Archives for category: Vouchers

The radical right and their allies claim they are strict constructionists of the Constitution. They don’t feel the same way about State Constitutions. Even when the State Constitution explicitly says that public money is to be used only for public schools, the far-right celebrates when the Legislature passes a voucher program that violates the State Constitution.

This is the case in Nevada, where the Constitution is very clear about where public money should go: to public schools only. Yet Nevada passed the most sweeping voucher legislation in the nation, and the allegedly strict constructionists have thrown their principles to the wind. The fact is that they care more about free markets than about the State Constitution.

Here is the complaint that was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs challenging Nevada’s sweeping voucher law.

“EducateNevadaNow” is the organization that is leading the charge against vouchers. Here is its question-and-answer sheet about the lawsuit:

On September 9, 2015, a group of parents whose children attend Nevada public schools filed a lawsuit challenging the State’s new voucher law. The lawsuit, Lopez v. Schwartz, has generated media attention and interest from parents, educators and taxpayers.

Today’s frequently asked questions focus on what the parents hope to achieve and next steps in the process.

Q: Are the parents suing for money damages?

A: No. The parents are only suing to stop the voucher program and keep it from taking away funding from the education of their children in the public schools. They are not asking for any money. Additionally, the attorneys representing the parents are providing their legal services for free or “pro bono.”

FACT: The Nevada Constitution states that the funding provided for public schools can only be used to operate those schools and not for any other purposes.

Q: What are the next steps in the parents’ lawsuit?

A: The case has been filed before Judge James Wilson in Carson City, Nevada. The parents will be asking Judge Wilson to declare the voucher law unconstitutional and to block the State Treasurer from implementing the voucher law.

One of the groups I have come to admire is called Pastors for Texas Children.

They regularly testify before the state legislature against vouchers because they believe in separation of church and state.

They have been especially effective in making the voices of rural communities and small town heard, places where people like their public schools.

They need your help to continue their battle for better public schools:

As many of you already know Pastors for Texas Children has received a matching grant from The Meadows Foundation! They will award us $30,000 on November 10, 2015. If we can raise that amount between now and then they will award us an additional $30,000 to benefit our children in Texas. Here is the amount we have raised and the amount we still need.

Amount Raised: $9,080.00

Amount Needed: $20, 920.00

Remember, we will need to raise the $20,920.00 by November 10, 2015 – counting today that’s just 19 days left.

Many of you have already generously donated, and we would like to express our sincere gratitude to you! If you haven’t given already, please donate $50,$100, $200 or any amount you would like to:

Pastors for Texas Children
PO Box 471155
Fort Worth, Texas 76147

You may also donate by credit card online at by clicking on the red Donate button.

Please give so we can receive these matching funds and help us make the local church and the local school a “dynamic duo” for God’s common good in every community in Texas!
God bless you, your family, your ministry, your school, and your district, and thank you for standing strong for our schoolchildren.

On Saturday, the people of Louisiana will vote on many races. Among the most important will be the races for state board of education.

The Network for Public Education Action Fund has endorsed Lotte Beebe, Lee Barrios, and Jason France.

This article describes what is at stake.

Out of state billionaires have put up nearly $1 billion to impose privatization.

The several local candidates have about $50,000 among them.

The question is whether big money can defeat democracy and secure control of Louisiana’s schools and children. posted about the fight over vouchers in D.C. and about the charter teachers’ rally for “equality” (meaning more charter schools in New York City):

OUTSIZED FIGHT OVER D.C. VOUCHERS : Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner has one swan song that’s guaranteed to be a hit among even his most bitter Republican critics: picking a fight with the president over private school vouchers. The House is expected to pass a bill extending the life of Washington’s school voucher program today, setting up an outsized fight with the White House over a small, $45 million program that allows students from low-income families in the nation’s capital to attend private schools on the taxpayer dime. Maggie Severns has the story:

– School vouchers have united even the angriest factions of the GOP : The day after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race for speaker and the chamber descended deeper into turmoil, some of Boehner’s fiercest critics gathered to wax poetic about vouchers during a markup. Democrats have criticized the program as ineffective and harmful to public schools – and an ironic Republican cause celebre given the GOP’s frequent calls for transferring more power to states.

– The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program allocates funds directly from Congress for D.C. students to use at a private school of their choice. About 6,200 students have used the vouchers over the last 10 years, and the average household income of enrolled students is about $20,575. The fight over Washington’s vouchers, which has raged for more than a decade and even earned a plot line on the television show “The West Wing,” is a proxy for lawmakers debating if – and when – the government should pour resources into helping poor kids escape failing public schools.

– The White House strongly opposes the bill, but didn’t say whether President Obama would veto it:….

– And speaking of school choice: More than 1,500 New York City teachers will rally in Manhattan this afternoon to decry Mayor Bill de Blasio and his policies that ignore “the depth of inequality in the classroom while opposing charter schools – some of the only city schools that have narrowed the achievement gap,” according to the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools. The group and other advocates have held a number of similar rallies over the last year.

Now, here are the nits I have to pick. Paragraph 3 describes vouchers in GOP rhetoric as a way for “the government [to]…pour resources into helping poor kids escape failing schools.” Not a word about the fact that multiple evaluations by a researcher from the Walton-funded Department of Educational Reform at the University of Arkansas has never found any achievement gains in voucher schools in D.C. (or anywhere else) for “poor kids” trying “to escape failing public schools.” The studies show no achievement gains but a higher graduation rate, which may reflect the huge attrition rate of these schools. In Milwaukee, for example, nearly half the students who started in a voucher school left before high school graduation.

D.C., like Milwaukee, now has three publicly funded sector: the shrinking public schools, the charters, and the voucher schools. Milwaukee, having had this tri-part division of public funding for more than 20 years, is one of the nation’s lowest performing school districts on the Urban NAEP. Writers for should know this.

In addition, refers to a “rally” by 1,500 teachers, without mentioning that they are teachers in charter schools (most of whom will be gone within 2-3 years due to teacher churn in NYC charters) and does not explain who the “Families for Excellent Schools” are. These are not poor black and brown families seeking more charter schools. FES consists of a handful of billiionaires, the same hedge fund managers who raised millions of dollars in a few minutes to attack de Blasio with a barrage of TV commercials in 2014 when he gave Eva Moskowitz only 8 of the 11 new charters she wanted, the same hedge fund managers who gave some $800,000 to Governor Cuomo to turn him into a charter school champion.

Please guys, some in-depth reporting is needed here, as opposed to quoting press releases.

Mercedes Schneider writes here about the latest campaign filings of funds received.

Four billionaires have donated huge sums to purchase seats on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The board under Governor Bobby Jindal has avidly supported charters, vouchers, for-profit virtual charters, and attacks on teachers.

But the chairman of the board stepped down, and there are several highly credible candidates.

To make sure that the anti-public school, anti-teacher privatizers retain control, the following billionaires have funded a super-PAC to overwhelm the middle-class educators and other citizens who are running for the state board:

Michael Bloomberg (New York): $800,000

Eli Broad (California):$250,000

John Arnold (Texas): $625,000

Walton Family (Arkansas):$400,000

An ordinary person might be able to raise $40,000-60,000 to run for state board. The billionaires are destroying democracy with their obscene donations and their goal of buying control of a democratic institution.

You will note that none of them lives in Louisiana yet they feel okay about determining the future of public education for the people of Louisiana and their children.

Peter Greene watched the debate and became outraged, as only he can.

So this is how it’s going to be. The GOP is going to have a cartoon discussion about education, focusing on how to use charters to dismantle public ed and on how to find wacky ways to pretend that we’re not havin’ that Common Core stuff. And the Democratic line on public ed? The Clinton campaign locked in on their line months ago– stick to the safe-and-easy topics of universal pre-K and accessible, cheaper-somehow college education.

That mantra is comfortable and easy. Plain folks can listen to it and hear, “Aww, more pre-school for those precious cute little kids, and a chance for young Americans to make something of themselves,” while corporate backers, thirsty hedge funders, and ambitious reformsters can hear, “Expanding markets! Ka-ching!!”

The unions made their endorsement early. Did that take education off the table as an issue?

Really? We don’t want to hear anything about the disastrous policies of the last twelve years that have systematically broken down and dismantled American public education and the teaching profession? Dang, but I could have sworn we wanted to hear about that. But I guess now that the union is on Team Clinton, our job is not to hold her feet to the fire so much as it is to give them a little massage and carry some baggage for her so that she can save her strength for other issues. Important issues. Issues that aren’t US public education.

Sanders, with his focus on how the rich have commandeered so many parts of our democratic society, is so close to making useful statements about the education debates, but it just doesn’t happen. And I’m not sure how somebody helps it happen at this point. And those other guys? Generic Candidates #3-5? I don’t know what they think about education, but I suppose now that the education vote is supposedly locked up by Clinton, they won’t feel the need to go there.

Bottom line– US public education, despite the assorted crises associated with it (both fictional and non-fictional) is shaping up to be a non-issue once again in Presidential politics. I would say always a bridesmaid, never a bride, but it’s more like always the person hired for a couple of hours to help direct the car parking in the field back behind the reception hall. Or maybe the person who cleans up the reception hall after the bridal party has danced off happily into the night.

The Network for Public Education created a list of questions that journalists should ask the candidates. In this post on, I explained NPE’s agenda to improve our public schools and to repel the corporate assault on them.

K-12 education issues, of huge importance to the future of our nation, were almost completely ignored in 2012. They should not be overlooked in 2016 because the very existence of public education is under attack. Billionaires hope to privatize urban districts, then move into the suburbs and elsewhere.

For those of us who believe that public education is a public responsibility, the time to become active is now.

We oppose the status quo of testing and privatization. We seek far better schools, equitable and well-resourced, where creativity and imagination are prized, not test scores. We seek equality of educational opportunity, not competition for scarce dollars.

Please join the Network for Public Education and help us build a new vision of education for each child.

Over the weekend, I attended a board meeting of the Network for Public Education. Xian Barrett, a teacher in Chicago on the board, made a startlingly perceptive comment over lunch. He said to me, “The reformers are often right when they describe the problem, but they are always wrong when they offer a solution.”

You won’t find a better, clearer demonstration of this axiom than this post by Peter Greene.

Peter analyzes the “social justice” argument for charters and choice. Reformers are right, he says, when they charge that schools in poor communities are often grossly inadequate:

“Reformsters start here with the premise that non-wealthy non-white students must be rescued from the terrible schools that are inextricably tied to poor support, poor resources, poor staffing, poor neighborhoods, and the lousy local control that leads to all of these poor inputs.”

But their reforms save a few while making things far worse for the majority.

“This problem is even more damaging in schools that are already underfunded and under-resourced. Losing money to charter-choice systems just makes the troubled school that much more financially distressed. So to “rescue” these ten kids, we are going to make things even worse for the ones left behind.

“The charter-choice system, as currently conceived and executed, promises a possible maybe rescue for some students while making the vast majority of non-white non-wealthy students pay for it, while simultaneously lulling policy makers into thinking that the problem is actually being solved, all in a system that allows charter operators to conduct business without being answerable to anyone.

“The problem (see First Part) is real. The solution being inflicted on public education is making things worse, not better. It is making some folks rich and providing excellent ROI for hedge funders, but neither of those outcomes exactly equals a leap forward in social justice. There’s a whole argument to be had about charter booster motives; I figure that some are in it because they believe it will work better and some are in it because they believe it’s the last great untapped well-spring of tax dollars. Ultimately, their motivation isn’t as important as this: their solution will not actually solve anything.”

Blogger and retired teacher G.F. Brandenburg wrote–after reading this post–that Peter Greene “may be the best blogger in America.”

Paul Horton, history teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School, has written a powerful essay explaining why the free-market is an inappropriate model for school reform.

He writes about the history of “neoliberalism” and the free market reforms it encouraged:

Though the newly formed Carter administration’s Department of Education refused to grant federal money to parochial schools because it feared that vouchers would only further encourage rapid white flight from desegregating public schools, especially in the South, the nascent religious right began to organize around the issue of vouchers. Richard Viguerie famously energized the Moral Majority around such related wedge issues desegregation, vouchers for religious schools, and “family values.”

Not surprisingly, market ideas about education were embraced by a Reagan administration that rode the wave of the “Moral Majority” and “the southern strategy” pioneered by George Wallace and Richard Nixon to victory in 1980. Initially supporting a policy of education decentralization and local control, the Reagan Education Department shifted to supporting standardized testing following the publication of the 1983 Nation at Risk report that portrayed public education in the United States as rapidly deteriorating.

In fact, however, the 70s push to integrate schools had resulted in the highest gains to date achieved in closing the achievement gap between African American and Latinos and whites. But the Nation at Risk report focused on declining ACT and SAT test scores and the threat to economic development and national security that would result from a decline of American education. Corporate and Reagan administration leaders like William Bennett sought to use the Nation at Risk report to push a Sputnik like response in a national education program that emphasized national standardized curricula and tests, vouchers, and merit pay.

Clearly, the Reagan administration proposed Friedmanesque market solutions in legislation, but congress did not buy in. But Reagan’s second Secretary of Education, Bennett, created the model for Federal education policy that is pretty much followed today by the Obama administration: Federally supported standardized testing, support for charter schools, data driven teacher assessments, and merit pay. Under George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act these ideas were institutionalized and supported famously by a coalition of liberals led by senator Edward Kennedy and Republican senators and governors who demanded an end to the “liberal racism” of low expectations.

President Obama has embraced all of these ideas and added his support with Secretary Duncan’s “Race to the Top” that also incentivizes state support for charter schools and state adoption of the Common Core Curriculum that attempts to build a foundation for linguistic and mathematical literacy. (Valerie Strauss, “Ronald Reagan’s Impact on Education Today,” Washington Post, 2-6-11) Obama, however, has stopped short of endorsing vouchers even though vouchers would accelerate the growth of charter schools.

Horton points out that the major mainstream media has swallowed the free-market reforms: The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal. Anything called “reform,” no matter how noxious, is supported by them.

Furthermore, financiers have become enthusiastic supporters of the profit making possibilities of privatization:

Here in Chicago, for example, President Obama’s best friend, Martin Nesbitt, has started a venture capital firm called the Vistria Group that promises to create portfolios for investment in charter schools. Not surprisingly, he and many of the members of Chicago’s Commercial Club (known to locals as the “billionaire’s club), including Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and current Republican governor Bruce Rauner are very enthusiastic about charter school investment based only their experience in organizing and operating the Noble Charter chain. Another of Chicago’s wealthiest families, the Crowns, who own controlling interest in the Chicago Bulls and the Empire State Building, actively invest in charter school “portfolios.” (Google “Crown Foundation”).

In portfolio managed schools like the Noble Charter Schools, the emphasis in teaching and learning is on “practices and discourses of test preparation, including regular test practice, routinized and formulaic instruction, emphasis on discrete (tested) skills, substitution for test prep materials for regular texts, and differential attention to students based on their likelihood of passing high stakes tests,” according to sociologist Pauline Lipman in her book, The New Political Economy of Urban Education. (128)

My teacher informants who decided that they could no longer teach at the Noble Charter schools confirm the above description and insist, “the stress is on rote learning to increase scores and not on what could be called deeper levels of learning. The Noble Charters are not looking for creative teachers, they are looking for teachers who will simply read from a script.”

The rallying cry of the neoliberals is “choice” but for most parents, “choice” is not real. The schools choose, the parents don’t.

Why are the powerful so interested in promoting privatization?

The pressure to require choice that discourages meaningful political change is more often than not top down: reformers like Gates supply funds for astroturf organizing in favor of school choice and hedge fund managers fund “reform” front groups like Democrats for Education Reform and staff them with successful African American strivers who are true believers.

The prominence of education choice ideology is primarily the product of the demands made on politicians by the wealthy. A private equity manager told Chrystia Freedland, author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, about a heated exchange between a leading Democrat and a hedge fund manager: “Screw you,” he told the lawmaker. “Even if you change the legislation the government won’t get a single penny more from me in taxes. I’ll put my money in a foundation and spend it on good causes. My money isn’t going to be wasted in your deficit sinkhole.”

Foundations that funnel large sums of investment into promoting market “reforms” in education provide both a tax benefit to the wealthy and create emerging markets for investment in stocks that the wealthy are betting on.

Neoliberal education reform is thus pushed by the work of foundations that cater to the whims of millionaires and billionaires, and they are having their way. Many of the presidential appointees to Arne Duncan’s Department of Education were former employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, most prominently James Shelton III and Joanne Weiss. Large numbers of representatives from the Broad Foundation that trained Secretary Duncan as an administrator were present at meetings to determine how education policy could best benefit from the proposed American Recovery Act. Silicon Valley executives and Wall Street brokers who want a piece of the emerging privatized education market are gung-ho on heavy charter school and STEM programs for schools. And Pearson Education has done its best to corner every sector of the emerging education marketplace while managing to avoid having to write competitive impact statements when winking at a friendly Justice Department that has been told by Mr. Gates and Mr. Duncan that “scaling up” and standardizing will introduce more market efficiencies and will lead to the greater economic good, the Chicago Law and Economics mantra.

Horton cites several books that demonstrate the superiority of public schools over charter schools. But no one in the Obama administration is listening.

Sheryll Cashin, professor of law at Georgetown, in her well-reviewed recent book, Place not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America agrees, and argues that Obama education policy has “failed.” She insists that public and charter schools do not overcome the neighborhood effects that Milton Friedman said they would. “I call it undertow. A child surrounded by poverty is not exposed to other kids with big dreams and a realistic understanding of how working hard in school will translate into success years later.” (31)

A more recent longitudinal peer reviewed study supports Cashin’s point. Sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation, The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood, argues that resources in African American neighborhoods do not match resources available in blue collar white neighborhoods, especially when it comes to mentorship and networking that will match 14 and 15 year olds with job prospects. The authors of the Long Shadow Report argue that impoverished schools need more supports and that the country’s leaders need to restart a serious discussion about integration that goes beyond the selective enrollment and magnet school approaches. (

The fact that our political leaders refuse to promote policies that would integrate schools beyond race and class lines, or as Ms. Cashin says by “place not race,” is the most profound indictment of the market approach to education.

This critique is echoed by Economist Ha-Joon Chang of the University of Cambridge who argues that the pure market approach of neoliberals is shortsighted because “they use rules of thumb (heuristics) to focus on a small number of possible moves, in order to reduce the number of scenarios that need to be analysed, even though the excluded moves may have brought better results.” (23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, 175)

Chang also has doubts about the idea that increasing test scores will lead to higher rates of productivity or more wealth for the United States, “Education is valuable, but the main value is not in raising productivity. It lies in its ability to help us develop our potentials and live a more fulfilling and independent life…the link between education and productivity is rather tenuous and complicated.” (189)

Horton adds that the privatizers refuse to admit that their ideas have failed. Instead, they step up their efforts to test more, privatize more, as we now see in frenzied efforts to copy New Orleans, Tennessee’s Achievement School District, and incessant testing. Market reform has failed, but its sponsors refuse to see the results of their policies.

The biggest problem with the education privatizers is that they have no sense of limits. They have invested a great deal of capital in ideas that do not work as well as they had hoped. They do not want to think that they are throwing good money after negative results, so they are manipulating the levers of power and the national press to create the impression that their efforts still have potential.

The big question at this juncture somewhat desperately becomes, when will they simply accept their losses? As usual, philosopher and poet Wendell Berry offers us sage advice on the issue of education privatization or anything else:

“The danger of the ideal of competition is that it neither proposes nor implies any limits. It proposes simply to lower costs at any cost, and to raise profits at any cost. It does not hesitate at the destruction of the life of a family or the life of a community. It pits neighbor against neighbor as readily as it pits buyer against seller. Every transaction is meant to involve a winner or a loser. And for this reason the human economy is pitted without limit against nature. For in the unlimited competition of neighbor and neighbor, buyer and seller, all available means must be used; none may be spared.” (What are People For?, 131)”

Opting out of standardized testing for many thus is a very “rational choice” to combat the irrationality of the market “reform” of education in the United States. Opting out of irrational, profit-driven “education reform” is rather simply a measure of the persistence of sanity within a society that instinctively resists the slimy tentacles of plutocracy.

Jonas Persson of the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch reports on a panel discussion in Néw Orleans about speeding up the dismantling of public education.

The event was a conference sponsored by the voucher-loving American Federation for Children, celebrating the privatization of Néw Orleans schools.

The panel Persson describes was called “Knocking out Yesterday’s Education Models” but a panelist “joked that the working title of the panel had been “What Happens After You Blow it All Up?”

Persson writes:

“But in the absence of a new hurricane that would sweep away public schools, a man-made calamity might do the trick. Such was the argument of Rebecca Sibilia, who is the CEO of a new non-profit education group: Edbuild.

“When you think of bankruptcy … this is a huge opportunity. Bankruptcy is not a problem for kids; bankruptcy is a problem for the people governing the system, right? So, when a school district goes bankrupt all of their legacy debt can be eliminated . . . How are we going to pay for the buildings? How are we going to bring in new operators when there is pension debt? Look, if we can eliminate that in an entire urban system, then we can throw all the cards up in the air, and redistribute everything with all new models. You’ve heard it first: bankruptcy might be the thing that leads to the next education revolution,” Sibilia explained.”

This has already happened in Chester Uplands, Pennsylvania, where the district’s exorbitant payments to charter schools has brought it to fiscal collapse, requiring a loan from the state to make payroll. It could happen in cities like Philadelphia and even Los Angeles, as the charter sector siphons away the best students and resources that cause the district to cut programs and lay off teachers.

At some point the tipping point comes, and the parasite sucks the life out of the host. That’s the reformers’ end game,

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