Tuesday, February 7, 2017

With Ninth Supreme Court Justice Waiting in the Wings, Lawsuit Revives Movement to Eliminate Mandatory Teacher Union Dues

A little over a year ago, teacher unions across the nation were bracing for a serious blow.  The Supreme Court had granted certiorari in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case involved a challenge to a California statute that required all teachers to contribute to the union.  Non-union members could opt-out of certain fees, but all teachers were required to pay those fees associated with the basic negotiation of the teachers' contract because all teachers benefit from that contract.  Plaintiffs argued that these forced union dues violates their First Amendment rights.  While the Ninth Circuit had upheld the fees, oral argument strongly suggested the Court would strike down the statute.  Before the Court could issue a decision, however, Justice Scalia passed away.  The Court came to a 4-4 tie, the effect of which was to leave the lower court decision in place.  The Orange County Register reports:

Eight California teachers filed a federal lawsuit Monday against their school districts and the California Teachers Association, challenging mandatory union membership and the union dues that come with it.

“Our basic goal is to regain our power, our speech and our right to not associate with an organization that harms us and our students,” said Ryan Yohn, 38, lead plaintiff and an eighth-grade American history teacher at Stacey Middle School in the Westminster School District.

The Center for Individual Rights, a nonprofit libertarian law firm, filed the lawsuit in federal court Monday in Los Angeles on behalf of Yohn and other teachers, including Allen Osborn with the Riverside Unified School District, against various school district superintendents and unions.

They suit aims to resurrect issues raised in an earlier case that ended last year with a 4-4 deadlock before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s really the same case with different plaintiffs,” said Terence Pell, the center’s president.

. . . .

 

Union leaders, meanwhile, said a decision against them could impact government workers beyond the teachers’ groups, threatening union membership across the country.

“Unions are made up of teachers, firefighters and other working people,” said Claudia Briggs, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. “Whatever happens to us happens to everybody else.”

“If a politically driven agenda trumps that hard work, the ones who suffer will be our children and others who benefit from the service of public employees,” she said.

 

February 7, 2017 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Lotteries Then Pot: The Continuing Evolution of States' Attempts to Fund Education through Anything Other Than General Revenues

The Washington Supreme Court has hammered the state legislature hard in recent years over its failure to rationally fund public education.  Most recently, it imposed daily fines on the state for its failure to come up with a plan to comply with the court's prior decisions declaring the financing system unconstitutional.  The court also struck down the state's attempt to set up a new charter school system, again reminding it that the state constitution obligates to to fund its traditional public schools.  The Seattle Times now reports that the state is looking to fill its education funding gap with taxes on marijuana.  The Seattle Times offers this report:

It’s a question that Republican senators have asked during state budget battles from time to time: Why can’t Washington, flush with marijuana tax revenue far outpacing old projections, use that money to help solve the state’s school-funding crisis?

Well, it can. To a small extent it already does. And there is at least surface-level bipartisan agreement that maybe the state should look at pot money as a partial solution to the education-funding gap that the Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to fill.

But, Democrats are quick to point out, there’s not a big pile of marijuana tax money just sitting around — it’s already being spent in other ways.

 And with Democrats and Republicans still unable to agree on how much money they need to satisfy the court’s McCleary decision, the question of where, specifically, that money should come from can feel secondary.
 

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, thinks it will cost $2.75 billion above current funding levels, over the next two-year budget period, for the state to fully fund the public schools.

Legislative Democrats would bump current levels by $1.6 billion.

Legislative Republicans won’t say what they think it will cost. So far, they won’t say when they’ll release a proposal, although they promise it will be soon.

That’s despite a nearly yearlong bipartisan task force that was supposed to come up with cost estimates by the time the Legislature began, a deadline that came and went this month.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, served on that task force, and at a news conference earlier this month was more strident on rededicating marijuana tax money than on when her party would present a full education funding plan.

“Marijuana revenue needs to go to education, I think it should be devoted,” Rivers said. “I think it’s absolutely appropriate to take the money, set it aside, and say this is only education.”

Using marijuana revenues seems far more human than past legislative schemes to use lottery revenues.  It is likely far more lucrative as well.  But the optics and the inference that the state lacks a serious commitment to education give me pause.  

Get the full story here.

February 6, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Department of Education Study Reveals Disappointing Results of School Improvement Grants

The Department of Education recently released its findings of its study of the impact of school improvement grants (SIG) to districts.  The results were not that promising.  First, the districts receiving grants did not seem to adopt reform at a significantly higher rate than other schools.  They did implement certain reforms, but so did other schools.  In other words, they may have received grants to do things they would have done anyway.  Second, the specific reforms implemented did not appear to affect student achievement.  To be clear, however, the problem may have simply been in the reform models preferred by the SIG grants.  Spending money on the wrong policies surely will have no positive effect. Unfortunately, this is not new.  Benjamin Superfine wrote a similarly interesting article on the Race to the Top grants.  See  Benjamin Michael Superfine, Stimulating School Reform: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Shifting Federal Role in Education, 76 Mo. L. Rev. 81 (2011).  In any event, the Department offered this summary of its new findings:

  • Although schools implementing SIG-funded models reported using more SIG promoted practices than other schools, we found no evidence that SIG caused those schools to implement more practices. Our descriptive analysis found that schools implementing a SIG-funded model used significantly more SIG-promoted practices than other schools (22.8 of the 35 practices examined [65 percent] versus 20.3 practices [58 percent], a difference of 2.5 practices). Our more rigorous RDD analysis found a similar ES-2 difference of 3.3 practices, but it was not statistically significant. Therefore, we are unable to conclude that SIG caused the observed difference in use of practices.
  • Across all study schools, use of SIG-promoted practices was highest in comprehensive instructional reform strategies and lowest in operational flexibility and support. In the comprehensive instructional reform strategies area, study schools reported using, on average, 7.1 of the 8 SIG-promoted practices examined (89 percent). In the operational flexibility and support area, study schools reported using, on average, 0.87 of the 2 SIG promoted practices examined (43 percent).
  • There were no significant differences in use of English Language Learner (ELL)- focused practices between schools implementing a SIG-funded model and other schools.
  • Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.
  • When we compared student achievement gains from different models in elementary grades (2nd through 5th), we found no evidence that one model was associated with larger gains than another. For higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as baseline differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

Get the full study here.

February 6, 2017 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Have Those Who Support Education Already Won in the Betsy DeVos Confirmation Fight?

When news broke a couple of days ago that two republican senators would vote against confirming Betsy DeVos as the next Secretary of Education, speculation over the possibility that she might not be confirmed went into hyper-drive.  If just one more senator defected, DeVos would fail and there were five or more republican senators who, due to politics in their home states, might very well vote against her.  Given that opposition to her was not just political, but basic competency, picking off just one senator seemed possible.  After all, some major charter school advocates had even come out against her.  If her confirmation died, it is not clear that anyone other than Donald Trump would be personally bothered (although those whose bundle campaign contributions might feel the pain).  The past two days seemed to dash those hopes, however, as one, after another, Senators Rubio, Toomey, Heller, Fischer and others have indicated support for her.  

This morning at 6:30 a.m., the full Senate began the process of voting on her.  For procedural reasons, the final vote will not happen until Monday or Tuesday.  I would not rule out a last minute surprise, but odds are that she will be confirmed.   Some will see this as a loss, but at this point, the vote does not really matter.  Those who want to protect education have already won.  Here's why.  

First, Trump is not going to nominate anyone that public education supporters will like.  He has all but called public schools cesspools of financial waste and failure.  If Betsy DeVos fails, Trump would double down on undermining education, not moderate.  So a no vote on DeVos would be a moral victory, but not necessarily a practical one.

Second, Trump would be unlikely to make the same mistake twice in terms of appointing an incompetent Secretary.  Often times, blocking a nominee draws a concession of sorts, but because the problem with DeVos is competency, the concession--if there was one-would be on credentials.  Trump's second nominee would likely have some education experience and knowledge.  If so, that person would sail through and look strong by comparison.  Finding such a person would be easy.  As I pointed out, Betsy DeVos may be in the top one percent in terms of wealth, but she is probably in the bottom twenty-five percent in terms of education knowledge.

Third, someone with competency would be more dangerous than DeVos.  As I pointed out here, DeVos does not appear to really understand the nature of the Secretary's job.  If she does not understand her job, it is reasonable to predict she might not be able to do much with it. True, she offers no hopes for those who want to see improvements in education, but it is possible she might just be irrelevant.  

Fourth, and here is the key to why she might become entirely irreverent, this bruising confirmation and the possibility of only being confirmed by virtue of Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote has mortally wounded Betsy DeVos.  She may become Secretary of Education, but she will not have a bully-pulpit or political support.  So many groups have come out against her publicly that she has lost what would have been her presumptive base.  And everyone is now clear that she is unqualified for the job.  Why would they listen to her?  And she has fired teacher unions and supporters who would normally take a measured approach.  Even those senators who vote for her are unlikely to stick their necks out for her in the future.

The skeptic might say, yeah, but if she wins, she has power and can do what she wants.  Fortunately, that is just not true.  As a reaction to Secretary Duncan's overreach with No Child Left Behind waivers, the Every Student Succeeds Act severely restricted the powers of the Secretary.  As I explain here, the Act shifted an enormous amount of power and discretion back to the states, reducing the Secretary to a paper-pusher.  

The Secretary, as paper-pusher, is free to cheer-lead for the policies he or she likes, but that is about it.  The silver-lining of this confirmation is that DeVos is a cheerleader that half of the Senate wants to tar and feather and another third wants to just go away and not be seen any more.  After all, her nominal supports are smart enough--I hope--to remember they have already taken away the Secretary's power, so what difference does it make if she is incompetent.

For a number of reasons, including symbolism and leadership, I think competence does matter and my idealism still wants to see her voted down because it just is not right to have someone who lacks basic qualifications to rise to this level.  But given the way things are shaking out, those who support schools and competency may have already won.

February 3, 2017 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Final Days of Obama's Department of Justice Still Paying Desegregation Dividends

Yesterday, I wrote about how Secretary of Education John King worked until the final days and helped push through the Department's guidebook on racial diversity and integration in public schools.  Tuesday also brought news of a major desegregation breakthrough in Mississippi for the Department of Justice.  This one, however, is even more surprising and comes on top of another major Department of Justice desegregation victory in Mississippi last year.  

The new victory involves the Cleveland School District.  It had been operating a freedom of choice student assignment plan that had been producing significant racial imbalance between its two high schools and two junior high schools.  One high school, for instance, was forty percent white while the other high school could count its white students on one hand. The district court had ordered the school district to merge its schools per the Department of Justice's proposal.  The school district appealed that ruling and the Court of Appeals issued a stay, blocking the order to desegregation.  Somehow on Tuesday the Department of Justice managed to secure an agreement with the district, whereby it would drop its appeal and consolidate the schools anyway.  The Clarion Ledger reports:

[T]he Cleveland School Board announced at Monday’s school board meeting that it had reached a settlement in the desegregation lawsuit and would drop its petition, which sought to maintain the district’s current open enrollment system.

District lawyer Jamie Jacks said the decision by the board was unanimous.

“It felt moving forward with a solid plan would serve the district, its students, faculty, parents and community best in the long run,” Jacks said in a statement. “The district is looking forward to making 2017-18 a successful year as we all move forward together.”

The work of enforcing decades-old desegregation cases in small little districts across the country easily goes unnoticed.  And even when these little districts act entirely contrary to law, it is probably easy enough for some, including our courts, to look the other way.  At least, that is my take on a number of desegregation decisions over the past decade.  A lot of credit goes to the Department of Justice for pushing this case from the start and seeing it through, even as the keys to the White House changed hands.  It is also worth acknowledging that this school board agreed to do the right thing.  It is altogether possible it could have avoided doing so.  

On a more global level, this case also offers a pristine example of why the leadership in the Department of Justice matters so much.

February 2, 2017 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Department of Education Releases Guide to Diversifying Schools

Former Secretary of Education John King said the Department would work until the last moment, as it had important work still to do.  January 19th, 2017 did not disappoint.  The Department released a guide for improving diversity in public schools.  The introduction states:

This brief provides information to support school districts and stakeholders seeking to improve student diversity in their schools through voluntary, community-led programs as part of an overall effort to increase equity and excellence for all students. Diversity can include many factors, such as race, national origin, disability, socioeconomic status, and language proficiency. What follows is an action-oriented summary of considerations when embarking on efforts to increase student diversity, starting with possible steps to consider when conducting a diversity needs assessment and planning for implementation. Potential diversity strategies and a few examples from the field are included, as well as thoughts on efforts to sustain an inclusive environment once diversity strategies are being implemented.

The guide goes through the nuts and bolts of data collection, decision making, and funding for diversity programs--the basic things a school needs to look at to determine what is or is not necessary.  It then focuses on five specific types of programs and policies that schools can use to diversify: magnet schools; controlled choice; open enrollment; high-quality charter schools.  The guide also offers suggestions for maintaining an inclusive environment in diverse schools: culturally relevant instruction, detracking/expanding access to advanced coursework within schools; diversifying the teacher workforce; and teacher development.

There is nothing particularly new in the document, but it offers good resources and a strong vote of confidence for districts considering positive changes.

Get the full report here.

February 1, 2017 in Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (1)

New Jersey Supreme Court Denies Gov. Christie's Bid to Change Teachers' Rights by The Education Law Center

This from the Education Law Center:

The NJ Supreme Court issued an order yesterday denying Governor Christie's motion to reopen the landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation. ELC, counsel to the plaintiff school children, vigorously opposed the Governor's action.

In the September filing, Governor Christie asked the Court to modify prior Abbott rulings by giving the Commissioner of Education unlimited authority to over-ride terms of teacher collective bargaining agreements and the law requiring teacher layoffs by seniority. The Governor also asked the Court to "freeze" state aid at current levels under the funding formula - the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) which was upheld and enforced by the Court in the 2009 and 2011 Abbott XX and XXI - while the Executive and Legislature developed a new wholly undefined formula to be adopted at some indeterminate future date.

In denying the Governor's motion, the Court noted the challenges to collective bargaining and seniority in layoffs "have not been subject to prior litigation in the Abbott line of cases."
The Court, in its order, "declines to exercise original jurisdiction" to hear the motion "in the first instance," thus deciding not to consider the merits of the Governor's request.
"We are pleased the Court has turned down the Governor's request. Issues related to collective bargaining and teacher layoffs were never in the Abbott case, which has been singularly focused on ensuring adequate funding and resources for students in New Jersey's poorest schools," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and lead Abbott counsel.
Denying the Governor's request to freeze school funding means that the Court's directives in the Abbott XX (2009) and Abbott XXI (2011) rulings requiring the State to continue to use the SFRA formula to fund New Jersey's public schools remain in full force and effect.

"With this ruling, we anticipate the Governor will follow the Abbott rulings and SFRA statute by using the formula to determine state aid for school districts in the FY18 State Budget," Mr. Sciarra added. "We're prepared to work with the Governor and Legislature to ensure the budget includes a long overdue increase in state aid, targeted to districts most in need."

February 1, 2017 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Governor Cuomo: Dump Formula, Let Politics Drive School Funding by David Sciarra

In his proposed 2017-18 budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for repeal of New York's Foundation Aid Formula, the 2007 law responding to the landmark case, Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE).


The Formula was carefully designed to deliver funding for the essential resources all New York school children need to achieve the state's academic standards, including additional resources needed for students in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. The Formula was also designed to drive increases in state aid to high need schools across the state, addressing New York's longstanding disparities between high poverty, low wealth and low poverty, high wealth school districts.
In the 2003 CFE ruling, New York's highest court declared the state's method of funding schools violated New York City students' constitutional right to a "sound basic education." The Court of Appeals sharply criticized the funding system, calling it a "political process" that allocates funds to schools in a way that "does not bear a perceptible relation to the needs of" public school children.


In the wake of CFE, the Legislature enacted the Formula to move the state from funding schools based on available dollars and raw politics to year-to-year determinations based on student and school need. The Formula also allocated school aid based on district fiscal capacity to raise local revenue from property taxes. To accomplish this objective, the Formula provided for a four-year phase-in of increases in state aid, or $5.5 billion statewide, the vast majority targeted to the poorest urban and rural districts.
In 2009, the state froze and then subsequently cut Formula aid. Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has staunchly resisted increasing aid to move districts towards full Formula funding. The Formula remains underfunded by over $4 billion.


The result of the state's failure has fallen hard on students, especially those in high need schools. Many districts have reduced or eliminated teachers, support staff and other programs deemed essential in CFE for a constitutional education. Yet support for full Formula funding remains strong. Parents, teachers, board members and legislators have stood behind the Formula, demanding Governor Cuomo re-commit to a multi-year phase- in of full Formula aid.


The Governor's announcement that he wants to eliminate the Formula is a stunning reversal of his 2010 campaign position when he made clear the state's responsibility for full Formula funding. The Governor recognized the state "is supposed to equalize or come close to equalizing" school funding, declaring that "the state has yet to fully fund" CFE.
Governor Cuomo is following the playbook of Governors in Mississippi and Georgia, states where the existing funding formulas are, like New York, chronically and substantially underfunded. Rather than fully funding the Formula, the Governor wants to wipe it off the books, and with it the current $4 billion shortfall in state foundation aid. By dumping the Formula, the Governor is attempting to avoid accountability for meeting the needs of New York's school children, needs that the Governor, no matter how hard he tries, cannot pretend don't exist.


Even worse, repeal of the Formula would be a major step backwards. The Governor wants to turn the clock back to the days when school funding was decided by "three men in a room," a crass political process soundly rejected by the CFE rulings. We're confident that legislators will continue to stand behind the Formula and demand that it be fully funded to ensure the needs of school children remain prominent, paramount and fully effectuated in the annual state budget.


David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of Education Law Center. ELC advocates for fair and adequate school funding for New York school children.

January 31, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call for Papers from Journal of Law and Education

The Journal of Law & Education is currently accepting manuscripts for publication in its 2017 volume. Authors should submit manuscript and CV to jled@law.sc.edu .

January 31, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

New School Funding Fairness Report Is Available, Showing Continued Stagnation Since the Recession

The Sixth Edition of the School Funding Fairness Report is now available.  The report is a joint effort of the Education Law Center and the Rutgers University School of Education, with Bruce Baker serving as lead author.  To no surprise, the report "finds that public school funding in most states continues to be unfair and inequitable, depriving millions of U.S. students of the opportunity for success in school."  It retains the same methodology of the past, analyzing  "Funding Level, Funding Distribution, Effort and Coverage."  The report also highlights a major trend that I emphasized in Averting Educational Crisis--the failure of state funding systems to rebound since the Recession.  The report "shows almost no improvement since the end of the Great Recession in those states that do not provide additional funding to districts with high student poverty. There is also no change in the vast differences in levels of funding for K-12 education across the states, even after adjusting for cost."

Key findings include:

  • Funding levels show large disparities, ranging from a high of $18,165 per pupil in New York, to a low of $5,838 in Idaho.
  • Many states with low funding levels, such as California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, are also low “effort” states, that is, they invest a low percentage of their economic capacity to support their public education systems.
  • Fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, and Illinois, have “regressive” school funding. These states provide less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of need as measured by student poverty.
  • Students in certain regions of the country face a “double disadvantage” because their states have low funding levels and do not increase funding for concentrated student poverty. These “flat” funding states include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest.
  • Only a handful of states – Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey – have “progressive” school funding. These states have sufficiently high funding levels and significantly boost funding in their high poverty districts.
  • States with unfair school funding perform poorly on key indicators of resources essential for educational opportunity. In these states, access to early childhood education is limited; wages for teachers are not competitive with those of comparable professions; and teacher-to-pupil ratios in schools are unreasonably high.

This year's report also comes with a huge bonus for researchers.  They can now download data files on local education agencies, state equity indicators, and basic state fiscal numbers. This is also probably great for Bruce Baker, so that the rest of the world can figure out answers to questions themselves.  We really owe a great debt to group for doing this work and making it available. It is the exact type of fundamental analysis and data that I argued over a decade a ago the U.S. Department of Education should be doing as part of its monitoring of federally funded programs.

Get the full report here and the data files here.

January 30, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 27, 2017

A “Meaningful” Opportunity to Alleviate the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities

Jason Langberg and Sarah Morris have published a new article, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District: A “Meaningful” Opportunity to Alleviate the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities, in the Denver Law Review.  They offer this introduction:

Brandon and Tyler are both sixth grade students with individualized education programs (IEPs) for their serious emotional disabilities. Pursuant to his IEP, Brandon is in a behavioral support class that focuses on social and emotional learning for 60 minutes every day. He also receives psychological services twice a week and his parents receive counseling, twice a month, on how to work with Brandon. A behavioral intervention plan (BIP) that focuses on teaching replacement behaviors and reinforcing positive behaviors is part of Brandon's IEP. Finally, his IEP includes specific, measurable, and attainable behavioral goals. Tyler's IEP, on the other hand, mirrors the boilerplate IEP given to most middle school students with emotional disabilities in the district. It provides for 30 minutes of generic special education twice a month and no related services. Tyler has a BIP, but it focuses on punitive consequences.

Brandon graduated from high school and earned a scholarship to college. Tyler spent the next few years frequently suspended, referred to law enforcement, and failing classes. He eventually dropped out of school and became ensnared in the prison industrial complex.

The primary cause of the disparate outcomes for Brandon and Tyler was where they went to school. Under the current state of special education law, as eligible students with disabilities (SWD), both were entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). However, Brandon was entitled to "meaningful" services in his state, whereas Tyler was entitled to services that were only "just above trivial" in his state.

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up this incongruity in its upcoming term, with implications well beyond the mere formulation of a consistent legal standard. Its decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District[1] will ultimately either worsen or alleviate the "school-to-prison pipeline" for SWD.

Get the full article here.

 

January 27, 2017 in Discipline, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lawsuit Alleges West Virginia Public School System Offers Bible Classes

Somehow, every year the Freedom from Religion Foundation manages to find cases that, if the allege facts are accurate, boggle the mind because the obvious constitutional problems they raise. This year is no different.  The organization just released this press release regarding what it claims is a 75-year old practice of Bible study classes at school.  The press release offers this summary: 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed its first lawsuit of the year to end egregiously unconstitutional "Bible in the Schools" classes in Mercer County Schools, W.Va. 

Joining FFRF as primary plaintiffs in the case filed on Jan. 18 are Jane Doe, an atheist and member of FFRF, and her child, Jamie Doe. FFRF and Jane Doe contend Jamie faces "an untenable choice" next year — whether to participate in unconstitutional bible indoctrination or face likely ostracism by conspicuously opting out.

The bible instruction, taught by itinerant teachers who possess "a degree in Bible," begins in first grade. Classes are held in 15 elementary schools, one intermediate school and three middle schools. The classes meet weekly and last 30 minutes in elementary schools and 45 minutes in middle schools.

The defendants are Mercer County Board of Education, Mercer County Schools, and Superintendent Deborah S. Akers.

Bible indoctrination classes have been taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years. Between 1939 and 1985, the bible classes were designed, financed, administered and staffed by a small group of Mercer County citizens. Following complaints by parents of eight students in 1985, the Mercer County schools took over the instruction in 1986, claiming to follow nine guidelines from the Office of the Attorney General.

Financing is provided by the "Bluefield Bible Study Fund, Inc.," which operates a fund to pay bible teachers to instruct about 4,000 students. Bible teachers must follow lesson plans almost without deviation. There are 70 to 90 visuals used in each lesson. Lessons have included images of Jesus being tortured, nailed to the cross, and ascending into heaven.

The curriculum is the equivalent of sectarian Sunday school instruction. Goals include developing a "positive attitude" toward biblical literature, "understanding the importance of the Ten Commandments," and "harmonizing the four gospel accounts of the last days of Jesus."

FFRF's legal complaint lists examples of the proselytizing curriculum. Lesson 2 promotes creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Students are asked to "picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur! He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn't that be so wild!"

Lesson 6 exhorts students to follow the Ten Commandments and to "have no other god than the Lord God!" Lesson 25 indoctrinates young students in the core narrative of Christianity — the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes: "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such religious instruction unconstitutional more than 65 years ago, in the landmark McCollum v. Board of Education. It's unacceptable that such clearly unconstitutional indoctrination is still being conducted in any public schools." FFRF won a court victory before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ending similar bible instruction in Rhea County (Dayton), Tenn., schools in 2004.

Mercer County, whose county seat is Princeton, has a population of about 63,000.

FFRF v. Mercer County Board of Education was filed on Jan. 18 in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia, with Marc Schneider serving as primary litigating attorney and FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott as co-counsel. FFRF thanks FFRF extern Chris Line for his research and preparation of the complaint.

Get the complaint here.

January 23, 2017 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Does Money Matter in Education? Bruce Baker's New Report Says Yes

In 2012, Bruce Baker released a report that surveyed all the literature on the effects of school funding.  It was the first singnificant survey of the literature since Greenwald, Hedges and Laine's study from the mid-1990s.  Baker has now released a new update to his prior work.  The report finds:

  • On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes. The size of this effect is larger in some studies than in others, and, in some cases, additional funding appears to matter more for some students than for others. Clearly, there are other factors that may moderate the influence of funding on student outcomes, such as how that money is spent. In other words, money must be spent wisely to yield benefits. But, on balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.
  • Schooling resources that cost money, including smaller class sizes, additional supports, early childhood programs and more competitive teacher compensation (permitting schools and districts to recruit and retain a higher-quality teacher workforce), are positively associated with student outcomes. Again, in some cases, those effects are larger than in others, and there is also variation by student population and other contextual variables. On the whole, however, the things that cost money benefit students, and there is scarce evidence that there are more cost-effective alternatives.
  • Sustained improvements to the level and distribution of funding across local public school districts can lead to improvements in the level and distribution of student outcomes. While money alone may not be the answer, more equitable and adequate allocation of financial inputs to schooling provide a necessary underlying condition for improving the equity and adequacy of outcomes. The available evidence suggests that appropriate combinations of more adequate funding with more accountability for its use may be most promising.

He boils the research on those points down to this:

While there may in fact be better and more efficient ways to leverage the education dollar toward improved student outcomes, we do know the following:

• Many of the ways in which schools currently spend money do improve student outcomes.

• When schools have more money, they have greater opportunity to spend productively. When they don’t, they can’t.

• Arguments that across-the-board budget cuts will not hurt outcomes are completely unfounded.

In short, money matters, resources that cost money matter, and a more equitable distribution of school funding can improve outcomes. Policymakers would be well-advised to rely on high-quality research to guide the critical choices they make regarding school finance.

Get the full report here.

January 23, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Edushyster Says DeVos Was Playing the Long Game in Michigan

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

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

Get the full story here.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Betsy DeVos May Be in the Top One Percent in One Category, But She Is in the Bottom Half in Another and That Makes Her a Hard Sell

When I first read the exchange between Betsy Devos and two senators on the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), I was speechless.  As a professor, this is a relatively rare occurrence.  Once I came to my senses, a few potentially poignant ideas came to me, but before I share them, I will give you an opportunity at speechlessness.  Here is the exchange:

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked DeVos if all schools that receive federal funding should meet the requirements of IDEA.

DeVos: “I think they already are.”

Kaine: “But I’m asking you a should question. Whether they are or not, we’ll get into that later.” He then repeated his question.

DeVos said: “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states.”

Kaine responded: “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities and other states might not be so good and, what then, people can just move around the country if they don’t like how kids are being treated?”

Devos repeated: “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.”

Kaine said: “What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.”  He repeated his initial question again.

DeVos then offered an anecdote about a Florida voucher program for students with disabilities.

Kaine interrupted her: “Just yes or no. I think all schools that receive federal funding — public, public charter, private — should be required to meet the conditions” of IDEA. He asked if she agreed.

DeVos: “I think that is certainly worth discussion.”

Kaine: “So you cannot yet agree with me.”

[Later]

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) explained that the IDEA is a federal civil rights law that must be followed. She asked DeVos if she stood by her statement that it was up to the states to follow it.

DeVos: “Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.”

Hassan: “So were you unaware when I just asked you bout the IDEA that it was a federal law?”

Devos: “I may have confused it.”

My guess is that if you are reading this post, you already knew what the IDEA is and, if so, that makes you more qualified to serve as Secretary of Education than Betsy DeVos.  You may also know the following, but I offer it for the good of the order.  Students with disabilities typically make up roughly 10 or 11 percent of the public school population.  In some schools, it dips to around 8 percent.  In others, it is around 14 percent.  It is the second largest chunk of funding that the federal government spends on public education.  Title I funds, directed at low-income students, are the biggest chunk at around $14 billion.  IDEA funds are a close second at $12.5 billion.  Nothing else comes close.  

The Office for Civil Right at the Department of Education is charged with investigating discrimination complaints in education.  It protects against race, gender, disability, language status, and age.  Of all the complaints it receives, 39% are in regard to disability.

How any Senator could deem a person qualified who is not sure of, misunderstands, or thinks that the most (or second most) important law she will be charged with enforcing is voluntary is . . . .  Well, I just cannot find the word to finish that sentence.  Is it shocking, astonishing, unbelievable, or maybe just the new world order where basic knowledge and facts do not matter.

Then a snarky light went off.  Betsy DeVos may be part of the top one percent in terms of wealth and that may qualify her to do a lot of things.  It may have offered her a lot of skills. But on education, she may very well be in the bottom half in terms of knowledge.  Owning charter schools is a lot different than knowing something about education.  I own several stocks and I know very little about any of them.  I own a couple of cars--one for a decade and I still cannot manage to get the driver's seat to return to its original position as I am told it is supposed to when I get in.  Nor can I sync my garage door opener to my car.  And I have read the owner's manual on these topics a couple of times.  And I am generally a pretty hand person.

But, of course, no one is nominating you to be Secretary of Education and no one is asking me to fix their car or offer stock advice, so those are not really accurate points of comparison.  If we compared DeVos to those who actually follow public education, either closely or casually, I would venture to say she is, at best, in the bottom 25% in terms of knowledge.  Now, let's get serious.  Is this someone any Senator should confirm as the Secretary of Education?

January 19, 2017 in Discipline, ESEA/NCLB | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Will Obama's Last Act Be a Major Reform to Address School Funding Inequity?

CNN reports that the "Obama administration is considering a major last-minute policy shift that could force hundreds of school districts to cut spending at well-financed elementary and secondary schools and move nearly $1 billion dollars to schools with large numbers of low-income students."  The story does not dig into the details, but my assumption is that they are referencing Secretary of Education King's plan to use the supplement, not supplant provision as a mechanism to force intra-district funding equity.  While inequities between school districts tend to be much larger than inequities within school districts, the later is arguably more perverse.  Data shows that many school districts simply do not fund their own schools equally.  They use federal funds at low-income schools to replace local dollars and then move those local dollars to schools serving more affluent students.  The net result is to cancel out the added boost that federal dollars are supposed to have.

As a matter of basic fairness and protecting the integrity of federal dollars, the Obama policy is entirely reasonable.  Under prior law, I argued here that for the past several decades the Department should have been doing something along the lines of what Obama is proposing.  Prior administration simply failed to do their job and looked the other way.  

There is, unfortunately, a major problem with Obama's new proposal: the Department probably lacks the legal authority to impose it.  A year ago, when Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the form of the Every Student Succeeds Act, it severely limited the Department's overall authority, stripping the Secretary of several powers he/she had previously held.  On the hole, it reversed the federal role in education.  Recognizing as much, Secretary John King tried to find a loop-hole for exerting continued authority.  Supplement, not supplant was his chosen vehicle.  

As I argue here, however, I am afraid the funding equity regulation is a square peg that will not fit in this round hole.  If the Department makes this last minute move, it may not stand long.  The next administration would likely take steps to reverse it. And in the meantime, school districts would surely file suit in federal court challenging the validity of the regulation.  In fact, Senator Lamar Alexander has already urged them to do so if the regulation goes into effect.

January 18, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Federal Support for School Integration: An Obama Administration Review

The National Coalition on School Diversity has issued an updated report of the Obama Administration's support for school integration.  It concludes that "while much remains to be done, the Obama Administration has made concrete progress on school integration policy."  The report focuses on four categorical areas in which the administration focused on integration: its 2011 Guidance on voluntary school integration; school diversity language and incentives in USDOE competitive grant programs for K-12 education; school diversity language and incentives in Early Childhood Education programs; and Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and “ESEA Flexibility.”  Get the full report here.

 

January 13, 2017 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)