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.
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.
(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.”
Several House Republicans involved in the legislation — such as Corcoran, Bileca and Diaz — have connections to the charter-school industry.
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.
The NYTimes ran heart-wrenching profiles of five Afghani children who will not be attending school this year. The main reason they cannot go is because they must work to earn money because they are separately poor or because one or both of their parents have died. Times writers opened their profiles with this:
When the first day of the new school year starts in Afghanistanon Thursday, 3.7 million boys and girls won’t be in attendance, because of increased violence, displacement and poverty. The total number — roughly one in three school-age Afghan children — is expected to grow this year as violence between Afghan forces and the Taliban intensifies, and Pakistan forces Afghan refugees to return home, according to Save the Children, an advocacy group.
If Afghanistan was the only nation with this problem it might be possible to bring the resources of the rest of the world to bear. But as anyone who follows the news realizes, the Syrian Civil War, the continuing unrest throughout the Middle East, the continuing narco-terrorism in Central America, the poverty that plagues developing countries in Africa, and the poverty in developed countries and newly emergent developed countries push millions if not billions of children out of school. While not all of the children who are unable to attend school are forced out because of terrorists, unschooled children is one consequence of terrorism. But more disturbing is the fact that children who are raised in poverty and know that others in the world have many more material goods and much more safety are ripe for the messages of terrorists: domestic terrorists and foreign terrorists alike.
Articles like this serve as a reminder that those of us with a roof over our heads, food in the pantry and refrigerator, and comfortable lives have much to be grateful for. In the global economy, we are the 1% and we need to be mindful of the resentments that we might create if we are self-congratulatory and smug about anything we have accomplished.
Supreme Court Decides in Favor of Special Education Parent, Sets Stage for More Downshifting of Costs, Public School Budget Increases
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously supported the parents of an autistic child who unilaterally withdrew their child from school and sought tuition reimbursement. In what will surely become a landmark case for public education, Politico writer Caitlin Emma reported that the judges all concurred that “school districts must go the extra mile to accommodate students with disabilities“, overturning the 1982 Supreme Court ruling that individualized education plans must provide “some educational benefit”. Ms. Emma offered some details on the Chief Justice Roberts’ written decision:
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court that a “child’s education program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom.”
“The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives. This standard is more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.”
Roberts declined to interpret that FAPE provision or elaborate on “appropriate” — “mindful that Congress has not materially changed the statutory definition of a FAPE since Rowley was decided.”
But he said the requirement must be “an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
During the years I served as a school administrator I witnessed the advent of PL 94-142 and subsequent court fights over what the term “Free and Appropriate Education” (FAPE) meant. At the same time I heard endless excuses from the US Congress as to why they could not find the promised funding necessary for schools to implement the laws and regulations that mandated FAPE. In 1982, when the Rowley case was decided, districts had some degree of clarity on what they were required to provide to students with special needs: they needed to demonstrate that a child was receiving some educational benefit from the IEP developed in team meetings with parents. Because this was a low bar, over the years many parents pushed to change this standard, to no avail until the Endrew v. Douglas County case decided on Wednesday.
The consequences of this decision will take some time to work their way through the system. Students’ IEPs are reviewed annually and many 2017-18 plans are already adopted. It will take time for parent advocacy networks to gear up and time for school district attorneys to get a clear picture of what this will mean for the development of future IEPs. The budgetary and educational impacts of this bill will likely occur in 2018-19 onward, but here are three budgetary predictions I will offer:
- The Federal government is more likely to change the definition of FAPE than it is to provide the 40% funding promised when 94-142 was passed: Given the budget presented by President Trump in accordance with the GOP platform, I do not see any possibility of an increase in funding for Special Education. Indeed, given the broad outlines of the budget thus far, it is more likely that the current budget will be frozen or possibly diminished.
- The State budgets for the coming year will not include additional funding to help underwrite the costs district will incur: Given that the GOP controls 35 of the States and they are universally intent on containing taxes and spending, it is unlikely that they will find room in their future budgets to accommodate the additional spending that will inevitably result from this decision. Moreover, given the nascent movement that directs more state funds toward de-regulated charters, homeschool students, or students enrolled in sectarian schools, the pool of funds available for public schools is likely to diminish without the additional burden of providing expanded programs for special needs students.
- Local budgets will be required to absorb all of the budgetary impact that results from this decision: If, as a result of this decision, more students are placed in specialized programs like the one Endrew sought, their tuition costs will accelerate and local taxes will increase or programs will be compromised. If, as a result of this decision, districts decide to independently or collaboratively develop specialized programs, the additional costs for those programs will be drawn from local taxes or programs will be compromised.
Given those budgetary predictions and the impact of the State’s movement that allocates more funds for parents whose children attend de-regulated charters, are homeschooled, or enrolled in sectarian schools, the diminishment of funds and resultant diminishment of offerings for regular education students will likely result in flight from public schools.
There will be exceptions to this flight from public education, however. Affluent communities who value their schools and want the best for all students enrolled in the schools and already pay higher taxes may not experience higher costs. Many of these districts are already providing programs for special needs children that are, in Judge Robert’s words, “…reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” Districts offering programs that already meet this standard will not feel the same pressures as districts who strictly adhered to the de minimus standard set by Rowley. Those districts, whose barrier to entry is the need to qualify for a mortgage on an expensive home, will continue to thrive.
The districts who will suffer the most and experience the most flight will be those with limited tax bases who serve low income children. As costs are shifted downward and mandates for special education and costs escalate, their budgets will become increasingly tight and they will be forced to cut programs. As programs diminish, the parents who are most engaged in their children’s education will withdraw and the district will be serving the most difficult population: children raised in poverty whose parents are also struggling.
I do believe the Supreme Court did the right thing in this case. I wholeheartedly concur with Judge Roberts’ assertion that a child’s education program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances”. My fear is that while the courts will continue to rule in favor of children and parents, the legislature will continue to shirk it’s responsibility to provide the means for ALL districts to provide an appropriately ambitious program for ALL children. I would love to be proven wrong.
In his NYTimes column yesterday, Thomas Edsall offered an insightful and thorough description of the vicious circle of poverty with graphs, research citations, raw data, and paragraphs like this that summarize his findings:
The result is a vicious circle: family disruption perpetuates disadvantage by creating barriers to the development of cognitive and noncognitive skills, which in turn sharply reduces access to college. The lack of higher education decreases life chances, including the likelihood of achieving adequate material resources and a stable family structure for the next generation.
The factors that contribute to “family disruption” are being born to a single parent, being born to a mother who lacks a high school degree, and being born into a household that is below the poverty line. Mr. Edsall offers evidence that those factors are increasing substantially among less educated populous, noting particularly the non marital birthrate which has jumped among mothers with a high school education level or less but remained steady among college educated parents. This circumstance of birth, in turn, leads to better lives for children born into college-educated married families:
The authors of the “Diverging Patterns” paper — Shelly Lundberg and Jenna Stearns of the University of California-Santa Barbara, and Robert A. Pollak of Washington University in St. Louis – make the case that
there are good reasons to think that children are key to the socioeconomic differences in marriage behavior.
For college graduates, they argue, “marriage has become the commitment device that supports intensive joint investments in children,” a cooperative “joint project of raising economically successful children.” In contrast, they write,
the expected returns to child investments by parents with limited resources and uncertain futures may be lower than for more educated parents with greater and more secure investment capabilities.
At the conclusion of his article, Mr. Edsall draws a series of conclusions, which are summarized below:
First, the spectrum of noncognitive skills and character strengths are a major factor in American class stratification.
Second, neither religious leaders nor practicing politicians nor government employees have found the levers that actually make disadvantaged families more durable or functional.
For liberals and the Democratic Party, the continued failure of government initiatives to achieve measurable gains in the acquisition of valuable noncognitive skills by disadvantaged youngsters constitutes a major liability.
Advocates for the disadvantaged must also highlight and capitalize on the many demonstrably effective antipoverty solutions already well known to the academic, research and nonprofit communities. Without better funded and better crafted organization and advocacy on behalf of the poor, the propaganda and accusations now emanating from the right will ineluctably reshape the law of the land — and once institutionalized, such “remedies” could prove staggeringly difficult to reverse.
For public schools, these translate into the following action steps:
- Schools need to emphasize noncognitive skills and character strengths. These have long been a part of the “hidden curriculum” that is implicit in codes of conduct and the timely submission of homework, term papers, etc.
- Schools need to work collaboratively with religious leaders, practicing politicians, and other government employees to identify intervention strategies that have promise. This is easier said than done in the hostile environment that exists today where much of the political capital is spent on shifting the blame and most of the agencies expend much of their efforts fighting for increasingly scarce tax dollars.
- The media need to emphasize the pointlessness of gathering data that measures “non cognitive skills”. If the public and politicians have learned anything from the “school reform” movement it should be this: collecting data for the purpose of “measuring performance” of groups of students is pointless and will always lead to the same result. Whenever time is a fixed part of the measurement of anything (e.g. by the time a student enters “x” grade or is “y” years old), the students who have the strongest start in life— in the development of cognitive and non cognitive skills— will always do better. As noted in earlier posts, when I began my career as a public school administrator in the mid-1970s the state of Pennsylvania administered a test to all students and determined that there was a high correlation between test scores and a mother’s education and father’s occupation based on a metric that scaled work from professional careers to laborers. Mr. Edsall breathlessly reported the same findings— forty years later.
- Intervention programs need to begin MUCH earlier: It is clear that nurturance is crucially important for both the acquisition of non cognitive and cognitive skills. It is also clear that mothers who were not raised in an environment where nurturance was present are challenged to provide that kind of environment without support.
- Only government programs can provide those programs. That is “Government is the solution, NOT the problem”. Mr. Edsall is correct in his final point: “Advocates for the disadvantaged must also highlight and capitalize on the many demonstrably effective antipoverty solutions already well known to the academic, research and nonprofit communities.” And here’s my hunch: when those advocates highlight the successful programs they will find that the only way to bring those programs to scale is to provide money raised through taxes to make them government programs. As noted frequently in this blog, before we can restore our faith in the ability of anyone to climb out of poverty we need to restore our faith in the ability of government to provide programs for those in poverty. We need to recognize that part of being a citizen in this country is to help those in need and share the fruits of our good fortune.
In a March 16 post to RegBlog, University of Pennsylvania Economist Adam Finkel takes his University of Chicago colleague Deirdre Mccluskey to task for her flawed math in an op ed piece she wrote for the NYTimes. In the op ed essay published on December 23, Ms. McCloskey asserted that
“[a]s a matter of arithmetic, expropriating the rich to give to the poor does not uplift the poor very much. If we took every dime from the top 20 percent of the income distribution and gave it to the bottom 80 percent, the bottom folk would be only 25 percent better off.”
As Mr. Finkel pointed out in this post (and to the NYTimes editors), this would only be true if EVERYONE started with the same level of wealth… and in our country that is clearly NOT the case. Indeed, instead of using Ms. McCloskey’s assumption that everyone has equal wealth of $500,000, Mr. Finkel used some real world numbers to calculate the impact of redistribution:
In the real United States, however—where $500,000 is indeed a reasonable estimate of the average individual networth, but where the top 20 percent own 85 percent of all wealth—the math is very different. Among a representative sample of 1,000 Americans, there would be $425 million to redistribute among the bottom 800 people, who would each start with only $93,750.
When Mr. Finkel dissembles Ms. McCloskey’s argument further, however, he overlooks one key flaw in her thinking:
First, McCloskey asserts that once the poor have “a roof over their heads and enough to eat,” they have no further need for any of society’s accumulated wealth. Elsewhere, she claims that all progressives seek a “forced equality” that would require brain surgeons and taxi drivers to earn the same amount. The former assertion is callous, and the latter is a strawman: even the most repressive Communist regimes in history sought equality of opportunity—not equality of outcome. Surely, somewhere within the 99 percent of the ideological distribution between dystopian Darwinism and utopian equality-for-its-own-sake, there is room for fruitful discussion about whether we should favor some modest redistribution via a progressive tax code and social programs. But McCloskey’s caricature of both positions makes any compromise impossible.
This just in, Mr. Finkel: Ms. McCloskey’s assertion is more than callous. It completely overlooks the fact that in January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. and 42,200,000 Americans lived in food insecure households, including 29,000,000 million adults and 13,100,00 million children. In all, 13 percent of households (or 15,800,000 million households) were food insecure. So by Ms. McCloskey’s logic, those lacking a roof over their heads and enough to eat, HAVE a further need for society’s accumulate wealth.
The most discouraging part of Mr. Finkel’s article was this section:
Unfortunately, the basic mathematics of McCloskey’s claim are mangled. She may not prefer that we seek progressive tax and regulatory policies, but her claim that these policies do not “uplift the poor very much” is erroneous. That the Times has decided not to correct her error—even in the face of an email exchange in which the author herself acknowledged her mistake—may be an example of how tempting it is to ascribe black-and-white factual issues to the realm of “healthy controversy.”
We cannot hope to have a meaningful dialogue about redistribution until we face the unpleasant truths of homelessness and hunger… as well as some basic mathematical truths.
- Congresswoman Foxx’s Advice to Betsy DeVos: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”
- Supreme Court Could Open the Door for Expansion of Vouchers
- Small Michigan District Sees the Light, Ends “Merit Pay”
- OCR’s Investigation Into Richmond VA Suspensions Could Indicate Future Direction
- DeVos Appointee to Head Office of Civil Rights is Chilling
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