Archives for category: Vouchers

Peter Greene dissects a statement by the Heartland Institute, a rightwing think tank, cheering for the “dismantling” of public education in Wisconsin. The cheering from the free marketeers was prompted by new legislation to expand vouchers and charters. That legislation awaits Governor Scott Walker’s signature, of which there is no doubt.

 

The privateers view public education with scorn, as a public monopoly rather than a public responsibility. They forget, or never knew, that the development if public education was long considered a major milestone in our democracy, a promise that all the children would have the right to a free public education. Given our diversity, the public schools would be common schools, serving the entire community and creating an educated citizenry.

 

Greene writes:

 

“The Wisconsin Legislature passed a budget this week that dumps more funding into the already-robust voucherific choicetastic system in Wisconsin. All the budget needs is a signature from Governor Scott Walker, and the only way Walker wouldn’t approve such move would be if he were disappointed that it didn’t explicitly end public education and replace public school teachers with minimum-wage temps.

 

“Also cheering for this are the boys at the Heartland Institute, a thinky tank devoted to free market causes and a better world where rich people are free to do as they wish and poor people live the crappy lives they deserve.”

 

Greene quotes from a press release from the Heartland Institute:

 

““Wisconsin’s new budget, which expands school choice programs, is a big win for Wisconsin parents and taxpayers. The strategy of across-the-board expansion of choice accelerates the process of dismantling the inefficient ‘district-based’ system and the educational apartheid that system creates.” Says Bruno Behrend, who just goes right on ahead and uses the word “dismantling.”

 

One thing we know about choice programs: they accelerate segregation of every kind, by race, religion, class, and income. The other is that they do not produce either better education or higher test scores than public schools serving the same kinds of students.

 

How long will the people of Wisconsin continue to tolerate the destruction of their public schools and public university systems?

Bob Peterson describes what Scott Walker intends to do to public schools and higher education in Wisconsin. Since he plans to run for the Republican nomination for President, it is important to know his views on education.

He is a zealot for school choice and privatization. He doesn’t like public schools or universities. He thinks that taxpayers should foot the bill for religious education. He believes that the purpose of education is workforce training. He is contemptuous of liberal learning. He is proud of his disdain for free inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge.

Peterson writes:

“Buried within the budget are 135 non-budget policy items — a toxic cocktail of attacks on public education, democracy, environmental protections and labor rights.

“For Wisconsin’s schools, the budget is a blueprint for abandoning public education. In Milwaukee, in addition to insufficient funding, the budget includes a “takeover” plan that increases privatization and decreases democratic control of the city’s public schools.

“The budget was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate a few minutes before midnight Tuesday, with all Democrats and one Republican voting “no.” The Assembly is expected to pass the budget and send it to Walker by the end of the week.

“The attack on the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is in the context of a frontal assault on public education across the state. The budget cuts $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system, holds overall K-12 funding flat in the first year with modest increases in the second (which, given inflation, means cuts). And while programs promoting privately run charters are expanded, the budget eliminates Chapter 220 — a metropolitan-wide program designed to reduce racial segregation in public schools and improve equal opportunity for students of color.

“The budget is also expanding the statewide voucher program, under which tax dollars are funneled into private, overwhelmingly religious schools. (The program is modeled after Milwaukee’s private school voucher program which began in 1990 and which now includes 112 schools and 25,000 students.)”

In a dismal field of GOP candidates, Walker stands out for his anti-intellectualism and contempt for learning.

Jeb Bush created the “Foundation for Educational Excellence” with two goals in mind. First, to burnish his credentials as a “reformer.” Second, to serve as a vehicle for advocating vouchers, charters, online learning, and high-stakes accountability.

Peter Greene writes that we now know who contributed large sums to Jeb’s FEE. We may safely assume that they shared Jeb’s policy goals.

He writes:

It is not an exact list in that donors are organized by ranges. So we know that Bloomberg donated somewhere between $1.2 million and $2.4 million, which is quite a margin of error. But it’s still a chunk of change, either way.

Joining Bloomberg Philanthropies in the Over a Cool Million Club are these folks, a completely unsurprising list:

Walton Family Foundation (between $3.5 mill and over $6 mill)
B&M Gates (between $3 mill and over $5 mill)
Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation (between $1.6 mill and $3.25 mill)
News Corporation (between $1.5 mill and $3 mill)
GE Foundation (between $2.5 mill and over $3 mill)
Helmsley Trust (at least $2 mill)

The Might Have Hit a Million Club includes

The Broad Foundation
Jacqueline Hume Foundation
Robertson Foundation
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Kovner Foundation
The Arnold Foundation

Beyond those, we find Florida businesses and a fair sampling of folks who have a stake in the FEE mission, like McGraw Hill and Renaissance Learning.

For the most part, it is a familiar list of billionaires and mere multimillionaires. What Greene notes is that there is no evidence of a grassroots base for Jeb’s activities. It is the same old, same old super-rich people–the 1%, if you will–fattening one of their favorites spokesmen.

Or, as he writes:

The truth about FEE is a reminder– for the gazillionth time– that we have yet to see an actual hard-core full-on grass roots movement in support of reformster policies. It’s also a reminder that if education issues were being decided on merit, or if all the Rich Person money just dried up tomorrow, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Ed reform is a big delicate rosebush in the middle of the desert, and money is the water that keeps it alive. Shut off the water, and it’s done.

Since there have been no positive results for any of the billionaires’ favorite Big Ideas, there is always the chance they will get bored. Never underestimate the power of boredom among the glitterati.

In large part because of Jeb Bush, Florida is a national leader in privatization. It now has more than 100,000 students using vouchers for private schools, including religious schools, despite the fact that Florida voters rejected a Constitutional amendment to allow vouchers in 2012 by 58-42. The will of the voters is an inconvenient distraction to the privatization industry, nothing more.

 

Even more are enrolled in a burgeoning charter industry, despite the fact that charters regularly open and close, stranding students, and charters dominate the list of the state’s lowest-performing schools. Of course, Florida is a haven for for-profit entrepreneurs, who are encouraged by the state to open and compete with public schools, while sucking taxpayer dollars out of those public schools and funneling it to their investors.

 

With so much unrestrained school choice, Florida should be the state with the highest test scores and the highest graduation rate. It is not.

 

On the NAEP, Florida is smack dab at the national average in 4th grade math; significantly below the national average in 8th grade math; significantly above the national average in 4th grade reading; at the national average in 8th grade reading.

 

 

The only bright spot is 4th grade reading, and the performance there might be attributable to the state Constitutional amendment to reduce class size in the early grades, which voters approved despite Jeb’s opposition.

 

Florida’s high school graduation rate is 76% (over four years), as compared to a national average of 81%. Florida’s graduation rate is below that of Alabama, Arkansas, and tied with Mississippi.

 

What exactly has school choice done for students in Florida except to undermine public education? How does that help students? How does that improve education? Do taxpayers know how many millions of dollars have been wasted due to fraud, incompetence, and mismanagement? And how many millions have been siphoned off to pay investors instead of going to the classroom?

Milwaukee Democratic legislators wrote a letter to their colleagues urging them to oppose the state takeover of low-performing Milwaukee public schools. Any students of a school taken over would be transferred to the control of a charter operator or a voucher school. This is not “reform,” it is privatization.

 

Ironically, the public schools of Milwaukee perform as well as, or in many cases, better than the local charter schools and voucher schools.

 

What would be fair, if the Legislature passes the takeover bill, would be a mandatory transfer of students in low-performing charter schools and voucher schools back to the public schools.

 

It would create chaos, but “reformers” love disruption. Fair?

I usually devote days like July 4 to appropriate pieces, such as poems and songs celebrating our nation and its freedoms.

 

But I am not feeling especially celebratory today. In many respects, it appears that our politics is rushing headlong back to the 1920s or even the 1890s, when polite society diverted its eyes from unpleasant facts like hunger, homelessness, and other signs of human distress. Our politicians must worry constantly about raising enough money for the next election, so they listen more attentively to those who have the most to contribute to their campaign, rather than to voters. Voters can always be hoodwinked by a slick media buy.

 

We must not despair because despair is a certain path to defeat. We must rededicate ourselves on this day to saving our democracy, to restoring the belief that America is meant to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We can’t compete with the billionaires’ cash for votes, but we can build organizations to inform and mobilize public opinion to take our government away from the plutocrats. I, for one, do not want to sit idly by as income inequality and wealth inequality grows. I commend to you the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson. A short description on amazon.com, “Almost every modern social problem-poor health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness-is more likely to occur in a less-equal society.”

 

If you look back over American history, you will see swings of the pendulum, from eras where there was a strong sense of social responsibility to eras of selfish individualism. We are now at the far end of the pendulum swing, with our elites pushing hard to persuade the public that selfish individualism and consumerism is true Americanism: every person for him- or herself! Let the hungry fend for themselves, it is their own fault that they are hungry.

 

We can sit back and watch as the social safety net is shredded, or we can resist. We can sit back and allow our public schools to be taken over by entrepreneurs, religious groups, and privateers, or we can resist.

 

I say resist.

 

Here is a wonderful post by Edward F. Berger, a blogger in Arizona who is leading the charge against corporate reform in that benighted state, where the profit-making entrepreneurs have grown fat by taking over public schools and draining their funds for their own profit.

 

He asks the following questions and urges his fellow Arizonans to organize and resist the destruction of the public square and the corporate takeover of public education:

 

 

Edward R. Murrow once said: “I am in a financial morass from which I am unable to extricate myself.” Many States are in a political morass as a result of a planned assault on America. The question is, how do we extricate ourselves? In Arizona, one of the most corrupt states, leaders are emerging who know how. They use facts and data, and social media to bypass the in-pocket Press.

 

Is there anyone who believes that the misuse of hundreds of millions of dollars of public taxpayer money in Arizona is an unexpected consequence of so-called education reform?

 

If so, they most likely profit at the expense of the children and families from whom this money is stolen.

 

If so, they are part of a radical and nation-killing movement based on feudal ideology and pure greed.

 

If so, they are part of a State Legislature that intentionally forbids charter school accountability and protects those who are given our tax dollars and use them for their own profits, kids-be-damned.

 

If so, they have written laws that allow pirates to create closed and unaccountable “schools” that rake in millions of public tax dollars via side-deals and Real Estate deals. They eliminate students that they can’t benefit from. They kick out children that don’t serve their needs and send them back into the public schools humiliated, damaged, and often broken.

 

If so, they are Legislators who do not believe in the separation of Church and State.

 

If so, they are part of political organizations that supports the privatizers and radical right-wing, and ignore the damages to their community and to children and families.

 

If so, they support privatization and profiteering from dollars citizens pay to educate children. They privatize any-and-all functions of government where there is profit to be gleaned. Prisons and schools for example.

 

Is there anyone in Arizona who believes that the extreme right-wing, working for ALEC-Koch-Goldwater Institute-John Birch Society bosses has not intentionally, decade after decade, placed totally unqualified non-educators in the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction, thus undermining public education from inside?

 

Those who wield these powers have used every opportunity to destroy the teaching profession, our community schools, and now our Universities.

 

Is there anyone in Arizona who doesn’t know that a Right To Work State is a trick to extract more profit from battered workers and to curtail information the public needs by not letting workers organize and speak out?

 

Is there an educated citizen of Arizona who is not convinced that the Democratic process of Representative Government has been defeated through the control of primary elections and the selection of those who will get massive financial support: Those candidates they allow to run and win? That those who wield power have effectively discouraged people from voting?

 

Be sure to read his conclusion.

 

And when you are done, join The Network for Public Education, which is supporting resistance across the nation.

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.

A few days ago, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the voucher plan adopted by the school board in Douglas County was unconstitutional. It was a split decision. It is puzzling that it was a split decision, because the Colorado state constitution explicitly prohibits any public funding of religious institutions.
Text of Section 7:
Aid to Private Schools, Churches, Sectarian Purpose, Forbidden.

 

Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property, ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation to any church, or for any sectarian purpose.

 

s Hess at the American Enterprise Institute writes in the National Review that the U.S. Supreme Court might well decide to throw out this part of the state constitution because it was written in the late 1870s as a Protestant ban on funding Catholic schools. Such amendments, found in 2/3 of the states’ constitutions, are known as Blaine amendments for James G. Blaine of New York, who led the movement to keep public money out of religious schools.

The Nevada legislature recently passed one of the most sweeping voucher programs in the nation. Every child in the state is eligible for a grant of $5,000 so long as they previously attended a public school for at least 100 days.

 

Make no mistake, this is a voucher program. Most students will use these vouchers to attend religious schools, which has been the experience of other states.

 

And yet, the Constitution of the state of Nevada clearly states in Article 11:

 

Sec: 9.  Sectarian instruction prohibited in common schools and university.  No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.

Section Ten.  No public money to be used for sectarian purposes.  No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.
[Added in 1880. Proposed and passed by the 1877 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1879 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1880 general election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1877, p. 221; Statutes of Nevada 1879, p. 149.]

 

The Nevada legislature clearly is violating the state Constitution by enacting a program that allows public money to be transferred to sectarian schools. The language could not be clearer. It is not ambiguous.

 

This voucher program in Nevada is not conservative; conservatives don’t ignore the explicit language of the Constitution. Conservatives don’t destroy traditional institutions that are integral to a democratic society.

 

The voucher promoters should be rebuked by public opinions, editorials, and the courts. They are violating the spirit and the letter of the Nevada Constitution.

 

 

Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., has a warning for Democrats that school choice is a bad choice.

He omits Republicans because they have become the party of school choice and privatization.

School choice is an alluring term, but the reality is far different from the rhetoric.

He writes:

“In our culture the “the right to choose” suggests an almost inalienable individual right, making for powerfully resonant political rhetoric. However, behind the easy-to-swallow positive connotation of choice, there is underlying message in its use in the context of education. If stated explicitly, the message might cause a little indigestion: Be out for yourself and don’t worry so much about your neighbors or community…

“However, what is moral or sensible for an individual does not make for sound or just education policy for a society. The moral burden falls not on parents, but on those who knowingly advance the wellbeing of the few at the expense of the many….

“Supporters of equity and democracy must depend upon and develop agency and hope for community solutions because when there is only despair, the only rational course of action is individual survival. Ideological supporters of privatization understand this and actively undermine democratic participation and the promise of collective solutions. That is why since the 1980’s they have followed an explicit starve-the-beast strategy to defund public institutions in order to undermine quality, public trust, and confidence. That is why they favor private charter boards over elected school boards.
I have come to believe that the struggle for equity must include a tandem strategy of opposition and advocacy.
Friends of equity need to oppose funding charter school, not because choice is inherently a bad idea but because the spread of charter schools is morally corrosive and drains money from other local schools. Since funds are always limited, the opportunities for the few come with the sacrifice of others. “They are stealing your child’s future,” might be an appropriate opposition slogan. …

“Progress requires an opt-in campaign for local public schools based on community rather than individualist values. Advocacy should highlight the fundamental characteristics of effective public schools both in the U.S. and abroad and contrast these with prevalent market-based solutions….

“Candidates need to hear from the public: There are better choices than school choice to improve education.”

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