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Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

EdBuild Study Provides Evidence of the Persistence of Racism in Public Schools

September 20, 2019 Leave a comment

EdBuild, whose mission is to bring common sense and fairness to the way states fund public schools, issued a report indicating that black school districts receive $23,000,000,000 LESS revenue than all white districts despite serving the same number of students. Why? Because affluent families flock to districts where property taxes can underwrite higher quality schools leaving poorer non-white students segregated in property poor districts. As the authors of the report write:

The racial and economic segregation created by gerrymandered school district boundaries continues to divide our communities and rob our nation’s children of fundamental freedoms and opportunity. Families with money or status can retain both by drawing and upholding invisible lines. Many families do just that. This, in conjunction with housing segregation, ensures that—rather than a partial remedy—district geographies serve to further entrench society’s deep divisions of opportunity

Because our system relies so heavily on community wealth, this gap reflects both the prosperity divide in our country and the fragmented nature of school district borders, designed to exclude outside students and protect internal advantage.

This residential discrepancy cannot be fixed easily… but it might be possible for the students in poorer schools to receive the same level of funding if we worked at the state level to raise and allocate funds more fairly. And the racial disparities EdBuild flags are intolerable:

For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district.

Poor-white school districts receive about $150 less per student than the national average—an injustice all to itself. Yet they are still receiving nearly $1,500 more than poor-nonwhite school districts.

If we want to continue holding onto the belief that education can be a leveling force in our country, we cannot continue to use the same funding system in place today… and if we want racial and economic justice we need to face the fact that our current system is discriminatory. The report concludes with this:

Even after accounting for income, the average student in the U.S. inherits far more opportunity by attending a small, concentrated white school district. Because each state handles district boundaries and school funding differently, funding policies affect students in divergent areas in different ways.

But a single fact is clear—financially, it is far better in the United States to have the luck and lot to attend a school district that is predominantly white than one that enrolls a concentration of children of color. That is the inherent shame of the system we’ve built, and one we haven’t gone far enough to fix.

This Just In: The GOP Wants to Rip-Off Student Borrowers to Help For-Profit Colleges

September 14, 2019 Leave a comment

You don’t need to pass laws to help your your donors and to disestablish government agencies you don’t believe in. All you need to do is appoint a cabinet member who will revise regulations to minimize the strength of that agency and help your financial backers. And if the regulations can’t be revised, the cabinet member can slow down the process of implementing the regulations or make the process dysfunctional. In the end, the goal of making the government so small it can drown in a bathtub can be accomplished.

If you don’t believe this description of how to make a government agency dysfunctional is accurate, look no further than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. As noted in Adam Minsky’s Forbes article, Betsy DeVos is making a concerted effort to gut the student loan forgiveness program put in place when the Obama administration learned how for-profit schools were preying on unsuspecting students by encouraging them to take out student loans. He writes:

The Borrower Defense to Repayment program was established in 2016 following the high-profile collapse of for-profit schools like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes. The program was enacted to provide student loan relief for borrowers who had been defrauded by predatory schools.

The basic premise of the program is that students who were subjected to rampant fraud or misrepresentations by their  school, and who were saddled with debt and a useless degree, should have a mechanism to request student loan forgiveness. This, coupled with stricter federal oversight of for-profit schools and greater accountability for their educational and career outcomes, would hopefully diminish widespread abuse of federal aid by predatory institutions.

Since DeVos took over the Department of Education in 2017, her administration has made consistent efforts to eliminate or water down the program. The Department of Education initially tried to re-write the regulations governing the program, only to have those new rules thrown out by a federal court following legal challenges. Her office has also been effectively ignoring around 160,000 applications for loan forgiveness submitted by student loan borrowers, leaving them in limbo.

Mr. Minsky’s article then offers a description of the recently released rules that will go into effect, all of which put the burden of proof on the borrower and give the lenders an upper hand. The net effect is the diminishment of protection for students who have been bilked by profiteers. He concludes his article with this:

The chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Bobby Scott, accused the administration of “sending an alarming message [that] schools can cheat student loan borrowers and still reap the rewards of federal student aid.” And the Project on Predatory Student Lending announced that it intends to challenge the new rules in court.

One thing is clear: the Borrower Defense to Repayment program remains embattled and in legal limbo.

One more thing is clear: that “legal limbo” is hurting the pocketbooks of the borrowers at the expense of the shareholders of the private for profit colleges.

David Brooks’ Bogus “Meritocracy” Definition

September 13, 2019 Leave a comment

David Brooks column today, “The Meritocracy is Ripping America Apart“, rightfully calls out the impact of the “savage exclusion” of what he calls “the exclusive meritocracy”. Here is his definition:

In the exclusive meritocracy, prestige is defined by how many people you can reject. The elite universities reject 85 to 95 percent of their applicants. Those accepted spend much of their lives living in neighborhoods and attending conferences where it is phenomenally expensive or hard to get in. Whether it’s the resort town you vacation in or the private school you send your kids to, exclusivity is the pervasive ethos. The more the exclusivity, the thicker will be the coating of P.C. progressivism to show that we’re all good people.

As US News and World Report rolls out its annual report “ranking” colleges and universities, it is ironic to read that David Brooks has accepted their definition that “…prestige is defined by how many people you can reject”… Before US News and World Report adopted that as a proxy for “quality” colleges did not even keep track of that data point but since it became a variable that colleges could control they’ve gone overboard in encouraging as many people as possible to apply so that they could tout their rejection rate as evidence of their “excellence”. What passes for “merit” in our era of Big Data and standardized testing is what can be measured easily, cheaply and quickly.

And Mr. Brooks also rightfully notes that the highest wage earners from “exclusive meritocracy” work ungodly hours to accumulate their wealth:

People in this caste work phenomenally hard to build their wealth. As Daniel Markovits notes in his powerful new book, “The Meritocracy Trap,” between 1979 and 2006, the percentage of workers in the top quintile of earners who work more than 50 hours a week nearly doubled.

What Mr. Brooks fails to mention is that this hard work has the effect of the “meritocrats” justifying the requirement that everyone else work equally hard to earn a living. Consequently, they often have little sympathy for the individual who works more than 50 hours a week at two part-time jobs neither of which offer them health benefits, vacation, or leave time.

It might be a better world if the “meritocrats” shared their work load as well as their largesse. It’s possible that corporations who spend millions to retain these 50+ hour/week “meritocrats” could spend less on having multiple individuals performing the same tasks for less money– say $125,000/year– and less time– say 30 hours per week. The human resources are out there. The money is out there. We need to look at hour we spend time and allocation resources in order to improve the lot of our workforce.

Kids Don’t Vote, and the Parents of Poor Kids Don’t Donate… So Poor Children Suffer

September 13, 2019 Leave a comment

Our Children Deserve Better, Nick Kristof’s recent NYTimes op ed column, describes the sad plight of children in America. He writes:

UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.

Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record.

And yet, he notes, America’s politicians are silent about this issue when the campaign for office. Indeed, by his count the issue of child poverty has not come up in over 140 consecutive Presidential debates. He wonders why this is the case, particularly given the massive research that supports this investment. He concludes his article with this response:

We don’t lack the tools to help, or the resources. The challenge is just that in our political system, children don’t count — and never get mentioned in presidential debates.

Kids don’t vote,” notes Nadine Burke Harris, the surgeon general of California and an expert on the lifelong costs of childhood trauma. “They require us to speak for them.

The real problem is NOT that the KIDS don’t vote. The problem is that the parents of kids who are adversely impacted by the bad drinking water, the lingering lead paint, the lack of a strong safety net, are overlooked by politicians in both parties because they do not make any kind of financial or political contribution to the system. They cannot make a financial contribution because they are poor and they cannot make a political contribution by volunteering for campaigns and participating in political party meetings because they are working two jobs to make ends meet. The system is set up so the affluent parents, who reside in the nicest neighborhoods and communities, whose children are enrolled in the best public schools in the nation, and whose children are well taken care of at home, are not at all impacted by the adversity faced by children raised in poverty. Until affluent parents are willing to speak up for their brothers and sisters who are struggling to make ends meet, we will never leverage the tools to help or the bounteous resources available to us.

Mexico Is NOT Paying for the Wall… The Children of Military Officers Are

September 6, 2019 Comments off

A couple of days ago President Trump used a Sharpie to modify a US Weather Service map to “prove” that Hurricane Dorian was, at one point in time, going to graze the NE corner of Alabama thereby making his erroneous claim about that true.

Yesterday, while news headlines focussed on the track of the same hurricane and the President’s efforts to “prove” his “forecast” was accurate, the Secretary of Defense released an itemized list outlining the cuts he needed to make to his budget to divert $3,600,000,000 to pay for the wall along the southern border…. a part of the enormous costs for the wall that “Mexico will pay for”. Here’s a portion of the list:

The planned multi-billion-dollar transfer — which has been strongly denounced by Democrats — is expected to defund more than 120 construction projects that the military was hoping to conduct over the next years.

Documents obtained by CBS News show the reprogramming request by the White House will divert funds that the Pentagon had previously designated for a diverse set of projects in the U.S. and around the world, from a missile facility in Alaska and an engineering center at the U.S. Army Academy at West Point, to a hangar at a U.S. Air Force Base in Japan and a veterinary facility for working dogs at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Funds for the construction of schools at military bases and facilities will be transferred to finance the construction of border barriers, including a $62,634,000 grant for a middle school at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and a $56,048,000 grant for an elementary school for children of U.S. troops stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. 

The $118,682,000 diverted from new schools is less that 2% of the $6,100,000,000 the Trump administration asked the Department of Defense to “divert” in order to fund the wall he claimed “Mexico would pay for” and an even more minuscule percentage of the $59,800,000,000 the wall would reportedly cost even after the plans were modified to substitute fencing in some stretches….

As the election season begins in 2020 I fully expect the President to wield his Sharpie to show us how “Mexico will pay” for the wall through fees collected at the border, higher tariffs, and other fiscal hocus-pocus. The shell game he will use to justify his “promise” is no different than the Sharpie he used to justify his erroneous tweet about the hurricane. In the meantime, the children of military service personnel will be denied new schools in at least two places and $3,600,000,000 that COULD have infused funds into communities near to military bases will be spent for a 12th century technology on the Southern Border.

Pay Disparities for Teachers Will Never Disappear… But They CAN Be Closed with Thoughtful Legislation AND More Money

August 31, 2019 1 comment

In Teacher Shortage, Protests Complicate Educator Pay Dynamics, AP writers Morgan Smith and Sally Ho describe the experience of districts in the west as they try to remediate the pay differentials between districts by expanding the amount of money allocated at the state level. Using a Utah teacher who increased her pay by 25% as the result of switching districts as their exemplar, the writers describe the shortage of teachers across the nation without stating the obvious: districts serving the children of affluent parents are not encountering this problem while districts serving children raised in poverty are. Why? Because until states abandon or greatly limit their reliance on local property taxes it will be impossible for proper poor districts to ever close the gap with affluent districts. But Mss. Ho and Smith sidestep this issue altogether, instead relying on this quote to make it sound like improving teacher compensation packages will require some kind of mathematical genius:

It’s difficult to compare school pay scales because of the endless variables across classrooms and campuses, said Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington. But merely increasing salaries for all without differentiating for other factors such as student population challenges and regional issues means pay disparities will remain as they always have existed.

“If it doesn’t address the relative differentials between school systems, there’s no reason to think it would help with teacher equality,” Goldhaber said.

In describing what is happening in Washington State, they write:

Recalibrating the complexities of the state’s overarching funding model has put school finances on a rollercoaster as lawmakers tried to redo or undo aspects of the financial levers the schools have long depended on, such as local levies.

“We see the impact of districts nearby offering a signing bonus,” Grassel said. “In that way, we’re still behind the game. We’ve not yet figured out how to get ahead of that curve.”

This just in I: All “local levies” require property tax increases so if your district is property poor or populated by people who cannot afford a marginal increase in their property taxes, a tax levy will not pass and the pay differentials will increase.

This just in II: Any teacher with a fundamental understanding of salary dynamics understands that a “signing bonus” or any “bonus” that does not add to their base pay is not going to be a retention factor OR an attraction. An astute teacher will look at the length of time it takes to reach the top salary (i.e. the number of steps on the pay schedule) and the value of the top step and intuitively understand that a compressed wage scale with a higher figure at the top is superior to multiple-step pay schedule with a low to middling pay schedule. Offering a “$5,000 signing bonus” will not change that reality and, consequently, will not attract the best and brightest to the neediest districts. Bonuses do not work as an enticement to move from one district to another and will not draw more college graduates to teaching.

This just in III: BOTTOM LINE: Improving teacher compensation requires more money which, in turn, requires higher taxes…. and with more and more requirements being shifted to States it is hard to imagine that tax increases will be occurring any time soon… which means the disparities will continue.

Contrary to the implied complexity put forth in the article, the ultimate solution is easy: raise broad-based taxes and distribute the revenues raised based on the relative wealth of each district with poorer districts getting more money. There… fixed it.

Underfunding in New Hampshire Will Continue Until Broad Based Taxes Replace Property Tax

August 30, 2019 Comments off

I accepted an assignment as Superintendent of Schools in New Hampshire in 1983, moving into the state from Maine where I served three years as Superintendent. When I accepted the position, a colleague of mine who had moved FROM New Hampshire TO Maine warned me that I was about to leave what was then one of the most robust State funding systems to the worst. He was right. Maine provided 90% reimbursement for bus purchases, transportation expenses, special education, and building aid. It also had a formula in place that supported schools based on their property wealth with property poor districts receiving substantial aid and wealthy districts getting less. In New Hampshire there was diminished aid across the board… to the extent that in one of the more affluent towns I served we got just over $25,000 in state aid.

At one of the first meetings I attended with my colleagues, most of whom led districts far more property poor than the six towns under my jurisdiction, I recall one of them saying that the current finance system was unsustainable and that he expected to see wholesale changes in the coming years. Surely the new GOP candidate, John Sununu who was an engineer, would see that more revenue was needed to ensure that schools in property poor districts across the state would need more state funds to provide equal opportunities. Now… 36 years later… nothing has changed. Lawsuits filed by property poor districts have been won and governors in both parties have done nothing to provide the revenues needed to help the struggling districts. And now, CHRIS Sununu, son of the engineer who could not see the need for more revenues, is governor and, like his father, sees no reason to increase the funds for schools. Worse, like his counterparts in the GOP, he DOES see a need to provide tax cuts for businesses on the theory that attracting businesses to the State will somehow bring more revenue to the property poor districts. But after decades of experience, he and his colleagues in the GOP should know that when businesses ARE attracted they tend to be attracted to the affluent communities that offer their employees good services, good schools, and good housing. Cuts to business taxes help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

So, in 2019, New Hampshire finds itself at an impasse. Their GOP governor vetoed the budget passed by the Democratically controlled legislature because he thought too much money was going to schools and not enough was being provided to business. The result: the state funds for school districts are the same in 2019-20 as they were in 2018-19. Consequently the towns who adopted budgets based on the legislator’s budget figures will be scrambling. Should they hire new staff based on the legislature’s budget or not? How about those bus purchases? How about the new technology they wanted to provide?

Our local paper reported on this situation and had this one poignant quote:

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier called Sununu’s proposal “unacceptable.” He begged lawmakers to hold fast to the funding they included in the budget and described the city’s struggles after it recently closed its elementary school and consolidated its middle and high schools.

Kindergarten students, including his grandson, are now in a building that was built as a high school in 1919, he said.

“That’s the legacy I’m leaving my grandson. I’m putting him in a building that was built before my father was even born,”he said. “There will come a point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment, further exacerbating the decline that poor communities are facing now.”

Sadly, the “point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment” came decades ago. When the paper mill closed in that community and the stores were shuttered there might have been a chance to entice a new business there… but the town is so forlorn and the schools so underfunded that it is highly unlikely that anyone would want to relocate there. 

What would help? An infusion of government funding from all levels is the only way to make dilapidated communities like Berlin come back to life… but as long as we are in the thrall of low taxes governments will never have the resources needed to help communities like Berlin.