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This Just In: Brown vs. Board of Education Did Nothing to Help De-Segregate Schools

May 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the past several days there have been several articles written about the glacial speed our nation has moved to desegregate schools and why this has been the case. One of the most compelling (and damning) articles I read was written by Richard Rothstein for the Economic Policy Institute, who wrote a book on this issue titled “The Color of Law“. In the book Rothstein asserts that government policy on housing has hindered school desegregation and those policies have their roots in the New Deal.

Rothstein’s  EPI article describes the history of the school desegregation movement, which was intentionally incremental and slow. The NAACP decided to attack segregation in graduate program programs first, then work their way down to K-12 education. The process started in 1935 and culminated with the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision in 1954. As Rothstein writes, the desegregation of public schools has not occurred at the pace the NAACP anticipated:

 In 1954, a few hours after Brown was announced, Thurgood Marshall, leader of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, told reporters that it would take, at most, five years for schools to desegregate nationwide.

He didn’t anticipate the massive resistance of Southern states to the decision, yet that’s no longer the most important factor impeding integration. Rather, schools remain segregated mostly because their neighborhoods are segregated. Had civil rights lawyers been able to attack neighborhood rather than school segregation, they would have accomplished more for educational equality than by focusing on schools directly.

And the reason for the segregation in housing was not solely the fault of the racist tendencies of homeowners: Rothstein asserts it was aided and abetted by government policies put in place by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and later reinforced by local and state politicians who established and enforced zoning regulations that, in turn, led to real estate agents “guiding” homebuyers to “desirable” neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods, in turn, were assigned to schools based on income and race. Rothstein offers specific examples of these practices in the essay, noting that public housing was segregated beginning in FDR’s administration, new housing for defense workers in CA was explicitly segregated, and that the policies guiding suburbanization were also racist. Rothstein writes of the latter:

 It is well-known that the Federal Housing Administration had a “redlining” policy, generally refusing to insure mortgages in black neighborhoods. Less familiar is that the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration guaranteed development loans for entire suburban communities, provided that no homes be sold to African Americans.

One of the first and largest was Levittown, 17,000 low-cost homes in Nassau County, New York. William Levitt could never have independently amassed the capital for its design and construction. Instead, he obtained government-guaranteed bank loans by agreeing to exclude black buyers and to place language in every deed prohibiting re-sales to African Americans. The Federal Housing Authority also insisted upon zoning ordinances that banned future mixed-income development. Such practices everywhere created suburban white nooses around increasingly black cities.

Given these explicit government policies, Rothstein makes the case that the distinction between de jure and de facto segregation is completely bogus, noting that reversing these patterns today will be extremely difficult but, at the same time, extremely important:

Dismantling de jure residential segregation is incomparably more difficult now than it would have been 70 or 80 years ago. But that’s no excuse for avoiding it. Unless we desegregate neighborhoods, Brown’s promise of integrated education will remain unattainable.

The Color of Law asserts that “letting bygones be bygones” is not a policy worthy of a constitutional democracy. The achievement gap with which educators struggle can never be closed until we recognize that some of the most important education policy dilemmas cannot be addressed in isolation. Fundamentally, education policy is housing policy.

As noted in earlier blog posts, the term paper I wrote for an Education Law course in 1972 when I was a graduate student described how exclusionary zoning laws in one of the suburbs that helped create a “white noose” around Philadelphia. In retrospect, the citations in Rothstein’s book were hidden in plain sight in the literature at that time. But, as he notes in his essay, attacking the problem was impossible because the NAACP at the time was pushing back against lawsuits and laws designed to circumvent the Brown decision. Making the change now will be daunting. Avoiding the change, though, will exacerbate the economic and racial divide in opportunities.

DeVos-Trump Budget Reneges on Loan Forgiveness, Balancing the Budget on the Backs of Public Sector Employees

May 26, 2017 Leave a comment

An element of the DeVos-Trump budget that has not gotten nearly enough coverage is the Department of Education is planning to propose ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. As described in last week’s CNN Money blog post by Kate Lobasco, these cuts would impact 400,000 graduates who paid their debts on time for ten years and work in public sector jobs as “…teachers, public defenders, Peace Corps workers, and law enforcement officers”.  As Ms. Lobasco indicates:

This October marks the 10th year of the program and the first time anyone will have made enough payments to get their debt wiped away. It’s unclear how much the program will cost the government when its starts to forgive those debts…

The program could cost the government more than originally expected, according to the Government Accountability Office. The Obama Administration had proposed capping the amount borrowers could have forgiven at $57,500, but that proposal was never approved and forgiveness remains unlimited.

The median borrower in the program has more than $60,000 in student debt and almost 30% of them have more than $100,000 in debt, according to a Brookings report.

The article describes the complications the USDOE ran into when they implemented the law, complications that led to confusion on the part of borrowers and lenders and contributes to the inability of anyone to determine what the cost impact would be. When that is the case, the path of least resistance is to spend nothing at all… to effectively renege on the offer made to many students who chose to attend college or graduate school to work in lower paying public sector jobs… or “government jobs” as they would be disparagingly referred to by at least one political party.

And the latest news out of Washington indicates that the USDOE is not going to be offering clear answers on the issuance of loans anytime soon. As reported in a Washington Post article earlier this week, James Runcie, who was appointed chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid in 2011 and reappointed in 2015, resigned from that post on Wednesday. According to the article “He had planned to retire by the end of the year, according to people who know him, but clashes with the new Trump administration forced his hand.” Those clashes were described in the article as follows:

Runcie said in the letter that the student aid office is contending with pressing projects. Among them: weighing a student-loan-servicing contract bid, shoring up cybersecurity, building out the expansion of the Pell Grant program, tending to loan forgiveness for defrauded borrowers and getting the tax-data-retreival tool in the financial aid application back online. He said his team has asked DeVos to hire staff for additional help but has yet to receive a response.

Instead, Runcie said, the Trump administration has been preoccupied with transferring all or a portion of the functions of FSA to the Treasury Department. Runcie said there have been discussions about creating cross-agency teams, holding numerous meetings and retreats to determine feasibility.

“This is just another example of a project that may provide some value but will certainly divert critical resources and increase operational risk in an increasingly challenging environment,” Runcie said of the Treasury collaboration.

He went on to thank his team but said he has been “encumbered from exercising my authorities to properly lead” and could no longer “in good conscience continue to be accountable as the chief operating officer given the risk associated with the current environment at the department.”

The foot-dragging on hiring, which has been a hallmark of the Trump administration in those departments that are not favored by the GOP, has real world consequences for students, who have been experiencing serious difficulties completing loan applications for the coming year, including the paperwork needed to determine the amount of funding they are eligible to borrow. But when a political party bases its platform on the fact that “government is the problem” it is not surprising that they fail to hire the staff needed tomato government succeed.

NYTimes College Rankings Measure What’s Important: Opportunities for Upward Mobility

May 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Hats off to NYTimes columnist David Leonardt for his effort to devise an publicize the College Access Index, a college ranking metric released in yesterdays’ Times article titled “The Assault on Colleges— and the American Dream”. Unlike the USNews and World Report‘s index, which relies heavily on test scores and endowments, the College Access Index measures each colleges commitment to economic diversity. It bases this commitment on a metric that factors in the percentage of graduates who received Pell Grants, which are issued to students who can least afford college, and the colleges’ net price. As the title of Leonardt’s article intimates, our country appears to be headed in the wrong direction when it comes to providing opportunities for advancement. He opens his article with these chilling paragraphs:

The country’s most powerful engine of upward mobility is under assault.

Public colleges have an unmatched record of lofting their students into the middle class and beyond. For decades, they have enrolled teenagers and adults from modest backgrounds, people who are often the first member of their family to attend college, and changed their trajectories.

Over the last several years, however, most states have cut their spending on higher education, some drastically. Many public universities have responded by enrolling fewer poor and middle-class students — and replacing them with affluent students who can afford the tuition.

The situation is particularly demoralizing because it’s happening even as politicians from both parties spend more time trumpeting their supposedly deep concern for the American dream. Yet government policy is hurting, not fostering, many people’s chance to earn the most reliable ticket to a good job and a better life.

Leonardt doesn’t say so explicitly, but it is evident that the “government policy” he refers to is the extreme aversion either political party has to raising taxes. Some politicians will disingenuously claim that if they raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans those individuals will lower their donations to post-secondary institutions and that will have a deleterious effect on the endowments of colleges. But as Mr. Leonardt’s accompanying heart illustrates, the endowments to public colleges and universities, the post secondary schools whose presumed commitment is to lifting students out of poverty, are substantially lower than those of private colleges and universities. Moreover, affluent donors tend to come from and donate to their alma maters, which more often than not are already well endowed. Finally, those donations are often earmarked for a particular facility or college that the donor identifies… and it could just as easily be new tennis courts, a new student union building, or a spiffy new football stadium that hosts a half-dozen games a year.

And here the “stunning” consequence of not raising taxes to fund state colleges as described in Mr. Leonardt’s column? “It’s as if our society were deliberately trying to restrict opportunities and worsen income inequality.” He offers a series of charts to show the state-by-state cuts to colleges and universities and then offers these insights:

Since 2008, states’ per-student spending on higher education has fallen 18 percent nationwide, according to inflation-adjusted numbers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The cuts have occurred in both blue and red states, with somewhat larger ones in Republican-run states. States made deep cuts after the financial crisis and have since failed to restore funding, choosing instead to cut taxes or spend money on health care, prisons or other areas.

“States are making it much more difficult for their residents to get high-quality higher education,” Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute said. “They are causing their institutions to charge more, to take more out of state students, to cut quality. It’s very shortsighted.” That’s exactly the right word, because spending on education often more than pays for itself in the long run.

The budget cuts affect every realm of higher education, with some of the biggest damage happening at community colleges and less selective four-year institutions. These campuses enroll the great majority of lower-income college students. Yet flagship public campuses — like those in Ann Arbor, Mich., Boulder, Colo., and Gainesville, Fla. — are important to upward mobility too, given the success of their graduates.

In the last few years, many flagships have begun to recruit more upper-income students from outside their state, including from overseas. Those students don’t qualify for in-state tuition or for much financial aid — and thus help bolster the colleges’ budgets.

Mr. Leonardt notes that college administrators do not describe their motives as being driven by budgets, though. Instead they talk about the need for more geographic diversity or, as he intimates, the need to “game” their standings in the US News and World Report rankings by going after students with the highest test scores possible.

At the very end of his column Mr. Leonardt suggests that the only ultimate fix is to spend more on public colleges, which, of course, requires more taxes… and it is easier to point the finger at “waste, fraud, and abuse”. He concludes with these paragraphs:

This country should also be investing more of its resources in education.

A century ago, it did precisely that, making high school universal and making possible the so-called American century. Today’s economy demands many more college graduates than the country currently has. Producing them won’t be free. But it will be worth it.

The alternative — which is the path we’re now on — is just about the worst economic-development strategy imaginable.

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.

Are Racism and Economics the Cause of White Flight… or is it Greed and Politics

May 23, 2017 Leave a comment

This weekend the NYTimes published an op ed article by Leah Bouston, a professor of economics at Princeton, titled “The Culprits Behind White Flight”.  In the article Ms. Boustan posed this question: “Did whites leave cities for racial reasons or for economic ones?” Her unsatisfying answer, which she elaborates in detail, is that both played a role…. and while her answer is somewhat glib given the space provided in an op ed article, it is, alas, accurate.

The article might be seen by some as being too dismissive of racism. Those who leave the city because “those poor people” moved in could just as easily be leaving because “those BLACK people” or “those HISPANIC people” moved in… It is difficult to disentangle the economic issues from the race issues but it is clear that when businesses abandoned cities and towns their tax base erodes… the erosion that takes place when neighborhoods flip is more subtle but equally consequential.

In my lifetime I watched entire neighborhoods in Philadelphia “flip” from white ethnic enclaves to black and/or Hispanic neighborhoods as a result of “good ideas” like urban redevelopment, interstate highways, and “public goods” like new stadiums for professional sports teams. In some cases politicians, banks, and real estate agents and magnates worked collaboratively or in a mutually beneficial fashion to determine which neighborhoods would benefit from government and private investments and which neighborhoods would, consequently, be marginalized. In all cases of this “redevelopment”, those with money benefitted in the end. Gentrification is the latest anodyne term for this practice of “transforming” the city to make it “more livable” and, thus, more attractive to the middle class be they black or white. But gentrification has arguably contributed to the economic and racial stratification of neighborhoods within cities, creating racial and economic enclaves that isolate poor and racial minorities in the same way that city boundaries did in the middle and end of the 1900s.

Sadly, I think that our country has a notorious history for failing to accept or assimilate immigrants no matter their race or religion. It took the Irish several generations to be accepted as equal even though their skin color was the same as those who identified themselves as “American”… and the self-evident difference between blacks and whites compounds the problem of assimilation. And hate groups, like the Klan, opposed Catholics as well as Jews and blacks and Mormons… Despite these organizations inspired by hate and the racism that seemed impermeable, our country banded together in the early 1960s to enact legislation to remedy racial and economic inequality and groups seeking racial and economic justice brought cases to court that overturned laws and previous cases that were based on racial prejudice. Those legislators and jurists changed the laws… but the hearts of some have not been transformed as yet and we are now at a point where our darkest instincts are being reinforced.

So what is the answer? I think that idealistic urban dwellers MIGHT be able to facilitate integration by advocating higher taxes that would be directed strengthening neighborhood K-12 schools. If every neighborhood that was gentrified had strong neighborhood schools the whole choice apparatus would be unnecessary and the whole arcane application process that goes along with it would be unnecessary. For example, gentrification in Brooklyn has added appreciably to that borough’s tax base making it possible to provide the services needed to support the transformation of neighborhoods, setting up a virtuous circle for those who can now afford to live in the better neighborhoods. But does the borough or city do enough to help those who have been forced to reside in marginal neighborhoods or less affluent boroughs because of their race or lack of economic wherewithal? Has the borough or city thought of the upgrade of public education in the same way they’ve thought of the upgrade of public spaces and/or public transportation? Would borough or city residents be willing to pay a surtax to help upgrade neighborhood schools?

I know this: businesses and/or commuters from the suburbs who benefit from the businesses located in urban centers are VERY reluctant to pay surtaxes despite a strong moral argument that can be raised to do so. Moreover, it’s likely that requiring businesses located in an urban center to pay a surtax would result in those businesses leaving the city altogether. This has happened to many small cities up and down the east coast as businesses fled the Northeast for regions that offered tax incentives and workforces willing to accept lower wages…. before fleeing the country altogether. 

Last but not least, politicians hove failed to advocate for more government spending. I contend that their unwillingness to make a case to raise taxes to provide assistance to those who need it most contributes to the dis-integration of our public schools and the consequent disintegration of the unity that we presumably value as a country. It fuels our basest instinct— selfishness– and undercuts the moral imperative to help those who cannot help themselves. Consequently, we’ve created a system that perpetuates racial and economic segregation. 

This is not an optimistic outlook given where we are now— especially given the news of President Trump’s budget that promises to shred an already tenuous safety net.  But I remain optimistic because most of the people I know want to see a change in direction and are working locally to make change happen. A small band of Sierra Club members got our town to vote to become free of fossil fuels by 2050 and a small band of people stand on the corner of the town common on many evenings waving signs that read “Black Lives Matter”. They might be voices in the wilderness but I see them as harbingers of what will come next. 

More on DeVos-Trump Budget from Jeff Bryant

May 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Blogger Jeff Bryant digs deeper into the DeVos-Trump USDOE budget and finds even more disturbing information on how education funding will be redirected away from children raised in poverty and toward school choice programs. In a post picked up by Common Dreams, Bryant writes:

Trump and DeVos would take $1 billion out of the federal government’s Title I funds – money sent to the states to support educating poor children – to a new grant program that incentivizes those states to fund the competitive privately-operated schools such as charters and religious schools. The grant program, the Post explains is called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) that only goes to school districts that “agree to allow students to choose which public school they attend – and take their federal, state and local dollars with them.”

This proposal, often called “Title I portability,” was proposed by Republicans during the Obama administration and met significant opposition from Democrats. The Center for American Progress called the scheme “Robin Hood in reverse” and declared, “Portability actually drives resources away from high-poverty districts and into more affluent ones.”

Nevertheless, Title I portability is based on the general principle that education funding should “follow the child” – a misguided practice many Democrats espouse also – so it continues to live on in the foundation of all school choice initiatives.

What Bryant DIDN’T note in his post is the irony of the GOP using the same carrot-and-stick gambit to promote choice as the Obama administration did in Race To The Top to promote adoption of the Common Core. So much for abandoning the principle of the Federal government dictating to state and local districts!

Bryant closes his post with these paragraphs, which provide some degree of comfort for those of us who believe the DeVos-Trump budget is a disaster… but the final, blog faced sentence tells a chilling truth:

Not many people who’ve already had a chance to comment on this education budget, including Post reporters who brought it to light, think it has much of a chance of getting through Congress.

The circus of scandal that is sidetracking the Trump administration’s plans for tax reform, healthcare, and infrastructure may thwart any progress on his education plan too. But let’s be clear that this budget reflects the education values that have guided, for years, an agenda to privatize public education.

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.