Search results for: "Legislatures"

Politico reports on vouchers this morning. Vouchers have never won a popular vote. Public opinion polls are mixed, but the response depends on how the question is worded. DeVos and her allies have found her way around the problem: go to the legislature and give strategically to key legislators. In other words, buy their support. It works.

 

VOUCHERS HAVE BEEN A TOUGH SELL – AT LEAST WHEN PUT TO A VOTE: President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to create a massive $20 billion block grant to expand charter and private school options for poor children. But when voters in states across the country have been asked if they want to send public money to private schools through vouchers, they’ve pretty much always said no, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. Since 1978, voters in California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, Utah and Washington all rejected measures to enact private school choice programs. And the ballot referendums lost big – none of them drew support from more than 38 percent of voters. Voters in Florida and Oklahoma, in 2012 and 2016, shot down efforts to repeal so-called Blaine Amendments – which prohibit states from spending public money on religious schools and can limit a state’s ability to fund private school choice programs. [ED. NOTE: VOTERS HAVE NEVER APPROVED A REFERENDUM TO PERMIT PUBLIC MONEY TO BE SPENT IN NONPUBLIC OR RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS. THE DEVOS FAMILY SPONSORED A VOUCHER VOTE IN MICHIGAN IN 2000, AND IT WAS DEFEATED 69-31%.]

 

– Public polling, however, has been mixed on vouchers, with support levels ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent, said Josh Cunningham, a senior education policy specialist at the National Council of State Legislatures. “It’s probably fair to say that much of the public does not fully understand what school vouchers are,” Cunningham told Morning Education. “If anything, this history shows that going through the legislature may be an easier road towards adopting school choice policies than using the ballot.” Thanks to state lawmakers, there are 17 states (as well as D.C.) that have voucher programs, according to the council.

 

– The legislature is the route that Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department, has taken repeatedly over the years. DeVos, through her groups, including the American Federation for Children and All Children Matter, has pushed voucher measures – successfully – through statehouses across the country, including in Indiana in 2011. DeVos told the Philanthropy Roundtable last year that “successful advocacy requires coordinating a lot of moving parts: identifying potential legislators, educating them about the issue, getting them elected, helping them craft and pass legislation, and helping with implementation once laws are passed to ensure that programs work for children.” Showering lawmakers with money also helps – and DeVos’ groups have spent millions on candidates who support vouchers. DeVos has been blunt about the power that donations have in politics. In 1997, she wrote in Roll Call that “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return.”

Valerie Strauss posted an article about the lobbying activities of the giant testing corporations. They spend many millions of dollars to ensure that Congress and the states understand the importance of buying their services. It would be awful for them if any state decided to let teachers write their own tests and test what they taught.

 

The four corporations that dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials — as well as sometimes hiring them — to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business, a new analysis shows.

 

The analysis, done by the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy agency based in Wisconsin that tracks corporate influence on public policy, says that four companies — Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill— collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.

 

When I visited Texas a few years ago, I wondered why Texas paid nearly $500 million to Pearson for five years of testing, but New York paid only $32 million to Pearson for the same five years. I assumed it must be a testament to the high quality lobbyists that Pearson hired in Texas, starting with Sandy Kress, who was one of the architects of No Child Left Behind and very well connected to the state’s power structure.

Some while back, I suggested on Twitter that members of Congress should get merit pay. It doesn’t seem fair that all of them are paid exactly the same, no matter how effective or ineffective they are. The same might be  said of state legislators. Why don’t they get merit pay? They are eager to impose it on teachers, based on student scores, but they don’t want it for themselves.

The problem with the idea is this: how do you judge effectiveness?

A reader has a good proposal:

I think we should push for MORE merit pay, but in this way:  our state and federal legislators should be paid based on how well their constituents are doing.  percent of unemployment, average family income, property values, crime rate, health/illness rates, etc.  Of course, they will complain about how they can’t control these factors, but it’s very similar to what we are judged on.

Carol Corbett Burris was a teacher and principal on Long Island, in New York state for many years. After retiring, she became executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

Last spring, HBO released Bad Education, which tells the story of how a Roslyn, New York Superintendent named Frank Tassone conspired to steal $11.2 million with the help of his business officer, Pamela Gluckin.  Promo materials called the film “the largest public school embezzlement in U.S. history.”

I did not watch it. I am waiting. I am waiting for HBO to release a movie on how a crafty fellow from Australia, Sean McManus, defrauded California taxpayers out of $50 millionvia an elaborate scheme to create phony attendance records to increase revenue to an online charter chain known as A3. 

Or the documentary about the tens of millions that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) owes taxpayers for cooking the books on attendance. Or perhaps there will be a mini-series about the fraud and racketeering that charter operator Marcus May engaged in that brought his net worth from $200,000 to $8.5 million in five years and landed him a 20-year sentence in jail. 

The truth is, Frank Tassone and his accomplice are small potatoes compared to the preponderance of charter school scandals that happen every day. What is different is how lawmakers respond. 

When the Tassone case hit the news, I was a principal in a neighboring district. The New York State Legislature came down hard with unfunded mandates on public schools.

We all had to hire external auditors and internal auditors that went over every receipt, no matter how small. Simple things like collecting money for field trips or a club’s T-shirt sale suddenly became a big deal. Although there was no evidence that any other district was engaging in anything like what happened in Roslyn, every district transaction came under scrutiny.

Whether those regulations and their expenses were justified or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that despite the years and years of scandal in the charter sector, state legislatures never change laws or impose new rules. For-profits run schools doing business with their related companies behind a wall of secrecy, and lawmakers do not worry a bit. 

I am puzzled. Why can’t charter schools be as transparent as public schools?  Why is the ability to easily engage in fraud necessary to promote innovation? 

No one has been able to answer my question yet. 

Republican-controlled legislatures across the nation are planning to enact legislation that would have the effect of suppressing the vote. Georgia passed a law to restrict access to voting, known by its critics as the Jim Crow law. More states in Republican hands will do the same. Republicans in the Senate are likely to block a bill passed by the House to protect voting rights.

Why are Republicans afraid of a large turnout? Twenty years ago, Republican leaders insisted that every qualified voter should vote and that every vote should be counted.

In the aftermath of the highly disputed Presidential election of 2000, which was decided by 537 votes in the state of Florida, many of our most prominent political leaders recognized the need for reform of the voting system.

A prestigious commission was created called the National Commission of Federal Election Reform. The co-chairs of the commission were former President Jimmy Carter and former President Gerald Ford. Its composition was bipartisan. I had the honor of serving on the commission.

The commission held several meetings, debated the issues of voter I.D., got a report of the reliability of different voting machines (strangely enough, the most reliable machine was the one used in New York City, which involved pulling a lever to close a curtain, then opening the lever, which punctured the ballot–but that machine was considered obsolete as compared to the new electronic touch-screen machines).

Moving at warp speed, the commission produced a report in August 2001. The heart of its recommendations was that every eligible citizen should be assured the right to vote, and every vote should be counted.

This recommendation, on page 6, was at the heart of our discussions:

The methods for funding and administering elections—from investments in equipment through voter education to procedures at the polling place—should seek to ensure that every qualified citizen has an equal opportunity to vote and that every individual’s vote is equally effective. No individual, group, or community should be left with a justified belief that the electoral process works less well for some than for others.

I have been reflecting on the work of the commission because there were no partisan differences. Republicans did not claim that mail-in balloting was wrong. They did not look for ways to tweak the state systems to suppress the votes of African-Americans. They agreed with their Democratic peers that everyone of voting age should exercise the right to vote and their vote should be counted.

Everyone understood that the voting process needed to be modernized and that there should be both fairness and a perception of fairness.

Now we live in a time when it is hard to imagine Democrats and Republicans collaborating on a report about election integrity without descending into acrimony.

Something very fundamental has been lost in our civic life: a sense of shared purpose; a commitment to fairness and integrity; trust. The well of democracy has been poisoned by spurious claims of fraud that have no evidence to support them.

Some have foolishly blamed the schools (as usual) for not teaching civics. So, we are now to believe that grown men (and some women) run about threatening people they disagree with by brandishing Glocks and AR-15s. We have to look deep into our culture to try to determine the wellsprings of this rage and bitterness and hatred. It didn’t start in the schools.

Since the 2020 election, when Republicans won many seats in state legislatures, there has been an explosion of proposed voucher laws, to allow people to get public money to pay for religious schools. David Berliner, one of our nation’s most distinguished researchers of education, explains why funding religious schools with public money is a terrible idea.

Why Religious Schools Should Never Receive a Dollar of Public Funding

David C. Berliner

Regents’ Professor Emeritus

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Arizona State University

I believe in separation of church and state. I think it has done the United States a lot of good to honor Jefferson’s metaphoric and aspirational “wall” between the two. I also believe that money corrupts too many people and too many institutions. Holding those two beliefs simultaneously means 1.) I never want to see any local, state, or federal money used to aide any religious group, and 2.) I don’t want to see any religious group, or affiliated religious organizations, donating to the campaigns of public officials. The latter may be impossible to stop in an era of “dark money.” But the former—government support of religious institutions– is almost always done in public view and is worth stopping now, immediately, as it could easily damage our fragile republic.

Overstated? Hardly! Read on! Few citizens pay attention to the expenditure of public dollars for support of religious schools, but it occurs frequently. It can cost citizens billions of dollars annually, and ends up supporting some horrible things. A contemporary example of this is the criteria for entrance to the Fayetteville Christian School in North Carolina. 

Fayetteville Christian School (FCS) are recipients, in a recent school year, of $495,966 of public money. They get this in the form of school vouchers that are used by students and their families to pay for the students’ religious schooling. The entrance requirements for this school, and other religious schools like it, are quite frightening to me, though clearly acceptable to North Carolinians. From their website, in 2020:1

“The student and at least one parent with whom the student resides must be in agreement with (our) Statement of Faith and have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. In addition, the parent and student must regularly (go to) a local church. (We) will not admit families that belong to or express faith in religions that deny the absolute Deity/Trinity of Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior and path to salvation. …. FCS will not admit families that engage in behaviors that Scripture defines as deviate and sin (illicit drug use, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality (LGBT), etc.)

Once admitted, if the student or parent/guardian with whom the student resides becomes involved in lifestyles contradictory to Biblical beliefs, we may choose to dis-enroll the student/family from the school.” 

So, despite the receipt of public money, the Fayetteville Christian School is really notopen to the public at all! This school says, up front and clearly, that it doesn’t want and will not accept Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s, and many others. Further, although supported by public money, it will expel students for their family’s alleged “sins”. Is papa smoking pot? Expelled! Does your sibling have a homosexual relationship? Out! Has mama filed for divorce? You are gone! The admissions and dismissal policies of this school–receiving about a half million dollars of public funds per yearare scandalous. I’d not give them a penny! North Carolina legislators, and the public who elects them, should all be embarrassed to ever say they are upholders of American democracy. They are not. 

Besides the anti-democratic admission and retention problems in many religious schools, Christian or otherwise, some have serious curriculum problems as well. Those curriculum problems actually terrify me when they occur in publicly supported religious schools. With public money–my money–many of these schools spread ideas that are objectively/scientifically untrue. And some are simply repugnant! 

Do you remember Bobby Jindal? A few years back, Jindal was Governor of Louisiana and even, for a short time, a candidate for president of the United States of America. He pushed hard for publicly supported charter and voucher schools. The curriculum materials in these schools frequently came from one of two sources: Bob Jones University Press (associated with the scandal-ridden university), or from A Beka Book, a publisher of Christian books (now called Abeka). Between them, with the public’s money, these publishers have taught our youth some amazing things, as reported either by Deanna Panor by Alice Greczyn.3

Pan and Greczyn share some very interesting text excerpts. For example, I never learned from the textbooks in my public school that “The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.” Nor did I ever imagine that “To help them endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave Christian slaves the ability to combine the African heritage of song with the dignity of Christian praise. Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is from the bondage of sin.”

I also didn’t know that “The Ku Klux Klan in, some areas of the country, tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”

I admit that I didn’t exactly get an “A” in my high school algebra course, but I never thought that abstract algebra was too complicated to learn. Perhaps I was wrong. An A Beka book states that “Unlike the ‘modern math’ theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute…A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.” (Italics mine.)

Another analyst of Christian school text books, Rachel Tabachnick,4 also informed me of things I never suspected. I simply never knew that “Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.” This quote is from Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999.

Through Tabachnick I also learned that children receiving their education in some Christian schools supported with public money are informed that gay people “have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.” That quote is from the Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999, Bob Jones University Press, 1998.

         Writing in Salon Magazine, Wilson5 documents other outrageous claims made in these curricula materials, some of which are purchased with public money for Christian schools in the USA, although these curriculum materials are in use throughout the world:

  • Only ten percent of Africans can read or write, because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists.
  • God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ.
  • It cannot be shown scientifically that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere’s ozone layer.
  • God has provided certain ‘checks and balances’ in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists.
  • The Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda. 
  • Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.

Religious schools should not be subject to much state oversight—I understand that. But many such schools claim to offer curriculum compatible with neighboring public schools, thus allowing their students to move to the public schools should they or their parents request that. For example, it is not uncommon for students in Christian schools to transfer at 6th or 9thgrade to a traditional, public junior or senior high. Or, with a high school degree after years of private Christian education, a student might seek admission to a public college. Since student transfers like these are common, shouldn’t there be more inspection and approval of the curriculum and instruction in private Christian schools? Shouldn’t Christian schools, or Jewish or Islamic or any other school receiving public money, be inspected regularly by some agency of the government so they can be certified not to be teaching anti-democratic, anti-scientific, and anti-communitarian values? We have enough strife in this country without paying for schools whose values and curriculum are antithetical to our increasingly secular democracy. 

Am I overreaching? Although ordinarily private schools should not be subject to public scrutiny, if they accept public funds and if they are teaching age-inappropriate or anti-democratic content to their students shouldn’t the public know? Shouldn’t all public funds be subject to some kind of public audit? 

         For example, Rawls6 cites an adult whose memory of sixth grade instruction in a Christian school was still quite vivid. The teacher “passed around shocking photographs of dismembered babies to teach about abortion.” Sometimes abortion in Christian schools is compared to the holocaust. Other times elementary school students have been taken to local and state abortion protests, even to national events in Washington DC. Some schools regularly take their students to abortion clinics to protest. Are public expenditures for curriculum materials and activities like were just cited appropriate? Shouldn’t we know what is taught and learned in schools supported by public funds?     

Naturally, as part of their anti-abortion campaign, many Christian schools worry a lot about sex. So, they pass along unsubstantiated claims about condom failure and the horrible and life-long consequences of sex outside of marriage. It is often public money that supports curriculum and instruction of this type. Should that be the case? Should the state, often with comingled federal funds, support schools with anti-abortion programs when many state courts, and the Supreme Court, has ruled that abortion is legal? I have absolutely no issues with debate about abortion issues in upper grade levels, but should schools be providing anti-abortion education for our youth with public funds? 

Pregnancy, as might be expected, is often greeted with expulsion for girls at Christian schools. I certainly don’t know anyone who recommends teen parenthood, but if it occurs, shouldn’t the mother be helped, not thrown out of school? Wouldn’t that be the Christian thing to do? 

To accommodate the fact of teen motherhood, a public high school I visited proudly showed me a classroom-cum-nursery, allowing teen mothers a safe place to leave their infants while attending classes to earn their high school diplomas. In fairness, one might ask if that is a proper role of a public school. I believe, as do many Americans, that preparation for successful adulthood is the mission of our public schools—even if it entails these kinds of accommodations to keep youth in school and help them to graduate.7

         Another curriculum question is this: Is it appropriate for American education to promote lessening tensions between nations and religions? I think so. But public funds support Christian schools that teach “[T]he darkness of Islamic religion keeps the people of Turkey from Jesus Christ as their savior.” They teach that “[O]ver 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus Christ, [but] no one witnessed Mohammed’s supposed encounters with the angels.” And they teach that Islam is “fanatically anti-Christian.” 3 

         Finally, I want to point out the almost unanimous call to end corporal punishment of minors by the UN and by psychologists and other social scientists. Because of this I ask, should public money be used to support schools that still engage in corporal punishment? Sadly, both Christian and public schools, particularly in the Southern United States, approve of and still engage in spanking, or “paddling.”8

Although physical punishment of children has not disappeared in contemporary times, it appears to be more prevalent in Christian schools than in public schools because many of them operate on the principle of “spare the rod spoil the child.” Codes of conduct for many Christian schools say it is their obligation to use physical punishment, citing Proverbs 23: 13 and 14, among other biblical sources. There they are told “do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul…” 

Thus the “rod,” switch, or paddle, along with other harsh punishments to ensure proper child rearing, is recommended in many Christian advice books for Christian parents.So it is not surprising that more physical abuse takes place in fundamentalist Christian schools than in public schools. For example, in 2007, a Chicago Christian school was sued for injury and surgical costs after forcing a 14-year-old boy to kneel in place for nine days, causing a hip injury. In 2011, a Christian school teacher in Orlando was arrested on charges of beating a boy at her home with a rusted broom handle.6 And in 2015, at the Christian based Zarephath Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, a cell phone video shows male students holding down a female student, while her teacher paddled her in front of the whole class. The horrible offence the student committed? Running in the cafeteria!10

         Conclusion: There are certainly debates to have about the admissions and retention policies, qualifications of teachers, and especially the curricula used in all our schools—public, private, charter, religious or secular. We, the American people, settle controversial debates about issues like these in public forums. We rely on an open press, and we settle these debates through citizen voting and in our courts. Public oversight of public funds is part of the American tradition. 

Frequently, oversight of public funding is carried out by inspector generals. In fact, the first inspector general of the USA was appointed, in part, because General Washington had an ill-trained army for the task he had ahead. So, our very first inspector general was charged with identifying an educational problem, and asked to rapidly fix it! 

Now, literally thousands of people work for various offices of federal, state, and (occasionally) municipal inspector generals. Each are typically responsible for identifying fraud, waste, abuse, and criminal activity involving public funds, programs, and operations. But outside of the federal government, few inspector generals are devoted to education, even though roughly 45 percent of all state budgets, and 45 percent of all local budgets are used to support educational activities11. Thus, there is little oversight of how educational dollars are spent, and some of that spending has turned out to be scandalous!12 Just as bad, I think, is that there is even less concern about what is taught and what is learned in secular charter and private schools, or religious schools, that receive public money. This is not how it should be. I certainly would rest easier if there were inspectors spending a bit more time in the field overseeing what is taught and what is learned in our schools, in addition to their worries about how public money is spent. In particular, we need to examine religious institutions receiving public funds, so that the public has the information needed to maintain Jefferson’s wall, as best we can. 

In fact, if I made law, I would see to it that no private school– religious or not—ever received a dime of public money! Such schools can too easily sow seeds of separateness, privilege and dissension, hindering the achievement of one of our nations most cherished goals: e pluribus unum. Out of our many, one!

1.   Fayetteville Christian Church, Admissions. Retrieved February 8, 2021 from https://www.fayettevillechristian.com/copy-of-criteria-1

2.   Pan, D. (2012, August 7). 14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools. Retrieved February 13, 2021 from https:/www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/08/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars

3. Greczyn, A. (2020, Blog of June 7). Christianity’s Role in American Racism: An Uncomfortable Look at the Present and the Past.

Retrieved February 2, 2021 from https://www.alicegreczyn.com/blog/christianitys-role-in-american-racism

4. Tabachnick, R. (2017, January17) Vouchers/Tax Credits Funding Creationism, Revisionist History, Hostility Toward Other Religions. Talk to Action. Retrieved February 18, 2021 from: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/5/25/84149/9275

5. Wilson, B. (2012, June 19). Shocking Christian school textbooks:Thousands of Louisiana students will receive state voucher money to attend religious schools. What will they learn? Retrieved February 7, 2021 from: https://www.salon.com/2012/06/19/shocking_christian_school_textbooks_salpart/

6. Rawls, K. (2015, January 12). 10 Frightening Things Happening at Conservative Christian Schools That May Be Funded With Your Tax Dollars. AlterNet. Retrieved January 29, 2021 from https://www.alternet.org/2015/01/10-frightening-things-happening-conservative-christian-schools-may-be-funded-your-tax/

7. It is worth noting here that public schools frequently do spend our public money counseling such students and their families, while private schools frequently do not. It is a simple fact that all sorts of “problem” students, the more costly ones, not just the sexually active or pregnant, are frequently expelled from charter and private schools of all kinds, and sent to genuine public schools. Moreover, most charter and voucher schools frequently find ways not to accept special education students, either. Thus, the public schools incur educational expenses that most charter and voucher schools receiving public money do not. So public schools face budgeting challenges that private schools receiving public money do not. Thus, when one hears that charter or voucher schools are more cost efficient than “wasteful government schools,” these facts must be kept in mind.

8. So common has been physical punishment that the precise size and thickness of paddle to be used has often been codified, eg., specifying the type wood, length of paddle, thickness of paddle, etc. Moreover, there is a likely reason that paddling is more common in Southern schools. Severe paddling was used to punish slaves so as to not leave any scars. A whip-scared slave was of less value than an unscared one, because the scars indicated an uncompliant slave and/or a runaway slave. Severely paddled slaves, it was believed, obeyed their masters better–as is desired of children by many adults.

9.  Berliner, D. C. (1997). Educational psychology meets the Christian      right: Differing views of children, schooling, teaching, and learning.  Teachers College Record, 98, 381-416. 

10. Retrieved February 10, 2021 from: https://www.news4jax.com/news/2015/03/10/video-shows-girl-held-down-paddled-in-school/

11. The Condition of Education, National Center for EducationalStatistics (2020).  Retrieved February 20, 2021 from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cma.asp

12. Berliner, D. C. (2022, in press). The Scandalous History of Schools That Receive Public Financing, But Do Not Accept the Public’s Right of Oversight. In Berliner, D.C. and Hermanns, C. (Eds.), Public Education: The Cornerstone of American Democracy. New York. Teachers College Press.

Eve Ewing is a writer and scholar whose work I very much admire. When her book Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side was published in 2018, I called it the best book of the year. Today, however, she published an article in the New York Times about charter schools that completely misses the point about the damage that charter schools do to public schools.

Basically, she says we should be happy whenever any school–whether public or charter–provides a good education. That is what I believed when I was an advocate for charter schools from the late 1980s until about 2007. It was then that I realized that charter schools were not producing better outcomes than public schools and were diverting money and the students they wanted from public schools. The more I learned about charter operators, their billionaire benefactors, their drive for money and power, and the corruption associated with their lack of accountability, the more I realized that this nation needs a strongly resourced, equitable, and excellent public school system. After thirty years of directing funding to charter schools, we have seen no systemic change of the kind that both Eve and I want.

The overwhelming majority of children in the United States attend public schools (only 6% attend charter schools). Public schools in many states are underfunded and have been since at least 2008–and some for even longer. When states authorize charter schools, they do not increase education funding. The funding pie does not grow. It is divided.

Some districts are in danger of being obliterated by charter operators: think New Orleans, which no longer has any public schools. New Orleans is supposedly the North Star of the charter lobby, but New Orleans today is as segregated and stratified as it was before Hurricane Katrina, and its academic performance is below the state average in one of the nation’s lowest performing states on NAEP.

Eve’s is the first article I have ever seen that celebrated the CREDO finding that only 19% of charter schools get higher test scores than public schools. She says, “Good for the 19%!” But what about the 81% of charter schools receiving public funds that are worse or no better than public schools? Those children and their parents were lured by false promises.

Her article does not acknowledge that many of the most “successful” charter schools are notorious for their disproportionately low numbers of students who are English language learners or have special needs. Nor does it note the high attrition rates or entry standards that winnow out the hardest-to-educate students, like the BASIS schools in Arizona and Texas, which regularly top lists of “best high schools” in the nation. BASIS requires its students to pass multiple AP exams in order to graduate and has high numbers of white and Asian-American students in a state with large numbers of Hispanic and Native American students. When Carol Burris reviewed the BASIS charters in Arizona in 2017, she found that the students at its 18 schools were 83% white and Asian in a state where those groups were 42% of the students in the state.

Eve completely ignores the recent explosion of voucher legislation in Red states. In the 2020 election, Republicans strengthened their control of state legislatures, which have now prioritized creating or expanding vouchers to pay for private and religious schools, for-profit schools, homeschooling, and whatever else parents want to spend public money on. Charters encourage consumerism, making schools a consumer choice rather than a civic good that we are all responsible to fund equitably. Charters pave the way for school choice, including vouchers.

Vouchers in Florida are subsidizing religious schools to the tune of $1 billion a year; voucher schools are completely unaccountable and they are allowed to discriminate against gay students and families and any other group they don’t like. Their textbooks teach creationism, racism, and religious dogma.

The photograph that accompanies her article–for which she is not responsible–features a KIPP school and says that KIPP runs more than 250 schools. Do we really want our public schools to be run by private corporations? Should parents who are unhappy with their school be satisfied to be told “leave and choose a different school”?

As I said at the outset, Eve today is expressing the same views I held 20-30 years ago, so I understand where she is coming from. She wants every school to be a great school. So do I.

She writes that parents:

want their kid to learn a language, study the arts, have a clean building, and books in the library.

What would it look like if we built an education policy agenda dedicated to ensuring those resources for all students? Not just the students who win a lottery, but the students who lose, or who never get to enter because they’re homeless or their families are dealing with substance abuse, and the adults in their lives don’t have the information or resources to participate in a school choice “market?” What if our system was built not to reward innovation for the few, but rights for the many?

What if we insisted that all our schools, for all our children, should be safe and encouraging places? What if our new secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, focused on a plan as audacious as the New Deal, as well-funded as the war on drugs, dedicated to an all-hands-on-deck effort to guarantee every child an effective learning environment? What if we as a society pursued the dream of great schools not through punishment (as in No Child Left Behind), and not through competition (as with Race to the Top) but through the provision of essential resources?

Are we likely to reach those goals if states are funding charter schools, voucher schools, home schooling, for-profit corporations, virtual charter schools, and education entrepreneurs? That in fact is where the current drive for more choice is heading. Multiple state legislatures are solely focused on school choice, not funding. Red states in particular start with charters, then move on to some form of public subsidy for religious and private schools. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to approve the public funding of religious schools and to obliterate the “wall of separation between church and state.” Will the states increase their funding to account for the funding of all students now attending non-public schools?

Eve Ewing has a powerful voice. I wish she would rethink her message and acknowledge that the only way to achieve her vision is by funding and improving the only schools that admit all children and that are subject to civil rights laws and public accountability: Our democratically governed public schools.

The Education Law Center has developed an excellent presentation on the shortchanging of public education in the years since 20008. The great majority of states did not keep up with the costs of educating their children. Only a handful did: Wyoming, Alaska, Illinois, Connecticut. The rest saw a sharp drop in their effort to fund the education of their children.

The two absolutely worst states, as judged by their failed effort to fund their schools, were Arizona and Florida, followed by Michigan. It is not coincidence that these are states that have put their efforts into choice, as a substitute for funding.

The report from ELC begins:

In the decade following the Great Recession, students across the U.S. lost nearly $600 billion from the states’ disinvestment in their public schools. Data from 2008-2018 show that, if states had simply maintained their fiscal effort in PK-12 education at pre-Recession levels, public schools would have had over half a trillion dollars more in state and local revenue to provide teachers, support staff and other resources essential for student achievement. Further, that lost revenue could have significantly improved opportunity and outcomes for students, especially in the nation’s poorest districts.

The states dramatically reduced their investment in public education in response to the 2007 Great Recession. Yet as economies rebounded, states failed to restore those investments. As our analysis shows, while states’ economic activity — measured as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — recovered, state and local revenues for public schools lagged far behind in many states.

This “lost decade” of state disinvestment has put public schools in an extremely vulnerable position as the nation confronts the coronavirus pandemic. Once again, state budgets are strained by declining revenues. And once again, school districts across the country are bracing for state aid cuts and the potential for reduced local support.

This report builds on our Making the Grade analysis of the condition of public school funding in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Instead of a one-year snapshot, this report provides a longitudinal analysis of the effort made by states from 2008 to 2018 to fund their public education systems. We measure that effort using an index that calculates elementary and secondary education revenue as a percentage of each state’s economic activity or GDP.

A key goal of this report is to give advocates data and information to use in their efforts to press governors and state legislatures not to make another round of devastating “pandemic cuts” to already underfunded public schools.

Open the report to see where YOUR state ranks in its effort to educate its students.

Arizona and Florida are the two most shameful states in their neglect of the future of their children.

Jeff Bryant writes in Alternet about the renewed strength of the voucher forces, which have been energized by Republican gains in the states in the 2020 elections. They aim to defund the public schools that enroll most children and send public money to private and religious schools, even to home schoolers and entrepreneurs.

He begins:

Supporters of public education and school teachers were relieved to see Betsy DeVos leave her job as head of the Department of Education, knowing full well the education policies she and former President Trump supported would go nowhere in a President Biden administration. But they should remain incensed over how her efforts to privatize public schools are being rolled out in state legislatures across the country.

In states as politically diverse as WashingtonArizonaGeorgiaVirginia, and New Hampshire, state legislators are introducing bills to increase the number of charter schools and create new school voucher programs or greatly expand current ones. According to the Educational Freedom Institute (EFI), a think tank that advocates for vouchers, charter schools, and other forms of “school choice,” there are at least 14 states actively considering legislation to pour greater sums of taxpayer dollars intended for public education into privately operated schools. Many of the bills have been introduced since the November 2020 elections, which ousted Trump and DeVos but resulted in big gains for Republicans down-ticket.

These proposals to privatize public schools are taking on new forms that are less transparent, would be easier to pass through legislation, and take larger sums of money from public schools, which educate between 80 and 90 percent of American children. Further, the bills are surfacing when public education is highly vulnerable due to the pandemic and the ensuing economic havoc it is wreaking.

Supporters of public education and the common good must mobilize and push back against efforts to weaken and/or destroy the public schools. Republican legislators are ignoring their own state constitutions, and the historic American tradition of separation of church and state by pushing public money to religious schools. Their obvious goal is to cut funding to education, and they don’t care if it reduces the quality of education in their states, as it surely will. Religious schools and the other private schools that take vouchers hire uncertified teachers, are free of state oversight, and teach prejudice.

I reviewed three books in the New York Review of Books, which seemed to me to be complementary.

Together they offer a fresh interpretation of the history of public education and of school choice.

The choice zealots would have you believe that they want to “save poor kids from failing public schools,” but the history of school choice tells a very different story. School choice began as the rallying cry of Southern segregationists, determined to prevent desegregation and integration of their schools.

School choice was their response to the Brown Decision of 1954.

The states of the South passed law after law shifting public funds to private schools, so that white students could avoid going to school with black children.

Libertarian economist Milton Friedman published an essay in 1955 on “The Role of Government in Education” in which he argued for vouchers and school choice. He said that under his approach, whites could go to school with whites, blacks could go to school with blacks, and anyone who wanted a mixed-race school could make that choice. Given the state of racism in the South, his formula would have been translated by white Senators, Governors, and legislatures as a formula to maintain racial segregation forever. They loved his ideas, and they adopted his rhetoric.

The best way to remove the cobwebs in your mind, the ones planted by libertarian propaganda, is to read the three books reviewed here:

Katharine Stewart: The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

Steve Suitts: Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement

Derek W. Black: Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy