Posts Tagged ‘Governance’

What Constitutes “Demonizing Billionaires”?

June 22, 2019 Comments off

Of late, I’ve read several op ed pieces in several newspapers criticizing the progressive candidates in the Democratic Party of “demonizing billionaires”. And the pundits who write op ed pieces or appear on radio and TV shows are not alone. So-called “centrist” candidates are joining in. This past Tuesday, for example, Huffpost writer Dominique Mosbergen reported that Joe Biden, the personification of the centrism and the DNC’s favored candidate, assured a group of affluent donors that he would not do anything that would change their standard of living and was concerned that “he would not “demonize” the rich if he’s elected president”. She concluded her article with an earlier quote from Mr. Biden regarding one of those who IS presumably “demonizing” the billionaires:

Though Biden has pushed a generally populist economic agenda focused on decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights, the former vice president has taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation. Unlike some of his 2020 Democratic rivals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Biden has not singled out the mega-rich as tax targets. He’s instead proposed expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said at an event in March.

I’ve followed Bernie Sanders for several years, beginning in 2015 when he was exploring running for office, through his 2016 effort to unseat the anointed candidate of the DNC, and over the past months since.  I don’t think Bernie Sanders ever said that 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. He believes the reason we are in trouble is that we have accepted an economic system that allows a small handful of individuals to accumulate extraordinary wealth and a system that gives that small handful of individuals disproportionate and undemocratic power.

W. Edwards Deming said that PEOPLE don’t fail: SYSTEMS fail… and while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and other populist candidates use individuals as examples of the wealth that some are allowed to accumulate, they do not blame those individuals as individuals. They use their profligacy and massive accumulation of assets and power as examples that voters can grasp. They both oppose the system as it exists now and want a system that is fair and democratic. That is not demonizing individuals… it IS demonizing the plutocratic governance model in place now and advocating for democracy.


My Letter to the Editor on NH Funding Appeared Today

June 21, 2019 Comments off

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the NH Supreme Court Decision on school funding and, at that time submitted a letter to the editor on the same topic. Th letter, pasted below, appeared in today’s paper:

The report on Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ’s decision that New Hampshire’s current level of education funding is unconstitutional (“Judge: School funding lacking,” June 7) omitted two key conclusions: The first: “The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness ofsuch a system.” The second: “As every court decision on the matter has recognized, school funding is no small task, and the burden on the Legislature is great. Yet, as every court decision has similarly recognized, the Legislature is the proper governmental body to complete it. As has been the result in the past, the Court expects the Legislature to respond thoughtfully and enthusiastically to funding public education according to its constitutional obligation.”

The article did provide Gov. Chris Sununu’s response, that his administration continues “to believe these critical funding decisions are best left to local elected leaders — who represent the people of New Hampshire — not judges in a(courtroom).” Sununu’s response emphasizing local control overlooks the reality that there is no way “local elected leaders” in property-poor communities can ever provide adequate funds for the children attending public schools. But the governor knows enough math to also realize that there is no way for the Legislature to devise an equitable formula without getting more revenues. To paraphrase Ruoff, it requires no particular economic expertise to know that the revenue gap cannot be closed by expanding the lottery or adding more fees.

Both the governor and the Legislature realize that the only way to increase revenues sufficiently is to (gasp) expand taxes.

The bottom line question for parents and children in the state is this: Will “The Pledge” prevail, or will the Legislature respond to this court decision and craft a system of taxes in which a student’s ZIP code no longer determines whether an equitable educational opportunity in available?

California Study Underscores Reality that Public Schools Cannot Operate by the Rules of Capitalism

June 21, 2019 Comments off

A recent study of California charter schools by In the Public Interest (ITPI) underscores what every public school board member and administrator knows: you cannot operate a public school using the business model advocated by “reformers” who believe competition will lead to higher quality and lower costs. Stated differently, the governance model of public education– whereby elected public officials oversee the operation of schools— is incompatible with the governance model of businesses— where shareholders oversee the operation of schools.

The one-page synopsis of the study describes the inherent flaw in the governance model adopted by the California legislature in 1992:

The California Charter Schools Act currently enables prospective charter school operators to appeal a local school district’s application denial to the local county board of education and then to the State Board of Education (SBE). If either grants the appeal, they become the charter school’s authorizer.

This appeals process—deemed “robust” and “relatively generous” compared to other states by education researchers at Harvard University—has helped allow charter schools to rapidly increase in number statewide. In some cases… the potential issues in an application identified by a district came to fruition after the operator was granted an appeal. Statewide, 38 percent of charter schools authorized by the SBE between January 2002 and May 2018 are no longer open, while the failure rate of district-approved charter schools for the same period was 27 percent.

The ITPI report focusses on the differential between the failure rate of district-approved charter schools as compared to the failure rate of charter schools authorized by the SBE. The report suggests that if the local board had the final say, there would be fewer failing charters.

From my perspective, a “failure rate” of 27 percent is unreasonably high… and, consequently, from my perspective the oversight of charter schools should be handled like the oversight of private schools, whose survival depends on private funding and whose governance is often opaque. But according to the Small Business Association (SBA), this “failure rate” is actually LOW! The SBA states that “only” 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, while 50% close during the first five years and 66% close during the first 10. So either a 27% failure rate or a 38% failure rate would be good by “business” standards. But the impact of a closure on a child, family or neighborhood is far more devastating than the impact of, say, a restaurant closure.

The bottom line: public schools be they charters or “traditional” cannot operate under the same governance structures as the private sector.




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Pennsylvania’s Charter Law Overreach FINALLY Gets Charter Scams on National Radar

June 14, 2019 Comments off

The original idea of charter schools, the one conditionally proposed by Albert Shanker who has undoubtedly turned over several times in his grave when his name is invoked by privatizers, was to allow public school teachers to create alternative programs within the context of the existing governance structure of public education law. The schools would use public funds to operate their schools, but the funds would flow through public schools boards governed in conformance with existing legislation.

Those who viewed “government regulations” and “union red tape” as the primary problems in public education, and especially members of that subset who also saw an opportunity to make a great profit with a small investment, began beating the drum for charter schools and helped enact NCLB, the biggest door-opener for their business model since it called for the creation of choices for parents who attend “failing” public schools.

No state did more to open the door to profiteers than Pennsylvania and, as Jeff Bryant writes in Common Dreams, no state has more scammers in the “virtual school” market. Mr. Bryant carefully researches his articles and does an excellent job of describing exactly how the profiteers passed seemingly innocuous legislation that enabled Pennsylvania charter schools to now collect “…over $1.8 billion annually and account for over 25 percent of the state’s basic education funding.” Like all state funding formulas, Pennsylvania’s is opaque… but with the help of fellow blogger Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman) he describes the way current laws siphon money away from public schools who must education every child to charters who can exclude, say, special education students that public schools must education.

And how are those charter schools doing, you ask? Here’s Mr. Bryant’s answer:

If charter schools guaranteed some kind of education premium—a significant boost in test scores or other measure of academic achievement—then perhaps that could justify the extra costs public schools incur to provide some parents a choice. But in Pennsylvania, that’s hardly the case.

According to a recent study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, charter school students in Pennsylvania, when compared with their counterparts in traditional public schools, make similar progress on reading exams but fare worse in math. The study also found significant variation in performance within the charter industry—with cyber charters performing especially poorly and urban brick-and-mortar charters perhaps providing some academic benefits to African American and Hispanic students.

There is a silver lining to this outrageous example of greed, though, and it is described in the final paragraph:

In states like Pennsylvania, the upward spiraling costs are now fueling “a growing resistance to charters as any kind of answer to education problems,” Dan Doubet, executive director of Keystone Progress says. “People are catching on that inserting a private middleman into public services doesn’t diminish the costs of government.”

And since Pennsylvania is hardly the only state that opened the door to scammers (Ohio, for example might be even worse!), it’s embarrassing headlines combined with current Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ shilling for charters is compelling several Democratic Party candidates to speak out against profiteering in public education in particular ad the public sector in general. Hopefully, thing have gotten so bad they can’t get any worse…

No Surprise: NH Supreme Court Finds Funding Levels Unconstitutional… A HUGE Surprise Would Be Having Anything Happen as a Result

June 7, 2019 Comments off

The Advancing New Hampshire Public Education (ANHPE) blog posted a synopsis of NH Superior Court Judge Ruoff’s 98-page decision on the constitutionality of the current funding in NH and once again it was determined to be unconstitutional. Here are a few choice tidbits from the judge’s decision as gleaned from the ANHPE post:

  • “RSA 198:40-a,II(a) sets the current base adequacy aid award for all schools at $3,562.71 per student, based on a formula determined by a legislative committee in 2008. The parties agree that not a single school in the State of New Hampshire could or does function at $3,562.71 per student. ”Because of the dearth of evidence in the legislative record to support such a
    determination, the Court finds RSA 198:40-a,II(a)—which is essentially the gateway to an adequate education in New Hampshire—unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts.”
  • “Labels aside, we are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record…”
  • The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness of such a system.
  • “As repeatedly found above, the Joint Committee’s [that determined the adequacy funding formula] conclusions were not only unsupported by the legislative record but were clearly or demonstrably inadequate according to the Legislature’s own definition of an adequate education.”
  •  “As every court decision on the matter has recognized, school funding is no small task, and the burden on the Legislature is great. Yet, as every court decision has similarly recognized, the Legislature is the proper governmental body to complete it. As has been the result in the past, the Court expects the Legislature to respond thoughtfully and enthusiastically to funding public education according to its constitutional obligation.”

The Governor’s reaction was as unsurprising as the judge’s decision… and completely contradicts the findings in bold red italics above:

Governor Sununu issued a statement saying, “”The state is reviewing the order, but we continue to believe these critical funding decisions are best left to local elected leaders — who represent the people of New Hampshire — not judges in a courtroom.”

There is no way that “local elected leaders” in property poor communities can EVER provide adequate funds… but the Governor knows enough math to also realize that there is no way the Legislature, “the prosper governmental body” to devise an equitable formula, can accomplish the feat without getting more revenues… which, of course, means higher taxes or more “tricks” like the expansion of the lottery. Will this ever happen in my home state? It’s been over thirty years since the first lawsuit was “won” and it hasn’t happened yet. I’m not at all encouraged.


“Thin Contracts”: The Way Forward for Charter Schools AND Unions

June 5, 2019 Comments off

Forbes contributing writer Talia Milgrom-Elcott offers a way forward for charter schools and unions, a way that would provide charter schools with a stable workforce by offering teachers in those schools the basic benefits unions provide: decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. Here’s Ms. Milgrom-Elcott’s opening paragraphs that describe how this might work:

I am part of a growing contingent: a supporter of unions, public schools and public charter schools. This is no easy alliance. Unionizing charter schools can make both parties anxious – even though charters were first conceived by Al Shanker, the then-president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Many charter schools have delivered powerful results for students by focusing on children first. And unions have staked out the teacher-happiness terrain, focusing on satisfaction, retention and job quality. Why have we forced a choice: unions or charter schools; children-first or teacher-first? Personally, I have come to see these dichotomies as false, because students will only thrive in schools where adults are also thriving.

Companies with disgruntled staff don’t make good widgets. How can we expect unhappy teachers to shape thriving humans? As Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, shared in a recent piece in The Atlantic: “As charters go from infancy to adolescence, those who want to succeed for the long haul have to have a stable, vibrant teaching force, and that stable, vibrant teaching force wants a voice and agency.”

Later in the article, Ms. Milgrom-Elcott answers the question she posed above regarding the mental models in place that result in a forced choice between charters and unions:

We can’t ignore the animosity that has long characterized the relationship between charter schools and unions. Charter schools have made explicit structural decisions to side-step some of the more onerous restrictions of traditional teachers’ union contracts, and unions have derogated charter schools’ intentions, in turn.

Ms. Milgrom-Elcott offers a workaround used by several charter chains who have accepted unionization: a “thin contract”. She uses Green Dot’s collective bargaining agreement as an example:

…Green Dot Public Schools, a network of charter schools where in California they are serving about 11,000 students in communities across Greater Los Angeles – (has) unionized teachers and staff have a central role in the organization.

“We want to be agents of transformation in public education, so we have to live and breathe the same context as our peers,” said Chad Soleo, the national CEO of Green Dot. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that our reforms and the lessons we’ve learned in public education are completely replicable in any union setting.

Partnering with an organized workforce has evolved into much more, says Soleo.

“Our educators buy in wholeheartedly to the values of collective decision-making, collaborative leadership, and organized labor,” he said. “In practice, they wanted a different flavor than the status quo.”

Green Dot’s “thin” contract, negotiated in Los Angeles with their unions, both affiliates of the California Teachers Association – itself a joint affiliate of the AFT and NEA, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions – leaves room for flexibility by both the school administration and teachers to remain responsive to student needs. Organized charter schools have typically worked with unions to create these more streamlined contracts specific to the needs of each school community.

I can see “thin” contracts being a benefit to unions as well as charter schools. Many “mature” contracts I worked with near the end of my career incorporated detailed regulations on the length and structure of classes that arguably hampered the ability of teachers to innovate and often included arcane provisions on leaves that taxpayer groups would quote to illustrate how easy teachers have it. These regulations and provisions often emerged because of a controversy in one school caused by a single incident that led to language being added to ensure that an outlying practice was not repeated. The result was an increasingly thick and complicated contract. From the union’s perspective changing any of the language was perceived as an erosion of protection or benefits, making it difficult to strip away language that was no longer needed even if current practices made the language superfluous. Language changes regarding the time frames for the issuance of report cards, drafted when they were done by pencil-and-paper instead of computers, were often viewed as “concessions” instead of “clarifications” making relationships between unions and school boards contentious. In order to make contracts skinnier and more flexible, a requirement in this day and age of technology, both sides need to abandon their win-lose mentality and find “a different flavor” than the status quo.

Ms. Milgrom-Olcott’s closing paragraphs an apt closing paragraph for this post as well:

We’re at a critical juncture in this country, one that requires courageous leadership. Persistent economic inequality and lack of social mobility threaten the fabric of our nation and the health of our democracy. Public charter schools want to combat this. To fully live into that mission, their boards, leaders, teachers, and communities should embrace unionization and negotiate the details with unions. Charter school leaders have an opportunity to reignite their schools as engines of economic mobility and robust democratic participation for their communities. The American Dream might well depend on it.

Tennessee’s ESA Shenanigans Illustrate Why Delegating Education Policy to States is a BAD Idea

April 25, 2019 Comments off

A friend on Facebook shared a blog post from Momma Bear, a group of concerned Tennessee parents, grandparents, citizens, and– in a ll probability— teachers who are appalled at what is taking place in Tennessee. It seems that the Governor wants to get a voucher bill passed and in order to secure the votes he needed to do so was offering enticements to legislators if they voted in favor of his plan and threatening funding shortfalls for those who didn’t. The post describes how the House went from a 49-49 deadlock to a tie-breaking 50-48 vote on the voucher bill… and it seems that very few of the votes were cast in favor of the voucher policy itself… rather they were cast to secure funding for better roads and avoiding vengeance.

This is Lamar Alexander’s legacy for weakening the Federal policy guidelines and handing them off to the states…. and I rest my case for the flaws in the ESA legislation.