Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Battleground in the Fight over Voucher Expansion Opens in Texas

While Betsy DeVos has almost no current power as Secretary of Education to push vouchers, her public stance in favor of them may be emboldening state legislatures to take action on their own.  Texas has moved quickly and the battle lines are being drawn.  Even Senator Cruz is getting involved.

"I usually stay out of fights in Austin. We've got plenty of fights in Washington," Cruz said Saturday night at the Dallas County Republican Party Reagan Day Dinner. "This is the best opportunity we've had in the history of the state of Texas to pass meaningful school choice legislation in the Texas Legislature."

As Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick listened, Cruz told Texas legislators in the room to take a "bold and courageous stand."

"School choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century," Cruz said. "Do the right thing for the kids, and the history of Texas will vindicate your courage and principles."

Teachers and religious leaders are coming out just as strong in opposition.  The Dallas Morning News reports:

Teachers and pastors on Monday rallied against the Senate's school vouchers proposal, even as its author announced the bill will be heard Thursday.

"It is a sin before God," Charles Foster Johnson led hundreds in chanting, "to make commodities out of our children and to make markets out of our classrooms."

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and GOP Senate leaders would harm public schools and impermissibly lend government support to religion if their self-styled "school choice" bill becomes law, Johnson warned at a Capitol rally organized by the state affiliate of the American Federal of Teachers union.

"Generally, the House of Representatives is holding firm," he said to teachers and school district employees who used the first day of spring break to travel to Austin for a lobby day. In the House, Democrats and rural Republicans traditionally have blocked voucher-like proposals.

"But brothers and sisters, our Senate members need a lot of help from you," said Johnson, a Fort Worth-based Baptist pastor who heads Pastors for Texas Children. It is a group of about 1,000 pastors, rabbis and imams who work to support public schools.

The polemics of this debate are troubling.  As a historical matter, major education policy tends to garner bipartisan support.  That was true of the Improving America's Schools Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Bipartisanship, of course, does not guarantee wise legislation, but it does promote earnest discussion and compromise. Betsy DeVos's polemic positions, lack of knowledge with which to have an earnest debate, and embittered nomination may have shifted the landscape, at least in the short term.  She survived by the narrowest margins and those who side with her may see this is an opportunity to pursue an agenda consistent with her while they can.  Of course, that provokes a similarly aggressive response.  It is probably wishful thinking that the battle will be limited to Texas.

March 15, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Are Charter Schools the Second Coming of Enron?

 

Preston Green, Bruce Baker and Joseph Oluwole have forthcoming paper in the Indiana Law Journal.  The title speaks for itself: Are Charter Schools the Second Coming of Enron?: An Examination of the Gatekeepers That Protect against Dangerous Related-Party Transactions in the Charter School Sector.  The abstract offers this summary:

 

In 2001, Enron rocked the financial world by declaring bankruptcy due to the effects of an accounting scandal. Special purpose entities (SPEs) were instrumental to Enron’s demise. Enron parked assets in the SPEs to improve its credit rating.

Enron violated accounting principles by not revealing that its SPE partnerships were related-party transactions. Andrew Fastow, who was Enron’s CFO, made millions of dollars by managing the SPEs. He also used these illegal proceeds to invest in other ventures. Enron’s gatekeepers failed to protect against this accounting fraud.

Related-party transactions are now posing a threat to the charter school sector. Similar to Fastow, individuals are using their control over charter schools and their affiliates to obtain unreasonable management fees and funnel public funds into other business ventures.

In this article, we discuss how some charter school officials have engaged in Enron-like related-party transactions. We also identify several measures that can be taken to strengthen the ability of charter school gatekeepers to protect against this danger.

This article is divided into four parts. Part I describes how Fastow used his management of Enron and the SPEs to obtain illegal profits. Part II discusses why financial sector gatekeepers failed to stop these related-party transactions. Part III shows how charter school officials are benefitting from their control over charter schools and their affiliates in a manner similar to Fastow. Part IV analyzes pertinent statutory and regulatory provisions to identify steps that can be taken to increase the gatekeepers’ ability to protect against harmful related-party transactions.

March 3, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Washington Charter Schools Back on Trial

Two years ago, in League of Women Voters v. State, the Washington Supreme Court declared the state's charter school law unconstitutional.  The court reasoned that the state constitution requires the state to create and fund “a general and uniform system of public schools," and “the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.”  Because charters schools are not "common schools" and yet receive common school funds, the court found the statute unconstitutional.

The Washington legislature has since passed new charter school legislation and plaintiffs sued again.  Last week, a Washington trial court rejected their claims.

Plaintiffs raise very similar claims as in the first litigation: a) that the statute violates the constitutions general and uniform requirement (along with its funding scheme); b) that the charter law improperly delegates the authority to charter schools and deprives the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s of power.

The King County Superior Court concluded that charter schools can fall within the "the general and uniform system of public schools" and, thus, the act was permissible.  The court's support for this conclusion was largely premised on the notion that charters are public schools and credits from them are transferable to traditional public schools.  

This, however, should be largely beside the point.  It may answer the question of whether charters are public schools, but it does not answer whether they common schools or part of a general and uniform system.  To be fair, a California appellate court followed a rationale similar to this trial court several years ago in upholding a California charter statute.  But that line of reasoning would appear to be inconsistent with the Washington Supreme Court's holding in League of Women Voters.

 

A more compelling argument in support of the charter law is simply that it need not comply with the general and uniform provision.  According to the Seattle Times, the new charter schools are funded out of lottery proceeds, which would eliminate one of the major problems from the prior statute.  This fix aside, however, a major concern moving forward would be the fungibility of money.  Regardless of where the money comes from, the typical trend in other states has been to drain money from the traditional public school budget as more money goes into other education programs like charters and vouchers.

My contention has long been that the charter statute faces a far more fundamental problem regarding supervision that cannot be mooted.  The Washington constitution creates the Superintendent of Public Instruction and vest specific supervisory powers in that office.  In other words, the Superintendent is a constitutional officer that neither the legislature nor the voters can mess with, save a constitutional amendment.  In so far as the Washington legislation attempts to establish a charter school system outside the supervisory authority of the Superintendent, it is inherently and diametrically at odds with the state constitution.

February 24, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Only Free Students Can Exercise School Choice

The President of South Africa offered Nelson Mandela his freedom if he would renounce violence and then remain silent upon his release.  Mandela rejected the offer, saying "Only free men can negotiate; prisoners can't enter in contracts.”  The concept of forced and unfair negotiation rings true in today’s education reform debates.  The new Secretary of Education promises to continue that trend. 

Over the past two decades, major education reforms have been forced upon disadvantaged students without the slightest recognition of the enormous power differential between the state and its disadvantaged students.  These students and their families have, time and again, been asked either to accept the deplorable state of their current education or try out some new reform—a reform that would not be aimed at deplorable school conditions. 

Public schools in the United States are demonstrably separate and unequal, and both measures are on the rise.  Take New York, for instance.  A recent report by the Civil Rights Project shows that two-thirds of African American students in New York attend a school that is ninety percent or more non-white.  Another recent study shows that in New York schools with higher levels of concentrated poverty, the state only spend 90 cents for every dollar it spends in other schools.  Nevada is even worse.  It only spends 60 cents on the dollar in schools with higher percentages of low-income students.  And the racial isolation of Latino and African American students in Nevada is among the worst in the nation. 

In the midst of segregation and inequality, education reform continues to demand that these disadvantaged communities make concessions, but state and federal government rarely, if ever, offer integrated or equal schools.  Instead, the state offers charters and vouchers.   New York has been a hotbed for charter school expansion.  Two years ago, Nevada adopted an aggressive voucher plan.   The hypocrisy of these responses is not new.  In the late 1990s, the Ohio Supreme Court declared the state’s funding system constitutionally inadequate.  A large portion of the state’s schools were so poor that the buildings were crumbling around the students.  The air in classrooms was not safe to breath and the floors not safe to walk on.  Elsewhere, schools simply did not offer parts of the curriculum because no one could teach it.  Rather than fix the problem, the state bought off its most segregated and unequal city—Cleveland.  It offered a select few in the city a way out in the form of vouchers.  Tellingly, the overwhelming majority of voucher students wound up in religious schools, but indicated they did not embrace the religion of their school.  They simply had to get out.

The rational choice of families forced to attend segregated and unequal schools is to take the charter school or voucher.  Even if that choice does not lead to better education, they cannot be blamed for trying to escape segregation and inequality.  We should, however, blame the state for putting them in this position.

In the weeks and months ahead, we need not debate the merits of vouchers or charters.  The response to the offer of vouchers and charters should be: give our disadvantage students integrated schools and equal funding and then we can talk about vouchers and charters.  Then we can talk about whether money matters.

The new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has shown no interest in fundamental education issues like this.  She proposes charters and vouchers, but has said nothing of ensuring equal funding or integration.  The sad truth is that it is not really fair to single DeVos out on this score.  Senators who narrowly secured her nomination are the same ones seeking to reverse the prior Secretary's efforts to ensure equal funding.  If DeVos does not reverse the regulations, these Senators plan to do it themselves by statute.

In one of the most poignant passages written by a court, the New Jersey Supreme offered a rejoinder to segregation, inequality, and the politics of reform aimed at other issues: “[E]ven if not a cure, money will help, and [disadvantaged] students are constitutionally entitled to that help.  If the claim is that additional funding will not enable [poorer students to achieve at higher levels], the constitutional answer is that they are entitled to pass or fail with at least the same amount of money as their competitors.”

In the logic of Nelson Mandela, only students free from segregation and inequality can exercise school choice.  Give them freedom.  Only then can they exercise choice that their more privileged peers already have.  

February 13, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Charter School Law Overview

For those looking for the basics of charter school law or to just pick up CLE credits, there is a good opportunity coming up:

Live CLE Video Broadcast | March 2, 2017
2 HR CLE (3:00 pm - 5:00 pm Eastern)
This course, presented by a nationally recognized education attorney, will provide a comprehensive overview of the laws applicable to charter schools, including general education students, special education students, and discipline.
The course is for charter school administrators and governing board members, school attorneys, parent attorneys, and attorneys in other practice areas who have an interest in school law and school choice. In this seminar, our experienced faculty will walk you through the laws that govern charter schools. Learn how to handle with issues, matters and cases involving charter schools.

Learn more / Register online...
Key topics to be discussed:
• School Choice, Charter Schools and Constitutionality
• Sources of Charter School Law
• Legislative and Case Law Updates
• Complying with Federal Laws
• Special Education and Charter Schools
• Discipline of Special Needs Students
• Avoiding Exclusionary Practices
• Navigating the Application, Approval and Renewal Process
• Accountability Standards
• Funding Sources
Presented by Hope N. Kirsch

Hope N. Kirsch is a 20+ year attorney with the law firm of Kirsch-Goodwin & Kirsch, PLLC, in Scottsdale, Arizona. She represents and advises students and their families throughout the state of Arizona in all school related matters and disputes, including IEPs, due process, discipline, bullying, and restraint and seclusion.

February 9, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Most Troubling Thing About DeVos May Have Nothing to Do with Education

Trying to get a better sense of where Betsy DeVos stands on education, reporters have descended on Michigan in recent weeks to study what has actually happened.  Jennifer Berkshire canvassed the state and took a close look at its present and past history.  The story she tells is that Betsy DeVos's charter and voucher agenda is a small part of a much bigger agenda.  DeVos' real goal is political and her real target is the Democratic Party.  The basic strategy: undermine public schools and you undermine public school teachers.  Undermine public school teachers and you undermine the biggest unions.  Undermine the biggest unions and you kill the Democratic Party.  

That is pretty somber logic, but fits well with other data points outside of DeVos.  Advocates in California, New York, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits claiming that teacher tenure violates students’ right education under state constitutional law.  On its face, their claims are plausible.  But the motivations behind those claims had relatively little to do with education and far more to do with breaking the backs of unions.  That movement had been underway in several states and when it failed, advocates come up with the idea of these lawsuits.  A major problem in those lawsuits, however, was that advocates overplayed their hands.  They let their policy preferences for how teachers should be hired, fired, and evaluated dominate their constitution claims.  In the end, their policy preferences were masquerading as constitutional claims and courts began to see through it.

I stand by that analysis, but these recent reports out of Michigan suggest that it is niave to consider these claims solely in the context of education policy.  For those funding the movement—although certainly not all those who joined it--the challenge to teacher tenure was not just about policy preferences in education.  It was about seizing political power.  

This adds troubling layer onto the nomination of DeVos.  Over the past few days, those who care about education have been shocked by how little DeVos actually knows about education.  Enforcing disability laws, for instance, may very well be the biggest job of the Department of Education.  Complaints of disability discrimination consume forty percent of the Department’s civil rights docket.  And in terms of day-to-day functioning, ten percent of more the nation’s students are in enrolled in special education, which federal law closely governs.  DeVos could not answer the simple question of whether all schools should have to comply with these laws.  Later, she tried to clear up her lack of knowledge by saying she may have been “confused” about what the law required.  In other words, she did not realize that it is a mandatory obligation of all schools receiving federal funds.  

But if we go back to DeVos’s larger agenda in Michigan, these responses should not be shocking at all. Her desire and qualification for this job may not be about education at all.  It may be about pure politics.  This fits with a fact she was willing to confirm.  Senator Bernie Sanders asked if it was true that her family has donated $200 million to the Republican Party over the years.  After first evading the question, she admitted that it was “possible.”  

The scary idea is not that DeVos knows nothing of education or event that the Secretary of Education position is quid pro quo for politic donations. Those things happen.  The scary idea is that she might use the power of the Secretary of Education to break the Democratic Party.  Parents and families of all political parties want a Secretary of Education who cares about education, regardless of whether they agree with her policies.   

January 26, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Is Texas Following DeVos's Lead on Privatizing Education Before She Is Even Confirmed?

The Dallas Morning News reports that top legislatures in the state a supporting an expansive new voucher program or what they call an education savings account:

Parents would get money to pull their kids from Texas public schools and educate them elsewhere, under divisive proposals that two of the state’s three top GOP leaders endorsed Tuesday.

Under a plan generating the most buzz, those families would get taxpayer dollars to spend on private schools, tutoring or related expenses through something called education savings accounts.

At a Capitol rally for “school choice” that hundreds attended, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick mentioned the accounts as one of two school voucher-type proposals he said the Senate would work on this session.

Gov. Greg Abbott, without elaborating on a particular version he wants, promised the audience at the rally he would sign a bill to “authorize school choice.” He also seemed to frown on a pilot program in specific geographic regions, speaking of a “right of every child from every ZIP code across the state” to pick a private or public school that is most suitable.
 
Some may recall that Nevada's education savings plan got struck down as an unconstitutional diversion of education funds last year.  I have no initial sense as to whether similar concerns would exist in Texas.  What I would venture to guess, however, is that like all things in Texas, this education savings plan would be big, which is why the Dallas Morning News seems so alarmed by the proposals.  The governor said he favors the “'right of every child from every ZIP code across the state' to pick a private or public school that is most suitable."
 
The news story characterizes the proposals as legislation that would pay parents to not send their kids to public school.  It uses this phrasing because the savings accounts do not have to be spent on private school tuition.  The savings account "can also be used for things like tutoring, therapists, home-schooling supplies and textbooks."  In other words, the state might actually pay a family to keep their kid at home.
 
For those interested, Hillel Levin has done some great legal analysis in this area.
 

January 25, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Charter School Operator Sues Superintendent for Criticizing Him, Court Throws Out Lawsuit

Baker Mitchell, Jr. runs charter schools in North Carolina.  When his application for a new one went forward a few years ago, it drew criticism from the superintendent of the local school district.  The superintendent purportedly made a lot of disparaging comments about the charter school.  Baker Mitchell then sued the superintendent for what he calls defamatory statements.The North Carolina summarized the plaintiffs'allegations:

[The superintendent said] public charter schools were “dismantling” North Carolina's public education system and that they have “morphed into an entrepreneurial opportunity.” On 4 December 2013, a video entitled “Dr. Pruden Superintendent of the Year Video” was published on YouTube. In that video, defendant falsely stated that BCS was superior to the “competition” because BCS “does not operate schools for a profit.” In that video, defendant falsely stated that BCS was superior to the “competition” because BCS “does not operate schools for a profit.”

 
Plaintiffs alleged that defendant's reference to “competition” was “clearly a reference” to the public charter schools for children of Brunswick County.
 
The second amended complaint further alleged as follows: In 2013, RBA submitted an application to the Office of Charter Schools for a new public charter school named “South Brunswick Charter School” (“SBCS”). Defendant began an “obsessive public campaign to derail approval” of the new school, “viciously defaming the character and reputation” of Mitchell. First, defendant submitted a “Local Education Agency Impact Statement” to the Office of Charter Schools on 9 April 2013 and a revised impact statement (“impact statement”) on 14 May 2013. At some time after 20 May 2013, defendant's impact statement was posted to a website maintained by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Plaintiffs alleged that the impact statement contained statements that “maligns” plaintiffs and “casts aspersions on Mitchell's honesty, character and moral standing in the community[.]” Defendant also privately petitioned at least one member of the Charter School Advisory Council (“CSAC”) to manipulate the approval process such that approval of the charter would be denied. The vice-chair of the CSAC, Tim Markley (“Markley”), “issued repeated challenges” to the SBCS. On 16 July 2013, a motion was made to approve the SBCS conditioned upon a change in the CDS Board. Markley met with defendant in the hall after the meeting and Markley was overheard expressing his regrets and apologizing for not being able to prevent approval of the SBCS charter.
 
Plaintiffs alleged that defendant, acting in his individual capacity, began submission of “a parade of documents” to the North Carolina State Board of Education (“SBE”), including copies of defamatory letters written to Mr. Bill Cobey, chairman of the SBE, expressing false allegations and his concerns about what defendant claimed were conflicts of interest between Mitchell, RBA, and public charter schools. In a letter dated 7 August 2013 to Mr. Cobey and the SBE, defendant urged that the SBE consider information regarding conflicts of interest before taking action on the application for SBCS. Plaintiffs alleged that this letter contained statements which were “false, libelous and intended to impugn the ethical reputation and character of Mitchell.”
 
 
Mitchell v. Pruden, No. COA16-428, 2017 WL 163754, at *1–2 (N.C. Ct. App. Jan. 17, 2017).
 
The North Carolina Court of Appeals through the lawsuit out last week.  It did not reach the issue of whether the statements were true or defamatory.  It did not need to.  It held that the statements were within the scope of the superintendent's official duties.  Moreover, his "actions were consistent with the duties and authority of a superintendent and constituted permissible opinions regarding his concerns for the approval of a new charter school."  Thus, he was immune from suit.
 
In any event, one might also criticize Mitchell for wanting to have his cake and eat it too.  A public school superintendent would have a hard time suing any member of the public for criticizing him for his discharge of his public duties.  The Supreme Court in NY Times v. Sullivan made suits by public officials for defamation and libel considerably harder. The Court reasoned that they have the benefit of self-help through the media and that the nature of their job is to be open to criticism, even when it is off-base.  If charter schools are public schools, those that run them may need to have little thicker skin.
 

January 24, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Edushyster Says DeVos Was Playing the Long Game in Michigan

Edushyster (Jennifer Berkshire) has a new story on DeVos in Michigan.  The story opens with this:

By the measures that are supposed to matter, Betsy DeVos’ experiment in disrupting public education in Michigan has been a colossal failure. In its 2016 report on the state of the state’s schools, Education Trust Midwest painted a picture of an education system in freefall. *Michigan is witnessing systematic decline across the K-12 spectrum…White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income—it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.* But as I heard repeatedly during the week I recently spent crisscrossing the state, speaking with dozens of Michiganders, including state and local officials, the radical experiment that’s playing out here has little to do with education, and even less to do with kids. The real goal of the DeVos family is to crush the state’s teachers unions as a means of undermining the Democratic party, weakening Michigan’s democratic structures along the way. And on this front, our likely next Secretary of Education has enjoyed measurable, even dazzling success.

Get the full story here.

January 20, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, ESEA/NCLB | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Are Pence and DeVos a One-Two Knock Out for Education Policy? Recent Reports Out of Indiana Suggest Yes

My recent posts have focused on DeVos and the problems she presents for public education, although I emphasize that without new legislation she does not have power to do too much.  Some new information out of Indiana regarding the education system Governor Pence has overseen suggests more trouble on the horizon and give me pause about assuming an incompetent education administration.  Pence actually has a track record of getting things done in Indiana and what he has accomplished should raise red flags for those invested in improving public education.  

Most notably is the state's teacher bonus system.  By law, the state mandated that $40 million in bonuses be handed out to the state's teachers.  I am all in favor of increasing teacher pay in ways that make the profession more attractive to new teachers and encourage others to stay.  Indiana's incentive pay, however, has two major problems.  First, it is having a very inequitable effect on teachers and driving most of the money to school systems that need it the least. Cory Doctorow offers this summary:

[The state gives] bonuses for teachers who preside over high-achieving classes. This year, the biggest payouts will go to schools teaching the richest kids in the state, while schools for poor kids will get little-to-none of the payouts.

The biggest winner in the giveaway are the Carmel Clay Schools, where 9% of kids qualify for free or subsidized lunches, where the teachers will get $2422 each. The Indianapolis district -- the largest in the state -- will give each teacher a $128.40 bonus.

Emanuel Felton adds:

Carmel Clay Schools, where just 9 percent of their 16,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, will get the most— $2.4 million or roughly $2,422 per teacher. Another well-off Indianapolis suburban district, Zionsville Community Schools, where fewer than 5 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program, will receive about $2,240 per teacher. Meanwhile, Indianapolis, the state's largest district will receive just around $330,875, or $128.40 per educator. So teachers in those wealthy suburban districts will get bonuses nearly 20 times larger than effective and highly effective educators in Indianapolis.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith calls it a "flawed" system.

"While educators at well-resourced schools performed well and received a much-deserved bonus, the educators teaching in some of the most challenging districts where socioeconomic factors can negatively impact student and school performance, were left out," she said in a statement. "We need high-quality educators to teach at our most-challenged schools, and this distribution of bonuses certainly won't compel them to do so."

Even if Indiana fixed this inequity, the performance pay has a second big problem: no evidence shows that these systems actually improve student performance.  Instead, they tend to frustrate teachers because the metrics that determine whether teachers receive a bonus are ones over which teachers have little control.  The distribution of bonuses appears random or keyed to who gets to teacher certain students.  More on these problems here.

Of course, the more obvious problem in Indiana is a voucher system on steroids that increasingly drives public funding to middle and upper income families in private schools while funding for public schools falls short.  Indiana was among the nation's worse offenders on that score in recent years.  More on that here.

All of this spells trouble.  While one could hope for an isolated and irrelevant Secretary of Education, this one, should she be confirmed, may have an ally in the White House who knows how to implement new education frameworks.

January 9, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Assessing the Effectiveness of Obama's Education Policies

Secretary of Education John King is set to give his final reflections on the work that the U.S. Department of Education has accomplished over the past eight years.  The Atlantic reports that he will release a 14 page exit memo titled "Giving Every Student a Fair Shot: Progress Under the Obama Administration’s Education Agenda.”  I would expect that it is largely a summary of the 60 page document the White House released back in May under the exact same title.  Get that report here.

The most notable accomplishments it will tout are Race to the Top, changes to the teaching profession, expansion of pre-kindergarten education, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and civil rights enforcement.  With the new administration that lies ahead,  many on both sides of the aisle will soon enough long for the one that just left and, thus, I hesitate to be critical. Nonetheless, I cannot count many of this administrations accomplishments as positives.  

An overarching theme of this administration is what I would call the econometrics and corporatization of education. I use econometrics to refer to the notion that we could precisely measure student growth and teacher effectiveness.  These notions became the basis for using extremely complicated mathematical analysis to compare one teacher to another, one school to another, and to take action against them when officials did not think the results were good enough.  

Intuitively, the approach made perfect sense--far more than No Child Left Behind's nonsensical assumption that it could force schools to make 100 percent of students proficient by 2014.  The problem is that the Obama administration's policies rested on the same fundamental flaw as No Child Left Behind.  They both assumed that standardized tests are an accurate measure of learning.  In many ways, the Obama administration made things worse because it upped the ante.  Not only would it rely on the test results, it would attempt to draw far more information and conclusions from them.  As I detail here, this approach is inherently unfair in a number of ways and produces random and unreliable results. What the Department should have done is the opposite.  Keep the tests but use them only for what they are good for: rough global measures of a slice of student learning that can serve as a trigger for further inquiry into a school (and maybe a teacher).  

Corporatization is somewhat of a rough characterization, but I use it as a proxy for the notion that schools can run like businesses and on the whole operate like markets. This notion led the Department to demand that states lift caps on the number of charter schools and resulted in an enormous expansion.  Charter school enrollments roughly doubled during the Obama administration.  While it is true that there are scores of very high performing and beat-the-odds charter schools across this nation, they are the exception, not the norm.  There is no evidence to show that a school, simply by virtue of being a charter, is likely to perform any better than a traditional public school.  Rather, the evidence shows quite the contrary.  

And even putting achievement results aside, the profit motives, potential corruption, lack of transparency, and lack of legal protection are, in fact, inherent risk in charters as currently structured.  Thus, these past several years saw a sharp spike in these problems.  What charter schools require and neither the federal nor state governments have been willing to impose are serious oversight and standards that align them with the core values of public education.  As I detail here, without that oversight and alignment, they can undermine public education itself.

Finally, the Department is quite proud of the fact that it got rid of No Child Left Behind.  I concede that is an accomplishment.  The problem is that the Department overreached so much through Race to the Top and the waivers of No Child Left Behind, that the final legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind was more about eliminating the federal role in education than it was improving it.  In that respect, the Every Student Succeeds Act is a major step backward for the students who need federal leadership the most.  That is no accomplishment at all. For a full explanation, see here.

Those critiques, however, do not mean that the Department was without success.  To be absolutely clear and reiterate what I wrote a few weeks ago, the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education has done an outstanding job, particularly in the past four years.  For the first time in a very long time, the Office for Civil Rights once again became an institution that families believed would take their claims of discrimination seriously.  The Office once again became an institution that would insist that districts comply with anti-discrimination law, regardless of the politics that surrounded doing so.  Thus, it is no surprise that the cases filed with the Department grew, so much so that the Department requested additional resources to do the work that the law demanded of it.

As we turn to the next administration, signals indicate that we will miss the Office for Civil Rights more than most appreciate now.  Whether we will miss the general Department of Education's substantive policies remains to be seen, but things can certainly get a lot worse.

January 5, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, ESEA/NCLB, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Moody's Finds Overall Credit Quality of Charters Ranges from Investment Grade to Speculative, But Expects Sector Growth

For those who missed it, Moody's released a financial risk assessment of charter schools this fall.  The four passages jumped out at me:

  • The median rating of Moody’s-rated charter schools is Baa3, but the median credit quality of the broader charter school universe is decidedly lower.
  • [C]harter schools across the nation face unique credit challenges. Those challenges have translated into an above average incidence of defaults relative to other tax-exempt credits. The overall credit quality of this sector ranges from low investment-grade into low speculative-grade categories.
  • [W]e expect that the appetite for the education alternatives that this sector offers will continue to expand. Over time, we also expect that charter school credit quality will likely improve, with strengthening in several key areas including: academic performance reporting; the stability and predictability of per-pupil funding for operational and capital needs; available liquidity and reserve levels; transparent and timely disclosure; and leadership and management quality.

Moody's defines a Baa rating as " medium-grade and subject to moderate credit risk and as such may possess certain speculative characteristics."  The additional modifier of 3 "indicates a ranking in the lower end of that generic rating category."  The next step down from that would be a Ba rating which is defined as "speculative and are subject to substantial credit risk."

Read the full report here

December 8, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What Betsy DeVos Does Not Know About Public Schools and Probably Assumes About Private Ones

Yesterday, Alyson Klein, pointed out that Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education, 

would be the first person to head the department in its more than 35-year history who hasn't either attended public schools or sent her own children to them. . . . And DeVos, a school choice and voucher advocate, sent each of her own children to private schools as well, Truscott said. . . . "She believes all parents should have access to the same choices her children had," said Matt Frendewey, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy organization that DeVos chaired until recently. . . . She'd also be one of only a few secretaries entering the job without experience teaching in a K-12 school, or college; running a university, school system or state education agency, or overseeing public education as a governor, or governor's education aide. 

As a counter, some have pointed out that President Obama is primarily a product of private schools and has sent his daughters to private schools.  From my perspective, this counter does not help DeVos much.  First, Obama's two Secretary of Education appointment did have significant experience in public schools, which shaped their views tremendously.  Second, there are plenty of critiques of Obama's education policy to go around.  Obama's first term may have fractured support for traditional public schools more than any before, although I do not believe that was necessarily the intent.

Regardless, DeVos vision for education and her general operating principle of expanding choice are private market ideas.  These ideas, if not properly tailored to public values, are antithetical to public education itself.  As I argue here, these private ideas undermine the very justification for public education itself if pursued to their logical conclusions.  Public education is not a private commodity and it serves ends well beyond the interests of individual parents or students.  Public education, of course, would be of little good if it did not also produce significant benefits for individuals, but it also produces benefits for overall communities, states, and societies.  Hence,  we all pay taxes and all have a voice in the ends and values it should pursue.  If that balance shifts too far to individuals, it ceases to be public education and worthy of the same level of public support.  It begins to look more like housing, transportation, and other aspects of society.  In these areas, government support and regulation is more limited.  Public policy supporting them comes from a confluence of interests between the public and private, not from a public interest per se. 

DeVos' ideas threaten to move us in this direction.  Her lack of public school experience may, moreover, lead her to discount the distinction between private and public education, not out of malevolence but ignorance or naivete.  Because private choice has worked for her and those who can afford to carry its burdens, she may incorrectly assume that it will work just as well for those who are poorly positioned to carry its burdens.  Then again, maybe she is right and it is my own experience in public schools that breeds my skepticism.  I do, however, know one thing.  The educational opportunities that I received in public school and a few key decisions that made later educational success possible for me were not made by me or by my parents.  They were made by a few public school teachers who believed I could make something better of myself.  They never told me or my parents this.  They simply and quietly put me in an advanced placement class that gave me a shot and asked me to make the most of it.  In fact, on the first day of class, I raised my hand and said "I don't think I am supposed to be in here."  In this and several other ways, I credit public school for entirely altering the course of my life.  Due to my experience, I have to believe this is the ethos of public schools, when they are properly supported and structured.  

I admit that I know little of most private schools.  I do, however, place significant stock in Chris and Sarah Lubenski's nationwide study that found when comparing apples to apples, public schools actually outperform private schools.  This is not to deny the high average SAT scores in many private schools, but to recognize those high averages are a result of the high concentration of demographically advantaged students who attend those schools, not something special the private school is doing.  Students with those demographics do just as well in public schools.  They are just not as heavily concentrated there.

December 7, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Charter Schools Fail on Massachusetts Ballot

The issue of charter expansion in Massachusetts has raised cutting edge issues over the past year and a half.  Initially, plaintiffs filed suit, seeking to use the state education clause to argue that the state was obligated to provide more charters in light of its failure to provide an adequate education in its regular schools.  That theory built on much of the flawed thinking in California, where a trial court had struck down teacher tenure as a violation of students fundamental right to education.  More recently, the higher courts in California rejected that tenure theory.  In Massachusetts, however, the theory regarding charters migrated into the political domain and was offered as leverage against legislators who opposed charter expansion.  With no victory there, the issue moved to the voters.

On November 8, 2016, Massachusetts voters roundly rejected the expansion of charters.  Initially number showed a large margin of 62-38.  The New York Times reported that those favoring expansion had spent $26 million to promote the measure. Opponents spent $15 million.  The president of the Massachusetts Teacher Association said it was a victory for public education in general: “We held the line. . . . Money can’t buy our public schools.”

Given the flaws in the litigation claims, one would expect the same result there, although it may be slower coming.  These types of suits, however, are becoming more and more prevalent.  

 

 

November 10, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

New Charter School Controversy Calls Into Question Democratic Accountability and What It Means to Be a Public School

One of Dallas’ oldest and biggest charter schools, A.W. Brown-Fellowship Leadership Academy, is in turmoil.  It started out with an enrollment of 200 students more than a decade ago and now has 2,400, with growth each year.  Some parents are rethinking the school and its governance.  New claims of abuse and/or mistreatment of students have been levied against the school.  Parents claim the school is being non-responsive to concerns.  The problem appears that even if the parents are correct there is nothing they can do about because of the differences between a charter school and a traditional public school.

Parents also complain of nepotism — namely, that board president Lorenzo Brown and his son serve together. But that’s legal for charter schools in Texas. After all, A.W. Brown school was started by a husband and wife. At one point, both Armond and Paula Brown served on the board and worked as employees, records show. Other family members also worked for the school.

. . . .

If the school were part of a traditional district, parents could elect their board members. But as a public charter school, A.W. Brown’s board appoints its members.

So some parents say they’re voting with their feet. LaTrondra King said her son is on the waiting list at another charter school. “I just want the best for him,” she said.

In Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, I raised similar issues in the context of asking what makes a school "public."  Does a statute that calls a charter school a public school make it so or are there substantive qualities and characteristics that make a school public?  I won't recount that entire discussion here, but I argue that constitutional and democratic accountability, among other things, are a central aspect of what makes a school public. 

Public schools’ mission also extends to fostering [particular] values once students are enrolled, including democracy, equality, and tolerance. Public schools pursue these ends not only because they are public values but also because the Constitution mandates as much. This is no small distinction. As state actors, public schools are bound to treat students (and teachers) fairly, which entails, among other things, equality, rationality, and viewpoint neutrality. Moreover, these obligations extend not only to individual students but to groups of students, schools, and districts. Equality offers a touchstone example. From its decision of whether to assign a student to special education classes to its decision of how to fund schools and districts, the state and all its subsidiary public schools must ensure equal treatment of and opportunity for all students.

Any number of private schools might hold these same values, as they are not inherently unique to public schools. But private schools are free to bend, ignore, and modify these values. Likewise, statutes might impose equality obligations on nonpublic schools that receive federal funds or fall within some other statutory classification, but private schools are free to decline federal money or alter their status to avoid falling within the ambit of other statutes. For that matter, legislators can exempt private schools from statutory prohibitions at any time and, in fact, have done so on occasion. In short, those values that make schools public create inviolable rights in public schools, in contrast to nonpublic schools, where those values are gratuitous, to the extent they even exist.

Constitutions and statutes, however, are but one piece of the public schools’ accountability structure. Perhaps more important than legal accountability is their political accountability. From the governor and department of education officials to the school board, superintendent, and principals, public education is democratically accountable. To state it another way, people collectively set the rules for public schools.

Nonpublic schools, in contrast, lack democratic accountability. Many argue that consumer accountability is more effective than democratic accountability, and often they are correct. For instance, consumers of education, as a practical matter, are more likely to affect immediate change in nonpublic schools. But there are important limits and caveats to consumer influence. First, the larger community has little influence on nonpublic schools, whereas everyone has the capacity to influence public schools. Second, even those consumers who can exert influence on private schools may find that it is only as to microlevel issues or those issues that the school is willing to negotiate. The educational direction of nonpublic schools ultimately rests solely in the hands of the private school’s leadership and is not subject to formal checks. Unlike in public schools, consumers cannot unelect the boss or bosses in private schools. Their only option is to go elsewhere.

Finally, schools are public because they represent the democratic will of the people. Schools that represent something other than the will of the people are not public in a substantive sense. While these points might seem obvious, they bear noting because, as suggested previously, they mark the outer limits of the role that dissent can play in public schools. Because public schools operate based on democratic consensus, both the dissenter and consenter must abide by the consensus rules. While nonpublic schools can tolerate relatively high levels of individual action and dissent—as individuals can sort themselves into varying nonpublic schools—a system of public schools risks falling apart because it is predicated on collective action. Thus, a hallmark of public schools, for better or worse, is to compel conformity and limit dissenters’ capacity to overrule the majority.

That article also posits that charter schools, as currently structured, present serious tensions that call into question whether they are, in fact, public schools.

With these broad outlines, the question is whether charter schools are substantively public schools and, if not, what steps are necessary to make them public. Of course, state statutes label them as such, but if labels do not confer substantive status, something more must be said of charters. Implicitly recognizing the distinction between labels and substance, commentators and scholars have struggled with how to characterize charter schools. Although some assert charters are public with no explanation beyond the fact that statutes label them as such, more often scholars characterize them as “quasi-public” or hybrid-public schools. These latter characterizations implicitly acknowledge that important aspects of charter schools distinguish them from public schools. Yet, the fact that they are publicly funded and offer free education cautions against eschewing the public characterization altogether.

At some point, however, variations between charter schools and the essential meaning of a public schools are too significant, and a school is either public or not. If the label quasi-public is accurate, a strong case can be made that charters are not public schools. To call a school quasi-public may be to say it looks and acts like a public school in various respects, but it is not really a public school. For instance, courts label some agreements or understandings between people as “quasi-contracts” and, in doing so, impose contractual responsibilities on the parties, but a “quasi-contract” is a quasicontract and not an actual contract because it lacks some crucial element of a contract.

In practice, charter schools, like quasi-contracts, lack crucial elements of the label to which they aspire. In particular, charters diverge from the public school concept in terms of their student enrollment, oversight, and potentially insular missions. This divergence, in all fairness, is not likely true of all charters, as charters operate in diverse ways, but few states sufficiently regulate charters in the manner necessary to ensure that they, as a group, adhere to key public school characteristics. In effect, those charters that act consistent with public values are effectively doing so on a voluntary basis, just as a private school could. 

Read the full article here.

 

November 2, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Report Reveals Illegal Admissions Policies at Charter Schools, By Molly Hunter

Over 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law, according to the report "Unequal Access," released in August by the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and Public Advocates of San Francisco. Charter schools in other states use some of the same enrollment policies.

Among the violations cited in "Unequal Access" are admission requirements that violate the California Charter Schools Act, which requires charters to "admit all pupils who wish to attend," regardless of academic performance, English proficiency, immigration status or other factors.

"We hope this report brings to light practices that prevent charter schools from fulfilling their obligations to all students who seek access," said Victor Leung, a staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal. "The report should make it clear to all California charter school authorizers and operators that they cannot cherry pick the students they enroll."

The study examined policies at most charter schools across the state and found that at least 253 violated students' rights by:

  • Denying enrollment to students who do not have strong grades or test scores;
  • Expelling students who do not maintain strong grades;
  • Denying enrollment to students who fail to meet a minimum level of English proficiency;
  • Selecting students based on onerous, pre-enrollment requirements, such as essays or interviews;
  • Discouraging or precluding immigrant students from attending by requiring information about pupils' or parents' immigration status;
  • Requiring parents to volunteer or donate money to the school.

"The idea behind charters was never to create private academies with public funds," said John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates. "Charter schools, like regular public schools, need to be open to all students. Admission requirements and processes that limit access or discourage certain kinds of students have no place in the public school system."

While the report is the first of its kind to be based on a broad survey of charter admission policies, concerns about these illegal policies surfaced earlier. In 2013, Public Safety Academy in San Bernardino ran into trouble after the school sent letters to 23 students whose grade-point averages had fallen below a 2.0 in one semester. The letter advised them to enroll in another school. Officials at the charter school changed their policy after being contacted by the ACLU SoCal.

In 2014, Public Advocates released a report documenting the charter practice of requiring parents to volunteer "service hours." The report led to new guidance from the California Department of Education, explaining that requirements for volunteer hours are illegal. But the "Unequal Access" report shows the practice still continues in some schools.

In addition to the survey, the report provides recommendations to charter schools, charter-authorizing bodies and the California Department of Education to address the violations.

October 31, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Court Rejects Attempt to Use Constitution to Force More Charter Schools on Massachusetts

Last year, advocates filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts that attempted to use the state education clause and school finance precedent to declare a cap on charter schools unconstitutional. The theory was that many current schools were so bad that they deprived students of a quality education.  Since quality charter schools were down the road and could be expanded, the remedy was to grant students the access to more charter schools, which would require lifting the statutory cap on them.  The theory, in many respects, resembled the strategy of the constitutional challenge to teacher tenure in California.  

Last week, the trial court in Massachusetts dismissed the charter case.  The court reasoned that the education clause does not create an individual right to education and, thus, does not create an individual right to demand access to other school opportunities and facilities.  Rather, the education clause creates a duty on the part of the state to create a constitutionally adequate education system.  Exactly how it does that is a matter of legislative policy and discretion, to which courts should defer.  Plaintiffs' attempt to have the court insert their legislative preferences for those of the state is misguided.

I would generally agree with this basic rationale and certainly agree that plaintiffs' claims were a misguided use of the education clause.  Their claim was really policy advocacy masquerading and constitutional analysis.  With that said, I would caution the need for a little more nuance in dismissing such cases.  

First, as I outline here, the notion of an education duty with no corresponding education right is highly problematic.  If the state has a duty, it should be to someone or some group. While the Massachusetts trial court is correct that this does not mean that each individual student can demand individualized education, the constitution should require that the state create policies that ensure that the educational needs of individual students and students as a whole are met.  If a policy is consistently denying students education, they should be able to challenge it and receive some sort of remedy.  The duty-right distinction in other cases has been used as subterfuge to release the state from doing anything.  Since there is no right, court can reason there is no basis for compelling the state to undertake its duty.  The idea that this court might be adding support for that argument is worrying.

Second, the problem is particularly acute in school discipline and school finance cases.  In discipline cases, some courts have used the duty-right distinction to flatly reject plaintiffs attempts to rely on their state's education clause to challenge suspension and expulsion.  As a result, states can operate discipline systems that I argue here and here are entirely inconsistent with their duty to deliver equal and adequate education opportunities.  In addition, in the traditional school finance case, there are numerous examples of states simply refusing to implement the remedies that courts have ordered.  South Carolina, Kansas, and Washington immediately come to mind as examples in the past year.  James Ryan and I have separately argued that when the state refuses to carry out its duty to implement a remedy to constitutional violations, it is within courts' power and responsibility to grant students immediate relief.  This might be in the form of the right to exit their current public school and enroll in another public school.  In other words, it should be beyond the state's discretion to force a student to remain in a school that the state refuses to bring up to constitutional standards.  To be clear, however, this is not to say that caps on charters or student assignment statutes are unconstitutional or that students or their attorneys have the right to dictate where they should go to school. The point is simply that if the conditions in a particular school are unconstitutional, the state owes the students a remedy.  If states, after the opportunity to do so, refuse to implement a remedy, courts can and should exercise injunctive relief on behalf of students.

For those less interested in doctrinal nuances, the trial court holding got it right: the cap on charter schools does not present a constitutional problem.  Nonetheless, the initial lawsuit was enough to help get the issue of eliminating the cap on the ballot this November.  So voters will get the final say.  Recent polls indicate voters are against lifting the cap.

October 12, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers, Discipline, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Nevada's Supreme Court Declares Voucher Program Unconstitutional

The Education Law Center offered this summary yesterday:

Education Law Center welcomes the Nevada Supreme Court decision in Lopez v. Schwartz firmly declaring the state's Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program unconstitutional and permanently blocking its implementation.

The Court's ruling makes clear that the Nevada Legislature violated a constitutional prohibition against the use of public education funding for any purpose other than the operation of the public schools. The ESA voucher program would have diverted funds from the public schools for private education expenditures.

This decision strikes at the heart of the ESA voucher program, which was designed to remove significant amounts of funding from public school budgets to pay for private school tuition and other expenses, even for the wealthy. The court's sweeping ruling permanently blocks the program from being implemented in the future.

"The Court confirmed that the parent plaintiffs' claims were correct - the state constitution expressly directs that funds appropriated by the Legislature for public education be used for that purpose and that purpose alone," said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director, and, along with ELC attorney Jessica Levin, a member of the pro bono legal team representing Nevada parents and children in the voucher lawsuit.

ELC is a partner in Educate Nevada Now (ENN), a Nevada campaign in support of public education founded by the Rogers Foundation. ENN and the Rogers Foundation provided crucial support in the voucher lawsuit. With implementation of the voucher program now blocked, ELC will continue to work with ENN and the Rogers Foundation to improve the educational experiences of the half million children in Nevada's public schools.

For more information about Lopez v. Schwartz, please visit these ELC web pages.

While these cases challenging the use and misuse of public education funds have been muddled over the years, I get the sense that recent courts have been slightly more willing to consider seriously the problem of using funds that state constitutional clauses commit to public schools for vouchers and charters.  Recall last year that the Washington Supreme Court struck down a the state's charter statute because of the conflicts it created in regard to the states constitutional obligations in regard to traditional public schools.  Unfortunately, courts have been less willing to seriously consider the constitutional problems that arise when states simply underfund public schools as a general principles.  See here.

Get the recent Nevada Supreme Court decision here: Download 16-30306

 

September 30, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Lawsuit Revisits the Question of Education As a Fundamental Right Under the U.S. Constitution, But Is There More To It Than That?

Plaintiffs in Connecticut have filed a new lawsuit against the state challenging the "inexcusable educational inequity and inadequacy" in its school "that prevent inner-city students from
accessing even minimally acceptable public-school options."  The complaint argues that these problems are a result of:

First, Connecticut has instituted a moratorium on new magnet schools (Conn.
Gen. Stat. § 10-264l(b)(1); Public Act No. 09-6, § 22 (Spec. Sess.); Public Act No. 15-177, § 1), despite the fact that a large majority of Connecticut’s magnet schools consistently outperform inner-city traditional district schools.

Second, Connecticut’s arcane and dysfunctional laws governing public charter
schools (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10-66ee(c)-(d), 10-66bb(a), 10-66bb(g)) prevent high-performing charter schools from opening or expanding in the State, despite the fact that Connecticut’s few charter schools consistently outperform inner-city traditional district schools.

Third, Connecticut’s inter-district Open Choice enrollment program (Conn. Gen.
Stat. §§ 10-266aa(c), 10-266aa(e), 10-266aa(f), 10-266aa(g), 10-266aa(h)) penalizes school districts that accept students from inner-city school districts, thus dooming the viability of the very program ostensibly designed to provide Connecticut’s students with quality public-school options.

As a remedy, plaintiffs ask:

for a simple declaration that would have immeasurable benefits for many thousands of children: By forcing Plaintiffs and thousands of other students to attend public schools that it knows are failing, while impeding the availability of viable public educational alternatives through the Anti-Opportunity Laws, Connecticut is violating students’ federal due process and equal protection rights. Connecticut should be required to take any and all steps necessary to ensure that neither Plaintiffs nor any other students within its borders are forced to attend a failing public school.

The case is a hard one to pigeonhole.  On the one hand, it attempts what I and others have long advocated for: a reconsideration and overturn of San Antonio v. Rodriguez.  As the Connecticut Mirror reports

Forty-three years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled in the landmark San Antonio v. Rodriguez school-funding case that education was not a constitutional right and that the disparate spending on education for students from low-income neighborhoods was not a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"The time has come for the federal courts to recognize a federal constitutional right to some minimal, adequate level of education. We felt Connecticut was a very good place to bring it," said Theodore J. Boutrous, one of the attorneys representing the seven student plaintiffs from low-income families.

 

Boutrous told reporters during a Wednesday conference call that the Rodriguez decision "left open the possibility that a claim like ours could succeed" since that case focused on school funding disparities while this lawsuit focuses on the limited options students have to leave failing schools.

. . .

Experts observing this case say a lot is at stake.

On the other hand, the case takes a factual angle in making out this claim that sounds a lot like free market thinking in education.  Moreover, Students Matter, the group that has lead the constitutional challenge to teacher tenure, is backing the case.  As a factual matter, the case would appear to be about student choice.  It holds up the interdistrict magnet schools created as a result of the Sheff v. O'Neill litigation, which are designed to further integration, as important models for improving educational opportunities for minority student, but argues those type of magnets are not the only viable option.  More charter schools, it argues, could create similar options to escape currently unconstitutional traditional public schools.  In this respect, the plaintiffs are trying to, in effect, piggy back off of the success of Sheff.  

My initial response is that there is a big gaping hole in this use of Sheff magnets.  Sheff magnets are an integrative cure to a segregative injury.  It is not clear that charters are a proportional or analogous remedy to anything, nor did I notice any indication that these charters would follow the lead of Sheff magnets.  With that said, the complaint follows up its charter school claim with the suggestion that the state expand inter-district magnet opportunities, which is consistent with Sheff.  

On the whole, however, these limited opportunities are evidence that the plaintiffs say shows that the state is failing to offer even a minimally adequate education, which Rodriguez indicated might be protected.  The big question for me is what the plaintiffs really want.  Is it to right the wrong of Rodriguez or to dress up a charter school plea in language that sounds appealing to a lot of civil rights advocates that might otherwise be adverse?   I do not know enough about the key players in the case to have a firm opinion, but the prior constitutional challenge to teacher tenure offers some hints.  What I am confident of, however, is that danger lurks if issues as weighty as Rodriguez are in the wrong hands.  

 

August 25, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 22, 2016

What Does the New Public Advertising Battle over Charter Schools Tell Us about Overall Education Debates?

Last week, the story was the potential rift between local minority communities and their national and state leaders.  This week, the story may be the amount of money being spent to counteract those those national and state level leaders who oppose charter school expansion.  The Boston Globe reports:

A new $2.3 million ad boosting the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts lists the campaign’s top five donors on screen, in accordance with state law. But the singularly bland names, including Strong Economy for Growth and Education Reform Now Advocacy, give no hint of who is writing the checks.

Four of the five donors to the procharter committee are nonprofit groups that do not, under state law, have to disclose their funders, allowing the individuals backing the effort to remain anonymous.

The cloak of secrecy surrounding the financing of what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history has frustrated election officials and underscored the proliferation of untraceable money in political races across the country.

. . . .

The ballot campaign known as Question 2 — which would allow for the creation or expansion of up to 12 charter schools per year in low-performing districts — is expected to smash the $15.5 million that was spent, mostly by gambling interests, to defeat a 2014 ballot question that would have repealed the state’s casino law.

This influx of money could be coincidental, but one has to wonder whether it is a response to the charter lobby's sense that things are slipping away.  

Continue reading

August 22, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)