Archives for category: Budget Cuts

Who stands up for the neediest, most vulnerable children in Chicago? Not Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Not the Mayor’s hand picked Board of Education. Not the Superintendent Forrest Claypool, who imposed what he himself calls “unconscionable” cuts to special education.

Who stands up for the children? Educators.

Principal Troy LaRaviere (who was previously warned by CPS about speaking out too much) describes here the principals’ revolt, and the CPS officials’ sneaky effort to announce the cuts in a Friday afternoon (when they would get minimal media attention), with only one day to appeal.

If this what reformers stand for? Hurting defenseless children?

LaRaviere writes:

“Whenever I try to take a break from writing about CPS to focus on other aspects of my professional and personal life, CPS officials do something so profoundly unethical, incompetent and/or corrupt that my conscience calls me to pick up the pen once more. This time, they’ve targeted special education students. Obscured in the latest round of CPS budget cuts is an unprecedented move to cut legally required special education services. Educators are often asked if a school based budget cut will affect students. The answer is always “yes.” Each person in a school provides a service to a group of students. When CPS decides to cut the dollars that fund a school-based position they are, in effect, taking the service away from students.

“One district official was quoted in the Sun-Times stating, “CPS continues to work with our principals to prepare for these adjustments.”

“Adjustments” is CPS’ latest euphemism for cuts to student services. If they keep it up, they’re going to “adjust” students out of their education entirely. CEO Forrest Claypool often repeats a talking point that the cuts CPS will “have to make” are “unconscionable.” If one thinks the cuts are “unconscionable” then one does not give those cuts a false euphamistic name like “right-sizing.” Yes, that’s the actual term they use to describe their efforts to reduce services to special education students. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CPS took an additional $13.3 million worth of services from CPS students with their latest “adjustments.” The article includes a spreadsheet detailing the cuts to schools across Chicago. For example, Ogden school lost five special education teachers and three special education assistants, while Austin High School lost two teachers and four assistants.

“Chicago’s mayor and CPS officials often cite the need to “sacrifice” in order to “save money” as a justification for such cuts. However, all too often CPS and City Hall pretend not to see opportunities to save money by making those who can most afford it sacrifice. Instead they turn their avaricious eyes toward those who can least afford it: our students. They didn’t make the banks that swindled CPS out of $100 million sacrifice by suing them to recoup their losses; they prefer to make students sacrifice by increasing their class sizes. They didn’t makes SUPES Academy sacrifice by denying the organization a $20 million no-bid contract; they prefer to make students suffer by cutting their sports programs. They didn’t make the scores of basement dwelling for-profit charter school management organizations suffer (88% of charters are in the bottom half of CPS performance in student reading growth); instead they took funds used to provide programming for students in more successful neighborhood schools. They didn’t make Aramark and Sodexo Magic (an Emanuel campaign contributor) suffer by canceling their custodial management contracts when they failed to keep schools clean; CPS and City Hall prefer instead to make special education students sacrifice by cutting their legally required educational services.”

Where are the lawyers?

Mike Klonsky reports that Chicago Public Schools is cutting special education.

“Our autocrat at City Hall appears bent on dismembering special education in Chicago by a thousand cuts. SpEd took its first major deep cut over the summer eliminating 500 positions at CPS. More cuts announced late Friday mean approximately 160 schools would lose special education teachers, while 184 would lose aides.”

Let the lawsuits begin. There is a federal law to protect children with disabilities.

David Rutherford is in his first year as a member the the school board in Plainfield, New Jersey. He dug into the budget and discovered that the state of Néw Jersey is cheating the children of Plainfield. Since the election of Chris Christie, the state has ignored a law requiring that it fund schools based on student needs. Plainfield has been shorted by millions of dollars. Rutherford estimates that Plainfield is owed $70 million by the state.

Guess who has not been shorted? Charter schools, which have the backing of several prominent hedge fund billionaires in Néw Jersey.

Charter schools have been sucking students and dollars out of the Plainfield public schools.

Until now, the fiscally responsible Plainfield district had been running a surplus. But it won’t last.

Rutherford writes:

“But surplus is a finite resource, and long term the picture is far more grim. The state of New Jersey’s refusal to pay districts the funds they deserve and the over-funding of charter schools will become growing problems for which this district, and many others, must find difficult long term solutions. Millions of dollars in lost money will undoubtably have a grave impact on students and the community.

“Applying the Pressure

“We must demand that Chris Christie and the New Jersey State Legislature cease to steal from the neediest public school districts while keeping charter schools afloat. Language that allows for charter over-payment must be removed from next year’s budget.

“The Highland Park and Paterson Boards of Education have already passed resolutions demanding that the Legislature take a stand and eliminate that language. In fact, you can read Highland Park’s resolution, which has been accepted in principle by the New Jersey School Boards Association and should be up for vote at the next School Board Delegate Assembly meeting on November 26th.

“Seven million dollars in over-payments on top of $70 million in underfunding over the course of the past six years is nothing short of theft, and the blame falls on a bipartisan coalition of our leaders in Trenton. This includes the two-thirds Democratic State Assembly and Senate. They must be held accountable.”

If policies like Néw Jersey’s stay in place, districts like Plainfield will go bankrupt, setting them up for privatization. There will be many others in the same situation. Good news for hedge fund managers who want to destroy public education. Bad news for kids, teachers, public education, and democracy.

Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey appointed a commission to fix school funding. The commission has decided that The schools don’t need more money, even though the state is one of the lowest spending in the nation. What’s needed is more funding for charters. The pie stays the same, but the underfunded public schools will lose money to the charters.

A large proportion of the students in Arizona are of Hispanic origin. I wonder if any of their parents served on Governor Ducey ‘s commission?

Governor Scott Walker continues his war of attrition against public education, especially in Milwaukee. Despite the fact that the public schools of Milwaukee outperform its voucher schools, Walker is cutting the budget of the more effective public schools and increasing funding for the less effective voucher schools.

The following article was written by Molly Beck of the Wisconsin State Journal.

“The state will spend $258 million in the 2016-17 school year on private school vouchers, a new estimate shows.
At the same time, the amount of state aid sent to public schools will be reduced by $83 million to offset the voucher spending, for a net cost to the state of $175 million, according to an analysis drafted by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau in response to a request from Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, who opposes vouchers.

“The amount spent each year on vouchers will have increased by 77 percent next school year over 2011 levels, according to the estimate, as lawmakers have expanded the number of vouchers available to students and where they can be used.

“The amount of money spent has risen from $146 million in the 2011-12 school year to $236 million this school year.
The state spent $5.2 billion on public schools in 424 school districts last school year, according to the LFB, when it spent $213 million on vouchers used in 159 private schools.

“Over the six school years, $1.2 billion will be spent on school vouchers and about $30.6 billion will be sent to public schools during the same time, according to LFB and Department of Public Instruction data.

“The number of students using school vouchers to attend private schools grew from 22,439 during the 2011-12 school year to 29,609 last school year, according to the DPI. At the same time, 870,650 students attended public schools last year — which is about the same number that did in the 2011-12 school year. Enrollment grew to 873,531 in the 2013-14 school year before decreasing last school year.

“Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers have created new voucher programs in Racine and statewide to join the program in Milwaukee, created in 1990 as the country’s first.

“Milwaukee and Racine school districts have been allowed to raise property taxes to offset their reductions in state aid.

“Starting this school year, each voucher used outside of Milwaukee will be paid for using aid set aside for school districts. The districts won’t be able to raise taxes to make up the money, but will be able to start counting students using vouchers in their enrollment to determine state aid levels and revenue limits.

“Voucher payments are $7,210 for K-8 students $7,856 for high school students.

“Earlier this year, the LFB estimated between $600 and $800 million could be diverted from public schools over the next 10 years.”

The Wisconsin government has slashed funding for K-12 public schools while expanding and enriching the state’s voucher program. This is a clear-cut victory for ALEC, the corporate-funded lobby for privatization.

“Since Republicans took over our state Capitol in 2011, they have cut $1.2 billion from public K-12 education. Under this latest budget, 55 percent of school districts will get less general student aid than they did last budget cycle and Wisconsin is spending $1,014 less per public school student than it did in 2008.

“Yet for the private school special interests, this budget was like Christmas morning, with presents that blew the student enrollment caps off the statewide private school voucher program, diverted an additional $600-800 million from public schools over the next decade and increased per-pupil spending in the statewide private voucher system more than what even Governor Walker had proposed. The cherry on top was the last minute, late night passage of the special needs voucher program, which funds private schools for special needs students without requiring specialized instruction, teacher training or current legal protections.”

Way to go, Scott Walker, in meeting your goal of destroying public education. Way to go in destroying a historic democratic institution.

I posted recently about the growing exodus of teachers from Arizona due to low salaries, testing, mandates, and poor working conditions. Do the legislators and governor understand the consequences of their actions? This teacher says they do. They know exactly what they are doing.



Here is his comment:


“I’ve been teaching in Arizona for 16 years (having come here from Texas). It is harder now than it’s ever been. I happen to live in a community that strongly supports public education. However, the community itself is poor with one of the highest non-reservation levels of unemployment. Still, the board is seriously looking at raising tax rates to try to compensate for salaries that have been frozen for 8 years. While the state has shrugged off its obligation to fund public education, it has made the problem worse by making it more difficult for local communities to raise funds themselves. It is difficult to look at the mess we are in here and come to any other conclusion than that this is a concerted effort to destroy public education.”

The Chester Upland school district in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, will return to school even though the district has no money to pay them. The district is in a deep financial hole because of former Governor Corbett’s deep budget cuts and the charter schools that drain funding from the public schools. Chester Upland might be the first school district o go bankrupt because of competition with a charter school whose for profit owner is ranking in millions.

These educators are heroes of public education. They are truly doing it “for the kids” at personal sacrifice to themselves and their families. They join the honor roll of the blog.

On Thursday, about 200 members of the local teachers union voted unanimously to work without pay as the new school year opens. They were joined by secretaries, school bus drivers, janitors and administrators.

“The thought of it is very scary,” said John Shelton, 60, dean of students at the district’s only middle school and a 23-year employee. “It’s mind-boggling because there’s truly uncertainty. But we are all in agreement that we will come to work, so that the children can get an education.”

Shelton, who will be able to count on some income from his moonlighting job as a janitor, said he and his colleagues are willing to sacrifice because the students rely on the schools. “Some of our children, this is all they have as far as safety, their next nourishing meal, people who are concerned for them,” he said. “We are dedicated to these children.”

The district is about 20 miles west of Philadelphia and serves roughly 3,300 students, most them low-income.

A similar financial collapse occurred in the district in 2012, and the teachers also agreed to work without pay then. In the end, a federal judge ordered the state to pay the district, and lawmakers arranged a bailout, so that employees’ paychecks were just a couple of days late.

Chester Upland’s current fiscal crisis, however, is more serious, said Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D).

“They are in such dire financial shape right now,” he said, “unless something drastic happens . . . the school district is in danger of not existing.”

The governor is grateful to the teachers and other employees who are willing to work without pay, Sheridan said, adding, “It’s helpful and we commend them.”

But it’s not a solution, he said.

Chester Upland is facing a $22 million deficit that could grow to more than $46 million without major intervention, Sheridan said. He blamed several factors: local mismanagement, state cuts in education spending under the previous governor and a state law that requires traditional school districts to pay charter schools significant amounts for students who live within their boundaries but attend charters.

Public charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, have been growing to the point that they educate nearly half the students who live in the Chester Upland district. Chester Upland pays local charter schools about $64 million in tuition payments — more than it receives in state school aid.

State law includes a funding formula that is especially generous toward special education students who attend charters; Chester Upland has to spend $40,000 per student per year for every special education student from its district who enrolls in a charter school. That’s twice the amount the district spend on its own students with special education needs and more than any other district in the state, Sheridan said.

Chester Community Charter School, a nonprofit institution managed by a for-profit company, is the largest charter in the district. It began in 1998 with 100 students and now enrolls 2,900 students, nearly as many as attend the traditional public school system.

This week, a Pennsylvania judge denied a request by Wolf and Chester Upland officials to reduce the district’s payments for special education to charters by about half, or nearly $21 million, in the 2015-16 school year.

Wolf based his request on a recommendation by a 2013 bipartisan legislative commission that the law should be changed to bring payments to charter schools more in line with what it costs traditional public schools to educate special needs students. The committee also recommended lower payments to online charter schools, which currently get the same per-pupil payments that brick and mortar schools receive. That change would save the Chester Upland district an additional $4 million a year, state officials said.

Tell the story of the teachers and staff at Chester Upland the next time you hear someone complain about “greedy” teachers who put their interests before the interests of their students. Maybe StudentsFirst could offer to pay the salaries of the teachers who are working for free?

Troy LaRaviere is principal of Blaine Elementary School in Chicago. He was invited to speak on a problem at the Chicago Civic Club, where civic and business leaders convene. The topic was bankruptcy and the schools. Troy was the only school-based educator on the panel.

Here is the link to the event (you might want to hear Paul Vallas on the topic).

And here is Troy’s presentation:

“I recommend watching the last few minutes of Paul Vallas’ presentation in which he lays out the basic rules CPS operated by before the financial crisis. This part of his talk begins at the 36:00 time segment. I think all of Chuck Burbridge’s presentation is worth listening to, and that George Panagakis’ presentation on the intricacies of bankruptcy was eye-opening. This panel represents the first time I’ve prepared all of my remarks beforehand, so I’ve included those remarks below. I learned a lot from my participation on the panel and I hope you learn from it as well.

“Prepared Remarks

“Thank you to the City Club for inviting me to this panel and luncheon. Unfortunately I could not take advantage of the lunch as I am fasting today in solidarity with the 12 parents and community members who are in their 9th Day of a Hunger Strike to save Dyett School as the only open enrollment neighborhood high school left in their community (I mistakenly said “city” in my remarks). This gesture on my part is relatively insignificant when compared to the sacrifice they are making on behalf of their children. But I make it nonetheless before I begin my remarks.

“As residents and taxpayers we have to do more than identify problems. We have to identify and understand the source of those problems. If we don’t neutralize that source then we might be able to solve this problem today but that source will rear its head a few years down the line to re-create the same havoc that it’s wreaking on us today.

“We’re being told that pensions are the problem. We have a problem with pensions but pension are not the source of our problem. This administration consistently misappropriated pension funds, and then attempts to convince us that pensions themselves are the problem. That’s like a thief stealing your rent money and then attempting to convince you that the landlord is the problem.

“The source of our problem is city and school officials who spend and borrow money in a manner that is reckless and corrupt; the parasitic private sector banks and investors who are always looking for creative ways to rip off taxpayers, and the state legislators who enabled this irresponsible fiscal behavior in the first place.

“For the sake of time, I’m going to focus my comments on this administration’s reckless borrowing and the bank that benefit from it. When the Tribune attempted to look into the cost of this borrowing their reporters and attorneys were forced by CPS to spend a year getting the details about how much it spends in interest on its massive debts. So not only are they putting us in debt but they tried to prevent us from finding out just how much debt they put us in.

“Interestingly enough, CPS recently hired Ernst and Young to do an analysis of their structural deficit. That analysis shows that pension costs are projected to rise only 32% over seven years, while debt service is projected to rise 350% from $119 million to $421 million. THIS is the debt that’s driving up costs. This debt is not owed to teachers. This debt is owed to financial institutions like the Pritzker Group, Goldman Sachs and Northern trust—all Emanuel Campaign contributors; and his administration wants to ensure they get paid what they’re owed.

“This debt is also owed to banks and investors who virtually swindled CPS out of $100 million. Financial institutions like Bank of America and the Royal Bank of Canada. They have documented evidence that these banks knew that the auction rate securities market was about to collapse while they were preparing to underwrite a massive auction rate bond issue for CPS.

“That’s illegal. You can sue them and get those millions back. But the Emmanuel administration refuses. They want them to get what’s owed to them even though they got it in through corrupt and deceptive practices.

“This administration wants to pay your tax dollars to EVERYONE they owe, except one group. The only people the Emanuel administration doesn’t want to pay what they’re owed are teachers.

“Let me say it again another way.

“The only group of people the Emanuel administration doesn’t want to pay, just happen to be the only group of people who actually worked for what CPS owes them–spent their entire careers working and sacrificing for what CPS owes them.

“PNC Bank didn’t sacrifice a more lucrative career to dedicate itself to teaching science and mathematics. Chicago’s teachers do that.

“Goldman Sachs didn’t sacrifice time with their own families to stay after school to tutor struggling readers. Chicago teachers do that.

“None of these institutions spent consecutive years of his career working with four struggling students in hopes that that sacrifice and investment of time would pay off on their graduation day …. only to have those hopes destroyed when the news reaches you that you’ll be preparing instead for their funerals—in part, as a result of the neglect of their communities by many of the same people responsible for the neglect of their schools. Their names: Miguel. Tyray. Roberto. Candace. Those are the names I carry with me, but teachers all across Chicago have names of their own etched in their memories forever.

“As our teachers feel this district coming in to take what little they do get in return for their sacrifice, this administration’s hollow, empty, and hypocritical use of the term “shared sacrifice” to justify this encroachment must seem profoundly disrespectful and painfully ironic.

“To reiterate. The source of our problem is:

(1) city and school officials who spend and borrow money in a manner that is reckless and corrupt;

(2) the parasitic private sector banks and investors who are always looking for creative ways to rip off taxpayers, and

(3) the state legislators who are all too eager to create a legislative environment in which this legalized theft can occur.

“If anyone is made to sacrifice, it has to be members of these three groups, because the behavior of teachers did not cause this problem. The behavior of these three groups caused this problem. Teachers have already made their sacrifice a thousand times over, and those whose behavior caused this crisis have no right to ask them for more.”

For the past few years, the impoverished Chester County public schools in Pennsylvania have been in deep deficit because of competition with charter schools and cyber charters that suck funding away from the public schools.

The biggest charter school is the Chester Community Charter School, founded and operated by multimillionaire Vehan Gureghian, a lawyer and businessman who was a major contributor to former Republican Governor Tom Corbett and a member of his education transition team.

Governor Tom Wolf tried to save the public schools of Delaware County by reducing the exorbitant amount of special education funding that is transferred from the public schools to charter schools and reducing the equally egregious funding of cyber schools. But his plan was rejected by a judge yesterday.

The Keystone State Education Coalition posted these articles this morning, which explain the situation:

“The district pays local charter schools about $64 million in tuition payments – more than it gets in state aid – to educate about half of its 7,000 students.”

Judge rejects Wolf challenge to charter funding


A Delaware County judge ruled Tuesday that the Chester Upland School District must abide by the state’s charter school funding formula and keep paying the charter schools that now educate about half of the struggling district’s students. After a hearing that stretched two days, Common Pleas Judge Chad Kenney said the commonwealth’s plan was “wholly inadequate” to restore the district to financial stability. He also faulted the state and district’s lawyers for failing to provide “meaningful specifics or details” as to how they arrived at the plan. Kenney did approve two smaller requests: He said the district can hire a turnaround specialist and a forensic auditor.

The ruling was a setback for the Wolf administration and the district’s state appointed receiver, Frances Barnes, who had contended Chester Upland schools might not be able to open next week without a change to the formula. It was not clear if they would seek to appeal Kenney’s ruling.

Judge derails Pa. plan for Chester Upland recovery

By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 08/25/15, 10:33 PM EDT

CHESTER >> Just minutes after a public meeting with the receiver of the Chester Upland School District ended with an impassioned plea for support of the public school system, a Delaware County judge denied proposals to alter charter school funding which would have eliminated a $22 million structural deficit. President Judge Chad F. Kenney denied portions of a plan proposed by Receiver Francis V. Barnes, with the support of Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Education, that sought to reduce payments to charter and cyber charter schools that educate Chester Upland School District. Barnes was seeking to cap the regular education tuition reimbursement for cyber charter students at $5,950, and to reduce the tuition reimbursement for special education students in brick-and-mortar charter schools from $40,000 to $16,000. Both changes would have been consistent with the recommendations of two bipartisan school funding commissions. Other portion of the plan calling for a forensic audit, a financial turnaround specialist and the delay of a loan repayment were approved.

Chester Upland charters struggle to account for $40,000 price tag for special education


In court Tuesday, charter schools in the Chester Upland district defended their claim to $40,000 in tuition for each special-education student they enroll. According to Pennsylvania’s calculations, the charters need — and, in fact, currently spend — well below that on those students.

The debate about how much money charters need to fulfill federal requirements for a “free appropriate public education” for special-education students is at the heart of reforms proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf and the district’s receiver, Francis Barnes, last week. And it’s at the center of a battle in Delaware County court this week between state and charter school officials.

Witnesses for the state Department of Education said Tuesday that none of the schools claimed spending more than $25,000 per special-education student in annual self-reports.

So what exactly is in that Chester Upland Charter Special Sauce?

Here’s the bottom line on Chester Upland charter school special education funding. Would this have been allowed to go on for years if charter schools were “public” in more than name only and were subject to taxpayer scrutiny on a regular basis?

Right-to-know requests for financial information regarding the operations of Charter School Management Company have been blatantly ignored for years.

“Let’s look at Chester Upland’s special education enrollment, while considering that, in general, special education students diagnosed with autism, emotional disturbance and intellectual disability require the highest expenditures, while those with speech and language impairments require the lowest expenditures.

Special education students on the autism spectrum – generally requiring high expenditures – make up 8.4 percent of the entire special education population at the school district, compared to 2.1 percent at Chester Community Charter School and zero percent at Widener Partnership and Chester Community Schoolof the Arts.

In the emotional disturbance category, another often requiring high expenditures, 13.6 percent of all special education students are categorized as emotionally disturbed in the school district, compared to 5.3 percent at Chester Community Charter, none at Widener or Chester Community School of the Arts.

For the intellectual disability category, the final category generally requiring high expenditures, the school district again serves a much larger percentage of this category: 11.6 percent for the school district, 2.8 for Chester Community Charter School and none for the others.

Conversely, for special education students requiring the lowest expenditures, the speech and language impaired, only 2.4 percent of the school district’s special education population falls into this category, compared to 27.4, 20.3 and 29.8 percent, respectively, at the charters.

Clearly the lion’s share of the need requiring the highest expenditures remains with the school district, but an exorbitant amount of funding goes to charters, where most special education needs can be addressed for comparatively low cost.”

Guest Column: The case for the Wolf recovery plan
Delco Times Letter by Frances Barnes POSTED: 08/24/15, 10:24 PM EDT

To the Times:

This is an open letter from Chester Upland School District Receiver Francis V. Barnes.

This afternoon (Aug. 24), Chester Upland School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education will appear before President Judge Chad Kenney seeking approval of an amended Financial Recovery Plan to restore financial integrity and balance the books, which is vital for the district and the charter schools it funds. The plan treats charters fairly by not reducing payments made for about 70 percent of charter students, but it does reduce unreasonable special education and cyber payments to charter schools. Reducing unreasonable payments will make the allocation of funds more equitable for all students in the Chester, Chester Township, and theUpland geographical area, regardless of which school they attend. Under the current formula, funds for special education students are not allocated equitably. The district is required to pay charter schools more than $40,000 per special education student, regardless of the actual cost to educate that student, while the district receives less than needed to educate its own special education students.

Here’s Dan Hardy’s coverage of the same issue from 2012:

Chester Upland: State special ed formula drains millions from district

By Dan Hardy, Inquirer Staff Writer
As Delaware County’s financially troubled Chester Upland School District struggles to stay afloat, officials there say they are paying millions more than they should on special-education students who attend charter schools.
School districts pay charters to teach their children, using a complicated formula set by state law. About 45 percent of Chester Upland’s students attend charters.

Chester Upland’s payments are based on the previous year’s expense of educating students in its own schools, minus some costs charters do not incur.

For regular-education Chester Upland students this year, that figure is $9,858 per child.

But flaws in the state charter-school law, district officials say, make payments to charter schools for special-education students much higher, costing Chester Upland about $8 million more than is reasonable.
Chester Upland’s per-student special-education charter-school payment this year is $24,528, more than twice as much as for regular students and thousands per student more than the state average.


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