Archives for category: ALEC

Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia is supporting a constitutional amendment to create a commission to approve charter schools despite the objection of local school boards. This proposal was drafted by the rightwing ALEC organization, which is heavily funded by big corporations and counts 2,000 state legislators among its members.

This is the statement issued by the Georgia Federation of Teachers about the constitutional amendment that would curtail the powers of local school boards:

Children, Not Profits, Are Our Priority
Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner
on the Charter School Amendment

The Charter School Amendment is not about supporting parents or student achievement. It is about granting the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker unprecedented power over billions of local and state tax dollars via creating a new state agency which will control billions of tax dollars for private interests. This agency would be appointed by the governor and accountable only to the governor. This agency would siphon precious tax dollars away from 1.7 million Georgia school children. It would support and fatten special schools for select people by exacerbating class and racial segregation. The Charter School Amendment is about “who chooses and who loses.”

Children, not profits, are our priority. We agree with Georgia’s State School Superintendent, Dr. John Barge. Until all of Georgia’s schools are financed appropriately, and students and teachers are no longer furloughed, it is unconscionable to fund a new state agency or support the objectives of the Charter School Amendment. The money for these special “for profit” schools will create a dual state school system and will cost Georgia’s taxpayers billions of dollars.

While the powers at the state capitol deceive the public by pushing for less government, they are creating more government via another state agency to add to the 128 state agencies that already exist. And while the powers at the state capitol deceive the public and claim that they support local control, they are attempting to take local control away from locally elected school boards, the men and women most accountable to the public, by pushing this amendment. And while the powers at the state capitol claim that this amendment is about expanding parental choice and helping students achieve, they deceive the public by taking over 6 billion dollars from public schools and setting up Georgia’s citizens for an educational Enron encounter. Over 70 school districts are operating with a deficit. At least 4 school districts are broke, and over 20 school districts are still furloughing teachers and students. Parents already have a choice. Local boards of education may and do grant charters. And if a board denies a charter petition, the Georgia Department of Education has an appeal process. The only “choice” as per this amendment is the choice to finance private schools at the public’s expense!

If we can’t trust the state with Medicare, transportation, or to use dollars earmarked for the foreclosed homes our families and students need, why would we trust the state with our children?

This amendment is not about charters, achievement, or parental choice. It is about giving five people who will only be accountable to the governor, free range unprecedented control and power over our billions of tax dollars. And it is about big profits for private interests on the backs of our children and at the expense of Georgia’s taxpayers.

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Georgia Federation of Teachers
(404) 315-0222

Readers of this blog know we have been following the story of Great Hearts Charter School and its effort to locate in an affluent section of Nashville. Here is a good and objective summary in a Nashville newspaper.

State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman–whose only prior experience in education was working for Teach for America (he taught for two years, went to work for TFA, was never a principal or a superintendent)– wants this particular charter very badly. He has been monitoring the actions of the Metro Nashville school board, and he warned them there would be bad consequences if they did not approve this charter. Huffman made it clear: he wanted this charter approved.

The local board thought that the school would not be diverse, would not reflect the district, and they turned it down. They turned it down three times. The state board ordered them to approve the charter, and the local board said no again.

Maybe the local board was aware of research showing again and again that charters don’t get better results than public schools unless they exclude low-performing students.

Huffman and the Governor were furious that the school board said no. They announced that they would punish the democratically elected Metro Nashville school board by withholding $3.4 million in “administrative” funds. These are funds for student transportation, utilities, and maintenance.

In their vindictiveness, Governor Haslam and Commissioner Huffman are prepared to deny transportation funds for the children of Nashville and shut off the lights and electricity.

All for a charter that expects parents to pony up $1,200 as a “voluntary” contribution to the school. No wonder there are people who think this is a ploy to open a private school with public dollars, located conveniently in an area where upper-income parents want a free public education, inaccessible to children from the other side of Nashville.

Haslam and Huffman are likely to go the ALEC route. The rightwing organization ALEC has model legislation that allows the governor to appoint a commission to authorize charter schools over the objections of local school boards.

A measure of this kind is on the ballot in Georgia this November.

What this demonstrates is that privatization means more to these conservatives than local control. With a governor-appointed commission, they can hand over public dollars to fat cats and cronies.

Nothing conservative about that. A conservative member of the Alabama state board of education writes me offline, and points out that the privatization movement is about greed, not education. It violates every conservative principle.

Remember when local school boards in the South used their powers to defend segregation. Here is one that is using its powers to defend desegregation.

Governor Haslam and Commissioner Huffman can’t tolerate the school board’s defiance. they are ready to wipe out the authority of local school boards to advance the privatization of public education and to hasten the return of a dual school system..

The Center for Media and Democracy keeps a careful watch on the activities of ALEC, the ultra-conservative organization of state legislators. One of ALEC’s model law is a “parent trigger” bill.

The new film “Won’t Back Down” pulls together the threads of corporate backing for the privatization of public education.

Read about it here.

Commissioner Kevin Huffman ordered the Nasville school board to approve the Great Hearts charter school.

Four times the board turned it down, so Huffman is cutting $3.4 million from the district’s budget.

Even more ominous, he and Republican governor Haslam threaten to push legislation to create a state panel to authorize charters over the opposition of local boards.

This is the ALEC model legislation, in which the demand for privatization trumps local control.

Interesting that Tennessee Democrats spotted Huffman’s membership in the far-right “Chiefs for Change,” run by Jeb Bush.

This is a power grab, and Democrats must wake up or lose public education.

By the way, Great Hearts expects an upfront “voluntary” contribution of $1200 from parents.

Partisan battle intensifies feud over charter school

Lawmakers are furious about Metro’s $3.4M loss

Written by Lisa Fingeroot The Tennessean
2:45 AM, Sep 19, 2012 | 

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman / Erin O’Leary / File / Gannett Tennessee
 
Gov. Haslam, others discuss state’s decision to wi…: Gov. Bill Haslam, Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell discuss the state’s decision to withhold about $3.4m from the Metro Nashville school system because the board refused to approve a charter school.

Rep. Mike Stewart
A decision by the state to withhold almost $3.4 million from Metro Nashville Public Schools for defying an order to approve a charter school escalated an already simmering partisan battle over whose political philosophy will shape public schools.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam stopped just short Tuesday of saying a statewide charter school authorizer would be on his legislative agenda when the session begins in January. But Democratic representatives are lining up behind the Metro school board and every district’s right to make decisions for its constituency.
“At a time when we hear so much about ‘education reform’ and ‘local control’ from this administration, this unprecedented action would seem counterproductive,” said Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, House minority whip.
“Taking $3 million from Nashville children is a foolish move and I intend to fight this kind of petulant behavior when we get back in January,” said Jones, who plans to fight any proposal for a statewide charter school authorizer.
State officials said they chose to withhold administrative money — not classroom funds — in hopes of having the least possible effect on students.
Kevin Huffman, commissioner of education, announced Tuesday that the state would withhold a month of administrative funding because the Metro school board refused to approve a charter school application by Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies after being ordered to do so. Board members voted 5-4 to deny the charter Sept. 11, after the board’s attorney said they would be breaking the law.
“We’re responsible for enforcing the law,” said Haslam, who is accused of backflipping on his opinion about whether Metro schools should be fined. In August he said, “With education, the discussion should always be about what’s best for the students.… That being said, threatening money, that’s not the business we’re in.”
Haslam said Tuesday that “when their own attorney tells them that they are violating state law, we can’t just stand back.”
The school system released a statement early Tuesday saying officials had not had time to develop a plan for the loss of funds during October. The state money earmarked for non-classroom expenses is not designated for administrative purposes only, but for all kinds of expenses that also affect Metro’s 81,000 students, such as utilities, student transportation, and maintenance of the system’s 5,000 classrooms, the statement said.
The Metro school system has an annual budget of nearly $700 million with less than 30 percent supplied by the state, said school spokeswoman Meredith Libbey.
Newly elected school board member Amy Frogge, who voted against Great Hearts, called the state Board of Education’s decision “shameful.”
“Apparently a few people at the top are angry with five of us for voting against Great Hearts and they’ve decided to take it out on 80,000 children,” said Frogge. “This will not hurt me or the board. It will hurt the less fortunate.”
Frogge, an attorney, said she believed the board’s vote last week against Great Hearts was legal. The state gave Metro an “unclear mandate” about the charter school, she said. On the one hand, it asked Metro to approve the school. On the other hand, it also issued three contingencies for Great Hearts approval, one being diversity, she said.
“I felt the contingencies should be met before approval,” she said. “The state raised the diversity issue. My question was, ‘How are they going to comply?’”
Diversity was the main sticking point between Metro officials and Great Hearts, which wanted to open a school on Nashville’s affluent and mostly white west side. The school board didn’t have a formal diversity policy and has since decided to develop one.
Metro school board member Michael Hayes voted in favor of Great Hearts. He said the state could have taken much more punitive measures — replacing board members, taking over the district, filing suit in court, or withholding more money.
“Our counsel openly stated if we voted against it … we’d be violating state law, and sanctions could include withholding of funds.”
State law gives the education commissioner authority to withhold funding as an enforcement measure.
Board gets support

Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, entered the fray Tuesday when he released a statement supporting the Metro board.
“Each school board knows the best way to handle their students,” he said.
The Democratic Caucus has long discussed and been in favor of more control for local school boards, spokesman Zak Kelley said.
“There is a lot of talk about introducing legislation to ensure that the decisions of the local school boards are respected,” said state Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville. “I don’t think it’s appropriate or wise of a nonelected official to wander into Nashville and tell the people’s representatives how to spend tax dollars,” Stewart said of Huffman.
At this time, however, state law establishes a charter school appeal process that allows the state Board of Education to override a local board and direct it to approve the charter. When Metro school officials chose to defy that direction, Huffman accused them of breaking the law and discussed the financial penalty with Haslam, who approved it.
Haslam and Hayes said there is greater support for a statewide authorizer since Metro school officials denied Great Hearts.
While Huffman was appointed by Haslam, the bulk of criticism for the decision to withhold funds from Metro schools was aimed at Huffman.
Stewart accused Huffman of promoting “a radical and often untested agenda” and said, “It’s not a mainstream Republican agenda. It’s a radical agenda that places great emphasis on taking money away from public schools and turning them over to private entities.”
Huffman is listed among a group of 11 national education officials who have been named “Chiefs for Change” by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a foundation started by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to promote educational reforms across the nation. School choice through charter schools and vouchers and accountability determined through high-stakes testing are the cornerstones of the Bush reform movement.
“Huffman has staked out a position in the far-right radical school reform movement that people like Jeb Bush have championed,” Stewart said.
Former Metro school board member Mark North, who was on the board during three of its four votes relating to Great Hearts Academies charter school, released scathing comments about Huffman on Tuesday, too.
“Huffman’s position is indefensible,” North said.
Huffman’s “heavy-handed, iron-fisted power play is the embodiment of the exercise of arbitrary and oppressive authority in a sort of political extortion,” North added.
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Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman is withholding $3.4 million from the Nashville public schools as punishment for the defiance of the school board. The board voted four times to deny a charter to an Arizona company called Great Hearts, even though Huffman ordered the board to approve the application.

Clearly, Huffman does not believe in local control.

This seems to be an attitude of today’s reformers. Arne Duncan decided to rewrite NCLB to meet his own specifications. He likes mayoral control, where the mayor need not listen to parents or communities. ALEC has model legislation where governors can appoint a commission to authorize charter schools and override local opposition.

One begins to suspect that the reform movement is anti-democratic to its core.

Do you happen to know a billionaire? Or maybe someone with lots of millions?

Not just any old billionaire, but one who cares about supporting public education. One who thinks it is wrong to hand out children over to entrepreneurs. One who knows the difference between the free market and the commons.

I ask because of this comment that I received from a teacher in a northeastern state. I have edited it to obscure the identities of all involved, which was the condition for using it:

As part of research for my master’s degree, I interviewed [XX], whom I had gotten to “know” over Facebook. XX leads a local branch of StudentsFirst, funded by David Tepper and Allen Fournier, the billionaire hedge fund boys. By his own admission, XX fell into ed reform when he was unemployed. 
He’s not in this because of any deep abiding conviction to make schools better (though he may have developed an interest). He’s in this because he needed a job, is a private-school educated African American who speaks well and now controls a SuperPAC. It’s a chess game for him, and is quite addictive. He hangs out with Rhee and has addressed ALEC on several occasions.
He said two interesting things to me in our meeting. “I’m here because you’re not.” Translation – if the education establishment had taken on the issues, or at least been less complacent about messaging (the REAL problem in my opinion) there’d be no market for the “reforms.”  The second thing he said was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Reform 1.0 was school choice. Reform 2.0 was tenure (for NJ). Reform 3.0 is we have a SuperPAC – we can elect candidates.

As I said, he’s developed an interest in education but he’s hanging with the wrong guys, and i told him as much. His real interest is in the chess game of politics, which is fascinating, especially when you have the resources to play for real.

Between the AFT and NEA we have millions of people on street level. Save Our Schools has thousands more folks. Where do we find super rich folks who can help us pay for someone like James Carville to craft our multi-level consistent message and actually get it out there? I’m asking you because I’m hoping you’ve run across them in your travels.

I discovered a new blogger who is spot-on: EduShyster

He or she seems to be writing from Massachusetts and has a wicked sense of humor.

This post is called “The Scratch n’ Sniff Guide to Phony Education Reform Groups.”

There are certain tell-tale signs. For example, no one in a leadership role ever went to a public school. Its “experienced” teachers had two years in TFA. Its policy agenda is exactly the same as ALEC.

This post challenges a charter cheerleader to find a single charter school in Massachusetts with the same demographics as Lawrence and a low attrition rate and high scores.

This blogger has wit, style, and knowledge, a powerful combination.

And to show my exquisite sense of political balance, here is a guide to reform groups by the Center for Education Reform, which advocates for vouchers, charters, homeschooling, online for-profit virtual schools–anything but public schools.

Anthony Cody entered into a dialogue with the Gates Foundation about its goals and programs.

He just published a brilliant critique of the foundation’s powerful support for market-based reform of public education. 

Please read it and share it.

Cody describes many of the ways that Gates has supported privatization, despite the lack of any evidence for its strategies.

He reviews the poor results of value-added assessment, pushed hard by the Gates Foundation.

He shows how Gates favors programs where someone will make a profit.

Cody raises significant questions at the end of his part of the dialogue:

In the process by which decisions are being made about our schools, private companies with a vested interest in advancing profitable solutions have become ever more influential. The Gates Foundation has tied the future of American education to the capacity of the marketplace to raise all boats, but the poor are being left in leaky dinghies.

Neither the scourge of high stakes tests nor the false choices offered by charter schools, real or virtual, will serve to improve our schools. Solutions are to be found in rebuilding our local schools, recommitting to the social compact that says, in this community we care for all our children, and we do not leave their fate to chance, to a lottery for scarce slots. We have the wealth in this nation to give every child a high quality education, if that is what we decide to do. With the money we spent on the Bush tax cuts for millionaires in one month we could hire 72,000 more teachers for a year. It is all about our priorities.

So as we bring this dialogue to a close, we come up against some of the hardest questions.

Can we recommit to the democratic ideal of an excellent public school for every child?

Can the Gates Foundation reconsider and reexamine its own underlying assumptions, and change its agenda in response to the consequences we are seeing?

Given the undesirable results that we are seeing from the use of VAM in teacher pay and evaluations, is the Gates Foundation willing to put its influence to work on reversing these policies?

Does the Gates Foundation intend to continue to support the expansion of charter schools and “virtual” schools at the expense of regular public schools?

Must every solution to educational problems be driven by opportunities for profit? Or could the Gates Foundation consider supporting a greater investment in programs that directly respond to the conditions our children find themselves in due to poverty? Things like smaller class size, libraries, health care centers, nutrition programs, (none of which may be profitable ventures.)

How will the Gates Foundation answer? Will they dodge his direct questions in this post as they did his powerful column about the Foundation’s silence on the issue of poverty?

Maine’s State Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen went to San Francisco to hear Jeb Bush tout the glories of for-profit online charter schools. Jeb Bush’s foundation paid for the trip. The commissioner met with Jeb’s chief education aide, Patricia Levesque, whose company lobbies for the online corporations. She promised help.

This is what the Maine Sunday Telegram found after getting access to public records of the correspondence:

Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.

“I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.

Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.

“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.

“Let us help,” she responded.

So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.

In the months that followed, according to more than 1,000 pages of emails obtained by a public records request, the commissioner would rely on the foundation to provide him with key portions of his education agenda. These included draft laws, the content of the administration’s digital education strategy and the text ofGov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital education.

A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.

K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services.

One of the model laws circulated and advocated by the rightwing group ALEC is a voucher program for students with special needs.

ALEC, you may know, represents many of our nation’s major corporations. It has about 2,000 conservative state legislators as members and a few hundred corporate sponsors. ALEC crafted the “Stand Your Ground” law that the shooter invoked when he killed Trayvon Martin last spring in Florida. ALEC also crafted model legislation for voter ID laws that are characterized by its critics as voter suppression laws.

In education, ALEC has written draft legislation for vouchers for all, vouchers for special needs, charters, alternative certification, test-based teacher evaluation, and anything else they could think of to transfer public money to private hands and to undermine the teaching profession.

Ohio recently expanded its statewide voucher program, which was written originally for students with autism; now it is for students with disabilities of other kinds. This is part of the ALEC game plan to erode public support for public education. Read the article from Ohio. It says that the private schools are not accepting the students with the greatest need, and that some students who never attended public schools are now getting public subsidy. All combine to reduce public funding to public schools.

The Florida voucher plan for students with disabilities is called the McKay Scholarship program. It was embroiled in controversy when an investigative reporter discovered that the program was unsupervised, that some participating schools had no curriculum, no educational program and were run by unqualified people. Which raises the question of whether the point of the program is to help the children or to dismantle public education.

New York state has a similar program for pre-K special education students. Although it is not called a voucher program, it is almost completely privatized (and it predates ALEC’s agenda). The New York State Comptroller recently released an audit showing the program to be rife with fraud, inflated enrollments, corruption, etc.  It is also the most expensive program for pre-K special education in the nation.

The private sector does not have all the answers. Neither does the public sector. Any program using public money should be carefully, rigorously supervised and regulated, especially when children are involved.

 

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