Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The State of Mississippi is being sued by parents who contend that a recent law unconstitutionally district public tax dollars from public school districts revenues to charter schools. Under the Mississippi Charter School Act of 2013 (CSA), charter schools in a public school district are entitled to a share of that district's state ad valorem tax revenue. The lawsuit's plaintiffs contend that a provision of the Mississippi Constitution forbids funding any school that is not a "free" school under the control of either the State Department of Education or district officials. (Mississippi's charters are instead supervised by an independent governing board.) The plaintiffs allege that the Jackson school district has already given $1.8 million of its funding to the two currently operating charter schools. A third charter is set to open in the coming school year,and the Jackson district school could be required to give up to $4 million to charter schools, resulting in shortfalls in personnel and education quality. The plaintiffs are represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the complaint in Arujo v. Bryant may be viewed on scribd here.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Federal Court Refuses to Expand School Voucher Program That Was Declared Unconstitutional By Colorado Supreme Court A Year Ago
Almost a year after the Colorado Supreme Court declared that a district's school voucher program violated the state constitution's separation of church and state doctrine (which Derek discussed here), a federal district court in Colorado denied a renewed attempt last week to force the Douglas County (CO) School District School Choice Grant Program to include religious schools, according to the Denver Post. The federal court questioned whether the plaintiffs, represented by the religious-freedom organization Institute for Justice, were in a truly adversarial position with the defendant, the Douglas County School District. The federal court also questioned whether the plaintiffs could show a likelihood of success to warrant an emergency injunction. The court also stated that the Douglas County families seeking the voucher expansion could not show irreparable harm because only a few students had even shown interest in the program and no schools have yet agreed to participate in the School Choice Grant Program. The ACLU of Colorado and law firm Arnold & Porter have moved to intervene in the case, arguing that the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction is essentially a collateral attack on the Colorado Supreme Court's judgment.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Susan DeJarnatt, Kerrin C. Wolf, and Mary Kate Kalinich have posted their new paper, Charting School Discipline, on ssrn. It focuses on discipline in charter schools and their potentially distinct approaches. As recent civil rights complaints in New Orleans and due process litigation in California have shown, charter school discipline is of growing importance to the overall conversation regarding necessary reforms to school discipline. DeJarnatt and her colleagues offers this abstract:
Exclusionary school discipline can steer students away from educational opportunities and towards the juvenile and criminal justice systems. As many public school systems have turned to exclusionary school discipline practices over the past two decades, they have also increasingly adopted charter schools as alternatives to traditional public schools. This research is examines the student codes of conduct for the charter schools in the School District of Philadelphia to consider the role of their disciplinary practices and the potential effects on charter students.
We analyzed every disciplinary code provided to the Philadelphia School District by charter schools within Philadelphia during the 2014-2015 school year. Our goal was to examine the provisions relating to detention, suspension, and expulsion, along with other disciplinary responses, to determine what conduct can result in disciplinary consequences, what responses are available for various types of misbehavior, and whether the code language is clear or ambiguous or even accessible to students or potential students and their parents or caregivers. We conclude that too many of the codes are not well drafted, and too many follow models of punitive discipline that can be used to push out non-compliant or challenging students. Some codes grant almost complete discretion to school administrators to impose punitive discipline for any behavior the administrator deems problematic.
We hope that this work will spur future research on implementation of charter school discipline policies to illustrate how charter schools are using their codes. Further, we hope to see the charter sector develop model disciplinary codes that move away from a zero tolerance punitive model towards disciplinary systems based on restorative principles.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
New Jersey's Failure to Assess Effects of Charter School Expansion on Already Underresourced Newark Schools Moves to Court of Appeals
This from the Education Law Center:
Acting on behalf of Newark school children, Education Law Center has filed an appeal of NJ Commissioner of Education David Hespe’s February 2016 approval of a massive enrollment increase in seven Newark charter schools over the next five years.
At issue in the appeal is the data and research evidence presented by ELC to the Commissioner demonstrating that expanding charter enrollments at this time would exacerbate the budget crisis in the State-operated Newark public schools (NPS) and trigger even deeper cuts to teachers, support staff and programs in already under-resourced NPS schools. ELC also presented evidence to show that expanding charters would further concentrate at-risk students in district schools, especially students with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs). These students require additional programs and interventions that have been reduced and cut in NPS schools over the last several years.
“This appeal is not about the merits of charter schools or district schools, but rather about the State’s overarching obligation to ensure a thorough and efficient education for all public school students in Newark,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “This appeal raises the abject failure of the Commissioner to perform his mandated constitutional duty to make certain that before charter schools can expand, all Newark children have the resources they need to succeed in school, whether they attend a district or charter school.”
“The Commissioner simply ignored the overwhelming evidence in the record that a further increase in charter enrollment at this time will harm children and schools throughout the city,” Mr. Sciarra added.
In their applications for renewal, seven Newark charter schools submitted requests to Commissioner Hespe that, taken together, would greatly increase overall charter enrollments over the next five years. The Commissioner approved these requests without explanation and without providing reasons. The approved charter increase totals nearly 9,000 additional students over five years, from just under 10,000 to almost 19,000 students.
Several of the charters sought substantial increases. For example, Team charter school, operated by the New York-based KIPP network, secured the green light to increase enrollment from 3196 to almost 8000 students and to add up to six new charter schools. The Commissioner’s approvals will almost double the current enrollment in these seven charters by the 2020-21 school year.
The approved expansion will also increase the seven charters’ share of Newark’s total charter population from 20% to approximately 37%. If enrollment in the district and in the fourteen other charters remains stable, the Commissioner’s decision will mean that by 2020-21, nearly half of all Newark’s school children will be enrolled in the charter sector.
Before the Commissioner, ELC submitted extensive comments on the charters’ requests for expansion, including detailed research documenting how the State’s decision to rapidly expand charter enrollments from 2009 through 2015 has put the NPS budget in crisis. The data shows charter enrollments nearly tripled to 12,885 students during that period, while the percentage of students with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs) in NPS schools increased significantly.
Further, while the NPS budget has been flat since 2011 as a result of the State’s failure to fund New Jersey’s school funding formula, payments from the budget to charter schools have risen dramatically to $225 million, representing 27% of the total NPS budget. ELC also documented that the combination of flat budgets and rising charter payments has triggered severe reductions in spending on regular classroom instruction, guidance and other support services, and special education and bilingual education in NPS schools.
The NJ Supreme Court, in several rulings, has imposed upon the Commissioner an affirmative constitutional obligation to carefully evaluate the impact that opening or expanding charter schools will have on the loss of funding and the segregation of students in districts served by the charters.
“The Commissioner must meet his constitutional obligation to assess and determine the impact that the loss of funding from increased charter payments will have on the ability of the Newark district to provide a thorough and efficient education to all public school children,” said Michael Stein of Pashman Stein in Hackensack, the firm representing ELC on this appeal. “The Commissioner did not evaluate the impact of charter expansion on the NPS budget, even though ELC presented a compelling record that the expansion would mean less funding, more cuts to essential staff and programs, and the further concentration of students based on disability and English language proficiency in NPS schools.”
Monday, May 2, 2016
Chapel-Hill, North Carolina, has long boasted one of the finest public school systems in the nation. They have a community totally committed to education; they fund their schools at high levels; they pay their teachers a nice supplement; and their students are apparently a pleasure to teach. I was once told that with the number of AP courses offered (and the extra GPA points they offer), the average GPA at Chapel Hill was close to 4.0. What should come as a surprise is that even Orange County-Carrboro (the district in which Chapel hit resides) is struggling to retain teachers. The News and Observer reports:
Orange County’s school districts have asked county commissioners for $8.3 million more next year, in part to slow the tide of teachers leaving for other districts.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school districts pay supplements of 10 percent to 12 percent on top of state-mandated base salaries for new teachers. But annual turnover has risen to 18.5 percent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools and 18 percent in Orange County, district officials said.
That left Chapel Hill-Carrboro without enough qualified elementary teachers this year and made it difficult to find other teachers, they said. Competition is compounding the problem. Wake, for instance, offers new teachers up to $2,500 more, Chapel Hill-Carrboro officials said, and invested $16 million in teacher salaries in October, the first step in a five-year plan to meet the national average.
That prompted the school board in April to raise next year’s supplement to 16 percent and offer signing bonuses for math, science and exceptional class teachers.
“The recruiting season is now, so there’s certainly no way we could stand at a table next to Wake and say, ‘Hey, come to Chapel Hill-Carrboro, we’ll give you 12 percent, and they’ll give you 18,’” school board member Rani Dasi said. “It really didn’t feel like a choice for us.”
The source of the problem is the overall disinvestment in education since the recession, and North Carolina is one of the nation's worst examples. When one of the state's-if not the nation's finest districts--struggles to hold onto its teachers, one can only imagine how tough things are in disadvantaged communities. More here on funding cuts, teacher shortages, and the dwindling commitment to public education (along with suggestions about how to avert the next educational crisis).
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Parents Allege Money Earmarked for School Integration Was Diverted to Charter Schools; Now They Want It Back
Plaintiffs in St. Louis, Missouri, have filed a very interesting challenge to recent charter funding practices. They allege that a local sales tax increase earmarked exclusively for desegregation remedies has been diverted to charter schools since 2006. The tax was originally passed in 1999 as part of a consent agreement in school desegregation case. The complaint alleges that the tax was properly spent from 1999 to 2006, but in 2006 it began being diverted to charter schools. The complaint is now asking that those funds be reclaimed for the traditional public schools and desegregation. As one might imagine, this is creating a huge division between families with students currently attending charters, as the remedy the plaintiffs seek would effectively bankrupt the charter system.
Whatever the merits of the complaint, it highlights another example of the ongoing tensions between creating new funding streams for charter schools at the same time that traditional public schools are being underfunded. For instance, Pennsylvania's newest charter funding scheme during the recession required local school districts, rather than the state, to reimburse charters, and the state set unreasonably high reimbursement rates. This nearly bankrupted Chester public schools and it caused Philadelphia schools to run significant deficits. In North Carolina, statutes allowed charter schools to tap into school districts rainy day funds. This meant that the money that districts saved for long term budget shortfalls could be spent immediately by charters. For more on the contrasting funding commitment to traditional public schools and charters, see here.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Julie Mead and Maria Lewis have published a new study in the American Educational Research Journal titled The Implications of the Use of Parental Choice as a Legal “Circuit Breaker.” The article explores laws "that result in taxpayer subsidies to religious education, perpetuate racially identifiable schools, provide public single-sex schools, and allow instances where children with disabilities do not receive needed special education and related services." They examine the United States Supreme Court's reliance on parental choice as a "circuit breaker" that permits what would otherwise be unconstitutional state action. Their abstract states:
This study explores four instances where parental choice has been employed as a legal “circuit breaker”: (a) First Amendment Establishment Clause cases related to public funding, (b) Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection cases regarding race-conscious student assignment, (c) Title IX regulations concerning single-sex education, and (d) a provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) related to parental refusal to consent to initial special education services. In each example, while the end result would not be legally permitted if directed by some governmental decision maker, the presence of parental choice produces a permissible indirect path to the same policy outcome. This study traces the legal underpinnings of each example and discusses their implications for policymakers and practitioners.
The paper concludes that in each of these examples,
a new legal boundary that hinged on the relevance of parental choice in legal analysis was set with respect to permissive educational policies. As this examination shows, those shifting boundaries both free policymakers in some instances (e.g., the creation of private school vouchers; single-sex education) and constrain them in others (e.g., race-conscious policies to further integration, challenging parents’ refusal to permit special education).
Analysis of these instances of circuit breaker logic also raises important public policy questions that illustrate the implications of these legal boundary shifts and the importance of understanding them. Will continuing or increasing use of parental choice as a legal circuit breaker alter the value traditionally placed on equal educational opportunity? Will continuing or increasing use of parental choice as a legal circuit breaker result in situations in which parents’ rights and children’s rights are in tension with each other? Will continuing or increasing use of parental choice as a legal circuit breaker modify the principle of parens patriae as applied to education? In short, the use of parental choice as a legal circuit breaker raises questions about the values held dear by a society and the role public education plays in that society (Goodlad & McMannon, 1997; Minnow, 2010; Ravitch, 2010; Superfine, 2013). Whether the uses of parental choice as a legal circuit breaker outlined here signal a shift in those values remains to be seen. What is clear is that the application of the circuit breaker metaphor bears watching by all with an interest in education.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
The Southern Education Foundation has released a new report on private schools, race, and their rapid growth of vouchers in recent years. The report demonstrates that new programs are concentrated in the South. It also notes that there have been increased efforts at the federal level to use federal funds for vouchers. Those efforts have only failed by narrow margins. The point of the report is to signal the segregative threat that the expansion of these programs may pose.
In 2012, for instance, African American students were 15.8% of the public school population, but only 9.2% of the private school population. Conversely, whites were 51.7% of the public school population but 72.1% of the private school population. One might simply write this off to socio-economic disparities, but the report emphasizes that private schools in the south have historically been a reaction to integration and that over the past fifty years, the South's share of the nation's private school population has risen from less than 15% to over 30%. And when we look at the demographics of private schools in southern states, the disparities between public and private schools is even more shocking.
In Mississippi, whites were a slim majority in public schools in 1998, but were 90.8% of the private school population. In South Carolina, whites were 58.7% of the public school population, but 90.1% of the private school population. The most telling data point, however, was the variation among states. While the gap between white enrollment in public and private schools was significant in all but one southern state, the gap itself seemed to be a reflection of the how large the white majority was in public schools. The higher the percentage of whites in public schools, the lower their percentage in private schools. In other words, where whites were a stronger majority in public schools, there seemed to be less incentive to enroll in private school. Similar trends existed in 2012, although not as obvious. The report also includes similar data analysis for Hispanic and Asian students.
The report also focused on individual schools and what it calls virtual segregation:
The third measurement of this study examines more deeply patterns of over- and under-representation of students by race and ethnicity within each school in 2012 by identifying the private schools in the 50 states where white students comprise 90 to 100 percent of total enrollment. These rates and patterns are compared with the numbers for virtual segregated public schools in the states and regions.
In 2012, white students were far more likely to be educated in virtual segregation in private schools than in public schools. Forty-three percent of the nation’s private school students attended virtually all-white schools in contrast to 26.9 percent of public school students. Among the 50 states, South Carolina’s private schools had the largest disparity in segregated education between private and public schools: 63 percent of white students in private schools in South Carolina in 2012 were taught in segregated schools in comparison with only five percent of the state’s public school students. Mississippi had almost as large a gap – a difference of 56 percentage points. Seventy-one percent of white students in Mississippi private schools attended segregated schools, while 15 percent of the public schools’ white students were attending segregated schools.
It also identified virtual exclusion:
The final measurement quantifying and comparing racial and ethnic patterns in private schools identifies the numbers of white students attending schools with only 10 percent or less of under-represented students of color – African American, Hispanic, and Native American students combined. In one sense, virtual segregation can be understood as a measure of the extent white students are extremely “packed” into schools, and virtual exclusion as a measure of the extent under-represented students of color are extremely absent or excluded from school enrollment. The analysis also compares rates of virtual exclusion between private and public schools by state and region.
Nearly two-thirds of white students attending private schools across the 50 states were in schools that virtually excluded African American, Hispanic, and Native American students. The rate was 41 percent in public schools. Racial exclusion in South Carolina’s private schools exceeded the rate among its public schools by the largest margin among the 50 states. Eighty-four percent of the white students in South Carolina’s private schools were in racially exclusionary schools in 2012. This rate compared to 11 percent in the state’s public schools – creating a private school disparity of 73 percentage points. Private schools in Delaware had the nation’s second largest disparity in exclusionary schooling: 72 percent of all white students in Delaware’s private schools were in virtually exclusionary schoolhouses, but only four percent of the state’s public schools’ white students were in such schools.
Seven of the ten states with the largest measures of racial exclusion in private schools were in the South. Six of those seven states were the Deep South’s “freedom of choice” states. The percentage of white students in private schools in the 15-state South exceeded the percentage in the public schools by 37 percentage points – close to twice the disparity in racially exclusionary schools for white students elsewhere in the nation in 2012.
Get the full report here.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
UCLA Civil Rights Project: Charter Schools, Civil Rights and School Discipline: A Comprehensive Review
Amid suspicions that some charter schools' policies serve to cull students for minor discipline problems comes a report this week that charter schools still are suspending black students at significantly higher rates than white students and suspending students with disabilities at two to three times the rate of nondisabled students. The study, Charter Schools, Civil Rights and School Discipline: A Comprehensive Review, was released by UCLA's Civil Rights Project and interprets federal data from 5,250 charter schools on out-of-school suspension rates. Among the findings:
- In the 2011-12 school year, 374 charter schools suspended 25% of their enrolled student body at least once.
- Nearly half of all Black secondary charter school students attended one of the 270 charter schools that was hyper-segregated (80% Black) and where the aggregate Black suspension rate was 25%.
- More than 500 charter schools suspended Black charter students at a rate that was at least 10 percentage points higher than the rate for White charter students.
- 1,093 charter schools suspended students with disabilities at a rate that was 10 or more percentage points higher than for students without disabilities.
- 235 charter schools suspended more than 50% of their enrolled students with disabilities.
The report also notes that "lower-suspending charter schools are more numerous than high-suspending charters," suggesting that those school may be using "effective non-punitive approaches to school discipline [that] could help close the pipeline." Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, told the New York Times that "the report should not be used to generalize about all charter school discipline, because there were also schools that did not suspend students at high rates." The full report, written by Daniel J. Losen, Michael A. Keith II, Cheri L. Hodson, and Tia E. Martinez, is accessible here.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Washington Hasn't Implemented the Constitutional Mandate for Educational Adequacy, But Has No Problem Finding a Charter School Fix
In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court declared the state's school funding system constitutionally inadequate. Since then, the state has be slow to act--slow enough that the Court imposed heft daily fines this summers until the state implements a plan. A week and a half ago, the state finally passed legislation, although some point out that it is no more than a promise to come up with a solution in the next legislation session. The real irony, however, came late last week when the state passed a new charter school bill.
The past September, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state charter law, reasoning that the statute violated the constitutional mandate for a “a general and uniform system of public schools” and that it diverted funds that the constitution reserves for common schools to other schools. In other words, the state was directing common school funds to schools that are not common. While the state has drug its feet for four years on a fix for traditional public schools, it only took six months to pass a fix for charter schools--a fix that had already failed once. Daarel Burnette at Edweek reports,
A bill championed by advocates to revive the [charter school] law was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate in January, but had stalled in the House education committee before Rep. Larry Springer, a Democrat, used a procedural maneuver to resuscitate the bill and bring it to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday.
Democrats control the House, but barely. And the effort to restore the law has met resistance from several groups, including the state's teachers' unions.
On Tuesday, April 5, 2016, New York University School of Law is hosting the conference "Can Markets Save Public Education?"
The organizers offer this description and schedule.
Join us for a conversation on charter schools, vouchers, tax credits, and other proposed market based reforms for public education. Experts in education policy, educational leadership, law, and economics will discuss potential impacts of charter schools on the community and area public schools, debate the merits of school choice programs, and explore the political and financial obstacles to implementing such reforms.
The keynote address will be delivered by Ms. Emily Kim of Success Academy, New York City’s largest network of charter schools. Ms. Kim is the Executive Vice President of Legal Affairs and Policy.
This event is free to attend, and lunch will be provided.
To RSVP, click here or copy and paste the link below into your browser:
We have applied for CLE for this event. If approved, CLE credits will be awarded per panel.
Friday, March 11, 2016
Louisiana to Take a Step in the Right Direction by Limiting Charter Schools in Districts Where They Are Not Needed?
The chair of Louisiana's Senate Education Committee has introduced a pretty common sense bill to limit the creation of new charters in the state. Existing law in Louisiana provides that charter school applications shall be made to the local school district, but if the district denies the application or places conditions on the charter school that the applicant does not like, the applicant can appeal to the state board of education. The state board can then freely grant the charter, notwithstanding the concerns of the local district. The new proposed legislation would significantly limit that appeal process. It indicates that in school districts that receive an "A" or "B" rating on their most recent state report card, there would be no right of appeal for charter applicants. Thus, those districts would be the final decision maker on charter school applications.
Because charters are most likely to pop up in struggling districts and inner cities, one might assume this bill would have little practical impact. But given the nature of southern school districts, this law covers a broad spectrum of school. First, the state has less than 80 districts and over half of them received an A or B last year, so its general application is broad. Second, districts receiving an A or B are not a monolithic or demographic homogeneous group. Many of these districts include schools that are seriously struggling, such as Jefferson Parish. Jefferson Parish District is rated as a B, but includes 22 schools that received individual ratings of D or F. Those schools are in communities where charters might otherwise believe they can find a market. Third, given the foregoing and what I know of a few Louisiana districts, some of these districts likely have some level of integration in their schools. This bill can help protect that integration. As a study of North Carolina schools revealed last year, charters in that state where becoming "whiter" while the traditional public schools were becoming "browner." As I argued here, charters schools can be dangerous in integrated school districts because they offer dissenters from integration an easy exit option. In North Carolina--traditionally the most integrated school system in the country--new charter schools appear to have created a hot-bed for those looking to exercise this exit option on the public dime. This Louisiana bill would limit that option there.
Peter Cook's summary of the bill follows the jump:
Thursday, February 25, 2016
The Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development recently issued a report evaluating the Race to the Top-enabled state Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD has the power to take over any school scoring in the bottom 5% through Tennessee's accountability system; thus far, it has taken over a number of schools, most of which are in Memphis and most of which are now operated as charter schools with the ASD as authorizer. The report's specific focus is on the way in which the ASD has struggled to build community buy-in for its reform agenda, particularly among those in the neighborhoods most directly impacted. The report points out that the political sustainability of these state takeover districts may be dependent on an ability to engage with and be responsive to local constituents. While that point may be somewhat apparent, the report does a pretty good job of documenting the specific dynamics in Memphis and could be useful as traditional school districts continue to cede power (often involuntarily) to non-local school operators.
Get the full report here.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
On the heels of news that one-third of Louisiana's voucher students are enrolled at schools that are under sanction by the state education department,Tulane's Education Research Alliance for New Orleans released four new studies yesterday on Louisiana's private school voucher program, formerly the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP).The four studies were co-authored by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas and studied students in grades 3-6. The report compared the reading and math scores of LSP voucher students with their public school counterparts, and reported on the effects of vouchers on students' non-cognitive skills, racial segregation effects, and the competitive effects on students in public schools. The report found that LSP voucher students' math and reading scores were initially lower than their public school counterparts, but that the LSP students' reading scores improved somewhat in the second year of study. The study found that had no effect on students' "non-cognitive" skills, including character-building and civic values. Those findings, however, were based on a small sample. Regarding LSP's impact on racial segregation, researchers found a reduction in traditional public schools’ racial segregation levels" with "no discernible impact on private schools." Finally, the researchers found that public schools either showed no or modest competitive effects in response to competition from the LSP, "particularly in those schools that experienced the strongest competitive threat." The studies can be viewed here.
Friday, February 19, 2016
Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Claim That State's Voucher Program Inappropriately Supports Religious Schools
Plaintiffs in Oklahoma challenged the state’s voucher program for students with disabilities. Their primary claim seemed to be that the program was unconstitutional because such a large percentage of those students used those vouchers at private religious schools. Of course, the U.S. Supreme court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), previoulsy held that this bare fact alone did not rise to the level of a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court emphasized that student choice, not public policy, drove state funds to religious schools and the state policy itself was facially neutral.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court took a similar approach in upholding the voucher program against challenges based on the Oklahoma Constitution.
In Oklahoma, the Department funds the scholarship by issuing an individual warrant payable to the parent or legal guardian; it is not payable directly to the private school. The parent or legal guardian then endorses the payment warrant to the independently chosen private school providing the contracted educational services. Scholarship funds deposited to a private sectarian school occur only as the result of the private independent choice by the parent or legal guardian. The Department has no influence on which private school the parent chooses, or the subsequent endorsement of the payment warrant. The Department never directs whether the scholarship payment is made to a private sectarian or non-sectarian school.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Down Limits on Charter Schools, Raising Other Concerns Regarding Consistency
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set aside conditions and enrollment caps on the West Philadelphia Achievement Charter School, reasoning that the Philadelphia School Reform Commission lacked the power to impose those conditions. The decision has a complicated procedural history and the Court's decision is equally complex and technical. It suffices to say that a state statute granted school reform commissions the authority to assume control of distressed school districts. Philadelphia was deemed one of those districts a few years ago. When the school reform commission took over, it also took over the role of granting and renewing charters. When West Philadelphia Achievement Charter came up for renewal, the school reform commission exercised its statutory power to impose conditions on the renewal.
The charter school, however, refused to consent and challenged the commission's authority in court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the charter school and relied on the non-delegation doctrine to reach its conclusion. Non-delegation doctrines, in effect, provide that legislatures cannot delegate legislative powers to the executive branch. In the current case, the Court reasoned that this was exactly what the legislature had done because it did not set out the standards by which school reform commissions should act. Thus, the school reform commission had unbridled discretion and power, which is a hallmark of an impermissible delegation.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
The national shortage of teachers reported by the New York Times last fall has only gotten worse. Based on recent news reports, Clark County, Nevada--the nation's fifth largest district--may be suffering the worst. Ironically, at the same time that the schools are suffering for money and teachers, the state is dumping money into vouchers. David Sciarra offers this critique in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Aggressive [teacher] recruitment has had some success. Yet low pay, poor working conditions and rising enrollments make it difficult to attract and retain effective teachers. Thousands of students are in classrooms lacking a properly licensed teacher.
The teacher shortage is just one of the challenges the district faces as it struggles to provide quality education to 320,000 students.
It's no secret that many Clark County schools are over-capacity. Buildings need repair and system upgrades. Bilingual and special education services are lacking. Quality preschool, extended learning time and help for at-risk students are in short supply.
It's also no secret that the way Nevada funds public education is outmoded and inadequate. In the Education Law Center's "National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair?" Nevada consistently ranks in the bottom 10 states on funding level and receives an F for failing to fund the needs of poor children. Nevada also gets an F on investing in education, despite an improving economy.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Virginia currently has very few charter schools, due in large part to the fact that local school districts, rather than the state board of education or third parties, must authorize them. The Virginia Senate has been working on a plan to "fix" the "problem." Their solution was to amend the constitution. Apparently, all was going well from the reformers' perspective, but on Monday the measure suffered a surprising defeat. According to the Washington Post, conservatives had gotten "the Republican-led House and Senate to pass an identical resolution last year. But this time, two Senate Republicans voted against it. Neither one spoke against it during the floor. However, Democrats who led the charge against the bill said it would undermine the authority of local school boards."
Given the national political and economic organization that has successfully pushed similar changes in other states, the issue is sure to return to Virginia. Massachusetts, for instance, is under enormous pressure and it is not letting up. Advocates there are challenging the state's cap on charters as a violation of the state constitution's education clause. The merits of that claim are highly questionable, but it is nonetheless creating significant political pressure for new legislation, which some predict is coming soon. With this defeat in the Virginia Senate, Virginia will solidly remain one of the nation's rare hold-outs on the issue of rapid expansion of charters for, at least, a few years.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
The Every Student Succeeds Act's Random Additions: Charter Schools, Data Collection, Testing Limits, and Discipline
My prior post detailed the Act’s new approaches toward academic standards and accountability, teachers, funding, and the federal role in education. The Act also included some other important changes and additions that do not fit into those categories. These changes are one-offs that look like bones thrown to various different and competing constituencies (which is probably true of a few of the progressive changes I noted last time). In other words, they are pet projects that helped the bill get passed. These changes include for charter schools, data, test validity, test opt outs, and school discipline
The act includes new competitive priorities for charter school grants. For those unfamiliar with the term competitive priority, it means that states or districts that include certain policies in their competitive charter school grant application will receive extra points in the assessment of their plan. As a practical matter, it makes it far more likely that they will receive a grant. It also makes it highly unlikely that states and districts that do not include those policies will receive a grant. In short, they are implicit mandates for those who want money.
So what are these special charter school policies? They are exactly what charter advocates have been lobbying states to do, often with little success. The priorities are for states that increase the number of entities in the state that can authorize new charters, states that give charters per pupil funding equivalent to that in traditional public schools, and states that give more robust support for charters in need of facilities.
Nothing really changed for magnet schools, and that is the point. Magnet school financial support and policy has been stuck in neutral for nearly two decades. By comparison, this means magnet schools are moving backward while charters rush forward. There is, however, one potentially explicit retrogressive addition for magnets. The Act seemingly requires or strongly prefers socio-economic integration over any other form of integration. Socio-economic integration is, of course, immensely important. The point here is the attempt to take race off the board—a position that the Bush Administration took, that the Obama Administration eventually retracted, and that has now resurfaced.
The Act requires states to collect and submit far more detailed data, and the new data it seeks is important: funding and teachers. This will be a boon to researchers attempting to drill deeper into problems of resource inequity.
Valid Tests (Potential Bombshell)
A provision of Title I indicates that states can only use the mandated tests for purposes for which they are valid. To most, this may read as no more than technical jargon, but it is potentially the single most powerful provision in the bill for those who would seek to block the misuse of tests. As I detail here, the tests on which states rely to run their teacher evaluation systems (value added models and student growth percentiles) are not valid for those purposes. Others have also long raised validity problems with certain states use of high stakes tests for student graduation and promotion as well. Who knows whether this was Congress’s intent, but the Act certainly would appear to have the effect of preventing states from using standardized tests for illegitimate purposes. The question that remains is whether individual teachers or students could rely on this provision in litigation or whether it is up to the Secretary to enforce this provision through the administrative process.
The Act gives parents the right to opt their children out of standardized tests. Opt-outs were big news last year, as large percentages of students refused to take tests in New York and New Jersey and the states scrambled not knowing whether the Department would hold this against the states. The Act now specifically indicates that these opt-outs will not count against the state in determining the percentage of students who took the tests.
Discipline: Bullying and Suspensions
Finally, the Act gives a big boost to progressive discipline policy. Previously, there was no such thing as general federal authority in regard to discipline. The only foothold had been in regard to racial disparities in discipline (pursuant to Title VI). The Act now specifies that states’ plans should include policies to reduce bullying, suspensions, and averse responses to student misbehavior. The bullying provision is, likewise, significant because it is not limited gender or race based bullying--a big stumbling blocking in past enforcement efforts. To be clear, however, this discipline provision operates within the larger structure that offers states’ enormous autonomy in their plans and severely limits the Secretary’s ability to reject a state plan.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Judge James Wilson of the First Judicial District Court of Nevada (Carson City) has ruled in Lopez v. Schwartz that the state's school voucher law (SB 302) enacted last summer by the Legislature violates two provisions of the Nevada Constitution. Judge Wilson issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the State from implementing the law.
The case challenging the voucher law was filed by parents of Nevada public school children from across the state. They argued that the program would divert scarce funding from public schools, triggering cuts to essential programs and services for their children and all other children attending Nevada's public schools.
The Court explained that the Nevada Constitution requires the Legislature to appropriate funds for the operation of the public schools, which "must only be used to fund the operation of the public schools." [Nevada Constitution, Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2.] However, the Court continued, under the voucher law, if implemented, "some amount of general funds appropriated to fund ... the public schools will be diverted to fund" the vouchers for private school tuition and other uses.
Judge Wilson further found that the parents "have [proven] that SB 302 violates Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2, and that irreparable harm will result if an injunction is not entered. Therefore an injunction will issue to enjoin Treasurer Schwartz," who is charged with implementing the law, from doing so.
“Not only the plaintiffs won today,” said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director of Educate Nevada Now! (ENN), a campaign to strengthen Nevada public schools. “Judge Wilson’s ruling is a victory for all 460,000 public school children in Nevada, their parents, teachers, administrators and school board members. We are thrilled with the decision and look forward to continuing dialogue focused on improving our state’s education systems.”
"We're pleased that Judge Wilson found that the Legislature cannot take funding designated for the operation of the public schools and transfer that funding to private schools and other private education expenses," said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. ELC is a partner in the ENN campaign, along with the Las Vegas-based Rogers Foundation.
The Court will next schedule a trial on the merits.
The pro bono counsel team representing the parents in their lawsuit includes Education Law Center, Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP based in Nevada; and, Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles.
The Attorney General is representing the State of Nevada and defending State Treasurer Dan Schwartz.