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Posts Tagged ‘privatization’

Supreme Court Could Open the Door for Expansion of Vouchers

April 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Politico post led with an overview of Trinity Lutheran Church’s appeal to receive state funding for it’s sectarian schools, a case that could open the door to vouchers. Here are the the opening paragraphs:

SUPREME COURT COULD CLEAR ROADBLOCKS TO SCHOOL VOUCHERS: The Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to hear a case that could have huge implications for school voucher programs. At issue is an 1875 provision of Missouri’s Constitution banning public money from going “directly or indirectly” to religious groups, including schools. Similar provisions, called Blaine Amendments, exist in roughly three dozen states and have been a major barrier to school vouchers. They’ve also proved resilient, surviving numerous state ballot repeal efforts – including an unsuccessful Michigan initiative pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos nearly two decades ago.

– Religious groups see this and a related Colorado case as their best shots at scrapping the amendments – and they believe Neil Gorsuch, who just took his seat on the high court, will take their side. They point to Gorsuch’s deference to religious rights in other cases. Most notably, while on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, he backed a religious challenge to the Affordable Care Act – joining the panel’s majority in the Hobby Lobby case to rule that the Obama administration could not require a closely-held business to offer contraceptive coverage if that interfered with the owners’ religious beliefs – a decision later upheld by the Supreme Court. In another case, he ruled that a Wyoming prison had to provide a sweat lodge to a Native American for his religious practices.

– Court watchers believe Gorsuch might cast a tie-breaking vote since the court had apparently delayed arguments in the Missouri case until they had a ninth justice. “The justices have likely seen this as a case on which they would have been divided four to four,” said Stephen Wermiel, a constitutional law professor at American University. “They must expect that Gorsuch will be the deciding fifth vote.” Benjamin Wermund has more on that here.

Prior to the GOP’s decision to “go nuclear” to get Mr. Gorsuch appointed, there was some speculation that the hearing scheduled for this case was the driving force behind that decision. With 35 states under GOP control and a President and Secretary of Education who are willing to promote vouchers for religious schools the time is ripe to get a case like this before the Supreme Court. There is, however, one possible fly in the ointment, as noted in the Politico piece:

– There is a chance the case could get tossed out . The case hinges on the state’s denial of Trinity Lutheran Church’s request for a grant to reimburse the cost of resurfacing its preschool playground with recycled tires. State officials said the Blaine Amendment prevented it from aiding the church in any way. But late last week, Missouri’s newly elected Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, announced that he has directed the state agency to consider religious organizations for such grants. The parties on both sides must submit their views by noon today on whether the the announcement makes the legal dispute moot. Even if the justices dismiss this case, they could soon hear the same issues in a pending Colorado case in which the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State claim a school voucher program violates the state’s no-aid clause.

Should vouchers be allowed for religious schools a huge shift of funding will occur, draining money for public education that serves all children into the pockets of religious schools who currently serve generally affluent parents who can afford the tuition. Not only will such a decision have an economically unjust impact on our nation, but it will further erode the wall between church and state. Should the case be heard and decided, the battle for equity and separation of church and state will devolve to the states. Here’s hoping that voters will not support the repeal of Blaine amendments and the economic injustice that results.

Florida’s “Schools of Hope” Based on Wishful Thinking, Faulty Logic

April 1, 2017 Leave a comment

The Florida GOP, having had charter school laws on the books for more than 20 years and having no evidence whatsoever that they are more successful than public schools, has now introduced old wine in new skin in the form of “Schools of Hope”. As reported by Kristen Clark in the Miami Herald, the Florida GOP is proposing a “…bold– and costly– idea” to help the 77,000 students who are “trapped” in failing schools.

They want to spend $200 million in 2017-18 to entice “the best of the best charter schools in the entire country” to set up shop near Florida’s failing traditional schools and establish “schools of hope” that would offer a better education — and better chance to succeed — to those students currently in struggling neighborhood schools.

Republican House leaders say traditional public schools and county school districts have had ample opportunity, flexibility and resources to turn around perpetually failing schools, but the results haven’t yielded enough success.
And what does the “schools of hope” legislation offer in place of “traditional public schools and county school districts”?

(The bill) provides a pathway for a nonprofit charter school operator “with a record of serving students from low-income families” to set up and run a “school of hope” for a minimum of five years in a community where there is a perpetually failing traditional school that’s eligible to receive Title I federal funds.

The bill offers some guidance on what criteria would be required for a “hope” operator, but which operators ultimately get that status would be up to the State Board of Education. Operators with that designation would then have access to grants, loans and other state funding from the $200 million pot to build their “school of hope,” train teachers, recruit students, promote community engagement and implement their innovative strategies.

Each “school of hope” would have to be able to accommodate the entire student population of the struggling public school — potentially allowing the new “school of hope” to muscle out the traditional neighborhood school.

As Ms. Clark reports, there are several Democratic party legislators who contend that the failure of schools is tied to the conditions in the community that are beyond the reach of educators:

But some Democrats, school board members, public school teachers and parents caution that the solution isn’t as simple as bringing in out-of-state operators to run brand-new schools that could essentially replace languishing neighborhood schools.

The problems are far more complex than who the teacher in a classroom is or which principal leads a school, they say; it’s generational and systemic poverty that plagues these students — who are most often black or Hispanic and who also face racial and geographic disparities in their educational opportunities.

“When you look at these communities where these schools are, there are some common threads to all of them: Poverty, you have kids having kids, and a lot of times these kids don’t know how to be parents,” said Port St. Lucie Democratic Rep. Larry Lee, who said he grew up in such a community.

“We’re bringing in external forces in these school districts and asking them to turn it around,” he said. “Sometimes I, as a black man, go back into the area where I grew up and, at times, even I am not accepted because they say, ‘You don’t live here anymore.’ You need people in those communities to buy in.”

Some other legislators note that the $200,000,000 infusion of new funds would be better spent supporting existing schools and, I would note, making the safety net more secure. For example, if the legislature REALLY wanted to support children in need they should give serious consideration to expanding Medicaid funding so that they can offer health benefits associated with the so-called Obamacare bill. Instead, the market-drivenlogic of the GOP would rather make more choices available to the “consumers”. And then there’s this little detail Ms. Clark interjects near the end of her article:

Several House Republicans involved in the legislation — such as Corcoran, Bileca and Diaz — have connections to the charter-school industry.

And one of those legislators, Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, was quoted as characterizing the funding of this $200,000,000 choice plan as a “moral responsibility”.  The marketplace, unfortunately, is amoral… and it is the government’s responsibility to balance the scales so that students in those schools in poverty stricken areas have the same chance for success as students in affluent schools. Until that happens, there will be no “schools of hope”.

You Thought Your Student Loan Was Forgiven? Think Again! This New Administration is Reneging

March 31, 2017 Leave a comment

In an appalling development, the US Department of Education is reversing its position on a student loan forgiveness program that was instituted in 2007 as the result of bi-artisan legislation passed at that time. In a NYTimes article today, Stacy Cowley reports:

In a legal filing submitted last week, the Education Departmentsuggested that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the agency said.

The filing adds to questions and concerns about the program just as the first potential beneficiaries reach the end of their 10-year commitment — and the clocks start ticking on the remainder of their debts.

How many will be affected by this? According to the article 550,000 individuals who work either for the government or for non-profits received approval from the program’s administrator over the past ten years… and up to 25% of the work force may be qualified as well:

The forgiveness program offers major benefits for borrowers, advocates say, to the point of persuading some people to take public service jobs instead of more lucrative work in the private sector. The program generally covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit organization, a diverse group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007 in a sweeping, bipartisan bill.

About 25 percent of the nation’s work force may qualify for the program, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated. Eligibility is based on a borrower’s employer and whether it meets the program’s rules, not on the specific work an applicant does.

Of that group, those working in non-profits seem to be most at risk since that seems to be the group particularly targeted by USDOE. And why would the Federal government agency administering these loans suddenly decide to renege? Linda Klein, president of the American Bar Association has a theory. She called the department’s response”

…“illogical, untenable and bewildering.” An unreliable certification system “exposes those undertaking public service work — exactly what Congress intended them to do — to crippling financial risk,” she said.

So now idealistic individuals with medical and law degrees who decided to accept low wage assignments in the non-profit and government might be on the hook for loans in excess of $100,000. The drowning of the government in a bathtub is proceeding apace.

 

Derrell Bradford’s Thoughtful Insights on the Benefits of Choice

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment

When I saw a link to an article in the pro-choice, pro-voucher publication The 74 that countered the compelling arguments advanced by NYTimes writer Nichole Hannah-Jones, I was tempted to skip it, believing it would be a shallow and infuriating screed that reinforced the often simplistic positions taken by writers on that website. After reading the article by Derrell Bradford, though, I find myself needing to re-frame and re-calibrate my opposition to choice… particularly in urban settings. And even more surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with Mr. Bradford’s argument in favor of choice that was derived from a quote by Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s appointee to Secretary of Education who launched the “choice” movement embedded in NCLB that ultimately led us to Betsy DeVos:

Former secretary of education Rod Paige once offered that the country’s public schools have two incredible powers. The first is mandatory attendance: you will go to school; and the second is mandatory assignment: you will go to this school.

And even though state constitutional language varies on the kind and caliber of education a child will receive under these edicts, what’s certain is this: When a public institution can conscript you into a school with a long track record of underperformance, the egalitarian spirit of education, available to all, paid for by taxpayers and free at the point of delivery, is not only not served, it is subverted. The moment the state and public schools can force you into something that will likely inhibit your ability to be free and equal in the future — as is the case with children of color in underperforming public schools — you don’t control them anymore.

As noted in many earlier posts, I have long believed that exclusionary zoning and the economic segregation that results from that practice are the root cause of inequality or opportunity and the primary reason that social mobility is thwarted. Equal opportunity is impossible in our current world where children born into a particular zip code benefit from well-funded schools attended by classmates whose parents have college degrees while other children are effectively penalized by being born into a different zip code where schools cannot be well-funded and their classmates are from less educated backgrounds.

From my perspective, there are two ways to work around this issue: one is to provide more funding to less affluent districts and the other is to eliminate attendance zones within districts and between districts.

Providing equitable funding would make certain that if you are required to attend this school in an under-resourced district you can be confident that it has the same resources as that school in a fully-resourced district.  But providing equitable funding would require an increase in taxes and a redistribution of funds. Both of these are an anathema to voters who have been convinced that “throwing money” at schools is not the solution and it is “unfair” to ask those who worked hard for their earnings to “give money” to those who are “takers”.

Eliminating attendance zones between school districts and within school districts would also help eliminate the differences between this school and that school… but doing so would require a means of transporting students to the school of their choice and require some form of a lottery to ensure equitable opportunity. This poses a logistical challenge in all cases, a geographical challenge in some cases, and would result in diminished real estate values in those neighborhoods and communities where affluent residents live. In short, this, too, is unlikely to occur.

This unwillingness to pay more taxes or to allow mobility between and within districts led to the work around called “choice”. By abandoning the requirement that students are assigned to this school based on attendance zones or district boundaries, and creating “charter schools” that can draw from any part of the city or region, parents are able to enroll children in the “school of their choice”. Since the number of charter schools was limited, the schools themselves got the”choice” of students, and they often avoided choosing those children with special needs or those children whose parents failed to submit detailed paperwork. In other words, parents could only go to that school if they and their children passed muster… hardly the egalitarian model Rod Paige envisioned and hardly the egalitarian model The 74 suggests would emerge if schools competed with each other.

This “choice” workaround is based on the paradigm that “schooling” is a commodity and “schools” are enterprises that like shopping malls where consumers can go to whatever store they wish. And like that paradigm, the high-end shopping malls and grocery stores are used by the affluent while those without resources have no malls whatsoever and are forced to buy groceries from bodegas with limited elections.

In the end both Mr. Bradford and Ms. Hannah-Jones are engaged in fantastical thinking. Mr. Bradford believes that unregulated capitalism is inherently fair and there is virtue in selfishness. Ms. Hannah-Jones, like me, believes that in a democracy people will ultimately seek a solution that is fair to all, one that will require those with means to willingly share with those who have less opportunity due solely to accidents of birth. I hope the democracy minded voters will prevail.

 

Edelblut, Like DeVos, Gets Appointment as Chief School Officer Despite Inexperience, Potential Conflicts of Interest

March 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Unsurprisingly, former NH GOP State House Representative and gubernatorial candidate Frank Edelblut was appointed to a four year term of office by a partisan 3-2 vote by the Executive Council, the body that endorses gubernatorial appointments to key offices in the state. Today’s Valley Newsarticle by Rob Wolfe offers some background on the hearing for Mr. Edelblut’s appointment, which featured a picture of a room crowded with protesters, one of who carried a sign reading: “WHO WANTS A PILOT WHO NEVER HAS FLOWN?”, a reference to the fact that Mr. Edelblut has never served in public education in any capacity. Compounding this lack of service in public education is the fact that he chose to homeschool all seven of his children and he chose to make an undisclosed donation to a fund to support a school district seeking to use public funds to send a child to a private Montessori School. That lack of disclosure, described in an earlier blog post, led to some pointed questioning from Andru Volinski, a Democrat Executive Councilor:

During the panel’s Wednesday morning meeting, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, expressed concern that Edelblut’s hitherto anonymous gift, which likely was made before he was appointed commissioner, represented a conflict of interest.

“I don’t have any quarrel with his contribution,” Volinsky said. “I have some concern that when I asked him about any potential conflicts of interest he did not think to disclose this.”

Edelblut last week told Volinsky that he had donated $1,000 to the Croydon School Board’s legal defense of a lawsuit brought by state officials over the board’s payments of public money to private schools.

The disclosure came after the Valley News reported that Croydon rejected a request to reveal unnamed donors to the $23,000 fund and that Edelblut for two weeks declined to answer questions about his role.

As noted in the earlier post, Mr. Edelblut and Betsy DeVos are like peas in a pod: they both lack experience and both advocate that public funds should be used to whatever purpose parents deem to be in the best interest of their child, be it public school, an on-line for profit school with limited success rates, a parochial school, or— presumably, an Islamic fundamentalist school. Mr. Volinky’s argument, like that of his counterparts in the US Congress, fell on deaf ears.

Councilor Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, said he trusted Edelblut’s integrity and warned the group not to “jump to conclusions.”

“I do not believe that he would go back on his word,” Prescott said, referring to Edelblut’s promises to act as a mere implementer of policy.

With that, the council voted along party lines, 3-2, to confirm Edelblut for a four-year term.

And so the dismantling of public education can proceed apace in New Hampshire unless more voices like Mr. Volinsky’s are raised in protest.

“It should not have required an express request from an executive councilor to disclose that,” Volinsky said.

Volinsky also said he was concerned that, contrary to statements Edelblut had made during confirmation hearings in January, the new commissioner was seeking to further his own “agenda” rather than implement policy created by others.

NYTimes Editors Remain Oblivious to the Link Between Choice and Austerity

March 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Today the NYTimes editors took Kansas Governor Sam Brown to task for his wrongheaded approach to taxation in his State as he is reportedly set to leave his state in the lurch as he leaves for a rumored  Ambassadorship to Rome. The editors offered a description of the tax scheme and its impact:

Mr. Brownback, a Republican first elected on the Tea Party crest of 2010, used his office as a laboratory for conservative budget experimentation. His insistence that tax cuts create, not diminish, revenues has left the state facing a ballooning deficit plus a ruling by the state Supreme Court that Kansas schoolchildren have been unconstitutionally shortchanged in state aid for years, with the poorest minority children most deprived.

The court ruled this month that they would shut the state’s schools if funding wasn’t made equitable by June 30. It found reading test scores of nearly half of African-American students and more than one-third of Hispanic students were deficient under aid formulas favoring more affluent school districts.

Brownback’s solution to this deficit is not a tax increase to improve the funding deficiency cited by the court. His solution is to offer the students “choice”, a solution the NYTimes editors derided:

Mr. Brownback played no small role in the long-running school crisis by leading the Republican Legislature to limit school aid after enacting the largest tax cuts in state history, for upper-bracket business owners. Characteristically, the governor’s reaction to the court mandate was to further undermine schools by suggesting parents “be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”

But wait! Isn’t this the same editorial board that champions Eva Moskovitz’ Success Academy because ti gives parents “the opportunity… to set their child up for success through other educational choices”? Isn’t this the same editorial board that views charter schools as the best means to improve the failing schools in New York City?

My question to the NYTimes editors is this: Can’t you see that the underlying motive of the pro-charter school movement and Sam Brownback are identical? They BOTH want to diminish funding for schools while deregulating their operations so that privatizing profiteers can take them over. Maybe the results of Governor Brownback’s failed policies linking tax cuts to deregulated charters will help them connect the dots going forward.

Trump/GOP Budget Ignores Scientific Findings and Students in Poverty— And the Planet— Pay the Price

March 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Guardian articlereporter Sam Thielman posted an decrying the Trump/GOP budget’s decision to cut funds for school lunches by $200,000,000 despite solid evidence that they are a cost effective way to improve student performance and health outcomes. In yet another case of the Trump administration’s ignorance of science (see the denial of climate change for countless other examples), the President’s budget director offered this explanation for the cuts:

When Mick Mulvaney, director of Donald Trump’s office of budget management, told press on Thursday that the administration’s attack on school meal programsbecause they “don’t work”, he did not mean that they don’t feed hungry children.

“Let’s talk about after-school programs generally: they’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence that they’re actually doing that,” Mulvaney said. “There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school.

This last statement got the attention of Dr. Michael Weitzman whose studies DID demonstrate that “kids who don’t get fed at home” do better in school when they receive a nutritious meal:

That statement is “an outrageous, fallacious comment that clearly reflects a lack of knowledge, or perhaps even worse, dishonesty”, said physician Michael Weitzman in an interview with the Guardian. Weitzman is the former chair of pediatrics at New York University, where he currently teaches, and this year’s recipient of the John Howland award, the highest honor bestowed by the American Pediatric Society.

And Guardian writer Thielman offers more evidence in case Dr. Weitzman’s word is insufficient:

The connection between childhood nutrition and hard educational metrics such as attendance and test performance has been documented repeatedly, by universities as well as government agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Weitzman and the other researchers who worked on the Boston study demonstrated explicitly that federally funded nutrition programs improve academic performance. That they help to alleviate poverty as well is simply a bonus.

So why would the Director of the Office of Budget and Management fly in the face of scientific findings and support cutting school lunch? For the same reason that the current administration and the GOP want to ignore the findings of climate science: the benefactors of scientific findings are not profiteering lobbyists with deep pockets. School children raised in poverty do not vote and do not have anyone with boatloads of money for political campaigns who can speak on their behalf. The planet earth has vocal supporters who generate petitions but there is no profit-making group advocating for clean air and clean water that compares with the auto and petroleum industries…. or the nascent water sellers.

So taxpayers save a few cents in order for corporations to save huge sums on their tax bills while children suffer and corporations no longer need to follow “stifling regulations” that help sustain planet earth. Welcome to the plutocracy.