Friday, June 21, 2013
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), today approved the Student Success Act (H.R. 5). Introduced by Chairman Kline and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), this responsible legislation will rewrite the nation’s K-12 education law and put more control in the hands of state and local leaders.
On Wednesday, Congress took another step toward reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). The House bill now will be considered with the Senate bill passed through the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
A federal district judge has ruled that a high school teacher violated the free speech rights of a Michigan student by removing him from class for expressing views that he didn't "accept gays" because of his Roman Catholic faith. In the June 19 decision in Glowacki v. Howell Public School District, U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan of Detroit awarded nominal damages of $1 to Daniel Glowacki, who was a junior at Howell High School in the fall of 2010 when he made the statement. Judge Duggan wrote in the opinion that"[p]ublic schools must strive to provide a safe atmosphere conducive to learning for all students while fostering an environment that tolerates the expression of different viewpoints, even if unpopular, so as to equip students with the tools necessary for participation in a democratic society."
In less than two weeks since Change.org launched a petition asking Grace University to forgive the debt owed by a student who was kicked out for being in a same-sex relationship, the list of signatures has grown to more than 64,000.Grace, a Christian college in Omaha, Neb., suspended 24-year-old Danielle Powell in 2011 for "homosexual acts," and subsequently denied her re-enrollment in January 2012. The university revoked her scholarship and then billed Powell just over $6,300 for tuition for the semester she was not allowed to complete. Grace President David Barnes sent a campuswide email on June 14 reaffirming that the administration holds Powell's relationships are "sinful."
Thursday, June 20, 2013
A new report by Education Sector details changes in the the achievement gap as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Between 2003 and 2011 on 4th and 8th grade reading and math, the report finds that all students combined have shown a 20 point gain. Moreover, the subgroups of White, Poor, African American, and Latino students all showed gains. Starting from a lower baseline to begin with, however, African American, Latino, and Poor students all posted larger gains than Whites. These groups still achieve at a significantly lower level than Whites, but the gap closed. This is all encouraging news.
The discouraging news is that the gap between the students of some states has widened. For instance, the gains in New Jersey and Maryland tripled or quadrupled the gains of students in about 10 other states. Thus, while the national racial and poverty achievement gaps have shrunk, the gap between states has grown enormously. The report characterizes these diverge realities as follows:
Let us put this new state achievement gap in perspective. The U.S. has a notorious and persistent difference in achievement between black and white students. Rooted in slavery, segregated schools and a century of social and economic discrimination, the black-white achievement gap is depressingly large. . . . In 2011, white students scored 1044 on our composite of four NAEP assessments; black students totaled 939—a 105 point gap. Recalling that students improve about 10 points per grade level per test, a gap of 105 points translates into two-and-a-half years of achievement. Put another way, a white student midway through sixth grade achieves at about the same level as a black student at the end of eighth grade. In a nation founded on the principle of equality, that is an unacceptably large gap in achievement.
And the nation has long sought to reduce it. A decade before ESEA was passed, the Supreme Court declared separate but equal schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. Research has looked hard for solutions. But a gap that took two centuries to establish has proven stubbornly resistant to improvement. Over nearly 40 years, by our composite measure, the gap has narrowed by only 25 points—about a half point per year.
All of which makes the new gap between the states alarming. . . . In just eight years, the states have created an achievement gap that is about 60 percent of the magnitude of the racial achievement gap—that took two centuries to establish. In just eight years, the states have created an achievement gap that is nearly 250 percent the magnitude of hard won reductions in the racial achievement gap over 40 years.
Because student achievement is so heavily influenced by family, community, and other factors beyond the reach of the schoolhouse, it is hard to find schooling making a substantial difference in student achievement. But that is precisely what the state NAEP data indicate. Achievement in some states has been soaring; achievement in other states has been lagging. And the pace of differentiation rivals, indeed exceeds, that associated with America’s deepest social division.
The report also goes on to discuss NCLB waivers and the role their relevance to achievement gaps moving forward.
Last week, I posted on Chicago's new five pillar plan to turn around the district. Tuesday, a federal district court, in Chicago Teachers Union, Local no. 1 v. Board of Educ. of City of Chicago, 2013 WL 3004943 (N.D. Ill. 2013), is allowing teachers and their union to continue to have a voice in opposition, at least in regard to teacher layoffs. A class of African American teachers and staff filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education “claiming that Board violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . . . when it instituted a layoff plan that resulted in termination of the employment of a number of African American teachers and paraprofessionals." Most recently, the school board filed a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss the Chicago Teachers' Union as a party plaintiff, asserting that it lacks standing to pursue its claim. The court denied that motion on Tuesday. The court has yet to rule on whether it will grant class certification to the African American teachers and staff, but has scheduled a status hearing for June 25, 2013.
Matthew D. Bernstein (Univ. of New Mexico), has posted 'The Last Acceptable Prejudice': Student Harassment of Gay Public School Teachers. Here is an excerpt of the abstract on SSRN:
In the United States, where the “marketplace of ideas” is a key social philosophy, few Americans receive the benefits of attending public schools with “out” gay and lesbian teachers. Even in an era where civil rights for homosexual public employees are increasing, more than one quarter of adults in the United States continue to believe that school boards should be permitted to fire teachers known to be homosexual. Amidst a permissive legal climate that too easily puts aside the rights of teachers in a myopic focus on students, incidents where students harass teachers based on the teachers’ sexual orientation go virtually unpunished. While states are increasingly protecting homosexual public employees through non-discrimination statutes, only federal guidance in the form of Title VII protection or a national non-discrimination statute are sufficient to properly shield teachers and institute a truly democratic classroom.
The University Curriculum and the Constitution: Personal Beliefs and Professional Ethics in Graduate School Counseling Programs
In The University Curriculum and the Constitution: Personal Beliefs and Professional Ethics in Graduate School Counseling Programs, the authors examine recent cases in which graduate students in school counseling programs argued that they could interpret counseling profession's Code of Ethics differently than their program faculty because of the student's religious beliefs, even though the Code was a part of the graduate program to which they voluntarily applied and enrolled. The article discusses the intersection of personal beliefs on gays and lesbians as counseling clients and professional ethics in higher education graduate programs. Todd A. DeMitchell, David J. Hebert, Loan T. Phan, The University Curriculum and the Constitution: Personal Beliefs and Professional Ethics in Graduate School Counseling Programs, 39 J.C. & U.L. 303 (2013).
Teaching Creation, Evolution, and the New Atheism in 21st Century America: Window on an Evolving Establishment Clause
Edward J. Larson (Pepperdine) discusses the "third generation" religion-in-schools controversies: the rise of the intelligent design movement. Professor Larson writes, "This new phase of the controversy is testing basic principles of Establishment Clause jurisprudence, particularly the purpose prong of the Supreme Court's Lemon test. He explores this emerging third phase of the creation-evolution controversy by examining how lawsuits have impacted the interpretation of secular purpose; the constitutionality of so-called academic freedom statutes; and emerging limits on anti-creationist official acts. Prof. Larson's article can be found
Hillel Y. Levin (Univ. of Georgia), has posted Tax Credit Scholarship Programs: A Model Statute for a Better Program (Education Law and Policy Review, forthcoming). In the article, he examines state tax credit scholarship programs that allow taxpayers to receive tax credits for contributing to student scholarship organizations. He offers a model statute for an improved tax credit scholarship program.
UCLA Law Dean Rachel Moran remembers former University of California President Clark Kerr and his vision for public higher education in a speech titled Clark Kerr and Me: The Future of the Public Law School, 88 Ind. L.J. 1021 (2013). Dean Moran applies Kerr's views to her own convictions about the unique mission of public law schools and ways to secure their future.
Applying the “Paradox” Theory: A Law And Policy Analysis of Collective Bargaining Rights and Teacher Evaluation Reform from Selected States
Mark Paige (Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, U. Mass-Dartmouth), Applying the “Paradox” Theory: A Law And Policy Analysis of Collective Bargaining Rights and Teacher Evaluation Reform from Selected States, 2013 B.Y.U. Educ. & L.J. 21 (2013). Professor Paige analyzes reforms to legislative changes about teacher evaluations and argues that excluding unions from teacher evaluations in collective bargaining negotiations will have the unintended consequence of impeding reforms and change.
Parental Choice, Catholic Schools, and Educational Pluralism at the Dawn of a New Era in K-12 Education Reform
In the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, John Schoenig (Director, Program for K-12 Educational Access and Faculty, Alliance for Catholic Education) examines the "curious" shrinkage of Catholic school enrollment (there are approximately 460,000 “empty seats” in Catholic schools nationwide), where more than one third of those empty seats are in states that have parental choice programs. John Schoenig, Parental Choice, Catholic Schools, and Educational Pluralism at the Dawn of a New Era in K-12 Education Reform, 27 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 513 (2013).
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
When legislators passed the Alabama Accountability Act this year, the law was hailed as a chance to give students in low-performing schools vouchers to transfer to better schools. To identify low-performing K-12 schools, the State Department of Education listed 78 schools that were in the bottom six percent of schools in three of the past six years. The reality of the voucher law hit yesterday when Alabama officials made clear that most of the students in the listed schools will not be able to transfer to better public schools. Of the 78 schools on the "failing schools" list, 25 are under either a federal desegregation order or litigation, which means transfers in and out of those schools will be governed by court orders. Other public schools nearby may also be in the "failing" category. And the other reality is that there may also be no nearby private school to transfer to. For example, one of the failing schools is Bullock County High School. The nearest private school is Conecuh Springs Christian School, where all but ten of the white students in Bullock County go. Conecuh Springs' principal says that her school could take about 20-30 of Bullock County's 1,453 students, but for the rest, the nearest private school is an hour away.
Meanwhile, the demographics of the seventy-eight schools identified as "failing" by the Alabama Department of Education are out, and the schools are in predominately black or Latino areas. Of the 78, al.com reports, only one school has a predominately white student body. One.
But could students use vouchers at private schools? Looking at the average price of private school tuition nationally and locally, probably not. Vouchers in Alabama will come in the form of tax credits, which means parents have to pay upfront for private school tuition. Most of the children in the state's failing schools are living at poverty level (for example, the lowest percentage of children receiving free or reduced meals in the identified failing schools is 78%). Families at the poverty line will not have the $500-$1,000 sign up fees required at most private schools or the upfront private tuition of $3,500-$10,000, plus book, meals, and other fees.
During the school voucher debates, Sweden was cited as a model universal choice/school voucher program. But the Swedish voucher system is a long way from Alabama's law: in Sweden, schools take children on a first-come, first-served basis and do not charge upfront fees. Sweden's schools, at least on the face of the law, have to take students as they apply. Alabama's schools are free to say no to transferring students with school vouchers and not necessarily for discriminatory reasons. Many educators feel that student success is increased when class sizes are small; accepting a large number of new transfers will alter that balance. Read more about the Alabama Accountability Act here. Detailed information is also available in the Arise Citizen Policy Project's report on the troubled birth of the Act and predictions for its future here.
Putting aside whether Wall Street has something up its sleeve, is looking for publicity, or the state is getting a bum deal, the story I posted on Monday regarding Goldman Sachs' investment in Salt Lake City's pre-k program indicates that it sees pre-k as a good investment. In fact, the investment is predicated on the expectation that pre-k will save the district money in the long term, as special education and other special service needs decline.
Congress, however, apparently sees things differently. In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Obama announced his intention to drastically expand pre-k education by giving states grants to do so themselves. Since then, the Department of Education has reallocated $370 million in Race to the Top funds toward funding pre-k. But fully funding the initiative will require far more money (full initiative here). Congress, for the moment, is balking. Not that we should take education advice from Wall Street, but if its economists and analysts are correct--and on this point I am pretty sure they are--the federal and state governments would save money by ponying up the initial investment in pre-k. By investing in one or two years of high quality pre-k, Congress would stand to save money on the next 13 years of education in which a student needs fewer special education and other services.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Alabama releases "failing schools" list; school district reports 'pandemonium' as parents call to transfer their children to new schools
Twenty-five schools on the list are also either under a federal desegregation order or are currently involved in desegregation cases. The Accountability Act exempts schools under a federal desegregation order. However, the Alabama State Department of Education says the conflict could mean that students trying to transfer from a failing public school to a high-performing public school could be "impacted," as well as those students who are trying to transfer to a school under a desegregation order. Students who transfer to private schools will not be affected by any conflict between the Act and federal desegregation orders, but they are also likely to be a small percentage of the students seeking transfers. Huntsville Superintendent Casey Wardynski candidly said that because his school district is still under a 1970 desegregation order, "[t]here is unlikely to be much room in any of our schools for transfers under this law."
The fallout from the announcement started immediately, with school districts in Huntsville, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa fielding calls from concerned parents trying to transfer their children to new schools in the fall. Superintendent Wardynski asked parents Tuesday to "stay the course at the schools their children already attend."
That's a big part of the problem--there is nowhere for many students in failing schools to go. If their families cannot afford private school tuition (which would require upfront costs that would be partially offset later with a $3,500 education tax credit), their choices are other nearby public schools which may also be in the "failing" category. For those students, there is no better school system to transfer to. Suburban school districts will not be eager to accept a wave of transfer students in the fall (see Profs. James E. Ryan and Michael Heise's article about the reasons why), and the Accountability Act does not require them to do so.
Fulfilling the predictions of articles by blog co-editor Derek Black, Robert Garda, and others about on the potential impact of school voucher programs on low-income and minority students, there is no golden ticket out yet from a failing school district. Read more here.
Congress recently turned to reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and the Brookings Institution has posted Special Education: The Forgotten Issue in No Child Left Behind Reform suggesting what legislators should change about assessments of students with disabilities. After IDEA required special education students to be included in state assessments, the Department of Education allowed states to modify assessments for some students with disabilities, but also placed caps on the number of students whose scores could count as proficient on modified (2%) and alternate (1%) assessments. Brookings suggests that in the reauthorization legislation that "Congress should deauthorize modified assessments and reauthorize alternate assessments but without a cap." The article notes that
[s]ome schools inappropriately administer modified assessments to students who could achieve proficiency on the general test to artificially raise scores. However, many of those students rightly take an alternate assessment. The assessment of students with disabilities will remain difficult until researchers gain a better understanding of all cognitive disorders. Until then policymakers will have to balance setting high expectations without overburdening schools and students.
Read Joshua Bleiberg and Darrell M. West's article here.
A New Hampshire judge ruled yesterday that the state's Education Tax Credit Program violates Article 83 of the state constitution, which forbids public funds going to religious schools. In Duncan v. New Hampshire, Judge John Lewis held that tax credits for private and home schooling were constitutionally permissible but the part of the law that allows funds to go to religious institutions could not stand. The education tax credit law has been a contentious issue from its beginning and passed last year over a veto from then-Gov. John Lynch. Supporters of the bill argue that the tax credit money is supplied by charitable donations from New Hampshire businesses and not from public tax money. The tax credit bill allows businesses to receive an 85% tax credit for donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations. The organizations then award scholarships up to $2,500 to primary and secondary school students to attend non-public schools or public schools outside of their districts, or they may use the award for home schooling. The law does not bar scholarship recipients from using the money for tuition at a religious institution. Three organizations, the ACLU, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, and Americans United For Separation of Church and State criticized the tax credit as a "neo-voucher" program that diverts money from state coffers to religious institutions. Read more at the Concord Monitor here.
For-profit institutions are again being taken to task in Congress, this time for aggressively enrolling veterans without assessing if they are ready to take on the level of work required to complete the degrees. Cory Weinberg reports today in the Chronicle of Higher Education that Senators Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jack Reed (D-RI) are urging Congress to place more stringent accreditation standards on for-profits as they believe they are luring veterans in to take advantage of getting a bigger piece of federal dollars. Some for-profit educators are accused of using veterans to increase their enrollment numbers, but are less forthcoming about the percentage of their students who actually finish their degree programs. Sen. Harkin, who has a web page on the subject, calls the military-student graduation rate in for-profit schools "dismal." Law makers are seeking to improve the standards of these for-profits if they want to stay eligible for Department of Defense tuition assistance dollars. Read more here.
-T. R. Paige, MC Law
Tiffany R. Paige will be contributing to Education Law Prof. Blog as a guest blogger this summer. Expect to see posts from her in her areas of interests--higher education, federal policy, and constiutional law. Tiffany is the Director of Diversity and Outreach for Mississippi College School of Law where she leads the marketing and promotional efforts of the admissions process for minority markets. She has a great interest in education law and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Ed Administration from the University of Southern Mississippi. Welcome Tiffany!
One of the most disturbing news stories in the education world this spring has been the announcement of massive school closings in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia. Chicago plans to close 50 schools and programs. Last Friday over 850 school district employees in Chicago received layoff notices. In Philadelphia, the current plan is to close 23 schools and it is estimated that over 3,000 employees will be fired. The district is trying to deal with a $1.35 billion deficit and falling enrollments. One angle that is being debated in the school closings is the role of charter schools in creating these crises. The enrollment in traditional public schools is falling as students move to charter schools. As of 2012, 23 percent of students in Philadelphia attended charter schools. Although charter schools are public schools, it appears that the warnings sounded about charter schools by education experts like Diane Ravitch may be playing out in real life in these budget crises. The Washington Post recently featured an editorial by the Rev. John Thomas, a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, arguing "the schools are gone because they have been replaced by charter schools, the darlings of politically well-connected school reformers making a profit on tax money while public officials eliminate the inconvenience of teachers unions." Other articles on charter schools and public school closings can be found here and here. The school closure crisis is leading us to an intensifying and heated debate over whether charter schools harm the overall health of our public school systems.
I want to welcome Danielle Holley-Walker, Associate Dean, University of South Carolina School of Law, to the blog today. I hope she will join us regularly. Danielle has written on various topics in education, but has focused particularly on charter schools and choice in several articles. One article specifically analyzed charter schools in New Orleans. See The Accountability Cycle: The Recovery School District Act and New Orleans' Charter Schools," 40 Conn. L. Rev. 125 (2007). Here are her thoughts on the recent New York Times article:
On this past Sunday the New York Times ran an article entitled, "Can School Reform Hurt Communities?" The article explores the impact on the black middle class in New Orleans, a group that includes many public school teachers. The article notes that since Hurricane Katrina 7,500 school employees have been fired. Many of these employees have gone to charter schools that now make up 80% of the city's schools. The reporter argues that the charter school atmosphere can be challenging for veteran teachers due to the "bias toward a youthful kind of idealism." The article raises a lot more questions than it answers.What kinds of burdens exactly do black middle class teachers suffer from in the new New Orleans school landscape? How many of the 7,500 were veteran black teachers? Is there any evidence that veteran teachers suffer in the charter school system? The article offers a new angle on the possible detriments of a school reform movement that relies on charter schools, but there aren't enough specifics in this article to figure out if there is evidence of harm to the black middle class.
Monday, June 17, 2013
In Doug C. v. State of Hawaii Dep’t of Education, the Ninth Circuit held last week that the Hawaii Department of Education violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by holding a student’s annual individualized education program meeting without the participation of a parent. In the case a school was attempting schedule an IEP meeting for Spencer C., which the father (Doug C.) had rescheduled several times. (The court says that Spencer C.'s mother found the IEP meetings to stressful to attend.) The school got fed up and held the IEP meeting without either of Spencer C.'s parents. The Ninth Circuit found that Hawaii's Department of Education denied Spencer a free appropriate public education by holding the IEP meeting without his father even though the parent did not affirmatively refuse to attend. The circuit court has remanded the case for the district court for further proceedings about Doug C.'s entitlement to tuition reimbursement under IDEA. Read the court's opinion here.
Also last week, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in two related cases that challenge the Hawaii Department of Education's refusal to provide special education services for students up to age 22. In A.D., ex rel. L.D. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii, No. 12–00307 (D. Haw. Oct. 25, 2012), the 20-year-old plaintiff sought to remain at an academy that he had attended since age seven. In the other case, R.P.-K. ex rel. C.K. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii, No. 10–00436, (D. Haw. March 30, 2012), class action plaintiffs want Hawaii DOE's to provide special education services in its high school equivalency program. Both suits stem from the conflict between IDEA and a Hawaii statute that bars students from attending public school if they are 20 or older on the first day of the school year. Hawaii allows students older than 20 to earn a high school equivalency diploma by enrolling in one of the state’s ten adult community schools, but does not provide special education services in those programs. IDEA requires states to provide special education and related services in public school until a student reaches age 22, but exempts states that do not provide general education services past age 18. The Ninth Circuit will be asked to decide if Hawaii violated IDEA when because it ends special education services at age 20, even though non-disabled students between the ages of 20 and 22 may be receiving "the functional equivalent of a secondary school education” in adult community schools.
Attorneys for Hawaii counter that IDEA applies to school-age children in traditional secondary schools, and adult community diploma programs are not covered under IDEA’s definition of public education. Separate district courts agreed with Hawaii’s position, finding that the plaintiffs failed to show that a reasonable accommodation existed that would allow them to benefit from adult education programs. The district courts also rejected the plaintiffs’ Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act claims.
The cases will be watched closely, as one district court in Hawaii found in 2009 that the state does not consistently follow its stated practice of terminating students’ education at age 20. In B.T. ex rel. Mary T. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii, 637 F. Supp. 2d 856 (D. Haw. 2009), B.T., a 20-year-old student with special needs, sued Hawaii’s Department of Education claiming that terminating his special education services at age 20 violated IDEA and denied him a free and appropriate public education. The district court in B.T. agreed, finding that 111 students had been allowed to enroll in secondary schools after age 20. The federal district courts in Hawaii have rejected comparison of the "age-out" cases to B.T., because in B.T., school principals had “approved every single overage general education student and barred almost every single overage special education student.” B.T., 637 F. Supp. 2d at 865. In the R.P.-K case, the district court found that there was not the evidence of "blatant discrimination" present in the B.T. case. In the two cases heard last week, four (non-disabled) students are said to have enrolled in the adult community diploma program. (In the 2009-2011 school year, 2009–2010 school year, 51 general education students were ineligible to continue their public high school education because they were 20 or over; only one student enrolled in a community school for adults for the 2010–2011 school year).
Click the case name to read the district court's opinion in R.P.-K. ex rel. C.K. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii and the opinion in A.D., ex rel. L.D. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii.
This weekend, a New York Times article article cautiously took sides in the debate over the charterization of the New Orleans School District. Its position, however, was relatively unique. It posited that charters have produced modest improvements in student achievement, but have been offset by harms to the core of the black middle class: public school teachers. Rather than jump into a very localized issue as though I know something--which I am prone to do--I contacted Brenda Shum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She is counsel in a class action special education lawsuit against charter schools in New Orleans, which the Times referenced. Here is Brenda's take:
[F]or those of us committed to equity in education, the experience of New Orleans post-Katrina previews both the opportunities and challenges facing public education everywhere. Sarah Carr [author of the NY Times article] raises important concerns related to the focus on school-improvement which has characterized education reform in New Orleans. It is certainly true that the unprecedented rise in charter schools has transformed the education landscape in Orleans Parrish. Many have tried to interpret the role that these charters have played in the increases in student achievement for students in New Orleans. While some may attribute these modest increases in student performance to increased choice, charters have certainly not eliminated the churn which contributes to the destabilization of a student’s educational experiences in Orleans Parrish. Each year, the number of charters has continued to increase, but every year those same charters may experience changes in their charter authorizer, their teachers and staff, their grade configuration, and their location. The “OneApp” enrollment system introduced this past school year centralizes the application process and timeline for schools in New Orleans, but parents continue to report confusion and difficulties in enrolling their children in school. There may be a fundamental disconnect between the educators in Orleans Parrish and the community they serve, but it is also clear that all public schools – both traditional and charter – must acknowledge that the complexity of issues facing students in New Orleans, and how frequently these issues intersect with race and class. The disparities in educational opportunity reflect and reinforce the inequities in the communities around them. But I suspect that many of the parents we have encountered and worked with would strongly disagree with Andre Perry’s observation that their communities are “weaker,” and would likely assert that they are more committed and determined than ever to the future of public education in New Orleans.
Does pre-k save schools money in the long run? The research says the easy answer is yes. Now private fund managers are getting in on the "action." Last week, the New York Times posted an interesting article about Goldman Sachs lending 4.6 million dollars to Salt Lake City's school district for it to fund new pre-k services. The article is short on details, but it suggests the investment is a gamble by Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs will lose money if the program is unsuccessful and make money if it is successful. Success is defined by whether the school will save money by offering pre-k, due to lowered special education and other service costs as students progress through later grades. The NY Times article does not specifically indicate what losing money means for Goldman Sachs' investment: the loan doesn't have to be paid back, the loan doesn't have to be paid back with interest, or something else. By making money, it means Goldman will get 5% interest plus some other success fees.
Yesterday, even more facts came out. An AP story reports that Goldman Sachs stands to get 5% interest plus 40% of any savings the district reaps. Currently, Salt Lake City spends an additional $2600 per pupil per year on students enrolled in special education. Based on the most recent data I could find, Salt Lake City enrolls 2991 students in special education. Of course, a substantial portion of these students are likely in special education for a very good reason and better pre-k services would not have affected their eligibility. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that with better early education opportunities, 30% would have avoided special education (at least during the first 6 years of schools, which is the relevant period for Goldman Sachs). This means the potential pot of savings is roughly $2.33 million, 40% of which is $933,000 (Goldman's cut). Not bad for an initial loan of $4.6 million, although it is not clear whether this is the per year loan amount, a one year loan, or something else. The deal could be even sweeter for Goldman Sachs if the loan is to cover multiple years of pre-K, thus giving them a cut of the savings on more cohorts of students. If this were the case, their payout would multiply.
I find it hard to criticize the expansion of pre-k, regardless of the circumstances. The benefits are priceless for the students and families receiving it; who cares if Wall Street is picking up the tab. But I am still ambivalent/concerned. First, pre-k is not a gamble. We know it works, so why don't we--the government--fund it on our own dime and reap all the savings? If this is a state or district that can't or won't fund pre-k on its own and Wall Streets puts them on the right track with seed money, I suppose it is a win-win situation. But I am skeptical that Salt Lake can't do this on its own. Second, while Wall Street is not in the business of losing money, it is in the business of taking risks. Is it possible that the availability of Wall Street money might incentivize risky educational programs outside of pre-k? Wall Street can afford losses in one district so long as other districts pay out. Can the districts and communities who lose afford these losses? Maybe so, if the payback terms are favorable; maybe not, if the districts go just further into debt and receive no benefit for doing so. On the other hand, if districts are savvy and stick to pre-K, I suppose there is very little risk for them or wall street.