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Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

Jennifer Berkshire Poses Question: Why Aren’t Democrats Running Against DeVos-Trump Agenda? Because They Helped Create It!

March 9, 2020 Comments off

Jennifer Berkshire, a public school advocate who abhors the profiteering that results from deregulation, wrote an article for The Nation describing how running against the Trump-DeVos agenda for public schools has been a winning theme in House elections and COULD be a winning theme nationally. The article describes several campaigns in Texas, Michigan and Wisconsin where the winning candidate was the one who advocated for public schools and suggests that public schools are highly valued in rural sections of the country as well as in affluent suburbs. At the end of the article she outlines the reasons the Democrats are NOT running against the Trump-DeVos platform for privatization and “choice”:

Yet if Democrats are aware that the roiling politics of education offer the party a potential opening in crucial 2020 states, they are keeping it awfully quiet. On the campaign trail and the debate stage, when education surfaces as an issue at all, the presidential contenders stick to bumper-sticker stuff: higher-pay for teachers, more funding for high-poverty schools, fewer high-stakes tests. Nor do the Democrats have much to say about the rural schools attended by one-quarter of American kids. Public education, as the would-be presidents define it, seems to be a city thing. And other than Betsy DeVos’ reliable role as party punching bag, the Democrats have directed relatively little energy towards distinguishing their vision from Trump’s. Indeed far more ink has been spilled over the party’s internecine dispute over charter schools, an issue that barely affects rural and suburban voters, than on the existential threats to public education in must-win states.

In order to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with GOP education policies, Democrats will have to do more than malign Betsy DeVos. They will also have to draw a sharp distinction from recent Democratic party orthodoxy on public education. For the past three decades, Democrats have embraced the market-oriented thinking that is now reaching its logical conclusion in the form of “education freedom.” By making the rhetoric of individual choice and competition their own, Democrats have inadvertently eroded the idea of education as a public good, making its defense, and the case for higher spending on schools, that much more difficult. And yet, as voters from Texas to Wisconsin to Michigan have demonstrated, public education remains at the very core of Americans’ hopes for their children and their communities. Democrats would do well to listen to them.

In short, Betsy DeVos’ voucher plans are the direct result of Arne Duncan’s Race-to-the-Top ethos of voice and competition and the bipartisanship exemplified by NCLB and ESSA. It appears the Democrats are unwilling to change the narrative they helped create in order to support the argument that public schools need more funding. I hope the party will begin listening to the parents and voters in communities where public schools remain the bastion of hope for the future.

Sorry, Betsy: IDEA Charter DID Use Federal $$$ to Buy Luxury Box Seats for Spurs, Lease a Private Jet

February 29, 2020 Comments off

I was incredulous when I heard Representative Mark Pocan ask Betsy DeVos a yes or no question about the IDEA Charter school’s decision to use federal money to lease a private jet. After recounting the lavish expenditures of the IDEA charter chain, which included the purchase of a luxury box for San Antonio Spurs’ games, and the purchase of one of the Board member’s property for $1,700,000 and the payment of another board member’s real estate fees for that purchase, Representative Pocan posed the following question: “Should a charter school be able to use federal money to lease a jet”. Rather than answer the question, Ms. DeVos attempted to give some context to explain why it wasn’t a “simple yes or no question” to which Mr. Pocan retorted: “Actually, it IS a “yes or no question” at which point he restated the question. Over the course of the next few minutes this dance continued with Ms. DeVos at one point asserting that the claim about the jet purchase was based on a false report.

Because I am willing to give a besieged administrator the benefit of the doubt, I used a Google search to see if the IDEA school leased a jet and found this headline from the Houston Chronicle:

After backlash over $2M luxury jet, IDEA charter schools to stop spending $400K on Spurs tickets

The first two paragraphs of the article by Jacob Carpenter provide an outline of what transpired:

Several weeks after IDEA Public Schools nixed plans to spend millions of dollars on a charter jet lease, the charter network’s leader announced the end of additional “hard to defend” spending practices Thursday, including the purchase of tickets and a luxury box for events at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

In a letter sent to IDEA’s 7,000-plus employees, CEO Tom Torkelson apologized for spending patterns that have brought unflattering attention to the state’s largest charter school organization. The network’s since-reversed decision to ink an eight-year aircraft lease and its spending on San Antonio Spurs games have drawn criticism from the Texas AFT, an umbrella organization for teachers unions throughout the state.

The caption under Mr. Torkelson’s picture suggested he could offer the a business rationale for the lease and the luxury boxes…. but as Representative Pocan noted in his presentation of these examples of mismanagement (if not outright fraud) none of these actions would EVER pass muster in ANY public school in America. But somehow the GOP has persuaded voters that unregulated capitalism is the best means of providing public services. Here’s hoping whoever the Democratic candidate is that they will be able to set the record of misappropriations before the voters and change their minds… that is unless the neoliberals continue to hold sway in the party.

A Collapsed Roof is the Goal of Betsy DeVos… Will the Supreme Court Allow the Blizzard to Begin

February 20, 2020 Comments off

NYTimes columnist Sarah Vowell wrote a somewhat humorous but ultimately damning op ed article on a Montana lawsuit that could ultimately overturn the intention of the framers of Montana’s recently revised constitution and, in doing so, create a precedent whereby State funds can be funneled into sectarian schools. The suit brought against the state by a parent seeking $150 of state funding to help her underwrite her costs for parochial school hinges on this question: is the small amount allocated to school districts in the name of equitable funding fungible and, if so, can a parent use the funds to provide a de facto voucher for their child to attend a parochial school.

In the article, Ms. Vowell, a Montana native, describes the history of the $150 per student allocation which emanated from a early 1970s constitutional convention, and describes how the loss of that relatively small amount of funding would send shock waves throughout the state and especially hurt this schools who receive the supplement to help offset their lack of a local tax base.

She concludes her article with this synopsis of the situation, which is the basis for the title of this post:

The public schools the framers (of the State constitution) conjured ask the taxpayers to splurge on fairness, not privilege, to pull together, not away. That beekeeper, those clergymen and moms chartered a state in a republic where a first grader on horseback is supposed to be as big and important as the mountains. As the Supreme Court justices ponder whether to upend all that over what appears to be a $150 trifle, I’ll pass along this lesson of Montana winters: A collapsed roof starts with a single snowflake.

Reagan National University, Approved by Accrediting Agency Closed Down by Obama, Is Now Approved. One Problem: It Has No Students, No Campus, No Faculty—

February 15, 2020 Comments off

Two USA Today reporters, Chris Quintana and Shelly Conlon, looked into Reagan National University, a for-profit college recently accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools, and saw an immediate problem: “By all appearances, at present it has no students, no faculty and no classrooms.

The article goes on to describe how Betsy DeVos restored capacity of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools to grant approval to for-profit schools after the Obama administration shut it down because of it’s lax oversight. It also describes the checkered history of “Reagan National University”, which was formerly called Northern Virginia University before that state’s accrediting board shut it down and the college relocated to South Dakota. Why South Dakota?

In some ways, South Dakota was the ideal place for Reagan. The state has among the laxest rules for colleges in the country. State officials merely ask colleges whether an accrediting group has approved them — they don’t independently hold universities accountable.

It is perversely humorous that a college named for a POTUS who championed deregulation is in existence because another POTUS who operated a flimflam college restored an inept accreditor who approved a college that intentionally sought a location in the state with the most lax regulations… It isn’t funny, though, to any of the students who enrolled in this college and took out loans to attend classes. But in the Social Darwinist world that libertarian deregulators live in caveat emptor is the rule and government should stay out of the way of the marketplace.

Trump and DeVos Want to Undo Public Education

February 14, 2020 Comments off

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This powerful USA Today op ed lays bare the GOP/Trump/DeVos agenda, which is to eviscerate public education. Derek Black concludes his essay with these two paragraphs:

When the nation sought to lift poor whites out of illiteracy and blacks into citizenship at the end of the Civil War, Congress demanded that state constitutions guarantee uniform school systems that provided education to all children. To fund them, they mandated taxes. When the nation was struggling to break free of its Jim Crow discrimination, public education was chosen to lead the way — even as resistors explicitly tried to end public schooling (and replace it with vouchers).

Trump and DeVos have a vision of private education and individual freedom that is more than misleading; it’s dangerous. They are sowing the notion that a fundamental pillar of our democracy is antiquated and oppressive. The truth is that many kids will lose what little freedom they have — and the one social thread that still binds us together will fray even more — if we buy what they are selling.

Good News! Trump’s Budget Cuts Charter Schools… Bad News! His Budget Redirects that $$$ to Vouchers

February 11, 2020 Comments off

Jonathan Chait’s Intelligencer article yesterday not only undercut President Trump’s scholarship to a young African-American girl from Philadelphia but also revealed it’s true purpose. Mr. Chait opens his article with these paragraphs:

At his State of the Union address, President Trump created an apparently heartfelt moment on behalf of Philadelphia fourth-grader Janiyah Davis. Having been “trapped in failing government schools,” Trump announced Davis would be granted a full scholarship to a private school, personally financed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Except, the Philadelphia Inquirer discovered, Davis doesn’t attend a “failing” school. She attends a high-quality public charter.

That looks like a “big oops” on two counts…. except it seems that it reveals the way the POTUS and the GOP want to fund education going forward. Poor children should rely on rich benefactors if they want to get a high quality education and vouchers should replace all forms of publicly funded schools. Mr. Chait elaborates on the second point in his third paragraph:

Here’s a brief refresher: Charter schools are not the same as private schools. Private schools are funded by tuition dollars, and can select which students to admit. Charter schools are publicly financed, do not charge tuition, and cannot select their student bodies. If they have more applications than available slots, charters typically have to use a lottery. Charter schools and private schools are often confused. A Washington Post story about Trump’s speech says the president appealed to his base on issues like “religious liberty, guns and charter schools,” when, in fact, Trump was touting private school vouchers, not charter schools.

Mr. Chait supports his contention by looking at the budget the POTUS is recommending, a budget that cuts the USDOE’s operations by 8%, eliminates all funding for charter schools, and redirects funds for public schools into a $5 billion dollar tax credit for private school vouchers. He concludes his article with this:

Trump’s plan to cut education funding is a huge political liability. And his proposal to eliminate federal funding for charters should make it clear that supporting charter schools is literally the opposite of Trump’s education agenda. Trump describing a charter school as a “failing government school” in his State of the Union address is not a mistake. It’s his actual worldview.

Alas I fear that these points will be lost on many voters who will miss the nuances Mr. Chait brings to light… and if the President is re-elected unwinding the voucher legislation likely to pass will take years.

Right Wing Perspective on Purpose of Public Education Replaces Mann’s Utopia with Friedman’s

February 1, 2020 Comments off

My phone feeds me articles on public education that come from a wide range of sources, which gives me a window into the rationale of those who favor simplistic right wing solutions to complex social problems. Readers of this blog know that I see the notion of “choice” as a implausible if not disingenuous solution to the major problems that lead to the “failure” of public education: poverty, racism, and parent indifference. A recent National Interest article by Neal McCluskey, “Why Utopian Promises on Public Education are a Bad Idea to Abandon School Choice” didn’t change my thinking on “choice”, but it did make me appreciate the broken promises voters and taxpayers made and the impact of those broken promises on children…. and on the strength of our democracy. Mr. McCluskey opens his article with this:

I recently read Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America by Johann Neem, which in its title delivers the bedrock myth of public schooling: that it is essential to building harmonious, well‐​informed, citizens of a democracy. And it’s not just in the title that Neem waxes poetic about the public schools. In his preface he briefly recounts his experience as an immigrant child in Bay Area, California public schools, concluding that “by democratizing access to the kind of liberal arts education that was once reserved for the few, the common schools prepare all young people to take part in the shared life of our democracy.” Neem echoes the rhetoric of Horace Mann, the “father of the common school,” who in the 1830s and 40s brought a missionary zeal to promoting largely uniform, free public schools in Massachusetts.

I bristled at the use of the word “myth” because, like Horace Mann and Johann Neem, I do believe that “…by democratizing access to the kind of liberal arts education that was once reserved for the few, the common schools prepare all young people to take part in the shared life of our democracy.” To justify his use of the word “myth” to describe public education’s purpose, Mr. McCluskey offers ample evidence that public schools have fallen short of achieving its ambitious goal. He is particularly concerned with the mistreatment of “religious Americans”. He writes:

Public schools were not forging unified, enlightened citizens, as was the goal, but were largely just a mundane part of life. Which would be fine, except that taxpayer support of uniform public schooling is compelled on the grounds that it is so much more than what it actually is—it is essential for “democracy,” right?—and in that privileged position it has often been worse than just ineffectual at its professed purpose. It has imposed or reinforced inequality and injustice.

I won’t go over all the injustice in detail—you can see where I’ve discussed it in more depth—but remember that for much of its history public schooling often discriminated against minority religions, most notably Roman Catholics. It often either completely barred or segregated African Americans—not just in the South—and in some places Mexican and Asian Americans. It attacked the culturally unifying language of German immigrant communities. It now systematically treats religious Americans as second‐​class citizens. And it forces people with different values, cultures, and identities to fight to see which “equal” people win, and which lose.

This is all true historically… blacks were and are still forced to attend segregated schools, foreign language students are compelled to learn in English, and those who speak a “culturally unifying language” are ofter forced to abandon it in order to succeed in school. The discrimination against Roman Catholics within public schools is debatable, but the government’s unwillingness to provide tax dollars to education children in schools that teach Catholicism as part of the curriculum is irrefutable and completely aligned with the Constitution.

The historic part of that paragraph may be largely accurate, but the idea that public schools now treat “…religious Americans as second‐​class citizens” is preposterous given that there is no way for public schools to identify “religious” students thereby making it possible for them to discriminate against them as a finite group.  And the idea that it “…forces people with different values, cultures, and identities to fight to see which “equal” people win, and which lose” also lacks credibility. The link associated with the statement regarding these identities fighting against each other for power leads to a Cato Institute “battle map” that highlights culture wars such as:

…pitting educational effectiveness, basic rights, moral values, or individual identities against each other. Think creationism versus evolution, or assigned readings containing racial slurs. The conflicts are often intensely personal, and guarantee if one fundamental value wins, another loses.

If “creationism versus evolution” is a battle between “cultures, values, cultures, and identities” it is clear to me that rigorous science should win over religious superstition.

There is a battle going on between Utopian visions… but it’s not even mentioned in Mr. McCluskey’s article: it’s the battle between the Democratic Utopia where every child has an equal opportunity for success no matter where they were born and raised and no matter how well off their parents were and the Darwinian Utopia where every child can buy whatever kind of education their parents want for them. The first Utopia requires a common agreement on truth, justice, and values. The second Utopia believes in the magic of the marketplace.

The market Utopia seems to be prevailing… and the planet and our freedom are being compromised as a result. There is still time to salvage the Democratic Utopia… but the time is getting very short.