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Posts Tagged ‘Governance’

Defunding of Oregon Schools Good Proxy for National Phenomenon, a Phenomenon that Ultimately Destroys Democracy

April 24, 2019 Comments off

Beaverton OR Visual Arts Teacher Belle Chesler wrote an excellent op ed that appeared in Tom Dispatch titled “Defunding Children, A National Crisis of the Soul“. In the article Ms. Chesler provides mounds of compelling evidence supporting her thesis that the defending of public education is a national phenomenon that is eroding public education, one of our country’s bedrock institutions. Midway through her essay, Ms. Chesler homes in on the heart argument for defunding schools: money is not the solution.

There is a large disconnect between the lip service paid to supporting public schools and teachers and a visible reticence to adequately fund them. Ask almost anyone — save Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — if they support teachers and schools and the answer is probably “yes.” Bring up the question of how to actually provide adequate financial support for education, however, and you’ll quickly find yourself mired in arguments about wasteful school spending, pension funds that drain resources, sub-par teachers, and bureaucratic bloat, as well as claims that you can’t just continue to throw money at a problem, that money is not the solution.

The next paragraph, Ms. Chesler offers this rejoinder, a response that resonated with me:

I’d argue that money certainly is part of the solution. In a capitalist society, money represents value and power. In America, when you put money into something, you give it meaning. Students are more than capable of grasping that when school funding is being cut, it’s because we as a society have decided that investing in public education doesn’t carry enough value or meaning.

As one who grew up in the post-World War II boom, I had a sense that the public DID support public education and DID hold out high hopes for our generation. I had this sense because new schools and additions were being constructed everywhere, we seemed to get new textbooks every year, there seemed to be new classes added to help us get into college, and we had more and more extra-curricular offerings. Education was clearly valued and was clearly meaningful to our parents and our community.

When I became a school superintendent in several Northeastern states, it was evident that my experiences in West Chester PA were not limited to that region. Regional High Schools sprung up throughout New England, New York, and Maryland during that same time frame and state colleges and junior colleges expanded shortly thereafter as our generation moved through the school systems. The message we got as students was that we mattered, that school was important, and people in the community cared about us.

Now that we can vote, though, my generation is not lending a helping hand to those behind us…. and, as Ms. Chesler notes, that is having a corrosive effect on the institution that drives democracy: the public schools. She concludes her essay with this call to arms to her colleagues in Oregon:

Public schools represent one of the bedrock institutions of American democracy. Yet as a society we’ve stood aside as the very institutions that actually made America great were gutted and undermined by short-term thinking, corporate greed, and unconscionable disrespect for our collective future.

The truth is that thereis money for education, for schools, for teachers, and for students. We just don’t choose to prioritize education spending and so send a loud-and-clear message to students that education doesn’t truly matter. And when you essentially defund education for more than 40 years, you leave kids with ever less faithin American institutions, which is a genuine tragedy.

On May 8th, educators across the state of Oregon are planning to walk out of schools. The action, a precursor to a strike, is a direct response to the inadequate funding in the upcoming state budget and a referendum on the continuing divestment in public education. Teachers like me will be stepping out of our classrooms not because we don’t want to teach, but because we do.

Already Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Arizona teachers have staged similar walkouts to good effect. MAYBE my generation is feeling some pangs of guilt and is ready to step forward to offer more financial support for schools. Time will tell.

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Millions of Federal $$$ for Charters Wasted Since 2006. Note the Date, Please!

April 23, 2019 Comments off

Jeff Bryant, co-author of a recently released report from the Network for Public Education (NPE), wrote a post for Common Dreams describing Betsy DeVos’ most recent reaction to the report, which was an ad hominem attack of the writers. Mr. Bryant’s summarized Ms. DeVos’ reaction and the NPE’s response in this paragraph:

By denying, distracting, and personally attacking the report authors, she encouraged us to delve further into the evidence that much of the money awarded by the program went to charter schools that are, at best, bungling attempts to start up education businesses that should never have been financed to begin with or, at worst, scam operations that willfully intended to make off with taxpayer money and not suffer any negative consequences.

What I find particularly alarming after reading this post is that the easiest defense of DeVos COULD have been: “The waste, fraud, and abuse happened under the watch of previous administrations and I will be taking the following steps to correct this problem”… because almost all of the documented cases in the NPE report come from actions taken by the DOE under the Obama administration.

She didn’t say that… which means she does not care at all about the need to regulate for profit charter schools or the impact those schools have on the lives of parents, children, and community members.

But here’s what I find even MORE alarming: there are probably at least a dozen Democratic candidates who WILL defend charter schools using that line of reasoning.

My bottom line on charters is that they should be governed by democratically elected boards and subject to the same regulations as public schools.

Borderless Transnational Corporations are Ultimate Source of international Inequality, Demise of Democracy

April 22, 2019 Comments off

A few days ago I wrote a post decrying the 56 corporations that avoided paying taxes altogether. Shortly after writing that post, Common Dreams blogger Patti Lynn wrote a post underscoring that these corporations are part of a small group of multi-national enterprises whose allegiance is not to any country or any form of government— only to themselves and to profits. And in a series of paragraphs undertake heading “Abandoning the Common Good” she describes the impact of our government’s policy that kowtows to the demands of these companies:

It’s becoming more and more clear how our current economic and political system is failing to provide, take care of, and manage the resources and services we all need. Our aging water infrastructure is in dire need of public reinvestment. Public schools struggle mightily around the country. And in most places in the U.S. public transportation is not equitable, in need of major reinvestment, or doesn’t even exist.

Who bears the brunt of these failures? Well, certainly not super wealthy corporate and mostly white CEOs being driven in limos stocked with bottled water. Or celebrities and hedge fund managers bribing college coaches to get their children into Ivy League and other prestige-bestowing schools.

It’s the mostly Black folks in Flint and Detroit whose water is poisoned or shut off who are experiencing these systemic failures to the greatest degree. It’s people who rely on public transportation to get them to their hourly wage jobs—and who get docked pay or fired if they come in late because of a broken-down subway. It’s low-income families who do the best they can by their kids in resource-starved public K-12 schools.

Ms. Lynn goes on to note that “taxing the rich” will only get us part of the way toward our goal: we need to also examine the tax policies we have in place for these multi-national corporations. And, as the third paragraph below emphasizes, the recent tax laws are only making things worse:

But taxing the ultra-wealthy is only addressing half the solution. We must also apply the same scrutiny to corporations and enact policies that ensure corporations pay what they owe in taxes (not to mention what they owe in externalized costs). Sen. Warren’s new proposal is a welcome policy proposal in that direction.

The argument against doing so is that the U.S. already has too high of a corporate tax rate, and if we actually make corporations pay their fair share, more of them will move their headquarters somewhere else with lenient tax laws, offshore their profits, and/or take jobs elsewhere.

But the truth is, without effective regulation and enforcement, transnational corporations will keep gaming the system, no matter what. Today, few corporations paythe actual tax rate, which is now at 21 percent, down from 35 thanks to the 2017 law…

That’s why we need to take the system back. We need transformative, deep-seated changes where corporations do not get to write the rules and where people and our government hold them accountable.

This is the right time for this vision and demand for change. People across the political spectrum are outraged at our rigged system that is leaving them behind. To unrig the system we need to not only tax the ultra-wealthy. We also need to tax and hold accountable the driving force behind their wealth and our nation’s overall income inequality: transnational corporations.

If we want to provide the schools children needs, the clean air and water we all need, and the job security that makes for a strong democracy we need to reverse the actions of the past several months.

 

Billionaires Philanthropists NOT the Solution to Improving Public Services

April 10, 2019 Comments off

Business Insider recently published Anand Giradhardas’ reaction to billionaire investor Ray Dalio’s acknowledgement on 60 Minutes that his cohort should be paying more taxes… and it was pointed without being scathing. The one section of Giradharadas’ critique that resonated with me was his reaction to the news that Dalio and his wife donated $100,000,000 to Connecticut public schools:

“It is fine to donate money to Connecticut. But Dalio’s personal preferences should have zero influence on how the money is spent. This is the problem with the public-private-partnership model he venerates: It puts some rich guy and the State of Connecticut on an equal footing to negotiate a plan to enhance the general welfare. Why? You wouldn’t ask an arsonist to lead the firefighting brigade, and you shouldn’t ask those who have benefited most from a rigged system, and who have the most to lose from genuine reform, to lead the reformation of the system.”

While Mr. Dalio’s $100,000,000 “donation” to public education is commendable, it is roughly 15% of what is needed to close the gap in needed capital outlay if that state hoped to close the gap as determined in a 2016 study by a consortium of school construction organizations. As noted frequently in this post, the targeted contributions by philanthropists usually DON’T match those identified by state or local school boards. They are appreciated… but having every billionaire pay their fair share of taxes would be even more appreciated and beneficial to public education.

And here’s the ultimate bottom line: we will never reform schools until we reform the economic system that created them.

 

A Debate Over the word “Democracy” in Michigan’s Social Studies Curriculum Lays Bare Conservatives’ Opposition to the Term… and the Concept

April 8, 2019 Comments off

A front page article by Dana Goldstein in today’s NYTimes should give everyone in the nation pause. Titled “Is the US a Democracy? A Social Studies Battle Turns on the Nation’s Values“, the article describes a five-year battle over the definition of the government of our country. In a country where it is seemingly impossible to achieve consensus on the teaching of subjects like reading and mathematics— let alone evolution, climate change, and reproduction— it is not surprising that reaching a consensus on social studies is difficult. But unlike the debates where the facts are clear, social studies content focuses on shared values, and as one who worked in public education for four decades I would have thought that politicians, parents, teachers, and voters would readily agree that we live in a democracy. I write this knowing that I do not believe it is the case— but believing that no organized group would want to argue the fact. As Ms. Goldstein writes, though, I am off-base with that presumption: a proposed revision of Michigan’s standards drops the word “democratic” from “core democratic values,” and reduces the use of the word “democracy”. Why?

The changes were made after a group of prominent conservatives helped revise the standards. They drew attention to a long-simmering debate over whether “republic” is a better term than “democracy” to describe the American form of government.

That the two sides in that tussle tend to fall along party lines, each preferring the term that resembles their party name, plays no small part in the debate. But members of the conservative group also brought to the table the argument that K-12 social studies should be based on a close, originalist reading of the United States’ founding documents.

They contended that the curriculum ought to focus more on the nation’s triumphs than its sins.And they pushed for revisions that eliminated “climate change,” “Roe v. Wade” and references to gay and lesbian civil rights.

Given a desire to base social studies on “a close, originalist reading of the United States’ founding documents”  the elimination of the terms “…”climate change,” “Roe v. Wade” and references to gay and lesbian civil rights” makes perfect sense! After all, the founders didn’t want to allow anyone but white, male landowners to vote. And those who penned the original documents could not foresee the impact that industrialization, advances in medical science, and changing morays might have nearly 250 years in the future.  Indeed, the founders realized that they were not writing a set of commandments since they provided a means of amending their original document, probably because they realized that 250 years prior to the writing of the Constitution literacy was barely in place and the notion of democracy was fanciful given the monarchies and feudal economic systems in place.

The article describes the protracted process that carefully expanded the number of participants in the writing process as it attempted to draft a set of standards that would allow every student in the state to “see themselves” in the instruction. But despite all of the efforts to be inclusive, at this juncture the definition of our government remains elusive. Ms. Goldstein writes:

But in the days before the document was to be sent to the State Board of Education, fundamental questions about how to describe American government and citizenship had not been resolved.

It was not just that some Democratic-leaning committee members liked the term “democracy” while some Republican-leaning members preferred “republic.” The debate was really about bigger disagreements that transcended party lines: about how to deal with populism and protest, and about whether the United States is a unified entity of citizens or a conglomeration of groups divided by race, class, language and other identities.

On March 7, the heads of all the subcommittees gathered at the Historical Society of Michigan in Lansing to go through the draft one last time. The laptop screen of the head writer, a district social studies consultant named Dave Johnson, was projected onto the wall as he made last-minute revisions in a Google document.

It strikes me that process of developing the standards, something I called “management by rough draft” when I was leading schools and school districts, is an apt description of our governing model at it’s best. And when the process was complete, here’s how it ended up:

The list of core values that the standards writers eventually agreed on was “equality; liberty; justice and fairness; unalienable individual rights (including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness); consent of governed; truth; common good.”

And after months of sometimes bitter debate, the group decided these values could still be called “democratic.” As part of a compromise, the nation’s political system would be referred to primarily as “American government,” but also, in some instances, “constitutional government” and — yes — “democracy.”

But the conservative lawmaker who protested initially and whose protests led to the lengthy and contentious debate, was not pleased.

Mr. Colbeck, the former state senator who had helped write the previous draft, was displeased. Calling the nation a democracy was not “politically neutral and accurate,” he said.

As one who leans left, I agree. I believe we are now living in a plutocracy…. and I would have to believe that Mr. Colbeck and his anti-democratic colleagues who support an originalist interpretation of the Constitution would be OK with that. After all, Mr. Colbeck is a white male who owns land… HE would be able to participate in making decisions about the direction our country is headed.

In the end, Ms. Goldstein final sentence concludes that our debate about who we are will continue…. and implicitly agrees that the management-by-rough-draft will persist:

The process of retelling the nation’s history — deciding what gets left out and who is heard from — never ends.

I hope she is right… and that the pendulum that is now swung in the direction of the plutocrats who want to change the core values of our nation swings to the left.

Small NH Town’s Experiment with Vouchers Result in Deficits, Ballooning Budgets, Turnover

April 2, 2019 Comments off

As reported in an article by Sarah Earle in today’s Valley News, the town of Croydon NH, part of the so-called libertarian Free State Project, is learning that the free market can sometimes be costly… especially in a libertarian State like NH that provides less than $4,000/pupil in state aid to “needy” districts.

Here’s what happened in Croydon in a nutshell. The school board was taken over by a group who wanted to break away from the both the tuition agreement and administrative unit that linked them to the neighboring Newport Schools for grades 5-12. Instead, the small district (it enrolls 28 students in grades K-4) wanted to offer its residents the chance to attend any school of their choice with the proviso that they would only fund $14,000 of the tuition and gain local control of the district by hiring their own Superintendent, business manager and special education staff. To make this happen, the board needed to get a special bill passed by the legislature and secure waivers from the state’s Department of Education. Both were done in short order given the pro-choice GOP legislature at the time and the appointment of Frank Edelblut, one of the underwriters of the lawsuit filed to secure waivers needed to make the breakaway possible, to Commissioner of Education.

Predictably some parents seeking to attend private schools moved into Croydon and when those parents were combined with residents already enrolled in private schools the budget ballooned. A $167,000 deficit in FY 18 followed by a projected $43,000 deficit in FY 19 left the Board with no where to look for cuts except their small elementary school… and when they cut one of the four staff members at the school the others all resigned. When those openings were combined with openings for Business Manager and Superintendent it meant that Croydon had basically no one left on the staff. To make matters even worse, it seems that more folks are moving in to the area trying to take advantage of the de facto $14,000 subsidy to attend whatever school they want.

Despite these financial challenges, most in the town are now satisfied with the decisions made by the board a few years ago. But the road may get a bit bumpier if more private school parents move into the community and if the Newport secondary schools charge more per pupil as their enrollment declines and they begin paying their teachers a more competitive wage.

But Croydon is serving one purpose: those who believe that the forces of the free market will drive down costs are finding that it just isn’t so.

Scathing Indictment of Betsy DeVos’s Cuts to Special Olympics Overlooks Even More Irresponsible Budget Line

April 2, 2019 Comments off

Much ink was written over the past week about Betsy DeVos’ misguided recommendation to cut funding for the Special Olympics. She characterized it as a tough choice she “had to make”, a choice that was so reprehensible even President Trump was taken aback. His solution was to restore the money needed for that particular $18,000,000 cut. But at the same time, both the President and the Secretary of Education made no reference to the ADDITIONAL $60,000,000 earmarked for charter schools.

But Jeff Bryant and the Network for Public Education did their best to flag the additional funding requested and, most importantly, the dysfunctional schools who would benefit. In his blog post, “New Report Reveals How Charter Schools Have Scammed the US Government for up to $1,000,000,000— yes…. that’s BILLIONS of dollars, not MILLIONS of dollars. And how, exactly did the carters do this? By gaming loose regulations and revising laws in several states making it possible for charter schools to skim off millions and millions of dollars with no accountability to State Departments of Education or taxpayers. Here’s how Jeff Bryant summarizes the newest budget request and the lost dollars:

President Trump’s 2020 budget blueprint proposes increasing funding for the charter grant program by 13.6 percent, from $440 to $500 million, and education secretary Betsy DeVos praised this increase as a step forward for “education freedom.” But the report finds that increasing federal funds for this program would mostly continue to perpetuate academic fraud.

Of the schools awarded grants directly from the department between 2009 and 2016, nearly one in four either never opened or shut their doors. The federal program’s own analysis from 2006 to 2014 of its direct and state pass-through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.

Since then, the federal program has continued to award charters with grant money, increasing the total amount awarded to over $4 billion. Should the department’s own 2015 study finding hold, that one in three of the schools awarded grants had closed, never opened, or were not yet opened, the likely amount of money scammed by bogus charter operators tops $1 billion. In California alone, the state with the most charter schools, the failure rate for federal grant-awarded charters was 39 percent. Of the 306 schools that received CSP money but are not open, 75 are “ghost” schools – that is, they received money but never began.

Bryant offers a host of examples of scams, but used many column inches to describe “an anatomy of a scam” in Delaware that was astonishing in its breadth and sheer audacity. He concludes his post with this:

There is only one way to deal with this blatant grift program for the charter school industry.

First, Congress must reject President Trump’s budget proposal for increasing funding for the charter school grant program. Then Congress must end funding for new charter grants coming from this program and demand thorough audits of previous grant awards and steps to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned.

And Congress also needs to consider the unintended consequences to districts caused by the unchecked expansion of charters. Resources are depleted for the students left behind, and public schools become more segregated and serve needier populations.

These are all good recommendations… but… as i am sure Mr. Bryant realizes, the federal government has handed off responsibility for accountability to states… and as long as states like Delaware are OK with the lack of accountability for charter schools they will continue to grift….