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ESSA + Trump = Need to Take Vouchers Seriously… And Wisconsin’s Shows Why Vouchers Undermine Public Schools

September 26, 2016 Leave a comment

The on-line version of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel featured an op ed essay by WI congressman Mark Pocan outlining the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on vouchers across the country… and the findings are deeply troubling given the direction Congress and at least one Presidential candidate and political party want to take our country. Outlined below in bullet form are the findings on taxpayer funded voucher schools. They:

  • lack high educational standards for students and teachers
  • discriminate against certain students, particularly students with disabilities or those who speak English as a second language
  • fail to demonstrate true academic achievement
  • deplete funds from public schools and reroute them to the comparatively few students in private schools
  • go to families of students who were already attending private schools
  • can mandate religious requirements for students as a part of admissions criteria
  • can be directed to for profit schools that persistently fail to meet state standards

Congressman Pocan is especially troubled about the use of vouchers because of what has happened in his State, where a voucher program has been in place in Milwaukee for nearly two decades:

According to a report from the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this year, funding for voucher school students across the state was up 14% while funding for our public school students is down by 4%. This marked the first year in which school districts experienced a drop in state aid in order to pay for students living in district boundaries but attending private schools.

Mr. Pocan concludes his op ed essay with these paragraphs:

In its report, GAO recommends that the federal Department of Education issue guidance on how taxpayer-funded voucher programs affect federal education dollars and public school systems. I agree the Department of Education should provide additional guidance but I also believe taxpayers must demand accountability from taxpayer-funded private voucher schools that do not have the same level of accountability as public schools.

It is unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding these profit-making schemes disguised as schools. It is time for the Department of Education to protect students and further clarify the steps to ensure oversight. After all, this should be about quality education for our kids.

Mr. Pocan may be a voice in the wilderness if Congressman who seek to include portability in ESSA prevail or Mr. Trump enters the White House and places a pro-privatization “educator” to head the Education Department. He is probably a vote in the wilderness already in Wisconsin, where the legislature is clearly on the road to dismantling public education in favor of privatization. Here’s hoping his warnings do not fall on deaf ears.

Muslim After School Clubs Illustrate Problems Mixing Religion and Schools

September 25, 2016 2 comments

Alpha News, an “…advanced social media and online technology platforms to deliver important news programming to audiences everywhere in Minnesota,” published an article on the increase in the number Muslim Student Associations in public schools in Minnesota, posing the question in the title “Are Muslim Student Associations in Public Schools a Concern?”. From my perspective, it was only a matter of time before this issue emerged. The census in 2010 indicated that Islam was the fastest growing religion in our country with 2.6 million living in the U.S. at that time, up from 1 million in 2000 it was inevitable that Muslim students would seek the same status for religiously affiliated clubs as Christian students sought decades earlier. Having established policies that grant religiously affiliated clubs standing in public schools, administrators and school boards would be hard pressed to deny equal access to Muslim clubs despite the fact that some would see such access as a means of promoting jihadists. The Alpha article, for example, describes a purported link between student-led clubs in some of its schools and the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical group that

….plans to conduct “Civilization Jihad” by co-opting the leadership of the United States into believing a counterfactual understanding about Islam and the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood, forcing our leaders to enforce the Muslim Brotherhood narrative on their subordinates.

The article goes on to note that:

In some cases, taxpayers help to fund clubs and activities because schools need to have money in their budgets to pay for club advisors. In other instances, the school might charge participants a fee to cover costs of the club or activity, especially if the club or activity is a student-led group.

In its concluding paragraphs the article notes that congress has legislation that seeks to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, which the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood views as an overreaction:

Because of the growing concern over the Muslim Brotherhood, eighty members of Congress now support legislation calling on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization.  The House version of the “Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act” passed the Judiciary Committee earlier this year. The Muslim Brotherhood accuses the US Congress of waging a war on moderate Islam with the The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act.  In a Counterjihadreport.com article, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson said, “This bill is unjust and purely political. It reflects the rising tide of hatred and hostility with which right-wing extremist Republicans, lobbyists and politicians are trying to drag the American people into ideological war with the Muslim world, at the heart of it is the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most popular Islamic movement.”  However, the “The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act” has bipartisan support, with Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson signing on as one of the two democrat co-sponsors of the bill.

While it remains to be seen if the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act will eventually become law, co-sponsor of the bill, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) emphasized that the Muslim Brotherhood “continues to pose a global threat” and the U.S. “must recognize and sanction the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization as part of our national security strategy.”

While this piece of legislation is pending, the same group promoting the outlawing of Muslim student organizations is also promoting the notion that public dollars should be available to parents to send their children to religiously affiliated private schools…. an idea that will likely run into problems in the future given that there were an estimated 240 to 250 Islamic private schools in place in 2011 and those schools, like their Catholic and Christian counterparts, would seemingly be eligible for public funding if vouchers were put in place.

The bottom line in all of this is that there should be a wall built separating church and state instead of building a wall to keep those who practice a particular religion out of our country. The wall has collapsed when it comes to student-led clubs: here’s hoping it stays in place if and when voucher legislation is passed.

Charlotte’s Organized PEACEFUL Protests Against Inequities Ignored… Disorganized DISORDERLY Protests Against Police Get Headlines

September 24, 2016 Leave a comment

William Barber II, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P., founder of the “Moral Monday” movement, and  self-described “pastor and organizer”, wrote a thoughtful and compelling op ed piece that appeared in today’s NYTimes. In the essay, “Why We Are Protesting in Charlotte”, Barber writes:

Anyone who is concerned about violence in Charlotte should note that no one declared a state of emergency when the city’s schools were resegregated, creating a school-to-prison pipeline for thousands of poor African-American children. Few voiced outrage over the damage caused when half a million North Carolinians were denied health insurance because the Legislature refused to expand Medicaid.

When Charlotte’s poor black neighborhoods were afflicted with disproportionate law enforcement during the war on drugs, condemning a whole generation to bad credit and a lack of job opportunities, our elected representatives didn’t call it violence. When immigration officers raid homes and snatch undocumented children from bus stops, they don’t call it violence. But all of these policies and practices do violence to the lives of thousands of Charlotte residents.

As Mr. Barber knows well, his list of egregious policies that work against the poor and minorities is only partial. He could have mentioned the underfunding of social services while corporations received tax cuts. He could have mentioned the loan practices that left poor and minority families without shelter and the subsequent bailouts that left them on the street while bank executives continue to collect whopping bonuses. And as he points out, the violence school children experience every day contributes to the violent reactions to incidents like the police’s alleged killing of an innocent black man who was waiting at the bus stop for his child to return from school. Barber writes:

Our protests are about more than the Scott case. Every child on that bus — every person in Mr. Scott’s neighborhood — is subject to systemic violence every day, violence that will only increase if Mr. Trump and others continue to exploit the specter of violent protests for political gain.

We have seen this before. After the civil rights movement pushed this nation to face its institutionalized racism, we made significant efforts to address inequality through the war on poverty. We did not lose that war because we lacked resources or met insurmountable obstacles. We lost it because Richard M. Nixon’s “Southern strategy” played on white fears about black power by promising to “restore order” without addressing the root causes of unrest.

Here’s what I find unsettling: North Carolina, like most of our country, is deeply divided politically. It has a progressive streak that led to the emergence of cities like Charlotte and the emergence of regions like the Research Triangle. But it also has a backward element that wants to return to the “good old days” when an elite group of straight Christian white men controlled the writing of laws. Anyone who follows state legislatures knows who is in charge now and can see the kinds of laws they have passed over the past several months since they took charge. When the progressive voters ignored the elections North Carolina took many steps backward… a step toward resegregation, a step toward intolerance for the LGBTs, a step toward ignoring the neediest in favor of the wealthy.

The media ignored Mr. Barber’s Moral Monday movement, a series of organized and peaceful protests designed to bring attention to the backward steps taken by the NC legislature. Now they run headline stories when a small band of protesters react violently to militarized police. As Mr. Barber writes:, “We cannot condemn the violence of a small minority of protesters without also condemning the overwhelming violence that millions suffer every day.” When the media ignore peaceful protests designed to flag the root cause of violence and amplify the violence itself, they are reinforcing the messages of “Mr. Trump and others (who) continue to exploit the specter of violent protests for political gain.”

“Watchdogs that don’t bark” Mislead Students, Add to Loan Defaults, Rip-Off Taxpayers, Reward Shareholders

September 23, 2016 Leave a comment

A New York Times article by Patricia Cohen describes an ongoing scam in the issuance of student loans that has an eerie resemblance to the scams that led to the meltdown of banks in 2008. Here’s the way it works: a bunch of shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions get together and create an accrediting agency whose “seal of approval” the pro-privatization US Education Department accepts as evidence that an institution is providing a quality education. The Department’s acceptance means that students attending the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institution can receive student loans from the US Government. A deregulation minded Congress supports this cycle of corruption because the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions make campaign contributions to them and, in addition to favoring deregulation, they love the idea of privatization.

But here’s where the problem occur: the students who receive loans to these shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions do not get a good education and they are unable to pay back their loans. In the meantime, the government has guaranteed the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions that they will be paid in full. So… where does the money to the the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions come from? If you guessed “the taxpayers” you win a higher deficit that your grandchildren will pay for. If you guessed the shareholders of the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions you must also believe in trickle down economics and maybe even unicorns.

Michigan, Oklahoma Legislatures are Poster Children for Why ESSA is Bad for Poor Children

September 20, 2016 Leave a comment

A post on the Occupy Democrats blog reports that the Michigan legislature has just passed a bill making it illegal for the residents of Flint MI to sue the state for the crisis it created with the tainted water in their community. Why?

House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) complained that “a reckless lawsuit could throw the state budget into disarray and undermine everything we’ve done for the city.”

The whole problem with the water in Flint…. AND the schools in Flint… AND the general well-being of the citizens of Flint… is that Mr. Cotter and his friends in theTea Party wing of the Republican party wanted to save the rest of the taxpayers— especially the wealthiest ones— money.

Meanwhile in Oklahoma where fracking is creating a marked increase in earthquakes and draining its most precious resource– water— in order to increase the output of oil, the legislature passed a bill making it illegal to pass a law banning fracking ANYWHERE in the state. So much for local control…

And here’s what’s sad for those of us who advocate for public education: these legislatures are being given more and more control over how federal education dollars are being spent. Do you think the money will be used to help level the playing field in these states? To provide handicapped children with the additional support they need? To supplement local funding in districts where the eroded tax bases and demands for infrastructure upgrades make it difficult to spend on schools? Think again!

The Battle Over ESSA Rules Isn’t Over By a Long Shot!

September 18, 2016 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I have long been dismayed over the passage of the misnomered “Every Student Succeeds Act” or ESSA. My primary concern over the passage of the bi-partisan bill was that it took public education off the table in the 2016 election and, for all intents and purposes, ensured the continuation of the test-and-punish reform movement that has dramatically increased the number of for-profit charter schools. But having read blurbs about the forthcoming change in Committee Chairs in the House like the one I read earlier this week in my daily Politico feed and countless articles about Senate Education Chair Lamar Alexander’s take on the rules proposed by the Obama administration I am getting the sickening feeling that the Republicans have once again hoodwinked the Democrats in crafting this bill… and if Mr. Trump gets elected it is conceivable that the gutting of public education will proceed at a breakneck pace.

Here are examples of the issues that are subject to different interpretations depending on who’s in the White House:

  • Portability of Federal Funds: Some of the Republican legislators seem to think there is a way the Education Department could give a green light to the use of federal funds for private schools— including those with Religious affiliations. After reading about Mr. Trump’s ideas about the Federal role in public education, it is evidence that should he be elected and the House and Senate remain in the hands of his party we can expect an interpretation of the ESSA bill that allows for vouchers… and if there is any pushback, he’ll make sure that such a clarifying bill is passed with or without the support of the Democrats.
  • Supplement versus Supplant: It is abundantly clear that the Republicans believe the ESSA law does NOT mandate that federal funds be used to supplement local funds. They do not see the federal role to be one of providing equalized opportunity. Rather, they are comfortable with federal funds being used to replace local funds and if that results in lower per pupil spending in districts serving poor children so be it.
  • Regulation of For Profit education enterprises: Appallingly, Virginia Foxx, the House Education Chair in Waiting, saw nothing wrong with ITT’s behavior and thought the Obama administration was wrong to close them down to be “totally arbitrary”.
  • More Tests, More Privatization, Less Regulation: This quote from Virginia Foxx gives me the idea that we will have more tests, more privatization, less regulation: “Having a Trump administration would be akin to having heaven on Earth” compared with “what we’ve gone through the last eight years” under the Obama administration. 

I am not completely pleased with Ms. Clinton’s neoliberal “reform” record on public education but I absolutely dread what will happen to my colleagues who work in public education should Mr. Trump’s “heaven on earth” agenda ever see daylight. His interpretations of ESSA are different from those perceived by the Democrats who supported ESSA and the actions he takes to impose his will on public education once he is in office will be irreversible for years to come. The election in November won’t be about ESSA: it will be about how ESSA is implemented… and as bad as it will be for those states where the legislatures are beholden to privatizers, it will be even worse if Mr. Trump is elected.

Tulsa School Districts’ and Business’ Reaction to State Cuts: Flawed but Imperative

September 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Over the past several weeks, the daily Google Alerts on Education I receive have included multiple articles on the devastating cuts the Oklahoma State legislature made to public education. Several, like this one from earlier last week, described imaginative partnerships between schools and businesses that provide some funds to plug the gap.  While I have long been an advocate of public schools forgoing partnerships with businesses and other social service agencies, the mathematically reality is that gambits like the one developed between TTCU The Credit Union and the Union Public schools can only work for the short term, do not begin to fill the gaps created by State level cuts, and have a dis-equalizing effect on public school funding.

While the $105,000 raised for the Union School district by TTCU The Credit Union is helpful, it is only 2% of the funds lost due to budget cuts. In short, that amount of money cannot begin to restore the loss of $5.2 million in State funds that resulted in the elimination of 48 positions for the 2016-17 school year, including 25 teachers and 19 support workers. Moreover, since there is no assurance the same level of funds will be available in the next fiscal year it would be imprudent to use it to hire staff. It’s a short term fix for a problem that will remain for decades unless the budget is increased.

The biggest problem I find with this is the fact that the funds depend on credit card spending by parents. There are many students raised in poverty whose parents do not have swipe cards because they cannot deposit sufficient funds in the back to secure those cards. For districts serving parents who live paycheck-to-paycheck raising money with swipe cards is an impossibility.

Near the end of the article, Tim Lyons, CEO and president of TTCU, is quoted as follows:

“TTCU has been serving schools for more than 80 years. We were concerned about how the education funding crisis was impacting schools, and we wanted to do something about it. We’re grateful to be able to help.”

Mr. Lyons short term assistance to districts like Union is commendable. Here’s my hope: when the next election for State legislators takes place and/or the next budget is reviewed in Oklahoma City, I hope that he will band together with other businessmen to get the broad-based taxes in place to restore funding to public schools in his state.