Posts Tagged ‘privatization’

Diane Ravitch Identifies Root of Problem: BOTH Political Parties are Beholden to Wall Street… and Wall Street LOVES $$$

May 24, 2017 Leave a comment

In a New Republic article published yesterday, Diane Ravitch savages the Democratic Party for its adoption of an educational policy that mirrors that of the conservative Republicans. And this “inconvenient truth” makes it difficult for them to push back on the Trump-DeVos voucher agenda:

Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

While the “sell out” for campaign contributions is listed last, it rightfully gets the most play in her article as she describes the many candidates who rely on donations from hedge funders who love the idea of replacing publicly governed schools with deregulated privately operated charter schools, emphasizing the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that these charters improve educational opportunity at all.

Her article concludes with a challenge to the Democratic Party: change their position on public education NOW!

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, “I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.”

There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.

And here’s the challenge for all of us who value public education— AND democracy: we need to find a political means of achieving the agenda Ms. Ravitch lays out if the Democratic Party does NOT take on the fight against privatization.

DeVos/Trump Budget Horrific for Children Raised in Poverty, Great for Prophets and Profiteers

May 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve read several posts on the forthcoming DeVos/Trump budget… the most blunt and devastating of which came from Esquire blogger Charles Pierce. Titled “Is There a Point to All This Cruelty“, Pierce’s post includes this synopsis of the cuts from a Washington Post article:

The cuts would come from eliminating at least 22 programs, some of which Trump outlined in March. Gone, for example, would be $1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are poor, and $2.1 billion for teacher training and class-size reduction. The documents obtained by The Post — dated May 23, the day the president’s budget is expected to be released — outline the rest of the cuts, including a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs…

…The Trump administration would dedicate no money to a fund for student support and academic enrichment that is meant to help schools pay for, among other things, mental-health services, anti-bullying initiatives, physical education, Advanced Placement courses and science and engineering instruction. Congress created the fund, which totals $400 million this fiscal year, by rolling together several smaller programs. Lawmakers authorized as much as $1.65 billion, but the administration’s budget for it in the next fiscal year is zero.

He then poses this plaintive question… and the response:

Is there a point to all this gratuitous cruelty? Why, yes, there is.

The cuts would make space for investments in choice, including $500 million for charter schools, up 50 percent over current funding. The administration also wants to spend $250 million on “Education Innovation and Research Grants,” which would pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools. It’s not clear how much would be spent on research versus on the vouchers themselves.

While Mr. Pierce uses the balance of his column to excoriate Ms. DeVos, I want to offer what I believe to be an accurate assessment of how much will be spent on research versus the vouchers themselves. Based on Mr. Trump’s refusal to fund research and accept the findings of research, I would guess that a 100:1 ratio of spending tor research is probable… IF any money at all is earmarked for research. Oh… and my further guess is that the research will be done by a libertarian think tank.

In the meantime, while federal funds are used to subsidize parents who enroll their children in religious schools, children raised in poverty will lose after school programs, teachers, and opportunities for post secondary education. Prophets operating parochial schools and profiteers operating charters will gain, though.. and the marketplace will replace democratically operated public schools.

Roseburg Oregon a Case Study on What Taxes Pay For

May 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Saturday’s NYTimes article by Kirk Johnson described the travails of Roseburg, Oregon, a small town in SW Oregon that has suffered a loss of tax revenues as a result of the outsourcing of lumber, a loss that make Roseburg a case study that illustrates what our taxes pay for. In the article Mr. Johnson describes how successive votes to keep its library open failed, along with votes to pay for 24/7 police services, the ability to incarcerate criminals, and the assessor’s required to collect taxes.

Some background on how Roseburg Oregon found itself in this predicament:

…for many years, timber-harvesting operations on public lands here paid the bills, and people got used to it. A law passed by Congress in the 1930s specified that a vast swath of forest lands that had passed into corporate hands and back into federal control would be managed for county benefit. But then logging declined, starting in the 1980s and 1990s, as it did across many other parts of the West, and the flood of timber money slowed to a trickle, with only a stunted tax base to pick up the difference. The property tax rate in Curry County is less than a quarter of the statewide average. Douglas County (where Roseburg is located) residents pay about 60 percent less than most state residents.

So even though the taxes are relatively low in Douglas County, voters see them as skyrocketing because of a decline in logging, which was the “cash cow” for the government in years past. And, as several interviews in Mr. Johnson’s article indicate, there is a deep and abiding distrust in the government at all levels that manifests itself in negative votes for any government spending at any level. And here’s the result:

So what does life in government retreat look like?

It looks like the house on Hubbard Creek Road in Curry County, where owners went for more than 10 years without paying any property taxes at all because the county assessor’s office couldn’t field enough workers to go out and inspect. The house, nestled in the woods with a tidy blue roof and skylights, dodged more than $8,500 in property taxes that would have gone to support the schools, fire district and sheriff, because government had gotten too small to even ask. So things fall even further, with cuts to agencies that actually bring in revenue prompting further cuts down the line.

Those who distrust government and starve it of funding set a death spiral in motion, a death spiral that eliminates the opportunity for children in their community to get a good education, that eliminates community-funded fire and police protection, and eliminates all kinds of government funded “frills” like public libraries. And in its place, those who favor small government can hire private tutors and/or send their children to private schools with public subsidies in the form of vouchers, can band together with neighbors to secure private police and fire protection, and use the fast lane of their internet to secure whatever reading materials they desire. The poor neighbors or those who are thrown into poverty because they can’t pay their medical bills or whose homes burn down because they can’t afford to pitch in for the fire can fend for themselves. Welcome to a world with low taxes and limited service… the world it appears some people in SW Oregon want to live in.

Who Paid to Support Pro-Charter Board Candidates in LA? The Usual Suspects

May 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Two news stories dominate the education blogs today: the fallout of the LA Board election that gave a majority of seats to pro-privatization candidates (covered in this post) and the DeVos-Trump budget (covered in the later post).

Diane Ravitch had two posts yesterday that had links to articles that dealt with the dark money funding “school reform”. Peter Dreier’s Huffpost article, “Big Money Wins in LA” delineates the huge amounts spent on that election which pitted pro-privatization candidate Nick Melvoin and incumbent Steve Zimmer, specifically identifies the donors to the pro-privatization candidate’s campaign, and briefly describes their backgrounds and home towns:

Among the big donors behind Melvoin and the CCSA were members of the Walton family (Alice Walton, Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner) ― heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune from Arkansas, who’ve donated over $2 million to CCSA. Alice Walton (net worth: $36.9 billion), who lives in Texas, was one of the biggest funders behind Melvoin’s campaign. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflicks (net worth: $1.9 billion), who lives in Santa Cruz, donated close to $5 million since last September to the CCSA’s political action committee, including $1 million a week before the election.

Other moguls behind Melvoin and the CCSA include Doris Fisher (net worth: $2.7 billion), co-founder of The Gap, who lives in San Francisco: Texas resident John Arnold (net worth: $2.9 billion), who made a fortune at Enron before the company collapsed, leaving its employees and stockholders in the lurch, then made another fortune as a hedge fund manager; Jeff Yass, who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, and runs the Susquahanna group, a hedge fund; Frank Baxter, former CEO of the global investment bank Jefferies and Company that specialized in “junk” bonds; and Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $48.5 billion), the former New York City mayor and charter champion. Eli Broad (net worth: $7.7 billion), who hatched a plan to put half of all LAUSD students in charter schools by 2023 — an idea that Zimmer fought — donated $400,000 to CCSA last Friday, on top of $50,000 he gave in November. He made his money in real estate and life insurance.

Not surprisingly, most of these billionaires are big backers of conservative Republican candidates and right-wing causes. Several are on the boards of charter school chains.

After providing this rundown, Dreier poses the 6.6 million dollar question and offers an insightful answer, one that makes the distinction between “reform” and “privatization”:

What do the corporate moguls and billionaires want? 

They want to turn public schools into educational Wal-marts run on the same corporate model. They want to expand charter schools that compete with each other and with public schools in an educational “market place.” (LA already has more charter schools than any other district in the country). They want to evaluate teachers and students like they evaluate new products — in this case, using the bottom-line of standardized test scores. Most teachers will tell you that over-emphasis on standardized testing turns the classroom into an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice tests…

The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call “school reform.” What they’re really after is not “reform” (improving our schools for the sake of students) but “privatization” (business control of public education). They think public schools should be run like corporations, with teachers as compliant workers, students as products, and the school budget as a source of profitable contracts and subsidies for textbook companies, consultants, and others engaged in the big business of education.

And Dreier emphasizes that one thing the “reformers” did NOT want was someone like Melvin’s opponent, Steve Zimmer, to be on the school board. Why?

Like most reasonable educators and education analysts, Zimmer has questioned the efficacy of charter schools as a panacea. When the billionaires unveiled their secret plan to put half of LAUSD students into charter schools within eight years, Zimmer led the opposition….

Now the billionaires and their charter school operators will have a majority on the school board. LA will become the epicenter of a major experiment in expanding charter schools – with the school children as the guinea pigs.

In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see who turned out to vote for Mr. Melvoin and why the voters decided to put Mr. Zimmer out of office. As noted in a post yesterday, what is most telling is that Arne Duncan came out several weeks ago in support of Mr. Melvoin, advocating a need for a reformer to be elected to the board to allow a change to the status quo. If the likes of Mr. Duncan really sought a change to the status quo they would abandon the reliance on standardized test scores based on groupings of students by age cohorts… the reliance of which results in classrooms that are turned into “…an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice tests.” That is hardly a change to the status quo: it reinforces the factory model that is failing children and creating failure where success might be possible.

Los Angeles School Board Election, Most Expensive in History, Won By Pro-Charter Candidates Supported by Arne Duncan

May 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the past several weeks, Diane Ravitch has devoted several posts to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s election, which pitted two anti-charter candidates funded by teachers’ unions against two “reform” candidates who want more school choice. It shouldn’t be too difficult to guess who Arne Duncan supported. But if you need help figuring it out, this article from the March 29 LATimes will help…. and, yes, Mr. Duncan supported the “reformers”, support that should come as no surprise to anyone who watched what the Obama administration DID as opposed to what the Obama administration SAID. These two paragraphs tell the story:

Like President Trump and his Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, Melvoin and Gonez (the pro charter candidates) strongly support privately operated, publicly funded charter schools. But so does Duncan. And so did the administration of President Obama, who also maintained close ties with leaders of teachers unions critical of charters.

The union message to liberal Los Angeles voters has been that Melvoin and Gonez will pursue the Trump education agenda. But the candidates insist the more apt association is with Obama.

And here’s the question for those who supported Hilary Clinton: would SHE have changed directions at USDOE? My hunch is that she would have continued the “privatization lite” plans Obama launched: privatization that favored for-profit non-sectarian charter schools and omitted any support for vouchers that can be used by homeschoolers ad those attending religiously affiliated schools. That’s the “third way” of neoliberalism: support the spread of capitalism (i.e. free markets) at the expense of democracy (i.e. locally controlled “government schools”). 

Billionaires Lower Their Taxes Through Donations to Foundations that Underwrite Charters, Private Schools

May 17, 2017 Leave a comment

In several previous posts I’ve made reference to the mechanism that enables billionaires to lower their tax payments by making donations to “Scholarship Foundations” that are created by legislators to purportedly provide children raised in poverty with an opportunity to attend a private or charter school instead of the “failing public school” where they reside. Erica Green’s article in today’s NYTimes provides a detailed description of how some states have passed legislation that makes it possible for donors to some private schools to actually make a profit thought their “generosity”. As Ms. Green reports:

AASA and the liberal-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy examined programs in 17 states that send more than $1 billion a year to private schools via tuition tax credits, and concluded that private schools were benefiting from a “federally sanctioned voucher tax shelter” for wealthy taxpayers.

The study called it a “get-rich scheme for shrewd taxpayers.

The report focuses on tuition tax credit programs used by some states to help low-income students afford private schools. In these states, individuals and corporations donate to nonprofit “scholarship-granting organizations,” which then distribute the funds to parents. The amount of the contribution can be subtracted dollar-for-dollar from the donor’s state tax bill….

Donors in some states, such as Georgia, Arizona and Florida, have recouped their entire donation in tax cuts, meaning taxpayers can make a contribution to private schools at no cost.

Nine states that allow both a federal tax deduction and a state dollar-for-dollar credit are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia, the report said. In these states, the report found, donors can even make a profit.

In South Carolina, if taxpayers make a $20,000 donation to a scholarship organization, they not only get a $20,000 state tax credit, but a federal tax deduction valued up to $7,000. The donor could pay $27,000 less in taxes based on a $20,000 donation.

The Times article didn’t drill down into all the varied flaws in the state laws under consideration, nor did it note the fact that some large donors to these “scholarship” funds might also be financially rewarded because they are shareholders in the for profit charter schools that ultimately benefits from the “donations”. The AASA is right to push back against these “…get-rich schemes for shrewd taxpayers” and to call them what they are. Here’s hoping that more taxpayers will see through these ruses.


Betsy DeVos Has the Right Diagnosis… but the Wrong Prescription

May 12, 2017 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I am no fan of Betsy DeVos… but after reading this excerpt from a speech she gave at the Arizona State University + Global Silicon Valley Summit in Salt Lake City, earlier this week I believe she has correctly diagnosed one of the major problems with public education. In the speech she states that the major reason our schools are floundering is that they are based on the Prussian system devised in the early 1800s…. and this diagnosis is, I believe, accurate. But the major reason our schools are failing children raised in poverty has nothing to do with the Prussian system and everything to do with government policies that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with housing… a point she almost makes but ultimately sidesteps. After decrying the fact that our schools are based on the factory model put in place in the 1800s, she goes on to make a number of valid but disconnected statements, which I have numbered to facilitate my analysis:

  1. The system assigns your child to a school based solely upon the street on which you live. If you’re a block away from a better school zone, too bad. This of course creates a problem for those who don’t have the financial means to move to a different home.
  2. If real estate prices are based on the neighborhood school district, it will always adversely affect the economically disadvantaged. Thus the most vulnerable are trapped in the worse performing schools, while the wealthier families get the better schools.
  3. Our students have fallen behind our peers on the global stage In the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, the U.S. ranked 20th in reading, 19th in science and 24th in math. That’s worse than the 2012 PISA ranking which was somewhat higher in reading and math.
  4. And it’s not for a lack of funding. According to their 2012 data, we spend 31 percent more per pupil than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average on elementary and secondary students.
  5. The facts show our system is antiquated, unjust, and fails to serve students. This is flat-out unacceptable.

Statements #1 and #2 are completely accurate… but offering vouchers that are not worth the amount spent by the “wealthier families”, Ms. DeVos’ favored solution to this problem, will not solve the problem. The only solution to this problem is to have the government institute policies and provide resources that make it possible for low income housing to be put in place so that those “who don’t have the financial means” CAN afford to have their children attend those school.

Statement #3 omits one key fact: the children of “wealthier families” do better than ANY country in the world. Our scores are low because our schools are inequitable… and the schools serving the children raised in poverty are underfunded as are the safety nets needed to provide their parents with the support they need.

Statement #4 omits two key factors: the higher levels spent in affluent districts pull up the mean costs as does the cost for health insurance that school districts, as employers, pay in the US but do not pay in other countries where the government underwrites those costs.

Statement #5 is also inaccurate because our system DOES serve students raised in affluence extraordinarily well…. it is the children raised in poverty who are shortchanged.

Ms. DeVos spends the balance of her speech analogizing public education to telecommunications, and concludes with several points that could have come from this blog (with the exception of the verbiage highlighted in red italics), beginning with a question she posed to a “room full of innovators”:

if you were to start from scratch, what would America’s education system look like?

I doubt you would design a system that’s focused on inputs rather than outputs; that prioritizes seat-time over mastery; that moves kids through an assembly line without stopping to ask whether they’re actually ready for the next step, or that is more interested in preserving the status quo rather than embracing necessary change.

Here’s how I would answer the question I just posed to you: We would build a system centered on knowledge, skills and achievement – not centered on delivery methods. Traditional, charter, private, virtual, and other delivery methods not yet developed: all would be treated as viable options so long as they met the needs of their students.

This starts by focusing on students, not buildings. If a child is learning, it shouldn’t matter where they learn. When we center the debate around buildings, we remain stuck with the same old system where we can predict educational outcomes based strictly on ZIP code.

The system we create would respect parents’ fundamental right to choose what education is best-suited for each of their children. Every individual student is unique, with different abilities and needs. Our education delivery methods should then be as diverse as the kids they serve, instead of our habit of forcing them into a one-size-fits-all model.

So when a school — any school — fails any student, that child deserves the right to move on. The goal is not to promote choice for choice’s sake. The goal is to provide a wide range of quality options that actually help individual children learn and grow in an environment that works for them. For too many Americans, there is only one, single assigned option, and it isn’t working.

But here’s what Ms. DeVos fails to acknowledge: affluent parents already have choice. They can choose to live in a community or neighborhood that has extraordinary schools or pay for the private school that meets the unique needs of their children. It is only the children raised in poverty who are assigned to underfunded schools in the ZIP codes that they are relegated to by government policies that have no choice. Until we face that issue— the issue of poverty– we will continue to have disparate test scores, disparate services for children, and an increasingly divided nation.