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Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

Betsy DeVos is Out of Office… but SCOTUS Decisions and GOP Controlled Statehouses and Legislatures are Moving Her Agenda Forward

May 3, 2021 Comments off

The drip…drip… drip you are hearing is the slow leak of the funding pipeline to public education and the funds that are leaving public schools are going to charters and sectarian private schools. With a majority of state legislatures and statehouses under the control of the GOP states are moving forward with an urgency mirroring that of the Biden administration, passing laws that reflect the thinking of Betsy DeVos and the neoliberal and libertarian think tanks who espouse unregulated school choice.

As recent posts indicate, my home state of NH is one of those states aggressively promoting vouchers and deregulation of school governance while simultaneously promoting the squelching of teaching on “divisive issues”, a contradictory set of principles but one that the GOP seems comfortable with. As Ethan DeWitt wrote last week in the New Hampshire Bulletin, the legislature seems likely to pass SB 130 that “…would give parents the option of using per-pupil public school funding not just for private school tuition, but for supplies and services ranging from computers to tutors.” And because of recent Supreme Court decisions, those de facto vouchers would not be limited to public charters or non-sectarian private schools: they could be used to help underwrite the costs of religious schools.

Mr. DeWitt provides an extensive analysis of why this is now possible, giving a history of the NH Constitution that forbade the use of public funds for religious schools from the get go and then augmented and (presumably) clarified that limitation with the passage of a Blaine Amendment in the late 1800s. But recent SCOTUS decisions, which Mr. DeWitt elaborates on, appear to override State constitutions and Blaine Amendments.

The article concludes with a rejoinder from the Democratic Party’s former education chair, who makes the point that should the law pass it will be legally challenged and— more importantly—  NH should not be diverting ANY funds for schools until it fulfills its Constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding for public schools. Mr. DeWitt writes:

Rep. Mel Myler, a Hopkinton Democrat and the former chairman of the House Education Committee, disagrees with the interpretation. The Trinity and Espinoza decisions were narrowly decided, Myler contends, tied to situations that are different from New Hampshire’s present voucher proposal. 

The proposed law would not survive the same legal scrutiny, Myler said. 

“When you begin to look at Senate Bill 130 … this is dealing with public monies going to religious schools,” Myler said. “It’s a different issue that has yet to really be defined.” 

That could allow the state constitutional provisions to hold their ground in a future court case, he said. 

For Myler, the school choice debate comes down to the state’s responsibilities. 

“The Legislature has failed to deal with providing enough funds for schools,” he said. “And so my position is until you begin to meet that initial obligation for the 100% of the students who are in public schools, why are you going to start diverting them?”

If the law does make it through, one thing the state can count on is a swift lawsuit, Myler said. But after the pivot on the U.S. Supreme Court in the past five years, litigation may not be the panacea for opponents of the law

MAYBE litigation might not be the panacea for opponents of the law… but a change in the composition of the House, Senate, and State House MIGHT forestall the implementation of any voucher plan.

Categories: Essays Tags: ,

Anti-Vaxx Conspirator Operates Private School, Promotes Crackpot Theory, Gets National Attention, Sows Confusion, Generates Publicity, Reaps $$$$

May 3, 2021 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured a story about Centner Academy, a school operated by Leila Centner, “an avid social media user who has long used her accounts to document her luxurious lifestyle“, who is now using her position as head of school to promote anti-vaxxing messages to parents and children in her school. Her belief that vaccinated teachers “shed harmful vaccines” led to an edict that teachers not get vaccinated for fear that the vaccines currently available are not “fully tested”. As a result many parents are withdrawing their children from the school and many like-minded anti-vcxx parents and prospective teachers are knocking down her doors trying to get slots for their children…. and Ms. Centner is the center of a media firestorm.

In a pre-internet era her message might be heard by a small number of parents and warrant local coverage. But in this era of social media and the need for new content 24/7 the result of this decision by Ms. Centner was predictable:

The policy barring teachers from contact with students after getting the vaccine brought a flurry of television news crews who parked outside the school for days, prompting teachers to keep children indoors for physical education and recess. Leila Centner, the school’s co-founder, who says she is not against fully tested vaccines, wrote on Instagram that journalists are “trying to destroy my reputation because I went against their narrative.”

Devoted supporters cheered her on.

“We won’t let them take you down!” one of them wrote on Instagram. “We stand strong with you! You’re an angel trying to save our kids and teachers.”

In the 35 years I led public schools the number of parents who failed to vaccinate children was minuscule…. but I retired in 2011 before the full force of the internet hit and celebrity anti-vaxxers began promoting their theories that vaccines caused autism. With that suspicion gaining relatively widespread credibility and the pro-Trump wing of the GOP gaining traction on wild theories about the recent election it is no surprise that anti-vaccine theories are gaining traction.

But this whole episode illustrates one other reality of public schools today: that lightly regulated “choice” leads to the promotion and perpetuation of crackpot theories. These paragraphs illustrate this:

Centner Academy opened in its current form last year, after the Centners, who previously owned just the preschool, took over the Metropolitan International School, an established private school that focused on foreign languages and served an international clientele. Its owner retired and said the school would merge with the preschool owned by the Centners, who have donated heavily in recent years to the Republican Party and former President Donald J. Trump.

By the time the pandemic hit, the school’s old identity and leaders were gone, and the Centners were at the helm.

Things began to change, parents said. Surveillance cameras were installed to record both video and audio, for what Mr. Centner said were security and insurance purposes. Ms. Centner once remarked that children should be kept away from windows, for fear of radiation from 5G cell towers, another baseless conspiracy theory. (The windows at the preschool now have electromagnetic frequency “shielding blockers,” Mr. Centner said in response to a question about the school’s 5G concerns.) The school opposed feeding children sugar and gluten, and required that students have different shoes for indoors and outdoors. Some parents said they thought such ideas odd but inoffensive — unlike what began to happen with the school’s response to the coronavirus.

The school opened for in-person instruction in September and initially pledged to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, as well as a local mask mandate. But teachers said they found no attempt at social distancing during orientation in August, and Ms. Centner discouraged mask use. Teachers had to sign waivers acknowledging that there was a health risk associated with returning to work in person….

Once Florida began administering coronavirus vaccines, Ms. Centner invited members of the school community to a virtual talk with an anti-vaccination pediatrician to discuss potential dangers of the vaccines. Mr. Kennedy visited the school and met with teachers. So did another anti-vaccination activist, who also met with students.

Then came the announcement that vaccinated teachers would have to stay away from students, or would not be allowed to return for now if they get the vaccine over the summer. “If you want to get it, this is not going to be the right school for you,” Ms. Centner told teachers about the vaccine on a virtual call.

When the Florida Department of Health visited for routine food inspections in August and December, teachers were told to mask up, according to a former teacher and a current teacher, who produced two WhatsApp messages as proof.

Parents were offered forms to exempt their children from any need to wear masks, similar to a school policy that also exempts children from vaccines of all kinds if their parents wish.

Ms. Centner operated a WhatsApp group called “Knowledge Is Key” (joining was optional, Mr. Centner said) on which she shared anti-vaccination material with teachers. When a parent asked if the school would mandate the flu vaccine, Ms. Centner laid out her skepticism about vaccines in a letter to parents. She cited a nonprofit organization started by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccination crusader.

The Florida government’s reaction to this?

The local state senator, Jason W.B. Pizzo, a Democrat, said he was told that neither the Department of Education nor the Department of Health had jurisdiction over the school’s vaccination policies. (Centner Academy had one student receiving a public voucher this school year.)

On Thursday, Mr. Pizzo introduced a legislative amendment that he hoped would prevent schools and businesses from prohibiting people from getting vaccinated, calling such a policy “quackery.”

He had some bipartisan support. “Let’s show that the Senate is not insane,” said State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, a Republican.

It failed on a tied vote.

Back in Miami, Ms. Centner appeared unbothered. On Friday, she posted on Instagram that she would speak next month at a “freedom-fighting festival” with several conservative political luminaries, including Michael T. Flynn and Roger J. Stone Jr. Its theme: “Reopen America.”

From my perspective, it isn’t difficult to connect the dots on this. As State’s simultaneously promote “choice” and “deregulation” these kinds of niche schools will proliferate… and if neither the Florida Health Department or Education Department will step in on a case that could impact the health and wellbeing of the community at large how could they step in if a school was promoting anti-Holocaust conspiracy theories? There can be no UNITED States of America without a UNITED public school system.

Categories: Essays Tags: ,

Tennessee Should Fund Mental Health Expansion Through County Health Departments

April 24, 2021 Comments off

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In the mid-1990s when I was Superintendent in Maryland the State mandated that each school have a certified nurse. After running some numbers in the district I led it was clear that we would have to use every “new dollar” we would reasonably expect to pay for this initiative since we had nurses assigned to only 10% of our schools and no one on our staff to supervise or support them. Moreover if we paid the nurses on the teacher pay scale we would be paying more than the local hospitals by far. The solution that was best for all, I believed, was to have the county health department hire them, and partner with schools to recruit, support and evaluate them. In that way we would not disrupt the local hospital’s workforce, provide opportunities for many nurses to get work hours that matched their children’s school hours, and fulfill a state mandate and. need without compromising our budget. This idea worked for all concerned.

This personal experience was brought to mind when I read about the Governor of Tennessee’s ideas about providing universal mental health services in schools which he viewed as being offered through the systems or the states. His funding gambit, creating a trust fund, might have promise as well if he could get the billionaires who support charter schools to direct their donations to the foundation for mental health.