Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

Education Tax Credits Save Taxpayers Money, Destroy Public Education

July 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Late last month a Progressive article by Dora Taylor outlined four things about education tax credits (aka Education Savings Accounts in NH) that Betsy DeVos and her allies at ALEC do not want the public to understand. Marketed as a means of providing low income students with “scholarships” that enable them to enroll in private schools, they actually divert state funds to middle class parents who are already enrolled in parochial schools. Ms. Taylor opens the article with a description of how these tax credits work:

Education tax credits are similar to school vouchers. A voucher is money paid by the state to cover private school tuition for a student. Voucher money comes straight out of public school funds.

Vouchers are unconstitutional in eighteen states and one of the reasons is that the money can go to a religious school, crossing the line between church and state.

In a “scholarship tax credit program,” the money bypasses the state and instead goes through a go-between, a “scholarship granting organization” to a private school to pay a student’s tuition in full or in part. Typically, these organizations keep 10 percent of the money as they pass through funds to private schools.

A scholarship granting organization distributes money to students, who are purportedly “low income”, to attend a private school the organization has selected to include in its portfolio. Granting organizations can select the schools they do business with, whether they are religious schools or schools that are unaccredited.

While these groups have set a standard for “low income” —a family of four with an income of $64,750 or less—family income is not a determining factor for many of the students who receive the scholarships.

This convoluted system effectively replaces locally elected school boards with a state appointed scholarship granting board that determines schools worthy of scholarships and the eligibility of students who can attend those schools…. but this aspect of the law creating “education scholarships” is not part of the marketing campaign…. and that is intentional. After providing an overview of the tax credits, Ms. Taylor identifies four elements of education tax credits that Betsy DeVos and ALEC do NOT want the public to realize:

  1. Education Tax Credits Deplete State Budgets: Instead of providing additional resources to enable “poor” students to choose private schools to attend, ALEC’s boilerplate legislation diverts current education funding to these scholarship funds…. and that’s on top of revenue they lose when billionaires make tax-deductible donations to these scholarship funds, some of which might go to for-profit charter schools the self-same billionaires invest in!
  2. Education Tax Credit Programs Benefit the Wealthy: ALEC’s boilerplate legislation calls for donors to scholarship funds to effectively receive a subsidy for making a contribution. As Ms. Taylor reports, donors receive “a dollar-per-dollar write off on Federal taxes and, in some states, it can be used as an additional write-off on state taxes. With a donation to a scholarship grant-making organization, a person, company or corporation can benefit financially, sometimes doubling the tax write-off.” So a billionaire can “donate” a large sum to a scholarship fund and receive both a federal and a state deduction that offsets the donation… and a corporation that likely gets some kind of local tax-credit to locate or remain in a state similarly receives a tax credit at the federal and state level! And in both cases, the donors can claim they are helping disadvantaged children expand their opportunities. Also, as noted above, states can set a “low income” standard that is relatively high and thus enable middle class parents who are currently sending their children to a private school to qualify for a scholarship… even if that school is a parochial school (see #4). 
  3. Education Tax Credit Programs Pose Significant Risks to Children: Since the schools receiving scholarships are overseen by a non-public entities, they are not subject to federal or state standards. Thus schools receiving scholarships can discriminate, barring special needs students and permitting religious instruction… which leads to the fourth factor.
  4. Education Tax Credit Programs Divert Public Money to Religious Indoctrination: While there is evidence that Betsy DeVos wants to use her position to allow public funds to flow to schools with religious affiliations, I do not believe ALEC’s shares that intent. However I do believe the billionaires who underwrite ALEC appreciate the political clout they can garner if they develop programs that appeal to the evangelical base of the GOP. Thus, an essential element of all legislation is to permit public funds to flow to all private schools, including those operated by churches, synagogues, and mosques.

The marketing of “Education Tax Credits” is artful. What voter wouldn’t want to have more tax credits available to them? What voter could oppose giving parents and children more choices in terms of schooling? What voter could oppose a law that will augment state funds with donations from generous billionaires enabling funding for schools to increase without imposing higher taxes? And what voter would be willing to pay higher taxes to help poor kids in another part of the state when those kids will be able to qualify for scholarships funded by someone else? Advocates of funding equity, of public education governed by locally elected school boards, and of opportunities for all children have a steep uphill fight in the years ahead.



Privatization Undercuts Public Schools’ Mission to Educate Care of ALL Children

June 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I get Diane Ravitch’s posts in one feed at the beginning of each day and it often leads to serendipitous juxtapositions. Yesterday was a case in point where she posted an op ed article by Arthur Camins from Huffington Post early yesterday and then posted a summary of the National Education Policy Center’s (NEPC) critique of a report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Cities advocating that States use ESSA funds to replace democratically elected school boards with either state-managed school districts or privatized charter schools.

Camins’ essay, titled “Why We Should Care About the Education of Other Children”, underscores the fact that one of the primary missions of public education is to prepare tomorrow’s citizens. He makes the case in his opening paragraph:

It is time to care about the education of other people’s children. Other people’s children are or will be our neighbors. Other people’s children – from almost anywhere in the United States and beyond – could end up as our coworkers. Other people’s children are tomorrow’s potential voters. How, what, and with whom they learn impacts us all. That is why we have public schools, paid for with pooled taxes. They are designed to serve the public good, not just to suit individual parent’s desires.

Mr. Camins’ emphasizes that this ideal is being undercut by today’s political consensus that parents should focus primarily on the well-being of their own children. This consensus is embodied in the bi-partisan ESSA legislation that applies this principle by giving states more control over how they spend money in the same way that “choice” programs and vouchers presumably give parents more control over how money is spent for their own children. He offers a concise analysis of the three prongs of this consensus, and where this consensus ultimately leads:

…“Just worry about your own child. Do whatever you must to find the best school for her.” That is the thinking behind the current bipartisan embrace of three key features of charter schools and the renewed Republican push for vouchers: Schools competing for student enrollment; Parents competing for their children’s entry into the best-fit school of their choice; Schools governed privately rather than through democratically-elected school boards. As these strategies gain acceptance and spread, the result is to undermine education as a collective effort on behalf of the entire community. Divided parents and their communities end up with little collective voice. Similarly, without unions, teachers have no unified influence. Millions of personal decisions about what appears to be good for a single child at a moment in time is a recipe for divisiveness, not collective good. 

On the same day, Ms. Ravitch offered the rebuttal of a Fordham Institute report that advocated that States use their ESSA funds to give parents a bigger voice in their child’s education by directing funds to vouchers and other choice initiatives. Written by researcher Gail L. Sunderman of the University of Maryland, the NPEC critique notes the Fordham Institute report:

…omits research that would shed light on the (choice) models, and it fails to take into account the opportunity costs of pursuing one set of policies over another. It also relies on test score outcomes as the sole measure of success, thus ignoring other impacts these strategies may have on students and their local communities or the local school systems where they occur. Finally, and as noted above, support for the effectiveness of these approaches is simply too limited to present them as promising school improvement strategies.

In effect, Ms. Sunderman suggests there is no basis in research for supporting any policy that gives parents more choice— and, as noted in previous posts, there is a lots of evidence that indicates vouchers erode educational performance at the overall level. That is, when the focus is on educating my children while ignoring other children ALL children pay the price… and communities pay the price as well.

Mr. Camins hits the nail on the head when he explains why we persist in supporting policies that ignore other children and create huge and widening divisions in school quality. He suggests the the reason so many of our schools are failing is not because of the absence of choices for parents. Rather, they are

…the result our country’s refusal to do anything substantive about the residential segregation and distrust that continually enable, perpetuate, and exacerbate inequity. The differences are the result of growing inequality, concentrated poverty, and the purposeful oblivion of those who live comfortable stable, if insulated lives. The differences are the result of an intentional political campaign to convince folks in the middle of the socioeconomic spectrum– whose lives are hardly easy or secure– to blame other people who struggle even more, rather than the wealthy 1% who wield the levers of economic and political power.

It may be subversive to suggest that those at the very top of the economic pyramid are intent on keeping those in the lower 99% at each other’s throats, but the evidence seems to support Mr. Camins’ assertion. Here’s hoping those in the “lower 99” start looking out for each other..

NYTimes Explains Betsy DeVos World View: Help Only Those Who Want to Help Themselves

June 11, 2017 Leave a comment

In an article in today’s NYTimes, Erica Green provides an in-depth background on Betsy DeVos’ upbringing and suggests that it is the root for her subsequent advocacy for school choice. The article offers an even-handed description of the network of non-public Christian Schools in Western Michigan, all of whom are making a genuine effort to serve disadvantaged children in their region. But in doing so, they overlook one key factor: the children who are struggling the most in public schools are the children whose parents are incapable of providing them with the support they need to succeed in ANY kind of school… the parents who, for whatever reason, cannot navigate the application systems required to “choose” schools like those underwritten by Betsy DeVos. Instead, those who support the kinds of choice Ms. DeVos advocates, which would allow parents to enroll in schools that are specifically designed to segregate children based on religion, tend to demonize the unions public school teachers being to. The article concludes with a series of observation made by John Booy, the head of the Potters School that Ms. DeVos has championed in her speeches:

Mr. Booy said two things separated his school and his old public school: teacher involvement and parent buy-in.

Though teachers are not unionized, they are certified, and all are required to sign off on their application that “I accept without reservation the school’s statement of faith.” Parents are required to sign a similar statement, attend all three annual parent-teacher conferences and commit to 25 hours of service a year or leave the school. No one has had to leave. The school has a waiting list of more than 200.

Mr. Booy rejects the notion that his school is doing harm to public schools.

“Even though we’re not a public school, we’re educating for the public good,” he said. “I think we need to be more about saving a child than a child saving the system.”

If the Potters School is the paradigm for “choice”, it appears that only parents who are willing to sign off on a “statement of faith” and who have the wherewithal to “commit to 25 hours of service a year” will be allowed to “choose”. If you limit the pool of children you seek to save to children whose parents can meet those standards, you are clearly damaging the system and harming public schools… but you might be meeting one of Ms. DeVos’ declared goals of public education, which is to “advance God’s kingdom.”

eSchool News Has Great Idea… But It’s Implementation Requires Abandonment of Age-Based Cohorts

June 6, 2017 Leave a comment

The more I read about technology-based solutions to schooling, the more convinced I am that the primary reason we cannot implement them is due to our use of standardized achievement tests as the primary metric for public education and, in turn, the sad reality that the use of that metric reinforces our current practice of grouping children by age. An article by Meris Standbury in yesterday’s eSchool News is a case in point. Titled “Can Public Schools Win in an Age of School Choice? YES- And Here’s How”, Ms. Stansbury’s article describes a presentation given by Kevin Baird, chairman of the board at the nonprofit Center for College & Career Readiness. In his recent book, “The Public School in an Age of Choice: How to Compete for the Win, Baird outlines “…the issues public schools currently face in retaining students and staff, as well as the solutions that can lead to higher retention and student success.” Unfortunately, Mr. Baird’s analysis of “the issues public schools currently face” is silent on the grinding effects of poverty on the students, the demoralizing effects of test-driven instruction in the classroom, and the devastating budget cuts that have not been restored in the past decade. He does get one problem correct, though, and it is the fact that student engagement should be the force behind school reform. He concludes that students, not parents, need choices:

To decrease student and staff turnover rate and increase confidence in public schools, Baird says success starts in the classroom.

Schools must provide teachers with the support they need in order to keep engaged and experienced teachers, which means more than one day of PD for new school initiatives.

Students must also be offered more choice in their learning, or else they will move to another platform of schooling, like online education, where they can get that choice. [Read: “Superintendent: Gen Z achievement soaring with student choice.”] Students learn best when they are interested.

He glibly assumes that teachers do not know this or understand it… they DO. Given the opportunity and the wherewithal teachers would gladly provide opportunities for individualized approaches to learning. But the reason teachers cannot afford to offer students choices is because they are focussed on meeting the accountability standards set forth by the states, accountability standards that are invariably tied to standardized achievement tests that, in turn, are based on the advancement of students through age-based cohorts called “grade levels”. It is this slavish adherence to test-based accountability that reinforces the grouping practices that preclude the kind of individualization Mr. Baird and his fellow technology advocates overlook when they offer rosy “solutions” to the problems facing public education like “Students learn best when they are interested.” 

The age-based grade-level paradigm is the intractable and invisible mental formation that ties us to the factory model. Technology DOES provide the means to break out of this mindset but standardized tests keeps us stuck in it. We need to abandon test-based accountability before we can move forward. When charter schools do not have to meet test-based accountability standards and public schools do, the definitions of student and school success change for the better. MAYBE the best way to move forward is to seek legislation that frees public schools from the shackles of test-based accountability.

The Croydon Bill Part of the Long Game of Voucher Advocates

June 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Friday’s “Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post featured a post by Carol Burris titled “The Long Game of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos”. Burris’ premise is that voucher advocates like Ms. DeVos are willing to support incremental legislation that will ultimately lead to the complete dissolution of universal public education designed to provide every child with an equitable opportunity to learn.

Yesterday I read in our local newspaper that the NH legislature’s latest version of HB 557, the “Croydon bill”, is set to pass. According to the article the amended bill allows children “to attend private school using tax money, provided that their public school districts don’t cover their grade levels” and includes a a proviso that “private schools benefiting from this program be nonsectarian, that the schools administer educational assessments and that they be approved by the State Board of Education.”

This kind of bill is an example of the “long game” voucher advocates are playing. The bill addresses a legitimate need—a community that is too small to support a K-12 school system and whose board chooses to remain outside of a School Administrative Unit— needs to provide an education for the children in their town. And it does seem eminently reasonable for the local School Board to pay the tuition costs for that student to attend a school approved by the State Department of Education. But if one looks at this kind of legislation, it is evident that it is not as innocuous as it seems at first blush, especially given our voucher loving Governor and homeschooling advocate appointed as Commissioner of Education. Here are some problems the bill fails to address:

  • EQUITY: Because the bill caps costs and allows parents to enroll their children in private or relatively expensive public schools, those affluent parents who can afford to pay the cost differential out of pocket will receive a benefit that is unavailable to children raised in poverty.
  • SUBSIDIZING PRE-EXISTING VOLUNTARY PARENT FUNDING: Some parents in communities where “…public school districts don’t cover their grade levels” are already funding a private nonsectarian school in lieu of sending their child to the closest public school. Under current laws, taxpayers are not required to reimburse parents who voluntarily enroll their children in private schools. Under HB 577 it is possible that these parents could seek reimbursements, creating de facto vouchers.
  • LONG RANGE IMPACT ON TUITION AGREEMENTS, SAU ALIGNMENTS: Most towns in NH do not operate high schools. They typically have tuition agreements with nearby public schools or are in AREA agreements. What impact will this bill have on those agreements in the long run? Will parents who want their children to attend a private school elect Board members who seek the dissolution of those tuition agreements? And if a tuition agreement is dissolved, will a parent who previously enrolled their child in a private school receive funding for that child in subsequent years?
  • CAN FUNDS BE USED TO SUBSIDIZE FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS: Absent language that forbids the use of taxpayer funding for for-profit schools, it is conceivable that parents could enroll their child in one of the many for-profit on-line programs that are available across the country.
  • HOME SCHOOLING: If a parent elects to homeschool their child, will they be entitled to funding? Both Betsy DeVos and NH Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut seem inclined to view home-schooling as equivalent to public schooling.

The long term consequences of this bill should be carefully considered… particularly the issues related to existing tuition agreements. If this legislation ultimately provides parents in communities lacking a HS with the opportunity to receive public funds for their children to attend private schools it could have a devastating impact on high schools across the state as affluent parents use their de facto vouchers to enroll in private academies.

It is not difficult to see where this kind of bill will ultimately lead. When states have Governors who are voucher advocates and legislatures ready to do their bidding EVERY bill that moves away from the traditional governance structure of schools needs to be monitored.

Could Princeton’s Model Be Used in Public Schools?

May 30, 2017 Leave a comment

David Leonardt is providing an outstanding service by developing and promoting the College Access Index, or CAI, a ranking system for colleges that places a premium on equity. Unlike the US News and World Report’s system of rankings that uses SAT scores, acceptance rates, endowments, and other easy-to-measure-but-irrelevant metrics to rank colleges, Mr. Leonardt’s  CAI “...measures how many lower-income students graduate from a college and how much they must pay to attend it“. It uses the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants as a proxy for low income entrants, and ranks only colleges who graduate 75% of entering freshmen within five years, which is a proxy for “competitive colleges”. The other factor in the CAI is the affordability, the “…tuition, fees, room and board, net of financial aid — that the college charged students from families with annual income between $30,000 and $75,000.

In a succession of columns this past week, Mr. Leonardt has profiled competitive colleges who are making an earnest effort to expand the number of undergraduates who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Today he describes Princeton’s efforts to diversify based on income, and based on his column they are doing an admirable job:

Only 6.5 percent of the class of 2007 received Pell grants, which typically go to students in the bottom half of income distribution. The share among the class of 2017, which graduates next week, is 14.9 percent. The share in both this year’s and next year’s freshman class is 21 percent.

The changes aren’t just about one statistic, either. Princeton is also enrolling more middle-class students and low-income foreigners, who are ineligible for Pell grants.

As Mr. Leonardt notes,this is not accidental. It is the result of a commitment by Christopher Eisgruber, the current college President to, in Mr. Leonardt’s words, “…create urgency in his own community about the American class divide — a divide that has led to anger, alienation and the most worrisome political situation in decades.” 

And that challenge should extend to public education as well. I know from reading his columns regularly that Mr. Leonardt is an advocate for charter schools and the choice model in place in NYC, which requires parents of middle and high school students to go through a lengthy and complicated application process. This process, which was intended, in part, to encourage the kind of even-playing field opportunity for children in the city has not done so. An article by Iris Rotberg in Education Week three years ago cited some disturbing trends that resulted from the expansion of charter schools and choice, including:

a strong link between school choice programs and an increase in student segregation by race, ethnicity, and income.

risk of segregation is a direct reflection of the design of the school choice program.

increased segregation for special education and language-minority students, as well as in increased segregation of students based on religion and culture.

She concluded her well researched article with this:

Proponents of charter schools believe they’re giving low-income and minority students opportunities they otherwise would not have had. That belief is true in some cases; all charter schools do not result in segregation. But far too many do, and the trend is unfavorable. It takes a lot of care through targeted funding and oversight to mitigate the pressures that lead to yet more segregation. But whatever motivations drive the choices families and schools make, it is important that government does not exacerbate the problem of segregation by ignoring the unintended consequences of its policies. The risk is an increasingly divided public education system.

In the intervening years between the publication of this article, with the unyielding expansion of charters and choice under the Obama administration and now with Ms. DeVos at the helm of the USDOE and a pro-privatization administration in place, it is more likely than ever that re-segregation by race and worse segregation by income will persist…. and our divided public education system will lead to anger, alienation and an even more worrisome political situation.

This Just In: Vouchers Do NOTHING to Help Children Raised in Poverty… Do A LOT to Help Affluent Families who “Choose” Private Schools

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Anyone who has thought at all about vouchers will not be surprised to learn that despite their advocates’ high-minded rhetoric regarding their desire to “help parents of poor children get a better education” the reality is that vouchers benefit the parents who are already sending their children to private schools with no government support. As the Arizona Republic article reported in an yesterday by Rob Odell and Yvonne Sanchez the primary beneficiaries of Arizona’s voucher program has been affluent parents. They write:

…more than 75 percent of the money pulled out of public schools for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program came from districts with an “A” or “B” rating, the analysis showed. By contrast, only 4 percent of the money came from school districts rated “D” or lower.

The findings undercut a key contention of the lawmakers and advocacy groups pressing to expand the state’s ESA program: that financially disadvantaged families from struggling schools reap the benefit of expanded school choice.

Critics, meanwhile, argue the program is largely being used by more-affluent families to subsidize their private-school tuition bills. The ESA program allows parents to take 90 percent of the money that would have gone to their school district and put it toward private school, home schooling and other educational programs.

Originally launched as a means of providing options for parents of special needs children, Empowerment Scholarships have grown by 2,543 percent since the ESA program’s start, with a total of $99.7 million paid out over the past seven years. And where does the money for the “Empowerment Fund” come from? Taxpayers!

Unfortunately for the children raised in poverty in AZ, their State constitution enables this hoax to be carried out by legislators. At the conclusion of her post that brought this to my attention, Diane Ravitch poses two questions:

Hello, Arizona taxpayers! How do you feel about your taxes subsidizing the private school tuitions of rich kids?

Hello, retirees! Do you really want your taxes to be used to destroy the public education system that benefited you, your children, and your grandchildren?

I’m afraid that the answer to both questions is: “We don’t care if it will lower our tax burden in the long run.”