Archives for category: Vouchers

As Peter Greene explains, Nevada has decided to forego all the half-measures and subterfuges about vouchers. No more insincere rhetoric about vouchers (or “opportunity scholarships”) for poor kids, kids” trapped in failing schools,” or kids with disabilities.

Nevada wants vouchers for everyone.

Greene writes:

“Nevada has made its bid for a gold medal in the race to the bottom of the barrel for public education. The state’s GOP legislature, with help from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (a name that belongs in Orwellian annals right next to “Peacekeeper Missile”), has created an all-state voucher system.

“This is the full deal….Next fall every single student in Nevada gets a taxpayer-funded voucher to spend at the school whose marketing most appeals to that student’s parents.”

The backers of the bill believe that competition is the answer. Peter Greene explains that competition produces winners and losers, not equal educational opportunity.

Anyone looking for the fruits of competition might consider the television industry. Newton Minow, then chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told the leaders of the broadcast industry that television was “a vast wasteland.” He dared them to spend a day glued to their own television sets. Now, there are hundreds more channels to choose from, but Minow could give the same speech with equal conviction.

To destroy public education in pursuit of competition is just plain ignorant or mean-spirited. There is no evidence to support this policy. It won’t improve education. It won’t increase equity. It won’t inspire excellence. It will lead to greater inequality and greater segregation. It is bad for our democracy.

Greene writes:

“Nevada was already well-positioned for the Race to the Bottom prize, consistently ranking among the bottom ten states for education funding. With this bold step, they have insured that even that little bit of money will be spent in the most inefficient, wasteful manner possible. Not only will they be duplicating services (can you run two households with the same money it takes to run one?), but by draining funds away from public schools, they can guarantee that those public schools will struggle with fewer resources than ever.”

The editorial board of the Albany Times-Union explains the economics behind Governor Cuomo’s proposal for “Education Tax Credits.”

 

It is a voucher plan with a different name, usually offered by rightwing Republicans, not Democrats who claim to be progressive.

 

The rhetoric is about “parental choice,” but the big beneficiaries would be wealthy donors to private and religious schools.

 

For those who support private and parochial education systems, with a true spirit of generosity, we say good for them. But tax revenue shouldn’t be diverted away from state coffers – which is what tax credits end up doing – so more money makes its way to private schools.

 

 

One controversial part of the bill includes access to tax credits –75 percent of any gift up to $1 million – for donors. The pool of money for the tax credits is limited; the dollars would be doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. Large corporations with fancy accounting firms can quickly grab the tax credits, and mom-and-pop donors would likely be left wanting.

 

 

Especially for high-income corporations, a tax credit is exponentially more valuable than the current tax deductions available for charitable giving to nonprofit institutions, including private or parochial schools.

 

 

There’s a big difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit: A tax deduction reduces your taxable income, so your taxes are based on a lower amount; a tax credit comes off your tax liability, so it’s cut off the bottom line of what you owe in taxes….

 

 

A similar education tax credit bill failed to pass last year, and the year before, for good reason. It’s a thinly disguised voucher system that’s being touted as “fair” even as the state continues to use out-of-whack funding formulas to provide constitutionally mandated support for public schools, and to squelch on past funding owed to districts across New York.

 

 

Regardless of Cuomo’s best efforts to push “options” to public education and weaken his newest political nemesis, public-school teachers, the state’s Constitutional mandate continues to be the financial support of a public school system, with state funding of specific services provided to private schools. Not the other way around.

 

 

 

 

 

A radical privatization proposal has been inserted into the Wisconsin state budget and approved by the budget-writing committee. The plan initially applies to Milwaukee (where the public schools outperform voucher schools and get similar test scores to charter schools), but it could be extended to Madison, Racine and other “large, racially diverse” school districts. Under the plan, a commissioner would be appointed and have the power to fire all staff, both teachers and administrators, and hand the school off to a private operator to run as a charter or voucher school. In other words, public assets, schools paid for by the community, will be given away to private operators.

Under the plan, an independent commissioner appointed by the county executive would take control of three of the lowest-performing schools in the district after the 2015 school year. Everyone who works at the school would be fired and forced to reapply for their jobs. The commissioner could also convert the schools into private — but non-religious — voucher schools or turn over operation to an independent charter school.

For the first two years, up to three schools could be chosen. After that, five more a year could be added.

Republican supporters of the plan said they wanted something dramatic to turn around chronically failing schools in Milwaukee. The most recent school report card ranked 55 schools within the district as “fails to meet expectations,” the lowest of five rankings.

Some Democratic legislators were outraged:

But Democrats said the plan does nothing to address the root causes of problems in Milwaukee schools, including high poverty, and they argued the Legislature should not interfere in running the city’s schools.

Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, the only lawmaker from Milwaukee on the Joint Finance Committee, blasted the proposal as part of a history of diverting resources from public schools in Wisconsin’s largest city.

“For years, individuals who sit on this committee and in this building have known that they have been raping the children of MPS,” Taylor said.

The comparison drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, one of the plan’s authors.

“I just find that sick,” he said. “That’s actually sick.”

Taylor refused to back down.

“I get it. The word ‘rape’ sounds offensive,” she said. “But when you consider the fact that 15 out of 100 kids can read on grade level while $89 million have been skimmed from the education of kids, and that you don’t invest it in even the crisis areas, who are you fooling?”

Given the demonstrated failure of voucher schools and charter schools in Milwaukee to outperform the public schools, you might expect that the Legislature would stop expanding both forms of privatization. But you would be wrong. Here are some recent legislative actions, as reported by blogger Steve Strieker:

 
The WI GOP committee members moved forward with a vote on their education budget package that does the following:

 
Removes the cap on statewide vouchers and prohibits districts from levying to replace the lost state aid

 
Creates a special needs voucher program

 
Allows operators of privately run charters to open new schools under conditions specified by the legislature

 
Allows for the takeover of struggling public schools in Milwaukee under the control of an appointed commissioner to convert them to voucher or charter schools while paving the way for similar takeovers in other school districts

 
Provides for licensure of individuals with minimal qualifications, some with little more than a high school diploma, to teach in our public schools
Requires passing a civics exam to graduate from high school

 

 

 

It turns out that most of the applicants to the voucher program (86%) previously attended a private school, not a public school. This is a subsidy to families whose children already are enrolled in private schools, not an “escape” for “poor children trapped in failing public schools” (reformster talk).

 

 

 

http://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/news-release/dpinr2015_53.pdf

One question that I have puzzled over again and again is why anyone who really cares about the quality of education would be a proponent of school choice, for example, vouchers for religious schools and charters run as a business. We have an abundance of evidence that these choices don’t usually produce better education. Children from low-performing schools are not being sent with public money to Exeter, Andover, Deerfield Academy, or Sidwell Friends. Instead, they are going to Backwoods Rural Evangelical Church or Mall Academy, which has few certified teachers, no curriculum, and teaches creationism; or they are going to Charter Schools, Inc., where profits matter more than education.

 

This article in Salon by Conor Lynch asserts that the GOP (and I would add, many Democrats who have been bamboozled as well) and corporate America (via ALEC) are complicit in the dumbing down of America. Some candidates, and he singles out Ted Cruz, willingly slander Harvard University (which he attended) as a haven for Communists (and I thought the days of McCarthyism were behind us) and ally themselves in opposition to the scientific evidence about climate change.

 

I have no beef with anyone’s religious beliefs as long as they leave me alone to practice my own religion (or not). But when religion and politics are intermixed, it is not a healthy blend.

 

Lynch writes:

 

Ted Cruz has already made it quite clear that, although he went to Harvard, he is as anti-intellectual as they come; embracing conspiracy theories and comparing the climate change consensus to the theological consensus of the geocentric model during the time of Galileo. Cruz has been adamantly opposed to the entire idea of climate change, and was recently named to be Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. Aside from promoting the conspiracy theory that Harvard law is a communist organization, he has promoted other conspiracies that are outright loony, like saying that George Soros was leading a global movement to abolish the game of golf.

 

Marco Rubio is also hostile to anything contradicting his faith, including climate change, while the leading contender for Republican nomination, Scott Walker, has taken the fight directly to academia, calling for major cuts in public university funding in Wisconsin that would add up to about $300 million over two years. He also just fired 57employees from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources this past Earth Day. Predictably, he doesn’t believe climate change is a big issue either, and possibly has the worst record on environment out of all of the candidates.

 

And so the Republican primaries will be full of the usual evangelical type preaching, damning abortion and calling their Democratic contenders “elitist” snobs, while brushing off those so-called “expert” climate scientists and their warnings. But you can only blame the politicians so much. When it comes down to it, this is simply what a big part of the population expects from their leaders — religious buffoons who embrace a paranoid style of politics; where experts and academics are looked down upon as disconnected and deceitful, and where faith in Jesus and the Bible is the ultimate guiding light. Where one is expected to go with their gut rather than their head, and where “professorial” is an insult. Anti-intellectualism is an American tradition, and these new contenders denying scientific facts and calling Harvard a communist institution are simply embracing a populace that individuals like Billy Sunday and Joseph McCarthy once embraced. The alliance of religion and big business has fully incorporated America’s unfortunate anti-intellectualist culture, which has resulted in millions of people voting against their interest because of their own ignorant hostility towards anything that could be deemed elitist. It is a cycle of ignorance and poverty, and it is exactly what the real elites, like billionaire oil men, aim for.

 

The American writer, Issac Asimov, once said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Unfortunately, this thread has continued to this day, and individuals like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are here to remind us that ignorance can be quite competitive with knowledge, as long as there’s money behind it.

 

Several governors have slashed spending on higher education–such as Douglas Ducey in Arizona, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. Why? Do they want to stop young Americans from learning about science and history? In some states, the expansion of charter schools is coupled with the abandonment of teacher credentials. The combination of vouchers to attend religious schools, lowered standards for entry to teaching, and budget cuts for higher education is ominous.

A letter to the editor:

“Private School Tax Credits

New York Times Letter To the Editor: by DONNA LIEBERMAN, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union MAY 22, 2015

Re “Cuomo Promotes Tax Credits for Families of Students at Private Schools”

The right to a meaningful public education is at the core of our democracy, and educational opportunity must be available to all children on a fair and equitable basis, no matter how poor they are, no matter what their educational needs are, and no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York to divert money from public schools to private and religious schools is not about improving public education for all children. It is not about choice. It is about allowing hedge funds and millionaires to siphon money away from public schools to support their narrow idea of what education should look like.

This includes private schools for the 1 percent, religious schools that can throw children out and dismiss teachers for having the wrong faith — or no faith — and privately owned and operated charter schools that operate without accountability and would turn our underfunded public schools into a dumping ground for New York’s neediest and most challenging students.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/opinion/private-school-tax-credits.html?mabReward=CTM&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&_r=0″

The Texas Legislature is so far out of touch with the needs of children and public schools that we can only hope the legislative session ends before any of the proposals for “reform” are enacted. The Texas Observer here gives an excellent overview of what is happening in Austin that might land on the heads of kids and public schools.

Throughout the legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has painted a dire portrait of hundreds of Texas public schools.

Currently, Patrick remarked during a March press conference, almost 150,000 students languish in nearly 300 failing schools across the state. He vowed to fix the problem.

The measures he championed include red-meat education reform proposals with appealing names: rating schools on an A-F scale; a state-run “opportunity school district” to oversee low-performing schools; a “parent empowerment” bill making it easier to close struggling schools or turn them into charters; expanding online classes (taxpayer funded, but often run by for-profit entities); and “taxpayer savings grants”—private school vouchers, effectively—to help students escape the woeful public system.

Patrick has long fought for many of these, but now that he holds one of the state’s most powerful offices it seemed, going into the session, that his reform agenda would be better positioned than ever before.

The president of Texans for Education Reform, Julie Linn, certainly believes so. She boasted in a January editorial about the potential for success under Patrick’s leadership. “The momentum is in place to make 2015 a banner year for education reform in Texas,” Linn wrote.

Teacher groups and public school advocates have a different take. As they see it, Patrick’s agenda is not a recipe for well-intended reforms but an attack on chronically underfunded public schools.

“There is a concerted, well-funded attempt to dismantle public education,” Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of the public school advocacy group Pastors for Texas Children, told the Observer in March. Johnson blamed elected officials who aim to “demonize and blame teachers and schools for the social ills and pathologies of our society at large.”

Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade.
Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade. From President Obama to presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, education reform has created odd bedfellows, obscuring policy fault lines between Democrats and Republicans like perhaps no other issue.

Reform critics, though, point out that test scores have always closely tracked family income rather than school quality. They note how schools with high rates of poverty are more likely to be low-performing if the state uses test scores as the primary measuring stick. “The real problem,” Johnson said, “is that we don’t have the political will to assign those schools the resources they need.”

Regardless of where you stand in the debate, with less than two weeks left in the 84th Legislature we can begin to gauge the success of Patrick’s reform agenda, much of which is being carried by his successor as chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).

Note how politicians like Dan Patrick, now in the powerful position of Lt. Governor, are quick to bash the public schools after having defunded them by billions of dollars. Patrick, a former radio talk show host of the right, loves vouchers. He apparently does not care that sending public money to religious schools does not improve educational opportunity, although it does weaken public schools.

Every proposal under consideration–like the parent trigger–has failed to make a difference anywhere. Every one of them is straight out of the far-right ALEC playbook.

A-F grading of schools, a Jeb Bush invention, is a typical useless reformster proposal. The letter grades reflect the socioeconomic status of the students in the school. Imagine if your child came home from school with a report that had one letter on it; you would be outraged. That is how crazy it is to think that an entire school can be given a letter grade; it is pointless and it does nothing to make schools better. Kids from affluent districts are miraculously in A schools, kids from poverty are in low-rated schools. What is the point of the grading other than to stigmatize schools that enroll poor kids and are typically under-resourced? I guess the point is to label them as failures so they can be privatized or the kids can get vouchers to go to backwoods religious schools where they will have an uncertified teacher and learn creation “science.”

Texans are a hardy bunch. Those who are fighting for public education have a steep uphill climb. But they won’t give up. They launched a bipartisan coalition to block the testing Vampire that was eating public education, and they can work together to save public education for the state’s children. It won’t be easy. But it matters to the future of the state.

A recent Marist poll showed that Governor Cuomo’s approval ratings fell to 37%, the lowest number since he was first elected. Among Democrats, his approval rating was down to 43%. Perhaps he is pushing vouchers in hopes of bolstering his standing among Catholics and Orthodox Jews. But it is risky. Vouchers have never been endorsed by the public in an election.

The Albany Times-Union is the newspaper of the state capitol in Néw York. Its editorial board penned this scathing editorial about Governor Cuomo’s war on the state’s public schools (read it all, not just this excerpt):

“A governor who perennially complains about schools’ insatiable appetite for money has suddenly found millions of dollars to burn though for his Parental Choice in Education Act. It’s a public-private partnership of the worst sort – the public pays the tab, private schools and wealthy donors reap the benefits.

“Perhaps Mr. Cuomo sees this as another way to break what he calls the “public education monopoly” – as if public schools were not something in which we all have a stake. But Mr. Cuomo seems to have conflated public education with his animosity for teachers’ unions.

“His proposal would allow donors to take a tax credit of 75 percent of their donations to nonprofit education foundations, up to $1 million. Senate and Assembly versions of the bill would allow up to 90 percent. That’s money shaved off a person’s or a corporation’s tax bill – and they could roll it from year to year if the credit exceeded their tax liability.

“That this is really a tax break for affluent donors is evidenced by the cumbersome process involved. The state would require taxpayers to apply for the credit before even making a contribution, by first filling out a form saying how much they planned to donate and to whom. It’s a program for folks with accountants on speed dial rather than for average New Yorkers who just want to help out their parish school or local charter school.

“The governor’s program would cost taxpayers $70 million this year, only $20 million of which could go to public schools. The Legislature proposes $150 million, rising to $300 million by 2018; up to half could go to public schools, the other half to foundations or other entities benefitting private schools. But after paying taxes, who’s lining up to write another check to public schools?”

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a tuition tax credit bill that is widely recognized as a backdoor voucher. The tax credits would benefit wealthy individuals and corporations. Cuomo has said this measure is a high-priority for him, and he has campaigned with Catholic clerics and in Orthodox Jewish communities.

The rationale, as with all privatization proposals, is to help low-income students escape “failing schools.” In fact, the plan will drain at least $150 million annually from the state’s education funds, which will harm far more low-income students than those who depart for religious schools.

Bruce Baker has taken a close look at the way the tuition tax credit actually works, and it is very disturbing. He notes that an Orthodox Jewish sect created a tiny village in Néw York called Kiryas Joel. It was started in the late 1970s, is populated mainly by Satmar Jews, whose first language is Yiddish. The village sought recognition from the state as an independent school district, which would have been exclusively religious in nature. In 1989, the legislature complied, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law.

Baker quotes this summary:

“In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that the statute’s purpose was to exclude all but those who lived in and practiced the village enclave’s extreme form of Judaism. This exclusionary intent failed to respect the Establishment Clause’s requirement that states maintain a neutral position with respect to religion, because it clearly created a school zone which excluded those who were non-religious and/or did not practice Samtar Hasidism. Indeed, the very essence of the Establishment Clause is that government should not demonstrate a preference for one religion over another, or religion over non-religion in general.”

Ironically, as Baker shows, Cuomo’s proposal would give Kiryas Joel what it lost at the Supreme Court.

Folks, as vouchers and tuition tax credits spread, we are heading into uncharted waters: the state will subsidize Protestant schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, evangelical schools, and schools of every other religion and sect.

Is this about better education? What do you think?

Our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution and the Amendments with full knowledge of the religious wars that had devastated Europe for centuries. They wanted Americans to have freedom of religion but they did not want the state to establish or sponsor any religion. They were wiser than us.

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