Monday, November 25, 2013
Friday,U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled that the Department of Justice is entitled to monitor Louisiana's voucher program, although the details of that monitoring are yet to be determined. The judge gave the state and DOJ 60 days to agree on a process. Both sides are claiming victory in a resolution limited to monitoring.
Bobby Jindal took victory in the fact that "the judge acknowledged that data provided by the state show the program does not have a negative impact on desegregation. We are also glad the judge made clear he does not want to disrupt the scholarship program." But consistent with my most recent post on the case that this is a controversy Jindal hates to see go away, he suggested that there is an ongoing battle that he will fight, remarking ,"We will draw a hard line against allowing the federal government to control the scholarship program and handpick schools for Louisiana's children." Unfortunately for Jindal, DOJ is not suggesting anything of the sort.
DOJ, instead, is claiming victory, as minor as it may be, in the ability to monitor the program. Jocelyn Samuels, DOJ acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, remarked, "We are pleased that the court has supported the department's position in this matter," and added, "This should not have been controversial in the first place." Samuels last point was mine since this dispute began. Yet, given the low stakes involved in a monitoring battle, one wonders how this case made it this far.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Delineating state based education litigation into waves is inherently problematic. In school finance litigation, scholars, including myself, have sought to divide it into three, if not four, different waves. Yet all understand that the lines between the waves are fluid and, thus, we speak in waves mostly for convenience. With that caveat, charter school litigation may be entering a new wave. In the past, the most prominent and prevalent charter school litigation has been by those opposing charters and who argue that they violate state constitutional provisions. I would call that the first wave. The potential second wave--albiet a loosely connected waive--involves cases coming from an entirely different set of plaintiffs: those supporting charters and claiming that the state is inappropriately tampering with or restraining them. These cases are not entirely new, but based on this past week, they seem to be growing more prevalent and gaining more traction in the court. The growing prevalence is likely a result of the fact that charters have reached the point where they are normative rather than aberrational and individuals have, at least, a subjective settled expectation in regard to them. In support of this potential waive, I offer three cases coming decided or filed in just this past week.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Last week, the Department of Education indicated that it is backing away from the requirement it announced just 2 months ago that low income and minority students have equal access to high quality teachers. This move and the timing of it are troubling. Civil rights leaders and scholars, including myself, had praised the Department for making equal access part of the NCLB waiver requirements. And although I had previously posited that Arne Duncan was inappropriately acting as a de facto superintendent of the United States of America School System in the conditions he was placing on school systems, equal access to teachers was one area that did not raise the same concerns because it was within the scope of existing statutory language of NCLB. The Department just had not been enforcing it and now seemed ready to do so. Backing away now only reignites concerns about the statutory authority under which Duncan is acting. His ability to change course reinforces the notion that he is not acting under statutory standards, but based on his judgement of how best to run "his" national school system.
Legalities aside, this retreat is also problematic on a policy level. In just the past week, two major studies identifying the gains associated with this access have been released. One was a Department of Education funded study showing the efficacy of encouraging top teachers to transfer to needy schools. The second was a Fordham Institute study showing the efficacy of giving the best teachers larger class enrollments. Both studies showed impressive results and only added to the mountain of research that preceded them. Why the Department would back away from existing teacher requirements in the midst of increasingly persuasive evidence on the topic is beyond me.
In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its momentous decision in Sheff v. O'Neill, becoming the first and only state high court to hold that racial isolation in the Hartford schools violated the state constitutional right to an equal education. Finding a remedy that everyone could agree on and comply with has been the challenge of the following decade and a half. The state would agree to a set of goals one year, only to be hauled back into court a year or two later with charges of non-compliance. Progress has not be a straight line, but has occurred. This year the state appears to have met it integration goals. While full integration is far from complete there, this year's numbers are a testament to what is possible and rejoinder to those who accept segregation as a given.
The Sheff Coalition Movement released this statement this morning:
The state has released 2013-14 enrollment figures for schools and programs covered by the Sheff v. O'Neill settlement agreements. Over 19,000 students are now participating in the Hartford region's innovative two way voluntary school integration programs. This figure includes all city and suburban students attending regional magnet schools, Hartford students participating in Open Choice, and Hartford students attending regional technical and agricultural high schools.
The state has also exceeded its 2013 goal of 41% of Hartford minority children in "reduced isolation settings" (see calculation below*) - and this number includes over 38% of Hartford children now attending racially and economically integrated schools (schools that meet or are approaching the regional integration standard).
In spite of this important progress, the state is still unable to meet the growing demand for integrated school options. The Sheff Movement coalition has called for a doubling of the integration goal in the next five years.
"These enrollment figures are good news as we move into the next phase of Sheff implementation," said Elizabeth Horton Sheff, co-chair of the coalition, "It shows we have a healthy growing system and that is working. But 41% is not enough - we need to keep growing this system so all children have the ability to attend diverse schools."
Court Finds That Sub-classes Cure Flaws in D.C.'s Special Education Class Action Litigation, By Mark Weber
Ever since the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), narrowly reading the “common question of law or fact” requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 so as to overturn a class certification in a Title VII case, there has been concern that class actions in education law cases might be more difficult to certify. The concern is particularly acute in special education cases, because so much of the enforcement of legal rights, both before and after congressional passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, has been through class actions. Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools, 668 F.3d 481 (7th Cir. 2012), confirmed the fears of some advocates by relying on Wal-Mart to overturn a class decree in a case alleging that the school system failed to identify, locate and evaluate children who are potentially eligible for special education services, and failed to design and implement educational programs for them. In a rather similar case challenging the failure to follow IDEA child-find obligations requiring the school system to identify, evaluate, determine eligibility for children with disabilities, and provide transition from services from infant program services to school services, the D.C. Circuit vacated a class action decree against the D.C. public schools, relying in part on Wal-Mart and on Jamie S. DL v. District of Columbia, 713 F.3d 120 (D.C. Cir. 2013). The DL case read much differently from Jamie S., however. The court said that the large, combined class of all children affected by the child-find deficiencies of the public schools failed the Wal-Mart standard, but pointed out that smaller subclasses composed of children harmed by more narrowly defined practices could be permissible.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed yesterday a lower court's decision that a teacher could be fired for insubordination, thus avoiding a constiutional question of whether his teaching creationism and intelligent design in science classes imposed religious values on students. John Freshwater was a tenured high school science teacher who worked in the Mount Vernon City School District for twenty years. He had never been disciplined, even though he taught creationism and intelligent design in his eighth grade science classes, a violation of the school district's Academic Content Standards. The school board asked Freshwater to remove religious displays in his classroom such as the Ten Commandments and a poster depicting a Biblical verse above a photograph of former President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell in prayer. The district also warned Freshwater not to proceed with a plan to “critically examine” evolution in his science class. Freshwater ignored both dictates. Freshwater was fired in 2007 after using a Tesla Coil to make a cross on a student's arm that lasted over a week. (He denied intending to do so.) The Mount Vernon City School Board terminated Freshwater for cause because he "injected his personal religious beliefs into his plan and pattern of instructing his students that also included a religious display in his classroom," and for insubordination. Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Edn., 2012-Ohio-889 (Ohio Ct. App. Mar. 5, 2012). The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday found the record supported Freshwater’s termination for insubordination in failing to comply with orders to remove religious materials from his classroom. The Court agreed that the district complied with the First Amendment by not allowing a public school teacher to “engage in any activity that promotes or denigrates a particular religion or religious beliefs while on board property, during any school activity” or when he was teaching." Because the court found that good cause existed for Freshwater's termination, it declined to reach the constitutional issue of "whether Freshwater impermissibly imposed his religious beliefs in his classroom." Read Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School Dist. Bd. of Ed. here.
Yesterday, NPR had a story about Milliken v. Bradley, the landmark school desegregation case holding that the federal courts could not impose desegregation plans on local districts absent evidence that those districts engaged in racial discrimination. Next year will mark Milliken's 40th anniversary, and Professor Joyce Baugh (Central Michigan University), told NPR that "[t]he Detroit public school system is in dire straits, in large part because of that decision. I don't think enough people realize the impact of that case. Not just in Detroit, but across the country," Baugh said. NPR also interviewed Ray Litt, father of one of the plaintiffs and Frank Kelley, then-Michigan's attorney general. The case changed the course of school desegration policy and remains relevant as third party interests continue to play a central role in school law, as Aaron Taylor mentioned yesterday in a post about the Missouri transfer law and Derek noted in the Lousiana voucher litigation. Listen or read the transcript of the interviews on How Court's Bus Ruling Sealed Differences in Detroit Schools here.
The typical discussion about classroom size is about whether to make them smaller for disadvantaged students. A new study by the Fordham Institute asks a slightly different question and suggests a different approach: within a single school, would it help to assign more students to the best teachers and fewer to the weaker teachers. The premise of this question is consistent with prior literature that suggested that, generally, the quality of the teacher matters more the the number of students in the class (although that conclusion does not necessarily follow in regard to the most disadvantaged students). The Fordham Institutes's study concludes that schools can, in fact, maximize achievement and more efficiently marshall their resources by assigning strong teachers to larger classrooms, rather than assigning the same number of students to every teacher's classroom.
One unanswered question is what the teachers think about this.
Yesterday, DOJ withdrew its requests for an injunction of Louisiana's voucher program. Most conservatives and choice proponents immediately rejoiced and appeared ready to move on. Bobby Jindal, however, displayed either minor disappointment or an inability to accept victory graciously. My read is that he is disappointed this issue is going away and is going to try to keep it alive as best he can. The problem is that he only remaining objection is paperwork.
While DOJ is no longer seeking an injunction, it does want to continue to monitor the program to ensure it does not have segregative effects. To do so, it wants to receive data each year on the program. Data tracking, demographic shifts, and regular status conferences to review them are standard fare in desegregating districts and there really is no basis to object. One never knows to which side's advantage the facts will play, but monitoring progress and regression is absolutely necessary for courts to carry out their responsibility.
Jindal's response: "This is a typical Washington move. The updated Department of Justice request reeks of federal government intrusion that would put a tremendous burden on the state, along with parents and teachers who want to participate in school choice.” Louisiana's state superintendent also fell in line behind his governor, calling the request for data a “power grab. . . .They want to retain control over something that we believe should be in the hands of parents. . . .It is clear that they want that power.”
Given our data driven and reporting world, turning of this small data set over is unlikely to pose much, if any, additional burden on Louisiana. This sounds more like an attempt to continue the political rhetoric and disregard basic desegregation law. The troubling aspect of this case is why DOJ is taking this position now. My perspective throughout was that we had to respect the legal process in a case where existing desegregation orders were already in place and that we could not presuppose the facts. What is unclear is whether DOJ had been blocked from getting the facts initially and, thus, filed suit (but now that it has the facts believes there is no problem) or DOJ folded under political pressure. DOJ is not one to fold and mid-way into this battle had indicated that all it wanted was data. In that respect, its actions have been consistent. But if it only wanted data, why did ask for the program to be enjoined? One explanation would be litigation strategy. If in fact Louisiana was being obstinate in regard to the minor request for data, the request for injunction upped the ante and protected against the possibility that Louisiana was hiding something. Regardless, to Jindal's likely disappointment, this case is finally poised to fade away into the normal litigation progress, which only a select few will follow.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Case Alleging School Interfered with Protests of Mistreatment of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Students Moves Forward
Amber Hatcher, a student at Desoto County High School, filed a lawsuit against the Desoto County School Board, the Principal at her high school, and other school officials alleged that they "have engaged and are engaging in conduct which violates her First Amendment rights. In April, 2012 [Hatcher] sought to organize and participate in the National Day of Silence at her high school in an effort to bring attention to the harms associated with bullying and harassment directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students." Hatcher asserts that the school interfered with her ability to bring attention to the issues and that it plans to do so again this year.
In Hatcher ex rel Hatcher v. DeSoto County School Dist. Bd. of Educ,, 939 F.Supp.2d 1232 (M.D. Fla. 2013), the district court found that "[a]t least some of these proposed activities were well within the First Amendment and required no approval by any school official, e.g., remaining silent outside of class, communicating in writing or by dry erase board outside of class, non-vulgar conversations about the upcoming National Day of Silence." Thus, it denied the defendant's motion to dismiss and claims of qualified immunity.
The issue of race in public education has long been salient in Missouri. St. Louis, along with its cross-state counterpart, Kansas City, was an epicenter of the battle for desegregated schools. Through much of Missouri’s history, great pains were taken to ensure that schools were racially isolated. The state constitution mandated the racial segregation of schoolchildren until 1976, more than 20 years after the provision was rendered void by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.
Post-Brown desegregation efforts were reluctant, resistant, and protracted. But, ultimately, they were deemed successful. In 1999, St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) reached a settlement, which ended federal court supervision of its desegregation efforts. But while schools in St. Louis are legally desegregated, they are not integrated in any practical sense. Almost 60 years after Brown ended segregation by law, students in St. Louis attend schools that are segregated in fact. And with 89% of St. Louis public school students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, socioeconomic isolation pervades as well.
Racial and socioeconomic isolation lead to racially and socioeconomically disparate educational outcomes. As I explained in a previous writing:
Disparities among St. Louis area school districts have an undeniable racial character. Of the seven area districts with black student enrollments above 50%, all have free or reduced lunch rates of at least 60 percent, compared to only two of the 15 majority white districts. All of the majority black districts have graduation rates below the state average, compared to only one of the majority white districts. In five of the seven majority black districts, a lower proportion of graduates enter four-year colleges than the state average, compared to only four of the fifteen majority white districts. Moreover, in four of the majority black districts, the proportion of graduates immediately undertaking any post-secondary education is lower than the state average, compared to only one of the majority white districts.
Unfortunately, the suburban migration, or white-flight, that has characterized the post-WWII era, rendered integrated schools all but impossible in St. Louis and other cities. Recognizing this reality, many people advocated for desegregation plans that encompassed entire metropolitan areas, rather than individual cities only. The idea was that because of their broader scopes, metropolitan plans would minimize the effects of segregative housing patterns on school demographics and also make “flight” more difficult. However, in 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court made it difficult for federal courts to impose such plans.
In Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717, 745 (1974), the Court held that for suburban districts to be brought into a desegregation plan, it must be shown that those districts operated segregated schools or were significantly affected by school segregation in other districts. This decision, while plausible on its face, failed to account for the effects of housing policies and practices that fostered suburban migration, segregated neighborhoods and, as a result, segregated schools. The actions of individual school boards are but a small factor in the calculus of racial isolation. But Milliken ensured that federal judges overseeing school desegregation would be severely hamstrung in their efforts to bring about actual integration. The demographics of SLPS and many other districts across the country are legacies of Milliken.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Last week, La Feria School District in Texas told Jeydon Loredo that his picture would not appear in the school's yearbook. Jeydon grew up female but identifies as male. He posed for his high school senior picture in a tuxedo. The school's rationale for excluding him was its dress code. Jeydon's mother said that officals told her that her son's picture in a tuxedo "goes against the community standards.” They further indicated that “they were a conservative school and that (outfit) wouldn’t follow the school policy as far as their dress code.” If he wanted to be included in the yearbook, he would need to wear feminine clothing.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) came to Jeydon's defense and threatened to sue the district for violating his First Amendment, Equal Protection, and Title IX rights. After a meeting with the SPLC, the district changed its position and will include Jeydon's picture in a tuxedo in the yearbook. One wonders whether the district knew it was violating the law to begin with and thought it could get away with it or if it only came to realize the err in its ways after speaking with SPLC. Either way, this story shows a lot of education around these issues is necessary.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the state had reached a proposed settlement with parents who have placed their special needs children in private schools and are seeking tuition reimbursement. The settlement would still need to be approved by the district court. To be clear, however, the settlement is more procedural that substantive. Currently, state law requires that a state agency approve settlements/serve as the appeals agency for those families who are denied a settlement by the school district. The problem is that so many parents have placed their children in private settings, and so many appeals are before the state agency, that there is a huge backlog. As a result, the state is simply failing to process all the claims before it. This settlement would eliminate the appellate process and defer to local school district decisions, which would drastically speed up the process.
How Diversity Stole the Show at Oral Argument in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, by Scott Greytak
I was still in the early stages of using my neighbor – an apathetic marble pillar – as an armrest when Schuette’s oral argument turned into a debate over diversity in higher education. This was mostly a surprise, considering how the appeal before the Court concerned Proposal 2, a 2006 Michigan ballot-initiative-turned-constitutional-amendment that hinged on the applicability of something called the “political restructuring doctrine.”
A little background: After the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions some ten years ago in the now-famous case Grutter v. Bollinger, Jennifer Gratz, the plaintiff from its companion case, started rolling the snowball for what would become Michigan’s Prop 2. The referendum, which banned racial preferences in higher education, public employment, and government contracting, was approved by Michiganders 58%-42% in 2006, only to be struck down six years later at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by an 8-7 vote. The Sixth Circuit, applying the political restructuring doctrine, determined that the amendment made it unacceptably difficult for minorities to access and influence Michigan’s political process. Jennifer Gratz & Co. appealed the decision, and the final review of Schuette (pronounced “Shoe-tee”) went into motion.
Because an aggressive Schuette Court ultimately could, some argue, choose to outlaw affirmative action across the board, conversations on diversity at oral arguments were certainly possible, but were far from necessary. Nothing about Schuette speaks directly to the Supreme Court’s diversity-in-higher-education jurisprudence. A conversation about the political restructuring doctrine – interrupted every now and then by an heroic tumbleweed or two – seemed written in the stars.
Forget that plan. Though the intricacies of the doctrine would receive plenty of airtime later, the eight justices (Justice Elena Kagan was absent due to her former involvement while U.S. Solicitor General) wanted to talk diversity first. And not two minutes would go by between Chief Justice Roberts announcing Schuette and the unearthing of freshly-buried ideological hatchets. Even though, according to the first oralist – Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch – the “point [of Schuette] isn’t to get into a debate about whether preferences are a good or bad thing, because that's not what this case is about,” right from the jump, Bursch and Justice Sonia Sotomayor picked up where the Court had left off in last term’s Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, arguing diversity and – most attention-grabbing – the viability of race-neutral alternatives to traditional, “check the box” affirmative action policies in higher education. Suddenly the courtroom was alive with old, familiarly controversial spirits that roamed the courtroom in search of warm-bodied jurists.
Fisher, which I consider the Court’s most misunderstood decision of its 2012-2013 term, dealt directly with the novel legal conundrum of race-neutral admissions plans, namely Texas’s Top Ten Percent Plan. The decision, released this past June, has since rekindled – in that slow-burning, “Purple Rain”-type of way- the smoldering controversy of affirmative action in colleges and universities.
Because Schuette offers the conservative bloc of the Court another swing at the use of race in admissions – albeit with a much smaller strike zone than in Fisher – all three oralists managed to inconvenience their primary points of law in order to speak to the larger ideological picture: “[T]here are other things that the University of Michigan could be doing to achieve diversity in race-neutral ways,” Bursch – the eager beaver of the three oralists – offered after only slight provocation.
“I thought that in Grutter,” Justice Sotomayor shot back, “all of the social scientists had pointed out [that] all of those efforts had failed.” In response, Bursch highlighted how the University of Michigan could in fact increase its diversity levels if it eliminated its preferences for the children of alumni, and if it attached greater value to applicants’ socioeconomic statuses. (The latter idea has caught fire recently because of its near-airtight legality – it does not explicitly consider race, making it impervious to 14th Amendment-based challenges – its political digestibility, and, perhaps, its capacity to produce more diversity than traditional affirmative action.)
And so the gusto over diversity, Grutter, and Fisher rowed on for a bit, eventually beat back by the jurisprudential boundaries of Schuette and the political restructuring doctrine. Just a skirmish, it turns out. But one that reminded us all of the deeper issues yet to be resolved.
Scott Greytak is an associate at Campinha Bacote LLC in Washington, D.C., where he provides legal analysis, policy recommendations, and commentary on the intersection of civil rights and education policy.
Friday, November 15, 2013
How One School District Bucks Trends in School Choice While Replicating Old Mistakes (And Still Seems to Come Out on Top)
Earlier this week, the Greenville County Schools in South Carolina made a change to their school choice policy, moving from a first come first serve basis to a lottery. The school system may not ring a bell to many, but Greenville has both historical and growning modern significance. For instance, it was the locus of desegregation sit-ins during the 1960s that led to a Supreme Court decision. Today, it attracts national recognition for its quality of life and economic vibrancy. It is regularly listed among the top 10 fastest growing cities in the country and among the top 10 strongest job markets. Several multinational businesses, including BMW and Caterpillar, have set headquarters or major facilities there.
The quality and attractiveness of the school system is necessarily part of this mix. The school district assigns every student to a school based on neighborhood zones, but offers every family the opportunity to transfer out of their neighborhood school. About 18 or so percent of families have opted for schools other than those in their neighborhood. Prior to this year, parents literally had to stand in line at the school of their choice and transfer were accepted on a first come first serve basis. Local news likened it to Black Friday at Best Buy. Some parents would camp out over the weekend to increase their children's chances. Last year, in Best Buy fashion, the first come first serve process resulted in a physical injury to one parent.
This year the board began debating options. Substantial numbers of parents preferred the old system. Why not give the seats to the most eager and committed, they charged. My suspicion is that those with that opinion were disproportionately represented at the school board hearings. Those who can stand in line for enrollment are also those most likely to have the time and ability to go to school board meetings. This skewed voicing of opinions almost resulted in the district retaining its old policy. Better judgment prevailed and the new policy requires parents who wish to transfer to identify three preferred schools. Admissions are then granted on a lottery basis.
After digging at the details, a few unusual facts struck me. First, the old system is the exact type that in the past has perpetuated segregation and inequality. It incentivizes flight from minority schools and flight from underachieving schools, but tends to only give refuge to the advantaged. But based on what I saw in the data, the choice plan was not obviously having this effect, maybe because the African American and Latino population in total is only 25% of the district and the incentives for racial flight are not as high. Maybe, the district is working some other magic. I suspect it is.
Second, families choose to transfer out of schools that would otherwise be characterized as good. The district's explanation is that parents are basing transfers on legitimate concerns like commutes, after-care, proximity to the parent's workplace, etc.
Third, the schools with the highest percentages of African American students tended to have the highest waitlists. Based on historical patterns, I doubt that this is because people are fleeing to African American schools. My assumption is that these schools either had fewer available openings to begin with, they are geographically desirable, or they are just among the better schools. Regardless, race is not having it normally substantial impact.
None of this is to say that Greenville is a model. Parents are responsible for transportation when they transfer, which tends to have substantial socio-economic and racial impacts. In addition, the lottery is completely blind, which from an equity standpoint is problematic. Consider that students from good schools can randomly gain admission to a school of choice over another student with special needs or a student coming from a failing school. For this reason, a blind lottery foregoes the possibility of balancing schools in various important ways.
Despite these flaws, Greeneville has gotten some other important things exactly right. It has somehow fostered an open lottery system whereby choice is often being sought for legitimate rather than illegitimate reasons. Equally important, it has increased capacity in all of its schools so that choice are available. Every school has a substantiall number of available slots for transfers. Finally, the district has gotten people excited about their schools, gauranteed options, and made its school system attractive to business considering locating there. While the story of choice is different in every locality, this one likely warrants special attention and research.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
In the past few months, we have posted on a series of funding scandals involving virtual charter schools. A new policy and research guide by Bruce Baker and Justin Bathon digs far deeper than my posts and the legislative responses-which have been to simply pull the plug in some instances. The guide starts with the question of: based on actual costs, what is the appropriate level of funding for virtual schools? It then offers recommendations, such as paying virtual schools after students complete courses rather than based on basic enrollment. This creative solution might go a long way to stemming corruption and perverse incentives. Those intent on cheating the system can surely find ways to falsify data regarding course completion, but for the vast majority, anchoring funding to course completion does away with the incentive of enrolling students for the sake of enrolling them and then paying little attention to how their education progresses.
Baker and Bathon's full recommendations follow the jump.
The city of Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, attracts families because of its highly rated school system. That attraction may be lessened next year because the school board voted to eliminate school bus service for most students in 2014. The Hoover City Board of Education’s school budget will have a $17 million deficit next year ended bus service to save money. This week, parents, activists, and the NAACP held a press conference in downtown Birmingham to protest the decision. First, they said, there is little evidence that cutting bus service will realize substantial savings. Yesterday, we posted an infographic by Trisha Powell Crain of alabamaschoolconnection.org that questions the district’s estimated savings of $2.5 million (Crain’s numbers shows that the savings will likely be under a million dollars). Protestors say that costs have little to do with the decision—that the real motive for stopping school bus service is to ease out students who perform poorly on standardized tests. A Hoover mother of three said in al.com that"[w]e all know the elephant in the room is there's a demographic of black children and Hispanic children that they don't want here. [Diversity was] OK when you were importing all the black kids to come and play football. You just didn't count on their cousins coming with them.” School officials deny that the move is an effort to get rid of black, Hispanic, or low-income children in Hoover. Critics of the decision also point out that families will avoid buying homes in Hoover without any bus service for their children, which will affect property the lack of public school bus. Hoover mayor Gary Ivey has rebuffed that criticism, saying property values in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, Birmingham’s wealthiest suburbs, have not declined even though they have no school bus transportation either. Meanwhile, another city leader, Hoover Councilman Gene Smith, has paid nearly $30,000 of his own money for a study of the impact of the school bus cuts on Hoover's property values and socioeconomics. Smith says that he will reveal the results of the study on November 18. Spokespersons for the Department of Justice and the Alabama Board of Education say that they are monitoring the Hoover situation. In this age of accountability testing, declining test scores has implications for school funding, teachers’ jobs, and property values. Three Hoover schools are discovering those stakes when they landed on Alabama’s “failing schools” list last year for not making adequate yearly progress.
School Funding Versus Major League Baseball: The Braves Get a New Stadium While Students Get Fewer Teachers
Cobb County schools in Georgia are being asked to tighten their belts to the tune of $86 million at the exact same time as the County is committing to cough up $450 million to build the Atlanta Braves a new baseball stadium. Of course, leaders claim the new stadium is good for taxpayers, while the superintendent of schools is warning of the risk at which schools are being place. The newly approved school budget includes five furlough days for all school district employees, the loss of 182 teachers through attrition and a smaller central administration staff. Just to keep the pain this mild, the district had to pull $41 million from its rainy day emergency funding reserves. In doing so, its reserves dwindle to a level that only amounts to one month's basic operating budget.
The stadium funds will not, of course, come directly out of the schools' budget. Georgia's schools are funded by a combination of state appropriations and local real estate taxes reserved solely for schools. Supportors of the stadium claim that it will be funded solely by a special tax on the businesses around the stadium, but skeptics point out that there are not many business in the area and certainly not enough to raise $450 million. In other words, regular taxpayers will likely foot much of the bill. Slice it and spin it any way you want. In the end, Cobb County's elected leaders can find money for a baseball stadium, but they cannot find money for its students. Seems odd given that an adequate education is mandated under the state constitution and baseball is but a past time.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Education Next ran a long story on diverse charter schools this past winter. Last week ,the New Orlean's Advocate ran its own story about a new diverse school in its own backyard. These schools are remarkable because they have tended to sprout up in districts that are otherwise racially and socio-economically diverse, like as New York City and Washington, D.C. They show that charter schools are capable of achieving ends that otherwise allude regular public schools. Some of them also show the capacity to draw students from across district lines, thus evading the primary driver of segregation, which Milliken v. Bradley indicated was beyond the power of courts. For these reasons, Jim Ryan touted the possibility of charter schools in his book, Five Miles Away, A World Apart.
While these schools show promise, they remain tiny drops in a huge bucket of segregation. The Century Foundation has identified 24 diverse charters that have sprung up in recent years. As of 2010, there were over 5,300 charters and their numbers have increased since then. In addition, some local communities charge that this diversity has come with a price. Some claim the schools have exclusively catered to and recruited middle income families, fostering the perception that they are schools of exclusion rather than inclusion. Likewise, advocates in NYC have emphasized that their diverse charter schools are not diverse in all respects, but rather enroll far fewer special education students than other schools. The bottom line seems to be we must push far much harder for diverse schools and not lose site of the fact that it matters how we achieve diversity. We must be equally mindful that they are open and diverse in all respects.
A few commentators recently noticed how Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had changed the rules for distributing Title I funds (federal anti-poverty money). The major shift occurred when the district changed its standard for determining which schools are eligible to receive Title I money. Previously, a school had to enroll 40% low income students. In 2011, the requirement moved to 50%. As a result, about 24 schools in the district lost Title I funding. Commentators now claim that some schools were charterized or new charters sprung up because they could avoid this rule and seek other grants.
Getting to the bottom of the blame game and what is fair is difficult for the average observer because Title I's funding formulas are so complex. Title I money is distributed through no less than four formulas. Some factors are consistent across those formulas, but many key ones are not. (A full explanation of Title I's formulas is available here). For this post's purposes, it suffices to say that Congress sets one threshold for whether a district receives Title I funds, but once those funds get to the district, the district sets its own standards for which schools within the district receive funds. In other words, Congress funds districts, not schools. Districts fund schools.
Commentators, including Diane Ravitch, are blaming LAUSD and charter schools, which I can appreciate, because the district is the place where the effects are most directly controlled and felt. But the locus of the problem is that LAUSD is put in a compromised position of making tough choices between schools because Congress's has set such irrational standards for the distribution of funds to districts. As detailed in my article, The Congressional Failure to Enforce Equal Protection Through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congress gives Title I funds to 90% of the school districts in the country because it sets the threshold for eligibility at a mere 2% in the county in which the district rests. Thus, LAUSD has fewer Title I dollars because Congress is sending money to places that do not have a poverty problem. Congress needs to bump up the eligibility requirements significantly and more heavily weight concentrated poverty in its future formulas.