Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

963,000 Millionaires in NYC COULD Make a Positive Difference

October 20, 2016 Leave a comment

An essay by Mike Jackson in the Daily Beast has me re-thinking my stance on private donations to public schools. He opens his essay with a startling statistic: 963,000 millionaires reside in New York City! Mr. Jackson contends that asking these millionaires to pay higher taxes to underwrite public education is a bad idea because there is no way public schools could ever raise enough taxes to match the amount spent in private schools. He writes:

…Some activists and educators believe that private support for public schools isn’t “progressive.” They believe that the mere mention of the words “external” or “private” are threats to teachers and insults their understanding of the role that poverty plays in the existence of the achievement gap. In their view, the only ideologically pure way to improve public education is by demanding more public funds.

I believe there’s a practical problem with this approach. This year, the New York City Department of Education will spend $23 billion to serve just over one million students, translating to $23,000 per student. That’s roughly 25 percent of the entire New York City budget, and it’s unrealistic to think there will be the political will to raise taxes enough or cut other areas sufficiently to allow for a doubling of the education funding.

That’s likely what it would take to achieve something close to parity with private schools. At many private boarding schools, tuition now regularly exceeds $58,000 per year. Their boards then direct additional funds annually from multimillion-dollar endowments to offer scholarships to low income students.

Instead, he suggests that some of these millionaires become engaged with a particular public school by committing TIME in addition to MONEY and, in doing so, gain a better understanding of the challenges urban youngsters encounter day-in-and-day-out. That engagement, in turn, might lead the engaged millionaire to make contributions to their adopted public school in the same way an affluent parent makes donations to their child’s PTO. As Mr. Jackson notes:

The difference isn’t just money—it’s the culture of support surrounding the students. Most urban, lower-income parents don’t have the means, the time, or in some cases the education to advocate for their children in the same way a private school’s PTA can. And public schools don’t have individual boards of trustees to advocate for them.

As one of those “ideological purists” who sees the need for moe funding for schools across the board, I am opposed to funding schemes that allocate equal (and and often low) funding levels to all schools in the name of equity and then allow affluent schools to raise millions from their parents. This model DOES undercut funding equity and DOES undercut the notion of equitable opportunity for all students. But as a pragmatist, I find Mr. Jackson’s ideas appealing. In his concluding paragraphs, he notes that there are “…500 millionaires in NYC for each of its 1,856 public schools” and imagines what it would be like for children at those schools if 500 volunteers showed up at an urban school in an under-served neighborhood to help kids write better college essays. He concludes with this heartening idea:

Education reform has barely been a topic of conversation in the general election, let alone the presidential debates. But it’s one of the few areas where there is a proven path for transcending the divisiveness that characterizes contemporary politics while making measurable progress in closing the income gap and achievement gap, one person at a time.

Mr. Jackson, unlike some of his wealthy counterparts, acknowledges that money DOES matter, and also understands that the “culture of support” matters even more. His form of reform makes sense… there must be a way some imaginative and creative politician in NYS or NYC could help Mr. Jackson spread this idea around.

NAACP’s Resolution Mis-Represented by Privatizers and, in some cases, Media

October 17, 2016 Leave a comment

I heard a news report over the weekend on NPR regarding the NAACP’s controversial resolution calling for a level playing field for privatized charters and public schools. Instead of characterizing the moratorium as a desire to stop the expansion of charter schools, it called it an effort to stop charter schools completely. This kind of misrepresentation reflects the meme undoubtedly launched by the privatizers who have riled up charter parents who, in turn, showed up to protest the NAACP’s pending action to endorse a resolution seeking the cessation of charter expansion pending a through analysis of it’s impact. A report in, a part of USA Today‘s network, includes a quote from the NAACP’s leader that sets the record straight:

Cornell William Brooks, NAACP national president, told The Enquirer in an interview that the NAACP has always stood for quality public education and that it and the Memphis protesters are largely in agreement.

The resolution calls for the suspension on the expansion of charter schools,” Brooks said at the Westin, “at least until, No. 1, we subject charter schools to transparent standards of accountability. The same rules for everyone.”

The NAACP wants no more public money diverted to charter schools at the expense of public schools, and it calls for charter schools to stop expelling students that public schools then must educate and to stop perpetuating what the NAACP calls “de facto segregation” of highest performing students from those who are currently as successful.

“It does not call for the doomsday destruction of all charter schools in existence now,” Brooks said. “What it does call for is let us have a season of reason, a pause in the expansion while we figure this out.”

This is not only eminently reasonable, it is urgently needed. The NAACP is asking that until some mechanism for equity is developed in charter school expansion. the expansion should cease. What is needed is a mechanism that ensure that ALL students have access to charter schools, including those students whose parents are either disengaged in the schooling of their children or so stressed for time that they cannot complete the sometimes daunting requirements for enrollment in charters… including those students who struggle in school because of disabilities… including students who might struggle to conform to rules that require some adjustments in their behavior… and including those students who might struggle in school because they are behind in their schoolwork as compared to their age peers. And most important, the equity should include assurances that money spent on for-profit schools that serve select students is not money diverted from public schools who serve any child who walks in the door. The NAACP is not opposed to charter schools who enroll all students and who value children and meet the same regulations as public schools. They are opposed to de-regulated for-profit charter who value shareholders over children and take only those children who meet their criterion.

Two State Supreme Courts Act on Funding Equity: WA Gets it Right; MI Misses

October 11, 2016 Leave a comment

I read two posts this morning on funding decisions by state Supreme Courts: one from the Tacoma News Tribune explaining the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision to continue levying a $100,000 dollar per day fine against the legislature until it passes legislation that provides equitable funding for students; and one from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency praising the Michigan Supreme Court determination that the $2,500,000 the legislature passed to help meet state mandates could go to religiously affiliated private schools, which comprise 76% of the private schools in the state.

From 3000 miles away it seems that the Washington State Supreme Court rendered the right decision in an appeal from the plaintiffs in the case who “…asked the court to either pledge to shut down the state’s school system next fall or invalidate all tax breaks in the state budget next year should lawmakers not fix the salary issue and other remaining parts of (their) ruling by then.” Instead of taking that forceful action, which would arguably be just, the Court decided to keep fining the legislature $100,000 per day until it passes legislation that meets the Court’s standard for equity. Given the foot dragging I’ve witnessed in other states where legislatures effectively ignore equity decisions with no penalties imposed whatsoever, the courts decisions seems eminently reasonable.

The Michigan Supreme Court, though, seems to have lost its way in deciding that non-public schools can receive a portion of the $2.5 million it raised to meet mandates they passed, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency is missing what I believe is a crucial flaw in this ruling: it will apply to for-profit private schools as well as religiously affiliated schools and could result in state funds being diverted to religious schools that indoctrinate children in a fundamentalist perspective as opposed to an inclusive one. It was that point and their relatively recent experiences with governments in Europe that led the Founders to erect a wall between the church and the state, and whenever that wall is eroded it creates the possibility for government funds to be used to impose religious beliefs on children. Parents who choose to enroll their children in such a school should be welcome to do so, but at their own expense or at the expense of their church. As for state funds being directed to for-profit institutions, such a diversion amounts to taxpayers subsidizing shareholders… and there is already enough of that going on in government spending. Governors and legislators should do everything possible to make certain the practice of privatizing public services stops at the schoolhouse door.

A “Reformer” in Connecticut’s Superior Court

October 10, 2016 Leave a comment

Last month, Elizabeth Harris wrote an article in the NYTimes on a far reaching decision rendered by Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher, who issued a 200+ page ruling on that state’s funding formula. Mr. Harris’ article focussed on the primary issue that faced the judge, the fairness of funding, and noted in passing some of the other issues the judge touched on in his lengthy decision.

Last weekend, Wendy Lecker, a Hearst Connecticut Media Group columnist and senior attorney at the Education Law Center, wrote an op ed piece decrying some of the remedies embedded in the judge’s decision, remedies that are based on the popular misconception that exit examinations will ensure uniform success for all learners and VAM will ensure quality teaching. When groups filing lawsuits seeking equitable funding get a decision that affirms their assertion that the existing funding mechanisms are inherently inequitable, they don’t expect to receive decisions that call for practices that are destructive to the students who are raised in poverty or to the teachers who are willing to devote their careers to working with those students. But, as Ms. Lecker notes, that is exactly what Mr. Moukawsher did in his rambling decision.

On the issue of exit examinations, where the judge cited Massachusetts’ successes, Ms. Lecker writes:

The judge decided that because Connecticut does not have “rational” and “verifiable” high school standards, meaning standards measured by a high school exit exam, Connecticut diplomas for students in poor districts are “patronizing and illusory.” He concluded that the cure for this problem is standardized, “objective” exams that students must pass to graduate…

(H)ad the judge examined the evidence, he would have also learned that the actual major factor in Massachusetts’ improvement was the very measure he refused to order Connecticut to implement: school finance reform that dramatically increased the amount of school funding statewide. No fewer than three studies have shown that increasing school funding significantly improved student achievement in Massachusetts. Recent major studies confirmed those findings nationwide, demonstrating that school finance reform has the most profound positive impact among poor students.

When it came to teacher evaluations, which fall well outside the purview of a ruling on funding equity, the judge advocated VAM as a method. In response to that decision Ms. Lecker writes:

Courts that have actually examined the evidence on systems that rate teachers on student test scores have rejected these systems. Last year, a court in New Mexico issued a temporary injunction barring the use of test scores in that state’s teacher evaluation system. And in April, a court in New York ruled that a teacher’s rating based on her students’ “growth” scores — the foundation of New York’s teacher evaluation system — was “arbitrary and capricious;” the opposite of “rational” and “verifiable.”

Yet despite the reams of evidence debunking the use of student growth scores in evaluating teachers, and despite these two court rulings, Judge Moukawsher insisted that rating teachers on student “growth” scores would satisfy his demand that Connecticut’s system for hiring, firing, evaluating and compensating teachers be “rational” and “verifiable.” His ruling defies the evidence and logic.

A month ago when I wrote a post on the Connecticut ruling I surmised that, based on what’s happened in other states where the courts fond the funding inequitable, nothing would happen as a result the judges decision. I was wrong. In this case, as a result of the judge’s overreach, both sides on this issue are appealing the decision to a higher court… and as the case goes forward I share Ms. Lecker’s hopes:

One can only hope that that our highest court will steer this case back on course, away from these ill-advised educational policy rulings and toward a proper finding that the state is failing to provide our poorest schools with adequate funding and is consequently failing to safeguard the educational rights of our most vulnerable children.

Stay tuned… it will be another school year at best before anything happens… and likely another generation before change occurs in Connecticut… if it happens at all.


The Property Tax Paradox

October 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Brookings Institute Fellow Vanessa Williamson has an op ed piece in today’s NYTimes titled “Tax Me. Please”. The article provides an overview of data she collected over the past several decades indicating that voters see the payment of personal taxes in our country as a civic duty and are intolerant of those who fail to pay their fair share. Here are a couple of paragraphs that summarize her findings:

Pollsters have been asking Americans whether “it is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes.” Every year, about nine in 10 Americans agree with that sentiment. In 2009, 3 percent of respondents disagreed. That level of accord is very rare. To give you a point of reference: About 6 percent of Americans think the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked. On the civic responsibility of taxpaying, Americans are about as close to consensus as they ever get.

This sentiment has been stable for as long as questions like this one have been asked, even at the height of the Reagan revolution. In 1983, in an era when popular estimates of government waste were at a record high, tax cuts were at the top of the political agenda, and politicians competed to hate “big government” the most, Time magazine asked respondents if they agreed with the statement “Government spending is out of control, so there’s nothing wrong with holding back a little bit on taxes.” Such a leading question should have pushed Americans to express any unwillingness they felt about footing the bill for government. But given every opportunity to sign off on tax avoidance, 80 percent of Americans still said no, it was not O.K. to hold back on your taxes.

Given this attitude, why do taxpayers yawn or even applaud when local, State and federal politicians enact deep tax cuts for corporations in the name of “Economic Development”? Has a corporation ever remained loyal to a small town or city after these tax cuts were provided? It’s possible that one reason the pubic is not outraged over this treatment is that voters do not see these “incentives” for what they really are: a form of extortion. When a politician at any level of government “negotiates” a tax benefit package in the name of “economic development”, they are doing so because if they fail to agree to a lower tax package they know that the corporation will relocate and if they do so the tax base will collapse completely. But by diminishing the tax base through “incentives” like reduced property taxes the politicians compromise local revenues for schools, police, and infrastructure and by paying de facto ransoms to corporations they set themselves up for future bargaining or— as is often the case— abandonment by the corporation. In the final analysis, the corporations are rarely loyal to a town. A trip through any part of this country will illustrate how corporations abandon communities seeking lower taxes, employees who will accept lower wages, and towns with looser regulations. And if the low taxes, low wages, and loose regulations can’t be found in our country? We know the answer.


In Age of Austerity Funding, Foundations in Affluent Districts Offset State Cuts, Perpetuate and Exacerbate Inequality

October 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Writing in Re-Thinking Schools, Ursula Wolff-Rocca describes how she came to realize that her externally funded teaching position in Lake Oswego schools was part of a corrupt system funding system that reduced opportunities for children raised in poverty while affording affluent districts like hers the chance to provide a robust education. You see, Ms. Wolff-Rocca’s classroom initial teaching position was funded by a “foundation” whose funds come from local residents in Lake Oswego who provide $650 on average to, in the words of their website, ” Keep Lake Oswego Schools on Top of the Curve”. As Ms. Wolff-Rocca notes, this scheme of de facto user fees keeps the taxes low for everyone in her town and in the State in general, but in doing so perpetuates gross inequities in public school funding. How so? Ms. Wolff-Rocca provides a good overview of how this all works for the affluent and penalizes those in poverty:

Anyone in education or interested in education policy has heard the claim “You can’t fix what’s wrong in education by throwing money at the problem.” Indeed, claims like this are made every legislative cycle as lawmakers wrangle over how much to budget for K–12 education and again during campaign season, when too many candidates jump on some version of the tax-cutting bandwagon.

But if more money is not a critical requirement for improving education, why have school foundations become so ubiquitous? According to Ashlyn Aiko Nelson and Beth Gazley, who published an investigation of these school funding nonprofits, school foundations have proliferated in the last decades, increasing threefold since the mid-1990s. So has the amount of money they are raising: School foundations and comparable organizations raised about $197 million in 1995; in 2010, the number had more than quadrupled to $880 million.

The Lake Oswego Schools Foundation raised roughly $1.5 million for the 2014–15 school year, with 31 families donating more than $5,000 apiece; almost 100 families donated more than $2,500 and triple that number donated at least $1,250. All said, the average family contribution was $650. These dollars matter in the halls of the schools in my district. Last year, $1.5 million meant 16 additional teachers, smaller class sizes, and additional elective offerings.

What is behind the increasing role of school foundations like the one in my district? In our state, like many others, foundations have been a way of addressing the budgetary limitations caused by the passage of property tax caps—here in Oregon, the property tax limitation, Measure 5, passed in 1990—and changes to education funding formulas. The property tax caps were the work of anti-tax activists; the changes to school funding were the work of those concerned about inequality. Together, these changes have given rise to a system that leaves most schools underfunded (as property tax caps limit revenue), with some schools, particularly in the rural parts of the state, faring better than before (because of the equalization funding formula). Wealthy districts, like mine, saw a net loss in funding with equalization.

In the old system, districts received roughly 60 percent of their funding from local property taxes; in the new system, almost all education taxes go into the general fund, to be allocated relatively equitably, on a per-pupil basis. For a wealthy city like Lake Oswego, property tax caps meant less revenue; and funding equalization meant a smaller piece of the pie.

Lake Oswego and other affluent districts can offset this loss in funds by turning to affluent residents. But that could have a downside:

One danger of school foundations in wealthy cities and neighborhoods like Lake Oswego is that they, too, could exercise outsized influence over policy, shaping the choices of the school board through the seductive influence of scarce dollars. When vital school services—not just “enrichment” activities, but teachers and books—are paid for with foundation dollars, what school board could resist the will of the largest donors, who give in excess of $10,000 year after year?

Ms. Wolff-Rocca acknowledges that thus far her district has not been subject to donors imposing their will on the district, but notes that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation HAS imposed its will on the entire nation… and while she clearly appreciates the work of the foundation in her district, she sees the bigger picture:

But school foundations that rely on the individual wealth of a district’s residents to provide basic components of a sound education make a mockery of the progressive premise of public education as a public good that should be provided to all. They turn education into just another commodity that can be hoarded by the wealthy to the detriment of everyone else. They dangerously misshape the already-problematic metrics of accountability—where test scores and graduation rates are compared across districts—by obscuring yet one more example of how our society asks poor children to do more with less.

Foundations work for the affluent: they provide a high quality education for the children, keep the housing values in the community high and the taxes low, and in that way do no harm to the children growing up in that town. The “other children”, though, suffer…. and throwing money at their schools is wasteful. The hypocrisy of this funding model is self-evident but somehow the underfunded “government schools” have been cast as the villains in this narrative. Here’s hoping that articles like Ms. Wolff-Rocca’s can get people to see through the scam that is going on.

This Just In: Charter Schools Waste Money, Fall Short of Standards, Fail to Educate

October 7, 2016 1 comment

The week’s US News and World Report reports on a recently released audit from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that found that 2/3 of the charter schools they examined in a random study wasted money, failed to meet standards, and failed children. Lauren Camera writes:

Specifically, the report found instances of financial risk, including waste, fraud and abuse, lack of accountability over federal funds and lack of assurances that the schools were implementing federal programs in accordance with federal requirements at 22 of the 33 schools they looked at, all of which were run by management organizations.

Why did this happen? Clearly one problem is the underfunding of regulators in the USDOE. But another problem may be that the USDOE is not all that interested in enforcing the regulations as they apply to the profiteers who operate these cash machines that ultimately help underwrite political campaigns that get their Secretary appointed.

Deregulated for-profit charter schools nevertheless continue to receive federal funds.

The report comes just a week after the Education Department announced its newest round of federal funding – $245 million in total – for the expansion of charter schools under the federal charter school program. The funding goes directly to state education departments and charter management organizations.

“We take seriously any concerns about the stewardship of federal funds, especially those targeted to disadvantaged students and underserved communities,” a spokeswoman for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said in a statement in response to the report. “Financial mismanagement should not be tolerated in district or charter public schools.”

The “spokeswoman” then repeated studies that show charter schools make a positive difference for children and the US News and World Report, a reliable cheerleader for charters, offered this:

Indeed, the oft-cited study from Stanford University’s Center for Research and Education Outcomes found that students who attend schools overseen by charter management organizations that were funded by the federal Charter School Growth Fund experience gains in math and reading that trump those of students enrolled in district public schools.

But in the end, the legislators and advocates need to face the fact that deregulation and/or self-regulation leads to the kinds of outcomes the OIG found in its audits. I doubt that either candidate running for President will do anything to slow the growth of charters, but I hope that in their purported efforts to root out waste fraud and abuse they will make certain this is never written about the USDOE in the future:

Moreover, the inspector general’s report found that the Education Department did not have effective internal controls to monitor, evaluate and mitigate those risks, nor did it ensure that state departments of education were overseeing charter schools and their management organizations.

If more or better personnel are needed to establish effective internal controls and oversee State Departments of Education then funds need to be provided for those functions… because if they aren’t more and more taxpayer money will be wasted and fewer and fewer children will have an equitable opportunity to learn.