Archives for category: Budget Cuts

Most people have no idea about the privatization movement. They don’t know that the narrative of crisis (“our schools are failing, failing, failing”)–repeated again and again–is intended to clear the way for privatization.

Peter Greene explains the insidious plan here.

Step one, create a crisis.

Step two, take power away from the community, dissolve the local school board, give it to the mayor, the governor.

Step three: cash in.

Mike Klonsky writes that Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner have brought the city and state to their knees with their austerity budgets.

“Mayor 1% finally made his long overdue payment to the teachers pension fund, but not without extracting his pound of flesh — 1,400 teachers being laid off and another $1B in borrowing, another windfall for his bankster patrons and another attack on the teachers union and teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

“Aside from the hardship the layoffs will bring to the teachers and their children and families, think about what the loss of so many union jobs means to the community and the continuing destruction of the city’s middle class.

“Think also about spiraling class sizes and program cuts in city schools and what that will mean, especially for the neediest of students who need personalization more than ever. It also makes another teachers strike that much more likely.

“By my figuring, 1,400 teacher jobs lost means minimally, about $84 million in yearly taxable income that won’t be spent in neighborhood groceries, auto dealers, hair salons and shoe stores. That translates to hundreds more lay-offs from local businesses, millions more in lost revenue for the city and state and the further pauperization of the community’s working class and small businesses owners.”

“Likewise for our sociopathic billionaire governor who will shut down the state government, with an even greater civic toll, rather than taxing his corporate and LaSalle St. cronies even one penny more on their speculative windfall profits.”

Mike Klonsky writes a post with one of the best titled ever.

He tries to figure out why reformers don’t care about class size. They say there’s no evidence for smaller classes. Well, there is plenty of evidence, but they brush it aside.

It turns they don’t care about evidence. They are not data-driven. They want to take your funding and your schools. They want to save money, but not to spend it on smaller classes.

It is a universal truth, well known, that when budget cuts are imposed by the state, teachers of the arts are the first to go. I recently met with a leader of the arts community in Houston who told me that she wanted to make a gift of art supplies but could not few elementary schools with art teachers.

Some advocates for the arts–music education, especially, claim that the study of music increases test scores.

Peter Greene says: Don’t do that! See here too.

There so many important reasons to treasure music, and the pursuit of higher test scores is not one of them.

“Music is universal. It’s a gabillion dollar industry, and it is omnipresent. How many hours in a row do you ever go without listening to music? Everywhere you go, everything you watch– music. Always music. We are surrounded in it, bathe in it, soak in it. Why would we not want to know more about something constantly present in our lives? Would you want to live in a world without music? Then why would you want to have a school without music?
Listening to music is profoundly human. It lets us touch and understand some of our most complicated feelings. It helps us know who we are, what we want, how to be ourselves in the world. And because we live in an age of vast musical riches from both past and present, we all have access to exactly the music that suits our personality and mood. Music makes the fingers we can use to reach into our own hearts.
Making music is even more so. With all that music can do just for us as listeners, why would we not want to unlock the secrets of expressing ourselves through it? We human beings are driven to make music as surely as we are driven to speak, to touch, to come closer to other humans. Why would we not want to give students the chance to learn how to express themselves in this manner?….

“In music, everyone’s a winner. In sports, when two teams try their hardest and give everything they’ve got, there’s just one winner. When a group of bands or choirs give their all, everybody wins. Regrettably, the growth of musical “competitions” has led to many programs that have forgotten this — but music is the opposite of a zero-sum game. The better some folks do, the better everybody does. In music, you can pursue excellence and awesomeness without having to worry that you might get beat or defeated or humiliated. Everybody can be awesome….

“Do not defend a music program because it’s good for other things. That’s like defending kissing because it gives you stronger lip muscles for eating soup neatly. Defend it because music is awesome in ways that no other field is awesome. Defend it because it is music, and that’s all the reason it needs. As Emerson wrote, “Beauty is its own excuse for being.” A school without music is less whole, less human, less valuable, less complete. Stand up for music as itself, and stop making excuses.”

A comment by a reader:



Education and the Industrial Imagination



Prof. Ravitch and followers of her blog are of course right to underscore the fact that for-profit colleges and universities must be understood in the broader context of an increasingly dominant business or industrial model of education. It is helpful to spell out that model more precisely, so that our criticisms can be more clearly and forcefully targeted. Let me take a stab at that here.


On the industrial model, educating whole persons for lifelong growth is replaced by education as just another industrial sector, on a par with any other sector. Education’s job is to manufacture skilled labor for the market in a way that is maximally efficient. Knowledge on this model is a market commodity, teachers are delivery vehicles for knowledge content, and students are either consumers or manufactured products. Educational institutions on the industrial model are marketplaces for delivering and acquiring content, tuition is the fair price for accessing that content, and the high-to-low grade differential is the means for incentivizing competition. It is not clear where growth, community, and democracy come into the picture.



A school may train more students with fewer teachers, and an industrial sector may produce more clothes, cars, or animal protein to meet market demands with lower overhead costs. These products can then be used, or put to work to produce more things. The industrial imagination stops here, with efficient production. This is arguably useful, but what else has been unintentionally made, to which industrial thinking is oblivious? Have we made narrower lives? Have we embittered and disabled? Have we anesthetized moral and ecological sensitivity? Have we, in John Dewey’s words, made life more “congested, hurried, confused and extravagant”? If the answer is a qualified yes, then these are questions that should be central to public deliberation about education. It would be a tragedy that trivializes all of our successes if we continue unchecked down a cultural path in which schools—or industries—gain efficiency and increase productivity by frustrating human fulfillment.



Steven Fesmire, author of Dewey (Routledge, 2015)

As I wrote in an earlier post, Governor Andrew Cuomo is very proud of the 2% tax cap that he placed (through legislation) on all school districts. They cannot pass a budget with an increase greater than 2% unless a supermajority of 60% of voters approve. This is undemocratic on its face, since 55% or 50.1% wins the election in a democratic society. But Cuomo wanted to show that he was a fiscal conservative. At the election a few days ago, 99% of the state’s school districts approved increases in their school budget, and the average increase was 1.9%, obviously to avoid the governor’s cap. Eighteen districts asked voters to approve an increase greater than 2%, and 12 districts did. New York spends a lot on public schools, but its funding is highly inequitable. The legislators from the most affluent districts take care of their own.


Want to know the real effects of Cuomo’s budget cap? Here is a comment by a reader who calls himself “Memphis Louie”:



Cuomo’s tax cap locked in a wide existing disparity in funding–and insures that the funding gaps will widen every year–and he calls this one of his great successes as governor. At the present time NY State’s wealthiest school districts spend $8,500 more per pupil than the 100 poorest school districts. Looking forward a 1% increase in the local tax levy in wealthy districts will raise over $400 per pupil while a similar increase in the levy in the poorest districts will generate an additional $51 per pupil. Project that out over a decade and our existing spending gaps widen into chasms. The result is that the students most likely to experience success are offered lavish programs while the students who come from the most challenging circumstances get barebones programs. Then our governor calls out the failing schools–the ones with the most challenging demographics….lots of noise–but never a solution from Cuomo! NY State’s funding formulas are highly politicized and contrived to drive state funds into the districts of key political leaders–essentially, school funding is distributed like pigs at the trough. The big pigs eat until they are full and the rest get the scraps! Cuomo touts this a one of his greatest successes and the TEAPublicans want to make it permanent (because even in our heavily gerrymandered state they feel threatened that enough people will go to the polls in 2016 that they will lose their majority!

This reader reacted to the post about Steve Mathews, the superintendent in Novi, Michigan who is now on our honor roll for speaking up against punitive corporate reform. This reader explains with great clarity what the game is all about:



I taught in the same district as Steve Matthews when he was a Curriculum Director some years ago so I am familiar with who he is. He was well liked during his time there.
Something that is missing from Steve’s well spoken article and most of the subsequent comments is the fact that not only is the de-funding of public education deliberate and premeditated but it has a purpose in addition to demoralizing school employees. Two major factors are at play.
One is by keeping school districts cash strapped, it puts less money into the paychecks of teachers. Therefore less money will be going to Democratic candidates running for elected office. Starving the Democrats of donations by teacher union members, who are often the largest union in any particular state, makes it easier to outspend the Democrats by rich Republican donors. No less than Karl Rove, has stated that is a major goal of his political machine.
Another key ingredient of this premeditation for breaking down public schools is public schools are one of the last great untapped sources for the greatest stack of dollars in the country, taxpayer money. By making the school systems appear incompetent, even if it means actually ruining the education of millions of students, Republicans can create large inroads for privatization of school operations. That means Republican’s Corporate Masters will be getting those easy taxpayer monies with long-term contracts for “services.” Republicans/Corporate America have made big strides in taking over school transportation, food and custodial services to date, in addition to creating charter schools with shockingly little accountability for how taxpayer money is used and for actual student achievement. Legislative bills are being introduced in many states that will allow districts to hire non-certified teachers for the classrooms. Those “teachers” will be woefully underpaid and have little skills to deliver any kind of quality education.
The saying of “follow the money” is a real cue to see what those who seek to demonize public education are up to.

The mayoral election in Chicago is tomorrow. What’s at stake: the future of public education in that city.

The Chicago Teachers Union predicts more school closings if Tahm is re-elected. A major campaign contributor said he should have closed 125 schools, not just 50. This donor, Ken Griffin, is a Republican who also has given to Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

CONTACT: Ronnie Reese
April 6, 2015 312-329-6235

School closings inevitable if Emanuel wins second term

If Rahm Emanuel is re-elected, more school closures could come before moratorium ends in 2018

CHICAGO—Rahm Emanuel’s refusal to seriously pursue any meaningful, progressive revenue solutions for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) funding needs will without question lead to further mass school closings in the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods if he wins re-election on April 7. As Emanuel’s economic policies prioritize the financial interests of billionaire campaign donors like Ken Griffin and other big business supporters, at the expense of public education in Chicago, the mayor is making a clear choice to drive the district into even further dire financial straits that he will use to justify additional school closings.

Griffin, one of the top contributors to Emanuel’s re-election campaign and the richest man in Illinois, has accused Chicago’s mayor of being “lackluster” for not closing 125 schools instead of 50, and recently reiterated to the New York Times that the number of closings, which disproportionately affected African American and Latino students and their families, “should’ve been 125.” Griffin also has claimed that the top 1 percent of income earners have too little influence in politics, which is seemingly why he has backed Emanuel with more than $1 million in campaign contributions. As Griffin’s influence on City Hall grows, future school closings are inevitable if Emanuel is re-elected.

“Rahm’s pledge not to close additional schools for five years, which he refused to put into writing or pass into law, will conveniently run out if he wins a second term,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “In Ken Griffin, who is among the top donors to both Emanuel and his friend, Bruce Rauner, he has a billionaire puppet master for whom he’ll have to do a lot of dancing if he is fortunate enough to retain his office.”

In return for Griffin’s generosity, Emanuel has rejected holding the city’s most wealthy accountable for their growing untaxed income while he simultaneously fleeces working class families with regressive taxes. Emanuel also has committed millions of dollars in tax increment financing to one of Griffin’s hotel investments and remains silent on suggestions for a millionaire tax that nearly 2/3 of the state of Illinois voted to support.

In deference to his central contributors, Emanuel has refused to claw back losses from toxic swaps, capital appreciation bonds, TIFs and other forms of predatory finance that will cost the city $3 billion—money that would be better used in meeting pension obligations and expanding city services.

If Griffin himself were taxed at the individual income tax rate before it declined from 5 percent to 3.75 percent on January 1, 2015, his $1.2 billion annual income would have garnered $60 million. That amount alone would have saved 30 neighborhood public schools from closing, according to the Chicago Board of Education’s own calculations. If this same formula was applied to members of the Pritzker family, Grosvenor Capital Management CEO Michael Sacks and other financial titans financing Emanuel’s campaign, there would be substantially more resources available to the district to offset its projected $1 billion shortfall.

“If the mayor had the courage to take on the banks’ toxic swaps for market manipulation, unfair dealing and misinformation—along the lines of what the Department of Justice has done federally—we could recoup nearly $1.2 billion for our schools and the city, eradicating the current deficit,” Sharkey said. “Instead, CPS will face more mass school closings, more layoffs, more losses of retirement security for educators and more students in our already overcrowded classrooms.”

If the district closed the additional 75 schools that Griffin has called for, Emanuel’s handpicked Board of Education would have to layoff approximately 9,000 teachers, which would result in class sizes of 50 or more in most schools. Emanuel has threatened such actions in the past. If Chicago had a mayor who chose the city’s residents, their schools and communities over the interests of wealthy benefactors, the pain and suffering that Emanuel has caused can be avoided in the future.

Emanuel is the bankers’ candidate, for it is the bankers who are most enthusiastic about his willingness to defend their interests. His refusal to hold them accountable is an indication that future budget cuts and school closures are a certainty.


Peter Greene read an opinion piece defending Common Core in a major newspaper in Arizona. With a bit of googling, he discovered that the writer–Rebecca Hipps– lives in Washington, D.C., and works for an organization that sells Common Core teaching materials. What surprised him even more was that with the author’s concern for the state of public education, she said nothing about the punishing budget cuts that have decimated its schools (as well as higher education, which Governor Doug Ducey seems to want to get rid of along with public schools). Greene calls his post “Razing Arizona,” which is a clever pun on the name of a popular movie called “Raising Arizona,” by the Coen brothers.


He writes:


Arizona has cut public ed spending steadily since the late oughts, and they rank 50th in college per-student spending. It’s a wonder that Hipps did not bring this up, as it would seem that Arizona is a poster child for spending bottom dollar on education and getting bottom dollar results.


Greene points out that legislators are responding to public criticism by making it illegal for educators to engage in public discussion or debates:


At least Hipps is able to speak out at all. Arizona’s teachers, superintendents, principals and school board members have spoke up about the slash and burn methods of their state leaders, and the state leader response has been to float a law that will require them to shut up.

Arizona lawmakers have attached an amendment to Senate Bill 1172. It prohibits “an employee of a school district or charter school, acting on the district’s or charter school’s behalf, from distributing electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.”


On the one hand, it’s a good idea that Mrs. O’Teacher not give her class an hour of self-directed worksheets while she stuffs envelopes for the new ballot initiative. On the other hand, there’s that whole First Amendment thing. And the law is so broadly worded that I imagine a citizen asking a school district employee, “I’m really worried about the new proposed law cutting all money to public schools. Will that hurt our programs here,” and said school employee must reply, by law, “I cannot share any information about that with you.” Other critics of the bill fear that it would even prohibit any discussion of educational programs that directly affect children with those children’s parents.


And while I’m not concerned, exactly, I am curious– would this law also prohibit charter schools from advertising?


The law is clearly one more attempt to push educators out of the political world. No more informational letters to parents and voters. No more taking a public stand against assaults on school funding by the governor and legislators. Presumably no teacher or administrator in Arizona could write a response to Hipps’ op-ed– at least not with any indication that they were writing their response from the perspective of a public educator.


In their wisdom, legislators have decided that the biggest problem of public schools is not the lack of funding, but the surplus of discussion of their funding. Best to shut up the educators.



Lynn Lillian is the chair of Fair Funding for Our Schools, an advocacy network dedicated to insuring adequate and equitable funding for New York public schools. A lifelong supporter of public schools, she also serves on her local school board. I heard Lynn Lillian speak about the budget at a meeting of supporters of public education in the Monroe-Woodbury District and was very impressed by her understanding of the details. I asked her to write this article for readers of the blog. She graciously agreed.



She writes:



In spite of New York State’s responsibility to provide the funding necessary to educate all of New York’s students, the past few years have seen multiple assaults on funding for education in the form of the 2% Tax Cap, the GEA, and Foundation Aid. At the same time funding for public schools has been reduced, districts have been required to spend astronomical sums implementing Common Core Learning Standards and new APPR evaluations, required by Race to the Top.


Education funding in New York is maddeningly convoluted. Multiple formulas and funding mechanisms defy understanding and sometimes even logic. Education advocates joke that there are only three people in the state that actually understand the formulas that are the basis for public school funding in New York. As my grandmother used to say, it can be enough to drive a happy person right out of their mind.


However complex, funding does get to the heart of the matter. The governor is fond of saying that money doesn’t matter in education, but The National Bureau of Economic Research cites data that links increases in spending to higher graduation rates, and higher income.


Every child has a right to a fully funded public education in New York. In this context the chronic underfunding of education in our state is particularly indefensible.


Our state constitution demands and law requires that the state fund education adequately and equitably. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) decision reaffirmed the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education as well as the state’s responsibility to fund it.


School districts have only two discreet sources of revenue by law to fund their budgets, aid from the government, and the ability to levy taxes in our communities to make up the difference between program costs and what state aid provides. Both sources of revenue have been impacted dramatically.


In order to bring the level of funding up to what was deemed necessary to provide a sound basic education, the CFE decision also found that public schools in New York were owed billions of dollars. This money was to be paid back through the Foundation Aid formula, which was created to fund all districts equitably based on a districts’ ability to contribute, and it’s need. That debt remains unpaid.


In the wake of the recession, the state introduced two laws that further constrained education funding in New York: The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was introduced to close a state budget gap, and the 2% Tax Cap Law.


The GEA allows the state to take back part of the money districts are owed in aid to spend somewhere else. Since 2010 the state has used the GEA shore up it’s own budget shortfalls, taking back badly needed aid from schools. The Tax Cap Law limits how much school districts can raise the tax levy. With the tax levy limit set at no greater than 2%, and costs generally rising about 3 per cent per year, the cap created an automatic deficit, functionally reducing both sources of revenue districts rely on.


When the tax cap law was being proposed, many education advocates lobbied for the law to be tied to mandate relief. Eliminating some unfunded mandates would theoretically address the loss of funds due to the tax cap. Not only has there been no significant mandate relief, but also more unfunded mandates have been imposed, and these have been costly.


For example, New York’s participation in the Federal Race to the Top grant required that the state implement the Common Core Learning Standards and a new APPR teacher evaluation system. In most districts the cost of implementing these mandates exponentially outstripped the modest and often inconsequential funds provided by the federal grant driving up per pupil cost and saddling districts with the bill.


Without the ability to levy taxes to make up the difference in the loss of funds due to the tax cap, the GEA and the failure to fully fund the Foundation Aid formula, districts have had no choice but to make cuts to programs and reductions in staff that erode the quality of public education.


The numbers are sobering. The New York State Association of Business officials report that the combined effect of the tax cap and state aid reductions have resulted in a gap of 17 billion dollars between historical and projected revenues. To protect academic programs from this loss of revenue, many districts have tapped into their reserves, leaving nothing in case of emergency or natural disaster. In addition, 30,000 teachers, administrators, and support staff have been laid off according to the Education Conference Board, a coalition of the state’s major educational organizations.


The result has been increased class sizes and fewer services to support kids. Worse still, 51% of New York’s school districts are still receiving aid under the 2008 level. Districts challenged by issues of poverty find themselves without the basics: books for libraries, and textbooks for teachers, strained by large class size and understaffed programs. Even districts that have managed to hold on to some resources find their students shut out of seats at highly selective colleges and universities as their academic and extracurricular programs have been whittled away.


The fallout of the past 6 years is a system in distress. Underfunding of our schools, in all of its forms, has meant opportunities lost for students, opportunities this generation of students won’t get back. The state has failed to deliver on both adequacy and equity. Without the funding necessary to provide a sound basic education, the conversation is not about the haves and the have-nots in public education, but about the have -nothings and the have- not- enough’s. Neither is acceptable.


All of our students deserve and are owed rich curriculum and necessary supplies; books for starters.


All students deserve and are owed the resources and experiences that will allow them to compete for seats at highly selective colleges and universities, and prepare them for meaningful rewarding work.


Going into this year’s budget cycle New York State owed its public schools Nearly 5 billion dollars in Foundation Aid and 1 billion dollars in GEA funds. With a 4.2 billion dollar surplus this year, and budget surpluses projected through 2018, one would think that it would be time for the state to deliver on the constitutional promise of a sound basic education and begin to pay back it’s debt to public schools by fully funding the Foundation Aid formula and eliminate GEA reductions.


Like farmers in the dust bowl feeling a drop of rain, educators imagined that these surpluses offered the opportunity to begin to repair the damage done by chronic underfunding and shift the conversation from how to hang on to how to best support and educate our students. The Governor’s first volley in the budget process put an end to that idea. It was an unprecedented push to tie state aid increases to education policies that demonized teachers, emphasized even more standardized testing, not less, and undermined public schools by promoting charters and blaming schools that are grossly underfunded. In essence, holding aid our students desperately need hostage to politics. The arrogance of his proposals ignited a groundswell of opposition.


That opposition helped secure the 1.4 billion allocated for education in the recently adopted budget, certainly a better outcome than the governor’s proposed increase of 1.1 billion. While hailed as the largest state aid increase in years, it still leaves in place most of the billions of dollars owed to New York’s public schools in the form of GEA reduction and Foundation Aid. A disproportionate amount of what is owed is in the form of Foundation Aid, which affects the highest need districts in the state, exacerbating the lack of equity in school funding. Further, the Education Conference Board estimates that it will take 1.2 billion dollars to maintain current programs. When these factors are taken into account 1.4 billion represents a modest increase in school aid.


The governor’s initiatives were only strengthened in this budget, saddling districts with additional unfunded mandates and loss of local control. For example, my home district received a 3.4% increase in aid. The aid is welcome, but doesn’t go far enough, particularly when the strings attached are taken into account. To get the full funding due to us, districts have to comply with a new teacher evaluation plan (APPR). The plan as reported represents additional costs to districts in the form of outside evaluators, professional development for evaluators within districts, and costs associated with covering classrooms in the case teachers act as evaluators.


Districts receive their aid on a monthly basis and if they are not able to negotiate and approve the states’ APPR plan by the November 15th deadline, payment of the aid increase will stop. The budget bill also includes a requirement that teachers complete 100 hours of professional development over a five -year period. Again, districts pay for that, begging the question: how many costs do districts have to cover before an increase is not an increase?


Language in the bill relating to “failing” schools outlines the right of the state to convert these schools into charters, representing yet another drain on district resources. For every student who attends a charter, money is siphoned from the home district to that charter. These initiatives have another cost; the time educators spend complying with these unfunded mandates translates to loss of time that could be spent developing and implementing rich instruction – Which in turn results in opportunities lost for our students.


Over the next few weeks we will hear numerous claims, often contradictory, about what this budget means for students. It’s all a shell game. The complexity of the funding mechanisms at work allow for seemingly conflicting declarations about where we are. What is most dramatically illustrated by this year’s budget cycle is that educators and the students they serve have been driven into a corner arms aloft: trying to deflect blows from the state in the form of unsupported directives, funding reductions and inequities, and accusations of failure all meant to distract from the real issue: the state has capitulated it’s constitutional responsibility to fund it’s schools.










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