Education Opportunity Network

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8/10/2017 – Betsy DeVos’s ‘School Choice’ Looks More Like Crony Capitalism

THIS WEEK: Tax Breaks Hurt Schools … What DeVos Did … Trump’s Cuts Hurt Kids … School Choice Screws Rural Schools … Cost Of Back-To-School


Betsy DeVos’s ‘School Choice’ Looks More Like Crony Capitalism

By Jeff Bryant

“U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says she supports ‘great public schools,’ but her actions continue to show her hypocrisy on that subject … DeVos claims that her proposals are intended to provide more ‘choice’ in the education system, but if that were true, she would be proposing to raise funding levels for all options. The fact she boosts education options in the private sector at the expense of public options shows her real intention is to tilt the playing field toward the choices she wants – privately owned institutions.
Read more …


Tax Breaks For Big-Box Stores Can Drain Money From Schools

Education Week

“Using a tactic known as “dark store theory,” retailers and their legal teams are increasingly arguing that the massive stores they operate ought to be appraised as if they were vacant or ‘dark.’ When they succeed, the annual property taxes that retailers pay – which help fund public schools in most local communities – can drop precipitously … So far, the strategy has worked, particularly in the courts, and has led to lowering the taxes of big-box companies by hundreds of millions of dollars … Assessors worry about the potentially sweeping impact the tax loophole could have on essential community services.”
Read more …

Like It Or Not, Betsy DeVos Has Made A Mark In Six Months As Education Secretary

The Washington Post

“She and her staff moved swiftly to start to remake the student financial aid system by rolling back or rewriting regulations that were put in place by the Obama administration to protect student borrowers … Being education secretary has given DeVos a national platform to mainstream her school choice ideas, which once were considered radical. And her repeated attacks on the federal government have laid the groundwork for potential future efforts to abolish the Education Department … DeVos’s denunciations of the federal government and her refusal to make even a tepid call-out to the value of the public education system, can’t help but have an effect on the way some Americans feel about their neighborhood public schools.”
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Trump’s Proposed After-School Cuts Could Lead To More Hungry Kids, Lower Test Scores

The Hechinger Report

“The Trump administration’s proposed budget would nix … afterschool programs and impose deep cuts in other areas that impact school meals and nutrition. The USDA … is facing a budget cut of $4.7 billion, or 21% of its discretionary spending, while the Department of Education’s budget could fall by more than $9 billion … Newly installed Department of Agriculture chief, Sonny Perdue, is rolling back school lunch nutrition standards.”
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How Does School Choice Work in Rural Schools?

Education Week Teacher

“Betsy DeVos has made it clear that she has a single agenda item: to improve options for all students via school choice programs. But many rural educators are not convinced. They ask, how does choice work, exactly, in rural states? … In states like Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas, however, families can’t simply choose to attend a different school. Districts are separated by enormous distances. And impending funding cuts that disproportionately affect rural and poor students are not helping to solve the problem … Cutting funding for essential and effective programs in service of spending $1 billion to offer impractical ‘options’ for students who likely will not benefit from them is governmental malpractice.”
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Is Back-To-School Season More Expensive? Yes, And Here’s Why.

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “It’s no secret why teachers and parents are paying more of the costs of educating our nation’s children. It’s because governments have been spending less on kids … Slashing education budgets at the federal, state, or local level doesn’t save money; it just shifts costs somewhere else … Providing schools with the supplies students need is vital to successfully educating the nation’s future workers, leaders, artists, and citizens.”
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Betsy DeVos’s ‘School Choice’ Looks More Like Crony Capitalism

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says she supports “great public schools,” but her actions continue to show her hypocrisy on that subject.

Her recent trip to Michigan, her home state, offers yet more proof of the real focus of her leadership – and it isn’t about supporting public schools.

During her visit to a Michigan community college, reporters questioned DeVos on her support for public school teacher training and professional development programs. The school, Grand Rapids Community College, offers an extensive array of education courses to prepare new teachers or help veteran faculty grow their instructional skills. Reporters couldn’t help but point out that President Trump’s budget has proposed massive cuts to teacher training programs, including eliminating $2.4 billion in funding for Title II, the third-largest federal K-12 program in the country.

Nevertheless, DeVos told reporters, “President Trump and I are very big proponents of continuing to support teachers and develop teachers.”

DeVos also pivoted reporters’ questions to talking about her support for the Van Andel Education Institute, which she had visited earlier in the day. The Van Andel Education Institute also provides career development programs for teachers, more specifically on preparing and supporting educators in teaching science, technology, engineering, and math, commonly called STEM education.

Trump’s budget, which DeVos has repeatedly endorsed, proposes huge cuts that would endanger STEM learning in public schools and the training provided by public institutions to support teachers in delivering STEM curricula.

Yet, again, DeVos professed her support for “those kinds of opportunities,” even though the budget she and the president have proposed cuts funding in those areas.

But here’s a crucial point local reporters didn’t point out: While the community college DeVos visited is a public institution funded primarily by public tax dollars, the Van Andel Institute is a private, nonprofit organization funded principally by friends of Betsy DeVos.

Jay and Betty Van Andel founded the Van Andel Institute after amassing a huge sum of money in creating the Amway corporation with Richard DeVos, the father-in-law of Betsy. “Amway went on to become one of the largest privately held companies in the world, making both of its founders billionaires,” writes a progressive blogger based in Michigan.

So the fact Betsy DeVos would tout the Van Andel Institute at the same time she presides over a federal department that is advocating for deep cuts to teacher training and STEM education should bring up serious questions about her professed allegiance to public education.

While private organizations like the Van Andel Institute have been prospering, Michigan has made huge cuts to public institutions like community colleges. In 2011, Michigan lawmakers passed a budget that cut public institutions most responsible for teacher preparation and career education, community colleges and universities, by 15 percent. Funding levels have never recovered since.

During roughly the same time, enrollments at Michigan community declined 18 percent while the Van Andel Education Institute grew.

DeVos’s preference for private institutions in higher education mirrors her proposals for K-12 schools. The budget she and her boss have proposed essentially cuts direct aid to students, especially those from low-income families, in order to expand the private sector’s financial footprint in education by funding expansions of charter schools and school voucher efforts.

This clear favoritism for the private sector prompted American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to call DeVos “the most ideological anti-public education person to ever be nominated or confirmed to that position.”

Weingarten notes the budget she and Trump promote is “the worst per-capita budget cuts for kids who are vulnerable or poor that we’ve since Reagan. DeVos also wants the worst budget cuts in raw numbers ever.”

At nearly every turn, DeVos favors private and powerful entities over the public and the least empowered in our society, Weingarten notes, “fighting for the predatory lenders rather than the borrowers in terms of student loan debt,” siding against marginalized students such as transgender children and victims of college campus sexual assaults, and weakening enforcement of federal government anti-discrimination laws in private schools that receive vouchers. These are all signs of a U.S. secretary of education who just does not get that the federal government’s role in education is about ensuring equitable access to education institutions that guarantee an opportunity to learn.

DeVos claims that her proposals are intended to provide more “choice” in the education system, but if that were true, she would be proposing to raise funding levels for all options. The fact she boosts education options in the private sector at the expense of public options shows her real intention is to tilt the playing field toward the choices she wants – privately owned institutions.

The fact those private options sometimes have personal connections to her family and its fortunes make it look all the more like this isn’t about education at all. It’s about making money.

8/3/2017 – Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Wrong: Public Schools Aren’t The Cause Of Science Ignorance

THIS WEEK: How Segregation Evolved … Vouchers Fail … Attacking Affirmative Action … Trump Screws Student Borrows … A Better Deal?


Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Wrong: Public Schools Aren’t The Cause Of Science Ignorance

By Jeff Bryant

“Neil deGrasse Tyson … recently tweeted, ‘The rise of flat-Earthers in society provides some of the best evidence for the failure of our educational system’… The hallmark of any good scientist, which Tyson certainly is, is to create a hypothesis and then weigh the evidence. So what’s the evidence that public schools are the main cause of science ignorance?”
Read more …


School Segregation Didn’t Go Away. It Just Evolved.


“Since 2000, [over] 70 communities have tried to secede from their district …
Two-thirds of those of those secession attempts have been successful, and most of the other cases are still ongoing … Many of the proposed school borders are along socioeconomic lines, and they would further isolate poor children in segregated school … Courts and our state legislatures … have created a system that incentivizes middle-class people to use their moderate wealth to wall in opportunities for their own kids, while depriving the kids of others. They’ve allowed parents, acting in self-interest, to create school systems that reproduce, or even exacerbate, the structural inequality we see today.'”
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Trump Administration Advances School Vouchers Despite Scant Evidence

Scientific American

“Studies have found that vouchers have mixed to negative academic outcomes and, when adopted widely, can exacerbate income inequity … Reading and math scores may also not be the most important consideration for parents … Voucher proponents say parents, even those using tax dollars to pay tuition, should be able to use whatever criteria for school choice they see fit. A provocative idea, but if past evidence can predict future outcomes, expanding voucher programs seems unlikely to help U.S. schoolchildren keep pace with a technologically advancing world.”
Read more …

Justice Dept. To Take On Affirmative Action In College Admissions

The New York Times

“The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants… The announcement suggests that the project will be run out of the division’s front office, where the Trump administration’s political appointees work, rather than … Supporters and critics of the project said it was clearly targeting admissions programs that can give members of generally disadvantaged groups, like black and Latino students, an edge over other applicants with comparable or higher test scores.”
Read more …

Trump Administration Is Sitting On Tens Of Thousands Of Student Debt Forgiveness Claims

The Washington Post

“The Trump administration has done little to help defrauded student loan borrowers … Not a single application for debt relief … has been approved in the past 6 months, leaving more than 65,000 people in limbo. Although the vast majority of those borrowers submitted claims during the Obama administration, the Education Department has received nearly 15,000 new applications this year … By law, students can apply to have their federal loans discharged if their college used illegal and deceptive tactics to persuade them to borrow money to attend.”
Read more …

5 Reasons Why Democrats’ ‘Better Deal’ Must Include Public Education


Jeff Bryant writes, “The Democratic Party rolled out “A Better Deal” … aimed at winning back working-class voters … But A Better Deal is virtually silent on the topic of public education – and that’s a major missed opportunity … Trump is vulnerable on education … Betsy DeVos is a lightning rod for popular dissent … [And] Democrats need a clean break from the party’s education past.”
Read more …

Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Wrong: Public Schools Aren’t The Cause Of Science Ignorance

It’s true that a lot of Americans don’t have a very good grasp of science. Only about half of Americans believe that human beings evolved over time, fewer parents are vaccinating their children, and while most people accept that climate change is happening, they don’t think it will affect their lives.

But are public schools to blame for this?

That’s what astrophysicist and “Cosmos” star Neil deGrasse Tyson seemed to say when he recently tweeted, “The rise of flat-Earthers in society provides some of the best evidence for the failure of our educational system.”

Tyson also told an interviewer for the Huffington Post, “I blame the education system that can graduate someone into adulthood who cannot tell the difference between what is and is not true about this world.”

Tyson was likely reacting to news stories about the dramatic growth in the flat Earth movement. Yes, there really are people who believe the Earth is flat. Among them, in fact, is NBA star Kyrie Irving who says, “The Earth is flat,” and any evidence of its alleged roundness “is a lie.”

Anti-science views may indeed be in resurgence. President Donald Trump is slashing the budgets of science-related agencies and appointing officials with well-known anti-science biases.

But the hallmark of any good scientist, which Tyson certainly is, is to create a hypothesis and then weigh the evidence. So what’s the evidence that public schools are the main cause of science ignorance?

School Bashing, A Time-Honored Tradition

First, bashing public schools for America’s perceived disadvantages in science education is practically a time-honored tradition.

In 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched its Sputnik satellite, the Eisenhower-era political establishment, fearing the nation was losing the “space race,” pointed a blaming finger at American schools.

Driven by paranoia that Communists were spying on us, “the nation responded to the security threat by targeting education” as the reason why the nation was falling behind, noted a Harvard review on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.

“The schools never recovered from Sputnik,” the late Gerald Bracy wrote in 2007. “Sputnik wounded their reputation and, as the scab formed, something else always came along to reopen the lesion.”

The scab would reopen again during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

In the early 1980s, Bracey recalled in a 2003 article, the danger was not “the Red Menace” but the competitive threat posed to the nation’s economy by German, Japanese, and Korean manufacturing.

A new report commissioned by the Reagan administration, called “A Nation at Risk,” blamed public schools for “a rising tide of mediocrity” that was allegedly crippling the nation’s ability to compete with the new industrial titans of the world. Using that report, Reagan helped launch a campaign for “greater accountability” from public schools that would stretch into the current century.

Battling False News

Today, when public schools and science teachers aren’t contending with the continued bashing by lawmakers and policy leaders, they have to address an around-the-clock onslaught of propaganda and “false news” which their still highly-impressionable students encounter every day.

As NPR reports, “Kids come in with all sorts of questions about things they’ve read online or heard elsewhere,” and teachers have more false information they have to dispel.

Conservative think tanks know this, the NPR reporter notes, and are carpet bombing schools with glossy information packets designed to provide teachers with convenient – albeit false – answers to students’ myriad questions about climate change and other scientific subjects.

Media celebrities frequently ply students with erroneous “facts” about the world. Among those celebrities is Kyrie Irving with his flat-Earth theory.

The NPR reporter quotes a science teacher whose middle-schoolers believe the Earth is flat because Irving told them so. “As hard as they try,” the article notes, “science teachers aren’t likely to change a student’s misconceptions just by correcting them.”

Against this background of the near-constant criticism and undermining of science learning that schools have to contend with, in steps Tyson with his charge of educational malfeasance.

His charge hardly seems fair.

The Vanishing Curriculum

First, Irving didn’t get his high school and college education in public schools. He went to private high schools Montclair Kimberley Academy and The Patrick School, both in New Jersey, and spent a year at Duke University, also a private institution. His beliefs about the world certainly aren’t a direct product of public schools.

Similarly, neither President Trump nor his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos got their educations in public schools.

Second, what Tyson and other critics of public schools don’t take into account is the challenging context science teachers have to contend with.

As a report from the National Education Association explains, fiscal austerity and policy decisions have been shrinking school curriculum.

NEA explains, “Critical subjects have been crowded out of schools or even eliminated entirely by the lethal one-two punch of deep budget cuts and the singular focus on improving reading and math,” which are the two subjects currently tested under federal government mandates.

The “obsession” with testing math and reading performance, the NEA contends, “has nudged aside visual arts, music, physical education, social studies, and science.”

NEA points to a 2011 national survey, which found 27 percent of teachers noticed science was being crowded out of their schools’ curriculum due to the over-emphasis on state tests in math and reading.

Recent calls for more education in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) may rescue science from the vanishing curriculum. But there’s a new threat.

As NPR reports, a new state law just passed in Florida “allows parents, and any residents, to challenge the use of textbooks and instructional materials they find objectionable.”

Among the subjects that proponents of the new law intend to address is the teaching of “Darwinism” in public school science textbooks.

“Under the law, school districts will still have the final say,” NPR reports. “Even so, some worry the law will have a chilling effect” on what public schools are able to teach without fear of controversy and objections from local critics.

South Dakota is considering a similar bill.

Aim Higher

This is not to say there aren’t problems with science teaching in public schools.

A recent study finds that over two-thirds new teachers who want to teach science are routed into teaching other subjects.

Further, not all science teachers accept scientific conclusions about the world. For instance, there are estimates that nearly one in eight high school biology teachers believe Earth and the human species did not evolve over time.

But this does not necessarily mean these teachers are brainwashing students with creationist beliefs. Good teachers demonstrate all the time that they can present objective information about a subject while not letting that subject matter challenge their own belief systems.

Finally, if Tyson believes science ignorance is more-so a problem of system design rather than the people in it, then fair enough. But he should be aware that, historically, criticism of public schools is turned into negative attitudes against the people in them.

If Tyson wants to blame science ignorance on someone, he should aim higher.

7/27/2017 – Problems Posed By School Choice Can’t Be Ignored

THIS WEEK: NAACP Challenges Charters … School Choice Segregates … Republicans Hurt Kids … School Success Story … Vote Democrat


Problems Posed By School Choice Can’t Be Ignored

By Jeff Bryant

“Enraged school choice advocates stormed the Internet over the past few days to defend their cause from criticism no matter how reasonable…. The objects of their wrath, specifically, were a speech given by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on school vouchers and a report issued by the national NAACP on charter schools.”
Read more …


NAACP Report: Charter Schools ‘Not A Substitute’ For Traditional Public Schools And Many Need Reform

The Washington Post

“The NAACP has, once again, slapped down the claim that the promotion of school choice and charter schools is ‘the civil rights issue of our time’ … The preeminent civil rights organization not only stood by last year’s call for a moratorium on new charter schools, it also insisted on reform of charters that already exist … The report acknowledges that while some charters serve students well … There are also a wide range of problems with the operation of charters across the country that require attention … The report also concludes ‘even the best charters’ cannot be a substitute for an equitable, well-funded public school system.'”
Read more …

School Choice–Past And Present

The Huffington Post

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten writes, “When schools struggle, the ‘solution’ privatization advocates invariably propose is ‘choice,’ with the coda that poor families should have the same educational choices as more affluent families. But that innocuous word belies the record both the academic results of private school choice … Tuition vouchers and tax credits, and private, for-profit charter schools actively destabilize our public schools. They can–and many do–discriminate because private schools do not follow federal civil rights laws … They fail most of the children they purportedly are intended to benefit.”
Read more …

Students With Disabilities Are The Overlooked Victims Of GOP Health Care Repeal

Mother Jones

“Medicaid … doles out billions of dollars each year directly to school districts to fund special education services that are mandated by federal law and to support services for poor students … Any cut is going to have an adverse effect on kids … In 2015, schools received nearly $4 billion in Medicaid funding … covering the costs of speech and physical therapy, behavioral services, and medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and walkers.”
Read more …

A Southern California District Resists Bad Education Policy

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, ” I’ve called Long Beach an unlikely success story … Nearly 70% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Yet Long Beach Unified School District has steadily improved its high school graduation rates… and surpasses the rest of the state on key education measures … District leaders value what teachers do, and they put in place structural supports that make it more likely the talents of teachers come out … [The] contemptuous attitude toward teaching still dominates education policy making. But there are signs its influence is on the wane.”
Read more …

Want To Reduce Racial Segregation? Elect A Democrat To School Board, Study Says


“Electing Democratic school board members … leads to less-segregated schools … Electing at least one Democrat leads to students being ‘reassigned in such a way that the school board is now 18% closer to achieving the district [average racial breakdown] for each school’ … Racial segregation was likely reduced … by changes to school attendance zones. Non-Democrats made fewer changes, ‘potentially allowing residential sorting to increase segregation without substantial intervention’ … More integrated schools improve the achievement of low-income and black students.”
Read more …

Problems Posed By School Choice Can’t Be Ignored

Enraged school choice advocates stormed the Internet over the past few days to defend their cause from criticism no matter how reasonable.

What sparked the anger of remarkably thin-skinned proponents of charter schools and school voucher programs were criticisms that school choice without proper governance has, and can still, increase racial segregation and undermine the public schools that low-income communities of color rely on to educate their children.

The objects of their wrath, specifically, were a speech given by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on school vouchers and a report issued by the national NAACP on charter schools.

In her speech, Weingarten had the temerity to point out, “Decades ago, the term ‘choice’ was used to cloak overt racism by segregationist politicians.”

That assertion has a basis in fact. A recent report from the Center for American Progress documents how, more than 60 years ago, county officials in a rural Virginia county who objected to court-mandated desegregation, following the landmark Brown v. Board of decision, chose to close its segregated public schools and issue all the white kids vouchers to attend private schools instead.

The report explains, “By 1969, more than 200 private segregation academies were set up in states across the South,”and vouchers were implemented as a means of diverting public funds to those private schools, allowing white communities to evade desegregation requirements.

Today’s voucher programs vary considerably in intent but often produce segregation, if not by race, then by income or other means.

CAP points to Indiana’s voucher program that “increasingly benefits white, suburban, middle-class families more than the low-income students in underperforming schools whom the program was originally intended to serve.”

Indiana is not the only example. Many studies have found that voucher programs lead to more segregation because those parents who tend to use them are more educated and have a higher socioeconomic status than those who do not.

The voucher program in Arizona, an education tax credit program, designates only about 3 percent of voucher money to special-needs students, and barely a third goes to children of low-income families.

In Nevada, most applicants for vouchers are not from low-income areas in the state. North Carolina’s voucher program sends money to private schools that blatantly exclude students on the basis of religion and sexual identity.

When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a huge fan of vouchers, was asked during a recent budget hearing before Congress whether a voucher program funded by federal dollars should send money to private schools that can discriminate on the basis of race or disability, she refused to answer the question.

Clearly the record, both past and present, bear out Weingarten’s claim that “private schools can–and many do–discriminate, because they don’t follow federal civil rights laws. Vouchers increase racial and economic segregation. And they lack the accountability that public schools have.”

The report from the NAACP that unhinged school choice proponents was equally grounded in facts.

The subject of the NAACP’s examination was charter schools, another favorite of school choice fans, and the increasingly harmful effects they are having in African American communities

A year ago, the NAACP drew national attention when it passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charters until these schools “are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools.”

After the storm of criticism coming from school zealots, the NAACP created a task force on charter schools whose mission was later expanded to include recommendations on “actions needed to improve the quality of education for all children of color being educated with public funds and to ensure the sustainability of an effective public education system for all children.”

As my colleague professor Julian Vasquez Heilig reports, the NAACP’s new report acknowledges that public school systems that serve low-income communities of color are indeed struggling to deliver high quality education, but the problems stem more so from unfair funding, not lack of choice. And unregulated choice in the form of charter schools exacerbates problems with inequity.

The evidence base for the NAACP’s conclusions is drawn from “more than 50 hours of public testimony in seven cities: New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and New York,” writes former public school principal Carol Burris in a blogpost at the Washington Post. “Members heard testimony from both charter proponents and opponents. Community leaders, policy experts, parents and students spoke.”

“While high quality, accountable, and accessible charters can contribute to educational opportunity,” the report authors write, “by themselves, even the best charters are not a substitute for more stable, adequate and equitable investments in public education in the communities that serve our children.”

To create a more stable, sustainable school system, the NAACP recommends equitable and adequate funding for schools, especially for low-performing schools. And the role of charter schools in the system needs to be better regulated, specifically by mandating a more rigorous authorizing process, controlled solely by the local districts where charters reside, and ending the role that for-profit charters and for-profit charter management companies play in the system.

Until charter schools can adhere to these recommendations, the NAACP stands by its call for a moratorium.

It’s important to note neither in Weingarten’s remarks nor in the NAACP report are there any calls to eliminate more parent choice in school systems, or to close down existing charter schools or end the creation of new charters in perpetuity.

Public school advocates readily admit the systems they advocate for are often flawed, criticism from the well-intentioned is necessary, and intervention is often required to right what’s not working well for families and communities.

Is it asking too much of school choice advocates to do the same?

7/20/2017 – How Budget Austerity Puts Public School Parents On Par With Criminals

THIS WEEK: School Costs Rise … Voucher Black Hole… Trump And Teen Pregnancy … Charter School Warning … Republicans And Rape


How Budget Austerity Puts Public School Parents On Par With Criminals

By Jeff Bryant

“In a budget environment of forced scarcity, there are increasingly strong demarcations between winners and losers, and parents who plan on sending children to free public schools are increasingly losers … To pay for the costs of crime, under-funded local governments are increasing fines and fees associated with the criminal justice system … As it is for the accused in the criminal justice system, parents in local schools are having to bear more of the burden of education costs.”
Read more …


Backpack Index: The Cost Of School Supplies Nearly Doubled In 10 Years


“In the last decade, the price of supplies and extracurricular activities increased by 88% for elementary school students, 81% for middle school students and 68% for high school students, according … an annual survey of the cost of school supplies and other expenses … The Backpack Index was just shy of $1,500 for high schoolers last year, the most recent year available. It was $1,001 for middle schoolers and $662 for elementary schoolers … If a high school student plays more than one sport, that’ll incur up to $375 in fees.”
Read more …

Trump Wants To Spend Millions More On School Vouchers. But What’s Happened To The Millions Already Spent?

The Washington Post

“Congress dedicates $15 million a year to a program that helps low-income D.C. students pay tuition at private schools, but it’s impossible for taxpayers to find out where their money goes: The administrator of the D.C. voucher program refuses to say how many students attend each school or how many public dollars they receive … It’s also not clear how students are performing in each school … And private schools can continue receiving voucher dollars no matter how poorly their students fare.”
Read more …

Trump Administration Abruptly Cuts Off Teen Pregnancy Prevention Funding

Education Week

“The Trump administration has cut off grants that fund teen pregnancy prevention programs and research their effectiveness … Leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services … have publicly favored an abstinence-based approach to sex education … The 5-year grants … go to 81 organizations around the country … Congress had approved $101 million for the third year of the grants … Births to American teenagers have continued a pattern of decline, dropping 40% in the last decade.”
Read more …

Ohio’s Online Charter Scandal Is A Warning To The Nation

The Progressive

“With Betsy DeVos, a long-committed charter school proponent, in charge of the U.S. Department of Education, the country should look to recent goings-on in Ohio as a warning sign … In the 2015-2016 school year, [Ohio’s online charter school] was paid $106 million in public tax dollars for the more than 15,000 students it said were enrolled, but the state was able to verify the active participation of only 6,300 students … As lawmakers sort out ways to effectively address the political cronyism behind these schools, what should be abundantly clear to the state and the nation is that continuing to expand charters will only worsen the problem.”
Read more …

Republicans And Campus Rape: The Department of Education’s Bizarre Christian-Right Tilt Is No Accident


Amanda Marcotte writes, “When it comes to the issue of sexual assault on campus, the inclination of [Betsy] DeVos and her Bible-hugging staff members is to minimize, excuse, and blame the victims. It’s a reminder that the Christian right’s emphasis on policing sexuality is almost entirely about punishing and controlling women and LGBT people. Holding men accountable for abusive behavior comes second, if at all, to punishing women for being sexual or living independent lives … When it comes to the issue of sexual assault on campus, the inclination of DeVos and her Bible-hugging staff members is to minimize, excuse and blame the victims. It’s a reminder that the Christian right’s emphasis on policing sexuality is almost entirely about punishing and controlling women and LGBT people. Holding men accountable for abusive behavior comes second, if at all, to punishing women for being sexual or living independent lives.”
Read more …

How Budget Austerity Puts Public School Parents On Par With Criminals

In researching an upcoming article I’m writing about the St. Louis school system, and the district’s ongoing funding crisis, I came across an astonishing example of who wins and who loses in current approaches to government budget balancing.

As a local St. Louis reporter tells it, during a public meeting about a proposed new $130 million 34-story apartment building in the city, alderman Joe Roddy used a slideshow to make a case for why the city should give the developers 15 years of reduced property taxes, a $10 million subsidy, in exchange for some additional retail space and 305 high-end, luxury apartments downtown.

In a slide show titled “How the City Makes & Spends Money,” Roddy, a Democrat mind you, laid out a hierarchy of those who “make money” for the city at the top and those who cause the city to “spend money” at the bottom. At the top of his slide were businesses. In the middle were residents with no children and retirees. And at the very bottom – in the tier of city dwellers who place the biggest financial burden on government – were “criminals and residents with children in public school.”

When told that some might take offense at equating families with children needing free public schools to criminals, Roddy countered that the project would “target tenants who are young professionals without children. Attracting that demographic to the city is crucial, he says, and after the tax abatement ends, the revenue windfall for the city will be significant.”

By the way, St. Louis has a history of extending tax abatements for developers to longer terms.

But the thrust of Roddy’s remarks is well understood by all – in a budget environment of forced scarcity, there are increasingly strong demarcations between winners and losers, and parents who plan on sending children to free public schools are increasingly losers.

To be fair to Roddy, a great deal of St. Louis’s financial constraints, particularly in relation to the city’s ability to cover the cost of education, is the fault of the state of Missouri.

A 2015 accounting of state school funding found Missouri is “underfunding its K-12 schools by $656 million statewide, nearly 20 percent below the required level.” The budget situation for families with children has not improved a lot since then, with this year’s installment cutting spending on school buses, higher education, and social services.

Missouri is one of 27 states that spends less on education than it did in 2008.

The severity of Missouri’s budget austerity seems specifically targeted at districts like St. Louis that happen to be stuck with lots of low-income families with children (Where would they fall in Roddy’s hierarchy?).

A 2016 study conducted by NPR found that St. Louis schools on average spend considerably less per student compared to the highest spending districts in the St. Louis area.

Another more recent analysis by EdBuild finds St. Louis schools have a cost adjusted revenue per student that is nine percent below Missouri’s average. The district gets only 35 percent of its revenue from the state even though the district is challenged to educate a student population in which 68 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measurement of poverty.

The trend of financial inequity for St. Louis schools is worsening, according to Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker, who finds that the district, since 1995, is increasingly at a funding disadvantage compared to the rest of the state.

It’s not hard to see how this is going to play out for parents.

To pay for the costs of crime, under-funded local governments are “increasing fines and fees associated with the criminal justice system,” according to a report by NPR in 2014.

One community where court fines and fees “skyrocketed” to levels that made them a major revenue generator for local government is next door to St. Louis – Ferguson, Missouri, where, you recall, 18 year-old Michel Brown was gunned down by local police nearly three years ago.

As it is for the accused in the criminal justice system, parents in local schools are having to bear more of the burden of education costs.

According to an annual report, known as the Backpack Index, that calculates the average cost of school supplies and school fees, parents will have to pick up more of the tab if they want their children to participate fully in school.

The annual cost to parents is significant at a time when the majority of school children come from households in poverty: $662 for elementary school children, $1,001 for middle school children, and $1,489 for high school students.

A detail highlighted by NBC’s report on the Backpack Index notes that the biggest spike in direct costs to parents comes from fees charged for activities like school fieldtrips, art and music programs, and athletics. These fees far exceed costs for items like backpacks, pens, and graphing calculators.

Families with children in elementary schools can expect over $30 on average in school fees. For children in middle school, the average cost of fees climbs to $195 for athletics $75 for field trips, and $42 for other school fees. In high school, the fees spike much higher to $375 for athletic (often called “pay to play fees”), $285 for musical instrumentals, $80 to participate in band, and $60 in other school fees. Also in high school, the fees extend to academic courses including participating in Advanced Placement classes, which more schools emphasize students participate in. The average fee for testing related to these courses is $92 and the costs of materials to prepare for these tests, as well as SAT tests, tops $52.

In 2011, I spotlighted the practice of charging parents direct fees for school programs in five states – Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – and connected the rationale for the fees to austerity budgets.

I noted that schools have an obligation to work with all of the varying interests and abilities of students by offering sports, clubs, after-school activities, service learning, and other programs. But states that continually under-fund education pressure schools to shift the burden of these programs from a shared cost of the community onto only those families who need the services.

The problem is getting worse.

In North Carolina, the recently passed state budget again leaves schools woefully short of what they need, and now state administrators are scrambling to pass down the millions in education cuts.

“On the chopping block,” reports left-leaning watchdog NC Policy Watch, “include offices that provide services and support for local school districts, including intervention efforts in low-performing regions.”

In what appears to be an effort to twist the knife deeper, “the state budget also bars school board members from making up the lost cash with transfers from various GOP-backed education initiatives, including the controversial Innovation School District—which provides for charter takeovers of low-performing schools—and other programs such as Teach for America, Read to Achieve, and positions in the superintendent’s office.”

In the meantime, NC’s budget has winners too, as all budget documents do: “Lawmakers continued to set aside millions for a massive expansion of a private school voucher program. The state is expected to spend $45 million on the program this year, with the plan to expand the annual allocation to $145 million in the next decade.”

Now you tell me, who is the criminal here?

7/13/2016 – Why Teachers Don’t Trust Betsy DeVos, And Neither Should You

THIS WEEK: NCLB Failure Lingers … Churches Running Charters? … Rahm’s Graduation Scheme … DeVos Backs Accused Rapists … Charter Certified Teachers?


Why Teachers Don’t Trust Betsy DeVos, And Neither Should You

By Jeff Bryant

“[NEA president] Lily Eskelsen Garcia … said about [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos, ‘There is no reason to trust this woman’… Does Garcia’s contention that DeVos is simply not to be trusted have any validity? … It’s almost impossible to separate DeVos and her service in the education department from her past in dark money politics … While DeVos gives the silent treatment to news organizations, public officials, rights advocates, and educators, she maintains an open-door policy for those prone to agree with her.”
Read more …


Schools Haunted By Ghost Of No Child Left Behind Act


“There are two fundamental reasons why NCLB showed so few gains, especially as compared to the pre-standardized testing era … NCLB took responsibility away from the students and put it on the teachers and administrators … The second problem with standardized testing is that standardized tests are only one tool of judging student success and far from being the best one in the shed … We’re better off without the high-stakes standardized testing that we saw from NCLB.”
Read more …

Churches Running Charter Schools? The Latest Supreme Court Decision Could Open The Door In Some States


“Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer invalidated a Missouri rule banning a religious school from participating in a public program… The ruling might also pave the way for more charter schools operated by religious groups, including churches … If it became easier for religious institutions to run charter schools, it would mark a significant change … The narrow ruling means the impact of Trinity Lutheran won’t be immediately felt, and that it will turn on further interpretation.”
Read more …

Really, Rahm? The Chicago Mayor’s Newest Far-Fetched Plan For High Schools.

The Washington Post

“Chicago officials recently announced their new ‘Learn. Plan. Succeed initiative’ which requires any student who wants a high school diploma to prove they have a plan for life after high school … [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel wants students to provide proof that they have something to do – within parameters – when they leave high school. But … Chicago public schools aren’t exactly filled with counselors who can help young people plan their futures … Chicago is one of the big-city school districts that has more security staff than counselors … The plan shows that Emanuel is out of touch with many of the people he represents.”
Read more …

Campus Rape Policies Get A New Look As The Accused Get DeVos’s Ear

The New York Times

“Candice Jackson, who heads the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights …. believes investigations under the 1972 law known as Title IX have gone deeply awry. A sexual assault survivor herself, she said she sees … that the rights of accused students have too often been ignored … ‘The accusations – 90% of them ‘ fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk’ ‘… Ms. Jackson said. Such comments infuriate advocates for victims and women, who have spent the last 6 years waging … what some have called ‘rape culture’ on campus”
Read more …

Charters Move Closer To New Teacher-Certification Rules, Worrying Education Schools


“The SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which authorizes Success [Academy]and [New York] City’s other major charter networks … voted to consider regulations that would allow charters to create their own alternative pathways to certification, and ultimately allow the schools to hire fewer certified teachers … The new rules would have a significant impact on the city’s nationally influential networks … The regulations also stand to change how the city and state’s professional schools of education function.”
Read more …

Why Teachers Don’t Trust Betsy DeVos, And Neither Should You

The nation’s largest organization representing classroom teachers, the three million-member National Education Association, is getting plenty of guff over its decision to stonewall U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The NEA’s latest rejection note to the secretary came from the organization’s charismatic and blunt-spoken president Lily Eskelsen Garcia who, in an interview with Education Week, said about DeVos, “There is no reason to trust this woman.”

Garcia’s remarks closely follow a keynote address she gave at the NEA’s annual gathering of delegates in which she proclaimed, “I will not allow the National Education Association to be used by Donald Trump or by Betsy DeVos … I do not trust their motives … There will be no photo op.”

The minute DeVos became the nomination, the NEA joined the broad, bipartisan coalition opposing her. And since DeVos took office, the teacher’s group has declared, “There will be no relationship with Betsy DeVos.”

The NEA’s staunch opposition to DeVos, and Garcia’s blunt statement of non-cooperation, have stirred the ire of those accustomed to the club-like chumminess of the education policy establishment in the nation’s capital. “Refusing to talk to somebody is something I expect more of middle schoolers than of the leadership of organizations,” Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute told the education reporter for New Republic.

That article, and others, have noted that public school supporters, including the NEA and the other national teachers’ association, the American Federation of Teachers, have differed on how to relate to DeVos.

But does Garcia’s contention that DeVos is simply not to be trusted have any validity?

Objective sources have no trouble arguing that President Donald Trump is not to be trusted. It’s become commonplace to express strong doubts about almost anything Trump says, including about the gravest of matters. Even the former director of the FBI couldn’t trust the man.

So if it’s reasonable to argue that the nation’s president is not to be trusted, why is it somehow untoward to say the same of a secretary serving under his regime?

There are, in fact, numerous concerns that cast doubt on DeVos’s trustworthiness.

Dark Money Past

First, it’s almost impossible to separate DeVos and her service in the education department from her past in dark money politics.

Jane Mayer notes, in her book Dark Money, that when Betsy Prince, the education secretary’s maiden name, married into the DeVos family, it brought together two of Michigan’s most politically powerful families.

“Betsy DeVos, who eventually became the chairwoman of Michigan’s Republican Party, was said to be every bit as politically ambitious as her husband, if not more so,” Mayer notes, a reference to Dick DeVos who, along with Betsy, was a major donor on the Koch Brother “list” of “philanthropists bent on using billions of dollars from their private foundations to alter the direction of American politics.”

Mayer highlights remarks DeVos made in a now infamous op-ed for The Hill in which she wrote, “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy … We expect a return on our investment.”

It’s hard to believe anyone uttering such a strongly expressed intent to reap the rewards of political donations would suddenly have a change of heart once in office.

Indeed, news of DeVos and her family donating to Republicans associated with the Trump administration  continues to leak out.

As Politico reports, DeVos and her extended family contributed “at least $22,500 to one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees for the judge’s campaign for a state Supreme Court seat” in Michigan. The donations occurred before DeVos was nominated, but the gifts show the tight circle of money and influence DeVos inhabits with the Trump administration.

More recently, in the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District which pitted Republican Karen Handel against Democrat Jon Osoff in the most expensive House race in U.S. history, members of the DeVos family donated at least $27,000 to Handel, according to The Hill.

Evasiveness in Answering Questions

DeVos, in fact, continues to evidence all the symptoms of being someone who is less than straight forward in her dealings with others.

DeVos has “mastered the art of the non-answer,” education journalist Valerie Strauss writes on her blog at the Washington Post.

“Sometimes, for example, she offers a response that deliberately doesn’t answer the precise question,” Strauss writes. More frequently, she diverts the subject of the question to “her favorite education topic, giving parents choices other than their neighborhood traditional public school.”

At other times, DeVos simply seems to have no grasp of what the subject of the question was about, as she most famously exhibited in her confirmation hearing when she couldn’t answer questions about federally guaranteed rights of special education students in schools and about whether standardized testing should be used to assess student growth or subject area proficiency.

A Penchant for Secrecy

When DeVos isn’t having difficulty answering straightforward questions, she is operating in what appears to be a cone of silence.

Rights organizations have accused DeVos and the department she heads of giving Congress “the silent treatment” on how the rights of transgender students will be upheld, since the Trump administration rescinded federal guidance that was provided by the Obama administration.

Advocates for religious minorities have noticed DeVos has been shockingly silent on whether she will press for a federal voucher plan that would send federal money to private schools that discriminate against students on the basis of religion.

News organizations covering higher education have reported on recent lapses in public comment coming from DeVos about the department’s decision to delay and renegotiate Obama-era regulations of for-profit colleges.

Last month, Democratic senators concerned with recent actions taken by DeVos’s department regarding civil rights investigations and a decision to de-emphasize individual complaints of discrimination sent DeVos a letter calling attention to their concerns. To date, the senators have received no reply.

A significant reason the NEA expressed its lack of trust in DeVos is due to her non-response to questions the organization posed to her when she took office.

“If DeVos doesn’t answer the union by September 1,” reports Education Week, “it will call for her resignation, according to the motion, passed at the union’s annual convention here.

Fittingly, when the EdWeek reporter asked for Education Department’s comment on the NEA’s resolution, “DeVos’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond.”

A Cloak of Cronyism

While DeVos gives the silent treatment to news organizations, public officials, rights advocates, and educators, she maintains an open-door policy for those prone to agree with her.

DeVos has angered Democratic officials over her willingness to meet in private with Republican lawmakers who support her agenda for charter schools and vouchers.

Recently, her calendar included a closed-door meeting with the Pacific Research Institute that promotes school choice and has a history of getting financial support from the Koch Brothers to turn back air pollution regulations.

In her travels around the country, she still makes time to meet with influential Republican party donors.

Her reputation for cronyism isn’t at all helped by brother Erik Prince, who operates a mercenary business and has his own secret meetings with the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and White House operative Steven Bannon.

DeVos, in the meantime, invested between $100,000 and $250,000 in a defense contracting firm owned by her son-in-law that could potentially benefit from Prince’s back door negotiations.

Among her and her husband’s other investments is a $5 million – $25 million stake in a company that markets a bogus method of training people’s brains to cure them of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, stress, depression, poor sleep, memory loss, and migraines.

Nothing to be concerned with here … move along.

So there are good reasons why educators such as Lilly Eskelsen Garcia and her NEA brothers and sisters shouldn’t trust Betsy Devos. And you shouldn’t either.