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DeVos Visits Private, Sectarian, and For-Profit Schools While Spewing Misinformation, Invective Toward “Government Schools”

May 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Several decades ago I took a time management course that indicated that the priorities of school leaders could be determined by looking at how and where they spent their time. In shorthand, actions speak louder than words. Looking at Betsy DeVos calendar during recent visits to several NE states it is abundantly clear that she favors sectarian and for-profit schools over “government schools” and favors the spreading of malicious misinformation about how those schools operate and who they serve.

An Alternet article by David Badas who is writing on the “new civil rights movement” for that magazine, reports on who Ms. DeVos did and did not visit during the two days visit to NYC:

Betsy DeVos has concluded her two-day visit to New York City, during which she refused to visit a single public school, although she did attend two private, Orthodox Jewish religious schools. The Education Secretary also delivered remarks at a Catholic organization’s breakfast meeting, and blasted bans on the use of taxpayer funds for private religious schools.

1.1 million students in New York City get their education in 1800 public schools – the largest school system in America. DeVos did not step foot in any of them.

Worse, from my perspective, her speeches were full of disinformation on the performance of public schools and the openness and willingness of sectarian and for-profit schools to open their doors to anyone who applies. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, was among those who heard a speech given by Ms. DeVos at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Alfred E. Smith Foundation.

“I know that those sycophants of ‘the system’ have kept legislators here from enacting a common-sense program that would open options to thousands of kids in need,” she said, referring to bans on the use of taxpayer funds for private, religious schools. “Catholic education aims to serve the whole community — especially ‘the least of these.’ It aims to promote individual student achievement while developing the whole person…body, mind and soul,” she said. “Those are goals we share.”

Unfortunately neither the press reporting on this nor Cardinal Dolan corrected Ms. DeVos by noting that Catholic schools routinely deny acceptance to underprivileged children who cannot afford to pay the tuition and also compel students with special needs and “behavior problems” to leave. The public schools, meanwhile, DO work with “the least of these” and do so without relying on Biblical teachings. And the press continually reports that states’ refusal to fund sectarian schools is based on the Constitution, which envisioned a bright line between church and state. As Mr. Badas notes, Ms. DeVos, like her GOP supporters and the “reformers” have expropriated the language of civil rights leaders during the 60s to advance their cause and muddy the argument for providing more money to schools overseen by publicly elected school boards.

One of the biggest challenges the media face today is documenting misinformation and disinformation spewed by Ms. DeVos, the POTUS, and all of the leaders in the GOP, none of whom have spoken up on behalf of public education or the constitutional requirement that public funds cannot be used to promote religion. If Ms. DeVos were the only cabinet member charging around the country spewing false information it might be possible to push back… but since the volume of misinformation is huge, it’s left to publications like Alternet and bloggers to make certain the record is being set straight.

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Driving a Stake Through the Heart of the ESA Vampire is Tough in New Hampshire

May 6, 2018 Leave a comment

On Thursday our local newspaper reported on it’s front page that SB 193, the Education Savings Account bill was dead. But as Advancing New Hampshire Public Education’s (ANHPE) blog reported on Friday, the bill has been resuscitated by diehards in the Senate by appending the bill to an unrelated piece of legislation. Here’s the labyrinthine process that is underway as described in ANHPE:

The expectation at this point is that the House Education Committee will recommend that the amended HB 1636 be sent to a committee of conference and that the House will vote on that on May 10.  Here is the amendment adding SB 193 to HB 1636.  (This amendment, “Death Benefit for School Employee Killed in Line of Duty” was also added to HB 1636)

The House could kill the bill then and there but if it agrees to the committee of conference, the Speaker will name the committee members, probably then and there, and the committee will prepare its report.  The version of SB 193 added to HB 1636 is a version that the Senate passed in March, 2017 and that no one considers viable at this point.  The committee of conference will probably replace it with a version much like the one the House voted down this week.

The House would vote on the committee of conference report at the May 23 session.  If it passes, it will go immediately to the Senate.  If it fails, it is dead at that point.  The last day of the current legislative session is scheduled to be May 24.

Based on earlier ANHPE accounts it is evident that not only the Governor but also Catholic leaders want to see this bill passed. The tactic of wearing down the opposition and strong-arming GOP legislators to switch their votes is underway. Here’s hoping the 17 GOP legislators who sided with the Democrats will stay in the opposition column. Otherwise, the future of public education in NH will be in peril.

 

Florida Legislator’s “Vision” Results in Mandate: “In God We Trust” Must Be Displayed In Exchange for Cash

May 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Several years ago, one of Jean Shepherd’s books of essays was titled “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”. That title might have been the inspiration for an amendment passed as part of a recent piece of legislation introduced by Florida legislator Kimberly Daniels. Here’s the way WUFT, an NPR affiliate, describes Ms. Daniels amendment:

A new state law set to take effect July 1 will redirect millions from sales taxes to fund vouchers for literacy tutors and increase the percentage of teachers’ union members required to pay dues. Section 22 of HB 7705 also requires school boards to display “In God We Trust” in all schools and associated buildings. It was amended to add language from another bill Daniels sponsored: HB 839.

“When we remove God,” she said in a February house session, “we remove hope.”

What inspired Ms. Daniels to add this language, which she belied would unify the state?

The day before a Florida House of Representatives session, Rep. Kimberly Daniels was visiting state prisons. The gate on one read: “In God We Trust.”

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow, does a child have to wait until they get to prison to see “In God We Trust”’?” said State Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat.

WUFT’s reporting on this legislation underscored the preposterousness and superfluous nature of this amendment, noting that in Florida there are far more pressing issues than whether a phrase that appears on the State flag and all US Currency needs to be “prominently displayed” in public schools. Using a serious plumbing problem at one of the schools in the station’s broadcasting area as an example, the station underscored a clear facilities problem that trusting in God will not fix. The report also emphasized the potential divisiveness of this amendment:

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation in Florida is studying the law and looking for ways to protect Floridians’ rights, said Kara Gross, the organization’s legislative counsel.

“Public schools are for secular learning,” Gross said. “The concern is that mandating a religious enforcement goes against the very crux of church and state.”

Gross also said the new law endorses one set of religious beliefs, which she said sends a thinly veiled message: Only students who believe in God are welcome.

“It makes some people feel welcome and makes others feel like they’re not welcome,” Gross said. “That’s why this is so concerning.”

The station also noted how this might impact God-fearing religious practitioners who are NOT Christian, citing the conundrum that Muslims, who trust in God as much as Christians, do not get time off from school to celebrate their Holy Days.

Ms. Daniels’ amendment WILL achieve one result, though: it will shift the conversation away from two issues that are especially problematic for Florida public schools: funding inequities and safety problems caused by the prevalence of guns.

 

NH Catholic Bishop’s “Sub Rosa” Campaign for Education Savings Account Legislation is Unseemly

April 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Bill Duncan, the Advancing New Hampshire blogger, wrote a post yesterday describing the efforts of the New Hampshire diocese to solicit parishioners support for SB 193, an education savings account bill under consideration in the NH legislature that would provide a means for parents opting into Catholic Schools to secure more funding for their “choice”. The post included an email from the Bishop to parishioners that included a sample letter they could send to their local legislator that included this verbiage:

As your constituent, I write to urge you to support SB 193, the bill to create Education Savings Accounts in New Hampshire. We should continue to support our local public schools, and we also should empower families to make the best decisions for their children. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. An ESA program would support families trying to find the right academic setting for their children but struggling to afford it.

As Mr. Duncan noted, there was no mention of the rationale for this desire to “..empower families to make the best decisions for their children”, which is clearly to transfer taxpayer funds from public education to religiously based education. This lack of explicit connection between the desire of the Catholic church leadership to seek more taxpayer funding is disingenuous at best.

At the end of his post, Mr. Duncan concluded with this:

There’s nothing wrong with the Bishop campaigning for SB 193, but legislators receiving those calls and emails should be clear about the source.

I did some quick Google research and was surprised to fund that even organizations that advocate a bright line between church and state acknowledge the laws on lobbying for legislation from the pulpit or from the Bishop are nebulous. But it seems to me that Biblical laws on honesty and helping the needy would come into play here. I found these 25 verses by entering “Bible Verses on Honesty”, the top one of which came from 2 Corinthians Chapter 8, verse 21:

For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.

 

 

“Choice” Advocates Relentlessness Leads to Proposal to Replace Impact Aid with Vouchers

April 5, 2018 Leave a comment

I worked for a decade leading a school district that included a military base, Fort Ritchie.  Fort Ritchie was located in a geographically remote section of the district and was served by an elementary school that had a majority of students who were children of those serving or working at the base. To help the district fund that school, whose land was tax exempt, we received impact aid. Near the end of my service in that district, the military based was closed and we lost the impact aid, which had a cascading effect on the funding of not only the school located on the base, but schools across the district. I offer this to illustrate the importance of impact aid as a revenue source to districts who serve children in the military, a revenue source that would be converted into a voucher scheme if conservative-libertarian legislators prevail in passing the “revenue neutral” (at the FEDERAL LEVEL) Education Savings Account for Military Families Act of 2018. These paragraphs from yesterday’s Politico feed explain how these plans would work:

MILITARY SCHOOL CHOICE BILL GETS HOME-FIELD BACKING: Thirty-four conservative organizations and school choice advocacy groups say they’re backing a bill introduced last month to create Education Savings Accounts for military-connected students. In a letter sent to Congress on Tuesday, the groups urged lawmakers to support the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018, H.R. 5199 (115), introduced by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), and its Senate companion.

The legislation would create education savings accounts through federal Impact Aid dollars, which are used to supplement school district budgets because the districts sit on tax-exempt federal land like military bases or Native American reservations. Military families could use the accounts to pay for expenses like private school tuition, educational materials and contributions to college savings accounts. The bill is based on a proposal from the Heritage Foundation. Advocates for school districts receiving Impact Aid funds, like the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, are opposed.

“Families who serve in the armed forces move from duty station to duty station with little choice in where they live or what schools their children attend,” the letter from supporting groups reads . “This is a problem Congress can solve. Armed with a military ESA, parents can send their children to a private school, take individual classes at a public school, school at home, use an online learning program, hire a private tutor, and eventually use any surplus to help pay for college.” Among those who signed on to the letter are the Center for Education Reform, EdChoice, the American Association of Christian Schools, the American Federation for Children and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

There are not that many districts in the nation who receive Impact Aid… but I believe EVERY public school district in the nation needs to raise their voice in opposition to this bill because if it passes it will serve s a precedent that the relentless pro-voucher groups will use to divert funds for public education to private for profit and sectarian schools… and the revenue lost to districts who serve these military bases will impact not only this children of the military who remain in public schools but ALL the children who attend public schools in those districts. This is a bad bill that should be defeated. Time for me to write my legislators!

Reliance on Property Taxes Exacerbates Economic Divide, Opens the Door to Vouchers

April 3, 2018 1 comment

An extract from a post by Peter Greene included in Diane Ravitch’s blog post yesterday prompted me to realize that the ultimate driving force for privatization of public education is the revenue source. Mr. Greene’s blog post took aim at an op ed piece Arne Duncan wrote suggesting that test-based reform is succeeding. The one paragraph that summarized Mr. Greene’s point is this:

[His] notion that test-based accountability “revealed” achievement gaps is baloney. Educators knew where the gaps were. We’ve always known where the gaps were. We’ve screamed about the gaps. I don’t believe any teacher in this country picked up test results and said, “I’ll be damned! I had no idea these non-white, non-wealthy students were having trouble keeping up!” At best, test-based accountability was a tool to convince policy makers who would listen to data spreadsheets before they would listen to teachers. And even then, policy makers didn’t look at the data and say, “Well, we’d better help these schools out.” Instead, all the way up to Duncan’s office, they responded with, “Well, let’s target this school for closure or conversion or a growth opportunity for some charter operators.”

After quoting at length from Mr. Greene’s post, Ms. Ravitch writes (with my emphasis in bold red italics):

Charter schools are the gateway to vouchers. It is now widely understood that Arne Duncan and his friends paved the way for Betsy DeVos and her all-out war on  public schools. That is now widely recognized, even if Duncan doesn’t admit it.

Reform is failing, failing, failing. The public is wise to the reformers’ real goal, which is to privatize public schools and disparage teachers instead of confronting the real issues of poverty and segregation.

And nothing that Arne writes here changes that fact.

As I reflected on Ms. Ravitch’s conclusion, it struck me that the real gateway to vouchers is public education’s over-reliance on property taxes which has the effect of insulating thousands of students from the ravages of tax cuts or tax caps at the state and/or federal level.

When state legislatures impose deep cuts to public education or the federal government reduces funding, the school boards in affluent communities can increase their property taxes to ensure that the children in their community are insulated from the impact of cuts. Boards in less affluent communities do not have this option, and so their schools suffer. The result: the divide between rich and poor widens but the property tax burden increases in affluent towns as the funding is shifted downward.

In states where state legislatures impose property tax limitations WITH the possibility of local voter overrides— the voters in affluent districts consistently pass supplemental budgets. Thus, they protect their students and communities from the impact of budget cuts experienced in less affluent communities who do not have the tax base necessary to match the funding possible in wealthier districts. And in states where state legislatures impose property tax limitations WITHOUT the possibility of local voter overrides, school boards came up with fee-for-service models that replaced tax revenues with de facto “user fees”: children are assessed for busing, extra-curricular, and, in some cases, text books. In either case where tax caps were imposed, the schools in affluent districts did not experience the impact of limitations while the schools in less affluent districts suffered.

This ability of relatively affluent districts to raise funds to offset lost revenues through increases to property taxes or the institution of fees creates a situation where the parents and children in those districts never felt the impact of STATE tax cuts OR property tax caps. As a result, voters in those districts were indifferent to or, in some cases, fully supportive of test-driven reform because— to paraphrase Mr. Greene— their “white, relatively wealthy students WERE keeping up”. And since they were keeping up they never had to worry about doing poorly on state tests, they never had to worry about their schools being identified as “failing” and closing, and never had to replace their broad curricula with “focused” test preparation classwork.

This system of taxation is the gateway to vouchers because as long as property taxes and “user fees” are the primary source of funding, the voters in affluent districts will remain immune to the impact of STATE tax cuts and may even support them because they are already paying high local property taxes to keep their schools afloat. So when these state-tax-resistant voters in affluent districts hear that the State legislators have a means of helping “other children” in “failing schools” by giving their parents “choices”, a “solution” that requires NO increase in State taxes, they are open to supporting the idea…. And as readers of this blog realize, the privatizers are only too happy to feed them data to support the fantasy that “choice” is the silver bullet that can solve the problems of inequitable funding.

W. Edward Deming said “A bad system will beat a good person every time”… we have a bad system for school funding in place and it is, alas, beating many good people.

Sioux City Iowa School Board Considers Offering Donors Naming Rights

April 2, 2018 Leave a comment

An article that appeared in the Sioux City Journal on April Fools Day, reported that the school board in that community is contemplating a change in policy that would “…allow major donors to attach their names to gymnasiums, auditoriums or other areas of a school building.” I understand the need for schools to engage in business partnership activities and also realize how difficult it is to do any renovations when state support is scarce to non-existent, but the naming rights issue is not only a local political quagmire, it had a dis-equalizing impact and reinforces the notion that school funding should be based on user fees and not community support based on taxes.

The local political quagmire of naming should be obvious to a school board. What if an arguably disreputable firm—  say a major polluter or a corporation that recently laid off hundreds of workers— wants to improve its standing in the community by donating to the area of a school building? The scene from the Bad News Bears where Walter Matthau’s charges show up with uniforms emblazoned with “Chico’s Bail Bonds” comes to mind. Or what if an alt-right or LBGTQ group want to make a major donation?

As noted in an earlier post on the Abington PA school district, the use of donations from private residents, alumni, or local businesses almost invariably has a dis-equalizing impact. Affluent districts have a larger donor base than districts serving children raised in poverty, and districts with a solid tax base based on having businesses also have a larger donor base for business partners than rural districts with no businesses whatsoever.

Finally, the whole notion that schools should turn to individual donors or local businesses to get funding is contrary to the fundamental idea behind public education. Public schools are a common good that should be supported by everyone in the community— not just those with children in school. They should, therefore, be funded by taxes with as broad a base as possible. When states can shirk their responsibility for helping students by encouraging “partnerships”, they are, in turn, fostering the idea that schools should be funded based on user fees… a concept that necessarily sets public schools on the path for vouchers.

Here’s hoping wisdom and common sense prevail in Souix City when the debate on this issue continues.