Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

Hurricane Florence COULD Be a Teachable Moment for Those Wishing to Drown Government in a Bathtub

September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a heartfelt post yesterday to friends in the Carolinas that appears below in its entirety:

Dear Friends,

We are watching the ordeal of your region with concern.

The whole nation is watching.

We send you warm wishes for your safety.

At a time like this, we are reminded about why people need to work together, help one another, and count on their neighbors and communities. In times of crisis, everyone stands together, without regard to race or religion or economic status. It should be like that without a crisis.

We look forward to the day when your beautiful part of the world is rebuilt, restored, and revived.

Meanwhile, stay safe.

One of the commenters noted that “…only 3% of the people in North Carolina carry flood insurance, and 8% in South Carolina. With climate change and crazy storms the new normal, homeowners should rethink the value of flood insurance for their properties. That $400 hundred dollars that you think is unnecessary could wind up costing you many thousands or even your home.”

As I noted in a comment I made on the post, WE are insuring them with our tax dollars… and that’s not a bad thing from my perspective. The Koch brothers and the GOP want us to forget that one of the reasons we pay taxes is to create a pool of funds that people can draw on when they find themselves temporarily in need of food, clothing, and shelter. By demonizing the so-called “takers” the anti-tax crowd has convinced the public that they will never need to avail themselves of the government services they are starving by avoiding taxes. MAYBE a silver lining from this will be a realization that government IS the solution to large and complicated problems like a hurricane that floods communities…. But, alas, it is also possible that the cuts to FEMA and the redirection of FEMA funds to ICE will result in long waits in line or unanswered phone calls or emails that will be blamed on “incompetence” when the real culprit is the GOP’s desire to drown government in a bathtub.

Perversely, it takes a disaster like Florence to drive home the point that government is NOT the problem and COULD be a solution IF it was funded adequately and rationally. Will that lesson be learned? If so, who will teach it?


Philanthropy in Lieu of Taxes: JP Morgan Offering $500,000,000 to 30 Cities

September 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Quartz published an article today by Kabir Chibber matter-of-factly sharing the news that JPMorgan will be offering 30 cities $500,000,000 in subsidies over the next five years. Here are the opening paragraphs describing this magnanimous investment:

America’s biggest bank is stepping up where governments have failed.

JPMorgan Chase is today unveiling a $500 million initiative called AdvancingCities, designed to revive growth in as many as 30 cities over the next five years (paywall). The focus will be on job training, neighborhood revitalization, growing small businesses, and consumer’s financial insecurity, the Wall Street Journal reported. Examples of society’s ills that the bank will work to address include building more affordable housing and getting commercial businesses into empty buildings.

The bank is taking applications from cities until November and will announce the winning cities by the middle of next year. In that, JPMorgan follows in the footsteps of Amazon, which turned location-hunting for its second US headquarters into something more akin to America’s Next Top Model, forcing US cities to bid against each other to land the $5 billion complex.

And why are 30 of America’s cities failing? Here’s Mr. Chibber’s analysis:

If you’re wondering why US governments—city, state, or federal—aren’t taking care of this stuff, good question. Remember that this is a nation where, despite historically low unemployment and a booming stock market, 17% of the population still get support from food stamps (paywall) and where Donald Trump wants to make it harder for millions of Americans to get access to basic welfare.

Many states have huge budget surpluses in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, while cities are crumbling to pieces (paywall). Cities are being forced to borrow more to fund everyday services and repairs, meaning that the costs of servicing debt are taking up more and more of their annual budgets. And pensions and the cost of providing public services are not exactly coming down. In Los Angeles, for example, almost 30% of the budget is taken up by all of these legacy costs combined, according to Merritt Research Services.

What ISN’T mentioned in Mr. Chibber’s analysis is the fact that many corporations are avoiding paying their taxes and/or are receiving tax breaks from cities in an effort on the part of those cities to attract and retain corporations. And who is getting paid to help corporations avoid taxes? According to one angry blogger, JPMorgan is making megabucks doing just that!

In the years from 2011 to 2014, JPMorgan made almost $200 million in fees helping companies essentially rob US Taxpayers.

So… over a three year period JPMorgan earned nearly $200,000,000 in fees to help other corporations dodge taxes, taxes that might have provided some revenue to the very cities JPMorgan is now “helping” by donating $500,000,000 over five years. But wait! That’s only one portion of JPMorgan’s tax avoidance! The NYTimes reported that JPMorgan received $22,200,000,000 in tax subsidies over an eight year period, or roughly $14,000,000,000 over a five year period! I think that will cover the “generous donation” JP Morgan is providing!

But to read the report from Mr. Chibber, which may have been provided by a press release from JPMorgan, America’s cities should be grateful:

It is in this environment that JPMorgan thinks it can make a difference. Half of the bank’s investment will be pure philanthropy via nonprofits, and the other half will be low-cost loans.JPMorgan told the Journal it also expects to tap an extra $1 billion in outside capital.

JPMorgan’s latest endeavor is modeled after its Invested in Detroit program, which the bank put $150 million into between 2014 and 2019. JPMorgan says that effort created 1,700 jobs, 100 new businesses, and trained or retrained around 15,000 people in the years following the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history in 2013.

1,700 jobs sounds impressive… but… Michigan lost over 250,000 jobs in the past several years, jobs that, for the most part, paid well, offered decent benefits and working conditions, and ensured that its citizens were comfortable. And since Detroit closed 30 schools and lost thousands of students it is likely that the school district itself lost 1700 jobs.

And here’s the real hitch: if voters are led to believe that JPMorgan can solve these problems better than government, they will continue to starve the government of revenues and let the private sector solve the problem. And how will business solve the problem? My hunch is they will take a page from the vulture capitalists playbook and eliminate those pesky “legacy costs” by outsourcing work and thereby eliminating existing contracts and pensions. That will “create jobs” but will not create well-being in the cities receiving these gifts.

Will NASA Get Chico’s Bail Bonds to Support Them? Will Public Schools?

September 12, 2018 Leave a comment

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Bad News Bears when Walter Matthau’s beleaguered team of the same name takes the field with their sponsor’s name on the back of their jerseys. While other teams are sponsored by local grocers, hardware stores, and service clubs, the Bad News Bears are sponsored by “Chico’s Bail Bonds”. The unruly, unconventional, and anti-establishment Bears eventually turn into a winning team… but their sponsorship by a decidedly lowbrow business was just one of the subversive messages included in the movie which won a Writers Guild of America award for the best comedy screenwriting in 1976.

This scene was brought to mind when I read in a Washington Post article by Christian Davenport that NASA is considering the commercialization of it’s flights in an effort to raise revenue. Mr. Davenport opens his article with this:

The constant creep of corporate America into all aspects of everyday life — from the Allstate Sugar Bowl to Minute Maid Park — may soon conquer a new frontier.

The final frontier.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has directed the space agency to look at boosting its brand by selling naming rights to rockets and spacecraft and allowing its astronauts to appear in commercials and on cereal boxes, as if they were celebrity athletes.

Why is NASA considering this? For two reasons: they need the revenue and it HAS been done before in Russia!

Pizza Hut paid to paint its logo on a Russian rocket in 1999. In the mid-1990s, an Israeli milk company filmed a commercial on the space station Mir, and a pair of Russian cosmonauts even appeared on QVC to sell a pen able to write in a weightless environment.

“Is this a pen you would recommend to use in space?” the host asked.

“Yeah, they said they love this pen,” the translator said on the live broadcast…

When Mir de-orbited, Taco Bell put a huge floating tarp into the Pacific Ocean and claimed that if any piece of the space station hit it, the company would give everyone in the country a free taco.

There was a time not so long ago when we competed against Russia because it had a different economic model. Now we are competing against Russia because they have adopted our model and seem intent on using it to overtake us in the space race.

How does this relate to public education policy, you ask. As noted (and lamented) in previous posts, schools are already selling naming rights to stadia, already engaged in “public-private partnerships” to help underwrite construction projects, already using fee-for-service models to fund athletics, and already selling advertising on buses and rooftops to raise revenue.

But a former astronaut described the problem with these partnerships and the general commercialization and commodification of public enterprises:

Michael Lopez-Alegria, another former NASA astronaut, said that by endorsing products, NASA could end up competing against a growing commercial sector that is trying to open up space for the masses.

“It’s going to be really hard for NASA or any government agency to put itself in a position where it can become a de facto endorser of this product or that product,” he said. “To me, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. It’s just not right. ”

He said he was also concerned that if Congress sees NASA is getting funding from the private sector, it might say, “We’re not going to pay anymore. “

Hm-m-m-m…. sound familiar? If parents are willing to pay for athletics, why should taxpayers increase their funding for sports? If parents are willing to pay for buses why should taxpayers foot the bill? Where will it end?

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said that the government “should be focused entirely on what is most important for the public interest, not private gain. In fact, if a project is commercially viable, it shouldn’t have to depend on taxpayer funds or U.S. astronauts, who might be divided in their job responsibilities.”

If public schools ever become “commercially viable” maybe taxpayers won’t have to raise as much money… and school boards will become obsolete. Is THAT what we want? Is THAT where we are headed?

Teachers as “Digital Panhandlers”: The Fruits of a Decade of Tight Budgets and Decades of Inequitable Funding

September 8, 2018 Leave a comment

The Manchester (NH) Union Leader ran a front page column by Mark Hayward describing the plight of teachers in their school district when it comes to providing school supplies that are needed to perform effectively in classrooms. After describing how over 100 Manchester teachers are using DonorsChoose to raise thousands of dollars to get school supplies cut from their budget, the ultimate message of the column is found in the penultimate paragraph:

And in the end, the teachers in the largest city of one of the most affluent states are being reduced to acting like panhandlers. Panhandlers that everyone grumbles about when they start taking over the downtown.

The column is generally sympathetic to the teacher’s plight, but it still takes some cheap shots at the teachers unions and the teachers themselves by quoting one of the fiscally conservative board members:

Richard Girard, a conservative-leaning school board member, said he wishes the school district could provide more supplies.

But he notes that Catholic schools traditionally rely on parents to donate supplies. He said fundraising teaches kids to go out and work for something they want.

And he said it’s difficult to find money for supplies, equipment and additional staff when the teachers’ union wants to see $28 million devoted to raises over the next five years.

“We really have gone out of balance these last few years,” he said.

Yes, Mr. Girard, the Manchester Schools HAVE gotten out of balance. They spend less than every district in NH except Landaff, a small town in the North Country that operates a single school. As the Manchester Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas notes, if Manchester wanted to just reach Nashua NH’s level of spending, it would have to add another $14 million to the budget PER YEAR. It seems that adding $14,000,000 per year would not only cover the $28,000,000 for FIVE years, it might provide adequate funds for school supplies and, who knows, more teachers, counselors, and support services for its students! One thing is clear, if Manchester received an additional $14,000,000 per year the Manchester teachers would no longer need to spend time collecting money on websites and might not have to work part time to make a living wage.

Thanks to ESSA, Billionaire Reformers are “Going Local”, Making State and School Board Elections Crucial

September 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday, one of Diane Ravitch’s posts used Andrea Gabor’s recent Bloomberg op ed as a springboard to alert her readers to the change in tactics by the billionaire “reformers”. Here are the opening paragraphs of Ms. Gabor’s Bloomberg essay:

For two decades, the prevailing wisdom among education philanthropists and policymakers has been that the U.S. school system needs the guiding hand of centralized standard-setting to discipline ineffective teachers and bureaucrats. Much of that direction was guided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions since 2000 to influence both schools and education policy.

But as schools open this year, top-down national initiatives based on standardized testing and curricular uniformity are in retreat.

And what will take the place of “the guiding hand of centralized standard-setting”?

In the coming years, its K-12 philanthropy will concentrate on supporting what it calls “locally driven solutions” that originate among networks of 20 to 40 schools, according to Allan Golston, who leads the foundation’s U.S. operations, because they have “the power to improve outcomes for black, Latino, and low-income students and drive social and economic mobility.”

The billionaire “reformers” did not become billionaires by accident. They are all strategic thinkers who look at national political trends and try to get in front of them in developing their profiteering instincts. Sometime in the 1980s it dawned on some of the market-driven vulture-capitalist-hedge-funders that there was a huge “market” to be accessed in the public sector. With a surplus of teachers, especially at the elementary level, it might be possible to operate private schools at a profit if the operators of those schools could receive the same amount of taxpayer-raised money as public schools. After all, public schools had legacy costs (i.e. retirees, bonds, highly compensated veteran staff members, negotiated agreements with benefits and guaranteed step increases) that were baked into the per pupil costs. If someone opened a brand new school they could operate it for far less money than a public school! When computer-aided instruction emerged as a viable (albeit ineffective) means of “educating” children, the potential profit margins got even larger. The problem was how to get the door opened.

The privatizers access to public schools became a real possibility with the passage of NCLB. That law mandated the takeover of “failing schools” by the states. But by 2001, most states had gutted their departments of education making a “State takeover” impossible. The solution? Privatization! And by the mid to late 2000s states had identified lots of failing schools, most of them serving low income students. This was an ideal outcome for the privatizers, for they could establish beachheads in each state without alienating the affluent suburban parents. By the time suburban schools started “failing” in some states the privatizers had their nose under the tent and were working to pass state legislation that would win over parents who opted out of public education without further alienating the parents in affluent suburbs and communities who were happily funding outstanding public schools.

But here’s an important note to anyone reading this: because the billionaire investors in privatized schools ARE going local it is important to make certain the state legislatures and governor’s mansions are flipped ASAP. The GOP now has 33 governors and the GOP controls 34 legislatures compared to a paltry 13 by the democrats. With ESSA, the states and local school board races are more important than ever. It is a daunting task to flip a state once a single party controls both the executive and legislative branches… but unless several states change course ESSA will have accomplished the goals of the privatizers and public education will be on the run.

Houston Parent’s Experience Exposes Preposterousness of Measurement Based on Single Test

September 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Despite the fact that no educator ever believed that a single test should be the basis for determining the rating of a school, the rating of a teacher, or the acceptance of a student into a school, politicians, parents, and voters continue to conflate high test scores with high performance. The result? A laser like focus on test scores strips public schools of the elective offerings that make them attractive to children and parents and reinforces the misguided belief that public schools are failing.

A recent blog post from Sarah Becker, a Houston Independent School District parent illustrates this consequence perfectly. The post opens with Ms. Becker describing her children’s experiences at a “failing” Houston public school.

A couple of weeks ago the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released their ratings of schools and school districts. I am the mother of two children at a school in Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest school district and the seventh largest district in the country. How did my kids’ school fare in this year’s accountability system? The school failed, receiving an “Improvement Required” rating.

Does that give me pause about sending my kids there? Not one bit and I’ll tell you why.

This past year was the first one my children spent at their elementary school. From the moment they set foot on campus, my children were accepted and loved. The physical environment of the school is welcoming, and they have a nice, new building with lots of natural light. And in a time when public school budgets are incredibly austere, my kids’ elementary school found a way to hire a PE teacher, an art teacher, a music teacher, a nurse and a social worker last year. To have all of those is incredibly rare in HISD-in fact, this elementary school was the only one within driving range of our home to offer those.It has a rooftop garden and a makerspace. And finally most amazingly, my children learned AN ENTIRE SECOND LANGUAGE last year. We literally dropped them into new classes having had almost zero exposure to Spanish and they ended the year speaking, reading and writing two languages. The progression has been amazing to watch. Their worlds are bigger and more beautiful because of their new school.

So how does a school like this end up getting a “failing” grade? Here’s Ms. Becker’s answer:

The system used to identify “failing” schools is unsound and inaccurate. It is based solely on how certain students perform on a single standardized test on a single day. 

You have probably seen the meme floating around social media with the following quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” As cliché as that quote is, I find much truth in it when applied to our “accountability” system. If you judge every school by the standards of the TEA, some very successful schools will receive failing ratings not because they fail to educate, but because the accountability system demands that fish ride bicycles by making children conform to tests.

Yet test-based accountability persists. Why? In large measure it’s the result of the mental formations voters have based on their personal experience in schools where they were conditioned to believe their “success” was solely based on how they performed on tests given by teachers in class. Didn’t the valedictorian at their school achieve that ranking because they did well on a succession of tests administered by teachers? Didn’t the National Merit Scholars in their school achieve that distinction because they did well on a single test? Didn’t their classmates get into a prestigious college and win a scholarship there because they did well on the SAT and a succession of tests administered by teachers? And because voters are conditioned to believe that tests determined the personal “successes” in school based on their own personal experience it seems reasonable to them that tests should be used to judge schools. In the meantime, politicians LOVE using tests to judge schools! They are relatively cheap and fast to administer and they provide seemingly precise results that can be used to rank schools the same way schools rank students.

Ms. Becker was dismayed that her children’s school “failed”, but she is astute in noting that “…no part of my kids’ experience at our school last year was a part of any accountability data.” And what part’s of her kid’s experience did she focus on in her opening paragraph?

  • they have a nice, new building with lots of natural light.
  • they have a PE teacher, an art teacher, a music teacher, a nurse and a social worker
  • they rooftop garden and a makerspace

These features are easy to measure, but they are often dismissed by those who criticize “input” measures that are not only easy to measure but also costly. After all, if every school was required to be up-to-date with PE, art, music, health and social services, and technology it would cost millions! And in the end, I did not get the sense that Ms. Becker saw those as important metrics. Rather, she believed that the current method of measurement was flawed because it failed to capture what was most important to her:

Until this system is overhauled, I will continue to pay no mind to it and pay attention to the very clear evidence in front of me: my kids are excited to show up to school every morning and love their school. Their teachers are caring professionals.That is enough accountability for me.

Can these items that are important to parents be measured? Of course! ASK parents to rate whether their children are excited to show up to school every morning and love their school and ask parents if they sense that the teachers in the school are caring professionals. THAT is the accountability that matters most. Test scores? They are not as important as we believe they are.

NYS’s Hold Harmless Provision Proves that Money DOES Make a Difference

September 4, 2018 Comments off

When states wrestle with ways to equalize funding, one of the problems they face is how to deal with district who would end up with less revenue if the existing funds were redistributed using a formula that is more equitable. The legislative workaround is the introduction of “hold harmless provisions” that guarantee that no matter what happens in the future, no district will lose any state revenue.

When NYS enacted their most recent effort to reallocate funds, they included such a provision, which ended up protecting those districts that were experiencing enrollment declines. This provided an opportunity for Philip Gigliotti and Lucy Sorensen of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany to do a real world investigation of the effect of increasing per pupil spending on test scores. Here’s what they found as reported in Chalkbeat:

Set to be published in the peer-reviewed Economics of Education Review, the study takes advantage of a provision in the state’s funding formula known as “Save Harmless” that allows districts to maintain their funding even if they lose students. Since many districts across the state have suffered enrollment declines, they have boosted the amount of money they spend per student. (New York City was excluded from the study because of its unusually large size and technical issues matching its data with other districts.)

By comparing districts that lost students — resulting in more money spent per remaining student — with those that saw smaller declines, the researchers were able to isolate the effect of the funding increases. Using data from 2007 through 2015, they found that a $1,000 in increase  per student corresponded with an increase of one-seventh of a grade level in math and one-ninth of a grade level in English.(On average, districts spend just over $23,000 per student across the state, a 15 percent increase since 2007.)

“The fact that we find positive effects of increased spending even in New York State, which boasts the highest per-pupil spending in the country, suggests that resources are important even above some adequacy threshold,” wrote co-authors Philip Gigliotti and Lucy Sorensen…

Chalk beat writer Alex Zimmerman DOES note that there are some caveats that education policy makers Gigliotti and Sorenson advance:

First, their study focuses on districts that lost enrollment, mostly in upstate New York. That means their findings could be less relevant among districts that have seen enrollment hold steady or even increase.

Second, there could be factors associated with declining enrollment that the study doesn’t account for. While the authors control for changes in student demographics associated with the enrollment declines, other factors that could contribute to changes in performance, such as student motivation, are more difficult to measure.

Third, it’s hard to know why the spending increases boosted student achievement. One possible answer is that many of the schools reduced class sizes, the authors note, which has been linked to gains in student achievement. But the study does not focus on how the funding was spent and what drove the gains in student learning.

Finally, the authors caution against interpreting their results as evidence that increased funding is a silver bullet, especially in reducing disparities in student achievement between students of different racial or socioeconomic backgrounds. Increasing per-student spending by $1,000 would only close the national gap between rich and poor students by roughly 5 percent, Gigliotti said.

“These effects are moderate,” he added. “They don’t imply that achievement gaps are something we can overcome by just spending our way out of the problem.”

While they don’t offer proof that increased funding will invariably result in better academic performance as measured by standardized tests, they clearly do not provide evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, they might provide an opportunity for further research on those districts that experienced the greatest gains to determine what drove the gains in student learning, because I am confident that whatever it was, it was enhanced by additional per pupil spending… additional per pupil spending that would greatly benefit those property poor districts who are spending far less per pupil.