Education Opportunity Network

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Is Betsy DeVos About To Pump Up The School-To-Prison Pipeline?

It now looks like the Trump administration’s repeal of Obama-era guidelines allowing transgender students to use the school bathroom of their preference was just the beginning of a long list of regulatory reversals including efforts to ensure school discipline practices don’t discriminate against students by race or disability and disproportionally push students into a school-to-prison pipeline.

Recently, Politico broke the news that officials in Trump’s department of education led by Secretary Betsy DeVos seem ready to scrap Obama-era guidance that compel schools to end zero-tolerance discipline policies and curb widespread tendencies to use out-of-school suspensions disproportionally on black and brown school children and students with disabilities.

In a meeting coordinated by rightwing think tanks, according to Education Week, high-level officials in DeVos’s department heard a one-sided presentation by critics of the Obama guidelines and gave little indication of wanting to get all sides of the debate.

Alarmed by the news that the Trump administration might end valuable civil rights protections for their students, concerned teachers generated an outpouring of 500 emails demanding their voices be heard, according to education media outlet The 74. Nine of those teachers organized by teacher-created advocacy group Educators for Excellence flew to D.C. to meet with education department officials to argue for maintaining the discipline guidelines.

No doubt, these teachers reminded DeVos and her department that discipline guidelines put in place by the Obama administration were for very good reasons.

Civil and youth rights advocates have long argued that school discipline practices were out of control and leading to negative life consequences for students, especially among black and brown student populations and students with learning disabilities.

Studies have long shown a high correlation of harsh, zero-tolerance discipline practices and out-of-school suspensions to eventual involvement in the criminal justice system. A 2011 study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center found that being suspended or expelled from school made a student nearly three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system within the next year.

A 2015 report from the UCLA Civil Rights Project found that out-of-school suspensions are disproportionally used on students of color and students with disabilities. In the most recent year with available data, 16 percent of black students and 7 percent of Latino students were suspended, while the rate for white students was 5 percent. Students with disabilities had suspension rates that were two to three times their peers.

As harsh, discriminatory discipline policies proliferated, counselors and other support staff have become scarcer. According to a recent study from the Center for American Progress, nearly 35 million children in the U.S. live with emotional and psychological trauma, yet “only a fraction of these students—approximately 8 million of them—have access to a school psychologist. Even fewer students have access to a social worker. Across the nation, only 63 percent of public schools even offer all students a counselor.”

The Obama administration began to take action to curb the use of harsh, discriminatory discipline practices in 2014, The Atlantic reports, when Attorney General Eric Holder and-Education Secretary Arne Duncan the Obmama administration’s first set of discipline guidelines that urged an end to zero-tolerance policies, called attention to the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions on students of color and students with disabilities, and urged schools to seek alternatives practices.

As a result of these guidelines, The Atlantic article explains, many large school districts – including Los Angeles, Denver, Baltimore, Miami, and Bridgeport, Connecticut – put into place discipline practices designed to move away from using suspensions and expulsions and emphasize positive behavior interventions, such as restorative justice, which focuses on repairing harm and engaging all stakeholders in the behavior issues. Other schools have invested in additional supports, including school counselors and interventions targeting the emotions and feelings that cause misbehavior instead of on the behavior itself.

The impact of these guidelines is not yet clear. Stark disparities still exist in how out-of-school suspensions are disproportionally aimed at marginalized students. And nearly every day brings a news report spotlighting an incident of overly harsh response to a school behavior situation.

Yet educators in many places report that alternative practices prompted by the Obama guidelines are better than what they were using. And in many situations when alternatives to suspensions don’t seem to work, there’s often an implementation problem, such as a lack of training, an unwillingness to follow the model with fidelity, or a lack of time in the school day to address misbehavior in more constructive ways.

Nevertheless, DeVos and her department seem intent on undermining the Obama protections put into place. The rationale for regulation cutting is that the rules may be “unnecessary” or overly “costly.” But they’re only unnecessary and costly when they don’t apply to you.

Republican War On Learning Takes Aim At Higher Education

New tax bills Congress just passed with zero input or support from Democrats hit higher education hard, but new legislation House Republicans are crafting will likely worsen the damage.

As The Wall Street Journal reports [paywall], the House education committee recently gave a preview to its new legislation, a long overdue reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Like recent tax bills passed by the GOP-controlled House and Senate, this proposed rewrite of HEA will have the effect of further constricting learning opportunities for students, adding to the costs students and families take on for education, and steering more public money for learning to private businesses.

Days after the House and Senate passed their tax bills and the Journal broke its story about new legislation being drafted in the House, Moody’s Investor Services, the esteemed bond rating firm, announced it was “revising the 2018 outlook for US higher education to negative from stable.” Among the rationales Moody’s gave for its decision was “looming changes in federal policy or funding.”

Taxing Higher Ed

Between the dueling GOP tax bills in Congress, the House version is decidedly more damaging to higher ed. But in nearly every instance, the purpose of the proposed changes to existing tax law in both bills seems to be aimed solely at finding revenue sources from higher ed, to offset huge tax deductions given to wealthy families and corporations, rather than to improving learning opportunities for students or lowering the costs of colleges to individuals and families.

For instance, the House bill would make college employees whose spouses or children attend their employer institutions tuition-free report the tuition benefit as taxable income. And employer-provided education assistance would also become taxable, whereas it’s currently tax-exempt up to $5,250 per year.

Similarly, while the Senate plan continues to allow a deduction for student loan interest on federal tax returns, the House plan would eliminate the deduction. While the Senate plan continues to not count college tuition waivers as taxable income, a common benefit for students enrolled in graduate programs, the House version would.

“Any tax changes to tuition support for graduate students could also negatively impact graduate enrollment and research levels since research is a key component of many graduate programs,” notes Moody’s in its ratings announcement.

Both bills apply a 1.4 percent excise tax to private school endowments. In the Hose bill, the tax kicks in when the account is valued at $250,000 per full-time student. The Senate raised that level to $500,000 per student. Colleges that will likely be hit with taxes on their endowments insist their investments are being used to help support tuition costs for low-income students who attend their institutions and for facility improvements.

Both bills also take away tax deductions for interest paid on “advance bonds” colleges use to refund their debts at more manageable levels, and the House version also eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds that lower the cost of building for colleges. This change was another negative influence on Moody’s downgrade.

Remaking Higher Education

But while GOP tax plans resemble deliberate attempts to strip money away from colleges and universities, without providing any benefit to students and families, new legislation being introduced by House Republicans is arguably worse. If the Higher Education Act rewrite the Republican House proposes resembles what eventually passes, it will remake higher education along very narrow perceived needs of the “work force,” limit financial supports for students, and give advantages to for-profit private providers.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a primary purpose of the remake of the Higher Education Act being introduced by House Republicans – branded the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act –is to address the “skills gap” that supposedly exists between what colleges teach and what employers need.

The Journal quotes North Carolina Republican Representative Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the committee that drafted the proposal, claiming that because much of what colleges and universities teach is “irrelevant” to employers, federal programs should be more supportive of apprenticeships and programs that have come to be called “competency based” education, a nebulous new buzzword often used to describe education that emphasizes the learning of discrete skills rather than broad realms of knowledge.

Political leaders have grown fond of using recent reports finding there are 6 million unfilled jobs in America as proof that higher education no longer aligns with the needs of employers, but those pronouncements about unfilled jobs fail to note, as this report by NPR does, that much of the problem lies with employers inflating their required qualifications and scrimping on wages. As numerous studies show, the so-called skills gap is a myth, and a college degree in liberal arts or other non-technical subjects is as relevant as it ever was.

Likely, what Foxx and other Republicans call a need to teach relevant skills generally means steering more students into for-profit education programs that promise quick employment without ever fulfilling that pledge.

For-Profits Are ‘Winners’

As the Journal reports, “One of the biggest winners in the new higher-education legislation is the for-profit college industry, which faced new regulations under the Obama administration. The rollback of those regulations has been under way since President Donald Trump took office. The reauthorization proposal goes a step further by prohibiting future action by the Education Department on what is known as the gainful-employment regulation.”

The gainful employment requirement is basically a check on schools that claim to provide degree programs that lead to employment to actually live up to that pledge. More often than not, for-profit institutions don’t.

“Blocking the gainful employment rule means that more students will enroll in programs that will ruin their financial futures,” writes David Halperin in the Huffington Post.

Students in these for-profit college programs, he explains, are often people on the edge of desperation  – veterans, single mothers, immigrants, and low-income students from disadvantaged communities who are lured into these programs by “false promises” about landing a great job.

“Many will enroll in programs that aren’t strong enough to help them succeed,” Halperin says. “Even if these students graduate – and many don’t – and even if they get the job they dreamed of – and many won’t – they may not earn enough to pay down their loans, because the tuition was just too high.”

Borrowers Are ‘Losers’

While for-profit providers are “winners” in the Republicans’ proposed bill, the big “losers,” according to the Journal, are student borrowers, especially those wanting to take advantage of the federal government’s public service loan forgiveness program, which allows borrowers who work for nonprofits or government agencies to have their remaining loan balances dropped after they make 10 years of payments. These borrowers, except those grandfathered into the program, would lose this tax advantage.

Other losers include students who run up larger debts to complete their advanced degree programs and student loan debt holders who end up in professional careers that are not top payers.

For students who run up larger debts, such as graduate students in advanced degree programs, the bill proposes “unspecified limits for borrowing by graduate students and parents of college students.” The Journal reports, “The change could cut into enrollment and potentially siphon off billions of dollars a year from universities.” This need to find financial resources for college would tend to, again, go to for-profit lending institutions.

The bill would also, according to the Chronicle, “scale back” the breaks given to student loan debt holders in the federal government’s income-based repayment plans. Student borrowers who want to benefit from the federal government’s income-based repayment program will see their current basis of 10 or 15 percent of discretionary income changed to 15 percent of discretionary incomes. Rather than getting debt forgiveness after 20 or 25 years, college student loan holders, under the new bill, would have debt forgiveness based on as long as it takes “to cover the amount they would have paid under a 10-year standard repayment plan,” according to the Journal. That will increase long-term indebtedness.

War Without End

“There is a long road ahead,” politico reports, regarding the revision of the Higher Education Act. “The Senate won’t start its rewrite until next year. But the upper chamber’s process has already gotten off to a more bipartisan start, with the Senate education committee holding a friendly hearing on simplifying the application for federal student aid and talking about working together on the rewrite.”

Nevertheless, it’s clear the Republican “war on learning” being waged at all levels of education, including higher ed, didn’t end with the tax bills.

GOP War On Learning Continues In Senate Tax Plan, State Funding Cuts

As the Republican-controlled Congress continues to advance tax plans that slash funding from public education, a new report reveals how state and local government officials, especially where GOP leadership dominates, have continued a decade-long campaign to keep school funding below levels that preceded the Great Recession.

There’s little doubt that deep and persistent cuts to education take a toll on student learning opportunities and end the American Dream for millions of young people, especially those who are not white or who are at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Research studies often show a strong correlation between increased education spending and improved student achievement – finding, for instance, that states forced by court order to increase education spending consequently experienced gains in student achievement. And surveys show Americans are generally willing to pay higher taxes for education.

Yet efforts to cut education continue unabated at all levels of government, especially where Republicans have full control.

Taxing Schools Rather Than the Rich

The tax plan Senate Republicans are likely to pass this week has little to recommend over the House version.

The plan would double to $500 the $250 deduction teachers get for purchasing school supplies with their own money, rather than eliminate the deduction as the House version does. And while the House would eliminate deductions for student loan interest, college tuition and expenses, and tax breaks used by university employees and graduate students, the Senate proposal would preserve them.

But many other features of the Senate plan would deeply harm students and schools.

Both the Senate and House bills propose an excise tax on private college endowments with assets of more than $100,000 per student. Endowment funds are used to help pay for academic programs, campus facilities, and student services, private college leaders and advocates say.

The biggest threats to local schools in both plans are their proposals to end federal deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) that households take when they itemize. The House plan limits the pain with a $10,000 ceiling, but the Senate plan does away with the deduction altogether.

Any reduction to the SALT federal subsidy will imperil the largest sources of school funding to education by eliminating the federal tax benefit to schools, discouraging new state and local tax initiatives to support schools, and pressuring state and local officials to cut local taxes to appease tax payers who can no longer deduct those taxes from their federal returns.

Another feature of the House bill that the Senate also proposes would increase how much schools pay for long-term debt by eliminating a tax exemption school districts get when they refinance their debts at lower interest rates using certain types of bonds.

According to Education Week, in the most recent year reported, districts carried $409 billion in long-term debt – a rate of $8,465 per student – and paid $17 billion in interest on those loans. Taking away any ability to write off some of that interest as a tax exemption would decrease money districts have to pay for teachers and student learning opportunities.

‘Punishing Decade for School Funding’

New GOP federal tax plans compound the harm state and local government leaders have done to public schools and students.

As a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, for the latest year with data available, 29 states currently spend less money per student than they did in 2008. Although some of the 29 states cited by the report have increased education spending lately, the increases haven’t brought back spending levels to what they were nearly a decade ago.

The cuts to K-12 spending have “serious consequences,” CBPP authors contend, including crippling efforts to hire and retain the best teachers, reduce class sizes, expand learning time, and provide high-quality early childhood education.

Of the 10 states that have cut state and local education spending the most – Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Idaho, Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Utah (in descending order from 25 percent to 8.6 percent) – all have had a Republican “trifecta” in charge, including a Republican governor and Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Unfortunately, some states where the Democratic party dominates have cut education spending too, although nowhere near the levels of the above-mentioned states where the GOP rules. But another analysis has found Democratic governors have a much stronger tendency to increase school district funding, especially for districts with high proportions of Black and Hispanic students.

“Electing a Democratic governor led to an increase of about $500 per student for districts with a majority of black and Hispanic students,” Chalkbeat reports. “Similarly, the study finds that Democratic governors targeted additional money to colleges and universities that serve more students of color.”

Long-Term Harm

The Republican war on learning will have long term negative consequences to the nation.

While the House tax plan’s cut to SALT deductions would “put nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk,” according to analysts at the National Education Association, the Senate plan to end the deduction would plunge the dagger deeper, potentially leading to a loss of $370 billion in state and local tax revenue over 10 years, the NEA calculates, and endangering 370,000 education jobs.

Changes to higher-education tax benefits in the House tax plan “would cost students and families more than $71 billion over the next decade,” The Washington Post reports.

“Our country’s future depends heavily on the quality of its schools,” the authors of the CBPP study argue. The decade-long effort to cut K-12 school funding they chart “risk(s) undermining schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.”

Perhaps, the whole strategy behind GOP tax plans and budget cuts boils down to a short-term need to cut education in order to offset the large cuts Republicans are providing to wealthy families and corporations.

But next year’s mid-term elections – in which a third of the Senate, 36 governors, and three quarters of states’ legislators are up for re-election – will give the rest of us a chance to speak up.

The Republican Tax Plan Is A Declaration Of War On Learning

“Top-down class warfare” is what economist Paul Krugman calls the new Republican tax plans being drawn up in Congress, because both plans in the House and Senate propose “huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy” and eliminate scores of “credits and exemptions that mainly benefit the middle class.” The heaviest casualties are likely to be on the public education front.

As Krugman explains, Republicans intend to knock off many current tax deductions for higher education expenses, but the extent of the carnage in the plans will extinguish learning opportunities at every age and stage of young people’s lives.

What the Republicans propose in their tax plans is not just a raid on education-related budget items for the sake of fiscal efficiency; their plans are part of a strategic offensive against the very idea that all children and youth have a right to a free and high-quality education.

The Assault Starts Early

The assault Republicans are coordinating starts very early in children’s lives.

Federal assistance for child care, once brandished as a priority of the Trump administration, is not on the agenda. As Think Progress reports, the plan in the House rolls back some “existing child care benefits in the tax code” and fails to expand a child care tax credit.

Even though the plans are still being negotiated, there’s little doubt “a lot of families” will see their taxes increased if the Republicans become law, says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Those increased taxes mean less money for parents to provide their children with academic and physical education opportunities outside school, including music lessons, sports, and summer camp.

The Republican tax plans also foretell funding crises down the road for federal programs that support children and families.

As economists at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explain, these schemes are part of a “two-step fiscal agenda” to cut taxes for the rich to drive up the deficit and then justify deeper funding cuts to programs in the future.

Among the “eventual victims” CBPP predicts are programs for health, tuition, and education, particularly the Head Start program providing learning opportunities for low-income four- and five-year olds. Funding already passed by Republicans provides “little or no increase” for Head Start, so as expenses increase, the lack of new tax revenues available to Head Start will necessitate further cuts and fewer children served.

K-12 Carnage

Republican tax plans will have the “biggest direct impact” on local schools through their repeal of deductions taxpayers can claim on state and local taxes (known as SALT), according to Education Week. “The House version, would allow a tax deduction for up to $10,000 of local property taxes but eliminate deductions for state and local income and sales taxes from federal tax returns. While the Senate bill repeals both property tax and income and sales tax deductions.”

Ending the SALT deduction would immediately close a spigot of federal dollars to local coffers that pay for schools, I report. But an even worse, repealing the deduction will eventually increase voter pushback against any new local tax increases for schools and put pressure on local governments to cut taxes that are vital to children’s education.

Analysts at the National Education Association calculate that repealing the SALT deduction may “put nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk.” Job cuts of this magnitude will result in fewer services for special needs kids and those who don’t speak English well, larger class sizes with less individual attention to students, and shuttered libraries, athletic programs, and courses in arts and world languages.

Another egregious detail in the House plan is to end the $250 tax deduction teachers and other educators get for spending their personal money on classroom supplies, Education Week reports.

Since 2002, educators have been able to claim the deduction even when they don’t make enough money to itemize their tax returns. Over 3.7 million tax returns claimed this deduction in the previous year available.

As I report, the $250 deduction doesn’t even begin to compensate what educators fork out from their own pockets for their kids. The most recent survey found teachers spend nearly $500 on average, and 1 in 10 spends $1,000 or more. Now they won’t even get the $250 subtraction, if the House Republicans have their way.

The original Senate bill included a rollback of the deduction too, but GOP Senators did an about-face and instead propose to double the deduction to $500, Education Week reports. The EdWeek reporter suspects the change may be an attempt to woo the support of Maine Senator Susan Collins who “helped introduce the $250 educator deduction into the tax code.”

Openings for Privatizers

In addition to the harm done to public schools and educators by eliminating deductions and rolling back revenues, both Republican plans offer new initiatives to redirect public tax dollars to privately operated education providers.

The House plan would allow parents to extend the tax advantages they get from 529 college-savings plans to use up to $10,000 annually for tuition in private K-12 schools. As The New York Times reports, the 529 extension will cost the federal government $600 million in revenue in 2018-19 and save rich folks $30,000 per child if they make large deposits in these tax-free accounts when their children are born.

Rather than providing a way for low-income parents to send their kids to private schools, the 529 extension is more of a coupon program for parents who can already afford the tuition.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who adamantly promotes private options like charter schools and voucher programs, called this proposal “a good step forward,” according to The Washington Post, and the school choice advocacy group she co-founded and ran, the American Federation for Children, “praised the idea.”

Two more proposals that could get slipped into the Senate tax bill, Education Week reports, would redirect more tax dollars to private schools, including religion based schools.

One proposal establishes a charitable deduction “for certain qualified tuition and related expenses relating to qualified religious instruction.”

The other proposal “would add a tax credit for corporate and individual contributions to state non-profit organizations” that provide school vouchers to help low-income to middle class families with K-12 children send their kids to private schools.

These tax credit programs  have proven to be yet another way to benefit wealthier folks by diverting funds from public schools that need the resources to hire teachers and fund programs.

Higher Ed Heist

The Republican assault on learning opportunities doesn’t stop after students complete high school and attempt to pursue higher education.

As Krugman explains in his Times op-ed, if the Republicans have their way, students taking out loans to help pay college tuition would no longer be able to deduct the interest payments on those loans. Student who get help from an employer to pay for tuition or other expenses, would have the contribution considered taxable income in the House bill. Students who get free or reduced tuition because their parents are university employees will also have to report that break as taxable income. And graduate students who have tuition waived as part of their degree programs would have to report that as taxable income.

The tax increase for graduate students is a full body blow to those who we are expecting to be the nation’s future leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, and artists. If this measure passes, according to a report from NPR, the 145,000 grad students who received a tuition reduction in the most recent year available are looking at tax increases of as much as 300 to 400 percent.

The House tax plan will make these students’ education unaffordable.

A War to What Ends?

“These proposals would undermine funding for our public schools, colleges and universities,” declare 43 education organizations in a letter of opposition to the tax bills currently being considered in Congress.

“What makes these tax proposals even more problematic,” the letter continues, “is that, at the same time Congress is considering this reckless legislation, it is also negotiating a spending bill that will likely require cuts in the same programs the tax bill will harm.”

The proposed changes, the letter argues, “would undermine funding for education across the education continuum.”

Opposing the specific measures in these tax plans is important, but it’s essential to call out the intentions behind them.

As Eduardo Porter writes for The New York Times, the goal of the Republican tax plan has very little to do with sound economics. It’s about “transforming America.”

Based on how the Republicans treat education in their tax plans, the transformation they want would make the nation collectively dumber and much more dependent on profit-making businesses for scarcer services with far fewer opportunities for citizens to better themselves through education.

We must reject that future.

Did Support For Education Save The Democrats’ Bacon In The Virginia Governor’s Race?

Ralph Northam’s big win for the Democratic party in the Virginia governor’s election is being hailed as a “rebuke of President Trump.” But it’s also a rebuke of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The race, which was called a “bellwether” and a “must win” for Democrats, is a teachable moment for Democratic party operatives heading into 2018. But the race appeared to stay close the whole time, with RealClear Politics rating it a “toss up” less than a week away from the vote. So what helped Northam pull it out?

Most analysts in the media have focused on the campaign tactics employed in the race, especially when the campaign for Ed Gillespie, the Republican, took a Trumpist turn and decided to demonize immigrants, defend Confederate monuments, and portray Northam as soft on crime. But the Virginia race suggests candidates running in swing states will have to get the issues right rather than the rhetoric.

In state and local elections education is a top issue, sometimes the top issue. Education is the number one or two priority in most city, county, and state budgets and is a concern for literally every single voter, including adults with no school-aged children who pay taxes to support local schools and rely on the quality of those institutions to bolster their property values and anchor their neighborhoods.

In the Virginia governor’s contest, education was the voters’ “top concern,” according to at least one poll.

Education became a strong theme for both candidates in the campaign, with Democratic supporters of Northam frequently tying Gillespie to DeVos, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten calling him “a clone of Betsy DeVos.”

But Northam differed significantly from Gillespie on the issues as well as the image. Northam generally disagreed with Gillespie’s call to expand the number of charter schools in the state and favored instead more investment in traditional public schools. Northam also opposed Gillespie’s proposal for education savings accounts that allow parents who pull their children from public schools to direct that funding to private school tuition or other “education expenditures.”

As a result, Northam was backed by teachers unions while Gillespie got financial backing from the DeVos family – who expect their lavish cash donations to Republicans to result in support for charter schools and voucher programs that send public money to private schools – and from conservative groups, including those backed by the Koch brothers, that pounded on Northam for his opposition to “school choice.”

So education was a defining issue in the race, and where the candidates stood mattered a lot. But it’s also important to note Northam got education right not only by differing from Betsy DeVos but also by distancing his views from some views held by Democrats too, especially those Democrats aligned with leftover policy ideas from the Barack Obama presidential administration.

As Virginia-based parent and education activist Rachel Levy observed during the Democratic primary contest between Northam and his rival Tom Perriello, Northam had “a record of supporting public education in Virginia,” while Perriello seemed to be content to simply align his views on education policy to those held over from the Obama presidential administration. Big mistake.

After Northam’s primary contest victory, Levy wrote for The Progressive, “Perhaps like so many Democrats, Perriello hasn’t spent much time getting to know the issue … His loss reflects a disconnect between public education defenders and otherwise-progressive politicians who have not yet gotten the memo that defending public schools is a key value for progressive voters.”

So to a great extent, Northam took on DeVos and her policy ideas by “breaking from Barack Obama,” writes Graham Vyse for New Republic. “Northam represents a distinct departure from Obama’s emphasis on charter schools, support for high-stakes standardized tests, and tense relations with teachers unions,” Vyse explains.

Calling Northam’s victory in Virginia a clear indicator of the Democratic Party’s shift on education may be “premature,” as Vyse says. “But with DeVos making ‘school choice’ like charters and private school vouchers increasingly toxic for Democrats, there’s certainly room for a stronger defense of public education on the left.”

Northam made the stronger defense and did so by departing from Obama’s education orthodoxy. And he won partially because of that. Now who’s next?

How The Republican Tax Scheme Will Screw Your Local Schools

There’s a lot that’s bad in the tax scheme Republicans are cooking up on Capitol Hill right now, but one particularly odious ingredient is a proposal to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) which could end up undercutting funding for education, fire and police protection, and other public services in communities across the country.

Some Republicans in the House are having a hard time swallowing the proposal, but Senate Republicans are dead set on making sure their final recipe for tax reform takes away the SALT tax expenditure.

Eliminating the SALT deduction would be “an assault on local governance” and the “long-term economic stability in our communities,” says the National School Boards Association.

Critics of the Republican tax plan on the left side of politics have focused mostly on the tax cuts for the rich and corporate loopholes that are likely results. But education advocates are warning of the negative consequences of getting rid of SALT deductions, and progressives should heed the warnings and join the effort to oppose this proposal.

Taking SALT deductions out of federal taxes “is a much bigger threat” to public schools than some of the other punitive measures Republicans are aiming at local schools, Michal Dannenberg writes for Democracy Journal.

Here’s why: A deduction from federal taxes – also called a tax subsidy or tax expenditure – is as good as an outright appropriation of federal dollars for a particular service like education. “An individual in the 28 percent marginal income tax bracket that itemizes and deducts $5,000 in property taxes,” Dannenberg explains, “reduces his or her federal tax bill by $1,400. Of $5,000 raised locally for education, the individual pays $3,600 and the federal government pays $1,400” in the form of forgone revenue.

Money coming to local school from the federal government – via the deduction for state and local property taxes – “totaled over two times the size of direct grant aid provided through the Title I and IDEA programs for disadvantaged students,” Dannenberg says. Title I and IDEA programs represent the two largest federal programs providing direct aid to K-12 schools.

So, ending the SALT deduction would immediately close this spigot of federal dollars to local coffers. But that’s not the end of the damage.

In the short term, the money would continue to flow to local governments from citizens paying their full share of taxes. But in communities feeling the stress of higher taxes and strained household budgets, how long would it take for voters to challenge their local officials to cut taxes that are no longer deducted from federal returns?

“Repealing the federal SALT deduction would likely result in cuts down the road to state and local services,” writes Michael Leachman and Iris Lav of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “These cuts could well include reductions in support for education — the single largest part of state budgets — as well as cuts to infrastructure spending and other investments that are key to the nation’s long-term economic prospects.”

Also, “Repealing the deduction would almost certainly make it harder for states and localities — many of which already face serious budget strains — to raise sufficient revenues in the coming years to fund K-12 and higher education, health care, and other services,” CBPP’s economists explain. “To balance their budgets with insufficient revenue, state policymakers would likely make cuts in such services that would be widely felt.”

Should the repeal of SALT deductions happen, states with higher local taxes will feel the strain first, including high-tax states such as California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

But it’s a mistake to believe the impact will be restricted to these states.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton warns a repeal of the SALT deduction would directly impact about 900,000 Minnesota families who would lose an average of $12,000 in deductions when they file taxes.

Even states with no income tax will also be affected. In Texas, “over 2 million households — 18 percent of all filers — deducted about $4.8 billion in state and local sales taxes in 2015,” writes CBPP”s Leachman. Should a SALT repeal pass, those Texas taxpayers can kiss that deduction goodbye.

Education funding across the country is already in crisis. The Republican tax scheme to repeal the SALT deduction will just make the situation wose and commit deeper harms to students and families.

The American Federation of Teachers warns, “This plan is especially dangerous for middle-class families who own homes and pay property taxes, or who live in communities that invest in their schools, police and fire departments, sanitation and other vital services, like rebuilding roads, bridges, and water and electric systems.”

You can support AFT’s effort to block the Republican tax scheme here.

 

 

Center For American Progress’s Failed ‘Progressive Case’ For Charter Schools

President Donald Trump swept into office on a platform that included support for charter schools and other alternatives to public schools, and his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, an ardent supporter of “school choice” in all its forms, recently announced her department would provide over a quarter-billion dollars to help expand charters, so it’s surprising to see the Center for American Progress, originators of the #Resist campaign, issue a “Progressive Case for Charter Schools” that decries the “waning” support for charters among Democrats and scolds charter school skeptics for being against progressive institutions.

But CAP’s argument for charters is flawed and unconvincing in multiple ways.

Its authors rely on a very select and problematic evidence base for the supposed advantages of charters, repeatedly anchor conclusions to charter enthusiasts and charter marketing materials, and cherry-pick a sample of charter schools that prompt more questions than answers.

The authors find examples of worthwhile practices in charters but never bother to look at whether these practices are already evident in existing public schools. They nod their heads toward a troubling “lack of accountability and transparency” among charters but ignore its prevalence. And CAP’s argument never considers the important questions of whether charter expansions are necessary or could possibly come with some downsides.

No ‘Proven Model’

In calling charters a “proven model,” CAP draws from a narrow sample of research studies provided by a single source, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

CAP repeatedly links to two CREDO studies to substantiate its claim that “charter schools are improving outcomes for students—especially for low-income students of color.”

A more carful read of the first CREDO study reveals the researchers in no way claim to prove charters generally improve outcomes for students. What they do contend is some types of charters have yielded observable improvements in student achievement compared to public schools, others don’t, and some actually harm student learning.

The improvements CREDO finds are evident in two types of charter schools that make up a very small percentage of charters overall, and there are significant variations in charter performance based on the states they operate in.

Another review of this CREDO study, by a Michigan-based reporter, finds the Stanford researchers “exaggerate the significance of their findings,” according to an expert quoted in the article, Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University professor, “who has done extensive research on charter schools.”

Brookings Institute fellow Tom Loveless makes a similar point in examining CREDO’s charter school analyses. “Achievement differences between charters and [traditional public schools] are extremely small, so tiny, in fact, that they lack real world significance.”

A ‘Mixed Bag’ at Best

CAP is equally cavalier in its citing from anther CREDO study, this one on the academic performance of charters in urban communities.

Here again, Stanford researchers find some evidence of superior results from charters, but the evidence is quite small and not applicable to widespread implementations of these schools.

Writing for The Progressive, my colleague California University – Sacramento professor Julian Vasquez Heilig says, “Charter school supporters and the media point to [this study] to say that African American and Latino students have more success in charter schools. Leaving aside the integrity of the study, what charter proponents don’t mention is that the performance impact is .008 and .05 for Latinos and African Americans in charter schools, respectively. These numbers are larger than zero, but you need a magnifying glass to see them.”

“CREDO’s studies have shown charter school performance to be a mixed bag,” writes Education Week’s reporter covering the charter sector, “and as a result, are regularly cited by both charter supporters and opponents, depending upon the outcome of a particular study.”

Quoting the Charter Choir

CAP’s evidence base for the supposed superiority of charters is weakened further by the authors’ repeated citations from prominent charter cheerleaders.

CAP frequently links to New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, who is well-known to make erroneous claims and false assertions about charter schools, New York Times Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who similarly plays fast and loose with claims about charter superiority, and Richard Whitmire who wrote an adulating portrait of ex-Chancellor of DC Public schools Michelle Rhee that was eventually undermined by the lack of evidence of her success in leading District schools.

CAP’s attempts to find evidence of the “progressive values and practices” of charters become so strained that the authors frequently resort to links to the schools’ own websites, as if their marketing language is somehow proof they offer “equal educational opportunity and access.”

Not So Noble

When CAP’s “progressive” case for charters pivots to individual schools, its focus falls on an unfortunate example, the Noble Network in Chicago.

The CAP authors extoll the Noble schools’ six-year college graduation rate of 31 percent, “well above the national average for low-income students,” as proof the schools have discovered a formula for success. But CAP authors ignore the way Noble produces those higher graduation rates by screening out certain kinds of students – principally students with learning disabilities and who have trouble with the English language – and imposing harsh discipline, “fees” for code infractions, and high expulsion rates that encourage struggling students to transfer out.

Thus, Noble’s mostly black charters “post the highest student attrition rates,” in Chicago, a local reporter writes, “which are directly related to discipline, as students with high numbers of detentions are required to repeat the school year. Teachers say many students decide instead to transfer to a neighborhood high school and move on to the next grade.”

Does that sound progressive to you?

A Suspension of Reason

CAP’s next attempt to make the progressive case for charters is to find the ones that are “leaders in developing more holistic school discipline practices.”

While some charter schools may indeed be developing more progressive approaches to school discipline, most charter schools, particularly those located in neighborhoods predominated by black students, continue to post significantly higher suspensions rates than public schools.

The KIPP charter chain CAP mentions favorably has been cited repeatedly by journalists for operating a “no excuses” discipline policy that generally leads to disproportionally high suspensions rates and high student attrition rates.

Other charter operations CAP authors point to, Uncommon Schools and Achievement First, also have very high suspension rates. It may be true that some charters have recently taken steps to lower their high suspension rates, but that likely came about through parent whistle-blowing and public shaming, not by praising them for their practices.

Further, there are numerous examples of public schools implementing some of the very same practices CAP praises charters for “developing.” While any new discipline approach pioneered by a charter stays with that charter, when public schools implement more progressive discipline practices, those practices can become the norm across whole districts and states.

So, it’s not at all clear we need charter schools to show our public schools a more enlightened path to fairer and more just school discipline. Public schools are blazing that path on their own, thank you very much.

Teach for a While

When CAP’s case for progressive charters finds examples of charters doing something right, the authors never consider the larger context of the bigger problems associated with charters.

For instance, there is indeed some evidence charter schools tend to hire higher percentages of non-white teachers than public schools take in. But the bigger picture is that those new teachers who get hired by charters likely won’t stay very long.

Teacher turnover has been called “a charter school plague,” with one study finding teachers at charter high schools were three times more likely to leave than their peers in public high schools.

KIPP schools, specifically, have very high teacher turnover rates. Teachers at KIPP schools typically stay for an average of only four years.

That CAF authors choose to spotlight Teach for America as an “exemplary” practitioner of teacher recruitment is laughable. While the organization has of late gotten some notoriety for recruiting higher percentages of black and Latino teachers, a national study of TFA found more than half of TFA recruits placed in low-income schools leave after two years, and by their fifth year, only 14.8 percent continue to teach in the same low-income schools they were originally assigned to. This compares to a national turnover rate of 21 percent for teachers at high-poverty schools. Among new teachers in general, 50 percent are still in classrooms after five years, compared to only 27.8 percent for TFA.

Studies have shown that high teacher turnover has a negative impact on student learning. Why would CAP encourage this?

Hurting Rather than Helping

One thing CAP does get right is that public schools are often “ill-equipped” to meet the needs of special student populations, such as drop-outs, students who are pregnant or have children, immigrant students, or students in the criminal justice system. But the authors never ask why this is so and instead rush to the conclusion that only through charters can these students have opportunities to learn.

This is an unfortunate position for a progressive organization to take. Anyone who has taken time to actually talk with school leaders knows they struggle to serve special student populations but are often pressed to curtail those programs because of lawmakers’ decision to cut education budgets or redirect the money to other options, including charter schools.

It would seem to make more sense for a progressive organization like CAP to focus its advocacy on pressuring policy makers and government leaders to provide public schools with the resources they need to attend to the needs of all students rather than advocate for charter schools and other options that actually hurt public schools and the students left in them.

A Progressive Promise Gone Awry?

Perhaps most distressing about CAP’s defense of charter schools is the column’s quick dismissal of the “accountability and transparency” problems of these schools and its suggestion those problems are confined just to “for-profit” charter schools.

Some of the most prominent examples of charter school corruption and malfeasance have been committed by non-profit charters. The CAP authors know that but choose to ignore it for the purpose of elevating a specific type of charter school, specifically charters operated by non-profit charter management organizations (CMOs). To claim these sorts of charters are immune to the problems of accountability and transparency is to ignore overwhelming evidence that these problems plague all forms of charters.

Based on CAP’s progressive case for charter schools, it would be sensible to argue the progressive values that characterize much of CAP’s advocacy just don’t apply to the organization’s education work because of the influence of donors, the background of the staffers, or the close association CAP has to Washington Beltway elites, including members of former President Obama’s administration, who are devoted to charters.

Another possibility is CAP’s case for charters is an attempt at a more nuanced look at the sector. Certainly, many of the well-intentioned people who operate charters and who labor in these schools deserve a nuanced consideration of their work, and CAP seems to believe critics of charters schools are “unreasonable” and “simply devalue all charter schools.”

If this truly is what motivates CAP to make the case for charters, then the organization simply hasn’t spent much time seriously considering what charter school skeptics say.

None of the prominent organizations that have called for a moratorium on charter expansions – including the National Education Association, the NAACP, and the Network for Public Education – has advocated for a total ban on the schools and immediate closure of existing ones. No one is telling parents they are at fault for sending their kids to these schools.

What charter skeptics say is that ramping up a new and separate sector of charter schools, although it may have been a progressive idea to begin with, has led to lots of negative consequences and fallen far short of any promise to “equalize” opportunities for all students.

That CAP’s case for charters refuses to even consider this argument shows who is truly the most “reasonable” in the debate.

 

In Disasters’ Wake, Public Schools And Educators Defy DeVos’s Attacks On The ‘System’

A favorite talking point of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is to say that conversations about education should not be about “systems and buildings” but about “individual students.” It’s a skillfully crafted soundbite designed to cast schools as oppressive bureaucracies that limit the education opportunities available to children and families. It also differentiates schools from other essential public infrastructure such as fire and police protection, sanitation, and roads.

Few people question the need to have a fire department or an office responsible for transportation, but DeVos’s scripted phrase is an attempt to convince us that education has become a consumer good we can pick up anywhere and that schools are relics of a bygone era when we didn’t have the internet and other means of conveying knowledge.

But before DeVos casually dismisses the need to have public education institutions across the country, she should look at the vital role schools and educators have played in responding to the string of devastating natural disasters that hit America this year.

When Hurricane Irma strafed Florida, over 6.5 million citizens were ordered to evacuate their homes in the flood zones. Thousands found shelter in schools. Broward County, north of Miami, converted 21 schools into shelters to take in those having to flee Fort Lauderdale and other coastal towns. Palm Beach County schools took in 17,000 evacuees. Sarasota schools welcomed over 19,000 refugees. In Tampa-Hillsborough County, 45 of the district’s schools became storm relief centers, sheltering nearly 30,000 evacuees.

To protect residents unable to get out of town, Miami-Dade County converted 42 schools to shelters. In Monroe County, home to Key West which took the brunt of the storm, the local school became a “refuge of last resort” for those unable to get off the islands.

In most cases, the people who staffed the schools became the volunteers in the shelters, “working around the clock to feed evacuees, keep the shelter clean, and provide other supports,” Education Week reports.

Teachers, principals, cafeteria workers, janitors, social workers, and other school staff – many who are unionized workers – were the “unsung heroes” of the storm relief effort, reports the Miami Herald. “Before and during the storm, and into the aftermath, school employees worked tirelessly, helping convert places of learning into safe havens for storm evacuees.

When Irma shuttered schools and cut power in high-poverty communities, where children rely on schools for free breakfast and lunch, school districts used food trucks and delivery vans to distribute free meals to children.

When Hurricane Harvey slammed Texas with torrential rains, 1 in 4 students in the state were affected by the storm. A list of shelters taking in Harvey refugees published in a Houston news outlet includes scores of schools along with churches and community centers.

While an owner of a furniture store made national headlines for taking in flood victims, educators and other school staff across the state received few accolades as they helped to convert schools to shelters and deliver meals and blankets and other aids.

Schools used Facebook and Twitter to help family members track one another down, tell people when shelters were full, and stay in touch with children and parents at their homes once the storm had passed but schools had yet to reopen.

Victims of the most recent storm, Hurricane Maria, that devastated all of Puerto Rico, are still digging out of the damage and struggling to find access to safe drinking water and food. For many of the sufferers and their communities, schools have been a lifeline. Many schools defied the widespread destruction to stay open and serve as refuges for storm victims and community centers distributing water and meals.

Using the strength of their union, the 40,000-member Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rican, educators have distributed supplies, organized storm centers, even provided money, in amounts of up to $500 each to help teachers dealing with the impact of the storm.

Mainland schools and educators are playing key roles in the storm relief effort as well, taking in hundreds of Puerto Rican school children able to flee the island. Nearly 700 students displaced by the storm have enrolled in the Orlando-Orange County school district alone.

In California, where the adversary isn’t wind and rain but devastating fire, schools and educators have rushed to reopen campuses to resume teaching and learning after the blazes displaced thousands of families and shut down 600 schools in three counties.

Educators, some of whom lost their homes, are returning to their workplaces with the urgency to “bring a sense of security and normalcy” to traumatized children. Schools are carefully following clean air protocols to ensure safe environments for their students and bringing in additional counselors and psychologists to help returning students with the mental anguish of evacuating their homes and returning to the blackened landscape.

Based on how schools and educators have come up big for their communities hit by such cataclysmic events, it would seem that Betsy DeVos would praise the “system” she leads and urge the presidential administration she serves to bolster support for teachers and schools.

Instead, while news stories showed how our schools and educators performed heroically in the face of catastrophe, DeVos urged parents to choose education options other than their public schools and insulted anyone daring to defend our public education system. That truly is “Sad!”

Betsy DeVos’s Attack On Public Education Is Just Beginning

With less than a year in office, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is already having the narrative of her impact on the nation’s public schools recast from someone with the power to “single-handedly decimate our public education system” to someone who is capable of only incremental change or who is completely ineffectual altogether.

Don’t believe this shift in the storyline.

First consider how many times media reports trumpeting efforts by the President Trump administration to act more responsibly have quickly changed, within days or even hours, to news reports of the continued fecklessness of the White House. Similarly, news stories about Trump being completely ineffectual at accomplishing his agenda are constantly counterbalanced with stories of his continued success at radically altering the nation.

Likewise, we can judge any attempts to recast DeVos into a more diminished role as short-term and mistaken interpretations of events.

For instance, one popular stab at remaking the DeVos image is to credit her with achieving an “evolution” in thinking about her influence at the helm of the education department.

 

Education policy observers, from Beltway think tanks to prominent news outlets, have used DeVos’s recent speech at Harvard University as evidence of some newfound “restraint” in her approach to radically alter the nation’s education landscape from one dominated by public institutions to a “market place” of privately owned providers getting public funds to compete against neighborhood schools.

Writing at his blog at Education Week, conservative education pundit Rick Hess cites passages from DeVos’s Harvard speech to claim she had transitioned from someone intent on using her leadership role to push through an agenda for “school choice” – the term most often used to describe expansion of privately operated education providers – to someone who will “tread carefully” in using her powers.

Similarly, Lauren Camera, the education reporter for U.S. New & World Reports, cites the same speech to credit DeVos with “a natural recalibration of expectations that can occur when one steps into a position and better understands the political realities that can constrain agendas.”

In addition to these “she ain’t so bad” portrayals of DeVos, there has been a rash of reports on the apparent inability of her agenda to gain support in Congress. The House rejected the proposals of DeVos and Trump for more federal spending to boost school choice, and the Senate also rejected the Trump administration’s funding for more school choice ventures.

Reports like these have lulled education policy poohbahs into believing DeVos and her agenda have been effectively neutered by Congressional opposition.

In fact, a recent survey of education policy elites – current and former government officials and bureaucrats and Beltway apparatchiks – finds these “Insiders are skeptical that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will effectively advance any policies during her tenure at the Department of Education.”

Over 50 percent of survey respondents believe DeVos will have no success in expanding charter schools, private school vouchers, tax credits (to expand vouchers), public school choice, or virtual schools.

These conclusions about the supposed ineffectiveness of DeVos should be treated with a great deal of skepticism.

First, as seasoned education reporter at Education Week Alyson Klein explains, “from her perch at the department, [DeVos] has other levers to get states and districts to offer kids more schooling options, without help from anyone in Congress.”

With the more than $1 billion in federal grants at her disposal every year, DeVoa can incentivize school choice programs. Klein writes, “Federal officials can give applicants a leg-up if they pitch something choice related, or maybe even if they are a charter school, or part of a district that’s home to a voucher program.”

Further, Klein says, DeVos can use her media leverage – due to her being the most controversial of Trump’s Cabinet officials – to ” give speeches on the virtues of choice, and travel to schools and districts where she thinks choice is making a positive difference.”

And DeVos can use an obscure provision in the new federal education law, called the weighted student-funding pilot, to “allow districts to combine federal, state, and local dollars into a single funding stream tied to individual students.” Klein explains, “Adopting a weighted student-funding formula could make it easier for districts to operate school choice programs, since money would be tied to individual students and could therefore follow them to charter or virtual public schools.”

Any speculation that DeVos is somehow backing off her intent to impose school choice on communities or softening her approach to privatizing schools is further cast into doubt by her Department’s recently published “priorities” document that makes clear what her tenure will continue to focus on at the expense of all other possible goals.

The document lists 11 priorities for use in federal discretionary grant programs under her rule. Priority No. 1 deals with school choice. The document specifically proposes giving priority to projects that seek to increase the proportion of students with access to “educational choice.”

In the document, the word “choice” and its variations – “choose” and “option” – occurs 22 times.

On the other hand, “equity,” something many would want at the top of the list, is not a priority at all. Its mention occurs twice, once in a footnote and the other parenthetically. The issue of school funding is also mostly ignored, mentioned only three times. When the subject does occur, it is de-prioritized. “Increased Federal funding cannot be a stand-in for increased learning,” the document declares. “We will focus less on discrete funding streams and more on innovative problem solving.”

There is no mention of the need to work toward racial integration of schools or rectify the harms of segregation.

Clearly, those trying to recast the narrative of DeVos from the potent force originally described in the media into the weakened warrior currently in fashion are seeing the trees and not the forest.

As my colleague at The Progressive Jennifer Berkshire writes, DeVos’s strategy to transform American schools from universal access to a competitive marketplace is a “long game” approach in which every momentary defeat will result in her dedication to the cause to grow even more fervent.=

“[DeVos] gives every indication of being quite pleased with the progress she’s making,” Berkshire contends. “’Hasten slowly,’ is how DeVos described her family’s motto in a recent interview. DeVos’ own family, and the one she married into, have sought to impose their vision of a country free of unions and dependence on government, including ‘government schools,’ for two generations. Now, after decades of slow hastening, they’re almost there.”

New Federal Grant Feeds Charter School Gravy Train In New Mexico

When the U.S. Department of Education recently announced its list of recipients of over a quarter billion dollars in federally funded grants to charter schools, charter management organizations, and charter development agencies, charter skeptics cast a suspicious eye at some of the grantees, and for good reason.

Previous targets for federal charter grants have resembled a “black hole” for taxpayer money with little tracking and accountability for how funds have been spent spent. In the past 26 years, the federal government has sent over $4 billion to charters, with the money often going to “ghost schools” that never opened or quickly failed.

In 2015, charter skeptics denounced the stunning selection of Ohio for a $71 million federal chart grant, despite the state’s charter school program being one of the most reviled and ridiculed in the nation.

This year’s list of state recipients raises eyebrows as well.

One of the larger grants is going to Indiana, whose charter schools generally underperform the public schools in the state. Nearly half of the Hoosier state’s charters receive poor or failing grades, and the state recently closed one of its online charter schools after six straight years of failure.

Another state recipient, Mississippi, won a federal grant that was curiously timed to coincide with the state’s decision, pending the governor’s approval, to take over the Jackson school district and likely hand control of the schools to a charter management group.

Another state recipient that deserves scrutiny but may get overlooked is New Mexico, with an award of over $22.5 million for the New Mexico Charter School Program. The award seems questionable based on the academic performance of charter schools in the state and the lack of transparency and accountability of its charter sector.

First, some important context about K-12 education in the Land of Enchantment: Nearly 30 percent of New Mexico’s children live in poverty, and the education achievement gap between whites and minorities is one of the worst in the nation.

U.S. News & World Reports notes, New Mexico places 48th in the magazine’s ranking of Best States for education, and the state’s high school graduation rate of 71 percent in 2016 was significantly lower than the national average of 82 percent. Education Week’s well-respected “Quality Counts” annual report card on state school performance ranked New Mexico 49th in the nation in its’ 2017 report, down from 32nd in 2011.

New Mexico lawmakers have responded to these challenges by cutting the resources schools need.

According to a state-based child advocacy group, per-pupil spending in the state is 7 percent lower in 2017 than it was in 2008. New Mexico is also “one of 19 states” that cut general aid for schools in 2017, with spending falling 1.7 percent. “Only seven states made deeper cuts than New Mexico.”

New Mexico’s school funding situation has grown so dire, bond rating agency Moody’s Investors Service recently reduced the credit outlook for two-thirds of the school districts in the state, and parent and advocacy groups have sued the state for failing to meet constitutional obligations to provide education opportunities to all students.

To fill a deficit gap in the state’s most recent budget, Republican Governor Susana Martinez tapped $46 million in local school district reserves while rejecting any proposed tax increases.

Given the state’s grim education funding situation, it would seem foolhardy to ramp up a parallel system of charter schools that further stretches education dollars, but New Mexico has doubled-down on the charter money drain by tilting spending advantages to the sector.

A study conducted by a state legislative committee last year found that charter schools in the state receive 15 percent more funding per student than regular public schools, because of state loopholes that work in the charters’ favor. Another loophole has ensured that charter schools have received 46 percent of public-school funding increases over the past seven years even though they serve only 7 percent of the student population. The findings prompted at least one Democratic state lawmaker to call for a moratorium on new charters.

The funding advantages charter schools have in New Mexico have not resulted in better academic outcomes, according to the study, with district schools outperforming the charter schools in a number of key categories, despite their higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students and English language learners.

The state’s three virtual charter schools, which all have ties to private, for-profit corporations, also have funding advantages over regular public schools – including access to transportation and capital outlay funds, even though they don’t have building and facilities costs, and students log in from their homes. Students attending the state’s online charter connected to education multinational Pearson Education fare worse than students across the state on standardized tests. The school fell from a C to an F in the state’s most recent A-F grading system.

Despite the problems charter schools pose to the state, poorly performing charters are rarely closed, and high performing charters do not share best practices with district schools, according to the committee report referenced above.

Even charter industry organizations warn that New Mexico’s oversight of charter school academic performance is inadequate. Citing a report by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the Albuquerque Journal describes the state’s means for holding schools accountable for academic performance as “minimally developed.”

As evidence of the “the loosely defined ‘standard’ for renewal in the state,” the news outlet notes, the state’s education commission recently renewed six charters, “though none met their charter goals or received an A or B state grade.”

In addition to the fiscal and academic problems charters pose to the state, recent findings from a state auditor’s report reveal glaring problems with financial accountability.

By auditor Tim Keller’s reckoning, the New Mexico Public Education Department has no account of what happened to $20 million allotted for charter school administrative costs over a five-year period.

Keller’s review claims “a widespread inadequacy of tracking” throughout the charter school financial system has left gaping holes that are potentially exploitable or mismanaged by charter operators.

Keller’s warning is warranted based on numerous anecdotes.

In 2015, a commission of the state’s education department shut down a charter in the Saint Theresa schools district, accusing the founder of the school of “improper spending, fraudulent enrollment numbers, incomplete record keeping, and numerous conflicts of interests.”

More recently, another investigation by auditor Keller found that about half a million dollars were diverted from an Albuquerque elementary charter school into a former employee’s personal bank account during a six-year period. Altogether over $700,000 is unaccounted for, and several charter school employees may be indicted.

The school had been subject to financial audits by an “independent auditor” for years, according to the Albuquerque Journal. But Keller’s office was tipped off to the alleged embezzlement when a vendor reported a “suspicious tax form” to the auditor’s hotline.

The haphazard way this case came to light indicates that the incidents of fraud and mismanagement in New Mexico charter schools are likely the tip of an iceberg of charter school financial malfeasance in the state.

The rash of problems that plague New Mexico charter schools should ring alarm bells among staff members at the U.S. Department of Education, but instead federal officials decided to reward the behavior with its $22 million grant.

“How much of the $22 million headed to our state for charters will actually help the students?” asks Charles Goodmacher, the Government and Media Relations Director of the state’s education association in an email. “Especially in light of our insufficiently funded education budget, when teachers see hundreds of thousands of dollars disappear, we are disheartened.”

Indeed, we all should be.