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Chester-Upland PA’s Sordid History Recounted by Peter Greene

January 19, 2021 Leave a comment

As noted in several earlier posts, “poor performing” districts or schools rarely if ever improve as a result of state takeovers, the injection of “competition” through charter schools, or privatization. If anyone ever wanted a poster child district to prove this point, look no further that Peter Greene’s recent Forbes article describing the sordid history of the Chester-Upland School district in PA. Two sections o the article explain what went wrong with the district and where it stands now.

Here’s what went wrong:

The Chester-Upland school system’s history is a history of U.S. segregation in miniature. Through the first half of the 20th century, the schools were segregated as a matter of policy (this is covered in some detail in John McClarnon’s portrait of civil rights leader George Raymond in Pennsylvania History). In 1946, the school board finally agreed to a plan to desegregate students (but not faculty). But then the board instituted a policy that allowed students to request transfer to a school outside their assigned boundaries. Most applications by whites were approved; most by Blacks were denied. By the 1953-54 school year five elementary schools had almost entirely Black student bodies, even though white students lived within the schools’ boundaries.

In 1953, the board floated a $3.5 million bond issue intended to finance a redrawing of school boundaries. “The bond issue was,” McClarnon writes, “in fact, a #3.5 million re-segregation project.” Shortly afterwards, the Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education ruling, but the school superintendent noted that the decision wouldn’t have any legal ramifications for the county “where segregation is admittedly a fact but not a policy.”

Now… if Chester-Upland was the only district in Pennsylvania or America “where segregation is admittedly a fact but not a policy” it MIGHT be possible to solve the problems. But as readers of this blog undoubtedly realize, racial and economic segregation IS a fact everywhere even though our purported policy is an equal opportunity for all. Chester-Upland’s particular story in unique… but the general outlines of its story are not. Which leads to the closing paragraphs that describe where Chester-upland stands now:

The district’s story is complicated—this long post skips over many other issues there—but the lesson is simple. When a district is segregated, abandoned, underfunded, and deprived of resources, it suffers. And when the state, rather than aiding it, allows it to be picked over and fed upon by private for-profit businesses, it suffers even more, creating the possibility of a community that is no longer able to fulfil the promise of a free public education for all of its children. Chester Upland seems less likely to have a happy ending and more likely to end as a tragic cautionary tale. Pennsylvania’s students deserve better.

Now… if Chester-Upland was the only district in Pennsylvania or America that was segregated, abandoned, underfunded, and deprived of resources it MIGHT be possible to solve the problems. But as readers of this blog undoubtedly realize, racial and economic segregation, abandonment, underfunding, and deprivation of resources is universal in our country… and so is the suffering that results.  The sad ending that Chester-Upland faces could be the sad ending that all of the racially and economically segregated district face unless some form of funding equity is put in place, equity achieved NOT by redistributing resources but by adding them to the districts that need them.

Will the End of Trump Be the Beginning of a Restoration of Faith in Government? USA Today’s Op Ed Hopes So…. and So Do I.

January 19, 2021 Leave a comment

Willamette College professor Seth Cotlar’s op ed in USA Today offers compelling parallels between the upcoming inauguration and those of Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan. In both of those transitions there was a divide between those who wanted the government to help solve a crisis and those who saw government interference as a problem. Cotlar suggests that we are at a similar crossroads and hopes that like Lincoln and FDR, Biden can shift the anti-government trend… but acknowledges that it won’t be easy or fast:

Reagan didn’t invent anti-government cynicism. It has deep roots in American political culture stretching back to the nation’s founding. We should not expect that one Biden term, committed to a concerted response to the pandemic and the unevenly borne devastation it has wrought, will eliminate such cynicism. 

Even so, just as anti-government sentiment runs deep in American political culture, so does the idea that “we the people” can invest the government with the appropriate powers to serve the general welfare. Utilizing government to improve the health and economic opportunities of poor, working and middle-class Americans has the potential to re-inaugurate the pragmatic and democratic, pro-government tradition that Lincoln and FDR espoused, but which has had too few unapologetic advocates since the the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s.

It took us over 40 years to see that government programs like Medicare did not lead to socialism despite the fears that Reagan tried to fuel in the Sixties. MAYBE Biden can begin to get voters to increase their trust in government… but to do so he will need to underscore the many services and programs that are essential for the national well being.

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Biden Proposing $130,000,000,000 Infusion to Help Open K-8 Schools in 100 Days… a Re-opening Decision that is Supported by Science

January 16, 2021 Leave a comment

President Elect Joe Biden put forth a $1,900,000,000,000 plan to keep the economy afloat through the pandemic, with $130,000,000,000 earmarked to as majority of K-8 schools within 100 days. This plan, characterized by NYTimes reporter Jeanne Smialek as “…a wish list of spending measures meant to help both people and the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic” includes money to reopen schools, as reported in this section of the article: 

The administration says it wants to make “the necessary investments to meet the president-elect’s goal of safely reopening a majority” of kindergarten-to-eighth-grade schools within Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office.

Administration officials are suggesting $170 billion for schools, supplemented by additional state and local funds. About $130 billion of that would go toward reopening, while much of the rest of the money would go to help colleges dealing with the shift to distance learning and other pandemic-tied problems.

Almost as important to schools is the fact that states and local government are slated to get funds as well: 

Mr. Biden’s plan would provide $440 billion in help to communities, according to the administration, in addition to the funds for school reopening. The relief plan would entail billions in grants and loan programs for small businesses (how those would work is not entirely clear), and $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments.

State and local governments have had revenues decline less as a whole than once anticipated, but have taken an uneven financial hit from the pandemic. They have significantly reduced payrolls, which is concerning because they employ about 13 percent of America’s workers.

This is important because without these funds local and state governments might supplant the funds they typically provide to schools with the federal funds coming as part of the pandemic relief. 

Will Congress support this proposal? it is evident that the House would do so, despite the fact that some of the progressives are carping that the $1400/person Biden is proposing is less than the $2,000 they hoped to provide on top of the $600 just distributed. The Senate is more problematic. Presumably the pro-Trump GOP members would be hard pressed to oppose the $1400/person measure because that is what their POTUS was looking for. But, in all probability, the party as a whole will oppose it for two reasons: it gives money to State and local governments with no strings and it gives money to public government schools.

An important footnote to the President-elect’s decision to promote the re-opening of K-8 schools. As noted in another NYTimes article by Apoorva Mandavilli this past week, research is showing that the COVID infection rates among K-8 children is half that of older children and much less than adults. In an interview with NYTimes Amelia Nierenberg Ms. Mandavilli offered this: 

“We already know how to make schools relatively safe,” Apoorva said.

A mask mandate is a must, she said, as is physical distancing. Good ventilation matters — open windows will get air circulating and even an inexpensive air filter can make a big difference. Extensive testing and contact tracing is key. The new variant will result in more infections in children unless schools shore up their precautions, experts told Apoorva.

 
And, despite reports to the contrary, the unions are willing to re-open provided the precautions Ms. Mandavilli heard from the experts are heeded:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed the need for mitigation (with masks, distancing, ventilation and cleaning), testing and appropriate quarantines. She also prioritized reasonable accommodations between teachers’ unions and districts, as well as vaccinating adults who work in school buildings.

“It requires people to actually act in the way that safety, not expediency, is foremost in their minds,” Weingarten said. “The mitigation strategies have to be embedded and have to be enforced. Not just on a piece of paper, but in reality in schools.”

 
After reading these two articles I am hopeful that we will have a POTUS who understands the need for public schools and State and local governments to get the financial help they need in this crisis and a willingness to heed the advice of scientists in making decisions about opening schools.