Friday, December 8, 2017

The Strange Ideas Found in Voucher Schools' Textbooks Are a Problem Reaching Well Beyond Just the Students Learning Them

Huffington Post's study of the curriculum offerings in private schools that participate in state run voucher and tax credit programs has set the internet ablaze.  Huffington Post identified all of the private schools that receive voucher or tax credit funding--no small task. It then collected information on the textbooks those schools use.  The results were startling in many respects.  The study turned up books that promote some pretty sensational ideals: 

  • In the 1800s, Satan hatched “the ideas of evolution, socialism, Marxist-socialism (Communism), progressive education, and modern psychology” to counter America’s increased religiosity.
  • Women's right to vote and increased participation in the workforce coincided with women acting in increasingly anti-Christian ways, such was disobedience "to their own husbands.”
  • The books sympathize with the South in regard to the Civil War or “war between the states," as they phrase it, and while the acknowledge that slavery was likely a factor in the war, they emphasize other explanations.

These types of ideas were promoted in three particular textbooks/curriculums.  The charts below reveal the frequency with which voucher and tax credit schools use these textbooks.

Voucher

The implications of the ideas that these books promote cannot be contained simply to the schools in which they are taught.  As I emphasized in 2013 in Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good,

Increasingly forgotten in these conversations [about school choice] is that the purpose of receiving an education, at least a public education, goes far beyond the teaching of information and skills and the interests of individual students. Public education includes the transmission of social values that lead to social cohesion and the overall betterment of society. Test scores tell us nothing of these values, and private markets are ill suited to deliver them. Whereas private markets respond to consumer preferences, public education seeks to create public preferences. Additionally, given the nature of the democratic values our public education seeks to promote, individually responsive education makes little sense. Public education entails the provision of common experiences under conditions consistent with equal protection, due process, free speech, and religious neutrality. A consumer-based system allows for too much educational variation and opens the door to individual biases that are contrary to public education.

Based on their track record thus far, charters and vouchers, on the whole, are not operating in furtherance of the public good. Rather than promote the public good, they tend to promote the individual good and operate in ways that actively undermine the public good. 

I further explain:

Consider, for instance, an individual-orientated education system that includes elements of school choice. Such a system potentially caters to antisocial behaviors by permitting students with shared antisocial values to choose to coalesce in particular schools or programs. Over the long term, this type of system would undermine social cohesion and counteract the effect of social pressures that might otherwise produce common values.

In contrast, many of the specific values a collective-based concept of education seeks to facilitate are those that mitigate and limit individuals' tendency to adopt antisocial or group mindsets and act on them. For instance, collective-based education promotes the individual's commitment to enhancing the public sphere and common good. Because individuals tend toward self-interest, collective-based education seeks to counteract the tendency toward self-serving interests and affirmatively promote the opposite. Unsurprisingly, collective-based education can generate significant controversy in promoting these values, as doing so only highlights the tension between competing concepts of the public good. Some theorists define the common good not as a society with an expansive public sphere but one with unfettered individual liberty. Collective-based education generally agrees that a core set of individual liberties must be protected, but collective education limits individualism at the point that it seriously threatens group interests.

This is not to say that collective-based education would deny individuals the freedom to adopt antisocial values. If our First Amendment jurisprudence teaches anything, it is that arriving at collective wisdom requires us to protect all individual's ideas, regardless of how repugnant we might find those ideas. And the Court has held that the same principles extend to public schools. Protecting individual freedom, however, is far different from requiring the state to adopt policies and structures that might facilitate and support antisocial values and behavior. At most, the state is obligated to allow individuals to opt out of the public system when their individual values are at odds with public values, but, even then, the state can place limits on the private pursuit of individual values when the private pursuits pose a significant threat to societal well being.

Thus, the irony in Huffington Post's findings is not only are these schools teaching ideas that are at odds with the justifications for providing public education, the public is actually funding these ideas.  Moreover, in doing so, these programs have the potential to undermine public education itself.  I argued in 2013 that these programs could not just further individual choice, but give private individuals the ability to dissent and, as a practical matter, veto larger public policy agendas.  For more, see the full article.

December 8, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 3, 2017

New Federal School Choice Plan Signals Desperation, Not Vision

According to Edweek, Congress's proposed tax plan would allow families to pull up to $10,000 a year out of their 529 college savings account and spend it on K-12 private school tuition (as well as other educational expenses).  The proposal appears to be more an act of desperation than rationality in pursuing public support for private choice in K-12 education.  The Trump administration's earlier proposal to take federal funding for public schools and drive it toward vouchers and charters never got any serious traction.  If anything, DeVos's support for privatizing education made that proposal less popular with the public.  

This new tax provision looks like a pointless attempt to save face or give a very small tax break to a subset of wealthy families.  By design, College savings accounts/529s are a mechanism for saving money in advance to pay for something else later that might otherwise be affordable.  The assumption is that families might not be able to afford college later, particularly since college costs are incurred during a balloon period of just a few years.  Not even a regular savings plan is enough for most families.   The 529 tries to close some of the college cost gap by allowing families to save over the course of their kids' entire pre-college lifetimes, invest that money, grow that money, and be exempt from taxes on that growth.  Most states sweeten that pot a little bit by giving families a small deduction for their initial contributions, which typically caps out at a tax savings of a few hundred dollars each year. 

In comparison to the shielded growth, this state tax benefit is small.  Consider a family that contributed $10,000 a year for 18 years to a 529.  Depending on the state, the family would save around $5000 to $10,000 in total taxes total over the collective period.  No small sum, but spread across that many years, no life changer either--at least for families who can afford to contribute $10,000 a year. 

That $180,000 investment, however, with compound growth, should rise to a value of somewhere between $320,000 to $500,000 (assuming a growth rate of 5 to 9 percent).  That growth is tax-exempt.

So if 529s are such a good deal for college, why do they signal desperation in the context of k-12.  First, for many people, using 529s for K-12 would be equivalent to robbing Peter to pay Paul.  If a family is already contributing as much as it can to a 529, this new measure is not going to expand their financial capacity.  Instead, it allows them to spend college money on K-12.  That flexibility may be meaningful for some families, but on the averages makes very little sense, which leads to point two.

Second, if 529s are funding K-12 education, families are necessarily getting less financial benefit out of the 529s.  Families will be putting money in one year (or one month) just to take it out the very next.  The amount of growth they see will be small at best and there will be no compounded growth (the real benefit of the 529s).  The only families that this new plan would likely benefit would be those who can contribute $20,000 a year to a 529 just as easily as they can contribute $10,000. And unless states raise their deduction caps, this additional investment in 529s would not produce a change in state tax liability.

These high wealth families do not sound like those the Administration has been talking so much about when it discusses choice--those who are trapped in failing public schools and need help exploring other options.  So, at worst, this is just another measure to hand out tax breaks to those who need to the least, but done so under the guise of some noble object.  At best, this is a face saving attempt to get any type of victory the Administration can.  This just so happens to be one of the few school choice policies that can plausibly get through Congress.

November 3, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Is There a Limit to How Much States Can Preference Choice Programs Over Public Education?

This is the subject of my forthcoming paper in Cornell Law Review.  In Preferencing Educational Choice: The Constitutional Limits, I make two primary arguments.  The first that some states' statutory programs preference choice in relation to public education and that doing so in logically inconsistent with their constitutional duties.  The second argument is that the proper frame of analysis for examining the effects of charters and vouchers is at the district level, not the state level.  At the district level, advocates can identify effects that likely do amount to violations of state's duty to deliver adequate or equal educational opportunities.  The abstract offers this summary:

Rapidly expanding charter and voucher programs are establishing a new education paradigm in which access to traditional public schools is no longer guaranteed. In some areas, charter and voucher programs are on a trajectory to phase out traditional public schools altogether. This Article argues that this trend and its effects violate the constitutional right to public education embedded in all fifty state constitutions.

Importantly, this Article departs from past constitutional arguments against charter and voucher programs. Past arguments have attempted to prohibit such programs entirely and have assumed, with little evidentiary support, that they endanger statewide education systems. Unsurprisingly, litigation and scholarship based on a flawed premise have thus far failed to slow the growth of charter and voucher programs. Without a reframed theory, several recently filed lawsuits are likely to suffer the same fate.

This Article does not challenge the general constitutionality of choice programs. Instead, the Article identifies two limitations that state constitutional rights to education place on choice policy. The first limitation is that states cannot preference private choice programs over public education. This conclusion flows from the fact that most state constitutions mandate public education as a first-order right for their citizens. Thus, while states may establish choice programs, they cannot systematically advantage choice programs over public education. This Article demonstrates that some states have crossed this line.

The second limitation that state constitutions place on choice programs is that their practical effect cannot impede educational opportunities in public schools. Education clauses in state constitutions obligate the state to provide adequate and equitable public schools. Any state policy that deprives students of access to those opportunities is therefore unconstitutional. Often-overlooked district level data reveals that choice programs are reducing public education funding, stratifying opportunity, and intensifying segregation in large urban centers. Each of these effects represents a distinct constitutional violation.

Download the full article here.

 

October 30, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds: Back to a Future for Education Federalism

Michael Heise's forthcoming article in Columbia Law Review, From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds: Back to a Future for Education Federalism, is available on SSRN.  He offers this abstract:

When passed in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act represented the federal government’s most dramatic foray into the elementary and secondary public school policymaking terrain. While critics emphasized the Act’s overreliance on standardized testing and its reduced school-district and state autonomy, proponents lauded the Act’s goal to close the achievement gap between middle- and upper-middle-class students and students historically ill served by their schools. Whatever structural changes the No Child Left Behind Act achieved, however, were largely undone in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which repositioned significant federal education policy control in state governments. From a federalism standpoint, the Every Student Succeeds Act may have reset education federalism boundaries to favor states, far exceeding their position prior to 2001.

While federal elementary and secondary education reform efforts since 2001 may intrigue legal scholars, a focus on educational federalism risks obscuring an even more fundamental development in educational policymaking power: its migration from governments to families, from regulation to markets. Amid a multidecade squabble between federal and state lawmakers over education policy authority, efforts to harness individual autonomy and market forces in the service of increasing children’s educational opportunity and equity have grown. Persistent demands for and increased availability of school voucher programs, charter schools, tax credits programs, and home schooling demonstrate families’ desire for greater agency over decisions about their children’s education. Parents’ calls for greater control over critical decisions concerning their children’s education and schooling options may eclipse state and federal lawmakers’ legislative squabbles over educational federalism.

Michael and I agree on a lot in this article.  The title of my article, Abandoning the Federal Role in Education: The Every Student Succeeds Act, largely speaks for itself.  That article traces the federal role in education from the 1960s until today, arguing that the Every Student Succeeds Act entirely reverses the expansion of the federal role in education, which had been building for decades. 

Heise's article, however, goes beyond mine in certain respects, focusing on a factor absent from my analysis: the role of individual autonomy.  In other words, from Heise's perspective, it is not just a fight between the feds and the states.  It is a fight over family decisionmaking as well.  Thus, the return of power to states is not just to serve the interests of state, but that of families.

Interestingly, more recent events add new wrinkles that may require updating of both Heise and my thoughts.  Recent surveys and reports indicate that some family autonomy policies are unpopular, at least to the majority. The shift is abrupt in some instances.  A new survey shows that charter support has plummeted by 12 percent in the last year.  Other reports indicate strong opposition to the current administration's push for more vouchers and charters.  

Disaggregating these shifts is difficult.  It could be that the public dislikes the messenger but not necessarily the message.  Or it may be that the public supports the expansion of choice, but not when it is perceived as being at the expense of traditional public education.  The latter, however, presents an implementation challenge.  To what extent can private choice expand without harming public education?  Minimal to moderate expansions may pose little risk, but a tipping point likely exists, as I detail in a forthcoming article titled, Preferencing Private Choice.

October 17, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Are Alternative Charter Schools Earning Their Paychecks or Just Cashing Them?

A new investigative report by Heather Vogell suggests that alternative charter schools are enrolling as many students as possible, collecting checks for students who may not even be there, and providing less in return than other public schools.  By alternative charter school, she refers to charter schools that enroll students who are at risk of dropping out of school.  Vogell focuses most heavily on those alternative schools run by for-profit management companies.

Vogell's findings are troubling any way you cut them.  In isolation, the results in these alternative charter schools are so objectively low that they look wrong on their face.  In comparison to other public schools serving students at risk of dropping out, the charter school results still look problematic, lagging well behind traditional public schools.

The first problem appears to be inflated enrollment numbers.  Speaking of an alternative charter high school in Ohio, Vogell writes:

Only three of the more than 170 students on Capital’s rolls attended class the required five hours that day, records obtained by ProPublica show. Almost two-thirds of the school’s students never showed up; others left early. Nearly a third of the roster failed to attend class all week. . . [But] the no-shows didn’t hurt the school’s revenue stream. Capital billed and received payment from the state for teaching the equivalent of 171 students full time in May.

If these charters have the corner on any market, it is enrolling no-shows.  They are dominating in Ohio.  "After pulling in students long enough to tap public money, many of the schools fail to keep them in class. In Ohio in 2016, for-profit companies ran nearly one-third of the state’s 94 charter schools for dropouts — but three-fourths of the 20 with the highest absenteeism rates."  

Both the inputs and outputs are lower in these schools.  On the inputs, they provide substantially less access to counselors--potentially the most important resource for students struggling with issues both in and outside of school.  Only 58% of the alternative school students attend a school with a counselor.  Class size are larger and their rate of inexperienced teachers is also more than twice the rate of other schools.

With poor attendance rates and lower inputs, achievement in these schools is predictably low. "About 40 percent of the schools failed to meet state standards in 2015-2016. While Capital High passed overall, meeting state testing and other goals, its students didn’t make satisfactory academic progress. At 92 percent of Ohio’s dropout recovery schools in 2015, the graduation rate was below 50 percent. Capital’s was 23 percent. In 18 schools, including Capital, students skipped at least once every two days."

Two plausible explanations come to me. First, states have essentially given up on these students and would rather enroll them in a charter than a traditional public school because the costs are lower.  While I don't doubt some have given up on these kids, I am not sure the cost-saving theory fits with these particular charter schools.  The state could just let them drop out of traditional public school and not be tasked with paying anyone for them.  The second explanation is that with some legislators favorable toward privatizing education in general and another group of legislators asleep at the wheel, no one is really noticing.  I am sure I am overlooking other explanations, but I find it had to believe that this is what states are paying these schools for.  

For those looking for more detailed data on particular alternative charter schools, the story includes a comprehensive list and info-graphic here.

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Big Setback for Vouchers in Nevada By Education Law Center

Carson City, Nevada, June 5 - Backed by a strong grassroots campaign, Nevada lawmakers decisively rejected Senate Bill 506, Governor Brian Sandoval's proposal to spend $60 million in public funds to revive an "education savings account" (ESA) voucher program previously declared unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court.1

With the Legislature's biennium session set to end June 5, the defeat of the Governor's bill puts an end to proponents' three-year effort to bring private school vouchers to the Silver State.

The nation's most expansive ESA voucher law, Senate Bill 302, was enacted in the last biennium session in June 2015. The program never got off the ground after a group of public school parents challenged the law in court. The parents in Lopez v. Schwartz argued that the voucher law violated the ban in the State constitution against diverting public school funding to a non-public purpose. In September 2016, the Nevada Supreme Court agreed with the parents and issued an injunction permanently blocking the program.

Continue reading

June 6, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump Budget Would Abandon Public Education for Private Choice

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump participate in a round-table discussion during a visit to Saint Andrew Catholic School in Miami. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Derek Black, University of South Carolina

The Trump administration has announced its plan to transform education funding as we know it. The new budget proposal takes aim at a host of elementary, secondary and higher education programs that serve needy students, redirecting those funds toward K-12 school choice in the form of vouchers, tax credits and charter schools. The Conversation

Public schools that enroll a large percentage of low-income students stand to lose significant chunks of their budget, as well as a number of specialized federal programs for their students. At the same time, the Trump budget will incentivize families to leave not only these schools, but public schools in general.

As a scholar of education law and policy, I note that my recent research on state voucher and charter programs shows that the loss of both money and core constituents proposed by this new budget could throw public education into a downward spiral.

Continue reading

May 24, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Trump Administration Misunderstands the Difference Between School Reform and School Improvement

With regard to education, the Trump administration isn’t so different from its predecessors. The administration promises to improve schools through innovative reform while ignoring the basic building blocks of education: teachers and funding. The specifics are new—an emphasis on charter schools and voucher expansion—but the formula of gambling with educational opportunity is not. President Bush bet on standardized testing and accountability. President Obama pushed the Common Core and statistical teacher evaluations.

Each of these reforms damaged schools in its own unique way. The No Child Left Behind Act narrowed the curriculum, incentivized test manipulation and cheating, and demanded punitive sanctions for schools. By setting goals that very few schools could meet, NCLB quickly fueled the narrative of a failing public-education system. The overall result has been to undermine support for public education itself.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who served under President Obama, used states’ failure under NCLB as leverage to demand Common Core standards and strict teacher-evaluation systems. He assumed these measures could finally deliver on two of NCLB’s initial goals—raising academic standards and improving teacher quality—but the shift to these new measures brought chaos with little payoff for students. As soon as states began implementing the changes, teacher lawsuits, parental protests, and political resistance spread. States claimed that Duncan’s demands were a federal overreach. Teachers claimed that evaluation systems based primarily on student test scores could not reliably rate teachers or provide meaningful feedback on how to improve. Parents argued that the Common Core would dumb down academic content and require more testing. Rather than sort it out, Congress scrapped many of the models advanced under NCLB. In its place, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. The only animating theory of the act is that Congress must prohibit the federal government from demanding much of anything from states.

The Trump administration’s agenda to expand charters and vouchers threatens to be just as disruptive. School choice is no more a panacea to educational inequities than is standardized testing. While Secretary Besty DeVos argues that market forces and parental choice can regulate school enrollment better than the government, school choice could prove even more dangerous than past reforms if not accompanied by common-sense limits regarding the students who are eligible to leave their current, the schools to which they can transfer, and the cost the traditional public-school system must shoulder. The last few years offer numerous examples of how unregulated choice opens the door to segregation, profiteering, incompetence, and marginal educational opportunities.

Debating the merits of these federal reforms, however, distracts public attention from the simple things that research shows really matter for student outcomes: good teachers and school funding. Neither requires fancy reform. They require basic support for public schools.

Forty years ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court explained what ought to be obvious: Districts with higher property values can “provide a substantially wider range and higher quality of education services,” while those with lower values “have a higher percentage of inexperienced teachers, especially teachers with only one year of experience.” Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court put it more bluntly: “money makes a difference in public education.”

Experience confirms these simple truths. Reviewing decades of data, a recent study found that a 20 percent increase in school funding, when maintained, results in low-income students completing nearly a year of additional education, wiping out roughly half of the achievement gap between low- and middle-income students. A few weeks ago, a separate study found that a 10 percent increase in funding correlates with a 5percent jump in graduation rates in high-poverty districts. With a 99 percent confidence level, a Kansas study showed that “a 1 percent increase in student performance was associated with a .83 percent increase in spending.”

School-funding trends, however, are going in the opposite direction. Between 2008 and 2012, annual cuts exceeding $1,000 per-pupil were routine—the equivalent of an assistant teacher aid in every classroom or the entire science and foreign-language departments combined. In North Carolina and Florida, funding fell from over $10,000 to $7,000 per-pupil in just a few years. Some cuts may have been necessary during the recession, but the recession cannot explain why, in real dollar terms, 31 states spend less on education now than they did before the recession.

The immediate results were teacher layoffs, lower salaries, and larger class sizes. The lingering effect is a dried-up pipeline of new teachers. In California, the demand for qualified teachers was 40 percent higher than the supply in the 2016-2016 school year. The state certified 15,000 teachers, but needed 6,500 more than that. The shortage was even worse in Nevada. Las Vegas alone had 2,600 vacancies to fill, but state produced less than 1,000 new teachers. As is the case elsewhere in the country, these shortages forced the states to put previously uncertified interns in the classroom on the promise that they would finish their coursework in their spare time. In other states, districts resorted to billboard advertisements just to get warm bodies in the classroom.

These cuts and shortages hit low-income and minority students the hardest. Even before the recent cuts, poor and minority students were twice as likely as their peers to have an inexperienced or unqualified teacher. Now they are being asked to do more with less. In Illinois, schools serving predominantly poor student populations receive 23 percent less funding than other schools in the state. A 2015 Education Law Center analysis found that Nevada’s high-poverty school districts received only half the funding as others.

Arizona combines all these problems in a way that may have just signed the death knell for its public schools. Arizona’s funding levels were already the third worst in the nation; its equity levels tied for seventh worst, and its fiscal effort second worst. Three weeks ago, the state passed legislation making every student in the state eligible for a voucher. Students can take 90 to 100 percent of the state money allotted for their local district and divert it to a voucher. With such a poorly funded public system, the legislation incentivizes wholesale abandonment of public education in some locations.

It does not have to be this way. Schools can hire and retain quality teachers if states maintain fair funding for schools. Classrooms can be positive environments if teachers get the support and training they need to respond to students’ needs. But every moment the Trump administration spends on school choice is a moment it ignores these core education needs and emboldens behavior like that in Arizona and elsewhere.

To be fair, the Obama administration supported charter schools. But it never pushed for vouchers or suggested public schools were the enemy of quality education. For Trump, school choice is not a measure to nudge public schools to improve. School choice is an end in itself—one worth sacrificing traditional public schools for if necessary. Trump’s proposed budget doubles down on school choice, while doing nothing for traditional public schools. It cuts funding for after-school programs, teacher recruitment, and literacy assistance for students with disabilities and limited English proficiency. The budget then repurposes those funds toward school choice.

Trump’s rhetoric of education reform has found a receptive audience because America’s public schools are in so much need, not because his particular brand of reform has merit. If Congress ignores the distinction, Trump will make the biggest education gamble to date. The safer and far simpler option is to give low-income schools the additional resources they need to boost graduation rates and cut the achievement gap. This is the way to help every student succeed, leave no child behind, or achieve whatever other catchy phrase Congress might throw at schools. Anything short of that is just an empty promise that will soon enough, like past reforms, disappoint families.

May 1, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

New Jersey School District Forced to Spend $39 Million to Support Private Education While District Runs $15 Million Deficit in Its Own Schools

Lakewood School District in New Jersey has a budget crisis on its hands--a deficit of $15 million for the coming year.  The district is forced to spend about $39 million on non-publication education.  Regardless, to make up the shortfall in the public schools, the district plans to lay off over a 100 teachers and staff, eliminate sports programs, and drastically increase class size.  In a state where the constitution guarantees students a "thorough and efficient" education and its courts have rigorously enforced this right, these cuts are troubling indeed--so much so that the state department of education has said it will not certify the district's budget as being in compliance with that constitutional mandate.  In his recent essay in Asbury Park Press, David Sciarra writes:

Lakewood’s budget crisis is nothing new. The district lurches from year to year, making cuts in essential teachers, support staff, programs and services.

The victims of this tragedy are the 6,000 Lakewood public school children. Virtually all are poor and 95 percent are Latino or black. Twenty-seven percent are limited English proficient and 15 percent require special education.

The cause of Lakewood’s budget crisis is no secret. The district must not only support its public schools but it must pay to transport 30,000 students to private schools and pay for the cost of special education for many of those same private school students.

The drain on Lakewood’s budget from non-public expenditures is enormous. The district is forced to divert nearly $13 million in funds earmarked for public school students to pay for non-public transportation. It also must shoulder $26 million in non-public special education costs.

The state has the power to fix Lakewood’s budget crisis now. It doesn’t need new laws or changes to the school funding formula.

Acting Commissioner Kimberly Harrington has the authority to restructure the budget so it provides Lakewood students a thorough and efficient education. And Lakewood’s state fiscal monitor, Michael Azzara, is empowered to override the board of education if necessary to eliminate the budget deficit.

These state officials must act. First, they must halt the transfer of $13 million in public school funds to subsidize non-public transportation. Keeping those funds in Lakewood’s budget — where they belong — will stop the bleeding and allow the district to maintain essential services to its students.

Second, they must take the operation and cost of special education to non-public school students out of the district’s hands. The state must assume full responsibility to approve and pay for special education in private schools. This would relieve Lakewood of a fiscal and managerial burden it simply can no longer handle.

Let’s face it. The Lakewood budget has become nothing more than a vehicle for funneling vast sums of public school funds to pay for private and religious schools. This must end. Private school students are not constitutionally entitled to a thorough and efficient education. Only Lakewood public school children are.

April 26, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Voucher Mania Spreads to New Hampshire: Is This a Sign That Public Education Advocates in Other States Should Brace Themselves?

That expansive voucher programs found a receptive audience in Nevada and Arizona's legislatures is not altogether surprising. When similar programs gain steam in places like New Hampshire, it is worth taking serious notice.  The AP reports that a sweeping voucher bill breezed through the state's senate.  "The legislation would allow any public school student to use roughly $3,500 in tax dollars to attend a private or religious school or use the money on homeschooling, tutoring or other expenses. It would be one of the nation's broadest school choice bills, similar to programs that have passed in Arizona and Nevada."  Fortunately, the bill has slowed up in the state house.  "The Republican-controlled House Education Committee is likely to retain the bill Tuesday, meaning it won't get a vote until next year."  The governor has also expressed reservations.

Even if this bill ultimately goes nowhere, making it this far is evidence that I underestimated the Trump administration's impact on education policy.  Given the current legislative structure at the federal level, the Secretary of Education has virtually no power to push an affirmative policy agenda.  The Every Student Succeeds Act returns the lion's share of power back to states.  Thus, my working assumption was that the Trump choice agenda would not have a perceptible effect on state policy. States disinterested in choice would ignore the administration.  States that were interested would act, but not because of anything Trump or DeVos said.
 
The quick spread of particularly expansive voucher programs, however, does not appear coincidental.  The Trump administration did not give states the idea of expanding choice, but it appears to have emboldened them to do things they otherwise would have considered not possible or worth the effort.  If New Hampshire can move a bill through its Senate, I am afraid there is a long list of other states that can go even further.
 
Stopping that agenda will require local advocates to be prepared to defend the values that justify public education and not get caught off guard by what would normally be long-shot voucher bills.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nevada Pushing Work Around for the Voucher Program Declared Unconstitutional Last Year; David Sciarra Calls It a Trojan Horse

Last year, advocates for public education in Nevada secured a majority victory.  The Nevada Supreme Court found that the state's voucher program violated the state constitution's provisions for supporting public education.  The program funded vouchers with money that the constitution mandates to go to public education.  The Governor has now cooked up a new plan that he thinks solves the problem, but as David Sciarra points out, the new one, as a practical matter, is not really any different.  And if it passes, it threatens to lead the state down the same path as Arizona, which I argued has placed the viability of public education in danger.  Here is David Sciarra's essay, first published in the Las Vegas Sun:

Arizona offers glimpse into threat ESA bill poses to Nevada schools

Gov. Brian Sandoval is pressing lawmakers to revive the private school voucher program blocked last September by the Nevada Supreme Court. The court ruled the program was unconstitutional because it would deplete funds earmarked by the Legislature to operate Nevada’s public schools.

The governor’s bill, SB506, carries forward most features of the prior law. Sandoval wants the per-pupil amount spent on public school students, roughly $5,700, to be deposited into education savings accounts to subsidize private and religious school tuition and pay for other private education expenses. The governor also wants vouchers for any household, even the wealthy. And like the prior law, 100 days of public school enrollment is the only eligibility requirement.

To get around the Supreme Court ruling, SB506 changes the way vouchers are funded.

The funding will not come directly out of public school budgets. Instead, Sandoval proposes a separate appropriation of $60 million over the biennium.

At that level, approximately 2,500 vouchers can be awarded each year, not enough for everyone who signed up under the prior law. So the vouchers will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Lawmakers should flatly reject the governor’s bill. And they need look no further than to Arizona for the reasons why.

In 2011, Arizona enacted an ESA voucher program limited to students with disabilities. Once it got rolling, vouchers were expanded to include students in low-performing public schools.

This year, 3,200 vouchers were funded by Arizona taxpayers, totaling $49 million. The vast majority of the voucher funds are used to subsidize tuition, fees and other expenses charged by religious and private schools.

But Arizona voucher proponents weren’t satisfied. Cheered on by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed legislation expanding vouchers again, this time making all 1.1 million public school students eligible. To pass the bill, proponents accepted a cap of 5,500 new students per year and 30,000 students over the next five years. The cost to taxpayers and the public schools could quickly swell to over $100 million or more.

But make no mistake: Voucher proponents are already aiming to lift the caps and throw the program open to everyone.

As in other states, Arizona’s voucher law lacks accountability. Private schools don’t have to administer the same tests as public schools, so there is no way to know if student outcomes are better.

Oversight of voucher accounts is lax. A recent audit uncovered payments for groceries, games and gift cards using voucher funds.

Like those who signed up for Nevada’s vouchers, most Arizona voucher recipients are from affluent neighborhoods, according to an investigation by the Arizona Republic. As a state senator who opposes vouchers noted, the expansion of vouchers will only spur the exodus of affluent white parents from the public schools, leaving those schools to educate students of color, poor students and English language learners with less money.

And public school funding in Arizona, like Nevada, is among the lowest and most inadequate in the country.

So Nevada legislators beware. Gov. Sandoval’s voucher bill is a Trojan horse. His $60 million for vouchers is just the start.

Once voucher proponents get their foot in the door, they will follow the Arizona playbook, demanding expansion in the next biennium session. And, led by DeVos, they will not stop until they achieve their goal of taking down our public schools, without regard to the educational damage inflicted on the children left behind.

April 20, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 14, 2017

New Report Paints California's Charter Schools As Economic Boondoggle That Has Little to Do with Student Need, Cost Efficiency, or Quality

A new report on California's charter schools may be one of the most scathing to date--in part because it does more than examine student achievement.  Achievement studies inevitably raise methodological and interpretation debates.  More simply, it is often unclear whether the studies are comparing apples to apples.  This new study, however, filters charter schools through other more straightforward data and factors: locality need, cost efficiency, and legal compliance.  On these measures, the report suggests that California's charter school expansion is a financial boondoggle.  To use a baseball analogy, the disappointing quality of many of these schools is really just the fourth strike against a policy that should have already been called out. The report's introduction states:

From less than 200 schools in 1998, the California charter school industry has grown by more than 600%, to over 1,200 schools serving nearly 600,000 children, or nearly 10% of the state’s students. One of the sources fueling this growth is an extensive network of government programs that provide public funding or tax subsidies for charter school buildings. Over the past 15 years, California charter schools have received over $2.5 billion in tax dollars or taxpayer subsidized funds to lease, build, or buy school buildings. This report finds that this funding is almost completely disconnected from educational policy objectives, and the results are, in turn, scattershot and haphazard. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy. Far too much of this public funding is spent on schools built in neighborhoods that have no need for additional classroom space, and which offer no improvement over the quality of education already available in nearby public schools. In the worst cases, public facilities funding has gone to schools that were found to have discriminatory enrollment policies and others that have engaged in unethical or corrupt practices.  

The reports key findings include:

  • Over the past 15 years, California charter schools have received over $2.5 billion in tax dollars or taxpayer subsidized funds to lease, build, or buy school buildings.
  • Nearly 450 charter schools have opened in places that already had enough classroom space for all students—and this overproduction of schools was made possible by generous public support, including $111 million in rent, lease, or mortgage payments picked up by taxpayers, $135 million in general obligation bonds, and $425 million in private investments subsidized with tax credits or tax exemptions.
  • For three-quarters of California charter schools, the quality of education on offer is worse than that of a nearby traditional public school that serves a demographically similar population. Taxpayers have provided these schools with an estimated three-quarters of a billion dollars in direct funding and an additional $1.1 billion in taxpayer-subsidized financing.
  • Even the worst charter schools receive generous facility funding. The California Charter Schools Association identified 161 charter schools that ranked in the bottom 10% of schools serving comparable populations last year, but even these schools received over $200 million in tax dollars and tax-subsidized funding.
  • At least 30% of charter schools were both opened in places that had no need for additional seats and also failed to provide an education superior to that available in nearby public schools. This number is almost certainly underestimated, but even at this rate, Californians provided these schools combined facilities funding of over $750 million, at a net cost to taxpayers of nearly $400 million.
  • Public facilities funding has been disproportionately concentrated among the less than one-third of schools that are owned by Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) that operate chains of between three and 30 schools. An even more disproportionate share of funding has been taken by just four large CMO chains— Aspire, KIPP, Alliance, and Animo/Green Dot.
  • Since 2009, the 253 schools found by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to maintain discriminatory enrollment policies have been awarded a collective $75 million under the SB740 program, $120 million in general obligation bonds, and $150 million in conduit bond financing.
  • CMOs have used public tax dollars to buy private property. The Alliance CollegeReady Public Schools network of charter schools, for instance, has benefited from over $110 million in federal and state taxpayer support for its facilities, which are not owned by the public, but are part of a growing empire of privately owned Los Angeles-area real estate now worth in excess of $200 million.

April 14, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Arizona's New Voucher Program Set to Become Largest in the Nation, But It Is Also the Biggest Farce

According to the AP, Arizona just passed a bill that will make every student in the state eligible for voucher.  It may become the biggest voucher program in the nation.  The "program allows parents to take between 90 percent and 100 percent of the state money a local public school would receive to pay for private or religious education. The average student who isn't disabled will get about $4,400 a year, but some get much more."  The funding mechanism and its expected cost to the state is murky.  "The original Arizona plan was estimated to cost the state general fund at least $24 million."  Now, a revised plan and estimate are supposed to save the state $3.4 million by 2022.

What is clear, however, is that Arizona's per pupil funding for public schools currently ranks 47 out of 50 states.  To make matters worse, it distributes those meager funds unequally.  The Education Law Center's 2017 School Funding Fairness Report grades Arizona's funding distribution as an "F."  Schools with moderate levels of student poverty receive only 88 cents on the dollar in comparison to schools with no student poverty.  The comparison is even worse between high poverty school districts and low poverty school districts.  In other words, Arizona spends the least on students who need the most.  

That same report also shows that Arizona is doing almost nothing to fix its low funding levels or unequal distribution.  Arizona ranks 49th in the nation in terms of the level of fiscal effort it exerts to fund its schools.  

These background facts place Arizona's new voucher program in a troubling light.  These cold hard facts show that the state is not really interested in supporting adequate and equal education for its students.  Thus, it is no surprise the state would double down and make matters worse.  If gross inequity and inadequacy in public schools does not bother the state as a general principle, why would robbing those schools of more money be a problem?  Why not just cap the state investment in a students' education, send that student to private school, and tell the family and or the private school that they need to make up the difference?  If things do not work out in the future, that is on the family and the private school.

These background facts also mean that the rhetoric of political leaders lacks credibility.  Speaking of the voucher program, the Governor tweeted: "When parents have more choices, kids win."  If one understands the facts, one understands that this voucher program is not about helping kids in Arizona "win."  It is about raw politics and continuing the longstanding trend of depriving public schools of the resources they need to succeed.  If parents in Arizona want vouchers (or charters), it is not because those policies are normatively appealing.  It is because the state has been robbing them of the public education they deserve.  Many families now surely believe they have no other realistic option.  In short, the state has created the factual predicate of failing public schools to create the justification for its own pet project of privatizing education.  The kids caught up in the mess simply do not matter.

April 7, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Choice Advocates Not Only Want More Money for Vouchers, They Want It with No Strings Attached

Ever since the Betsy DeVos was nominated as Secretary of Education, school choice advocates have been salivating over the possibility that the privatization of education would enter a new expansive era.  Last week, the USA Today interviewed some of the nation's leading advocates of school choice and vouchers who are raising new concerns.  Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute  and Richard Hess of the American Enterprise Institute warn there is a downside to this expansion: the federal government will begin to regulate private schools more.  Hess remarked "when you get a Democratic administration, an Elizabeth Warren administration, and they decide that eligible schools ... need to have anti-bullying programs and other accommodations? We will very quickly wind up and wonder, ‘What were we thinking?’”  Petrilli said many private schools would forgo the funding if they have to abide by these types of regulations.  “They just won’t participate,” he said. “And then what’s the point? You don’t have a program.”

Is this a sign of an evolving school voucher position that not only should the public fund private education, it should fund it with no strings attached?  

That choice advocates could take such a position shows just how far the ground has shifted in a few short months.  This position is incredible on any number of levels.  

First, it assumes an entitlement to public funding for private choice.  The problem is that there is no such entitlement.  If the federal or state government is giving money to private schools or facilitating private choice, it goes without saying that it has the right to regulate that money.  In fact, conditioning federal money is the real reason for giving out federal money to begin with.  The federal government knows that its ability to regulate state and private actors is relatively small.  Thus, it achieves its policy objectives by exchanging money for conditions.  We do this in everything from health care to education.  

Second, state and federal government has funded public education for the past century and a half because it is public education.  The state and federal interest in funding private education is extremely small at best.  The only interest in funding private education is to offset certain costs that might otherwise fall on public education.  In other words, there is no independent reason to fund private education.  

Third, federal funds for public schools come with a long list of conditions. Why we would condition funds in public schools but allow private schools to take them free of conditions? The only obvious rationale I see is a normative preference for private schools over public schools.  Few, however, are willing to publicly fess up to that rationale.  If they did, it would be contrary to the second point.  In effect, the justification for funding education at all would begin to collapse if we preferenced private education over public education.  

Finally, public education is premised on a set of cultural and constitutional norms--non-discrimination, fair process, equal opportunity, social cohesion, and freedom from religious coercion.  As a general principle, private education is neither premised on nor committed to any of these norms.  Without regulation, they would not accept them.  And if they did not accept them, the federal government could not in fairness give them public money.  One might even seriously question whether a new set of constitutional concerns would arise if the federal government did so.  

While the Supreme Court has upheld vouchers for private religious schools, the Supreme Court has also held that the federal government cannot achieve unconstitutional ends indirectly.  For instance, the federal government clearly cannot segregate schools itself.  Could it indirectly achieve segregation through its spending power and have private or state entities do it for the federal government?  The Court has said no.  

Of course, just because private individuals might use public money to segregate or pursue religious ends does not meant that is the federal government's design--hence the prior decision upholding vouchers.  But if we converted into a system dominated by private choice and entirely free of constitutional and cultural norms, the question of whether the government was pursuing a new impermissible design could rise to the fore.

More here.

   

April 6, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)