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)