Archive

Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

California’s Proposition 13 and New Hampshire’s “Pledge” Have the Same Result

January 24, 2019 Comments off

In “California Schools Were Once the Nation’s Envy. What Went Wrong?”, in a recent article on the LA teachers strike in The Guardian, Andrew Gumbels’ answers the question in two words: Proposition 13.

Ask any public policy expert what single factor contributed most to the decline of California’s schools, and the answer will invariably be the state’s retro version of Brexit: a referendum, passed in 1978 on a wave of populist anger, that was earth-shattering in its impactand has proven enduringly divisive.

Proposition 13 drastically cut and capped property taxes and hobbled the ability of California counties – and, indirectly, the state – to raise money for schools and other key social programs. The initiative, which passed with close to 65% support, was billed as a grassroots tax revolt against a backdrop of high inflation, rising interest rates and a perception of out-of-control public spending. Overnight, the tax revenue available to pay for public schooling was slashed by one-third, forcing the state to step in and make up some – but not all – of the shortfall.

The school system was already in a modest decline – California had fallen from fifth in the country in per-pupil spending in 1965 to 14th – but the decline now accelerated markedly. Within a decade, California was below the national average. It currently ranks 43rd out of 50 states.

“People always come back to Prop 13 because a lot of the other changes since are a result, either direct or indirect, of that vote,” said Jennifer Imazeki, an economist and education specialist at San Diego State University. “It changed the amount of money districts could raise through property taxes and cut revenue dramatically. And the money’s a big part of it.”

Proposition 13, like many populist ideas, was a simple and blunt method for dealing with a complicated problem… and like most simple solutions had several adverse unintended consequences. The schools were predominantly funded by property taxes which meant that property rich communities had great schools and property poor districts had poor schools. When the California Supreme Court passed legislation requiring more resources for underfunded schools, taxpayers rebelled.  A conservative activist, Howard Jarvis, wrote a referendum that was easy to understand— your property taxes will be lower!— and it passed overwhelmingly and forty years later has become sacrosanct: a law that no politician wanted to challenge under any circumstances even though the majority of taxpayers would benefit from a thoughtfully crafted method of funding public education.

New Hampshire, like California, relies exclusively on property taxes and in many jurisdictions, especially those with a limited tax base, the property taxes are onerous even though the schools in those underfunded communities are poor in comparison. And like California, New Hampshire has been sued on several occasions and lost in court on several occasions, but so far no Howard Jarvis has emerged because no Democrat or Republican has ever run for office based on a platform that would replace the property taxes with a broad based and less regressive income tax…. The candidates for Governor take “the pledge” to never impose a broad based tax and, as a result, no legislature in NH has ever voted to impose any kind of broad based tax. So…. after the legislators ignore court decisions for 10-15 years, a new lawsuit if filed by a different set of aggrieved districts and the cycle begins again.

And NH and CA have the same problems: inequitable and generally underfunded schools and a public that doesn’t want to see its taxes go up. The challenge going forward for public education is daunting: to soften the anger directed toward tax recipients that is at the root of the tax-caps. Part of the conservatives pitch to lower taxes invariably includes an undeserving welfare queen, a “greedy teacher” who earns wages and has benefits and pensions in excess of others in the town, or a weak veteran teacher who draws a high wage “because the union protects them”. Today, the conservatives add “inefficient” to the list and seek a moral high ground by offering every child the chance to attend any school they wish without providing enough money to make that assertion a reality. In sum, as it stands now, there is a long list of reasons to oppose a tax hike and a very short list to support it… and few people who seek social and economic justice are willing to link that with tax increases for those in the top 10-20%— which would need to happen if there is any hope of equity of opportunity in the future.

Advertisements

Maryland’s Latest Commission Calls for More Spending, More Responsibilities for Public Education

January 20, 2019 Comments off

As a former member of a State “Blue Ribbon” Commission on school funding in the State of Maryland, a commission whose report was immediately set aside because it required higher spending levels, I was interested to read Liz Bowies’s report on the most recent State Commission report in the Baltimore Sun… a report that I believe will quickly be cast aside.

The Kirwan Commission, named for the former Chancellor of the University of Maryland who chaired the group, has ambitious goals:

  • an overhaul of curriculum
  • raising professional standards for teaching
  • a redesign of high schools to include career paths for students that would certify them to be ready for specific jobs after graduation.
  • pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds
  • pre-school for 3-year-olds from low-income families
  • more spending to enhance special education programs
  • new spending for school-based health centers
  • new spending for initiatives to support community schools with large numbers of poor students

And these initiatives require one thing legislators hate to see: a large price tag— $3,800,000,000 over 10 years.

From where I sit, each of these initiatives is worthwhile and, taken together, they would  greatly improve the opportunities for children born into poverty. But from where I sit, I do not believe there is a snowball’s chance in hell that they will be funded. As Ms. Bowie notes, the issuance of the report was delayed from its slated December 2018 release because “….it was too late to get such comprehensive education legislation through this year’s 90-day Assembly session“. Some spending advocates insist that the issuance now will not be a problem:

Maggie McIntosh, a commission member, said that despite the delay, legislative leaders are committed to seeing more funding for education in that budget.

State school funding will increase by at least $236 million next year, McIntosh said, with $200 million set aside by the legislature last year and $36 million added by the governor.

McIntosh said legislators will have to cut from the governor’s proposed budget to identify additional money for public schools.

Whether the legislature will be able to find enough money in the proposed operating budget to fund all of the commission’s 2020 priorities is unclear.

The commission also suggests that the legislature set aside $750 million this session for additional funding for schools in the 2021 budget year.

But… as the blog-faced and underlined sections of Ms. Bowie’s report imply, Ms.McIntosh’s “commitment” to more funding is contingent on cutting the governor’s budget and redirecting this cuts to education… and… even if the happens, the $236,000,000 will fall short of the amount needed to achieve the $3,800,000,000 the Kirwan Commission calls for.

And here’s the real problem: the “reformers” will be able to tout their “solution” of choice and deregulation as the best road forward because it won’t require billions of new dollars and they will satisfy the evangelicals because their “reforms” won’t increase the scope of government interference with parenting by insisting that 4 year olds be placed in school and social services be provided in school.

And the beat will go on….

As Congress Cut Staffers and Leaned on Lobbyists, So Did State Departments

January 19, 2019 Comments off

Diane Ravtich wrote a post yesterday that drew heavily from a Washington Post column by a veteran congressman who was lamenting the gutting of congressional staffers who used to provide both sides of the aisle with factual reports on information and data they could use to make informed decisions and write well crafted legislation. The Congressman noted that as they lost this resource, the private sector filled in with lobbyists who could “helpfully” write legislation and regulations. The result was the de facto privatization of legislation.

As I noted in a comment I left, in a parallel universe, beginning in the late 1970s State Departments of Education began hemorrhaging expertise in the same way. When I began my career as a Superintendent it was possible to call someone in the State Department who could offer guidance on an array of issues from staff development to transportation to school construction to curriculum. While many of us in administration and many school boards lamented the “bureaucrats in the State Department”, it wasn’t until they were cut from the State budget and/or retired that we began to realize what we missed. One of the reasons the Common Core was appealing to Governors was that it provided off-the-shelf “expertise” from contractors. So instead of having to hire staff who understood curriculum, the districts could call a 1-800 number and talk to someone who worked for a vendor to get the information they needed. The ultimate result of State Department cuts, then, was an open door for the Common Core vendors to replace the “bureaucrats at the State Department”.

Smaller school districts in particular need expertise in many areas… and if that expertise is not available at the State level they will outsource it elsewhere. Cutting “bureaucrats” opens the door for privatization of expertise… and lobbyists and salespersons are very happy to offer it.

Has the NYTimes Seen the Light? Diane Ravitch Sees Progress in Op Ed by Miriam Pawel

January 16, 2019 Comments off

From my perspective, it is heartening to see the LA teachers strike making national news despite the headline grabbing government shutdown and the ongoing political bickering that accompanies it. But, as noted in earlier posts on this issue, the LA strike HAS national ramifications for it ISN’T about wages and working conditions in a lone district. The LA strike is about an ongoing battle within the Democratic Party about privatization of public services: between the “Reform/Reinventing Government” wing of the party that has embraced the idea that the private sector should take over more and more government functions and the “Roosevelt” wing of the party who sees a strong government as necessary to eliminate poverty and racism and eliminate the distortions in our economy that have emerged since Reagan proposed that “government is the problem”.

Thus far, the NYTimes has reliably taken the side of the “Reform/Reinventing Government” wing of the democrats, going so far as to reject countless articles on the ills of privatization from Diane Ravitch. But in a post yesterday, Ms. Ravitch pointed to an op ed article by fellow education historian Miriam Pawel as evidence that MAYBE the Times has seen the light! In “Whats Really at Stake in the Los Angeles Teachers Strike”, Ms. Pawel describes the recent history of public education in California in general and Los Angeles in particular, tracing the decline in public school quality to the passage of Proposition 13… and tracing the passage of THAT law to racism:

In the fall of 1978, after years of bitter battles to desegregate Los Angeles classrooms, 1,000 buses carried more than 40,000 students to new schools. Within six months, the nation’s second-largest school district lost 30,000 students, a good chunk of its white enrollment. The busing stopped; the divisions deepened.

Those racial fault lines had helped fuel the tax revolt that led to Proposition 13, the sweeping tax-cut measure that passed overwhelmingly in June 1978. The state lost more than a quarter of its total revenue.School districts’ ability to raise funds was crippled; their budgets shrank for the first time since the Depression. State government assumed control of allocating money to schools, which centralized decision-making in Sacramento.

Public education in California has never recovered, nowhere with more devastating impact than in Los Angeles, where a district now mostly low-income and Latino has failed generations of children most in need of help.The decades of frustration and impotence have boiled over in a strike with no clear endgame and huge long-term implications. The underlying question is: Can California ever have great public schools again?

As Ms. Pawel goes on to note, the problems whose roots can be found in Proposition 13 got even worse when deregulated charter schools were offered as the “solution”. These schools siphon funds away from public schools, which creates a cycle Ms. Powell describes in one paragraph:

It’s a vicious cycle: The more overcrowded and burdened the regular schools, the easier for charters to recruit students. The more students the district loses, the less money, and the worse its finances. The more the district gives charters space in traditional schools, the more overcrowded the regular classrooms.

And because billionaire Eli Broad spent millions to elect a pro-charter school board who, in turn, appointed a business-minded Superintendent with no experience, LA finds itself mired in a strike… a strike unlike any witnessed by a veteran mediator:

“In my 17 years working with labor unions, I have been called on to help settle countless bargaining disputes in mediation,” wrote Vern Gates, the union-appointed member of the fact-finding panel called in to help mediate the Los Angeles stalemate last month. “I have never seen an employer that was intent on its own demise.”

Like President Trump and the Tea Party wing who want to diminish the effectiveness of government, the LA school board seems to be intent on ruining what is left of the public school system in Los Angeles. Ms. Pawel concludes her op ed with this sobering description of what is at stake:

This strike comes at a pivotal moment for California schools, amid recent glimmers of hope. Demographic shifts have realigned those who vote with those who rely on public services like schools. Voters approved state tax increases to support education in 2012, and again in 2016. In the most recent election, 95 of 112 school bond issues passed, a total of over $15 billion. The revised state formula drives more money into districts with more low-income students and English learners. Total state school aid increased by $23 billion over the past five years, and Governor Newsom has proposed another increase.

If Los Angeles teachers can build on those gains, the victory will embolden others to push for more, just as teachers on the rainy picket lines this week draw inspiration from the successful #RedforEd movements around the country. The high stakes have drawn support from so many quarters, from the Rev. James Lawson, the 90-year-old civil rights icon, to a “Tacos for Teachers” campaign to fund food on the picket lines.

If this fight for public education in Los Angeles fails, it will consign the luster of California schools to an ever more distant memory.

From my perspective, it IS heartening that voters in California have supported tax increases to upgrade their schools and their legislature is sending more of those funds to economically deprived districts. But if those districts, like LA, use their funds to expand privatization Los Angeles schools will lose their luster forever… and the billionaires will prevail… the Winners WILL Take All.

LA Teachers Strike Breaks New Ground… Could Re-Define Union’s Mission

January 12, 2019 Comments off

Two recent articles I accessed through Diane Ravitch’s blog indicate that the teacher’s strike in Los Angeles is about more that wages, hours, and working conditions: it is about governance, support services, and equitable opportunity for students.

Capital and Main writer Bobbi Murray’s article on January 11, 2019, outlines the risks the union is taking by striking and the rewards it might reap, but as the subheading of the article indicates, their bold demands might make it difficult to know what constitutes a victory. Ms. Murray frames the issues this way:

For 21 months negotiations have ground on between UTLA and the second-largest district in the nation. (The Los Angeles Unified School District enrolls 640,000 students.) The more nuts-and-bolts issues on the table include union demands for a 6.5 percent pay raise, a limit to class sizes (that can now hover around 38 pupils per classroom), and a push for more support staff such as nurses and librarians.

Kent Wong, executive director of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Labor Center, notes that UTLA’s demands have moved away from larger raises and toward more funding to alleviate the deep education cuts that have been made over the years.

“It is important to understand the bigger forces at work here,” said Wong, who added that the pro-charter forces have invested millions of dollars to elect a pro-charter majority on the Los Angeles school board to shift resources from public schools to charters.

All strikes are risky undertakings and it’s an axiom that no one wins a strike. But a UTLA walkout would dramatically raise the stakes by casting the strike as a challenge to the creeping absorption of public schools by private charter management organizations.

“A strike is a big deal,” Wong said, because “you have this massive privatization scheme that’s been gutting support for public education and resources for public education. That’s the broader scenario that’s at stake here.”

In effect, the teachers in Los Angeles are not only embarking on a traditional strike that  pits teachers seeking higher wages and better working conditions against a school board that wants to operate as cheaply and efficiently as possible, it is striking against a group of presumably high-minded philanthropists who want to control public education and change it and it is striking to restore deep cuts to public education that have occurred since the economic melt down in 2008. Given these broad goals, what would a union victory look like? Nelson Lichtenstein, who directs UC Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy offers this response:

“One definition would be very concrete things [like raises and staffing issues] —the union could win some of that… The other definition is bigger—it could be the re-funding of public education in California and the country. This kind of strike is a powerful impulse to tell the [Democratic] supermajorities in Sacramento to modify Proposition 13, to bring new sources of funds so that school districts are not starved.”

Earlier this week Education Dive writer Linda Jacobsen wrote that the Los Angeles teachers are also seeking community schools, which provide wraparound services for students. In effect, the community school model describes how additional funding for schools would not only go into the pockets of teachers, it would expand the array of services available to students, making it clear that teachers are not only looking out for themselves, they are also seeking what is best for the children they serve:

Community schools are highlighted as part of the union-led Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools platform, nationally and in Los Angeles. And in a 2017 article for Center X at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Caputo-Pearl mentioned community schools in describing the union’s campaign to see the state or at least LAUSD spend $20,000 per student by 2020.

It would mean a nurse in every school. It would mean a librarian in every school. It would mean actually having restorative justice programs, staffed with people whose job it is to help develop restorative practices,” he said. “It would mean another one of our common good proposals around investing in a community schools model. It would mean more schools with wraparound services, with real breadth of curriculum in ethnic studies, music and the arts.” 

In several urban districts, teachers unions have been actively involved in supporting the community school model. Unions “provide a vehicle to quickly reach cohesiveness between schools and communities,” José Munoz, the director of the Coalition for Community Schools, wrote in an email. “That communication power helps harness and scale best practices nationally.”

Community schools develop in many ways, but they typically include formal partnerships in which community organizations provide schools with wraparound services such as health, mental health and after-school programs, and a separate coordinator position is created to make it all work. Unions view the strategy as a way to address many of the nonacademic issues — such as food insecurity, mental of physical health needs, or a lack of enrichment opportunities — that interfere with students’ learning.

“All of these issues walk into a classroom whether you want it or not,” Karen Alford, a vice president for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in New York City, said in an interview. Alford leads the union’s “community learning school” initiative in which the union is the lead community agency and pays for a full-time community school director (or coordinator) at 31 schools across the district.

These articles illustrate the broad frame the unions are using to define their demands, and also indicate that the unions… NOT the school boards, politicians, or administrators… are taking the lead in coordinating the services children need.

As one who forged partnerships with health departments, the department of social services, and several non-profits when I was a county superintendent in Maryland in the 1990s, it is sad to see that few if any school leaders are advocating for community schools today and even sadder to see that few if any political leaders are pushing for them. But it is very heartening to see that rank-and-file teachers recognize the need for such services and are willing to incorporate demands for these services in their collective bargaining battles.

Community schools that provide coordinated wraparound services to students are the best way forward to address the needs of children raised in poverty… and with the majority of public schools educating students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, it is essential that unions promote this model. Bravo to the teachers for standing up to the philanthropists who seek to strip them of their power and offer factory model schools that assume every child can succeed with grit and perseverance.

Neoliberal Center for American Progress Issues Excellent Advice to Newly Elected Governors

January 11, 2019 Comments off

I usually reject many of the ideas for public education advanced by the Center for American Progress (CAP) because they tend to reflect the “reform” mode of thinking. But a recently issued set or recommendations for newly elected Democrat governors MIGHT be an indication that their thinking is changing for the better, and MIGHT provide a counter-ALEC framework for Democrat legislators to follow.

Titled “11 Ways New Governors Can Lead on Education Through Executive Actions“, the article by CAP staffers Scott Sargrad, Lisette Partelow, and Jessica Yin outlines some action steps that cold mitigate the direction GOP Governors have moved in the past few years, directions that undercut public education and reinforce the test-and-punish methods advocated by ALEC. Several of the eleven recommendations are related to the creation of task forces or commissions designed to tackle tough issues like school financing, high school re-design, infrastructure funding, and the restoration of teaching as a valued profession. Others look at issues like school safety, discipline, gender equality, and evidence based decision making. One that stood out and offers some glimmer of hope that CAP’s enchantment with charter schools might be over was this one:

7) Initiate an investigation of the for-profit and virtual charter sectors

For-profit online charter schools have made significant inroads in certain states, receiving large sums of state education funding without being held accountable for what are often inferior results.28 In addition to employing questionable business practices that put profits before kids, these schools often have much lower graduation rates than the state average and fail on a number of other academic metrics.29

Governors could request that their attorneys general or an appointed special investigator examine the for-profit and virtual education sectors in their state and produce a report on the sectors’ finances and outcomes, along with other areas of concern. The investigative report should make recommendations to improve the sectors’ transparency, accountability, and requirements in order for such schools to remain open and have their charters renewed. If governors have the authority to do so, they could propose a ban on for-profit, virtual charter schools based on the findings of the investigation. California, for example, enacted such a ban after an investigation led to a multimillion-dollar settlement over false advertising and anti-competitive practices by a large virtual for-profit charter operator.30

I doubt that the Democrat governors of NY and CT will do this, but the fact that CAP is including this while advocating for an examination of funding inequities makes me hopeful that the DNC might be moving away from championing schools like Eva Moskovitz’s Success Academy and providing more funds for public schools that serve economically disadvantaged children. If that is the case, there MAY be a choice in the 2020 presidential election.

Could Maine’s Turnaround be a Harbinger for our Nation

January 10, 2019 Comments off

I worked for six years in Western Maine from 1977-1983: three as a HS Principal and three more as Superintendent. At that time, I was impressed with the leadership at the State level. The Commissioner was peripatetic, visiting schools and school districts, giving countless speeches and writing op ed pieces promoting the importance of public schools, and hiring bright people to support him even though his staff was being diminished on an annual basis by an increasingly fiscally conservative legislature.

Since leaving Maine I’ve followed their state politics from afar. I noted that they elected decidedly moderate and independent individuals to lead and represent their State, often rejecting either party by electing independents. Angus King embodied their politics in the 90s and early 2000s. But then the wheels came off when their wasn’t a viable independent-moderate candidate and the voters “chose” GOP candidate and Tea Party darling Paul LePage as Governor. I put the word “chose” in quotes because he won both elections when moderate-to-liberal voters split between two candidates paving the way for LePage to win with 38% of the vote in the first election and less than a majority the second time. Like our current President, Mr. LePage appeals to libertarians and other anti-government minded voters and, like our current President, Mr. LePage holds public schools in contempt. Consequently, like our current President. the Maine Governor appointed an education leader who loathed public schools. Here’s the way Diane Ravitch described his appointee to Commissioner: “Paul LePage appointed a homeschooling parent as Commissioner of Education. He made racist remarks. He followed Jeb Bush as his idol.” 

But now, after eight years of “leadership” by the GOP, the voters elected Janet Mills to office and, as Ms. Ravitch notes in her blog post yesterday, change is afoot. Ms. Mills has chosen Pender Makin, Brunswick’s Assistant Superintendent to be Commissioner, and Ms. Makin appears to be the polar opposite of Mr. LePage’s appointee. In addition to being a public school graduate and public school teacher and administrator, she has a stellar resume:

Ms. Makin has been on Maine’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group since 2014, and co-founded the Collaborative for Perpetual Innovation, a technical assistance, professional development, and consulting company for people in the education field. She has served on legislative work panels that aim to enhance educational opportunities for Maine students and promote the work of the state’s public schools.

The Maine Principal’s Association named her the state’s principal of the year for 2013-2014, and Makin also earned the MTV Local Hero and Milken Educator awards.

Better yet, from my perspective, she appears to have the right priorities:

Makin said her top priority as Maine’s next education commissioner will be to rebuild trust in the department.

“There’s been a revolving door of short-term commissioner posts, and the constituents – the schools, the superintendents and the districts – at this point have no faith and no trust that the existing structure is able to meet our needs,” she said.

There is also a need to rebuild trust in public education among all Mainers, Makin added.

Equity of access for all the state’s students to the best education possible is another objective. “We have a growing divide between children who are living in poverty and children who are quite privileged,” and there’s a difference between schools in big cities, the suburbs, and remote rural districts, Makin said.

Makin said she also wants to tackle school safety as proactively as possible.

“I would emphasize social, emotional, behavioral mental health supports (and) screenings,” she said. “Attention to those things is going to make us safer than any type of equipment ever will.”

WOW! Imagine that! A commissioner who wants to build public support and trust for public schools, cares about those who are economically deprived, and wants to invest in “social, emotional, behavioral mental health supports” instead of “equipment“. And Ms. Makin sees Maine as a potential national leader:

“I see Maine as being in a prime position to be influencing national education policy, rather than reactively responding to every little whim that’s happening (at the federal level),” Makin said.

“We have the most unique demographics, we have innovative people in our classrooms all across the state,” she added, plus “a lot of passion and determination, hard work, and all the things that make Maine a real leader educationally. I feel that we maybe have squandered every opportunity to highlight that at the national level.”

Makin also said she sees Maine striving to achieve a world-class education for its students and pushing back against federal policies with which it doesn’t agree, instead of “absorbing blindly whatever gets handed down to us.”

She recalled implementation of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative in 2001, which launched a period of externally driven policies that created a culture of fear-driven accountability. Non-educators were telling educators how to teach, she said, and using sometimes punitive methods to try to bring about success.

There are many Pender Makin’s in the pipeline. Vermont’s and New Hampshire’s former state leaders are cut from the same cloth and there are, I am certain, other state level leaders who could lead public schools out of the “culture of fear-driven accountability” if they were given the chance. But as long as Democrats ascribe to the neoliberal reform agenda we will witness the likes of Arne Duncan and John King being tapped to lead at the national level and testing will continue. I hope that Ms. Makin is successful in leading her state and that Maine IS the template for the future.

As those of us who value public schools look at the Democrat candidates for 2020 their position on “reform” should be a litmus test. If we get another six years of test-and-punish it will mean two full decades of carrots-and-sticks. Ugh!