Archives for category: Vouchers

Sara Stevenson, librarian at O. Henry Middle School in Austin and a member of the honor roll of this blog, is a relentless thinker and doer. She writes frequently to set the record straight when rightwing ideologues and reformers attack public education. In this post, she questions the rationale behind voucher legislation in Texas, which comes back session after session, a true zombie. Texas is a conservative state, for sure, but every time the subject of vouchers has come up, it has been beaten back by a coalition of rural representatives, mostly Republicans, who value their hometown schools, and urban representatives, mostly Democrats, who don’t want to drain money away from their underfunded public schools. The voucher proponents are back, and Stevenson says it is time to stop them again.

 

She writes:

 

Even though this latest version states that eligible students must
have attended a public school the previous year, once the door opens,
this bill will achieve what it was originally designed to do all
along. As a rural Republican in the Texas House said recently,
“Vouchers are just tax breaks for people who already send their kids
to private schools.”

 

I spent ten years teaching in a private Catholic school in Austin. I
admire greatly the work of private schools and the communities they
serve. However, if parents choose to send their child to a private
school, they do not deserve a tax credit. Just because their child
does not attend a public school does not mean they are not obligated
to support public education. Millions of Texas citizens with no
children of school age pay taxes to support our public schools, which
educates 5 million children. Every citizen benefits from an educated
populace. We used to refer to this concept as the common good.

 

It’s important that we citizens respect our own traditions. The United
States was the first country in the world to enact compulsory, free
education. By this important 19th century innovation, our nation
became a world leader, dominating the 20th century. This value is
inscribed in Article VII of the Texas Constitution.

 

The main difference between public and private schools is that the
latter have enormous freedom to teach what they want. They are
completely free from any state-imposed curricula, accountability, or
punitive testing schemes. They are also exclusive. You must apply to
a private school, and these schools can reject or expel students for
any reason. They do not have to accept the students who wipe their
feces on the bathroom walls or those with a mental age of one and a
half. Will private schools be equipped and willing to serve these
severely disabled children? Will they be able to teach students who
speak languages other than English, a group that comprises almost 20%
of the current Texas public school population?

The details of the Texas voucher plan were released, and the politicians pushing it can’t wait to siphon money away from the state’s underfunded public schools. They show no remorse for cutting $5 billion from the public schools in 2011, and now they are back looking for ways to drain even more money away from the public schools that enroll about 90% of the children in the state.

 

As a graduate of the Houston public schools (San Jacinto High School, class of 1956), I resent that these men are tearing down their community’s public schools. They claim they want to “save poor kids from failing schools,” but the schools aren’t failing: the politicians are failing the schools. Poor kids can’t learn when they don’t have access to decent medical care, when they don’t have enough to eat, when they are deprived of necessities that advantaged families take for granted. Poor kids will learn better if they have smaller class sizes, experienced teachers, and a full curriculum instead of incessant testing. By cutting funding and sending it to religious schools, the Texas legislators will guarantee larger classes and a stripped-down curriculum. Furthermore, while they won’t pay for what kids need, they have set aside millions for the inexperienced temps called Teach for America, most of whom will disappear after two years.

 

I am proud to be a native Texan, but I am not proud of the men who are destroying the public schools that educated me and my family and made it possible for me to go to a good college.

 

If I were in Austin, I would say to State Senator Larry Taylor and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick that vouchers and tax credits (backdoor vouchers) hurt the great majority of children who attend public schools. I would say to them that they should take a trip to Milwaukee, which has had vouchers for 25 years, and is one of the lowest scoring cities on the NAEP federal tests. I would tell them that poor black children in Milwaukee are doing worse in voucher schools than they were in public schools. I would tell them they are cheating the children of Texas, to placate their ideology and their pals in the corporate world.

 

I would tell them to hang their heads in shame.

 

As the state legislature considers vouchers for religious schools, a new poll of voters in Tennessee shows that they don’t want more school choice. They want charters to be reformed, meaning more transparency and accountability and stronger protections against financial fraud.

Voters ranked school choice dead last among their concerns.

“Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) Leaders say a recent survey of local voters shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly favor reforms for local charter schools to protect students and taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected charter expansion as a priority, the survey found. Instead, voters favored charter reforms to strengthen:

• Transparency and accountability

• Teacher training and qualifications

• Anti-fraud measures

• Equity policies for high-need students

“It’s clear our communities support quality public schools, not an expansion of charter schools,” said MNEA President Stephen Henry. “We need to make sure ALL Nashville schools are held to the same accountability and transparency standards that taxpayers expect.”
The survey also found voters rated the need for more parental involvement and the reduction of excessive student testing as bigger priorities than expanding charters.

“Specifically, voters favored by greater than 80% approval reforms that would:

*provide rigorous, independent audits of charter school finances

*require charter schools to publish how they spend taxpayer dollars, including all budgets and contracts

*ensure that teachers in any publicly-funded school meet the same training and qualification requirements”

G.F. Brandenburg asks what the differences were between the cheating scandal in Atlanta under Beverly Hall and the cheating scandal in D.C. under Michelle Rhee.

He can’t find any other than the powerful protection extended to Rhee by the Obama administration. She was the poster child for Race to the Top. They couldn’t let her fail. Arne Duncan even campaigned with her on behalf of Mayor Fenty, a most unusual act for a member of the Cabinet. Fenty lost, and Rhee left D.C. to form StudentsFirst and raise campaign funds for mostly rightwing Republicans who were pro-voucher, pro-charter, and anti-union.

He writes:

“But why is it that only in Atlanta were teachers and administrators indicted and convicted, but nowhere else?

“What difference was there in their actual behavior?

“To me, the answer is simple: in DC, officials at every level, from the Mayor’s office up to the President of the US and the Secretary of Education, were determined to make sure that Michelle Rhee’s lying and suborning of perjury and lies would never be revealed, no matter what.”

Here is a pathetic contrast that says a whole lot about the politics of education, not only in Texas but across the nation. The latest ethics report in Texas shows that “Texans for Education Reform,” a spinoff of Democrats for Education Reform, has hired 15 lobbyists to work the legislature this session. Most will be paid between $50,000-100,000, some less, some more. One will be paid between $150,000-200,000. This group would not call itself “Democrats for Education Reform” in Texas, because the Democratic Party is out of favor; the constituency this group appeals to would not want to be affiliated with any organization that called itself “Democrats.” The name may be helpful in fooling people in liberal states, but it would be a stigma in Texas.

 

Here is the contrast: the main anti-testing group is led by parents. It is called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (known to fans as Moms Against Drunk Testing). TAMSA has hired one lobbyist, who will be paid less than $10,000.

 

The lesson: People who are super-rich are pouring big money into politics to kill off public education and replace it with high-stakes testing, charters and vouchers. They don’t care that there is now substantial evidence that most charters do not have higher test scores than similar public schools. They don’t care that voucher schools don’t outperform public schools. What drives them? They say it’s all about the kids but it seems more likely that they just don’t like public education and want to starve it of resources.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coaltion for Equity and Adequacy explains the origins of choice in Ohio and how it has evolved into a lucrative for-profit industry. If “choice” meant better education, Ohio by now should have the best schools in the nation. It doesn’t. What has happened has been the transfer of $8 billion out of the state’s public schools to satisfy rightwing, evidence-free ideology.

Phillis writes:

“The school choice movement in Ohio: Is it about parents choosing good schools or the school choosing good students?

Open enrollment was a product of SB 140, an education “reform” bill more than a quarter century ago in the 118th General Assembly. The rationale set forth for enacting the concept was that parents should be allowed to choose a better academic option in a neighboring district. Although there has been no extensive research regarding why people choose open enrollment, experience indicates that better academics is the least frequent reason for the choice of another school district.

Open enrollment was the precursor to the Ohio privately-operated choice movement. Then-President George H. W. Bush told a large gathering of people in Columbus on November 25, 1991, you have open enrollment and now you need to go the whole nine yards and give a voucher to every student. Bush’s speech was reported in the November 26, 1991 Cincinnati Enquirer article-Bush: Give private schools money, Ohio audience wary of proposal.

The Cleveland Voucher Plan, a brainchild of Akron Industrialist David Brennen and then-Governor George V. Voinovich, followed the Bush recommendation. Ohio’s education choice programs have removed nearly $8 billion from Ohio school districts since “choice” began.

The education choice gospel is preached in a way that resonates with lots of folks. Who would take issue with such a sacred-sounding verse–choice? But the reality is that choice is more about private and privately-managed education entities choosing students than parents choosing a school. Private schools and charters are not obligated to take students and many of them screen out or counsel out students they don’t want.

The irony is that those parents who choose charter schools are, in a majority of cases, opting for schools with lower academic ratings than the district of residence. But that phenomenon, as long as folks are blinded by the empty promise of choice, will continue to lead to consumer fraud. Massive snake oil salesman-type advertising misleads parents. Most of the solicitations for student enrollment do not match the charters’ educational opportunities and results.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

The “tax credit” program in Pennsylvania is a backdoor way of spending public money for children who enroll in private and religious schools.

What does the State Constitution say?

Pennsylvania Constitution Article III Section § 15.

Public school money not available to sectarian schools.

No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.

“Religious Freedom
Section 3.

“All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

This latter provision has been cited by the state courts to prohibit public funding of religious schools.

Isn’t it funny how Republicans claim to be in favor of strict construction of the Constitution, except when they don’t?

Isn’t it funny how so many Republican state legislators belong to ALEC, which is trying to obliterate local school boards and local control.

Blogger Yinzercation has an excellent article explaining the negative effects of “tax credits” on public education.

“While our legislators are busy looking under their sofa cushions for spare change to fund the state budget, they might want to consider the $75 million that just walked out the front door. That’s how much the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program costs us taxpayers every year.

“The misnamed EITC program has nothing to do with educational improvement and everything to do with funneling what would have been state budget dollars into private schools, while increasing profits for corporations. Here’s how it works: corporations can get an EITC tax credit by contributing to a Scholarship Organization, which channels the money to private schools. The companies receive up to 90% of their contributions as a tax credit, worth up to $300,000 per year, and can get a federal tax write-off as well, making the program highly attractive.

“Not only do corporations get a tax write-off, but they also receive good publicity and increased access to legislators. For example, gas driller XTO Energy (now owned by Exxon) donated $650,000 over the past three years allowing it to stage ceremonies all over the state at the time when its fracking technique was coming under intense scrutiny. The New York Times reported last week that a state official credited XTO with going “ ‘above and beyond’ its duty” when “[i]n reality, as much as 90 percent of XTO’s donation was underwritten by taxpayers.” [unless otherwise noted, all quotes from New York Times, May 21, 2012]….”

“And there is no accountability for that $75 million. The Keystone Research Center analyzed the EITC’s K-12 component (the program also funds pre-K scholarships and ‘educational improvement organizations’ that work with public schools) and found that “schools benefiting from the EITC scholarships are not required to report on student progress or document school quality.” [Keystone Research Center report, April 7, 2011]

“In fact, the legislature outlawed any attempts to collect such information and the program is actually managed by the Department of Community and Economic Development – not the Department of Education.

“With practically no state oversight, the public has almost no financial information on the organizations receiving tax credits or distributing scholarships. The Keystone report warns, “Experiences in Arizona indicate that a lack of financial accountability opens the door to the misuse of public funds.” And we’re talking about a program that provides scholarships to over 38,000 students to attend private and religious schools – that’s more than the number of students in the Pittsburgh Public School District.”

EITC is a “backdoor voucher program” promoted by ALEC and the voucher advocates “American Federation for Children.”

It is intended to undermine public education and funnel public money to private and religious schools with NO accountability.

Never forget: Vouchers have never won at the ballot box.

One of the mantras of school choice advocates is that “the money”–whether federal, state, or local–“should follow the child.” It should be stuffed in a backpack that he or she can spend wherever they choose. The claim is made both for charters and vouchers, and behind it is the assertion that the money somehow belongs to the child, not the community that paid taxes.

Peter Greene here shows what a fallacious claim that is.

He writes:

“I’ve resisted this notion for a long time. The money, I liked to say, belongs to the taxpayers, who have used it to create a school system that serves the entire community by filling that community with well-educated adults who make better employees, customers, voters, neighbors, parents, and citizens. But hey– maybe I’ve been wrong. Maybe that money, once collected really does belong to the student. In which case, let’s really do this….

“Does she want to go to the shiny new charter school? Let her go (as long as they’ll take her, of course). But why stop there? Travel has long been considered a broadening experience– what if she wants to take the voucher and spend it on a world cruise? Why not? It’s her money. Perhaps she wants to become a champion basketball player– would her time not be well spent hiring a coach and shooting hoops all day? Maybe she would like to develop her skills playing PS4 games, pursuant to a career in video-game tournaments. That’s educational. In fact, as I recall the misspent youth of many of my cohort, I seem to recall that many found smoking weed and contemplating the universe to be highly educational. I bet a voucher would buy a lot of weed….

“Heck, let’s really go all in. Why use the odd fiction of a voucher at all– let’s just collect taxes and cut every single student an annual check for $10,000 (or whatever the going rate is in your neighborhood). Let’s just hand them the money that we’re asserting belongs to them, and let them spend it as they wish. Maybe they’d like a nice couch, or a new iPad, or a sweet skateboard, or a giant voucher party, or food and clothing for themselves and their family. ….”

Whose money is it?

A few days ago, I saluted Representative Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, Texas, for his plan to add $3 billion to the public schools’ budget.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a powerful figure in the state, prefers vouchers.

Happily, the Houston Chronicle published an editorial supporting Aycock and dismissing vouchers. This is the real world, folks, not fantasy land, where wishes are horses. The legislature cut the public schools by $5 billion and has restored only a tiny fraction. Meanwhile the children are majority Hispanic, and they are in public schools. Their schools need the resources, the teachers, the class sizes, and the librarians and social workers to help them now.

The Chronicle says:

“While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick scampers down a rabbit trail in pursuit of costly school-voucher legislation, an influential public education policymaker in the House is doing what’s right for Texas school children and Texas taxpayers.

“State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, announced last week that the lower chamber will tackle the daunting task of finding a fair and equitable way for the state to fund its public schools.
By taking up the challenge instead of waiting for a state Supreme Court ruling, the low-key Republican chairman of the Public Education Committee shows us what a true representative of the people looks like. A formerKilleen school board member, Aycock does the people’s business with little fanfare, with an effort to be fair and open to all sides and with a goal to getting useful things accomplished….

“Patrick’s beloved voucher scheme would divert taxpayer money from public education to cover all or part of a student’s tuition at a private or religious school, with little or no accountability to the people whose money is being spent. Aycock, on the other hand, understands the urgent need to invest in the state’s public schools and their five million students, 60 percent of them economically disadvantaged. He’s also aware, we’re sure, that the number of low-income students is growing at twice the rate of the overall student population….

“The voucher issue distracts from the fact that public schools, whatever their problems, are the backbone of every Texas community. They require attention and investment.

Aycock’s proposal would add $800 million to the $2.2 billion the House already had allocated to public schools. In the Senate, Patrick and his voucher cohorts, including state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, have proposed about $1.8 billion less for public education than the House. Patrick also is pushing hard for tax cuts worth about $4.6 billion.”

Taylor, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is sponsoring legislation that would create a $100 million private-school tuition program to help lower-income students pay for private or religious schools. Patrick told the Education Committee last week that the legislation would give approximately 10,000 students an opportunity to escape failing schools, primarily urban schools. Funding would come through donations from businesses, which in turn would receive tax credits.”

“Since the House and Senate are so far apart on the issues, they probably won’t be addressed in depth until a special session this summer. When that happens, we urge lawmakers to look to the man from Killeen for direction and not the man pushing vouchers.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 147,019 other followers