Education Opportunity Network

Education Opportunity Network -

10/11/2018 – During Kavanaugh Craziness, News About DeVos Gets Lost

THIS WEEK: More Teacher Strikes Loom … Return to ‘Get Tough’ … Are Child Detainees Being Educated? … Cuts To College Funding … Organizing For Schools

TOP STORY

During Kavanaugh Craziness, News About DeVos Gets Lost

By Jeff Bryant

“While the serial outrages of the Trump administration continue to make headlines and whip up popular protests, there’s a danger that the more mundane activities of his cabinet officials and their underlings are being ignored. Take US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos … who now operates largely out of public view behind a security screen that is projected to cost the taxpayers nearly $8 million over the next year. What’s largely being overlooked behind all the lurid headlines and endless insults are all the ways in which officials like DeVos are quietly at work continuing to use our tax money to advance a deeply troubling agenda.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Teachers Turn Focus To Ballot Box, But Threat Of More Strikes Looms Large

Education Writers Association

“In May … massive teacher strikes shook up politics in a half-dozen states … Was the ‘educator spring,’ as the teacher walkouts were dubbed, a one-off event or just a taste of what’s to come?Last month, teachers in more than a dozen Washington State school districts went on strike over contract negotiations … In Los Angeles, educators in the country’s second-largest school district could go on strike as soon as this month … In states that saw widespread walkouts and some that did not, organizers have set their sights on the ballot box – riding the momentum of the strikes to mobilize voters in support of candidates and ballot initiatives that align with what they consider a ‘pro-education’ agenda … Educators in other states are showing an openness to walkouts. In Louisiana, just over 60% of educators surveyed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said they would support a statewide walkout … In Texas … the state’s largest teacher union is mobilizing voters for the November elections but is also prepared to support walkouts if the elections don’t go their way.”
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Federal Government Abandons Mission To Ensure Children Are “Educated And Healthy”

Medium

“Our federal government quietly changed the mission of the executive agency responsible for juvenile justice policy, abandoning the vision that all our children should be ‘healthy and educated’ …. These changes broadcast its shift in direction from the reforms that have cut the juvenile crime rate by 58% … back to the failed ‘get tough’ policies that brought us mass incarceration … States need the guidance of the federal government that was previously provided.”
Read more …

Unaccompanied and Uneducated: The Billions Spent At The Border

US News & World Report

“Federal regulations state that children in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, including unaccompanied migrant children, those who have been separated from their families, and those who are in shelters and other detainment centers with family members, must receive six hours of instruction every weekday, making education the single biggest part of their daily lives. But it’s unclear what that education looks like, who is providing it, how much it costs, whether there are proper supports in place for children with disabilities and those working through traumatic experiences, and who, if anyone, is overseeing it all … In response to a series of questions about how education is provided to unaccompanied migrant children, including a request for an interview, Victoria Palmer, who works in the Office of Communication at [Health and Human Services], said through an email, ‘We do not have anyone available for media interviews.'”
Read more …

State Spending On Higher Education Still Hasn’t Recovered From The Recession

Pacific Standard

“In the depths of the Great Recession, states … slashed their spending on higher education … During the 2017–18 school year, total state spending on public two- and four-year colleges was $7 billion less (adjusted for inflation) than it was in 2008 … Only four states … spend more per student today than they did in 2008 … The trend of the last several years … of slow, steady growth in higher ed spending … shows signs of stalling … While national spending was essentially flat between the 2017 and 2018 school years, 31 states actually cut per-student funding … Public institutions of higher education … have responded to these cuts in two ways: They’ve cut spending, reducing class offerings and eliminating other student services and supports; and they’ve increased tuition.”
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Can Community Organizing Improve Schools?

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “After years of disappointing results from top-down reform, there’s an urgent need to examine the positive progress that can happen when efforts come from the bottom-up. That is the subject of a new documentary The Long View … I spoke with The Long View producer and director Susan Zeig about the project … ‘There are lots of films about education but not many about the role community organizing plays in education. I wanted to portray that because people often forget it. Community organizing is messy. It takes a lot of time. It’s not always successful. But at a time when one might feel we’re at a low-point for our democracy, it’s the only tool for people without power to make some kind of impact. And you can see small victories.'”
Read more …

During Kavanaugh Craziness, News About DeVos Gets Lost

While the serial outrages of the Trump administration continue to make headlines and whip up popular protests, there’s a danger that the more mundane activities of his cabinet officials and their underlings are being ignored.

Take US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for instance, whose nomination drew a history-making opposition and set off an avalanche of ridicule in social media and late-night comedy, but who now operates largely out of public view behind a security screen that is projected to cost the taxpayers nearly $8 million over the next year.

What’s largely being overlooked behind all the lurid headlines and endless insults are all the ways in which officials like DeVos are quietly at work continuing to use our tax money to advance a deeply troubling agenda.

Doing the Koch Brothers’ Bidding

In her latest low-profile appearance, DeVos and her high-priced security detail paid a friendly visit to Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas without telling local officials, the media, or any other public outlet. The purpose of her stopover was to meet with a select group of representatives of Youth Entrepreneurs, a Wichita-based non-profit group founded by Charles and Liz Koch.

Youth Entrepreneurs, according to an investigative report by the Huffington Post, provides high school curriculum designed to inculcate students in the blessings of unfettered capitalism and libertarian ideology. Among the teachings included in the program’s lesson plans and classroom materials are that “the minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.

“Charles Koch had a hands-on role in the design of the high school curriculum,” the reporter reveals, based on leaked emails from a Google group left open to the public. “The goal … was to turn young people into ‘liberty-advancing agents’ before they went to college, where they might learn ‘harmful’ liberal ideas.”

While the purpose of DeVos’s trip to Youth Entrepreneurs remains unclear, it fits a pattern of DeVos using her visits to select education programs in order to feed her propaganda campaign for market-based education reform and privatizing public schools.

Selling the Education ‘Reform’ Lie

Another recent trip brought the DeVos caravan to New Orleans to drop in on two charter schools – nearly all taxpayer-supported schools in New Orleans are charter schools – and praise the district for being “a great example of what can be if people embrace change.”

The schools were carefully selected to build her narrative of market-based reform, the ideology that remade New Orleans schools after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

But as Louisiana-based public-school teacher Mercedes Schneider explains on her personal blog, the charter schools DeVos chose to visit are hardly representative of the conditions of New Orleans public schools under the reform regime.

First, both schools are among the few A-rated schools, based on state rankings, in a sea of D- and F-rated schools. Further, the two schools have much higher percentages of white students than is typical in a district that is overwhelmingly populated by black and brown students.

So what DeVos really illustrates by her visits to these New Orleans schools isn’t how reform produces what works but how reform creates “incredible racial inequity” Schneider correctly concludes.

Stoking the Charter School Industry

It’s important to note how the rhetoric DeVos employs in her propaganda campaign for market-based education reform gets reflected in the policy decisions made by her department.

As Politico reports, USDoE recently awarded $399 million in federal grants to expand and support charter schools across the country.

The grants, made through the Charter Schools Program, which has enjoyed a $40 million boost under the Trump administration, went to individual charter school operators and various state education agencies and nonprofit groups that either help secure funding for charters, push for their expansions, or advocate for the charter cause.

Even a cursory scan of some of the recipients warrants deeper scrutiny.

For instance, among three Alabama charter schools that received $1 million each in grant money, two have already been the subjects of multiple lawsuits.

Birmingham charter Legacy Prep – which recently changed its name, postponed its opening date, and has yet to find a building – just settled a messy court case with its founder – a Baptist church pastor – over who had authority over the school’s operations and whether the school’s governing board was properly constituted.

The court settlement follows closely after the Alabama Public Charter School Commission won its effort to overturn the Birmingham district school board’s original denial of the charter’s application. The district board had ruled last year that the school’s application did not meet the requirements of the district’s request for charter proposals.

So now, thanks to DeVos and her department, federal funds are going to a charter school under suspect leadership, with no building, that the district doesn’t want.

Similarly, another Alabama charter with a million dollar grant, University Charter School in Livingston, had to hurdle a lawsuit to open its doors.

In May, the county board that oversees the district filed suit to prohibit the charter’s authorizer from operating the school in a former high school that the district sold to the authorizer with the specific condition not to open a charter school in the building.

Here again, federal dollars are funding a charter startup in a local community that does not want it. So much for DeVos’s promises to curb the “overreach” of the federal government in education.

Supporting Rightwing Cronies

Another charter school grant winner on the list that deserves a closer look is the American Heritage Academy in Idaho.

The school’s founder Frank Vandersloot is a conservative billionaire, with a net worth of $1.9 billion, who was a finance co-chair of Mitt Romney’s 2012 failed presidential campaign and has given money to Florida Republican US Senator Marco Rubio, former Republican presidential candidates Carly Fiorina, the Republican National Committee, and state Republican parties across the US, according to a report in Forbes.

Vandersloot made national headlines in 2015 when he sued Mother Jones magazine for defamation after the news outlet published an article detailing his efforts to oppose gay rights.

Vandersloot has hosted a closed door meeting with President Trump at the headquarters of his company, Melaleuca. The company – which sells diet, personal care, home cleaning, and cosmetic products  – has been compared to Amway, the mega-company DeVos is heiress to, in that it employs a multi-level marketing strategy.

Vandersloot and DeVos are, in fact, connected through their participation in a multi-level marketing trade group that has been active in promoting legislation that attempts to limit the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to investigate and prosecute multi-level marketing scam operations.

All the Things We Don’t Know

None of this is to consider whether Vandersloot’s charter school, or any of the other charter school grantees, may or may not be worthy institutions, but shouldn’t taxpayers know more about why the school deserves our money?

Should we know, for instance, why grant money will go to a North Carolina charter, the Charlotte Lab School, that touts racial diversity in its mission, yet has a student population that is two-thirds white in a district where only 30 percent of the students are white?

Should we know more about why a federal grant is going to a Kansas City charter school, Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School, that is located at an Italian Cultural Center and had to pay $30,000 to former principal who filed lawsuit claiming the school’s founder made her fire her same-sex partner who also worked at the school?

Because of DeVos’s general lack of transparency, what we’re left with, instead of answers, are more questions and a well-founded suspicion that her purpose in office is to purloin as much public money as she can into the hands of private interests while justifying it as a much-needed reform.

Perhaps if there’s a Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives after the upcoming midterm elections, there will be inquiries to reveal the inner machinations of DeVos’s department. But in the meantime, she and her associates toil away behind a shroud of scary headlines, and that’s just the way they want it.

(Photo credit: Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

10/4/2018 – When Communities Lose Their Public Schools For Good, What Happens To The Students?

THIS WEEK: Teacher Brand Improves… School Security Scammers … Tax Raises For Schools … Anti-Poverty Programs Help Academics … DeVos’s For-Profit College Crony

TOP STORY

When Communities Lose Their Public Schools For Good, What Happens To The Students? Michigan May Soon Find Out.

By Jeff Bryant

“What if some communities no longer have public schools? That question, once unthinkable in America, may now be something policy leaders and lawmakers in at least one state may want to consider. In Michigan … some of the state’s largest school districts lose so many students to surrounding school districts and charter schools that the financial viability of the districts seems seriously in question … Michigan may be the canary in the coalmine warning that not only does unrestrained choice and competition fail to improve academic results, it also may risk the financial feasibility of having functioning public schools in every community.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

From ‘Rotten Apples’ To Martyrs: America Has Changed Its Tune On Teachers

Education Week

“For years, teachers continually heard the message that they were the root of problems in schools. But in a matter of months, the public narrative has shifted: The nation is increasingly concerned about teachers’ low salaries and challenging working conditions. Teachers, it seems, are no longer bad actors ruining schools – they’re victims of an unfair system, and the only hope for saving kids … The recent wave of teacher walkouts and protests … helped catalyze new feelings about the profession … Social media offered more visibility into teachers’ lives, from the second jobs some work to make ends meet to their out-of-pocket spending for classroom supplies. Evidence emerged that teacher-quality initiatives centered on student testing –which had become unpopular –haven’t worked. Even the election of President Donald Trump, which spurred a growing wave of activism across the country, has had an impact.”
Read more …

Lawmakers Buy Industry Fix To Protect Schools From Guns

AP

“Security companies spent years pushing schools to buy more products — from ‘ballistic attack-resistant’ doors to smoke cannons that spew haze from ceilings to confuse a shooter. But sales were slow … That changed last February, when a former student shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school … Since that attack, security firms and nonprofit groups linked to the industry have persuaded lawmakers to elevate the often-costly “hardening” of schools over other measures that researchers and educators say are proven to reduce violence … The industry helped Congress draft a law that committed $350 million to equipment and other school security over the next decade. Nearly 20 states have come up with another $450 million, and local school districts are reworking budgets to find more money.”
Read more …

Tax Hikes To Fund Schools? Once Taboo, The Idea Is Gaining Momentum

Education Wek

“Politicians on the state campaign trail this year are making some eye-popping promises for parents and educators: billions more dollars for schools, double-digit pay raises for teachers, and hundreds of millions more to replace dilapidated schoolhouses … In some states, Democrats are going so far as to broach a topic often seen as off-limits in election season: tax increases … Democrats in states such as Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma are gambling that voters are so alarmed at the financial disrepair of their local school systems that they’re willing to tax states’ corporations and wealthiest citizens to bail them out .… The pushback from Republican opponents and the business community in some of those states has been fierce. But some national and statewide polls show that public sentiment for taxes has shifted since the heyday of property tax revolts in the 1970s.”
Read more …

Want To Boost Test Scores And Increase Grad Rates? One Strategy: Look Outside Schools And Help Low-Income Families

Chalkbeat

“A large and growing body of research … documents not only that poverty hurts students in school, but that specific anti-poverty programs can counteract that harm. These programs – or other methods of increasing family income – boost students’ test scores, make them more likely to finish high school, and raise their chances of enrolling in college … In other words, many policies with a shot at changing the experience of low-income students in school don’t have anything to do with the schools themselves … They get relatively little attention from education policymakers who could be key advocates … One widely used anti-poverty program is the Earned Income Tax Credit, and it’s been repeatedly linked to better schooling outcomes for kids.”
Read more …

DeVos Aide Tailors Decisions To The Predatory Colleges That Employed Her

Republic Report

“In a meeting early this year at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters, a group of Department staffers led by senior adviser Diane Auer Jones told a delegation from Dream Center Education Holdings (DCEH) … to publicly represent that two of the company’s Art Institutes schools remained accredited, even though the schools’ accreditor had written the company a letter indicating that the schools were presently ‘not accredited.’… Jones’s involvement is apparent in a range of regulatory and enforcement decisions that have tailored the Department’s policies to the wish list of the worst predatory actors in the for-profit college industry … Before joining the DeVos Department she worked for some of those same egregious actors … which have extensive records of deceiving and abusing students … The Department published a proposed regulation that would thoroughly destroy the Obama borrower defense rule, which was aimed at providing some student loan relief to people ripped off by predatory colleges … The Department plans to simply cancel the Obama gainful employment rule, which would have penalized federally-funded career and for-profit college programs that consistently leave graduates with overwhelming debt.”
Read more …

When Communities Lose Their Public Schools For Good, What Happens To The Students? Michigan May Soon Find Out.

CORRECTED*

What if some communities no longer have public schools? That question, once unthinkable in America, may now be something policy leaders and lawmakers in at least one state may want to consider.

In Michigan – home state to US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos whose political donations and advocacy for “school choice” and charter schools drastically altered the state’s public education system – some of the state’s largest school districts lose so many students to surrounding school districts and charter schools that the financial viability of the districts seems seriously in question.

According to a new report, more than half of Michigan school districts experienced a net loss in enrollment last year, and the percent of student attrition in many of the state’s large districts is shocking, upwards of 60 to 70 percent.

Can a school district experiencing such losses in student enrollment continue to keep the doors open?

That question should be relevant to education policy leaders beyond Michigan as more states have enacted market-based policies that allow charter schools to proliferate, students to travel outside home districts to other districts, and voucher programs that let parents transfer students to private schools at taxpayer expense (something not yet allowed in Michigan).

Indeed, Michigan may be the canary in the coalmine warning that not only does unrestrained choice and competition fail to improve academic results, it also may risk the financial feasibility of having functioning public schools in every community.

School Districts on the Brink

In Michigan, the intense competition for students is taking bigger bites out of student enrollments in some of the state’s largest districts.

In Flint, where there are 14,325 public-school students living in the district, 39 percent attend charters and 32 percent are enrolled in another district – meaning the district loses 71 percent of its students.

In Pontiac, with 10,985 public-school students living in the district, 36 percent attend charters and 29 percent travel to other districts, leaving local schools with only 35 percent of the community’s students.

In Detroit, the state’s largest school district with nearly 104,000 students, 58 percent of them leave the district schools to attend charters (48 percent) or cross district borders (10 percent) to attend schools elsewhere.

How low can student enrollments go before a school district becomes financially unsustainable?

Why Schools Collapse

“Financial collapse is usually a function of multiple factors,” Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker tells me in an email. The factors he lists include Insufficient total revenue, the increased costs of serving special needs children left behind, the mounting health and retirement benefits of teachers, the increased costs of operating and maintaining old, inefficient buildings, and “of course, rapidly declining enrollment [which] creates additional financial pressure.”

Many of those factors certainly apply to Michigan where inadequate funding, rising populations of low-income and special needs students, mounting teacher pension costs, and a decaying infrastructure strain school district budgets.

Obviously, adding more choice to the education system in Michigan does nothing to address any of the above factors. But increasing the supply of schools in a state like Michigan where demand is in decline is especially nonsensical – student enrollments in Michigan are at their lowest point since the 1950s.

“It’s just inefficient,” Baker says. “Even if we believe that choice-induced competition creates some market-based efficiency gain, much if not all – or more – of that gain is lost due to the huge inefficiencies of trying to operate an increasing number of schools in the presence of smaller numbers of students.”

But what about states where student populations are stable or on the rise?

Choice Is Financial Nonsense

The thinking behind a market-based approach to education is that when the funding follows the student, school districts vying across district lines to get their enrollments high for “count day”, feel more intense pressure to provide services with greater financial efficiency. Adding charter schools, which in Michigan are allowed to start up wherever they want, without regard to the financial impact on district schools, brings into the mix an unregulated agent that can introduce even more financial efficiency into the system, the theory goes.

The academic benefits of a market-based approach to education have always been highly questionable, but in Michigan it has been a demonstrable disaster, as the state, when compared to the rest of the nation, continues to fall “further behind on test scores, on-time high school graduation rates, and getting young adults through college or post-secondary training,” according to recent analyses.

But did the argument for more market-based school competition ever make financial sense?

Baker doubts it, pointing out, in fact, that unrestrained school choice and constantly shifting student enrollments among schools introduce multiple financial inefficiencies into the system. “We increase transportation costs,” he writes, “create duplicative/redundant administrative structures and increase the inefficiency with which facilities are used (leaving empty space in some while creating pressure to build others).

“These problems exist even when we increase chartering in the context of more financially healthy school districts,” he argues. “It’s just that much worse in cases [as in Michigan] where total population is in decline and where districts are already cash-strapped.”

How Low Can Schools Go

So at what point does the financial inefficiency of school competition push a public school district into collapse?

A recent study of the financial impact of charters on Michigan public schools finances found that “overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent.” David Arsen, the lead author of the study, warns that when the share of charter schools in a district gets upward of “20 percent or so,” the adverse financial impacts on district finances are “sizeable.”

Baker suggests that for larger districts, there may be “a minimum scale threshold somewhere between district enrollment of 2,000 and 5,000 students” for optimal cost efficiency.

Should either of these calculations be anywhere near accurate, many of Michigan’s school districts are on the road to big financial problems. Pontiac schools, with 65 percent student attrition and a net loss of 7,166, are left with fewer than 4,000 students. Flint schools with a net loss of over 10,000 students now serve under 5,000 students.

School districts have gone belly up in Michigan before. In 2013, two small districts, Buena Vista and Inkster, closed for good due to bankruptcies. But in these cases, the few hundred students left without schools could be bused to surrounding districts. What happens when that fate befalls a much larger district?

When The Safety Net is Gone

Some may blithely suggest that were a large school system to close due to financial insolvency, charter school operators, seeing a new source of demand, would rush to fill the void with a supply of new schools.

But the reality is charter opportunists aren’t likely to start up new schools when prospects for a quick return on investment are unlikely. And charter schools can close whenever they want to, as they do all the time in Michigan.

Currently, lawmakers and policy leaders seem little concerned with the churn of charter schools coming and going because there is the reassurance of a safety net of public schools for students and families to fall back into. What happens when the safety net is gone?

“When charters suddenly close, there may be few other options available,” Baker warns.

Even worse, when the community has been especially reliant on a large charter operator to serve thousands of students across multiple schools, should the charter suddenly close, “Not only would it be difficult for other charters and district schools to absorb all of these kids,” he explains, “but it would come at infeasible short run costs.”

State and local taxpayers, or other charters, would need to either build new schools or buy back – in bankruptcy proceedings – the buildings to house the students. Should the burden fall on taxpayers, as it almost certainly would, they would face the triple financial whammy of having paid for the school buildings to begin with, having paid the former charter’s lease and maintenance costs, and then having to pay to get the buildings back after the charter operator collapsed.

How ironic it would be that faced with the consequences of having had so much school choice, some Michigan communities may soon find out just how few choices they really have.

* Baker’s calculation of 2,000 – 5,000 students for large districts is for optimal cost efficiency, not necessarily sustainability, as first stated.

(Photo credit: johnsoncitypress.com)

9/27/2018 – Why A ‘Blue Wave’ May Depend On Changing Education Politics

THIS WEEK: Teachers Are Winning … Votes For School Funds … Asbestos In Schools … Too Many School Cops … College Remedial Classes Overenrolled

TOP STORY

Why A ‘Blue Wave’ May Depend On Changing Education Politics

By Jeff Bryant

” Democratic party strategists and supporters may believe a “blue wave” is coming in the midterm elections because of widespread opposition to President Trump, but they risk their party’s success if they forget that state and local races more often revolve around issues closer to home – like education … For years, Democrats have more often than not been somewhat agreeable with their Republican opponents on most education issues. But this election season is shaping up quite differently. And how and whether Democratic candidates take advantage of the changing politics of education may make a difference in whether a blue wave happens at all.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Teachers Aren’t Just Running for Office – They’re Winning

Education Week

“Fed up with the state of public education, teachers are running for office … They’re winning. Out of the 158 current classroom teachers that Education Week confirmed were running for their state legislature, 101 have moved on to the general election. Thirty-seven of those teachers won their primaries, while 59 ran unopposed. Five are running as write-in candidates, so they didn’t have to go through a primary … In Oklahoma – 15 teachers won their primaries there, and 12 additional teachers in the Sooner State were unopposed. That’s about a 42 percent success rate so far for the 64 teachers there who filed to run. In Kentucky … 15 teachers out of 20 who started campaigns have advanced to the general election. In Arizona, three teachers have moved on to the general election, and in West Virginia, six have advanced. In both of those states, only one teacher was knocked out during the primaries.”
Read more …

Education Funding Fights To Play Out At The Polls In November Referendums

POLITICO

“Voters will weigh in on school taxes, school choice, Ten Commandments displays in schools and education governance questions at the ballot box come November … In at least 11 states, voters will decide on measures that would either boost school spending or provide officials with more flexibility to spend funds … Social issues are also in play … In Alabama, voters will decide whether to back a measure known as Amendment #1 that would allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in schools.”
Read more …

EPA Watchdog Slams Agency’s Failure To Address Asbestos In U.S. Schools

Environmental Working Group

“The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to take the required and necessary steps under federal law to protect children from the dangers of asbestos exposure in the nation’s public and private schools… ‘From fiscal years 2011 through 2015, the EPA conducted 13% of [legally required] inspections … Of the agency’s 10 regions, five only inspect for asbestos in schools when they receive asbestos-related tips or complaints. Without compliance inspections, the EPA cannot know whether schools pose an actual risk of asbestos exposure to students and personnel’ … In 2016, President Obama signed legislation that finally gave EPA the authority to ban asbestos. But the Trump administration’s actions under the new law suggest that it will allow the use and importation of the substance to remain legal.”
Read more …

The Parkland Shooting Fueled Calls For More School Police. Civil Rights Groups Want Them Removed.

Vox

“Two civil rights groups say that if school safety is truly a concern, police should be removed from schools entirely. A new joint report … argues that in the nearly two decades since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, calls to increase school safety have resulted in an increasingly punitive system of school discipline aimed at students of color, and that school policing has failed to make students of color safer … There is a considerable body of research showing that black and Latino students are more likely to be suspended, arrested, and disciplined in school. Advocates argue that adding more police to this dynamic will only make things more difficult for students from marginalized groups … who are already more likely to interact with police in their daily lives … School discipline and arrests push students of color out of classrooms and into the justice system.”
Read more …

One-Third Of Community College Students ‘Misdirected’ To Remedial Classes

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder

“One-third of community college students enrolled in remedial coursework don’t even need them … Standard placement tests … are actually ‘misdirecting’ student placements … A disparate number of African American students are placed in remedial courses … Under-placement creates additional barriers for students who are now required to pay for coursework with no credit … Remedial coursework cost first-year students and their families nearly $1.5 billion a year in out-of-pocket expenses – expenses that don’t go towards their degrees..”
Read more …

Why A ‘Blue Wave’ May Depend On Changing Education Politics

Democratic party strategists and supporters may believe a “blue wave” is coming in the midterm elections because of widespread opposition to President Trump, but they risk their party’s success if they forget that state and local races more often revolve around issues closer to home – like education.

Education, often overlooked during presidential elections because of the federal government’s relatively small footprint on education policy and funding, rises in prominence in off-year political campaigns, because candidates running for state and local offices have to explain how they’ll spend tax dollars on local schools – or not. This year’s contests are not an exception.

“Education is a top issue in the midterms,” declares a headline of an article in TIME that reports on the close contest for governor in Oklahoma, where the Democratic candidate Drew Edmondson is up by a point over his Republican opponent, according to recent polling. The reason for the uncharacteristic advantage the Democratic candidate may have in a deeply red state is “public anger over education funding,” the article contends.

The reporter traces the surprising political turnabout in the Sooner State to “the wave of wildcat teacher strikes” that occurred earlier this year in a number of red-leaning states, including Oklahoma, and finds “a similar dynamic is playing out in” electoral contests elsewhere.

For years, Democrats have more often than not been somewhat agreeable with their Republican opponents on most education issues. But this election season is shaping up quite differently. And how and whether Democratic candidates take advantage of the changing politics of education may make a difference in whether a blue wave happens at all.

Educators Are Running – And Winning

Indeed, school walkouts earlier this year have propelled many of the protesting teachers into the electoral ring, and so far, many of the teachers are winning, according to Education Week, which tallies 101 of the 158 current classroom teachers running for state legislature moving on to the general election.

But the number of educators running for office is actually much larger than what Education Week calculates when you add in former and retired teachers (like former teacher-of-the-year Jahana Hayes who won the Democratic primary in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District and could become the first African-American Democrat in the state to serve in Congress), school administrators, and other school-related personnel.

In all, “some 550 educators will be on election ballots this fall, according to the National Education Association,” says US News & World Report, “running for everything from local school board to governor … from Maine to Alaska.”

The other national teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, has a separate count of its own members running for office that is “just shy of 300,” reports HuffPost. A list of those educator-candidates by state is on the AFT website.

Hot button education issues vary from state to state. To see what’s firing up educators to run for office, NEA has a state-by-state analysis of the key education issues. AFT also has an interactive map of work life, school funding, legislative, and election issues in each state .

But a “common theme” among the candidates, according to the US News reporter, is “the neglect in state K-12 education budgets,”  and although not all the candidates are Democrats, those who are, point to their Republican opponents as chief perpetrators of the neglect. That accusation is being wielded to great effect by Democratic candidates vying to flip governor seats in traditionally Republican-dominated states.

Education Boosts Garcia in Arizona

In Arizona, where education professor David Garcia is the Democratic nominee taking on incumbent Republican Governor Doug Ducey, “Democrats see education as Ducey’s greatest vulnerability,” according to Governing magazine. Similarly, AP reports, “Education is one of the top issues in Arizona’s gubernatorial race.”

Arizona is another teacher walkout state where Republicans have cut education spending more severely, arguably, than any other state, and voters want that turned around.

In the first debate between the two candidates, “education dominated the discussion,” according to the Arizona Republic. “Garcia used the massive #RedForEd teacher walkout this spring, as well as the contentious decision to remove the #InvestinEd income-tax measure from the November ballot, to criticize the governor for the state’s ongoing ‘education crisis,'” the newspaper reports.

Garcia has also criticized Ducey for signing legislation to expand a state school voucher program that had been limited to only students with special needs.

Garcia’s criticism of Ducey’s education record is likely boosting his campaign. In a state where Trump beat Hilary Clinton by over 90,000 votes, Garcia is running nearly even with the incumbent, according to recent polls, and appears to have the potential to turn out the rising electorate represented by the state’s growing population of young voters, Latino citizens, and women.

Education May Take Down Walker in Wisconsin

A similar theme recurs in Wisconsin where a Democratic challenger is punishing his incumbent Republican rival in that state’s gubernatorial contest.

According to Education Week, Issues of school funding and privatization have “come to dominate” the contest pitting Republican Governor Scott Walker against his Democratic challenger, long-time state schools chief Tony Evers.

“Evers generally is strongly supported by people connected to advocacy for public schools and Walker generally is strongly supported by people connected to advocacy for charter schools and private schools involved in the state’s voucher programs,” says an ope-ed writer for a Milwaukee news outlet.

Under Walker’s leadership, the state has slashed education spending to levels below what they were in 2008 and redirected millions in education funds to private alternatives such as charter schools and voucher-funded private schools, yet he astonishingly claims he is the “education candidate” in the election.

In contrast, Evers calls for a double-digit increase in school spending and says he would put limits on the state’s voucher programs and increase their financial transparency.

Evers’s attacks on Walker’s education record appear to be working. According to a recent poll, he holds a 13 point advantage.

Can Education Win Back the Midwest?

Across the Midwest, “Democrats are surging,” says Politico, “led by a class of candidates for governor that have Republicans on their heels.”

That analysis points to recent decisions by the Republican Governors Association to pull back funds from gubernatorial contests in Minnesota and Michigan as evidence of an anticipated defeat for their candidates in those states.

In Minnesota, the Democratic front-runner in the contest for governor is Tim Walz a former public high school geography teacher and football coach, who during his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives authored the Forever GI Bill to expand veterans’ education benefits, co-sponsored the bill to make Congress pay its full share of funding for students with disabilities, and voted against a school voucher program the federal government funds in Washington DC.

In Michigan, where the race for governor pits former state Democratic Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer against Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, the candidates are sharply divided on issues of education funding and charter schools, with the Democrat Whitmer calling for greater investments into the public education and more accountability for charter schools.

In Ohio, the race for governor between Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine is “one of the most competitive races in the country,” according to Politico.

Polls show Cordray either ahead or tied with the better known DeWine, and the candidates are using education as a potent wedge. Particularly at issue is the recent failure of a low-performing statewide online charter school that closed midyear, abandoning over 12,000 students and their families and sticking the state with millions in wasted costs.

Cordray accuses DeWine, the Buckeye State’s attorney general, of doing “nothing” while the school “stole $189 million from taxpayers.” Since the school’s closing, DeWine filed a lawsuit to recover at least $80 million, but Corday says, “That’s not a protect-Ohio lawsuit. That’s a I’m-running-for-governor lawsuit.”

Abrams Challenges ‘School Choice’ in Georgia

In Georgia, progressive Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, who would be – if elected, the first black woman to serve as Georgia’s governor – has made a point to differentiate herself from Republican Brian Kemp on education issues.

An issue they’re completely divided on is the state’s tax credit scholarship program, a school voucher-like  program that redirects public revenues to unaccountable private schools and rewards investors with a profit at taxpayers’ expense. While Kemp would double the current cap on the program to $200 million, Abrams wants to put that money into already under-resources schools instead to help them with add wrap-around services like a healthcare and nutrition, after-school programs, and counseling.

For this reason, “Georgia school choice backers worry about governor’s race,” according to Politico. “Republican support for Georgia’s school choice program isn’t universal. Rural Republicans in particular have questioned how it would benefit their constituents.”

Polling for the race shows candidates are in a dead heat.

Pro-Public Education Boosts Gillum in Florida

In Florida’s tightly fought contest for governor, progressive star and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is taking on a Tea Party favorite and Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis. Again, sharp differences over how to pay for schools and oversee an expansive industry of charter schools and voucher-supported private schools help define the candidates.

Gillum has called for raising corporate tax rates to boost teacher pay, increase early childhood education, and provide vocational and technical training for students not entering college. He also maintains the state must stop “siphoning off public money into privately run schools” through its current voucher programs.

DeSantis responds with the typical Republican bromides to find more money for schools by cutting “administrative costs” and to expand more “school choice” as a way to alleviate huge inequities in the system.

Gillum’s strong stand for public schools must be helping. A recent poll has him nine points up.

(Photo credit: Dimmerswitch, Flickr Creative Commons)

9/20/2018 – Charter School Corruption Is Changing Education Policy And Politics

THIS WEEK: Education Election … WA Teacher Strikes End … Charter School Fail … States Shaft Teachers … Retaining Black Teachers

TOP STORY

Charter School Corruption Is Changing Education Policy And Politics

By Jeff Bryant

“After years of credible reporting on the rampant corruption in the charter school industry, the schools are now drawing more scrutiny from state lawmakers and regulators, and political candidates are making negative stories about charters a contentious issue in the upcoming November midterm elections. Government officials from California to New York are increasingly considering, proposing, or passing new regulatory restraint on these privately operated, publicly funded schools, and in electoral contests from Arizona to Ohio, Democratic challengers are challenging Republican incumbents to defend their lax governance that has allowed charter schools to run amuck, costing the taxpayers millions and undermining the financial stability of public education.'”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Education Is A Top Issue In The Midterms

TIME

“All across America, public anger over education funding has scrambled the political map for November. The activism that started with this spring’s sudden wave of teacher strikes and walkouts didn’t ebb when the picket lines did. It got channeled into political action. The outcry has created competitive races–and spurred primary upsets – in some unexpected places. And with scores of teachers now running for office themselves, it’s changed the face of the midterm elections … It’s the GOP that has the most to fear from voters motivated by education. The most politically energized demographic in the Trump era is college-educated suburban women–precisely the voters who tend to care the most about public education.”
Read more …

After Weeks Of Teacher Strikes, Wash. State Students Are Back In School

Education Week

“In 14 school districts across the state of Washington, teachers went on strike this fall over contract disputes stemming from an influx of cash districts had received from the state. The state had awarded $2 billion to districts to go toward teacher salary increases, a result of a 2012 ruling from the state supreme court that … required to fully fund teacher salary increases by this year … Teachers across the state negotiated new contracts with their districts, and in many cases, received double-digit pay increases … Meanwhile, teachers in Los Angeles are preparing for a strike that could come next month.”
Read more …

Report Shines Light On Charter School Operations

The Florida Times Union

“A government watchdog group called Florida’s growing system of privately-run public charter schools wasteful and said it sometimes gives rise to self-dealing and profiteering. Integrity Florida, a group which seeks to uncover public corruption, recommended more widespread disclosure of charter school finances, especially greater oversight of ways tax dollars end up in private companies’ profits. The study also showed how some of Florida’s elected officials are influenced by the money in charter school development and operation … State legislators have whittled down school district’s oversight of charter schools … Since its start in 1998, the charter school industry has spent more than $13 million to influence state education policy in Florida through contributions to political campaigns.”
Read more …

15 States Have Set Aside Nothing To Pay For Retired Teachers’ Health Care, Study Says

Education Week

“Most teachers receive health care benefits after they retire … But 15 states have set aside nothing to pay for their obligations … including Florida, New Jersey, and New York … Other states have funded tiny amounts … Overall, there is no money set aside to cover 93% of the anticipated costs for all retirees’ health care. To address this problem, states and school districts have begun restricting eligibility to long-term employees, meaning that fewer workers will qualify for health care benefits once they reach retirement years.”
Read more …

Schools Have Committed To Hiring Teachers of Color. Now They Need To Keep Them

The Progressive

“Numerous recent research studies bear out the importance of having teachers of color in classrooms. Low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school, for example … Numerous school systems have pledged to hire more teachers of color … But any district that recruits teachers of color must also commit to work to keep them. And that’s where they often fail. Teachers of color are far more apt to leave the profession than their white counterparts … Retaining teachers of color requires a level of engagement that challenges the broader mission and culture of a school district … Many teachers of color are committed to working with students to critically examine social inequities and their impacts on school and life. But a school district that does not value that intrinsic mission will have a hard time supporting and retaining those teachers..”
Read more …

Charter School Corruption Is Changing Education Policy And Politics

After years of credible reporting on the rampant corruption in the charter school industry, the schools are now drawing more scrutiny from state lawmakers and regulators, and political candidates are making negative stories about charters a contentious issue in the upcoming November midterm elections.

Government officials from California to New York are increasingly considering, proposing, or passing new regulatory restraint on these privately operated, publicly funded schools, and in electoral contests from Arizona to Ohio, Democratic challengers are challenging Republican incumbents to defend their lax governance that has allowed charter schools to run amuck, costing the taxpayers millions and undermining the financial stability of public education.

As scandalous news stories and scathing reviews of the charter industry continue to emerge, the negative impacts these schools have on families and communities will prompt more to question the wisdom of expanding these schools and draw more attention to the need to ratchet up regulations for the charters already in existence.

Charter Scandals Continue

With the new school year barely underway, negative news headlines about charter schools abound. Among the hits so far:

  • A Dallas charter school leader who suddenly quit after local reporters obtained statements from a school-issued credit card showing charges for air travel, accommodation at ritzy hotels, and meals at high-end restaurants.
  • Parents and students from a North Carolina charter school complaining to a local news outlet that when experienced teachers leave their school, the administrator fills in with substitutes and low-grade online courses, even in core subjects such as math and reading.
  • A South Carolina charter school that may close one month into the new school year because, while the school was approved for 380 students, budgeted for 180, and claimed 150 enrolled, only 50 students showed up and 32 attend currently.
  • New school A-F ratings issued by Ohio that show among Dayton’s 22 charter schools, there are no A-rated schools, only two rate B, five are C-rated, and the rest are D and F schools.
  • An Arizona Republican lawmaker who’ is set make as much as $30 million after selling his for-profit charter school chain, largely funded by taxpayers, to a non-profit company with the same name operated by a board of his close associates.

In Florida, a state-based watchdog group monitoring corruption in government issued a new report saying charters in the Sunshine State waste taxpayer money and too often give rise to conflicts of interest in which for-profit management companies reap millions from the state. The study showed how Florida’s elected officials are frequently influenced by the money in charter school development and operations. Since its start in 1998, the charter school industry has spent more than $13 million to influence state education policy in Florida through contributions to political campaigns. The report recommended more financial transparency and tighter regulations on how charters use public money, especially when for-profit management companies are involved.

A ‘Backlash’ to For-Profit Charters

As a consequence of the seemingly endless scandals in the charter school industry there is what Education Week’s charter school reporter Arianna Prothero calls, “a growing political backlash to for-profit charter schools.”

Prothero points to a new law passed in California, a charter-friendly state that hosts more charter schools and more charter school students than any other state, that prohibits for-profit companies from running schools. That law “strikes a major blow to for-profit charter schools” says Derek Black, a University of South Carolina law professor, because it not only bars for-profit charters from receiving a contract to operate in the state; it also prohibits non-profit charters from transferring responsibility and management to a for-profit entity.

Those arrangements that partner nonprofit charters with for-profit management groups have been a major source of corruption and self-dealing, Black argues, in which taxpayer money intended to educate students gets turned over to private companies that divert much of the funding to management fees, administrator salaries, and lucrative real estate deals, much of which is technically legal but ethically corrupt nevertheless.

Prothero reports that three other states – Maine, Mississippi, and Washington – have passed laws that either outright or in part prohibit for-profit companies from running charter schools since 2010 and another four states – New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and Rhode Island – that have some kind of ban on companies running charter schools.

In addition to enacting its new law banning for-profit charters, California is planning to “update” its charter school law, according to the outgoing state superintendent, and both candidates running for that office support a review of charter regulations, although they disagree on the role charters have in the system.

Similarly, in Pennsylvania, the state auditor has decried charter school laws that allow charter schools and their allied organizations to use a legal loophole “to keep the public in a dark” about financial dealings that divert public funds intended for education to private pockets through school construction and land deals. “The law needs to be changed,” he declared.

And in New York, the state body governing education has revised criteria for evaluating charter school performance to align with how public schools are evaluated. While the new evaluation process being considered does nothing to address charter school corruption in the state, the trend to govern privately-operated charters on a comparable level to public schools runs counter to the charter industry’s desires to advance regulatory-free enterprises.

Changing Charter Politics

Changing attitudes about charters are affecting electoral politics too.

As EdWeek’s Prothero points out, Ohio’s upcoming election for governor is to a significant extent becoming a contest between who will be tougher on the state’s charter school industry. While Democratic candidate Richard Cordray is calling for an outright ban on for-profit companies running charter schools, she reports, Republican nominee, Mike DeWine, has “stopped short of advocating for a prohibition on for-profit charter operators” and proposed more accountability for the online sector of these schools.

The failure of Ohio’s largest online charter school, the Electronic School of Tomorrow, and the state’s ongoing attempts to recover nearly $80 million in student enrollment overpayments have become one of the most contentious issues in the state’s midterm elections, and Democrats have been successful at pinning the blame for the charter fiasco on Republicans.

Similarly, in Arizona, Democratic challengers in the upcoming midterm election are nailing Republican incumbents for their lax governance of the state’s charter schools – Arizona has the highest percentage of students attending charters in the nation.

In the contest for governor, challenger David Garcia has succeeded in pushing incumbent Doug Ducey into advocating for financial reform of the charter industry. “In 4 years Ducey’s done absolutely nothing to stop [charter school] shams,” Garcia tweeted. “As governor I’ll hold charter schools accountable and insist on one set of rules for all schools receiving public dollars.”

Additionally, Republican Arizona  State Senator Kate Brophy McGee has become a vocal advocate for increased oversight of the conflicts of interest and nepotism rife in the state’s charter schools and Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has called on lawmakers to pass tougher charter-school laws.

Brophy McGee faces Democratic challenger Christine Marsh, an Arizona high school teacher, who Brophy McGee sudden conversion to tighter charter oversight. She noted, “The Democrats have been yelling into the wind for a very long time for some degree of charter accountability … I don’t understand why this would become an issue for [Brophy McGee] when it hasn’t been for the last eight years.”

“The political landscape in Arizona is changing, with politicians from both parties seeking charter-school reforms,” declared a recent article in the Arizona Republic, due in part to that news outlet’s recent investigations into charter-school finances. The series of articles “has been a ‘PR nightmare’ for Republicans, who have long supported charter schools as part of a broad school-choice agenda,” the reporter noted.

Welcome News

While charter school skeptics should appreciate the changing attitude toward these school, they should not be too quick to celebrate.

The new ban on for-profit charters in California, for instance, “will not shut down California’s for-profit schools anytime soon,” warns Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, a public school advocacy group. “Whether they are for-profit or nonprofit, there will still be ample opportunity in the charter sector for profiteers to take advantage of the public treasure and trust.,” she argues.

“While it’s easy to prohibit a for-profit corporation from chartering a school, it’s trickier to ban a for-profit corporation from controlling the operation of a nonprofit charter school,” observes John Fensterwald, a reporter for the California-based news outlet EdSource.

Nevertheless, the rapid expansion of the charter school industry started with a few pioneering schools, with perhaps good intentions, that eventually grew into a huge industry conservatives use to impose competition in local school systems and instill a market-based philosophy in public education. That the slippery slope propelling these schools might be finally tilting in the other direction is welcome news.

(Photo credit: Derek Bridges, Flickr Creative Commons)

9/13/2018 – Wealthy People Are Destroying Public Schools

THIS WEEK: #Red4Ed Continues … Educators Running For Office … If Dems Take Congress … Why College Is Expensive … Forces Behind Charter Schools

TOP STORY

Wealthy People Are Destroying Public Schools, One Donation At A Time

By Jeff Bryant

“Recent news stories about wealthy folks giving multi-million donations to education efforts have drawn both praise and criticism, but two new reports by public education advocacy groups this week are particularly revealing about the real impact rich people have on schools and how they’ve chosen to leverage their money to influence the system … Instead of attacking structural inequity in the system, something that would likely require the wealthy to pay more taxes, ‘they offer a light facsimile of change.'”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Teacher Strikes Are Heating Up In More States

Education Week

“The momentum from the historic wave of statewide teacher strikes last spring seems set to continue this school year.… Teachers in more than a dozen districts in Washington state have gone on strike over contract negotiations. Teachers in Los Angeles … have overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike … And teachers in North Carolina … are weighing future collective actions this year … Educators across the country say they feel inspired by the teacher activism … And public opinion is on the teachers’ side: Two recent national polls found that Americans both are largely in favor of higher teacher pay and support teachers’ right to go on strike.”
Read more …

More Than 500 Teachers And Other Educators Are Running For Office This Year

Huffpost

“[The NEA] says it has a comprehensive tally of 2018 educators-turned-candidates for state house and senate seats: 554. That includes 512 running as Democrats and 42 as Republicans, the majority of them women. The analysis … includes members of both its own affiliates and those of the other main teachers’ union, the [AFT] … The 554 figure includes current and retired teachers, as well as administrators and support staff … The AFT has been tracking the number of its own members running for office this year, which is now just shy of 300. Most of those educators are running for state seats, though that figure also includes people running for boards of education and other local positions.”
Read more …

If Democrats Take The House, Here’s What Awaits Betsy DeVos, Civil Rights, And ESSA

Education Week

“If Democrats take control of the House of Representatives next year, expect civil rights to grab the spotlight and for congressional subpoenas in the name of education oversight to become more popular … Democrats have been scrapping with [Betsy[ DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education … The two sides have publicly squabbled over how she’s handled states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans, her approach to Obama-era guidance on school discipline and transgender students, K-12 spending, her changes to civil rights investigations, and, most recently, whether schools could spend ESSA money to arm teachers … Civil rights is really the issue to watch … You can also expect a lot of oversight hearings in general, and in particular on higher education. And Democrats could be particularly interested in using subpoenas to draw out what they’ve said are conflicts of interest regarding DeVos’ higher education work.”
Read more …

Why Is College In America So Expensive?

The Atlantic

“Americans spend about $30,000 per student a year – nearly twice as much as the average developed country… Only one country spends more per student … A third of developed countries offer college free of charge to their citizens. And another third keep tuition very cheap – less than $2,400 a year … The vast majority of American college spending goes to routine educational operations – like paying staff and faculty … U.S. colleges spend, relative to other countries, a startling amount of money on their nonteaching staff … more on nonteaching staff than on teachers.”
Read more …

In Louisville, A Web Of Private Interests Conspire To Expand Charter Schools

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “Kentucky was, until recently, one of just a handful of states to not yet allow charter schools. Opposition to these schools in the state is intense and bipartisan … Charter proponents, nevertheless, have waged a campaign to push their schools, taking actions that challenge ethical, if not legal, boundaries. The list of actors promoting charters in the state includes not only politicians and private advocacy groups but also financial interests, especially in the real estate industry. And charter collaborators are operating behind the scenes to push their cause in backrooms deep in the corridors of influence and political power.”
Read more …

Wealthy People Are Destroying Public Schools, One Donation At A Time

Recent news stories about wealthy folks giving multi-million donations to education efforts have drawn both praise and criticism, but two new reports by public education advocacy groups this week are particularly revealing about the real impact rich people have on schools and how they’ve chosen to leverage their money to influence the system.

‘The Education Debt’

The first report, “Confronting the Education Debt” from the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools examines the nation’s “education debt” – the historic funding shortfall for school systems that educate black and brown children. The authors find that through a combination of multiple factors – including funding rollbacks, tax cuts, and diversions of public money to private entities – the schools educating the nation’s poorest children have been shorted billions in funding.

One funding source alone, the federal dollars owed to states for educating low-income children and children with disabilities, shorted schools $580 billion, between 2005 and 2017, in what the government is lawfully required to fund schools through the provisions of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The impact of not fully funding Title I is startling, the report contends, calculating that at full funding, the nation’s highest-poverty schools could provide health and mental health services for every student including dental and vision services, and these schools would have the money to hire a full-time nurse, a full-time librarian, and either an additional full-time counselor or a full-time teaching assistant for every classroom.

State and local governments contribute to underfunding too by keeping in place tax systems that chronically short schools, particularly those that educate low-income students, mostly of color. Two school districts in Illinois are highlighted – one where 80 percent of students are low-income and gets about $7,808 per pupil in total expenditures, while another, where 3 percent of students are low-income, spends $26,074 per student.

The disparities were made worse after the Great Recession in 2008, when most states slashed taxes for funding schools and often gave bigger tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, while many local governments rolled out tax abatement programs that exclude corporations and developers from paying taxes that fund public schools.

In the meantime, while the nation’s education debt expands, the accumulated wealth of the richest Americans continues to grow. During that time period the federal government was shorting schools billions, the personal net worth of the nation’s 400 wealthiest individuals grew by $1.57 trillion, the report notes.

“There is a direct correlation between dwindling resources for public schools and the ongoing political proclivity for transferring public dollars to the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations,” the report declares. “The rich are getting richer. Our schools are broke on purpose.”

While wealthier Americans are being increasingly unburdened of the expense of educating the nation’s children, many of those same individuals have decided to spend their dollars on education politics instead.

‘Hijacked by Billionaires’

In its report, “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools,” the Network for Public Education examines state and local elections that affect education policy the most – such as school board, mayor, ballot referendums, state superintendent, and governor – and finds, “Some of America’s wealthiest individuals collaborate to hijack the democratic process by pouring millions of dollars into state and local races, often in places where they do not live.”

The report spotlights 9 case studies of state and local elections, accompanied by 10 interactive maps (two for Louisiana), that show the intricate networks of dark money activated by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and state election loopholes.

What motivates these wealthy people from exerting their will in the electoral process varies. They are bipartisan politically. Some are directly connected to the charter school industry. Others have expressed disdain for democratically controlled schools and argue, instead, for school governance to transfer to unelected boards. Some are motivated by their hatred of teachers’ unions. While others believe strongly that public education needs to be opened up to market competition from charters.

But what billionaire donors all have in common, the report authors write, is their devotion to blaming schools and educators for problems posed by educating low-income children. Instead of using their political donations to advocate for more direct aid to schools serving low-income kids, wealthy donors “distract us from policy changes that would really help children,” the report argues, “such as increasing the equity and adequacy of school funding, reducing class sizes, providing medical care and nutrition for students, and other specific efforts to meet the needs of children and families.”

Of course, those policy changes would require wealthier folks to pay more in taxes.

‘Predatory Elites’

“Rich people are playing a double game,” writes Anand Giridharadas in his new book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. “On one hand, there’s no question they’re giving away more money than has ever been given away in history … But I also argue that we have one of the more predatory elites in history, despite that philanthropy.”

In a recent interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Giridharadas derides the “win-win” game wealthy folks play, insisting they can keep their huge sums of money sequestered from taxation while donating for “social change that offers a kickback to the winners.”

Giridharadas accuses the nation’s billionaire class of “peddling a lot of pseudochange instead of actually fixing the American opportunity structure, instead of actually repairing the American dream over the last 30 to 40 years.”

Instead of attacking structural inequity in the system, something that would likely require the wealthy to pay more taxes, “they offer a light facsimile of change,” says Giridharadas. “They offer change that doesn’t change anything fundamental.”

Although Giridharadas doesn’t mention it in the interview (I’ve yet to read the book), nowhere is this charade played out by the wealthy more evident than in public education, where rich people have steered public policy to minimize their taxes, which would fund school programs and resources low-income kids really need, while they peddle false promises like charter schools.

“A move that America’s plutocrats have been making for a long time,” he argues, is that “the arsonists are the best firefighters.”

They’re certainly doing a good job of burning down public education.