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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Where’s The Money For “X”? Jesse Jackson Has the Answer: Cut the Defense Budget!

June 16, 2019 Leave a comment

Jesse Jackson’s recent Common Dreams op ed article offers the solution to the never-ending questions about lowering costs for college, funding Universal Pre-K, providing more resources for urban and rural districts whose tax bases have eroded, and upgrading our infrastructure. The title of the article, “Bring the Troops Home and Send More Kids to College“, gives the solution.

While Mr. Jackson’s article is narrower in scope than the list of needs in the opening paragraph of this post— he’s focussing on cuts to Pell grants that help low income students attend colleges— the fact is that defense spending is increasing while the costs for the safety net services are decreasing… and as I am writing this post it appears that President Trump’s cabinet members are ginning up a need for us to send troops (and, consequently even MORE money) to Iran.

I we REALLY want to make our nation stronger and our economy more vibrant, we need to pay workers more and provide an equitable opportunity for students of all backgrounds to make their lives better. Increasing spending on defense is not the best way to accomplish that.

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

June 14, 2019 Leave a comment

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…

A Billionaire Who Gets It: Our Education System Cannot Compensate for the Injustices of Our Economic System

June 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Billionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer offers a mea culpa in an Atlantic article that appeared inCommon Dreams titled “Sorry, But Just Having Better Public Schools Will Not Fix America”. He opens the post with this confession:

Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy.As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

But Mr. Hanauer came to understand that this narrative lays the blame for all of society’s ills on public education without acknowledging the impact of those same ills on the schools…. and he came to conclude that the “egg” of economic dysfunction led to “chicken” of “failing schools”.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000…

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

And educationism has distracted us mightily with its efficiency driven spreadsheet mentality whereby schools are “measured” and rank-ordered using seemingly precise standardized tests and other cheap and easy metrics and penalizing those schools that fall short for reasons that have nothing to do with their effectiveness and everything to do with the socio-economic factors of the children attending them. Mr. Hanauer goes on to burst other bubbles of his billionaire brethren, undercutting the narrative of the “skills gap”, the “under-educated workforce”, the need for more STEM, and the underlying belief that better schools will take care of the unarguable economic divide. And Mr. Hanauer does so with facts and data that counter the story lines embraced by the edu-philanthropists. His solution for improving public schools is one that is unsettling… and one rooted in de facto redistribution:

All of which suggests that income inequality has exploded not because of our country’s educational failings but despite its educational progress. Make no mistake: Education is an unalloyed good. We should advocate for more of it, so long as it’s of high quality. But the longer we pretend that education is the answer to economic inequality, the harder it will be to escape our new Gilded Age.

However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

Mr. Hanauer then lays out a series of facts his counterparts will, alas, be unlikely to accept and ideas they will also be unlikely to embrace:

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

His idea that employers could find qualified workers if they paid them more seems obvious to any student of Economics 101 in college… but in our era of outsourcing, robotics, and downsizing the profiteers seem content to displace workers in favor of accumulating profits.

Mr. Hanauer concludes his article with this Big Idea which no billionaire is likely to accept and only a handful of politicians are willing to talk about:

Educationism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power. As Anand Giridharadas explains in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, narratives like this one let the wealthy feel good about ourselves. By distracting from the true causes of economic inequality, they also defend America’s grossly unequal status quo.

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth. Fixing that problem will require wealthy people to not merely give more, but take less.

And fixing the problem will require people like me who are comfortable but not billionaires, to accept a reality described in a pin that reads: “End Economic Inequality: Tax Me”.

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

June 7, 2019 Leave a comment

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.

 

According to Politicians and Pundits, the Road to Riches is the Road to Fulfillment

May 23, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an Upshot article by Kevin Carey titled “Can Data Ward Off College Debt? New Strategy Focuses on Results”. Unsurprisingly given the avariciousness of the current POTUS, the pro-privatization tilt of his Secretary of State, the GOP, and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the unfailing faith in Capitalism on the part of many voters, the EARNINGS are the “results” the “new strategy” intends to measure. Need evidence of this assertion? Here are two paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s essay, describing the “new accountability system” proposed by Senator Lamar Alexander:

Mr. Alexander proposed a “new accountability system” based on loan repayment rates for individual programs within colleges. This, said Mr. Alexander, “should provide colleges with an incentive to lower tuition and help their students finish their degrees and find jobs so they can repay their loans.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Alexander, despite their strong criticism of President Obama on education, are following in the footsteps of his regulatory crackdown on for-profit colleges and short-term certificate programs. Rather than evaluate sprawling educational conglomerates based on the average results of hundreds of programs, the Obama rules disqualified specific programs whose graduates didn’t earn enough money to pay back their loans.

In earlier blog posts I railed against President Obama’s metrics because, like those of Mr. Alexander and the POTUS, they assumed that the purpose of college was to land a job that pays enough to allow the student to pay back loans for college. In effect, college exists to make certain banks collect enough interest to remain profitable.

Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos know the facts about debt… and presumably Mr. Carey does as well. While only 6% of college students in NYS attended for-profit schools, 41% of those who defaulted came from those schools. Discussions that link earnings to majors sidestep this issue. The founder of Trump University, his Secretary of Education, and the many legislators who receive donations from profiteers who want less regulation are banding together to divert our collective attention away from the real problem and, at the same time, reinforcing the idea that college is about getting a high paying job and not “guiding people toward more enlightened, fulfilling lives.”

And here’s the bottom line: the policies promulgated by our legislators and pundits, assume our lives can only be fulfilled if we make a lot of money… and the more we earn the more we will be fulfilled.

Bible Bills Proliferate… Can Bills Mandating Christianity as a State Religion Be Far Behind?

May 21, 2019 Comments off

Washington Post writer Julie Zausmer reports that several states are considering laws that would mandate that high schools offer courses on the Bible, using a law recently passed by Kentucky as the model. From Ms. Zausner’s article it is evident that “Project Blitz”, a nationwide effort by “activists on the religious right” is using an ALEC-like model to promote these bills.

I usually try to avoid “slippery slope” arguments, but the recent abortion laws adopted by at least eight states make me think that “Project Blitz” is an effort to slip the nose of the camel under a tent, and the camel in this case is an effort to make Christianity a State religion. It is noteworthy that only BIBLE instruction is mandated, in effect ensuring that public schools offer only Bible instruction in the same way madrases in the Middle East offer exclusive instruction in the Koran.

I found Ms. Zauzmer’s report chilling. I was unsettled to reading about students who analogized Bible reading to shooting hoops in the gym, who read the Bible from cover to cover, who believe that the Bible is “…more important than any other book I could be reading”, and who feel comforted that the schools are offering the creation story as opposed to “evolution and the big bang”. I recall that when I was a teenager in the early 1960s our teachers— and even our minister— encouraged us to question things for by questioning we would expand our knowledge and shore up our understanding.

The wall between church and state is a mental construct, one that can be erased by zealous legislators or legislators who fear being displaced by candidates whose beliefs and convictions are stronger and more passionate. We need to keep that figurative wall in place if we hope to retain our democracy.

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.