Thursday, October 17, 2013

Governor Releases $45 million to Philadelphia Schools, But Funding Formula Flaw Remains

As noted earlier this week, the situation in Philadelphia's schools had descended into the chaos of a perfect storm.  One would think that the Governor eventually would have had to act.  The death of a 12 year old girl after a day at school where the nurse had been dismissed due to budget cuts is not the sort of thing a Governor wants to defend.  Yesterday, Governor Corbett stepped up and released $45 million so that Philadelphia schools could rehire teachers and assign students back to their normal classrooms (some were apparently in split grade classrooms).  A lot of credit goes to civil rights leaders from outside the state, like Wade Henderson, David Sciarra, Ben Jealous and Marc Morial, for putting the Philadelphia schools under a microscope and then shining a national spotlight on them.  Once they did so, the Governor acted quicker than most.

This important victory, however, may be shortlived because the underlying problem remains untouched.  Philadelphia, and several other districts in the state, are in this mess because the Governor abandoned the funding formula that Governor Rendell had enacted.  Forty-seven other states in the country understand that school funding must be based on enrollments, demographics, and local costs (even if their formulas do not perfectly reflect these factors).  Governor Corbett returned Pennsylvania to the dark ages of school funding when he abandoned Rendell's formula and appears content to stay there.  For more discussion on the formula, see David Sciarra's essay from yesterday.

October 17, 2013 in School Funding, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Missouri Lawmaker Says School Transfer Law's Loophole Fosters “Educational Larceny”

Derek recently wrote about the financial hits that St. Louis area schools are taking under Missouri’s new transfer law. Under the Missouri scheme, unaccredited school districts have to pay tuition and transportation costs for the 2,600 transferring students who have used the law so far. Recently, however, Missouri lawmakers are realizing that the law has an unanticipated cost—families are taking advantage of the student transfer option to establish residency in unaccredited districts then immediately transferring their children to accredited schools. These “bouncing” transfers can get students into higher-rated suburban schools that would be otherwise unavailable because of residency requirements. Nothing in the Missouri statute stops such “bouncing” transfers or caps the number of transfers that families can have in a school semester. Nor do students have to enroll  or attend an unaccredited shool -- they just have to establish residence in that district. State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal told the St. Louis Beacon yesterday that the law allows families “to just move into an unaccredited district, then turn around right away and transfer elsewhere, [which] amounts to “educational larceny.” Lawmakers are finding it difficult to count how many families are using the loophole because of transience rate in city schools is already high. Sen. Chappelle-Nadal estimates that the unaccredited Normandy High School could run out of money by next March. Read more here.

October 15, 2013 in K-12, News, School Funding, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Maine Transfer Law Strengthened Even More

Maine grants parents the right to request a transfer to a school in a different district when the parent believes doing so is in the best interests of the child.  That request, however, requires that the superintendents to acquiesce.  A new amendment strengthens parents' rights.  It requires superintendents who reject parents' requests to explain their rationale in writing.  In addition, parents have the right to appeal the denial to the state department of education.  Of the 143 appeals filed this year, 139 have overturned the superintendent and granted the transfer.  Regardless of the underlying merits of the transfer law, these numbers suggest the state is wasting everyone's time by requiring superintendents to write a report and the department to review them, unless the thinking is that the department will become more deferential to principals when they provide reasoned bases for their decisions.  More here.

October 11, 2013 in State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Alabama Ends Divorced Parents' Obligation to Pay Postminority College Expenses

The Alabama Supreme Court overturned twenty-four years of precedent by ruling last week that divorced parents’ child support obligations do not include college expenses for adult children. Before the ruling, Alabama courts could order divorced parents to pay college expenses for children past the age of majority.  Alabama law had no corresponding obligation for parents to pay postminority college expenses outside of divorce proceedings. Last week in In Re Christopher, the Alabama Supreme Court decided that the word “children” in the state’s child support statute means persons under the age of majority. (Ala. Code § 30-3-1). Alabama’s legislature reduced the age of majority from 21 to 19 in 1975, but the Alabama high court had continued to require noncustodial divorced parents to pay their children’s college expenses. That obligation has now ended. Read the opinion in In Re Christopher here.

October 9, 2013 in State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

South Carolina Warns Florence School District about IDEA Violations for a Third Time in a Year

The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) has found that school district Florence County School District 1 failed to correct violations of federal disability law after three complaints were filed within a year involving the same family. On September 20, the SCDE sent a third resolution letter showing that Florence 1 violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on eleven occasions and failed to follow through with corrective actions in previous SCDE directions. The SCDE had sent two prior resolution letters, one in November 2012, for a student in Florence 1, and another in July 2013, for a complaint involving the student’s younger brother because his academic resource class did not have a certified special education teacher. Relations between the students’ mother and Florence 1 became so heated that the mother was arrested following an argument at the school when she arrived to get her son and school staff could not tell her where he was. The family’s third complaint was filed in late July 2013, alleging that Florence 1 was still not complying with the IDEA. The school district’s officials told the Florence Morning News that they are puzzled that SCDE continued accepting their compliance plans without comment but then found them wanting after complaints were filed. Nevertheless, the principal of North Vista Elementary, where one of the brothers attends school, is taking the SCDE’s action as constructive criticism, saying, “We want to learn from [the decision] and want to improve for all students.” Disability law issues in Florence County are doubtless sensitive as the U.S. Supreme Court found that one of its districts violated the IDEA twenty years ago in Florence District Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993). Read more about the findings in Florence 1 District here.

October 8, 2013 in Special Education, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Florida Implements a Two-Track Diploma Program: College Ready v. Vocational

Earlier this year, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a two track diploma system into law: one for students heading to college and others who are not, but hopefully heading into work.  The obvious hope is to do a better job of making high school graduates career ready.  Some believe this will also help some kids who might otherwise drop-out stay in school.  On the one hand, I credit Florida for taking steps to doing what other states are loath to do: deliver quality vocational programs.  States resist because it suggests they are lowering standards and giving up on students.  But as one of my former students, Nina Frant, compellingly argued in The Inadequate Resume of School Education Plans, 51 How. L.J. 819 (2008), many school finance decisions articulating the state's obligation to deliver an adequate education focus equally on college and career readiness.  Yet, the response of almost all education systems has been solely in regard to college readiness.  The practical result, she argues, is that schools do a disservice to and forget about students who are not going to college.  If Florida really intends to serve these otherwise ignored students, it deserves credit for taking on this issue.

On the other hand, separate tracks have long since been a mechanism through which bias and inequality operate.  Individual school administrators' perceptions of who is and is not college material can be as much, if not more, a function of the administrator's bias as the student's ability.  The result is stark racial imbalance in the tracks.  If Florida is serious about improving education through its dual track education, it must be equally serious about eradicating the biases that will surely affect it.

October 3, 2013 in Discrimination, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kansas City Schools Will Remain Unaccredited, Interdistrict Transfers Will Continue

The Missouri school district transfer law that I have been posting on relies on a district's unaccreditation as the trigger for transferring out.  St. Louis and Kansas City had hit that trigger earlier this summer.  In an attempt to scale back the transfers and right the district's track, the Kansas City school district recently sought provisional accreditation.  The Kansas City Star reports that the district's request has been denied.  Thus, barring a change in the state transfer law, students will remain free to transfer out of Kansas City for, at least, another year.

October 2, 2013 in Racial Integration and Diversity, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

School Fees Stoop to a New Low

At the start of the school year, I posted about the continuing expansion and rise in school fees and the constitutional problems they potentially present.  Now comes a story out of Colorado noting the rise in the state's school fees and how unpaid fees can mount over time for some families.  When those unpaid fees reach a certain level--$250--some schools are turning families over to a collection agency. 

While I object to the fees in the first instance, I can appreciate the schools' frustration with people who can pay but just won't.  After all, it is unfair for the costs of fees to be unevenly distributed.  On the other hand, it is possible, if not likely, that many of these families are low-income or just struggling, even though they may not have formally been classified as such.   Turning poor, or near-poor, families over to collection agencies for educational services that the state mandates they receive seems perverse, if not unconstitutional.  The ACLU of Colorado is now pressing this latter point of whether the fees implemented by some local school districts violate the state's guarantee to a free education.  Mark Silverstein of the ACLU said:"As far as I can tell, in Colorado the state constitution provides for a free public education, not a fee public education. It's almost as though some school districts got a flawed copy of the state constitution and the 'R' was missing."  One parent laments that some children do not get to participate in extracurricular activities due to the fees: "It's getting to the point where it is going to separate the haves and have-nots, and that doesn't seem right to me."  See more here.

October 1, 2013 in Equity in education, School Funding, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 30, 2013

"F" is for Fired: Mississippi "New Start" Law May Lead to 30 School Takeovers Next Fall

On Friday, the Mississippi Board of Education was told that it must takeover any school next year that receives a third consecutive "F" on its state academic report card. Under Mississippi's 2010 "New Start School" law (MS Stat. § 37-167-1), schools that fail to get a "C" or above in their third probationary year must go into conservatorship. The Board member in charge of conservatorships, Larry Drawdy, estimated that the Board may have to take control of 30 schools next fall, which means terminating schools' entire staff--from principals to custodians. Drawdy called the law "wrongheaded" and warned that it may be impossible to takeover that many schools at once. Board members also expressed dismay about the mandatory dismissals of non-program staff. Under the New Start School law, the schools will be placed under the administration of the Mississippi Recovery School District. A new superintendent can then either rehire school staff or start fresh. The State Board of Education is also seeking to take over the Claiborne County and Leflore County school districts this month. The Board controls six school districts in the state. Fifty schools got failing grades this year for a second year; 92 schools in Mississippi currently have "F" ratings. Mississippi has 151 school districts.

September 30, 2013 in State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Interdistrict Transfers, Integration, and the Schools Left Behind: The Continuing Saga in Missouri

Early this summer, I posted on the rising tensions in Missouri, where a statute authorized the transfer of students out of failing schools and districts to surrounding districts.  In other words, the state had authorized the crucial interdistrict transfers or reassignments that the Supreme Court had long ago forbade federal courts from ordering in Milliken v. Bradley.  As advocates and researchers have lamented ever since, interdistrict reassignments are the only hope of integration in most metropolitan areas.  

After the enactment of the Missouri statute, thousands of students in St. Louis and Kansas City have availed themselves of this opportunity.  The problem was that the surrounding districts claimed they could not accommodate them and the districts loosing them claimed they could not afford the financial hit because the students' per pupil expenditures would leave with them.

To the surprise of many, the surrounding districts were able to absorb these students and work out the logistics of enrolling them in a very short time period.  The financial fears of the districts from which these students departed, however, are coming true.  Edweek reports that some districts are on the edge of bankruptcy.  Normandy school district, for instance, has an operating budget of $49 million, but will loose $14 million under the statute's funding shifts.  The hope is that the state will come up with a fix for these districts.  These districts were already unaccredited, which is the basis for the transfers, and have little hope of reaccreditation in the context of bankruptcy.

I would grade this statute as a good job half-way done.  Interdistrict transfers are a great solution to the ills of school segregation.  For that reason, I have consistently argued that Congress must similarly use its Title I funds to incentivize integrative transfers, but I also point out that Congress must include hold-harmless provisions for the schools left behind.  Otherwise, Congress would be helping some students at the expense of others.  Moreover, hold-harmless provisions theoretically free up resources for the original schools because they now have fewer students.  This could present the opportunity for them to take steps to improvement rather than just treading water. Let's hope Missouri can come up with the money and sense to achieve this end.  For more on using Title I to facilitate integration and improve schools, see here.

September 26, 2013 in Racial Integration and Diversity, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why the Rare School Funding Victory in Louisiana?

Even though Louisiana's fiscal effort levels rank at the bottom of the nation, its funding formula is slightly regressive (sending less money to the neediest districts), and many of its school facilities can only be described as deplorable, litigants have never been able to break through with a school funding victory.  Courts have fallen back on the notion that the state constitution only requires a "minimum" education.  See, e.g., Jones v. State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, 927 So.2d 426 (La. App. 1 Cir. Nov. 4, 2005); Charlet v. Legislature of the State of Louisiana, 713 So.2d 1199 ((La. App. 1 Cir. 1998).  Although not an attack on the state's funding practices as a whole, litigants did get a victory earlier this year in Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State, 2013 WL 1878913 (Supreme Court of Louisiana, 2013).  See also LaJuana's post on the case from earlier this summer. 

The case was brought by teachers, school boards and parents.  The primary theory of the case was that the state's voucher program diverted funds away from public schools to non-public schools in violation of the state constitution.  The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, reasoning that while the state constitution only mandates a minimum education program, once the state determines the cost of the minimum program, it cannot then take a portion of those minimum funds and give them to nonpublic schools.  Doing so necessarily drops support of the public schools below "minimum."

I revisit this case for two reasons.  First, it is an example of courts' willingness to intervene in school funding if they can identify a technical violation, even if they they have previously indicated an unwillingness to address substantive questions of school funding.  Recognizing this technical versus substantive approach, we have seen a few other cases this summer attack charters and/or vouchers on technical constitutional grounds.  Second, this victory early this summer adds further context to the current DOJ lawsuit to block the voucher program (although it is not softening on the notion of "blocking" the program).  The DOJ suit is based on federal desegregation law, whereas Louisiana Federation of Teachers is based on state law, but the plaintiffs victory this summer shows how embattled the state's voucher program is.  Right or wrong, the Governor is understandably testy over one of the state's signature programs.  He is obviously unwilling to let it sink without a big fight.

's mandate 

September 25, 2013 in Cases, Charters and Vouchers, School Funding, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Atlanta Public Schools Cannot Deduct Money from Charters to Pay Pension Debt

On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the Atlanta Independent School System (“APS”) and the Atlanta Board of Education could not withhold $38.6 million from charter schools to pay APS’s pre-existing unfunded pension liability. Under Georgia law, local charter schools are entitled to a proportional share of its school system’s local revenue. Last year, the APS decided deduct money from local revenue for charter start-up schools to help cover a $550 million unfunded pension liability for APS employees that has been accruing since the 1980s. Charter schools sued to force APS to distribute the money without any deduction for APS’s pension liability, arguing that they should not have to pay for debts that they had not incurred. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the charter schools’ position that the statutory funding formula in Georgia’s Charter Schools Act did not authorize the APS to subtract the $38.6 million from its calculation of local revenue. The Supreme Court determined that because the statute established a separate and distinct local revenue funding formula for start-up charter schools, the General Assembly intended to fund local schools unequally with regard to local revenue. Read the opinion in Atlanta Independent School System, et al. v. Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Inc., et alhere.

September 25, 2013 in Cases, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Who or What Is Failing Virginia's Schools?

HoustonA la the thesis of Diane Ravitch's new book, which I posted on yesterday, it is worth stepping back to consider what is really going on with the takeover of six Virginia schools.  As LaJuana posted a few days ago, the state passed legislation creating the Opportunity Educational Institution, which grants this entity the power to take over schools that have failed to gain accreditation four years in a row.  At least one district has filed suit arguing that the takeover violates the state constitution.  Putting the constitutional issues aside for a moment, the persistant failure to meet accreditation standards suggests that these schools are in crisis, but are they?  And if so, who is to blame?

The state's accreditation standards require elementary and middle schools to achieve the following pass rates: English – 75 percent or higher; Mathematics – 70 percent or higher; Science – 70; percent or higher; and History – 70 percent or higher.  High schools are fully accredited if students "achieve pass rates of 75 percent or higher in English and 70 percent or higher in mathematics, science and history; and [a]ttain a point value of 85 or greater based on the Graduation and Completion Index (GCI)."  (For further definition of the GCI see here).  These flat and simple standards are the whole of the accreditation requirements.

One of the six schools in the state that has failed to meet this standard is Jefferson-Houston (formerly an elementary school, now a pre-k through 8 school) in Alexandria.  The school rests on the edge of Old Town Alexandria, one of the DC area's most affluent neighborhoods.  When I lived in the DC area, my home happened to be less than a mile from Jefferson-Houston.  We didn't live in Old Town, but our son, had he been old enough, would have been assigned to Jefferson-Houston.  The school's name also carries special meaning to me.   Jefferson is in reference to Thomas Jefferson and Houston is in reference to Charles Hamilton Houston, former Dean of Howard Law School and the original architect of the NAACP's desegregation strategy. 

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September 24, 2013 in Analysis, Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 23, 2013

NJ School District Settles Bullying Claim: The Good and Bad Differences Strong Law Makes

Just last week, I posted on a Connecticut court rejecting a student's cause of action under the state's anti-bullying statute.  In contrast, the Old Bridge School Board in New Jersey settled an anti-bullying case for 60,000 last week.  New Jersey's anti-bullying law is considered the toughest in the nation.  It was a response to the public outcry over the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, in 2010.  The explicit mandates and clarity of the New Jersey law seems to have made all the difference. 

This clarity has a huge upside statewide.  Knowing the risks of litigation, districts will respond quicker and more effectively to bullying.  Those who do not will suffer the consequences.  The trouble is discerning what amounts to "bullying" around the margins.  All "bullying" is serious and I, in no way, mean to minimize it.  Schools should be held accountable for the failure to stop it.  But some schools overreact and punish behavior that is not bullying.  From many schools' perspective, it is better to be safe (as in not get sued) than sorry.  This is the same approach we saw schools take with zero tolerance policies on weapons and drugs, which has lead to the expulsion of children with finger clips, butter knives in their lunch boxes, and tylenol in their purse.  New Jersey has apparently already seen some potential overreactions/over-broad applications with bullying. None of this is to find flaw in the law, but to point out the potential serious downside of applying laws without a good dose of common sense and judgment.  Unfortunately, those dreaded professional development workshops might be of some use here.

September 23, 2013 in Bullying and Harassment, Cases, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Illinois Proposal to Eliminate Caps on Special Education Class Sizes ‘Dead’—For Now

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) removed a proposal from its agenda yesterday that would have eliminated all state rules on special education class size. The ISBE move is not unusual, as similar measures have been proposed in D.C., New York, North Carolina, Philadelphia, and Rhode Island. Since the beginning of the year, the ISBE proposed repealing Sections 226.730 and 226.731 of the Illinois Administrative Code that limit class sizes for self-contained special education classrooms and place a 30 percent limit on students with IEPs in a general education classroom (called the 70/30 rule).  ISBE administrators say that Illinois’ requirements exceed the requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and “its implementing regulations and have resulted in several unintended consequences.” One of those consequences, State Superintendent of Education, Christopher Koch,
 said on Monday, was that Illinois’ current rules “interfere with decisions for students that
would best be made at the local level.” Koch noted that “Illinois is no longer under the Corey H. settlement agreement and our data shows that these artificial limits are actually keeping students with disabilities out of general education classrooms.” Despite the ISBE’s arguments that eliminating class size requirements “will best ensure that each student with disabilities … has access to the broad array of coursework available to his or her nondisabled peers, particularly in the middle grades and high school,” parents and advocacy groups fiercely opposed the proposal.  Bev Johns, Chair of the Illinois Special Education Coalition, said in a posted message that “[e]veryone else testifying, special ed groups, disability
 organizations, parents, the IEA, IFT and CTU, other 
teachers, etc.” opposed the ISBE proposal. The Illinois Special Education Coalition is a coalition of parent and educator organizations interested in the education of students with disabilities.

September 20, 2013 in Special Education, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cause of Action Rejected Under Connecticut's Anti-Bullying Statute

In 2002, the Connecticut Legislature enacted an anti-bullying statute that directed schools to come up with policies and procedures to address and prevent bullying.  In the wake of high profile bullying incidents that led to the victims' suicide or other serious harm, Connecticut reenacted and strengthened the statute in 2011.  The current statute broadly defines bullying and harassment and provides that "Each local and regional board of education shall develop and implement a safe school climate plan to address the existence of bullying in its schools." Conn. Gen. Statute 10-222d. It further specifies 17 different responsibilities, structures, and procedures that must be included in the plan and complied with. Id.  The statute does not include an explicit cause of action.

Some prior courts had addressed the existence of cause of action under the old version of the statute, but Mazzo v. Town of Fairfield Bd. of Educ., 2013 WL 4872203 (Sup. Ct. of Conn. 2013), appears to be a case of first impression regarding the newly enacted version of the statute. Plaintiff's primary argument appeared to be that Conn. Gen. Statute 10-222l evidences intent to create of cause of action because, while that section speaks to immunity, it conditions that immunity on good faith compliance with the statute.  In other words, plaintiff argues that a basic failure to attempt to comply with the Act is not granted immunity and, thus, is actionable under the act.  

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September 20, 2013 in Bullying and Harassment, Cases, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Virginia and Texas Shift Control Away from State Boards of Education

Laws passed this year in Virginia and Texas have stripped control from state education boards in matters that are traditionally school board functions. In Virginia, school boards sued last week challenging the constitutionality of a law that moved oversight of certain schools from local districts to a statewide school policy board. This summer in Texas, legislators removed the State Board of Education’s power to approve charter schools.

Virginia’s Local School Boards Sue State Over Creation of Statewide School Policy Board

The Virginia General Assembly created a new statewide school division called the Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI) and the Opportunity Educational Institution Board  (Senate Bill 1324) in the spring. The new legislation requires the OEI Board to take over the supervision and operation of any school in a local school division that has been denied accreditation and permits the OEI Board to take control of any school that has been accredited with warning for three consecutive years. The OEI Board can control the school for five years or until the school achieves full accreditation.

Last week, the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and the Norfolk County Schools sued the OEI Board in state court, asking the court to declare that the OEI law violates Article VIII of Virginia's Constitution, which provides that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The VSBA alleges that the law violates another section of Article VIII, which provides that the State Board of Education shall create school divisions. Because the General Assembly, rather than the State Board, created the OEI Board as a statewide school division, the VSBA argues that the OEI law is unconstitutional.

The VSBA says the law is a school-takeover measure that usurps the power of local school boards to a policy board in the executive branch. In fact, the authorization for the OEI falls under the part of the Virginia code that covers higher educational institutions rather than elementary and secondary schools. Local school boards in Alexandria and Newport News have joined the lawsuit. Newport News Board’s Vice Chairman Jeff Stodghill told a local newspaper that the legislation removes local school control, and that “[u]nder this arrangement, [parents] might have to drive up to Richmond if [they] have a problem with [their] child's schedule." The OEI law is a part of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's 2013 education agenda. In his State of the Commonwealth address in January, Governor McDonnell said that the OEI was a part of a “zero tolerance” initiative to “turnaround failing schools… and provide a brand new approach to a broken system.”

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli agrees with local school districts that the OEI Board is unconstitutional and told the governor in a letter in late August that his office would not defend it in court. (For those unfamiliar with Cuccinelli, he is no bleeding-heart. Cuccinelli is the Republican candidate for governor this fall and two election talking points have been his crusade to reinstate Virginia’s crime-against-nature statute (the Supreme Court struck down a similar anti-sodomy law in Lawrence v. Texas) and his controversial running mate—and future lieutenant governor of Virginia—who tweeted this spring  that gay-pride month made him feel “icky” and once suggested in one of his books that yoga could lead to satanic possession, although he has since backed off that statement in his campaign.)

Texas charter school licenses jump after approval authority shifts from the State Board to the Education Commissioner

Texas' new law shifts the power to authorize charters moved from the elected State Board of Education to the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, appointed by Governor Rick Perry. State Senator Dan Patrick, who sponsored Senate Bill 2said legislators approved the shift out of concern that the State Board “already has enough to do setting academic curriculum and approving textbooks for use in classrooms.” At a recent meeting with the State Board to explain the shift, Board members expressed annoyance with the new procedure, noting that they were elected by voters, rather than appointed by the governor. The new law also raises the maximum number of charter school licenses from 215 to 309 and streamlines the application process for existing charter operators. 

September 20, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Alabama's Move to Put Education in a New Era

By a new era, I do not mean a forward looking or an improved era.  I mean an era the state has not seen in decades.  I mean an era that resembles the days before Brown v. Board of Education.  LaJuana's post this morning contained a lot of news on Alabama, but the piece that struck me the most was the enormous decline in support for its schools and the push to amend its constitution in a not so good way. 

My comparison to pre-Brown days is not meant to suggest that Alabama wishes to resegregate its schools--although I doubt race is irrelevant to the moves afoot in the state.  It is a comparison to stark educational deprivation and inequality.  The level of educational defunding in Alabama is mind-boggling and threatens to push the poorest and neediest schools--if not the entire state--into a class of their own, whose deprivations cannot be rivaled anywhere else in the country.  On top of that, many wish to strip children of their constitutional right to education, something unheard of and unspeakable in this country for some time.

After accounting for inflation, the Center on Budget Priorities Report reveals a $1,200 decline in per pupil expenditures in Alabama between fiscal years 2008 and 2014.  To put this number in local perspective, it amounts to a 20% decline in funding in Alabama.  In other words, 1 out of 5 education dollars in the state is gone, or the money for 1 out of 5 children has vanished.  To put this number in national perspective, in 2006, the Education Trust reported a national funding gap between the highest and lowest poverty districts of $1,300 per pupil.  So in comparison, Alabama's funding shortfall turns the entire state into a similarly underfunded subclass.  No matter where a student lives in the state, he or she might reasonably be treated as a poverty class that trails the rest of the nation.  Moreover, these cuts come on top of the fact that Alabama already had one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in the nation, and distributed those funds among school districts in one of the most regressive ways in the nation.  See School Funding Fairness Report.  In short, awful is getting much worse in Alabama.  In a high poverty, regressively funded school district in a state with an educational system in a subclass of its own, a new era of educational deprivation not seen in decades is a serious risk.

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September 19, 2013 in Equity in education, School Funding, State law developments, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alabama District Opts for iPads Over School Choice; State Has Biggest Drop in Per-Student Education Funding In the Nation

While segregated sororities at the University of Alabama was in the news this week, a few other state educational developments are of interest.  We have been covering the lawsuits filed about the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), which branded dozens of schools across the state as “failing,” but because of various barriers, allowed only a few students who attended those schools to transfer to better ones. The Tuscaloosa County Schools system may have added to those barriers for students seeking to use the AAA as a path to a better education. This week, the Tuscaloosa district announced its plan to provide iPads or laptops to students this school year instead of paying transfer costs to better schools. (Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama, coincidentally.) Tuscaloosa Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Swinford told the media, “I don't see the value in kids transferring to another school other than it being an out. We would prefer for the kids to stay at their school…. The state allows us that option of not accepting students into our other schools. We feel like this will better serve the students.” This position raised a few eyebrows, as reported by Trish Crain at Alabama School Connection.The AAA does not force private schools to accept transfer students, but Swinford heads a public school district that now plans to resist, as a policy matter, the efforts of its students in a “failing” school to transfer to another school. When asked about Tuscaloosa County Schools’ stance, State Education Superintendent Tommy Bice said that parents, not school districts, have the choice to transfer the student. Meanwhile, Tuscaloosa County Schools have already approved the iPad and laptop purchases. 

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Image: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Alabama has also been working to change its constitution, and Trish Crain also has news about those efforts at the Constitution Revision Commission. The Commission is making its perennial attempt to change the language in the Alabama Constitution requiring that “separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.” What is most embarrassing about this constitutional article is the number of attempts that have been made to excise the segregationist language, which voters have refused to do twice in recent history. Currently on the table is the following revision: “The legislature shall establish, organize and maintain a system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of children thereof, provided nothing in this Section shall create any judicially enforceable right or obligation….” Trish Crain points out that the latter clause negates the first—that the state must establish a public education system, but there is no enforceable obligation to maintain it. Critics suggest that the lawmakers want to protect the state against equity funding lawsuits. Considering the data last week from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that Alabama’s per student funding dropped almost 23% since 2007—the state with the greatest drop in per-student dollars—such litigation may be inevitable. Access the Center’s full report here.

 

September 19, 2013 in State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What About the Rural Districts?

Several states like Nebraska, Wyoming, Tennessee and Wyoming, to name just a few, have seen school finance litigation on behalf of rural districts.  Other states like North Carolina have included rural districts as a distinct class of disadvantaged districts within broader litigation. Notwithstanding these examples, it is sometimes easy to miss the plight of rural districts, particularly in states that are not rural.  In states like New York and New Jersey, the neediest districts and students find their homes in the same places as school finance litigators: large urban centers.  Advocates and reasearchers do not have to look far to find obvious and gross inequity.

A new article by Kyle E. Gruber, Bringing Home the Bacon: A Case for Applying the New Jersey Urban School Funding Remedy from Abbott v. Burke to Poor Rural School Districts, 2 Colum. J. Race & L. Rev. 167 (2012), highlights how rural districts have been overlooked in New Jersey, the home of the strongest school finance precedent in the nation.  Litigants filed suit and apparently established constitutional violations 15 years ago, but unlike urban districts, have yet to receive a remedy.

September 17, 2013 in Cases, Scholarship, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)