

The bill would provide parents with the state’s basic per-pupil grant of roughly $3,000 to be used for private school tuition or home schooling.

To qualify, parents would have to have a household income less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty limit, live in an underperforming school district, have a child with an individual education plan or tried unsuccessfully to enroll a child in a charter school or get an education tax credit. Opponents argued the program would violate the state constitution, which says no person shall be compelled to pay to support a religious school.

The practical impact of this is that many middle class parents who currently pay for tuitions to private schools and most of the parents who home school children will access the $3,000 voucher depriving public schools of funds they currently use to educate the children who are already enrolled in their schools. The chart below depicts the federal poverty level for the current year:

Given that the median household income in New Hampshire is $70,303 any school-aged family with more that two children is likely to qualify regardless of the school’s performance level. Furthermore, given that the definition of an “underperforming school” is fluid from year-to-year. In 2012 the New Hampshire State Department of Education identified over 300 schools as being in “need of improvement”, and that number is based largely on test results whose cut scores can be manipulated. Finally, national statistics indicate that 14.6% of New Hampshire students have IEPs. The net effect of these factors makes it probable that at least 50% of the students currently enrolled in public schools might be eligible for the $3,000 vouchers that would be made available through SB 193.

But the potential loss of revenue due to the outmigration of current students is the least of the problems for public schools. Based on data from the A to Z Homeschooling site, there are roughly 6,000 homeschooled students in New Hampshire, a number that could be marginally higher given New Hampshire’s relatively lax enforcement of homeschooling. And the Private School Review web page reports that there are 319 private schools in New Hampshire, serving 29,983 students. Assuming that half of the homeschool students and half of the private school students are eligible for and access the $3,000 voucher offered by SB 193, public schools could lose $654,000 to educate students who were not enrolled in their schools based on a formula used by Reaching Higher NH.  Given that many of those private schools are located in communities that serve children raised in poverty, the loss of the revenues will be devastating. Moreover, the funds that would be diverted from these high poverty schools would be given to parents who are relatively affluent, some of whom would be earning more than the median income for the state.

This bill was passed by a 10-9 margin in the House Education Committee, with one Manchester Democrat voting to support the bill. That legislator is clearly in a bind since the city she represents has 30 private schools enrolling over 3,374 students. But if half of those children qualify for the voucher, Manchester could lose over $61,340 in revenue to educate children who are not enrolled in the schools today but might have been at one time in their schooling. That amount is roughly the cost of one FTE teacher.

I am in the process of confirming my analysis on this… but any way one looks at this bill it is wrongheaded and detrimental to public schools in New Hampshire. Alas, that is the direction our Governor, legislature, and Commissioner want the state to take.

Eduardo Porter Calls Out Our Unwillingness to Invest in the Future

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

In “Considering the Cost of Lower Taxes”, a NYTimes article published earlier this week, columnist Eduardo Porter effectively calls out our nation and voters for their unwillingness to raise taxes to ensure that future generations will have the same level of well being as my generation– the baby-boomers– experienced. Here’s the scene Mr. Porter sets in his opening paragraphs:

In 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, and federal, state and local governments in the United States raised about the same in taxes, as a share of the economy, as the government of the average industrialized country: 26.6 percent of gross domestic product, against 27 percent among the nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Nearly 50 years later, the tax picture has changed little in the United States. By 2015, the last year for which the O.E.C.D. has comparable data, the figure was 26.4 percent of G.D.P. But across the market democracies of the O.E.C.D., the share had climbed by an average of more than seven percentage points.

Mr. Porter notes that these other developed countries’ spending was to be expected given Wagner’s Law, which posits that “…government spending as a share of the economy will increase as nations get richer and their citizens demand more and better public services.” In countries that increased their government spending, their citizens are getting “…more and better public services”. In our country, we are not ony getting what we pay for– which is poor health care, an infrastructure that is in disrepair, and widening disparities between the rich and poor— but we are leaving our children and grandchildren with debts that could require them to pay even higher taxes than other developed nations in the future.

Mr. Porter devotes much of his column offering evidence that the US Government’s efforts to change the tax code mirror what is happening in other nations… but he notes that the reforms enacted in other nations are designed to narrow the gap between the plutocrats and the middle class and lower class citizens. This leads him to these conclusions:

I have written about this country’s uniquely stingy tax policy before. Small government, I believe, has proved to be no match for its social ills, too puny to offer much resistance to rampant inequality, stubborn infant mortality or off-the-charts opioid addiction. American voters’ uniquely intense hostility toward trade can, in the same way, be traced back to the government’s ineffectiveness in mitigating trade’s disruptions.

Republicans seem to believe that the best prescription to address the nation’s ills is to slash some $50,000 from the taxes of people earning a million or more. As Isabel V. Sawhill and Eleanor Krause of the Brookings Institution note, the estate tax could generate $1 trillion over a decade just by raising the rate and cutting the exemptions to where they were in the 1970s. Raising the exemption on the estate tax to $11 million, as Republicans propose, will help only a narrow sliver of ultrarich Americans.

It is hard to conclude that the Republican proposal is about anything but that narrow sliver. If it succeeds, it will transform the United States from a low-tax country to a lower-tax one. And the mystery will persist: In cutting taxes as babies die and adults waste away in addiction, what do Americans mean by nation?

Mr. Porter’s closing question is one we must ponder as we review the GOP’s tax bills coming out of Washington. We now know what the GOP vision for the future is… what will the Democratic Party offer as an alternative? 

Jeff Bryant’s Analysis of the GOP Tax Bill… as it is NOW

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

While I try to avoid reading and blogging about bills that will not pass as they are currently written because I view it as “gossip”, I’m making an exception this morning because I believe the so-called “tax reform” legislation reveals the unvarnished priorities of the GOP. As anyone who follows politics at the national level realizes, the GOP is hell bent on passing major legislation that reflects their ideals and, to accomplish this, they have written and edited legislation behind closed doors with no input from the Democrats, no public hearings, and no analysis by independent boards. As a result, voters are getting a true picture of where the GOP wants to head, and, based on Jeff Bryant’s blog aptly titled blog post indicates, the GOP has declared a War on Learning. As Mr. Bryant writes:

What the Republicans propose in their tax plans is not just a raid on education-related budget items for the sake of fiscal efficiency; their plans are part of a strategic offensive against the very idea that all children and youth have a right to a free and high-quality education.

Mr. Bryant offers several points outside of education per se to support his metaphor that the GOP is declaring war on public schools. He notes that “…the plan in the House rolls back some “existing child care benefits in the tax code” and fails to expand a child care tax credit“, which will have the effect of increasing the tax burden on many middle class families. This, in turn will result in parents having less money “…to provide their children with academic and physical education opportunities outside school, including music lessons, sports, and summer camp.”

But the impact on families who rely on the government’s existing safety net are even worse!

As economists at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explain, these schemes are part of a “two-step fiscal agenda” to cut taxes for the rich to drive up the deficit and then justify deeper funding cuts to programs in the future.

Among the “eventual victims” CBPP predicts are programs for health, tuition, and education, particularly the Head Start program providing learning opportunities for low-income four- and five-year olds. Funding already passed by Republicans provides “little or no increase” for Head Start, so as expenses increase, the lack of new tax revenues available to Head Start will necessitate further cuts and fewer children served.

Mr. Bryant’s analysis of the impact of cuts on K-12 education is even more chilling. First and foremost, both  the House and Senate bills repeal the so-called state and local tax (SALT) deductions:

Ending the SALT deduction would immediately close a spigot of federal dollars to local coffers that pay for schools, I report. But an even worse, repealing the deduction will eventually increase voter pushback against any new local tax increases for schools and put pressure on local governments to cut taxes that are vital to children’s education.

Analysts at the National Education Association calculate that repealing the SALT deduction may “put nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk.” Job cuts of this magnitude will result in fewer services for special needs kids and those who don’t speak English well, larger class sizes with less individual attention to students, and shuttered libraries, athletic programs, and courses in arts and world languages.

Mr. Bryant notes the the bills also indicate a likelihood that the bills will eliminate the $250 deduction teachers can take for buying classroom supplies. He also flags elements of the bill that offer “…new initiatives to redirect public tax dollars to privately operated education providers.” Those initiatives include allowing parents to extend the tax advantages they get from 529 college-savings plans to use up to $10,000 annually for tuition in private K-12 schools, and two proposals that would allow for deductions made to education savings accounts that provide “scholarships” to students who are educated in religiously affiliated schools and other non-public charters. Unsurprisingly, this development pleases voucher fans like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The tax hit on those enrolled in higher education is more direct and worse. Here is Mr. Bryant’s synopsis:

As Krugman explains in his Times op-ed, if the Republicans have their way, students taking out loans to help pay college tuition would no longer be able to deduct the interest payments on those loans. Student who get help from an employer to pay for tuition or other expenses, would have the contribution considered taxable income in the House bill. Students who get free or reduced tuition because their parents are university employees will also have to report that break as taxable income. And graduate students who have tuition waived as part of their degree programs would have to report that as taxable income.

The tax increase for graduate students is a full body blow to those who we are expecting to be the nation’s future leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, and artists. If this measure passes,according to a report from NPR, the 145,000 grad students who received a tuition reduction in the most recent year available are looking at tax increases of as much as 300 to 400 percent.

The House tax plan will make these students’ education unaffordable.

It does not require much cynicism to see that this anti-intellectual tilt to the tax code is a way for the GOP to show the Trump supporters that they are listening to them. Mr. Bryant concludes his post with this:

Opposing the specific measures in these tax plans is important, but it’s essential to call out the intentions behind them…

Based on how the Republicans treat education in their tax plans, the transformation they want would make the nation collectively dumber and much more dependent on profit-making businesses for scarcer services with far fewer opportunities for citizens to better themselves through education.

We must reject that future.

Based on recent reports in conservative media like the Wall Street Journal, the business community the GOP is presumably representing is not pleased with this bill… and neither are conservative commentators like George Will who sees the “reforms” as making the tax code even more opaque. MAYBE this won’t pass as written and MAYBE it won’t pass at all. But one thing IS clear: these bills show the true spending priorities of the GOP, and they do not include support for children, assistance for parents, public education, or higher education.

 

 

 

Don’t Like the Term “Voucher”? How About if It’s Called “Student Centered Funding”? Would THAT Change Your Mind?

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

In a world where “branding” is crucial, if your organization’s name is tainted because it is associated with a failed Presidential candidate you can change it and no one will notice and, more importantly, you can change the name of the product it is selling to make it more acceptable. A link in yesterday’s Politico offers an illustration where both of these things happened. The link leads to ExcelinEd’s recently released report on something called “student-centered state funding“. The new name of the organization and the newly coined term “student-centered” idea didn’t fool this blogger. And I doubt that it will fool many progressive educators, but it might fool some legislators or give them some cover when they try to use Jeb Bush’s ideas from Florida to introduce vouchers into their state.

ExcelinEd is the new brand for the “…education reform group Foundation for Excellence in Education“, which was founded by former Florida Governor and failed Presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who ruined Florida’s once decent school systems by introducing deregulated for profit charter schools that he and the GOP in that state claimed would dramatically improve schools. Unsurprisingly, deregulated for profit charter schools did not boost test scores… but they DID introduce lots of profiteering and corporate corruption.

The mechanism for deregulated for profit charter schools in Florida also paved the way for vouchers… but since the term “vouchers” seems to have some baggage, ExcelinEd has come up with a new phrase to promote vouchers: “student centered state funding”.

There are two big ideas behind “student centered state funding”. The first is to abandon the antiquated and cumbersome term “adequacy” and replace it with “efficacy”. As the ExcelinEd report indicates:

Too often, debates about state education funding focus solely on how much money should be provided to school districts—or what is termed adequate funding. Far too little attention is paid to an equally or more important question: How can states maximize the impact of existing funding? While state policymakers often know how much in total is spent on education, they rarely know how much of the intended funding is actually being spent on individual students, many of whom have specific needs and challenges…

Addressing this issue means reframing the debate about state education funding, moving from questions about adequacy to addressing the efficacy of state funding models. A powerful means for ensuring the efficacy of state education dollars is student-centered funding.

A close reading of the rationale for this shift is that by changing the debate from the amount of money available to schools to “spend on individual students” they can presumably sidestep pesky provisions in their state constitutions that require an adequate level of funding without precisely defining what that term means. And that phrase about “money being spent on individual students” is not accidental. According to some tight-fisted ideologues, money spent to improve teachers wages and working conditions is NOT “money being spent on individual students”…it is money going to the adults in the school whose task is to teach students.

The second big idea behind “student centered state funding” is that parents can use the funds earmarked for their child to enroll them in whatever school they choose. Here are the “key advantages” of student centered funding as described in the ExcelinEd report:

There are several key advantages to student-centered funding. ➜ First, it is more transparent. It is clear and easy to understand how much funding each district gets and why. ➜ Second, it empowers districts. District leaders have flexibility to use funds to meet the unique needs of their students. ➜ Third, it empowers parents. Parents can choose the district that is best for their children, with the money fully following their students.➜ Finally, it is fairer. All students in your state get the same base resources, with additional funding for students with special needs or disadvantages.

Calling this de facto voucher system “student centered state funding” is disingenuous at best. And the five step process for introducing this system makes no mention of how to handle cases where parents might chose a religiously affiliated schools, how this would work in New England States where towns are separated by geographical features that preclude “choice” and towns— not states— are the primary source of funding and towns want to maintain a public school in their communities even if it requires them to pay a premium per pupil rate.

“Student centered state funding” works on a spread sheet in a state like Florida… but in virtually every other state it would be impossible for parents to exercise “choice” unless they enrolled in religiously affiliated schools, virtual academies (assuming broadband was available), or charter chain schools. But those caveats may be a feature…