Education Opportunity Network

Education Opportunity Network -

2/15/2018 – DeVos Denies Students’ Civil Rights, Locks Out Teachers. But She’s The Victim?

THIS WEEK: School Choice Schism … Opposition To DeVos … Trump Budget Cuts Education … Most Schools Are Under-Funded … Charters Segregate

TOP STORY

DeVos Denies Students’ Civil Rights, Locks Out Teachers. But She’s The Victim?

By Jeff Bryant

“Betsy DeVos … played the ‘victim’ card in saying criticisms of her actions as secretary have been ‘hurtful’… In her first year as secretary, DeVos has established a consistent pattern of first delaying then eventually curtailing her department’s duties to uphold the civil rights of students. And despite her role as a government official, she’s demonstrated little interest in hearing what the public thinks about these actions … People like DeVos are not victims of anything … ‘DeVos and her agenda are a legitimate threat to our democracy.'”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Inside The Virtual Schools Lobby: ‘I Trust Parents’

NPR

“The travails of virtual schools have split the charter school movement. The national organizations representing traditional charter schools have sought to put daylight between themselves and virtual schools … Virtual schools and their supporters have fought back. They’ve lobbied politicians and donated millions to their campaigns. They’ve pushed for changes and exceptions to accountability systems. They’ve taken legal action. And, they’ve organized a network of lobbying groups to make it appear that parents don’t care about test scores … What matters, they say, is parent choice. This message is summed up in a phrase that has also often been a rallying cry of [Betsy] DeVos. It lives online as a hashtag: #ITrustParents … Since her appointment, DeVos has used the phrase many times in public statements and speeches.”
Read more …

One Year In, Betsy DeVos Has Supercharged Teacher Activism

HuffPo

“There has been a wave of activism in response to President Donald Trump … This activism has manifested as a renewed rallying around traditional public schools … More teachers than ever are running for office … [Betsy] DeVos ‘was a wake-up call to everyone who was concerned about the future of public education’ … ‘What you also see, on the other side, is a brazen, non-hidden quest to just kill [public education], and to kill every bit of every tool that enables broad-based voice and opportunity’ … ‘Even though there is a heightened awareness and pushback, there is so much money on the other side that it is overwhelming.'”
Read more …

Does Trump’s Education Budget Even Matter?

The Atlantic

“President Trump’s proposed federal budget, unveiled Monday, calls for major cuts to existing education programs and a huge increase for school-choice initiatives … What a president lays out as his priorities can inform debate on education spending. And since Trump doesn’t spend much time talking about education, this is also one way to gauge what’s on his administration’s agenda … Trump’s budget would significantly reduce the federal footprint in public schools … Many of the programs on the chopping block are longstanding … including grants to support safe and healthy schools and the Special Olympics … ‘Education freedom’ would get a big bump under Trump’s plan – $1 billion.”
Read more …

Almost Three-Quarters of Superintendents Say Schools Inadequately Funded: Survey

Education Week

“Seventy-three percent of superintendents say their school districts are inadequately funded, and about 62% say that they do not have a way to make up the shortfall if federal and state aid are cut in the upcoming school year. Forty-percent said they expected state and local revenues to be cut … School districts were forced to make brutal decisions during the Great Recession, including laying off thousands of workers, putting off construction and other school renovations, and cutting extracurricular activities.”
Read more …

New Research Shows Charter Schools Foster Segregation

WCNC

“Are charter schools fostering segregation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools? According to a new study … yes … ‘Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were once the nation’s bellwether for successful desegregation. Today, the district exemplifies how charter schools can impede districts’ efforts to resist resegregation … Charters are increasingly drawing the most academically able, many prosperous families, whites … Only people who can take their kids and have the time and have the vehicle can take their children to these charters, and that limits the population.'”
Read more …

DeVos Denies Students’ Civil Rights, Locks Out Teachers. But She’s The Victim?

A favorite tactic of the rightwing political establishment is to claim they are being victimized when those who’ve had their civil rights or their political voices stifled by rightwing policies make their grievances known and advocate for change.

It’s a clever way to turn blatant discrimination into a “freedom” and undermine the right to protest.

It appears US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been well schooled in this rhetorical trick.

Shortly after news reports that long-time Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz had been brought in to school DeVos on how to talk about controversial education policies without igniting the ire of parents, teachers, and voters, she played the “victim” card in saying criticisms of her actions as secretary have been “hurtful.”

“[It’s] hurtful to me when I’m criticized for not upholding the rights of students, the civil rights of students,” she told Politico. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

For someone who is one of the wealthiest people in America and who is so influential of the ruling party to express vulnerability seems disingenuous, to say the least. It becomes all the more preposterous amidst the recent actions of the department she leads to undo progress in civil rights and undermine democracy.

In her first year as secretary, DeVos has established a consistent pattern of first delaying then eventually curtailing her department’s duties to uphold the civil rights of students. And despite her role as a government official, she’s demonstrated little interest in hearing what the public thinks about these actions. Teachers, parents, and students who recently showed up at the Department of Education to express their dissent were locked out.

Denying the Rights of Transgender Students

Victims of DeVos’s education department include transgender students who want the freedom to use school bathroom facilities that correspond with their gender preferences.

This was their right under the Obama administration, and courts in at least three states – Wisconsin, Virginia, and Maine – have ruled that federal codes enforced by Title IX protect the rights of these students.

But beginning a year ago, DeVos’s education department decided it didn’t like these laws, began to deny their enforcement fell in its jurisdiction, and dismissed complaints from students who claimed arbitrary school rules were forcing them into situations that made them feel uncomfortable or subjected them to bullying.

Now, the department has officially announced it “won’t investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity,” BuzzFeed reported.

While protecting transgender students when they are “penalized or harassed” is still “prohibited,” according to a department spokesperson, those prohibitions apparently no longer extend to bathrooms.

Since when did people’s rights end at the bathroom door?

Leaving Minority Students Unprotected

DeVos and her department have also signaled their intentions to ignore their duties to take on racial disparities in special education and school discipline policies.

Numerous studies have shown that black and brown school children are disproportionally identified as “learning disabled.” Other studies have found the opposite is true. But it seems reasonable that given the evidence that discrimination – of some kind – against nonwhite students in special education occurs, schools should devote resources to identify and address racial bias in their programs when it shows up.

That is what the Obama administration ruled when it required states to look for racial disparities in special education programs and devote a portion of their federally funded resources to ensure fairness in the identification, placement, and discipline of those students.

The new guidelines were to go into effect this month, giving states a full year to prepare, but DeVos and her department have now issued a two-year delay for “public comment.”

State leaders overseeing special education, who have been preparing to comply with these rules for months, say “they want the rule kept in place,” according to Education Week.

But much in the same way DeVos and her department first delayed and then dropped enforcements of transgender student rights, before eventually announcing a complete denial to enforce them, it’s not hard to imagine this “delay” in special education guidance is the forerunner to eventually abandoning the rules altogether.

Blocking and Locking Out Dissent

DeVos’s troubling history of political influence and her actions as secretary have made her President Trump’s most disliked cabinet member, and she’s constantly confronted with protests wherever she goes.

To shield her from public interaction, DeVos is escorted by federal marshals, an unprecedented security measure at great cost to the taxpayer. Her publically released schedule routinely omits many of the events and meetings she participates in. A recent trip she took to Indianapolis was completely “covert.” And many of the public events where she speaks have been before audiences that align with her political views.

The latest tactic to guard DeVos from the public was to lock the doors of the Department of Education.

Recently when leaders of two national teachers’ unions and 50-odd members representing a coalition of education and civil rights groups tried to deliver 80,000 report cards assessing DeVos’s performance, they were locked out.

Close to 90 percent of the report cards filled out by educators and public school activists gave DeVos an F, according to Education Week.  “A common theme: that DeVos was not doing her job because she appears not to care about public schools.”

“We were locked out,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers told Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. “We asked for an appointment, but they locked us out instead.”

The doors are normally open 24 hours a day, Strauss reported.

DeVos Threatens Our Democracy, Our Future

A year ago, shortly after DeVos took office amidst a storm of controversy, a well-known conservative cartoonist depicted her as a victim of civil rights abuse by inserting her image substituted for Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend racially integrated schools in New Orleans in 1960, in a cartoon rendition of Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “The Problem We All Live With.”

The false equivalency of a billionaire white woman able to buy her way into a US Cabinet position to a six-year-old black girl who helped desegregate New Orleans public schools sparked a firestorm of media outrage.

But it’s business as usual for Republicans.

People like DeVos are not victims of anything. She and the rightwing political machine funded by the Koch Brothers want to get rid of public education because they don’t believe in civil rights and democracy. These radical factions have made public schools one of their top targets, a progressive plum at least as important, if not more so, as Medicare and Social Security.

Speaking before the locked doors of the Department of Education, Keron Blair, co-director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, declared the protestors were there to speak out against DeVos’s “deliberate and stated purpose” to undermine her department’s mission and dismantle public education.

“Betsy DeVos and her agenda are a legitimate threat to our democracy,” Blair said, “We will not stand idly by while she dismantles public education and threatens our future.”

2/8/2018 – Puerto Rico Braces for Wave of School Privatization

THIS WEEK: The DC Reform Lie … CA Closing Achievement Gaps … Teaching About Slavery … Charter School Fail … Cancel College Debt

TOP STORY

Puerto Rico Braces for Wave of School Privatization

By Jeff Bryant

“With nearly a third of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 schools still without power and hundreds more plagued with crumbling walls, leaky rooves, and spotty Internet, Governor Ricardo Rosselló recently announced he will propose to create charter schools and voucher programs as a recovery strategy for the island’s education system … ‘The disaster capitalism coming to the azure waters of Puerto Rico is very similar to the school privatization and private-control education reform causing an uproar in Chicago and Detroit.'”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Once A National Model, Now D.C. Public Schools Target Of FBI Investigation

The Washington Post

“D.C. school system has been the crown jewel of public policy… With the revelation … that more than 900 students – one-third of last year’s high school graduates – should not have been awarded diplomas because of truancy and other problems, the school system has turned virtually overnight into an embarrassment … The scandal is reverberating far beyond the District, as a busy cottage industry of education policy analysts takes stock of whether the inflated graduation rates point to basic flaws in reforms the city has exported to other struggling school districts.”
Read more …

Research Shows California Schools Are Narrowing Achievement Gaps

Times-Herald

“New research shows that California’s landmark overhaul of public education finance and accountability is narrowing achievement gaps between groups of students and helping parents learn about school progress … The authors examined the impact of the Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, which gave school districts more control over the use of state funds in exchange for greater accountability and parent engagement at the local level … LCFF ‘led to significant increases in high school graduation rates and academic achievement, particularly among children from low-income families.’ Students in the highest-poverty districts showed greater academic gain … LCFF funding was used to improve classroom learning by lowering student-to-teacher ratios and helping districts recruit and train new teachers.”
Read more …

Schools Are Failing To Teach The Truth About Slavery, The SPLC Says

Education Week

“What students are taught about slavery is fragmentary, without context, and worst of all, glossed over or sanitized, says the report, which was released this morning. Slavery … is taught … by focusing on resistance or escape, rather than the violence it wrought on black bodies and families. It’s taught as a Southern phenomenon … never considered alongside white supremacist ideology, which was explicitly created to justify slavery … The voices and varied experiences of slaves are generally excised; and, connections to topics like the Great Migration and the civil rights movement … are missing.”
Read more …

Charter School Transferred Nearly $1 Million To CEO In Years Prior To Closing

Arizona TV 3/CBS 5

“Hundreds of students and their parents were blindsided … when they arrived at Goodyear’s Discovery Creemos Academy and found the charter school shuttered. Many were unaware of the extent of the financial trouble the school had gone through … But it appears that at least part of that trouble was exacerbated by payments made to school administration. Tax returns … show an increasing amount of money paid to and transferred to Discovery Creemos Academy president and CEO Daniel Hughes and entities controlled by Hughes in the years prior to the school’s abrupt closure … The payments to Hughes and Creemos in 2015 totaled $949,000.”
Read more …

Want To Grow The US Economy? Cancel Student Debt, New Report Shows

Mic

“A report … finds that there would be huge benefits if the federal government were to forgive all existing student debt. This would ripple out from young people struggling to pay off massive college loans to the economy as a whole … Canceling all student debt would likely lead to an increase in U.S. GDP between $861 billion and $1,083 billion over the course of 10 years. It would also lead to an increase of 1.18 to 1.55 million additional new jobs over the same period – that’s about 50% to 70% more jobs per year compared to an average of recent years. This new analysis comes at a time when more than 44 million American have a collective $1.3 trillion in student debt – higher than both auto U.S. debt and credit card debt.”
Read more …

Puerto Rico Braces for Wave of School Privatization

The warnings came right after the storm: A devastating Hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico would be used as an opportunity to transfer management of the island’s schools to private operators of charter schools and introduce voucher programs that would redirect public education funds to private schools.

Sure enough, with nearly a third of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 schools still without power and hundreds more plagued with crumbling walls, leaky rooves, and spotty Internet, Governor Ricardo Rosselló recently announced he will propose to create charter schools and voucher programs as a recovery strategy for the island’s education system.

That announcement followed shortly after a new fiscal plan from Rosselló that included closing over 300 schools.

The rationale for the school closures relies mostly on the fact that in Maria’s wake at least 22,350 students, or one out of every 13, have left the island, and the education system was shackled by an estimated $120 million debt and pension crisis before the storm. Student enrollment had already dropped significantly in recent years, and 179 schools were closed last summer.

The argument for charter schools and vouchers, on the other hand, is much less supported by statistics and more reliant on rhetoric. Currently, there are no charter schools or voucher programs on the island. But in an interview with The 74, a charter school-favoring media outlet started by former NBC news anchor and public school critic Campbell Brown, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said these “options” are now needed to “have individual schools competing, striving to be the best, to make sure they can maintain their population so they continue to be economically feasible.”

It’s that kind of language that reminds Julian Vasquez Heilig of a pattern of “education reform” policy he has seen elsewhere. “The education privatization playbook uses politics to open the door for more privately controlled schools that are funded by tax dollars but are not democratically controlled,” he tells me in an email.

Pattern of ‘Education Reform’

Heilig, a professor at University of California – Sacramento, has written about Puerto Rican education policy before, saying in an article for The Progressive in 2015 that “Politicians in Puerto Rico are seeking to solve decades of fiscal mismanagement by adopting the same education reforms that are hurting children and starving school districts in the mainland United States. The disaster capitalism coming to the azure waters of Puerto Rico is very similar to the school privatization and private-control education reform causing an uproar in Chicago and Detroit.”

Heilig’s reference to disaster capitalism matches what others are saying about Puerto Rico after Maria.

A week after the storm made landfall on the island, and with most of the island still in darkness, author and journalist Naomi Klein warned in The Guardian that “vultures” circling the devastated landscape were advocating the only way for the island to get the lights back on was to sell off its electricity utility, a phenomenon of what she calls the Shock Doctrine: “the exploitation of wrenching crises to smuggle through policies that devour the public sphere and further enrich a small elite.”

Education Week’s correspondent on the ground in the island reported that Secretary Keleher, whose tenure started just nine months before the storm hit, was “diving deep into the lessons of loss and opportunity in previous natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005.”

Recall that then-US Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” After Katrina, New Orleans schools were shut down, over 7,000 teachers were fired, and the school board lost its power. Today, nearly all schools in New Orleans, but a handful of very elite schools, have been converted to privately operated charter schools.

Keleher’s Plans for Closed Schools

Keleher, who leads the biggest government agency on the island, is a former management consultant, according to her LinkedIn page.

She initially arrived in the Island in 2007 from Washington, DC, as part of the team that would oversee the development of programs and use of Title I funds, according to Puerto Rican news outlet El Nuevo Dia. Title I funds are the federal government’s largest allocations to K-12 schools and are intended to bolster the resources of schools serving low-income children, which makes them the largest source of federal funds in Puerto Rico.

Afterwards, she worked with the Risk Management Service on the island, which monitored the use of all federal funds. She was appointed to be education secretary in December 2016 just a week prior to the new government led by Rosselló taking office.

After her appointment, El Nuevo Dia reported, Keleher also finagled a dual contract with Rosselló that awarded her with another nearly quarter million dollars, giving her a total salary of $300,000 per year. As a new advisor to the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (FAFAA), she would have the authority to gather information about the way empty school buildings would be used, including buildings that she herself may have just closed with her authority as education secretary.

Her FAA position would also allow her to meet with mayors to determine what “innovative projects” could be launched in those closed school buildings. Perhaps even the “innovative” charter schools she now wants to see rolled out across the island?

The Pastorek Connection

Either through her work with the US Department of Education or her “diving” into the history of New Orleans schools after Katrina, Keleher reached out to get advice from Paul Pastorek.

When Katrina hit, Pastorek was Louisiana’s superintendent of education. He saw the storm’s aftermath as a clean slate to remake schools around his desires for privatization, and he is now viewed as the “architect” in designing the district’s nearly all charter school make up.

What’s often left out of the New Orleans school reform “success” story is that converting the district to charter schools gave parents and citizens little to no voice in determining school policies and governance. Most parents lost the ability to have their children attend a school in close proximity to their homes, which resulted in student having to spend more hours in transit to schools across town. Schools now open and close with greater frequency, creating more disruptions in family routines and students’ learning, and more schools weed out difficult students in their enrollment processes. And the district’s teacher corps has grown way more transient and inexperienced after the mass firing of mostly Black teachers after the storm.

Defenders of what happened to NOLA schools point to rising test score results and graduation rates. But these defenses often grossly overstate the progress in the city or fail to acknowledge the many complications that confound clear conclusions about the reforms – including Louisiana’s shifting school performance metrics, the billions of dollars poured into the city by the federal government and philanthropies, and the huge demographic changes in the district’s student populations.

More recent analysis finds that 12 years after Katrina, 34 of the city’s 84 schools that the state is able to assess (not all schools have grades that take state tests) were rated D or F in the state’s A-F ranking. Eighteen of the schools have had D or F three years in a row. The trend is negative, as 65 percent of New Orleans schools have seen their state rankings slide three years in a row.

Something Other Than Privatization

An article at The 74 is already soft-peddling the announcement of school privatization rollouts in Puerto Rico as a sort of New Orleans-light.

“Although comparisons to New Orleans are perhaps inescapable,” the article states, “Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana state superintendent who led reform efforts after Katrina, said Puerto Rico is actually more akin to Denver or Washington, D.C., where reform efforts have simultaneously focused on traditional public schools and charters.”

Regardless which style of privatization Puerto Rico rolls out, educators and parents are bound to protest. As the article mentions, Keleher’s first target for charterizing are 14 Montessori schools. The article quotes a spokeswoman for the government agency that works to expand the island’s public Montessori schools who reportedly said, “Leaders at the existing Montessori schools … are not interested in converting their campuses to charters.”

We’ve already seen how privatization has proven to be a disaster in Puerto Rico. Shortly after Maria hit, an Atlanta entrepreneur working as a one-woman company was awarded a $156 million contract to deliver 30 million meals. Only 50,000 were delivered and those were rejected for not being in compliance with the contract.

Similarly a tiny family utility-contractor operating out of his home in the ski town of Whitefish, Montana, was awarded a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to rebuild 100 miles of power transmission lines across the island’s shattered electric grid. This arrangement also proved to be disastrous.

Could it be that something other than privatization is the answer?

2/1/2018 – How Public Schools Became The Koch Brothers’ ‘Lowest Hanging Fruit’

THIS WEEK: DeVos Lawsuit … 9,000 DACA Teachers … Puerto Rico Shock Doctrine … Super Bowl Teachers Strike … College Funding Lags

TOP STORY

How Public Schools Became The Koch Brothers’ ‘Lowest Hanging Fruit’

By Jeff Bryant

“GOP fat cats who make up the powerful donor network led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch recently met in California and declared their intention to ‘fundamentally transform America’s education system,’ including the K-12 sector. ‘The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12,’ said one of the attendees … It would be a shame, and ultimately a tragedy, if Democrats let them pick it.?”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Is Sued Over Sexual Assault Guidance

The New York Times

“Victims’ rights and women’s rights groups sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos … saying that rules that she issued last year to guide campuses on how to manage sexual assault complaints violated federal law and discriminated against accusers … Guidance issued by Ms. DeVos in the fall had had a ‘chilling effect’ on campus sexual assault investigations … Accusers have been less inclined to pursue sexual assault cases, and colleges have demonstrated a lack of urgency and clarity in pursuing them … DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidance on how colleges should manage the investigations under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination and governs the rules on investigating sexual assault on campus.”
Read more …

Nearly 9,000 DACA Teachers Face An Uncertain Future

NPR

“Of the 690,000 undocumented immigrants now facing an uncertain future as Congress and President Trump wrangle over the DACA program are about 8,800 school teachers. The real possibility that they’ll be deported if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is allowed to expire has put enormous stress on them … School districts in Texas and across the country have hired teachers covered by DACA on the condition that they renew their work permit every two years, as the program requires. But last September, after President Trump announced he was shutting down DACA, these teachers suddenly found the safety and security the program had offered up in the air.”
Read more …

Puerto Rico Proposes Hundreds of School Closures, With Many Students Looking To U.S. Mainland

Newsweek

“Puerto Rico’s governor has proposed closing more than a quarter of its public schools as the island struggles to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria … The proposal follows a string of school closures meant to help quell the island’s years-long economic crisis … an estimated 14,000 Puerto Rican students have turned to the mainland U.S. for educational opportunities … About 90% of the island’s schools were up and running as of last month, though some schools remained without power.”
Read more …

St. Paul Companies Are Spending Their Tax Breaks On Super Bowl Sponsorships. Teachers Are Crying Foul.

The Intercept

“With more than a million people headed to the Twin Cities … for the Super Bowl, local corporations, St. Paul school district officials, and civic leaders are bracing for … the first teachers strike in St. Paul in over 70 years … The argument the teachers are making in their contract negotiations is … the school district’s financial situation can never really improve until corporations start paying their fair share … Teachers are focusing on the companies that make up the founding sponsors of the Super Bowl Host Committee – companies the union says have avoided paying $300 million in state income taxes over the last five years alone … Only 7 of the 25 Super Bowl Host Committee founding partners donated to the St. Paul public school district last year – for a total of $1.1 million. All 25 companies, by contrast, paid $1.5 million to be founding Super Bowl partners.”
Read more …

Public Universities Struggle As Ohio, Other States Put Brakes On Funding

The Columbus Dispatch

“Across the country, state funding for higher education grew by just 1.3 percent from 2017 to 2018, a sign that states are struggling to sustain revenue streams needed to support colleges and universities … The increase in state support was the lowest in the past 5 years … Nearly a third of the 50 states reported decreases in higher-education funding in fiscal year 2018 … In some states, lawmakers have made decisions to decrease or maintain taxes rather than increase them to support areas such as higher education … There also have been downturns in economic sectors on which some states are more dependent, such as the energy industry … State leaders often feel obligated to direct available revenue to other areas … The slowing state support comes as higher-education institutions continue to face pressure about the cost of college and students’ ability to repay loans.”
Read more …

How Public Schools Became The Koch Brothers’ ‘Lowest Hanging Fruit’

Despite his campaign promises to transform American education, President Donald Trump had almost nothing to say about the subject in his first State of the Union speech, and his controversial education secretary Betsy DeVos has not made national headlines for some time. But that doesn’t mean Republicans are pausing their assault on the nation’s public schools.

As James Hohmann of the Washington Post reports, GOP fat cats who make up the powerful donor network led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch recently met in California and declared their intention to “fundamentally transform America’s education system,” including the K-12 sector.

“The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12,” said one of the attendees, a wealthy Texan who co-founded Texans for Educational Opportunity, a lobbying group behind the effort in the Lone Star State to create vouchers that let parents use taxpayer dollars to send their kids to private or religious schools. “I think [K-12] is the area that is most glaringly obvious.”

“The vast network has pledged to devote around $400 million” to influencing political campaigns in the upcoming November elections, reports Annie Linskey of the Boston Globe, who also dropped in on the affair. “That’s 60 percent more than the network spent in 2014, when Republicans picked up nine seats in the Senate and 13 seats in the House of Representatives.”

A “major focus” for those pledging these staggering sums, according to Linskey: referendums and new state laws “to remake the nation’s education system.”

The revelation of a huge, influential network of wealthy conservatives determined to remake public schools into their own vision should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention. Leading scholars of the conservative movement have been warning for years that radical factions in the Republican party have made public schools one of their top targets, a progressive plum at least as important, if not more so, as Medicare and Social Security.

What’s not certain though is whether Democrats will recognize the onslaught and rise to the challenge of defending public schools and public school educators.

What the Right Wing Wants

Participants at the Koch Network gathering spoke of “disrupting the status quo” in education in order to remake the system around policies that enable more of what they call “choice.”

“The Kochs are particularly enthusiastic about education savings accounts,” Linskey writes, “a mechanism that upends traditional K-12 education by, in some cases, giving parents lump sums they can use to pay private schools or even online institutions to educate their children.”

Currently, five states allow for Education Savings Accounts: Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Arizona, and Tennessee. But legislation to create new ESA programs is pending in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Missouri, Iowa, Texas, Georgia, and elsewhere.

ESAs have been called “the next generation of school vouchers,” and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has called ESAs “the driver behind school choice of the future.”

The programs vary somewhat from state to state, but generally the programs allow qualifying parents who withdraw their children from public schools to get a proportion of the money the state would otherwise have spent to educate their children deposited into an account. The accounts come with debit cards families can use to pay for education products and services such as private schools, home schooling, online courses, private lessons and therapists, and tutoring services.

The programs tend to pose significant risks to parents, as states release funds to parents in exchange for the parents agreeing to forego their right to a public education.

Advocates for these programs often begin by targeting ESAs to disadvantaged student groups, such as those from low-income households or those with special needs. But then, invariably, ESA proponents want to expand the program to entice other families to leave the public school system.

Participants at the Koch Network gathering, Hohmann reports, spoke of ESAs being instrumental in redirecting public school funding to an array of privately-controlled alternatives to public schools, including “technologies” that let parents pick and choose private classes or tutors, teacher-less computer based instructional programs often called “personalized” or “customized” learning, and “micro-schools” that substitute computer software platforms for the traditional shared-space of a public school led by professional educators.

ESAs further the conservative cause to transform collectivist endeavors, like public education, into consumer enterprises that give the wealthy the upper hand in maintaining their privileges. The amount of money ESAs provide per student rarely covers the full cost of tuition, fees, uniforms, books, transportation, and other expenses at private and religious schools.

During one session at the Koch Network meeting, the audience was harangued by Doug Ducey, a Koch acolyte and former chief executive of Cold Stone Creamery who now serves as governor of Arizona. Ducey offered his state as a model for how to remake public schools.

Last year, Arizona enacted a universal, statewide ESA program that is now being threatened by a citizen-led repeal effort, which voters will decide in November. The Koch Brothers, through their Americans for Prosperity and Libre Initiative organizations, have already spent millions to derail the recall effort in the public forum and in the state courts. A Superior Court Judge recently tossed out their effort to stop the referendum, so now the Koch Network is drumming up more money to defeat the recall at the ballot box.

In his reporting of the discussion, Hohmann incorrectly cites “teacher unions” as the leaders in the decidedly broad-based effort to collect signatures and put the statewide ESA recall to voters. Nevertheless, participants in the Koch Network called “breaking the teacher unions” an essential to getting their education ideas enacted.

The Right Wing’s Long Game

The group gathered at the Koch Network event are not your run-of-the-mill right-wing conspirators. Members of the network, some 700 of them, have to contribute a minimum of $100,000 annually, and they hold huge sway with Republican candidates and elected officials.

They’ve been working on building this influence for a long time.

As Jane Mayer recounts in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Charles and David Koch and other conservative billionaire families have orchestrated a decades-long effort to influence U.S. politics. She makes a convincing case that, after years of careful planning and generous funding, the Kochs have succeeded in spreading their antipathy toward government and progressivism and establishing themselves at the center of conservative Republican politics.

While Trump may have initially distanced his presidential campaign from the Kochs and their network, once in office, he quickly hired Koch allies, like DeVos, and pushed new legislation, such as the recently enacted tax plan that the Kochs now pledge $20 million to “sell” to the American public.

Trump also continues to be, as he was in his presidential campaign, an ardent proponent of the Koch network’s top education initiative: school choice.

in David Koch’s losing run for political office in 1980, Mayer recounts, he campaigned on a platform that called for ending an array of federal programs that make up the social-economic safety net, including welfare, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security; closing numerous federal agencies, including the EPA, SEC, and FBI; and getting rid of public schools.

Mayer calls attention to other wealthy, influential right-wing donors who have targeted public education for transformation, including John M. Olin, Art Pope, Richard Mellon Scaife, Harry and Lynde Bradley, and Richard and Betsy DeVos (yes, that Betsy DeVos).

Among the many campaigns waged by these wealthy individuals and their foundations, Mayer describes numerous examples of their support for “the early national ‘school choice’ movement” and their desires to dismantle teachers’ unions and traditional public schools. The effort aims to “‘wean’ Americans from government” by making it easier for parents to use public funds to send their children to private and parochial schools.

Similarly, Nancy MacLean, in her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, details how the right’s vast network, including the Kochs and the academic institutions they’ve sponsored, erected a formidable campaign to dismantle government, with public education being among their chief targets. Their hatred for all collective endeavors – including schools, Social Security, voting rights, taxation, and government supported healthcare – drove them to propose the most radical ideas by using prosaic, positive language of “choice” and “reform.”

MacLean sources much of her documentation of the radical right’s ascension to the “school crisis” in the South, principally Virginia, where court-ordered desegregation sent wealthy white Southerners into a panic over the prospect of seeing their children in the same classrooms with black students.

With the Koch Network’s announcement remaking public education is now a chief cause of the right wing political machine, we are seeing the fruition of the decades-long campaign carefully planned and crafted by wealthy conservatives.

Will Democrats Fight Back?

How much money are wealthy Republicans in the Koch Network planning to spend on their education initiative?

“The network declined to offer exact figures,” according to Hohmann, “but said it will double investment in K-12 this year, with much more planned down the road.”

What is even less clear is how Democrats intend to respond.

Democrats, over the years, have pulled away from their historical support for public schools and classroom teachers and have gradually embraced the language of “reform” and “choice” Republicans use. Many Democrats have turned against teachers union, joined the Republican chorus to “bust” the public school “monopoly,” and embraced numerous alternatives to traditional public schools that sap the system of its resources.

“To begin to chronicle the origin of the Democrats’ war on their own—the public school teachers and their unions that provide the troops and the dough in each new campaign cycle to elect the Democrats—is to enter murky territory,” writes Jennifer Berkshire for The Baffler.

Berkshire traces the Democrats’ turn against public schools back to the Clinton administration and up through Obama. But the course mainstream Democrats chose to follow when talking about public schools sounds not much different from what the Kochs and their kind have been selling, Berkshire argues. “Teachers unions, regulation, and government schools are the problem, Democrats continue insisting into the void; deregulation, market competition and school choice are the fix.”

With the deeply unpopular duo of Trump and DeVos leading the Republicans’ campaign to dismantle public schools, Democrats have an an opportunity this November to offer a very different message and policy choice for education that turns it into an effective wedge issue for the vast audience of voters who genuinely want support for education to be on the ballot.

As Republicans are poised to go after public schools as “the lowest hanging fruit,” it would be a shame, and ultimately a tragedy, if Democrats let them pick it.

1/25/2018 – Largest Charter School Fail Ever Doesn’t Faze ‘School Choice’ Fans

THIS WEEK: School Shootings Abound … Rural Schools Ignored … For-Profit College Chaos … Conservatives Deny Racism … Arizona Charter Fraud

TOP STORY

Largest Charter School Fail Ever Doesn’t Faze ‘School Choice’ Fans

By Jeff Bryant

“In the run up to what was billed as ‘record breaking celebrations’ of charter schools and other forms of “school choice,” there was a serious bump in the road when news outlets in Ohio reported the largest charter school closure ever in that state, and perhaps the nation, had suddenly sent over 12,000 students and their families scrambling to find new schools midyear … Charter schools … which are driven by market-based principles, seem to guarantee a certain portion are expected to fail. Do you really think that is something to celebrate?”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

School Shooting in Kentucky Was Nation’s 11th of Year. It Was Jan. 23.

The New York Times

“Gunfire ringing out in American schools used to be rare, and shocking. Now it seems to happen all the time … Jarred and fearful school administrators across the country have been placing greater emphasis on preparing for the possibility of an active shooter … 19 states were requiring individual schools to have plans for how to deal with an active shooter. Only 12 states required schools to conduct drills, but two-thirds of school districts reported that they had staged active shooter exercises.”
Read more …

Rural Schools Often Ignored in Research and Policy Discussions

Education Week

“The poverty, inequity, and isolation that students in rural schools must cope with are often overlooked in education research and policy discussions, according to a new report … More than 9 million students attend rural K-12 schools in the United States … Rural schools struggle to hire and train teachers and often have limited access to advanced coursework.”
Read more …

Are States Doing Enough To Regulate For-Profit Colleges? This Study Says No.

The Washington Post

“New research … documents differences among states in how well their laws protect students from bad actors in the for-profit college industry … Forty-three states … earned failing grades. Six others received a D, while California alone scored a B for its oversight of for-profit schools … State oversight is especially important as the Trump administration rolls back Obama-era regulations designed to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges. But too many states rely on the oversight of accreditation agencies that are funded by the fees of the schools they rate.”
Read more …

Despite Conservatives Just Don’t Understand That Racism Runs Deep in American Education

Alternet

“The DeVos-led Department of Education is currently cooking up ways to get rid of the 2014 Obama-era guidelines for K-12 public school discipline, which was aimed at ameliorating discrepancies based on race, class and disability when it comes to how students are punished in school … The 2014 guidelines are crucial for addressing the implicit bias that exists in schools … ‘Studies consistently show that even when engaging in the exact same type of misbehavior, minorities are more likely to punished, and punished more severely, than white students’ … Black children … deserve to learn, feel safe and thrive in educational environments where they won’t be punished at higher rates than their white peers due to racist assumptions about their lack of innocence and predilections for criminality.”
Read more …

The Mess In Arizona’s Charter School Sector

The Washington Post

“Some states have laws that provide some oversight and consequences for failing charters. Other states, not so much. Arizona is one of those ‘not so much’ states … Statutes even mandate that the state auditor general cannot monitor charter schools … Charter schools have been allowed for years to systematically submit false and incomplete spending data to the state, making it impossible to detect waste and fraud … 38 charter owners did not report teacher data in 2017 … 180 charter owners out of 418 underreported administrative expenditures … The result is $1.5 billion in state funding given to charter schools with no expectation of accountability.”
Read more …

Largest Charter School Fail Ever Doesn’t Faze ‘School Choice’ Fans

In the run up to what was billed as “record breaking celebrations” of charter schools and other forms of “school choice,” there was a serious bump in the road when news outlets in Ohio reported the largest charter school closure ever in that state, and perhaps the nation, had suddenly sent over 12,000 students and their families scrambling to find new schools midyear.

The school, an online charter called the Electronic School of Tomorrow (ECOT), owed the state nearly $80 million for inflating its enrollment numbers and overcharging the state for thousands of students that never attended full time. Negotiations on a payment plan with the state fell through, and the school’s sponsor, which it needed to operate legally, decided it couldn’t carry the school.

“My kids went to bed last night crying,” said a Cincinnati mom whose children attended the school.

“To just rip them out of the environment they are most used to,” complained another mom whose children had attended the school for eight years. “They have relationships with their teachers,” she said in a news video posted on the ECOT Facebook page.

Older students seem to have it the roughest, especially those nearing graduation, who must ensure credit hours and courses align to their college plans. “A nightmare” one student called the mad scramble for transcripts and other paperwork. “Twelve-thousand people yelling for records all at once.”

The fallout is all but certain to continue as a wave of abandoned charter students washes up in public schools across the Buckeye State, where they may be ill prepared for classwork due to the online school’s poor academic standing.

Yet in kicking off the school choice events – an annual event called National School Choice Week – President Trump, said nothing about the unfolding charter school disaster in Ohio, proclaiming instead, “School choice helps alleviate common hindrances to success and creates the space necessary for students’ aspirations to flourish.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Trump’s biggest proponent of charter schools and all things choice, addressed a School Choice Week rally in the nation’s capital, the first Secretary of Education to do so, led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. “I hope you will go out from here and you will tell your stories,” DeVos exhorted the crowd. Yet no one at the event, including DeVos, appeared to want to tell the stories from Ohio.

And as scheduled school choice events rolled out, news outlets across the nation happily reported one unbalanced story after another about the raucous events and speeches at school choice events, with nary a mention about the debacle in Ohio.

Only one prominent charter school enthusiast, Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, addressed ECOT’s closure. She praised it, calling the state’s actions “a good day for those who believe in the importance of closing poor-performing schools.”

Both Rees’s comment on the Ohio charter school failure and the inattention to ECOT’s collapse in School Choice Week events seem to confirm that school choice fans and the charter school industry are convinced things are working just swimmingly and their business model that implies the need for some schools to fail and be closed down actually proves choice is working.

But in a public education system guided by choice, what happens to the parents who choose wrong?

A Billion Dollars for What?

The failed Ohio online charter school, which operated for 16 years, likely cost the state over a billion dollars, estimates former state education administrator Bill Phills in the Columbia Dispatch.

The school got into trouble for inflating attendance at the outset, according to the article, while using an aggressive marketing campaign, with taxpayer dollars, to keep consumer interest high.

Few state leaders seemed to care when a district superintendent reported some students in the online charter hadn’t received computers deep into the school year, weren’t required to report to a central computer lab, or could “go in once every 20 days, log on, do nothing and then go away for another 20 days.” The superintendent surmised the lack of response was due to the generous campaign donations the school’s owner, William Lager, who grew rich from the school, gave to GOP politicians protecting the school.

Longtime Ohio charter school watchdog Stephen Dyer agrees. “Lager himself gave more than $1.2 million to primarily legislative candidates since 2000, less than 5 percent of which went to Democrats,” he writes on his blog for progressive think tank Innovation Ohio. “And while the school is now shut down, what is clear is that the reason it remained open as long as it did was because the school had powerful allies and protectors in state government,” he concludes.

“Until very recently ECOT seemed untouchable,” writes James Pogue in a long form article about ECOT for Mother Jones. But now that the school has seemingly been shut down, “Many of the Ohio students and parents who got caught up in the ECOT experiment already feel like they’re living with the consequences,” he concludes.

For many of those students and parents, especially those now sent scrambling to find a new school, the consequences are likely not good.

Public Schools to the Rescue

The largest charter school closing before the ECOT debacle was the mass exodus from Imagine charter schools in St. Louis. As I reported for the Washington Post, in 2007, Imagine Schools, a for-profit chain of 69 brick-and-mortar schools currently operating in 12 states, moved into the city and opened four new charters. By 201i, Imagine had six schools enrolling nearly 4,000 students, over 10 percent of the district’s student population.

District officials and local reporters noted Imagine’s students performed consistently worse than city and state averages on standardized tests, yet the company was reaping huge profits from its real estate business.

Missouri state officials, alarmed at Imagine’s fiscal stunts and persistently low performance, closed all six schools in 2012, sending 3,800 students from closed schools to district schools that needed millions in new funds to upgrade and outfit buildings to accommodate the influx.

It’s fortunate, those students had public schools to take them in. The same is true in Ohio.

“About 95 percent of Ohio’s 600-plus school districts have students at ECOT,” an Ohio news outlet reports, with the Columbus and Cleveland districts topping 1,200 and 800 students, respectively.

It’s impossible to estimate how many of ECOT’s former students will decide to enroll in a different online school. But these schools are not likely good choices either. Ohio’s online charters tend to preform far worse than their counterpart brick-and-mortar schools do, with students losing between 75 days to a full year in academic learning, according to a new study.

Also, the number of the ECOT students who will end up in Ohio’s brick-and-mortar charters isn’t clear because many charter schools do not have to accept student transfers at midyear even if they have room, a process known as backfilling.

Many of the receiving public schools braced to accept these students already struggle with overcrowding. No doubt, districts will be taking in students who have never attended one of their schools, and will therefore need to have screening for learning disabilities, English language proficiency, and other special needs. Many schools may have to hire new specialized staff to meet these students’ needs.

And the fact these transferring online charter students are used to taking classes online and not in classrooms will pose new problems for acclimating them to a traditional public school.

At least one district, Cleveland, has set up a special task force to meet the challenge.

“We adjust,” a public school administrator from another district is quoted in a local news outlet. “That’s what we do.”

The public schools’ response to the charter closure disaster in Ohio is reminiscent of stories and images from Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and California recently, where public schools were some of the few institutions to stay open in the disastrous wake of hurricanes and wildfires, and public school teachers were on the frontlines to help desperate families.

Yet, school choice proponents declare public schools the problem with American education.

Whose Choice

No doubt, many parents who chose ECOT strongly believe it was the best choice for their children. That may be true for many of them. And those are the only parents you’re going to hear from during National School Choice Week. But what about the parents whose stories aren’t so happy?

Of course, public schools sometimes close too. But we don’t expect them to. In fact, public schools have long been the default backstop in communities everywhere.

Charter schools, on the other hand, which are driven by market-based principles, seem to guarantee a certain portion are expected to fail. Do you really think that is something to celebrate?

1/18/2018 – Trump Fills The Swamp To Exploit College Students

THIS WEEK: Segregated Gerrymandering … Funding Cuts Hurt Students … Texas Broke SpEd Law … Costs Of Charters … Discipline Guidelines At Risk

TOP STORY

Trump Fills The Swamp To Exploit College Students

By Jeff Bryant

“President Trump ran on promises to ‘drain the swamp’ of special interests and corporate lobbyists in Washington, DC, but higher education policy in his administration is a quagmire of Okefenokee proportions … Filling the swamp with higher education exploiters has severe negative financial consequences not only to college loan holders, but also to the public treasury, and according to a new report, the fallout to taxpayers is likely worse than what’s widely understood.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

We Can Draw School Zones To Make Classrooms Less Segregated. This Is How Well Your District Does.

Vox

“Once you look at the school attendance zones … it becomes clearer … groups with political clout – mainly wealthier, whiter communities – have pushed policies that help white families live in heavily white areas and attend heavily white schools … Often the attendance zones are gerrymandered to put white students in classrooms that are even whiter than the communities they live in. The result is that schools today are re-segregating … But this exact strategy – gerrymandering school districts to include certain kinds of students and exclude others – can also be used to integrate a school, rather than segregate them.”
Read more …

Less Money For Schools After The Recession Meant Lower Test Scores And Graduation Rates, Study Finds

Chalkbeat

“The Great Recession did real damage to student learning … The latest analysis… found that the impact of the spending cuts was substantial. Cutting per-student spending by 10 percent throughout a student’s high-school years reduced their likelihood of graduating by nearly 3 percentage points… Those spending cuts also led to lower scores on the federal NAEP test … Spending has bounced back … but … by 2015, 29 states were still spending less per student than they were in 2008.”
Read more …

Texas Illegally Excluded Thousands From Special Education, Federal Officials Say

The New York Times

“Texas education officials illegally led schools across the state to deny therapy, tutoring and counseling to tens of thousands of children with disabilities … The state agency’s decision to set a ‘target’ for the maximum percentage of students who should receive special education services had violated federal laws … The target, enacted in 2004 and eliminated last year, was set at 8.5% of enrollment … even though the state and national averages had both long been about 12% … The target had forced [teachers] to withhold services from students with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, mental illnesses, speech impairments, or even blindness and deafness.”
Read more …

Charter Schools Are Taking Money Away From NC School Districts, Study Says

The News & Observer

“Charter schools in North Carolina are taking money away from traditional public schools and reducing what services those school districts can provide to their students … In the case of Durham, NC, the study found that charter schools are creating a fiscal burden for the district between $500 and $700 per student … The study found smaller but what it still called significant negative fiscal effects on the five other districts examined … The study says that state leaders may want to consider providing transitional aid to smooth or mitigate the revenue losses for school districts as charter schools continue to expand.”
Read more …

Keep Guidelines In Place That Work To Ensure Fair Discipline For Black, Brown Students

USA Today

Two advocates for school discipline reforms warn, “The Trump administration is gearing up to kill the [federal school discipline] guidelines, worsening the damage to black and brown children caused by unfair discipline … Black students are expelled, suspended and thrown in juvenile detention more frequently than their white counterparts for the same behaviors … Federal guidance plays a key role in keeping all kids in school and helping schools to implement in-school disciplinary measures … In many places, since the 2014 guidance was issued, suspensions have gone down. The guidance has helped thousands of parents and students understand their rights and schools’ responsibilities.”
Read more …

Trump Fills The Swamp To Exploit College Students

President Trump ran on promises to “drain the swamp” of special interests and corporate lobbyists in Washington, DC, but higher education policy in his administration is a quagmire of Okefenokee proportions.

Just to review the latest developments to emerge from the dismal places in his administration:

• His Department of Education contracted with a college student loan service company with financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos,

• His Department of Justice sided with a college loan service firm that a state attorney general says has violated college student loan debt forgiveness rules, and

• His Department of Veterans Affairs gave a reprieve to a for-profit college that also has ties to personnel deep in the muck of DoEd headquarters in L’Enfant Plaza.

These developments continue the trend in the Trump administration, and with Republicans on Capitol Hill in general, to favor the interests of the predatory college loan and for-profit college industries at the expense of students, families, and the American taxpayer.

Filling the swamp with higher education exploiters has severe negative financial consequences not only to college loan holders, but also to the public treasury, and according to a new report, the fallout to taxpayers is likely worse than what’s widely understood.

College Debt Collector Tied to DeVos

The Trump administration didn’t start the sordid business of contracting with for-profit companies to help the federal government collect overdue student loans.

But the Obama administration at least made an effort to be more selective in choosing collection firms with clean records and taking steps to prevent them from charging high fees and abusing debt holders. The Trump administration, on the other hand, has reversed those policies and abandoned safeguards that could prevent bad actors from getting federal contracts.

Officials in the education department say the reversals were enacted to cut “red tape,” but it doesn’t add to the department’s credibility that a loan service company chosen to receive one of these lucrative contracts happens to have financial ties to Secretary DeVos.

As the Washington Post reports, the company, Performant Financial Corp., “is linked to LMF WF Portfolio, a limited liability company that DeVos as an investor.” The contract is worth up to $400 million.

During her confirmation, Senate Democrats grilled DeVos about potential conflicts of interest arising from her overseeing contract bids worth millions of dollars to companies she had financial connections to.

DeVos was required to divest her holdings with Performant, but the decision to award a contract to the firm seems even shadier due to the “marginal” management rating Performant has for its previous work under the Obama administration.

Other loan firms that applied for contracts are now suing the department for exhibiting bias in its selection process.

Trump Doing Loan Servicers’ Bidding

An even bigger concern is that DeVos and her department are awarding new loan service contracts at all without adopting any new reforms to prevent these companies from gouging loan holders and running up the bill to the federal government.

In reporting about the Performant deal, a journalist for Dow Jones quotes student loan borrower advocates who compare student debt collectors to firms working for the Internal Revenue Service that, in 2017, collected $6.7 million in tax payments but invoiced the government $20 million for their services.

While the Trump administration puts into place personnel and procedure that benefit the college student loan industry, his Justice department is actively engaged in preventing any other branches of law enforcement from holding the companies accountable for cheating borrowers and running up expenses to the public.

As Reuters reports, the Trump administration recently intervened in a lawsuit brought by the Massachusetts Attorney General that accuses a company that handles over a quarter of the nation’s outstanding college student debt for “deceptive practices” and overcharging students.

Massachusetts accuses the loan servicer, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, of causing public workers and teachers in the state to lose benefits and assistance provided by the federal government, including a program that forgives student loans after 10 years of public-service employment.

In defense of the loan company, Trump’s DoJ filed papers telling the judge to dismiss the charges because Massachusetts doesn’t have standing to pursue claims against the company. Should the judge comply, this would establish a terrible precedent for future actions against abusive college loan debt collectors.

Favors for For-Profit Colleges

When the Trump administration isn’t sticking up for college loan servicers, it’s doing all it can to help for-profit colleges – the sector that benefits the most from federal college loans – avoid accountability for breaking rules and pushing disadvantaged students, many who are military veterans, into taking out huge loans for degree programs they mostly never complete.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, during the Obama administration, for-profit college Ashford University, that relied heavily for its revenues on GI Bill benefits, was threatened with losing its eligibility to obtain millions of dollars from the federal program because of noncompliance with licensure requirements. But Trump’s Veteran’s Administration recently gave Ashford a reprieve, pending legal action that could resolve the noncompliance.

The VA’s decision could be on the up-and-up, but it doesn’t help that Ashford’s parent company, Bridgepoint Education, has run into trouble for illegal practices before, including deceiving students into taking out loans that cost more than advertised, collecting federal loan money even though the vast majority of students drop out, and rewarding corporate executives and shareholders with huge profits reaped from public funds.

The VA’s decision looks all the more suspect based on the presence of former Bridgepoint employees in DeVos’s education department. As David Halperin writes in one of his many investigative reports on the for-profit college industry, DeVos has in her department two employees with Bridgepoint connections – Robert Eitel, who was Bridgepoint’s chief compliance officer before joining the department as senior advisor, and Linda Rawles, an attorney chosen to help craft rules to govern student debt relief. Talk about foxes attending the henhouse.

This recent action by the VA extends the Trump administration’s reputation for favoring the for-profit college industry, a perception demonstrated last year when DeVos and her department suspended rules that would have allowed student-holders defrauded by Corinthian College, and other for-profits, to have their loans forgiven. In retaliation, more than one-third of states have filed lawsuits.

It Gets Worse

The Trump administration’s efforts to fill the higher education swamp in Washington, DC has dire consequences not only for the students who are shackled with crippling levels of debt but also for the American taxpayer.

A new comprehensive assessment of student debt and default over a 20-year span finds disturbing trends that indicate student debt burdens and the consequences from those debts are worse than what previous studies have found.

This analysis by Brookings finds, for instance, that as many as 40 percent of student loan holders are likely to default, and the cumulative rate of default over the 20-year span analyzed is far higher than previously measured.

The default rate is far worse for students who take out loans for degree programs offered by for-profit colleges. The default rate for students entering for-profit programs is nearly four times the rate of those students entering public programs – 47 percent versus 13 percent. This discrepancy between the two sectors is getting worse. For a cohort of 100 students who began attending a for-profit college in 1996, 23 defaulted within 12 years of starting their programs, compared to 43 for the cohort entering a for-profit program in 2004.

The loan default rate among black students is at “crisis levels,” the analysis finds. The default rate among black graduates is more than five times the rate of white graduates (21 versus 4 percent). Here again, the for-profit sector makes the problem worse. Black students who drop out of for-profit colleges default at a rate of 67 percent compared to only 4 percent for white graduates who never attended a for-profit and complete their degrees.

Default rates are accelerating across nearly all sectors of college entrants – for-profit or public, dropouts or degree holders. But when the results of the for-profit sector are separated out, default rates have risen at only “modest” levels.

For this reason, and others, the analysis recommends “robust efforts to regulate the for-profit sector.” Yet the Trump administration is doing the exact opposite.

Because the Brookings analysis is confined only to college loan holders who default, there is an even bigger problem with student loan debt being overlooked here.

All those students who haven’t defaulted deserve attention too. Student debt levels have reached nearly $1.4 trillion and now have become the second-largest source of household debt, after housing, and the only form of consumer debt that continues to grow since the Great Recession.

But the most important point here is that the cost of student loan debt and the malfeasance of the for-profit college industry hurt everyone by bleeding the public treasury, directing huge amounts of economic capital to unproductive ends, and diminishing the opportunities for a whole generation of young adults to realize their life goals.

The Trump administration is hard at work doing everything it can to make this situation worse.