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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.