Education Opportunity Network

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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”?

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?

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

Trump’s Education Budget Feeds School Privatization At The Expense of Students

The vision of “education reform” coming from the Trump administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos entails cutting direct aid to students, especially those from low-income families, in order to expand the private sector’s financial footprint in education.

That at least is what’s reflected by a leaked budget document obtained by the Washington Post.

As the Post reports, deep spending cuts – a net $9.2 billion or 13.6 percent – called for in the document sever funding to many “long-standing programs” and federal government supports that largely serve children and youth from low-income households. At the same time, more money would go to incentivize “alternatives to traditional public schools” at the K-12 level and increase the costs of college loans, a federal program with significant ties to the financial services industry.

A glaring example of this pivot to the private sector is the plan’s cuts to programs that make public schools attractive options for parents, especially in low-income communities, while boosting federal support for “school choice” that incentivizes parents to turn to charter schools and private schools instead.

For instance, $1.2 billion for after-school programs would be eliminated – so would $2.1 billion for teacher training programs that lead to class-size reductions in schools. Funding that supports arts education, international studies, and foreign languages get the axe. Federal help for educating Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students and gifted students are killed. A $400 million fund to pay for an array of school-enriching services and academics – such as mental-health support, anti-bullying programs, and advanced courses – gets zero. Even money for Special Olympics education programs would be gone.

Also under the proposed budget, schools would get a lot less money from the federal government for technical education, adult basic literacy instruction, and a program started by the Obama administration to support for children in needy communities.

In the meantime, Trump and DeVos would take $1 billion out of the federal government’s Title I funds – money sent to the states to support educating poor children – to pay for a new grant program that incentivizes those states to fund the competitive privately-operated schools such as charters and religious schools. The grant program, the Post explains, is called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) that only goes to school districts that “agree to allow students to choose which public school they attend – and take their federal, state and local dollars with them.”

This proposal, often called “Title I portability,” was proposed by Republicans during the Obama administration and met significant opposition from Democrats. The Center for American Progress called the scheme “Robin Hood in reverse” and declared, “Portability actually drives resources away from high-poverty districts and into more affluent ones.”

Nevertheless, Title I portability is based on the general principle that education funding should “follow the child” – a misguided practice many Democrats espouse also – so it continues to live on in the foundation of all school choice initiatives.

In addition to this diversion of K-12 public tax dollars to privately-operated schools, the proposed budget provides “$500 million for charter schools, up 50 percent over current funding,” and an outlay of $250 million for grants that would ”pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools.

As the Post reporters explain, “It’s not clear how much would be spent on research versus on the vouchers themselves.” But what’s also unclear is how one studies the “impacts” of an initiative simultaneously as it rolls out. Rather than a research endeavor, this additional money sounds more like it’s for a marketing program.

For higher ed, “The proposed budget would also reshape financial aid programs that help 12 million students pay for college,” the Post says.

The “reshaping” includes cutting loans and work-study programs for disadvantaged students and ending subsidized loans for students still in schools and the program that forgives college loans for students who eventually take jobs in the public sector.

Eliminating these student loan programs means “the government could eventually make more money off of student loans” the Post reports in a sidebar to its main article. But not only is it ethically problematic for our government to treat college students like cash cows; it’s also just another way to ensure more money for education is directed to the immense financial empire that profits off servicing those loans, refinancing the debt, and collecting on loans that go into default.

Not many people who’ve already had a chance to comment on this education budget, including Post reporters who brought it to light, think it has much of a chance of getting through Congress.

The circus of scandal that is sidetracking the Trump administration’s plans for tax reform, healthcare, and infrastructure may thwart any progress on his education plan too. But let’s be clear that this budget reflects the education values that have guided, for years, an agenda to privatize public education.

What Is The Purpose Of School Choice?

Another week, another round of evidence that providing parents with more “school choice,” especially the kind that lets them opt out of public schools, is not a very effective vehicle for ensuring students improve academically or that taxpayer dollars are spent more wisely.

The latest evidence comes from a study of the voucher program in Washington, DC that allows parents to transfer their children from public to private schools at taxpayer expense. The study found that students “who attended a private school through the program performed worse on standardized tests than their public school counterparts who did not use the vouchers,” reports the New York Times.

This study adds to others – from Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana – finding that school vouchers have negative impacts on students.

Despite these results, many proponents of school choice contend the purpose of school choice was never about generating better results. It’s about choice for choice’s sake.

Results Don’t Matter?

That seems to be what US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos argues in her reaction to the news about the apparent failure of the DC voucher program. As the Washington Post reports, the report prompted her to say, “When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools.”

That reaction struck education historian Diane Ravitch as an implication that “results don’t matter.” She writes on her personal blog, “If you parse this sentence, what she is saying is that when everyone chooses, none of the schools will be better than any others. They will all get the same results, even if they are dismal. The purpose of choice is choice.”

Ravitch points to an op-ed in a local DC paper that argues the “while point” of choice is for parents to pick schools they believe to be “best” for their children, regardless of the nature of the school or the results of its program.

The writer compares education to breakfast cereal, arguing that some parents may prefer Cheerios while some prefer other brands. What’s the big deal?

This line of reasoning aligns with DeVos’s recent comments comparing schools to all sorts of consumer goods. As the Associated Press reports, in a recent address she made at an education technology conference, DeVos compared school choice to switching phone carriers. “If you can’t get cell phone service in your living room,” she says, “you should have the option to find a network that does work.”

In another of her pronouncements about school choice, she compared education options to ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

For anyone who’s been paying attention, DeVos’s remarks aren’t surprising.

Seven years ago, when a study of the school voucher program in Milwaukee came to a disappointing conclusion similar to the more recent studies mentioned above, it prompted Charles Murray –co-author of the eugenics-inspired treatise The Bell Curve – to respond, basically, “So what!”

Writing in the New York Times, he argued that results from the study of the Milwaukee program didn’t much matter. “Our children’s education is extremely important to us,” he wrote, “and the greater good doesn’t much enter into it.” (Point of irony: Murray argues against using test scores as meaningful measures of school performance, yet the title of his infamous book is a direct reference to how test scores are distributed on a graph.)

More recently, editors of The Economist ruminated over the DC voucher study and  concluded the negative results meant, “A parent with a voucher may increasingly think twice about using it. That is a good choice to have.”

The Ultimate Choice

All of this sounds just so sensible until you take into consideration that individuals don’t pay for public education; the taxpayers do. And the choices parents make about their children’s education don’t just affect their children; they have an impact on the whole community.

Businesses are free to create whatever demand they want in the marketplace, whether it’s for better-tasting food or for more convenient service, and how individuals choose to respond to those demands is of no concern to the greater public unless it endangers lives or infringes on freedoms. But the demand for education is a given, it’s universal, and it’s ultimately of interest to our whole society.

And no one has a right to Cheerios, interruption-free cellphone service, or a ride home from the bar. But everyone does have a right to an education.

Further, when you extend the argument of choice for choice’s sake out to its logical conclusion, you’re led to the conclusion parents should have the option to skip educating their children altogether. Don’t laugh. A newly elected Representative in the Arizona legislature recently told a local news reporter, “The number one thing I would like to repeal is the law on compulsory education.

“Education used to be a privilege,” he laments. “Now we basically force it down everybody’s throats.”

His comments prompted education journalist Valerie Strauss to write on her blog at the Washington Post, “Compulsory education has a long history in this country, actually predating it … Education has long been seen not only as a personal ticket to a better life in this country but also as essential for the health of the democratic enterprise.”

Strauss quotes a columnist for the Arizona paper who, after reading the views of her state lawmaker, responded  “Oh the horror, of trying to create an educated citizenry. Of forcing kids to actually learn something … Much better, I suppose, to let them stay home, ignorant and hungry and so not our problem. Until someday, when they are.”

Too Important For Choice

None of this is to say parents should have no education choices for their children at all.

But Carol Burris, a former award-winning New York school principal who now leads the Network for Public Education, makes an important distinction about choice in education in her recent commentary at the Washington Post. “Public school choice programs, if carefully managed, can serve students well and/or promote a social good, she writes. “Privatized school choice, in contrast, is quite different. Privatized school choice is the public financing of private alternatives to public schools.” (emphasis original)

Burris goes on to explain that privatized school choice in many instances has led to negative consequences for the community, including crippling the funding of its local schools while enriching wealthy individuals and adding additional layers of administration and bureaucracy.

“We supported education with our tax dollars not to give individual children advantage,” she writes, “but to build a nation by teaching our children about the blessings of democracy in a publicly governed community school.”

Some things are just too important for choice.

In my recent conversation with progressive radio talk show host Rick Smith, he makes that interesting point in saying, “I don’t want choice.”

He argues that when he gets sick, he wants access to a qualified doctor with up-to-date facilities, and for his children’s education, he wants to know there’s going to be a school nearby with qualified teachers who have the resources they need.

“Why would I want a bad choice?” he asks.

Why indeed.

The Democrats’ Dilemma On Charter Schools

President Donald Trump’s adamant promotion of “school choice” and his selection of Betsy DeVos for education secretary have put advocates for charter schools in the Democratic party in a bind, and now they’re scrambling to keep the luster of the well-polished charter school brand unblemished.

Their latest tactic is to carefully distinguish charters from the system of school vouchers Trump and DeVos favor, but they serve this cause poorly by making erroneous claims about how the charter industry works in most communities and what these schools do to harm public education.

The latest misfire comes from David Leonhardt’s op-ed in Monday’s New York Times in which he takes on DeVos and her preference for vouchers while denigrating charter skeptics as people who need to get “an open mind.”

It’s a precarious tightrope Leonahrdt attempts to walk, and he stumbles quite badly.

First, A Little Background

First, it’s important to understand the source of the school choice schism in the Democratic party goes back 25 years, Jeffrey Henig explains in Education Week, when proponents of school choice came up with two different ways to achieve their goals: school vouchers and charter schools.

While conservatives favored vouchers, which were a creation of free-market economist Milton Friedman, political centrists and some left-leaning people became infatuated with charters because they were birthed by “business-oriented moderates and technocrats” who became the predominant force in the Democratic party during Bill Clinton’s presidential administration.

Around the turn of the century, these two strains of school choice advocacy united after pro-voucher forces, largely funded by the Walton Family Foundation (of Walmart fame), encountered a series of stinging defeats at the ballot box and a rising tide of anti-voucher sentiment among the general public.

Voucher advocates welcomed their union with charter school fans because it gave their cause a bipartisan aura and some support from the civil rights community. “Charter proponents … welcomed the political and philanthropic support of the pro-voucher forces,” Henig writes, because they needed rightwing leverage and money to undermine opposition coming from teachers’ unions and public school advocates.

For conservatives, the bipartisan unification for school choice established the slippery slope to potentially privatize public education. Moderate and lefty supporters of charter schools, on the other hand, got a Faustian bargain that gave them “education reformer” cred and the favor of Wall Street investors in exchange for colluding with the right wing.

With Trump and DeVos, the bargain Democrats made on charter schools has come due.

What Leonhardt Gets Wrong

So what’s a charter-loving Democrat to do? Based on what Leonhardt writes for the Times, many are choosing to re-up their support with false claims and deceptive rhetoric.

Leonhardt begins his column by calling attention to a new study showing the voucher program in the District of Columbia has had a negative impact on student achievement – a worthwhile news item to note for sure. But it becomes quickly apparent Leonhardt brings the subject up not to lambast DeVos but to miscast charter school skeptics as actors in a “caricature” debate over the fate of public education.

That’s a convenient strawman that leads him to state there are those who “conflate vouchers … with charter schools,” but he cites no credible sources to substantiate his belief that critics of DeVos and school choice are incapable of distinguishing between charters and vouchers.

Most concerning about Leonhardt’s column, though, is the many misleading statements he makes about how charter schools operate and what their impact is.

He cites a few credible studies showing positive impacts of charter schools on student achievement, but he doesn’t appear to have read credible reports that have found otherwise.

For instance, the most rigorous and most expensive study of charter school performance commissioned by the US Department of Education found no overall positive effect for charter schools.

A recent study of charter schools in Texas found charters overall have no positive impact on test scores and have a negative impact on earnings later in life.

So it’s totally misleading for Leonhardt to argue charters have “flourished” (whatever that means) when their track record is decidedly mixed at best.

Leohardt then piles on one misleading statement after another.

His assertion that “charter-school systems are subject to rigorous evaluation and oversight” is counter factual to reports from the charter industry itself that show only about 3 percent of charter schools are closed for under-performing, and even those that are closed have operated an average of 6.2 years.

In Ohio, only one of 10 charter school students attend a school rated high performing.

In Michigan, charter schools score worse on national assessments, known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” than their traditional public-school counterparts, yet their numbers continue to expand every year.

In Louisiana, charter-school students perform worse than public schools on eighth-grade reading and math tests by enormous margins – 2 to 3 standard deviations.

And if you want to find out how charter schools spend the money they get from taxpayers, your job isn’t easy. Neither the federal government nor the states have created a place taxpayers can go to see how much in taxes these schools get and what they do with the cash, including what happens to real estate the schools purchase with the public’s money.

Leohnardt’s next howler is his assertion, “Local officials decide which charters can open and expand.” Actually, most often state boards or independent charter granting entities make the decisions to open and close charters, not local officials.

If you’re a local official in most states – including Arizona, Florida, California, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, – you have no idea if a charter school will pop up in your district and no control over what kind of students the charter will appeal to and how the charter will impact your budget.

In most states – including Florida, Tennessee, California, Illinois, Colorado, and Alabama – local officials who deny a charter application or seek to close a charter are frequently overruled by appointed boards set up by state officials whose political campaigns have been well supported by the charter school industry or its wealthy promoters.

The lack of local control endemic in charter school governance is by design. In its rankings of state legal statues governing charter schools, the charter industry lists “the existence of independent and/or multiple authorizers,” not local control, as a chief determiner of whether a state gets a top grade or not.

Leonhardt is wrong on this point as well: “Many charters are open to all comers.”

Numerous studies have found charters tend to serve lower percentages of students who have disabilities or whose first language isn’t English.

I’m sure Leonhardt can find an inclusive charter here or there, but the fact remains there are no regulatory or statutory requirements that prevent a charter school operator from saying to a family, “Your child isn’t a good fit for our school,” and any attempt to put those requirements onto charters would be fought tooth-and-nail by the charter industry and its powerful lobby.

Who Really Needs “An Open Mind”

Lastly, Leonhardt offers a “political compromise” of “fewer vouchers, more charters,” and he accuses anyone unwilling to take that deal of not having “an open mind.”

But expanding charters comes at a considerable cost to taxpayers as many of these schools continue to fleece the public coffers while traditional public schools lose vital resources.

According to the latest accounting of charter school fraud, waste, and mismanagement, conducted by the Center for Popular Democracy, public funding of charter schools has grown to $40 billion annually while oversight of these schools has languished. CPD has identified over $223 million in public fund misuse by charters but argues this is merely “the tip of the iceberg.” The total estimated loss may top $2.1 billion, CPD calculates.

As charters expand, the cost to public school systems is considerable, and many districts increasingly face financial insolvency as they lose students to these schools.

Maybe that’s a subject Leonhardt can open his mind to.

With A Wary Eye On DeVos, Students Take Fight For Free Higher Ed To States

If you’re worried about the negative impact U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will have on K-12 public schools, you should pay attention to what she’s doing to higher education too.

Fortunately, people who have the most at stake – students who aspire to attend college or who have attended at least some higher education and have incurred loan burdens because of that – already have a wary eye on DeVos, and they’re planning to counter whatever she and President Trump do with a renewed push for free higher education.

But unlike efforts by the Obama administration to take action at the federal level, some student activists are targeting states too.

One such group is Student Action, a project of People’s Action, a national network of grassroots, progressive organizations that work together to advance democracy and a racial, gender, and economic justice agenda.

Recently, staff and volunteers of Student Action from across the country met at the founding convention of People’s Action in Washington, DC, to share their struggles with college debt burdens and kick off their campaign to plan the organization’s push for free higher education.

“People came together to imagine what truly accessible education would look like for our communities,” says Student Action Director Aija Nemer-Aanerud. “Then we plotted out what it would take to get there.”

In addition to taking on DeVos directly, student activists at the meeting spoke of going around her to address root causes that are driving the college debt crisis in the states.

What DeVos Has Done

DeVos recently drew the attention of state attorney’s general in the Democratic party who rebuked her for loosening requirements the Obama administration had placed on college loan servicing companies to ensure student loan holders understand what they owe and how they can pay off their debts.

According to Yahoo News, DeVos’ actions undo reforms that ensure four loan servicing companies that handle over $1.3 trillion in college student debt follow legal requirements that protect borrowers from fraud and exploitation. One of debt servicing companies, the article notes, is being sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “over allegations it cheated borrowers by deceiving them about repayment options and their rights.”

DeVos’s action follows other concerning developments in how her department may handle college student loan debt.

According to Politico, shortly after Trump took over the federal government, the department “drastically slowed the approval of debt relief to tens of thousands of student borrowers seeking to have their federal loans canceled on the grounds their colleges defrauded them.”

In March, reports Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, the department lifted another restriction the Obama administration had put into place that prevented loan servicing companies from “slapping heavy fees on delinquent borrowers who were trying to catch up on loan payment.”

Then DeVos decided to end efforts the Obama administration had undertaken to streamline its complicated college loan system into a single system and vendor. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren called the move a “‘gut punch’ to the nation’s student loan borrowers,” according to Politico, “because the policies would have made it harder for companies to cheat borrowers.”

DeVos has taken these actions despite the well-known problems‘ with fraud and borrower abuse that are rampant in the college loan servicing industry. This caused editors of the New York Times to ask, “Who’s side is Betsy DeVos on?”

Student Action To Counter DeVos

DeVos’s actions to loosen regulations on college student loans come at a time when students need the support and protection of the federal government the most.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “State funding for higher education continues to fall” nationwide, which puts funding for colleges and universities more on the backs of students.

A recent analysis by the Brookings Institute finds, as state direct aid to institutions of higher education has “stagnated,” students have come to rely more on financial aid from the federal government to cover the costs of tuition, books, and other expenses.

In an extreme example, Governor Suzana Martinez of New Mexico recently vetoed all state funding for higher education in her state.

Caught between states refusing to fund higher ed and federal loan programs that, under DeVos, are increasingly likely to exploit students needing college loans, Student Action is proposing to attack the root cause of upward spiraling tuition fees by pushing for free higher education at all two- and four-year, public-funded institutions.

With the aid of People’s Action’s national network of grassroots affiliates in 30 states, with more than 400 organizers and other staff, Student Action aims to drive a bottom-up movement for tuition-free college from campuses and communities rather than a top-down effort through politicians and political parties. [Disclosure: The Education Opportunity Network is a partner of People’s Action.]

At their campaign kick-off in D.C., Student Action staff and volunteers from 12 states shared personal stories of their struggles with college debt burdens and their belief in education as a basic human right.

Student activists spoke of having to take on huge amounts of debt burden – many with tens of thousands of dollars in loans – to pursue their education, so they can attain careers and achieve life aspirations.

Participants at the meeting pointed to a potential early win in Illinois, where an effort launched late last year would make Illinois community colleges and public universities free for in-state students. A large contingent from Illinois who were at the meeting talked about how they are mobilizing college campuses to get behind the effort. Their advocacy will join with other progressive organizations in the state who plan to walk from Chicago to the state capital in Springfield later this month to press for free public higher education, among other demands.

Others at the meeting criticized recent tuition-free college plans, like the one recently promoted by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, that are filled with so many exemptions and caveats that substantial numbers of students, particularly the ones most in need, can’t qualify. Instead, Students Action will press for programs that are open to all students, even those who are undocumented or aren’t able to go full time.

Other aspects of what Student Action wants in a plan for free higher education are likely to remain general for now, with policy details looking different in different states and demands driven by grassroots advocates rather than a top-down plan pushed by the organization.

But the goal is to see some form of free higher education winning in some states within five years.

“We can’t afford to wait out Trump,” one participant said.

Says Student Action’s Nemer-Aanerud, “I think we’ve got the energy and the foundation for a groundswell toward free public higher education in the coming years.”

Early Signs Betsy DeVos Will Not Support Civil Rights

It was just an Easter holiday party. But it seemed like an occasion that could give the Trump White House an easy opportunity to show racial inclusiveness.

But as the Daily News reports, when the White House staged its first annual Easter Egg Roll, it forgot to invite local school children. News outlets aligned to the Democratic Party, such as Occupy Democrats and Share Blue, were quick to note that while school children in the surrounding neighborhoods are mostly black, the event attendees were predominantly white – including “an all-white band on hand to perform slavery-era spirituals and soul music.”

The Daily News reporter attributes the whitewashing of the Easter crowd at the White House to a problem with “basic logistics,” but anyone paying attention knows all too well there’s a white people problem endemic to the Trump administration.

That problem is acutely visible in a policy arena where racial inclusion may matter most – education.

So far, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has sent numerous signs she is assembling a staff and laying down a policy mindset that seems indifferent – if not outright averse – to the needs of nonwhite students.

A Growing Racial Divide

DeVos has taken the helm of federal education policy at a time when black and brown school children and youth critically need leaders in the federal government to address their needs.

The number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students in public K-12 schools passed the number of non-Hispanic whites over two years ago. Nevertheless, schools have become more racially segregated than they were 40 years ago.

The weight of research evidence shows when schools are racially and socioeconomically integrated, all students – even the white kids – benefit academically and in their social and emotional capabilities. Yet, without strong federal leadership, states and local districts generally shirk their responsibilities to enforce school integration.

Racial segregation is not the only problem nonwhite students confront in schools. Students of color in our nation’s schools are disproportionally more apt to receive out-of-school suspensions than their white peers, which significantly raises their tendency to eventually get entangled in the criminal justice system. A recent report from the Center for Popular Democracy found that in New York City alone these punitive school discipline programs cost the city more than $746 million annually.

How may we expect a DeVos administration to step up to address these challenges?

Alarming Hires For The Department Of Education

As I reported shortly after her nomination, DeVos has a problematic track record on civil rights, based on her actions in Michigan to promote school choice programs that significantly worsened the state’s racial and socioeconomic segregation of schools.

In one of her earliest moves as Secretary, DeVos announced her department’s decision to end a federal grant program created during the Obama administration to encourage more diversity in schools. Experts on poverty and race had called her handling of that program “a real test of her commitment to school integration.” She flunked it.

More alarming is recent news of how many new hires for the education department have a history of making racially offensive comments and expressing controversial opinions on efforts to level the social and economic playing field for African-Americans and other racial minorities.

Many of the new hires for the education department, Politico reports, have made racially offensive social media comments on Twitter and Facebook. And DeVos has staffed-up with people who have no apparent expertise in education or civil rights and who appear to be mostly white.

The most alarming hire, so far, is for the head of the very office tasked to oversee civil rights enforcement in schools.

As ProPublica reports, DeVos’s new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, “once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white,” has spoken out against feminism and race-based preferences, and has favored writings by “an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

A professed libertarian, Jackson has collaborated on numerous politically conservative projects, including a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton and had a stint at rightwing legal advocacy organization Judicial Watch.

In addition to their problematic stances on civil rights, many of DeVos’s the new appointments to the department of education also raise concerns about cronyism and conflicts of interest. Many of her new staffers are holdovers of previous Republican administrations, have significant ties to the charter school industry, were employed by the Trump political machine, or have financial interests in for-profit colleges.

Wrong Policies On Race

Moving from matters of personnel to issues of policy, DeVos continues to make public pronouncements that seem antithetical to the interests of civil rights.

Her proclaimed support for “school choice”  – most recently, comparing schools to ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft – ignores how unregulated school choice options often lead to increased segregation in schools.

She regards social justice issues in schools as problems of “character” rather than structural discrimination and racism, according to Think Progress, the action center for left-leaning Center for American Progress. This raises fears among among civil rights advocates that DeVos will focus on supposed flaws of black and brown students rather than address the biased discipline policies that target and jeopardize these marginalized students.

Also, there’s a fear that DeVos and her administration will steer more federal dollars to private schools and charters that create their own policies without outside oversight. These schools have a well-researched track record for suspending black and disabled students at a higher rate than public schools.

These are all signs of an administration that will likely develop policies and support programs that attend to the needs of only some students and, like her boss’s Easter party, will keep marginalized students on the outside looking in.