Education Opportunity Network

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6/22/2017 – Charter Schools Do Bad Stuff Because They Can

THIS WEEK: Segregation By Secession … Childhood Gun Deaths … Big Oil’s Curriculum … DeVos Helps For-Profit Colleges … DeVos Dumps Trans Cases

TOP STORY

Charter Schools Do Bad Stuff Because They Can

By Jeff Bryant

“Charter schools have become a fetish of both Democratic and Republican political establishments, but local news reports continue to drip, drip a constant stream of stories of charter schools doing bad stuff that our tax dollars fund … Most recently, my reporting on the shadowy business of the charter school industry was cited by media watchdog Project Censored as one of the top 25 most under-reported news stories of 2016 … When do you think the malfeasance committed by charters won’t be ‘under reported’?”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

White, Wealthy Communities Want Their Own Schools

U.S. News & World Report

“30 states have laws on the books that allow communities to secede from their school district, and it’s an allowance that many municipalities have taken advantage of over the years – at least 47 since 2000 … Only 4 require that seceding communities gain the majority support in the school district being left behind and only 6 require consideration of the racial and socioeconomic effects of the separation. Moreover, only nine states require a study of the financial impacts of dividing communities … Currently there are 9 active secession efforts in various states.”
Read more …

19 Kids Are Shot Every Day In The United States

The Washington Post

“Roughly 7,100 children under the age of 18 were shot each year from 2012 to 2014. An average of 1,300 died of their injuries in a typical year. That works out to 19 children shot every single day in the course of a year – or 3.5 children killed by guns every single day … ‘Firearm-related deaths are the third leading cause of death overall among US children aged 1 to 17 years.’”
Read more …

Oil’s Pipeline To America’s Schools

Public Integrity

“Decades of documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity reveal a tightly woven network of organizations that works in concert with the oil and gas industry to paint a rosy picture of fossil fuels in America’s classrooms. Led by advertising and public-relations strategists, the groups have long plied the tools of their trade on impressionable children and teachers desperate for resources. Proponents of programs … say they help the oil and gas industry replenish its aging workforce by stirring early interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. But some experts question the educational value and ethics of lessons touting an industry that plays a central role in climate change and air pollution.”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos Moves To Help For-Profit Schools Defraud Students

The Nation

“Betsy DeVos announced a postponement and imminent rewriting of two key rules designed to protect students of predatory for-profit colleges … The Gainful Employment rule and the Borrower Defense rule both force for-profits to make good on their promises of helping students pursue a viable career path, and provide students a way to cancel their debt if the college actually defrauded them … Current and former Education Department officials have acknowledged that for-profits are getting a light touch under DeVos’s tenure … DeVos has brought in former employees of for-profits as top officials at the agency.”
Read more …

Education Dept. Closes Transgender Student Cases As It Pushes To Scale Back Civil Rights Investigations

The Washington Post

“The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights last week closed a long-running discrimination case involving a transgender student and withdrew its earlier findings that the girl had suffered discrimination at school … Civil rights advocates see the closure of the Ohio case – and especially the unusual withdrawal of the federal investigators’ legal conclusion – as a troubling sign of retreat from civil rights enforcement … The agency also this month closed a different long-running case involving a transgender student’s complaint about locker room access.”
Read more …

Charter Schools Do Bad Stuff Because They Can

Charter schools have become a fetish of both Democratic and Republican political establishments, but local news reports continue to drip, drip a constant stream of stories of charter schools doing bad stuff that our tax dollars fund.

An independent news outlet in New Orleans, where the school district is nearly 100 percent charter, reports that two homeless children were kept out of class for a month because they didn’t have monogrammed uniforms.

In Oakland, California, a state-based news outlet reports charter school enrollment practices ensure charter schools get an advantage over district schools when academic performance comparisons are made. The advantage comes from charters being able to enroll students who are more “academically prepared” than students who attend district-run schools.

Oakland charters, when compared to public schools, also tend to enroll fewer students with special needs and fewer students who enter the school year late and are, thus, often academically behind.

In Arizona, which has a higher percentage of students enrolled in charter schools than any other state, the demographic characteristics of charter school students don’t resemble anything close to what characterize public schools in the state. According to a state based news outlet, “enrollment data show the schools don’t match the school-age demographics of the state and, in many cases, their neighborhoods. White – and especially Asian – students attend charter schools at a higher rate than Hispanics, who now make up the greatest portion of Arizona’s school-age population.”

In Florida, local newspapers tell of an operator of a chain of charter schools who is charged with racketeering in a scheme to use public education money from the charter operation for his own personal gain.

The charter operator allegedly used more than $1 million for “personal expenses and to purchase residential and business properties.” The charges include falsely marking up bills for school supplies, inflating student enrollments in grant applications, spending public funds on companies affiliated with the owner, and using school money to pay for plastic surgery and cruises and trips to the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

Next up, a Philadelphia news outlet reports a charter school, unable to pay employee and other expenses due to a dispute with the district over $370,578 in missed payments to the teacher pension system, simply closed shop over the weekend. It’s unclear how parents would have found out about the closure, and teachers weren’t told until late Monday afternoon, in an email, that students would not be returning.

In Michigan, a charter school recently closed before the school year ended because of a dispute over $640,000 owed to the financial firm supporting the school. Even though the school is closing, it will still get state school aid payments through August.

A news report from Arkansas tells of a charter school that has been in operation for nine years and has never met proficiency standards established by the state.

And here’s a California charter school chain that “misappropriated public funds, including a tax-exempt bond totaling $67 million” and “failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships.” The charter operator was able to divert $2.7 million of public charter school funds without any supporting documents. Eight different entities the charter operator was associated with benefited from doing business with the schools.

Public schools are occasionally plagued with similar scandals, but there is an important distinction to be made from public school scandals and what happens in the charter school industry.

As University of Connecticut professor Preston Green explains to me in an email, much of the malfeasance of charter schools comes from the entities that manage them. Called education management organizations (EMOs) or charter management organizations (CMOs), these outfits “create an agency issue with charter school governing boards that generally does not occur in traditional public schools,” Green explains.

“Public schools do not sign over operations to EMOS,” Green states. “By contrast, EMOs operate 35-40 percent of all charter schools.” And while nonprofit boards governing charters may want to ensure their schools are operating in a fiscally sound manner, the EMOs running the show “have the incentive to increase their revenues or cut expenses,” says Green.

Those incentives can lead to numerous bad acts including engaging in conflicts of interest or cherry picking students.

Where is the regulatory function that could intervene in these cases and ensure public tax money is being appropriately spent?

In the case of the NOLA charter impeding the education of homeless students, a federal law requiring schools to accommodate homeless students was the basis for any grievances. But the state’s charter school regulations consider such treatment of students a breach of contract that warrants the school to only provide the students with the opportunity for make-up work or tutoring. In other words, the consequences are more of a burden for the student than they are for the school.

In the case of the Oakland charters gaining an edge over public schools because of their enrollment practices, the report that outs the malfeasance notes that state “revenue policies” incentivize charter schools’ bad behavior.

Charter school closings like we see occurring in Florida, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere are a feature of charter schools, not a bug. An analysis by the National Education Association finds that “among charter schools that opened in the year 2000, 5 percent closed within the first year, 21 percent closed within the first five years, and 33 percent closed within the first ten years.”

Charter school scandals of the sort we see in Florida and California have become routine occurrences, yet a national organization that ranks state laws governing the charter industry rates Florida in the top ten of its annual assessment of states with the best charter school laws. And efforts to rein in the abuses committed by California charters have been routinely turned back by the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, who started two charter schools in Oakland.

As for that Arkansas charter school that was able to stay in business despite poor performance, the school has “powerful friends,” according to the reporter. “The Walton Family Foundation, [the charity operated by the heirs of the Walmart fortune,] provided cash infusion to fix [the school’s] red-ink-bathed books. The money was passed through an opaque, unaccountable charter management corporation,” and lobbyists in the state legislature “put the cherry on this hot mess sundae” in support of the school.

Whenever I write a post about charter school malfeasance like this I get accused of writing “screeds” that cherry pick negative anecdotes. But these news reports I cite above occurred within just the past two weeks.

Carol Burris, an award-winning former public school principal and the current executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes in a piece for the Washington Post, “Proponents of charter schools promised that in exchange for freedom from regulations, charters would be more accountable and held to higher standards. Twenty-five years later, however, we find that freedom from the safeguards that regulations provide has too often resulted in theft, mismanagement, fraud, and less transparency.”

The  freedom granted to charters to hire third party contractors like EMOs is proving to be especially problematic.

“EMOs have taken advantage of poorly trained governing boards” Green explains, “and the lack of coordination between governing boards and authorizing bodies” ends up benefiting the interests of charter management groups “at the expense of charter schools” themselves and the students who attend them.

I have been reporting the bad stuff done by charter schools since 2009. Most recently, my reporting on the shadowy business of the charter school industry was cited by media watchdog Project Censored as one of the top 25 most under-reported news stories of 2016.

This is the second time I’ve won this award. The first time was for a piece in 2014 on charter schools that Salon published.

When do you think the malfeasance committed by charters won’t be “under reported”?

6/15/2017 – Are ‘Nonprofit’ Charter Schools A Distinction Without A Difference?

THIS WEEK: School Funding Matters … EdTech Fail … DeVos Climate Change … Teacher Stress … Right To Literacy

TOP STORY

Are ‘Nonprofit’ Charter Schools A Distinction Without A Difference?

By Jeff Bryant

“The ‘Trump-DeVos team’ has ‘split the bipartisan alliance that has helped vouchers and charters’ … What this means to the average citizen is that she should expect to hear lots more rhetoric about the ‘good kind’ of charter school versus the ‘not so good’ kind of charter school … [A] popular tactic for separating ‘good’ charters from the pack of awfulness Trump and DeVos want to unleash is to hold a preference for ‘nonprofit’ charter schools over the profit-making variety … Does it make any difference what their tax status is?”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

A Powerful Pairing: Pre-K Boosts Future Incomes And Reduces Risk Of Jail, Especially When Schools Spend More

Chalkbeat

“Students benefit from both well-funded schools and access to early childhood education … Head Start had greater long-run benefits for students whose K-12 schools were better resourced … The whole of those two policies in tandem is greater than the sum of their parts … The effect of Head Start multiplies when students later attend relatively well funded schools: in that case, adult earnings increased 5.6% and risk of incarceration dropped 2.2 percentage points.”
Read more …

Data Dive: Devices And Software Flooding Into Classrooms – More Access Hasn’t Meant Better Use

Education Week

“Students report using computers in school most often for activities that involve rote practice … The percent of teachers who say they’ve received training on how to effectively use such technology has remained flat, with a persistent divide between high- and low-poverty schools … 4th graders report using classroom computers for rote activities … far more frequently than for activities that require critical thinking … The gap between active and passive use has grown … Just 61% of 4th grade reading teachers said that they had received training on how to integrate technology into their classroom instruction.”
Read more …

DeVos Is Questioned About Campaign To Influence Climate Change Education

Frontline

“Democratic senators are sharply criticizing a conservative think tank’s efforts to bring climate change skepticism into the nation’s public schools … and demanding to know whether federal education officials have been in contact with the group … The senators asked DeVos whether any Education Department officials have had contact with individuals associated with the Heartland Institute “on climate, science, or science education issues,” and whether any informational resources put out by the department have been created in collaboration with Heartland.”
Read more …

How Teachers’ Stress Affects Students: A Research Roundup

Education Week

“New research is helping to clarify how teachers become chronically stressed, and how it can affect their students’ well-being and achievement … Teachers who reported higher levels of burnout had students with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol each morning, suggesting classroom tensions could be ‘contagious’… [Teachers] who showed higher levels of stress at the beginning of the year displayed fewer effective teaching strategies over the rest of the school year … So what makes a classroom normal for one teacher and stressful to another? … The answer depends on whether teachers feel they have the cognitive and other resources to meet their students’ needs.”
Read more …

A Long Overdue Civil Right To Literacy

The Baltimore Sun

“A class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Michigan claims that the state of Michigan is denying students in the Detroit public schools their constitutional right to learn to read … An allied legal attack has just been launched in Berkeley, CA … Disability rights lawyers brought suit in federal court alleging the school district’s failure to teach children with reading disorders, such as dyslexia, to learn to read violated a right guaranteed under the federal law governing students with disabilities … Future generations will look back and say, as was said about Brown v. Board of Education, ‘What took us so long?'”
Read more …

Are ‘Nonprofit’ Charter Schools A Distinction Without A Difference?

Quick, is this school a nonprofit or for-profit?

In the most recent financial filings available, the couple who run the chain of 18 schools pay themselves $315,000 a year plus nearly $39,000 in benefits. The school also employs their daughters, their son, and even a sister living in the Czech Republic.

Families who enroll their children in the schools are asked to contribute at least $1,500 a year per child to the school to fund its teacher bonus program. They also must pay a $300 security deposit, purchase some books, and pay for school activities that would normally be provided free at a public school.

The school chain contracts its operations to a management company, also owned by the same couple. In the most recent financial accounting available, the management firm received $4,711,699 for leased employee costs and $1,766,000 for management. Nearly $60 million total was charged to the management corporation to provide services to the schools.

After 2009, the owners made a legal change that made it possible to hide from the public much of the school’s financials, including their salaries and expenses. But what we do know is that between 20012 and 2015 administrative costs of the schools were some of the highest in Arizona, where most of the schools are located, spending an average of $2,291 per pupil on administration compared to $628 per pupil spent by the average public school district in the state.

If you’re having difficulty discerning whether this education operation behaves more like a for-profit or a nonprofit, you’re just getting a hint of the confusing realm charter schools now occupy in the public education debate. And it’s only going to get crazier.

A Split In The Bipartisan Charter Alliance

With Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency and Betsy DeVos taking over the Department of Education, charter schools have gained new momentum to expand to more communities. But that’s causing problems among many charter advocates.

As education journalist Emma Brown explains in the Washington Post, the “Trump-DeVos team” has “split the bipartisan alliance that has helped vouchers and charters,” as politically centrist backers of charters labor to distance themselves from the extremist politics of the new regime.

Trump’s budget proposal, with its huge cuts to federal education spending and massive diversion of funds to alternatives to public schools, has widened the divide among school choice proponents, as some charter school backers have started to openly differ with people who want to expand government support for virtually all alternatives to public schools, including education management companies, virtual campuses, and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools.

A speech DeVos made the other day to an annual gathering of the charter school industry likely adds new fuel to the debate, as she admonished those who take a more measured, “strategic” approach to charter expansion while extolling a desire to let the floodgates of school choice open.

What this means to the average citizen is that she should expect to hear lots more rhetoric about the “good kind” of charter school versus the “not so good” kind of charter school.

The “Good Kind” Of Charter?

People are already confused about charter schools. According to the most recent survey, 58 percent of the general public say they know little or nothing about charter schools. Even people who should know better are confused.

The most prominent example of this confusion was apparent in the recent presidential race, when the Democratic rival for the nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, responded to a question about charter schools saying, “I believe in public charter schools. I do not believe in private [pause] privately controlled charter schools.”

As I explained, technically, there is no such thing as a “private charter school,” yet virtually all charter schools are “privately controlled.” So it’s not at all clear what Sanders meant by trying to distinguish between “public” versus “privately controlled” charters.

Another popular tactic for separating “good” charters from the pack of awfulness Trump and DeVos want to unleash is to hold a preference for “nonprofit” charter schools over the profit-making variety.

As education journalist Matt Barnum explains in the national Chalkbeat education news outlet, “For progressive charter advocates, keeping an arm’s length from for-profit charter schools may be smart politics.” Barnum points to prominent Democrats, including former education secretary John King, now president and CEO of EdTrust, and Shavar Jeffries of the charter-loving Democrats for Education Reform, who are proposing a ban on for-profit charters.

A new study released by CREDO, a Stanford-based research group, will doubtlessly add to the growing divide over the profit motive in the charter school industry. Barnum reviews the study in another Chalkbeat report and finds, “Charters operated by a nonprofit perform modestly better in both math and reading than for-profit schools.”

So is it more important than ever to distinguish between nonprofit and for-profit charters in crafting public policy governing these schools?

Take that question and circle back to the one that opened this article.

Which Is Nonprofit?

If you guessed that the school in question at the beginning of this article is a for-profit charter, you’re wrong. The charter described is the BASIS charter chain that was examined by public school advocate Carol Burris for the Washington Post.

Although BASIS is technically a nonprofit, and the CREDO study labels it as such, this organization operates as ruthlessly and self-serving as any profit hungry private enterprise would. Not only does BASIS generously enrich the private holdings of a select few of its inner circle executives; it also selectively serves an elite echelon of students – generally the most able-minded Asian and white students who have the stamina and familial support to survive the schools’ test-obsessed culture.

But it’s “nonprofit.”

Here’s another example of a charter school that blurs the line between profit-making vs. mission-driven schooling.

This chain of charter schools presents itself as a collection of charters operating regionally. One group operates a series of schools across the Midwest, another group operates across western states, and another is focused mostly in Texas. But the various charter operations have a lot in common, at least in their business practices.

Each charter group is closely associated with a private E-rate company, a company providing telecommunications and internet services to schools qualifying for the special discount provided by the federal government.

In the case of the Midwest branch, the E-rate provider has bid on 58 contracts representing over $3.2 million exclusively with the charter company. The E-rate firm appears to have no other clients nor any interests in acquiring new clients.

In the case of the charter operation covering Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah, the E-rate provider is listed as a holding of one of the Arizona schools. All of its 48 E-rate bids have gone exclusively to schools operating in the charter chain.

At the charter operation in Texas, the telecommunications firm associated with the chain has 23 contracts with the related schools, which constitutes nearly all, 94 percent, of its business.

Compare that school’s operation to this one.

This charter operation, a national company, forms a charter school board to “invite” itself into a community to manage a new school. The governing board is not independent of the management company, and members of the board can serve on multiple charter boards.

After securing a contract to manage the new school, the charter purchases a building – it could be a storefront in a strip mall or an abandoned warehouse – and requests approval from an authorizer to open a school there. After the authorization, the charter board signs a lease agreement with a development company to take over ownership of the building. The development company is located at the same address as the home office of the charter management firm.

Now the charter management firm and its related enterprises own the building and its contents, even if desks, computers, and equipment have been purchased with taxpayer money. It receives rent payments from the district. It owns the curriculum the school teaches. And if the charter management firm is ever fired, the charter board – and by extension the district – is in the awkward position of having to buy back its own school.

A Distinction Without A Difference

Of the three charter operations I’ve examined here, only the last one is technically for-profit, according to CREDO.

In addition to BASIS, the other nonprofit charter operation is the Gulen charter network, the nation’s largest chain of bricks-and-mortar charters, which takes its name from the Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen.

In an in-depth report for Jacobin, George Joseph reveals, “The Gulen charter network has developed a growth model more reminiscent of a Fortune 500 company than a public school district.”

In addition to the partnering E-rate firms, Gulen schools have close business associations with school construction companies that receive millions of dollars from contracts to build and renovate Gulen schools exclusively. The foundations and public relations firms associated with the schools also spend lavishly on marketing campaigns, political campaigns, and junkets for local officials.

The for-profit charter firm I describe is National Heritage Academies, whose shady business practices I reported on in North Carolina.

But in all three cases, whether nonprofit or for-profit, charter schools, simply by the way they are structured and operate, create opportunities for all kinds of third-parties to skim off public funds without adding any education value to the system.

Does it make any difference what their tax status is?

 

6/8/2017 – Recent DeVos Hires Bode Ill For Student Rights

THIS WEEK: Funding Poor Kids More … Teaching Climate Science … Trump Spurs Bullying … Billionaires Remaking Schools … CTE Fade

TOP STORY

Recent DeVos Hires Bode Ill For Student Rights

By Jeff Bryant

“It’s hard to predict what DeVos will do to protect students from discrimination and where, and for whom, her department would enforce protections. However, based on some of her personnel decisions, there is a great deal of cause for concern … Federal programs affecting students’ rights, and the enforcement of civil rights laws in schools, depend a lot on who’s in charge of them.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

How Education-Funding Formulas Target Poor Kids

The Atlantic

“Despite the fact that the majority of states have education funding formulas meant to target low-income students, the effectiveness of this targeting varies widely around the country … Districts with more poor students are getting more money in just 28 states. In 16 of those 28 states, funding is progressive by less than $150 per students … Federal dollars, the report found all but three states are at least weakly progressive with their education funding … One of the largest sources of this government money is Title I, the funding for which was held constant in President Trump’s recently released budget proposal.”
Read more …

Climate Science Meets A Stubborn Obstacle: Students

The New York Times

“As more of the nation’s teachers seek to integrate climate science into the curriculum, many of them are reckoning with students for whom suspicion of the subject is deeply rooted … Climate skepticism has itself become a proxy for conservative ideals of hard work, small government and what people here call ‘self-sustainability’ … But public-school science classrooms are also proving to be a rare place where views on climate change may shift, research has found. There, in contrast with much of adult life, it can be hard to entirely tune out new information.”
Read more …

Kids Are Quoting Trump To Bully Their Classmates And Teachers Don’t Know What To Do About It

Buzzfeed

“Donald Trump’s campaign and election have added an alarming twist to school bullying, with white students using the president’s words and slogans to bully Latino, Middle Eastern, black, Asian, and Jewish classmates … BuzzFeed News has confirmed more than 50 incidents, across 26 states … [The] Trump presidency left educators struggling to navigate a climate where misogyny, religious intolerance, name-calling, and racial exclusion have become part of mainstream political speech.”
Read more …

The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools

The New York Times

“Technology giants have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale, using some of the same techniques that have made their companies linchpins of the American economy. Through their philanthropy, they are influencing the subjects that schools teach, the classroom tools that teachers choose and fundamental approaches to learning … Tech leaders believe that applying an engineering mind-set can improve just about any system, and that their business acumen qualifies them to rethink American education … Tech companies and their founders have been rolling out programs in America’s public schools with relatively few checks and balances.”
Read more …

Lots Of People Are Excited About Career And Technical Education. But New International Research Points To A Potential Downside

Chalkbeat

“There’s wide support across the ideological spectrum for helping more students learn career-specific skills in high school. Yet new international research points to a significant downside of such programs: students may benefit early in their careers, but are harmed later in life as the economy changes and they lack the general skills necessary to adapt … Although vocational students make higher salaries and are more likely to be employed as young adults, that advantage fades over time; by their late forties, those who went through a general education program have higher employment rates.”
Read more …

Recent DeVos Hires Bode Ill For Student Rights

U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos had another rough day in Congress this week when Senators grilled her on the details of her budget which slashes over $9 billion from the education department and diverts $1.4 billion to privately operated schools such as charter schools and private schools.

Even Republican senators expressed strong reservations for cuts to Special Olympics, after-school programs, and a cluster of programs for supporting low-income and first-generation college students.

But the fireworks in the media focused primary on what DeVos said about enforcing federal government laws related to discrimination in schools.

Senators pointed out that her ideas for diverting public money to private institutions could result in federal dollars going to schools that discriminate against students on religion, their sexual orientation, or other characteristics.

DeVos repeatedly insisted, “Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law. Period.” But when senators tried pinning her down on whether federal money would go to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students, she stated, “On areas where the law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees.”

DeVos’s comments prompted news outlets and advocacy groups to declare DeVos and her department would abandon LGBTQ students who are subject to discrimination in schools.

But her remarks are cloaked in such ambiguity, it’s hard to predict what DeVos will do to protect students from discrimination and where, and for whom, her department would enforce protections.

However, based on some of her personnel decisions, there is a great deal of cause for concern.

Already, much has been written about Candice Jackson, DeVos’s deputy assistant secretary and acting head in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

An in-depth profile by ProPublica revealed her “limited background in civil rights law” and her previous writings in which she “denounced feminism and race-based preferences.”

A recent piece in the New York Times tried to rehabilitate Jackson’s image, noting, “She is a sexual assault survivor, and has been married to her wife for more than a decade.”

“The fact that Candace Jackson is gay does not qualify her to enforce civil rights if she does not believe in enforcement of civil rights,” wrote education historian Diane Ravitch on her personal blog after reading the Times piece.

A more recent hire for the department’s deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs is former Koch Foundation employee and director of the Individual Rights Defense Program Adam Kissel.

According to Inside Higher Ed, Kissel has accused universities of “violating the free speech rights of students and faculty. He’s also criticized broader ‘intolerance’ on campuses” and “taken issue with the standard of proof used by colleges in the adjudication of recent sexual harassment and assault cases.”

Kissel has been a high profile critic of the federal government’s enforcement of Title IX, the federal gender-equity law, and how it’s been applied to campus sexual violence. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kissel has used op-eds and Twitter to declare, “American higher education is smothered in intolerance of diverse ideas,” a phrase often used to allow hate speech on college campuses.

Another new DeVos hire with a problematic past related to discrimination is Kimberly Richey, who will serve as deputy assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.

Richey was previously the state counsel for Oklahoma’s state superintendent of education Janet Barresi. During Richey’s tenure in 2014, Barresi got into hot water for creating a new assistant state superintendent position and hiring Richey’s husband to fill it.

He resigned a year later after a new state superintendent was elected and took over. But the taint of cronyism may follow Richey in her new position with the federal government.

As state counsel, Richey’s duties were to oversee and advise the state on legal matters, including, presumably, on enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. Yet under her watch, Oklahoma had a deplorable track record in its treatment of students with disabilities.

A 2015 examination by Oklahoma Watch found, “Oklahoma ranked first in the nation in rates of special education students being expelled from schools. It ranked fourth in corporal punishment of such students, 19th in in-school suspensions, 28th in out-of-school suspensions and 20th in arrests.”

According to state data, students with disabilities “were more likely than their peers to be suspended, expelled, arrested, handcuffed or paddled. In dozens of schools, special education students are anywhere from two to 10 times more likely to be disciplined, the data show. At some schools, every special education student has been physically disciplined, suspended or expelled.”

How this track record qualifies Richey to take over the duties of overseeing the nation’s special education and rehabilitative services is anyone’s guess.

Does it really matter who DeVos hires?

In a nuanced discussion about the issues of discrimination that arose during the DeVos senate hearing, experts on the subject said there is a lot of “unsettled law” on the matter, especially when privately operated schools accept federal money. According to Education Week.,”No state lays out protections for all marginalized groups of students, whether based on their religion, race, ethnicity, disability, sex, or sexual orientation.”

Potential discrimination against students with disabilities is a particularly tricky subject. Many states have set up their voucher programs in a way that requires parents to “waive certain disability rights for their children under federal education law in order to participate in a special-education-specific voucher program.”

The experts explained there are “plenty of questions on what solid protections exist for different groups of students between overlapping federal and state laws.”

The article quotes a former civil rights official at the U.S. Department of Education under President Bill Clinton who emphasizes that, “The design and the operation and the effects of any federal program that may be proposed will, therefore, likely matter … and matter a lot.”

In other words, federal programs affecting students’ rights, and the enforcement of civil rights laws in schools, depend a lot on who’s in charge of them.

 

 

6/1/2017 – Our School Funding Crisis Has A Cause: Bad Leadership

THIS WEEK: Americans Want Integration … Pre-K Inequity … College Debt Fiasco … Beware ‘Pay For Success’ … DeVos Chooses Discrimination

TOP STORY

Our School Funding Crisis Has A Cause: Bad Leadership

By Jeff Bryant

“State lawmakers’ inability to do basic arithmetic is having painful impacts on schools, teachers, and children … Research consistently shows there is a direct correlation between what we spend on schools to how well our students perform on achievement tests and other measures … Surveys show Americans are generally willing to pay higher taxes to for education, especially if the money is used to pay teachers more and improve facilities and technology. Yet, political leaders continue to slash taxes instead and redirect more funds to unfounded experiments like charter schools and voucher programs.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Most Americans Want To See More School Integration As Trump Destroys Existing Efforts

The Huffington Post

“Schools are still divided along fault lines of race and class. And a majority of Americans today want this to change … 70% of Americans support the economic integration of schools, even as the Trump administration just ended one of the federal government’s few programs promoting such efforts … About 100 districts across the country are making concerted efforts to diversify schools economically, a number that is up from 40 districts in 2007 … Nearly half of the country’s low-income students – 40% – attend schools characterized by high rates of concentrated poverty.”
Read more …

A Record Number Of Kids Now Attend Public Preschool, So Why Has Inequality Grown?

PBS Newshour

“While a record number of states are providing public preschool … inequality has grown over the last decade, as access to pre-K and the quality of the programs themselves vary significantly from state to state … 24 states, mostly Texas and California, have increased spending on public preschool. This 8% or $7.4 billion increase in state-funding demonstrates that a growing number of states have come to place a value on early learning … Several studies over the years have shown that in order for kids to see longer-term benefits into elementary school and beyond, pre-K programs must be of a high-quality.”
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Americans Are Paying $38 To Collect $1 Of Student Debt

Bloomberg

“The federal government has, in recent years, paid debt collectors close to $1 billion annually to help distressed borrowers climb out of default … Much of that money may have been wasted … Debt collectors receive up to $1,710 in payment from the U.S. Department of Education each time a borrower makes good on soured debt … They keep those funds even if borrowers subsequently default again … More than 40% of these borrowers defaulted again within three years … Even when borrowers don’t default, debt collection efforts often yield little … The Education Department is paying its debt collectors up to $1,710 per borrower to collect around $45.”
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Why “Pay For Success” Financing Could Cost Taxpayers More Than They Bargained For

In These Times

“Philanthropists, financiers, and policy leaders have helped elevate the Pay for Success model quickly over the past few years … Pay for Success can leave taxpayers paying substantially more than if their governments had just funded programs directly, cement narratives of fiscal austerity and incentivize misguided social outcome … The Obama administration laid the groundwork for Pay for Success, paving the way for its potential expansion under Trump … Two Pay for Success preschool programs have launched, neither of which could yet credibly be called successful.”
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Betsy DeVos Wants To Take Money From Poor Kids And Give It To Schools That Could Discriminate Against Them

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “In Washington, DC, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was called to defend to Congress the Trump administration’s education budget which cuts education options for poor kids and increases options for parents to leave public schools … Both Republicans and Democrats expressed concerns with cuts in federal support … But the sharpest exchanges with the Secretary focused on the budget’s significant funding increases for alternatives to public schools … Democratic Representatives were especially concerned, not only with the repurposing of Title I money to create school choice options, including vouchers, but also about the kind of schools the money would be permitted to go to.”
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Our School Funding Crisis Has A Cause: Bad Leadership

This week’s disturbing news that Oklahoma schools are so poorly funded some of them may move from five days a week to four got a lot of people’s attention, including my colleague Richard Eskow, who called this an example of “the Republican party’s sickness of the soul.” Unfortunately, the illness is highly contagious.

The contagion stems from revenue shortfalls in states that counted on money that never materialized – at least 29 states, according to Education Week. Although unemployment rates have generally declined in these states, and economies have improved since the Great Recession, lawmakers in many of these states also decided to enact tax cuts and to do nothing about stagnating wages, so income tax and sales tax revenues flattened or even dipped.

Governors in these states say education finance is a priority – at least according to an annual survey of them. The poll, conducted by the Education Commission of the States, asked 42 governors about their education-related priorities. School finance was at the top, with 32 wanting to improve K-12 education through funding. But obviously, these state leaders forgot the revenue side of the equation. Oops!

State lawmakers’ inability to do basic arithmetic is having painful impacts on schools, teachers, and children.

Oklahoma is indeed the poster child for the negative consequences. “Funding for classrooms has been shrinking for years,” reports the Washington Post, “slicing away hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.” The shift to four-day weeks is not the only consequence of the financial crisis. Art and music programs have been cut, teachers are getting laid off, and those teachers who are left are the worst paid in the nation.

But Oklahoma is just an extreme point on a long continuum of bad.

Somewhere else on that continuum lies North Carolina, where lawmakers passed legislation to lower class sizes in the early grades – arguably a good thing – but then failed to provide schools funding to hire more teachers necessary to meet the new class size mandates. The resulting financial car wreck in schools endangers the jobs of art and music teachers and physical education instructors and nurses, counselors, special education teachers, and other support staff.

Years of financial backsliding in The Tar Heel state has reduced local school budgets to skin and bones, according to local school officials, but many state lawmakers continue to talk about cutting taxes.

A potential solution is mired in North Carolina’s General Assembly while some lawmakers contend, astonishingly, that educators are somehow cased this fiasco.

State lawmakers in Kansas have, for years, addressed repeated budget shortfalls with tax cuts that have led to yet more budget shortfalls. (Why does anyone find this surprising?) Many schools ran out of money and had to close early. In other districts, class sizes ballooned, art and science programs disappeared, and parents had to pay fees for their children to play sports

In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich recently submitted a budget that would cut funding to two-thirds of the state’s districts. The governor’s cuts are the result of failures to acknowledge inflation in his calculations and a proposed new funding formula that would hurt districts with enrollment declines, cap funding increases in local districts, and decrease state aid for transportation. Oh, and there’s $2 billion more for charter schools.

“This is every superintendent’s worst nightmare,” says a district school leader, who announced the budget would necessitate firing 24 teachers and raising fees for kids to participate in school activities such as band, sports, and technology. A letter to the editor of a local Ohio newspaper notes the cuts to transportation would be particularly devastating to rural school districts. The transportation cuts come on top of previous in 2009 that used to help school districts purchase newer and more fuel-efficient school buses. Those funds were diverted to charter schools.

In New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has for years resisted releasing $4.3 billion in “Foundation Aid” a court ruled are due to the schools based on legislation passed in 2007. Cuomo froze the funding increases in 2009.

In an op-ed for a Lower Hudson newspaper, actress Cynthia Nixon describes the difference the additional funding made for her child: “More teachers and aides providing individualized attention, enrichment like art and chess, a richer learning environment … But short-lived, thanks to Gov. Cuomo.”

The New York Times reports that In New Jersey, “hundreds of towns,” especially those whose student populations are nonwhite and lower-income, “have not gotten their full share of funding” they are due, based on a school formula passed in 2008. The article points to a Jersey district that that was due $23 million, based on the original formula, but only got $9 million. As a consequence of the shortfall, one school has had to pack over 500 students into a single classroom.

Local school leaders in the Garden State complain their schools are “literally crumbling,” funding for their pre-k programs have been “flat lined” for five years, and districts have chronic shortages of nurses, guidance counselors, art teachers, custodians, and social workers.

In Illinois, 17 school districts are suing the state, the governor, and his board of education for failing to fund public education in accord with the state constitution.

In Arizona, funding is so bad – the state is 48th in the nation in per-pupil funding – over 2,100 classrooms don’t have a teacher and another 2,200 are led by uncertified staff.

The list of state negligence to education funding goes on and on. But the problems are nationwide

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our public schools a grade of D-plus on its report card on school infrastructure. Over half of our schools need repairs, renovations, or upgrades just to be in “good” condition.

Over 72,000 teachers have created GoFundMe campaigns on the internet to raise funds for classroom supplies their districts can’t pay for. Teachers already shell out $530 a year, on average, of their own money on classroom items, including food and clothing for students. In high-poverty schools, that figure jumps to $672.

Research consistently shows there is a direct correlation between what we spend on schools to how well our students perform on achievement tests and other measures. In states that were forced by court order to increase education spending, research shows students experienced gains in student achievement.

Surveys show Americans are generally willing to pay higher taxes to for education, especially if the money is used to pay teachers more and improve facilities and technology.

Yet, political leaders continue to slash taxes instead and redirect more funds to unfounded experiments like charter schools and voucher programs.

It’s time to stop treating the symptoms of this disease and go directly to the cause. Vote these idiots out of office.

 

5/25/2017 – What Betsy DeVos Calls Education Transformation Is Actually Public Theft

THIS WEEK: DeVos Upholds Discrimination … Democrats Delivered DeVos … Voucher Evils … School Choice Scam … Taking To The Streets

TOP STORY

What Betsy DeVos Calls Education Transformation Is Actually Public Theft

By Jeff Bryant

“Betsy DeVos wants to give your tax dollars to private schools and businesses and tell you it’s an education ‘transformation.’ That’s the main theme of an address she gave this week to a conference held by the organization she helped found and lead, the American Federation for Children. Declaring ‘the time has expired for reform,’ she called instead for a ‘transformation … that will open up America’s closed and antiquated education system.’ Her plan also opens your wallet to new moochers of taxpayer dollars.”
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NEWS AND VIEWS

DeVos Won’t Say Whether She’d Withhold Federal Funds From Private Schools That Discriminate

The Washington Post

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos refused to say Wednesday whether she would block private schools that discriminate against LGBT students from receiving federal dollars … Asked by Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) whether she could think of any circumstance in which the federal government should step in to stop federal dollars from going to private schools that discriminate against certain groups of students, DeVos did not directly answer. ‘We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits all approach,’ DeVos said.”
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Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame The Democrats.

New Republic

Education historian Diane Ravitch writes, “Thirty years ago, there was a sharp difference between Republicans and Democrats on education. Republicans wanted choice, testing, and accountability. Democrats wanted equitable funding for needy districts and highly trained teachers. But in 1989, with Democrats reeling from three straight presidential losses, the lines began to blur … After George W. Bush made the ‘Texas miracle’ of improved schools a launching pad for the presidency, many Democrats swallowed his bogus claim that testing students every year had produced amazing results … Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan doubled down on testing, accountability, and choice … Trump and DeVos rely on the same language to tout their vision of reform. They’re essentially taking Obama’s formula one step further: expanding ‘choice’ to include vouchers.”
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Opening Pandora’s Box

Political Research Associates

“Polly Williams, the Wisconsin African American lawmaker behind the nation’s first school voucher program, believed vouchers could help students of color in urban Milwaukee. Conservative donors and right-wing think tanks saw her program as opening the door to the privatization of public education … But by the late 1990s, Williams had been pushed aside, just as she feared that students of color from low-income families would be pushed aside by the diverging agenda of her White conservative partners.”
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School Choice Is A Scam In Segregated Neighborhoods

The Chicago Reporter

Chicago community organizer Jitu Brown writes, “What [Betsy] DeVos fails to understand is the intentional structural racism that has been accepted by Democrats and Republicans, where children from black and brown communities are intentionally underserved by the system all citizens pay taxes into … DeVos has not yet learned that we, meaning black and brown families, don’t have the choice of great neighborhood schools within safe walking distance of our homes … The solution implemented by the same system that produces this inequity is to further diminish democracy and accountability to the public by privatizing what is a public good.”
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Fed Up With A Budget Crisis, Illinois Citizens Take To The Streets

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “A small group marching 200 miles from Chicago to the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield demand the passage of a new Illinois state budget … The marchers are demanding a People and Planet First Budget for Illinois that proposes $23.5 billion in new state spending … To pay for their demands, the marchers want corporate tax loopholes closed, taxes on higher income earners raised, and a LaSalle Tax that taxes financial transactions … State funding for education is a major sticking point in the legislative stalemate … The marchers’ call for increased financial support for public education in their state is relevant to the rest of the nation. State after state continues to withhold funding for public education to keep taxation on wealthy people and corporations at historic lows.”
Read more …

What Betsy DeVos Calls Education Transformation Is Actually Public Theft

Betsy DeVos wants to give your tax dollars to private schools and businesses and tell you it’s an education “transformation.”

That’s the main theme of an address she gave this week to a conference held by the organization she helped found and lead, the American Federation for Children.

Declaring “the time has expired for ‘reform,'” she called instead for a “transformation… that will open up America’s closed and antiquated education system.” Her plan also opens your wallet to new moochers of taxpayer dollars.

By the way, AFC, according to SourceWatch, is a “conservative 501(c)(4) dark money group that promotes the school privatization agenda via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other avenues.” It also grew out of a defunct PAC connected to DeVos called “All Children Matter” that ran afoul legally in Ohio and Wisconsin and still owes Ohio $5.3 million for breaking election laws.

So DeVos had a supportive crowd for her speech, but what should the rest of us think of it?

The transformation she calls for seems to rest on the premise that, “It shouldn’t matter where a student learns so long as they are actually learning.” But what does she mean by “learning”? And what should the public expect about how its funds are being spent?

In kicking off her address (transcript here), DeVos thanked Denisha Merriweather for introducing her. Merriweather, as I’ve previously reported, often appears with DeVos at events extolling school vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

In Merriweather’s case, exercising school choice meant using Florida’s education tax credit program to attend a fundamentalist Christian academy that presents the Bible as literal history and science, teaches young earth creationism, and demeans other religions.

DeVos then quickly moved to the story of a recent graduate of a Catholic private school, Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who used that state’s voucher program to transfer from a public school to a private religious school at taxpayer expense.

Based on that student’s life story, DeVos declared, “Here in Indiana, we’ve seen some of the best pro-parent and pro-student legislation enacted in the country.”

Reporters at NPR recently looked at what “pro-parent and pro-student” policies have accomplished in Indiana and found the state’s voucher program, which DeVos is no doubt extolling, is essentially a coupon program for parents who already send their kids to private schools.

“More than half of all voucher students in the state have no record of attending a public school,” NPR reports. “Recipients are also increasingly suburban and middle class. A third of students do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals,” a proxy for poverty widely used in education.

Clearly taxpayers should be concerned about picking up the tab for an expense that many families seem to be able to afford in the first place. In fact, that’s a point conservatives frequently level in their claims of widespread welfare fraud.

But so long as students are learning, DeVos contends, what’s the beef? Well, evidence of these students actually learning by exercising their “school choice” is scant.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times cites a study which found Indiana students using the state’s voucher program to transfer from public schools to private schools voucher students “experienced significant losses in achievement” in mathematics and “saw no improvement in reading.”

But one thing Indiana’s voucher program certainly accomplished is to provide a huge cash infusion to religious schools. As Mother Jones recently reported, of the more than 300 schools receiving voucher money in the Hoosier state, only four aren’t “overtly religious.” The remaining four are for special needs students.

Another premise DeVos argues is, “Education should reward outcomes, not inputs.” But outcomes at what cost?

That’s a question many who disagree with DeVos’s preference for “high performing” charter schools have about her praise for school choice.

In her reporting on a supposedly high performing charter chain in Arizona, Carol Burris, an award-winning educator and leader of the Network for Public education, looked at the school’s supposed great outcomes and found a troubling backstory.

The BASIS Arizona charter chain, she found, “provides insight into how charter schools can cherry-pick students, despite open enrollment laws. It also shows how through the use of management companies profits can be made — all hidden from public view.”

DeVos counters any objections to her preference for school choice with the argument, “All parents instinctively know that their child should not follow the money – the money should follow their child,” which is a favorite phrase of the school choice crowd.

Here’s something else parents know: Kids don’t come with price tags. And educating the nation’s future workers, leaders, citizens, and artists has always been, and must continue to be, a communal enterprise shared by parents and non-parents alike.

In her efforts to create the education transformation she calls for, DeVos is supremely eager to “get Washington and the federal bureaucracy out of the way,” but still wants you to pay the cost of privatizing our schools. That’s not an agenda for better schools. It’s about stealing public money.