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School Choice in Iowa, a Preview of Other States, Hitting Some Bumps

March 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an extended article by Dana Goldstein profiling the problems the Iowa legislature is wrestling with as it tries to expand its system of vouchers, a system that is a preview of where other states are attempting to move and a precursor to the kind of system Betsy DeVos is advocating for all public schools. As Goldstein writes, the problems aren’t coming from just public school advocates:

Despite Republican control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the State Legislature, proposals to significantly expand school choice programs in Iowa are stalled, at least for now. The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea — Democrats, school districts, teachers’ unions and parents committed to public schools — but also from some conservatives concerned about the cost to the state.

Fiscal conservatives have long been more concerned with taxes than with the well being of children and the disadvantaged students. But in Iowa, it is evident that fiscal conservatives and religious conservatives are in different camps and when the price tag for publicly funded private schools increased the fiscal conservatives aligned with the pro-public school groups. As a result, many of the bills that would increase choice and/or increase funding for “Education Savings Accounts” are stalled in both houses of the state legislature.

There is one ray of hope in Iowa, though. The head of the religious school profiled in the Times article expressed some misgivings about the impact Education Savings Accounts was having on the disadvantaged children in his state.

Mr. Te Grotenhuis (the head of the Christian school profiled in the article) hopes that more low-income families in Pella will choose his school if one of the education savings account proposals becomes law.

But opposition from his counterparts in the public system gave him pause. “If we start E.S.A.s and cause a negative impact on the public schools, I wouldn’t support that,” he said, referring to the education savings accounts. “It comes down to ‘love thy neighbor.’”

Maybe Mr. Te Grotenhuis can influence one of his legislators to think the same way. If that happens, we may see religious schools refusing to accept any state funds in the future.

Calling a For Profit Cyber School Receiving Public Money a “Public School” is Misleading and Disingenuous

March 18, 2017 Leave a comment

On Thursday afternoon, Common Dreams posted education reporter Jeff Bryant’s latest Education Opportunity Network article, “What Betsy DeVos Means When She Says “Public Schools” on their website today… and it is an understatement to say her definition of “public schools” is misleading. As Mr. Bryant notes, there is an effort underway across the country to rebrand “…for-profit virtual charters and private school recipients of taxpayer-backed vouchers as public schools.” Such re-branding is misleading and disingenuous. These schools play by different rules. They are deregulated, not subject to the same accountability standards as public schools, and not governed by publicly elected officials. They are no more a public institution than a bouncer at a bar or a security guard at a department store are “policemen.” While the bouncer and security guard perform some of the same functions as a police officer, they have far less training, a far narrower scope of responsibility, and are not answerable to the public. If police departments heard that bouncers and security guards were “re-branded” as public policeman they’d be annoyed. Yet people seem to think public school teachers should be unperturbed when for profit institutions or virtual instruction enterprises are called “public schools.”

But, as Mr. Bryant notes, the public is generally unaware of the differences between charter schools and bona fide public schools, and this lack of understanding has created an opening for opportunistic charter profiteers:

These important differences between charter schools and traditional public schools are not generally understood or appreciated by even the most knowledgeable people, which is why charter advocates put so much energy and resources in marketing their operations as “public” schools.

Jeff Bryant concludes his article with this:

School choice proponents like DeVos often argue that all that matters is whether students who attend charters, online schools, and private academies do well on standardized tests and that parents are generally satisfied with these choices.

But this argument ignores the tax-paying public that deserves to know whether those outcomes are being achieved without wasting our public dollars, which more often than not, they probably are.

If a school is governed by a board elected by the voters, adheres to regulations developed by a state agency in accordance with laws passed by elected officials, and is held to standards set by elected officials or their appointees, it is a “public” school. Anything else is anti-democratic and private and should not receive any public funds from taxpayers.

A Deeper Dive into the Trump-GOP Budget: $$$ for Wars, Cuts for Peace, Poverty Programs, and Children

March 17, 2017 Leave a comment

David IngoldChloe WhiteakerMichael Keller and Hannah Recht, three Bloomberg writers, posted an article Thursday that identified 19 agencies that would be completely eliminated and “at least 61 other programs” that would lose funding altogether in the Trump-GOP budget. They also identify those programs that stand to gain from the cuts. The verbiage in the article itself is as spare as the spending will be for social programs:

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal includes massive cuts across most of the federal government. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture face unprecedented discretionary funding cuts in excess of 25 percent, as Trump attempts to boost the military and national security.

Trump’s budget also proposes eliminating discretionary funding altogether for at least 19 agencies and 61 other programs. Plans for new NASA missions, climate change research, aid for low-income families and funding for commercial flights to rural airports would all be on the chopping block. Trump says many of these programs are inefficient or duplicative. All this could change; Trump will deliver a final budget in May and Congress would have to approve the cuts—something they have often resisted in the past.

The cuts to the EPA should be no surprise to anyone given the GOP platform. The GOP does not want anyone to sacrifice their truck or SUVs, their 72 degree homes, or the use of fossil fuels to provide electricity. The EPA, on the other hand, exists to defend the environment against degradation.

The cuts to agriculture seem surprising at first glance. But an examination of the programs listed in the Bloomberg article indicate three programs that will be eliminated as part those cuts:

Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program

◦ Provides funding for clean drinking water, sanitary sewage disposal and storm-water drainage programs in rural areas.

Rural Business and Cooperative Service’s discretionary programs

◦ Provides financial assistance for economic development programs in rural communities, including renewable energy and biofuel initiatives.

McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program

◦ Supports education, child development and food security initiatives in low-income, food-deficit countries around the world.

These cuts are consistent with the GOP’s desire to deregulate everything and oppose any federal efforts to move away from fossil fuels in favor of clean energy initiatives. They also show the GOPs desire to move away from any efforts toward international governance, towards sharing the largesse of our nation with other countries around the world in the same way the party opposes sharing the largesse of the wealthiest individuals with those who are most in need in our nation.

The cuts to education programs were described broadly in an earlier post. Here are some specific education programs that will be completely unfunded:

Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants

◦ Provides grants to non-profit organizations that recruit and provide professional enhancement for teachers and principals.

21st Century Community Learning Centers

◦ Supports community learning centers that provide before-and after-school programs for children, particularly those in high-poverty areas.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant

◦ Provides need-based grants of up to $4,000 to low-income undergraduates for postsecondary education.

Striving Readers

◦ Helps states fund literacy programs for children, birth through grade 12, including those with disabilities and limited English.

Teacher Quality Partnership

◦ Funds initiatives aimed at improving the quality of new teachers through better development and recruiting methods.

Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property

◦ Provides funding to school districts that have a diminished tax base due to federal property ownership in the district.

As the underscored and italicized sections indicate, three of these programs are targeted for low income and/or disabled and immigrant students with the other two targeted for new teachers who often serve those same students. The cuts to Health and Human Services programs reinforce the GOPs intent to move away from international governance and providing a safety net for those living in poverty:

Fogarty International Center

◦ Supports global health research initiatives, including infectious disease research in developing countries.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

◦ Provides assistance to low income families to help pay for their home’s energy bills and some energy-related maintenance.

Community Services Block Grant

◦ Funds projects aimed at reducing poverty in communities, including projects focused on education, nutrition, employment and housing.

And the Housing and Urban Development cuts amplify the GOPs intent to shred the safety net for those in poverty:

Community Development Block Grant Program

◦ Funds programs that assist low-income people with housing issues, including the elimination of urban blight and other community programs.

HOME Investment Partnerships Program

◦ Provides block grants to state and local governments to create affordable housing solutions for low-income households.

Choice Neighborhoods

◦ Funds programs to replace distressed public housing and promotes investment for neighborhood improvement.

Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program

◦ Funds nonprofit organizations that build new housing for low-income families through sweat equity and volunteer labor.

Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing

◦ Works with nonprofit groups to fund community development and affordable housing initiatives aimed at low-income families.

And wait… there are even MORE cuts that impact education and children raised in poverty.

  • NASA’s Office of Education a program that “Supports education in public elementary and secondary schools and informal settings, coordinates and disseminates findings of NASA research projects” is cut completely;
  • The National Endowment for the Arts, an agency that supports programs in public schools across the country;
  • The National Endowment for Humanities, an agency that provides grants to public school teachers and schools themselves;
  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services, an agency that “…supports libraries and museums through research, policy development and grant making”;
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service, an agency that funds “…thousands of volunteer organizations across the country and runs AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and the Social Innovation Fund”;
  • The Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation an agency that assists organizations who strive to revitalize rural, urban and suburban communities and help individuals secure access to affordable housing;
  • The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, an agency that “…coordinates with federal agencies to prevent and end homelessness.

And on top of all of those programs and agencies the budget completely eliminates four regional commissions, the Appalachian, Delta Regional, Denali, and Northern Border Regional, that offer support to those in those geographic areas who need government help to develop businesses in 24 states where jobs are difficult to find.

And low income individuals seeking legal assistance will no longer have the Legal Services Corporation to turn to… and last, but not least, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will no longer receive any federal support if this budget is adopted.

One only needs to look at the GOP platform to see the source of the thinking behind this budget. If more money needs to be spent on war and the budget needs to be balanced, something needs to be cut because it is a given in the GOP platform that taxes cannot be increased. Since the GOP is opposed to “handouts” for those in poverty, is opposed to international organizations who strive for peace, and is opposed to regulations of any kind—especially those that support clean air and clean water, this is what the GOP has to offer. And make no mistake: this IS the GOP’s budget, not President Trump’s.

 

President Trump’s Budget, Designed by GOP Austerians, Cuts Programs for Poor

March 16, 2017 Leave a comment

As President Trump’s budget specifics become clearer, it is evident that children raised in poverty and college students trying to rise out of poverty will be short-changed while those paying tuition to enroll their children in sectarian schools will benefit. In the meantime, the Office of Civil Rights awaits old on its funding levels— which promise to be diminished given the size of the USDOE cuts the President proposes.

Washington Post writers’ Emma Brown and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel article on the President’s education budget proposal flag his decision to cut programs that support low-income Americans in order to fund his highest public education priority: choice.

The Trump administration is seeking to cut $9.2 billion — or 13.5 percent — from the Education Department’s budget, a dramatic downsizing that would reduce or eliminate grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to ­low-income and first-generation college students.

Along with the cuts, among the steepest the agency has ever sustained, the administration is also proposing to shift $1.4 billion toward one of President Trump’s key priorities: Expanding charter schools, private-school vouchers and other alternatives to traditional public schools. His $59 billion education budget for 2018 would include an unprecedented federal investment in such “school choice” initiatives, signaling a push to reshape K-12 education in America.

The president is proposing a $168 million increase for charter schools — 50 percent above the current level — and a new $250 million private-school choice program, which would probably provide vouchers for families to use at private or parochial schools.

Trump also wants an additional $1 billion for Title I, a $15 billion grant program for schools with high concentrations of poor children. The new funds would be used to encourage districts to adopt a controversial form of choice: Allowing local, state and federal funds to follow children to whichever public school they choose.

Brown and Douglas-Gabriel note that these priorities will likely be rebuffed by Democrats and may even find some pushback from the GOP, who rejected the notion of Title One portability when they considered ESSA legislation in 2015.

But the bigger question to me is whether and when colleges and universities and business leaders will speak out against this slashing of funds for college attendance. As Brown and Douglas-Gabriel write:

A host of programs aimed at ­low-income students are slated for cuts. Federal work-study funds that help students work their way through college would be reduced “significantly.” The proposal also calls for nearly $200 million in cuts to federal TRIO and Gear Up programs, which help disadvantaged students in middle and high schools prepare for college.

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a $732 million program that provided aid to 1.6 million students in the 2014-15 academic year, is also on the chopping block.

Rather than pour those savings into Pell Grants — which the document describes as a better way to deliver need-based aid — the budget maintains the current funding level for Pell grants and calls for the “cancellation” of $3.9 billion in Pell reserves, money that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had hoped would be used to help students take summer classes.

Employers who are bemoaning the limited skills in the job pool and colleges who rely on students who access these grants should be joining public schools and community colleges in decrying these cuts. As should Mr. Trump’s voters who, presumably, were hoping to gain access to better schooling so they could earn more money.

And among the many mice in the woodpile of cuts is this gem:

In addition, it would shrink or kill 20 programs the administration deemed duplicative or outside the scope of the agency. They include $43 million in grants to colleges for teacher preparation and $66 million in “impact aid” to offset tax revenue losses that communities face when they have federal property within their bounds. 

That impact aid goes mainly to school districts that have military bases. Speaking from my experience as Superintendent when a base closed in the district, the loss of that impact aid was devastating. Local taxpayers either had to dig deeper in their pockets to offset the lost revenues or local parents had to sacrifice class size or programs. Knowing the thinking of the austerity budget crowd, though, I imagine they would suggest that paying teachers less should also be on the table… for implicit in all of these budget cuts is the notion of a race to the bottom for wages in academia and public eduction because “that’s the way businesses would handle it.”

And even with all of these cuts, there are still some to come, and minorities are holding their breath to see what happens next, because:

The budget summary also is silent on the department’s Office for Civil Rights, which many in the civil rights community fear will be targeted for deep cuts.

The President’s budget is clearly devastating for public education, but it is also devastating to the environment, to the State Department’s ability to achieve settlements, and the safety net that supports those born into poverty. There was a time when a President would propose a budget designed to unite people in our country and across the world. Mr. Trump’s budget, with it’s emphasis on military spending and law enforcement and it’s de-emphasis on peace-making, protecting the environment, and helping the needy reinforces the divisive campaign he ran. Here’s hoping the American public will begin  to turn away from division and see the benefits of unity.

 

NH Commissioner Frank Edelblut and US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos: Peas in a Pod

March 16, 2017 1 comment

Earlier this week Valley News reporter Rob Wolfe wrote an article describing his fruitless efforts to get the names of the anonymous donors to the Croydon School Board’s legal fund, in large measure because he believed that former gubernatorial candidate and current Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut might have donated to that cause. Andre Volinsky, one of five Executive Council members who pass judgement on appointments by the Governor and one of two who opposed Mr. Edleblut’s appointment, was also interested in determining if Mr. Edelblut made a contribution, particularly since his predecessor and the State School Board were the ones who initiated the suit against the Croydon’s School Board’s decision to use public funds to send students to a private Montessori School instead of a nearby public school.

Today, the Valley News’ Rob Wolfe reported that Mr. Edleblut sent an email to Mr. Volinsky acknowledging that he had made a $1,000 anonymous contribution to the GoFundMe campaign launched by the Croydon School Board to help pay their legal expenses. He wrote:

Volinsky, a sharp critic of Edelblut’s during the confirmation process for education commissioner, emailed Edelblut on Wednesday morning to ask that he make public whether he had contributed to Croydon and, if he had, explain why he had not disclosed the donation previously.

“I contributed $1,000 to the Croydon legal defense fund,” Edelblut said in reply. “The contribution was made anonymously. I prefer the focus to stay on the cause and not draw attention to myself.”

Edelblut could not immediately be reached on Wednesday night.

“It’s taken far too long to disclose this,” Volinsky said in an interview on Wednesday evening, “and it’s only happened upon my demand. And that’s not how we do government in New Hampshire.”

Volinsky said as education commissioner, Edelblut could be in position to influence the lawsuit, which is overseen by the state Attorney General’s Office.

“The public has a right to know that he was one of Croydon’s financial benefactors in the Croydon lawsuit,” Volinsky said, “and it would have been good of him and the Underwoods” — Ian Underwood and Jody Underwood, the latter being a Croydon School Board member — “who testified on his behalf on Jan. 31, to have revealed his financial relationship to them at that hearing.”

Although Edelblut did not specify to Volinsky when he contributed the money to Croydon’s online fundraising campaign, all anonymous $1,000 donations listed on the School Board’s GoFundMe page are dated at least seven months ago, before Edelblut’s nomination as commissioner. During the same period, Edelblut was mounting an unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

As I noted in my earlier post on this issue, based on what has transpired at the federal level, I felt that if Mr. Edelblut was a donor to the “Croydon” cause he might as well acknowledge it. After all, his donations to a lawsuit defending a district trying to issue de facto vouchers would be no different than Betsy DeVos’ generous donations to various voucher plans and, like DeVos, he would have the full support of his boss– who eagerly awaits the chance to sign off on the “Croydon bill” which will loosen the use of local taxes for private schools. Furthermore, in all probability, Edelblut would still have the support of the three executive counselors who voted in favor of his appointment since the vote fell along partisan lines and Mr. Edelblut’s lack of qualifications and full support of vouchers was never an issue during his hearings. By avoiding the question he appeared to be acknowledging some degree of shame or embarrassment relative to his support for the Croydon case or might have been fearful that some might see the donation as unethical given that he was, at that time, trying to get legislation passed on behalf of the district. In the end, even though Mr. Edelblut did not want his evasiveness on this question to be the issue, his lack of forthrightness did not help him establish credibility among public school leaders and board members who are wary of his intentions.

In the meantime, it is now clearer than ever that Mr. Edelblut is a small bore version of Betsy DeVos: a privatizing proselytizing wolf in charge of the public school henhouse…. and the students, especially those who do not have the resources to “choose” where they want to attend school, will eventually pay the price.

On-line Preschool Looks Like a Convenient Way to Save Money… and Save Face… But NOT Save Children

March 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Having worked as a consultant for several school districts in Vermont, I know that one of the challenges district in that state face is how to implement a recent legislative mandate to provide a quality preschool  for all children. In trying to provide Universal Preschool, school districts face physical and political problems— geographically remote students, undersized and outmoded schools, and pre-existing “Nursery School” programs operated out of private homes— and fiscal problems— the price tag for teachers, aides, and other support staff can be daunting.

A recent article by Thomas Arnett in ESchool News has a possible solution to these thorny issues: online pre-school. Mr. Arnett reports that Utah instituted such a program called Upstart over six years ago and the result are promising:

In the six years since it launched, Upstart’s results have shown students in the program to demonstrate strong gains in early literacy that significantly exceed those of students in matched control groups.

As these cohorts of Upstart students progress through their first few years of school, they continue to outperform their peers on state exams. Most noteworthy is the fact that special education students, low-income students and English learners have the largest gains relative to their comparable peer groups.

Given that Upstart costs just $725 per student, it is a more-than-sensible solution in states where universal preschool does not exist.

A variation of the caveat phrase, “in states where universal preschool does not exist” appears again at the end of the article, with another caveat on top of it regarding affordability:

But for parents who cannot afford private preschool and who do not live in a region with state-funded preschool options, these programs offer valuable access to early learning opportunities.

As many states rush to provide universal preschool education, I would not be at all surprised to see this model expand rapidly. Why? Because politicians realize that getting parents used to the idea of delivering instruction through computers as opposed to having live human beings provide instruction will save millions of dollars over time… and the fact that it can be done for a fraction of the current cost will enable them to keep their promise to expand programs without having to raise taxes, hire hundreds of new teachers, or worry about transportation logistics or facility limitations. A restatement of the last paragraph with a slightly different slant will indicate why these online preschools are likely to spread:

But for politicians who are unwilling to raise taxes to cover the costs of public preschools that are the equivalent to private preschool and who govern a region with NO state-funded preschool options, these programs offer valuable way to claim they are offering access to early learning opportunities.

You can call something a “preschool”… but if it consists of “…15 minutes per day, five days per week, (where) students log into the curriculum to engage in adaptive lessons, digital books, songs, and activities designed to develop their knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science.” it doesn’t warrant the name— especially when it is overseen by an untrained parent. Watch, though: in the next five years I am willing to wager that at least ten states will launch online preschools based on “The Utah Model”— unless they use their $725 voucher to help underwrite the cost of a bona fide preschool or a sectarian preschool that offers Bible instruction.

The Repeal and Replacement of “Obamacare” with “GOPCare” will Hurt Public Schools

March 15, 2017 Leave a comment

The Congressional Budget Office has analyzed what I call “GOPCare”, the GOP’s plan to replace “Obamacare”, and the results are devastating or those who live in poverty. Right off the bat 14,000,000 will lose their health insurance, and if past data are any indication, many of those thrown off the roles will be children. According to Wikipedia, while the percentage of uninsured children was lower than ever in 2011, there were still millions of children not covered at that time.

One-third of children and over half (59%) of low-income children are insured through Medicaid or SCHIP. The insurance provides them with access to preventive and primary services which are used at a much higher rate than for the uninsured, but still below the utilization of privately insured patients. As of February 2011, a record 90% of children have coverage. However, 8 million children remain uninsured, including 5 million who are eligible for Medicaid and SCHIP but not enrolled.[53]

Those numbers likely diminished since 2011 since many states who initially refused the expansion of Medicaid funding that was part of “Obamacare” eventually signed on. But under the GOP health insurance plan all of that is out the window… and in all probability even more may be at stake. One element of Medicaid that was on the chopping block for years was the supplementary funds school districts receive for special needs children. Virtually every district in the country receives funding through this source which some GOP legislators see as superfluous. While I have not examined the verbiage of the GOPCare language in detail, I am confident that there are “small adjustments” to Medicaid and various funding streams that will have a devastating impact on the parents of children raised in poverty, schools serving those children, and– possibly– on disabled children.

One thing is clear: the GOP knows that this is the case and is decidedly indifferent to it. They are most interested in making certain the taxes charged to the most affluent Americans to help underwrite Obamacare are eliminated and that insurance companies are free to rake in more profits as a result of the new rules for the “competitive” marketplace. Children raised in poverty are collateral damage.