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Kevin Welner, an expert in education law and policy at the University of Colorado and executive director of the National Education Law Center. He writes that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to render a decision reversing the historic American tradition of prohibiting the funding of K-12 religious school.

The Founding Fathers were clear about their antipathy to funding religious institutions. It was Thomas Jefferson who coined the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state.” That wall, which has plenty of holes in it, is about to be demolished. Perhaps we should relearn why the Founders were opposed to mixing church and state. They were well aware of the religious wars and religious persecution that had torn Europe apart for centuries. In the new nation, they believed, religious groups would thrive or fail on their own, without government intervention or direction. We are soon to see a Supreme Court dominated by so-called “Originalists” overturn the clear intentions of the Founders.

Welner notes that religious schools are not bound by civil rights laws, especially under the current Court, which places religious freedom above civil rights. This, states will be required to fund schools that indoctrinate and discriminate.

Exactly what the Founding Fathers feared.

From the National Education Policy Center:

BOULDER, CO (May 12, 2022) – In the coming weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down a series of decisions that may transform American society. One of those decisions is in a case called Carson v. Makin, the latest in a series of cases brought to expand the use of private school vouchers. This decision in Carson may be particularly radical and transformative, explains University of Colorado Boulder professor and NEPC director Kevin Welner.

In a policy memo titled, The Outsourcing of Discrimination: Another SCOTUS Earthquake?, Welner, an education law and policy scholar, contends that the majority of Supreme Court justices, in deciding Carson v. Makin, will likely adopt a rule that requires public funding in Maine to be used to subsidize religious teaching and proselytizing. But the Court may also take the nation far beyond that determination.

Specifically, the Court may require that whenever a state decides to provide a service through a non-state employee (e.g., through a contracting mechanism), the state will face the highest level of judicial scrutiny if it “discriminates” against churches and church-affiliated service providers that infuse their beliefs into the provided services. Moreover, the Court may impose that same heightened scrutiny to limit any state anti-discrimination enforcement if providers’ religious beliefs direct them to engage in that discrimination against people because of, for example, their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Welner explains that such a judicial ruling would amount to a license to outsource discrimination. While a conventional public school cannot violate a state’s anti-discrimination laws, a school run privately by a religious organization might be allowed to do so. He points in particular to charter school laws as creating this possibility, and he describes how Supreme Court cases in recent years have laid the groundwork for courts to require authorizers to grant charters to religious organizations.

“The Supreme Court is just a few small steps away from transforming every charter school law in the U.S. into a private-school voucher policy,” says Welner. In addition, he argues, charters run by religious organizations would likely gain a constitutionally protected right to discriminate against, for example, members of the LGBTQ+ community.

If this happens, states that abhor such discrimination may find themselves forced to pull back on private contracting to provide public services, ending policies that allow private operators of everything from social services like foster care, health care, prisons, and charter schools.

Find The Outsourcing of Discrimination: Another SCOTUS Earthquake?, by Kevin Welner, at:

With so many laws passed forbidding the teaching of “critical race theory,” Kevin Welner has come up with an ingenious solution. Teach the law itself! Kevin is a lawyer who teaches education policy at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is also director of the National Education Policy Center. He means this as an April Fool’s joke, but like all satires, there is more than a kernel of truth here:

In high-school classrooms throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Idaho, and other states that have passed laws apparently intended to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT), a new type of elective course is popping up. Students in the classes read the state legislation and explore its meaning and impact.

One such course offered in Houston, Texas is called, “Get to Know SB 3”, which is a reference to that state’s bill passed in late-2021. Courses in other states and school districts have a variety of names, but what holds them together is an attempt to help students gain a deep understanding of their state’s law and what it accomplishes.

Kim Bell, who teaches the SB 3 course at Ladson-Billings High School in Houston, explained that the course was originally proposed by the school’s students. “None of them had heard of CRT until a couple years ago, but then everyone started talking about it and, more recently, about the law we thought would stop us from teaching it. The students turned to us because they wanted to know more, but at first we told them we were afraid to answer their questions about CRT. We thought that maybe the law stops us from even talking with them about it, so instead we told them about the law.”

Not surprisingly, the students then wanted to know even more about SB 3. “The more we told them, the more questions they asked. So we created this course. It’s not specifically about CRT, but we explain the theory because of its relevance to the legislature’s debates and intentions.”

Among the provisions in the Texas law is a prohibition against “inculcat[ing]” in students, “with respect to their relationship to American values, [that] slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.” As Bell’s students learn, this provision is a push-back against the generally accepted view of historians and other scholars, including those who use a CRT lens, who point to the many ways in which racism has been institutionalized in American laws and society.

The students also read the arguments used by proponents of the state laws. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, for example, charged that CRT is “every bit as racist as a Klansmen in white sheets.” Rhode Island State Representative Patricia Morgan complained that she had lost a black friend to CRT – “I am sure I didn’t do anything to her, except be white.”

This teaching hasn’t gone unnoticed by proponents of laws. “Using things we say – that’s just sneaky and divisive!” protested Rep. Leon Alabaster.

The classes, however, are moving forward. “It seems like the legislature wanted SB 3 to stop us from teaching about the reality of structural racism. Fine. Most students reach that conclusion on their own,” said Bell. “If the legislature prohibited our science teachers from telling students that gravity is real, they’d still reach that conclusion after seeing the objective evidence.”

Bell and other teachers we spoke with pointed out that, by the end of the course, their students often observe that the laws designed to stop them from learning about institutionalized racism are themselves institutionalized racism. Also, these laws that are designed to stop students from learning about CRT have instead resulted in their learning about CRT.

Bell’s students even started a CRT club at the school. These students told us that it’s the CRT lens that really helps them understand the institutionalized racism underlying the anti-CRT laws.

“We’re thinking about creating another elective called, Using SB 3 to Explore Irony,” said Bell.

Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center and professor of education at the University of Colorado in Boulder, writes here about the “testing pods” created by enthusiastic parents. Welner recently published a book of satirical essays called Potential Grizzlies.

Parents Rush to Form “Testing Pods”

Throughout the nation, anxious parents are worried that the pandemic will prevent their children from being sufficiently subjected this spring to the usual battery of state assessments. Some of these parents are taking the initiative and forming “testing pods” with neighbors and friends.

The pods typically include a testing proctor hired by the parents, who is tasked with ensuring that the students sit still, don’t interact with one another, and quietly focus on the days-long succession of test questions.

The nation’s children themselves have been fretfully yearning to experience testing again, after last spring’s cancellation of the incomparable experience. “These miserable children!  I know the testing-pod option isn’t available to all parents,” said Mindy McLean. “But we can’t ignore our own kids’ needs. Last spring was so traumatic for Billy when they heartlessly pulled the testing away.”

This spring, the challenges remain enormous, and there’s almost no possibility that the test results will be useful for measurement or accountability purposes. But the U.S. Department of Education has nonetheless told states that blanket waivers to the ESSA testing requirement are out of the question. 

The situation has left apprehensive parents like McLean in a state of limbo. “Do I trust that the state will come through, or do I take the initiative? Maybe I’m overreacting, but what if I trust the state and they end up cancelling again?”

The testing pod formed by McLean has already begun meeting,in order to begin the enriched-learning experience of weeks of test-prep. The children fill their days with practice tests, readpassages narrowly as test prompts, and dream of the time when they can once again relish the genuine testing event.

Reflecting on her family’s privileged position, McLean told us that she has no regrets. “Gandhi once said, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow.’ That’s what I tell Billy, and that’s why he can’t be deprived of these tests once again.”

In case you were misled, April Fools’ Day!

I recently had the pleasure of reading Kevin Welner’s terrific new Onion-like book, “Potential Grizzlies: Making the Nonsense Bearable.” In tweets, I described Kevin as the Stephen Colbert and Groucho Marx of American education. Kevin and I had fun discussing the book on a Zoom sponsored by the Network for Public Education. (WATCH: Diane Ravitch in Conversation with Kevin Welner). Kevin has pledged all royalties he earns to the Network for Public Education. I hope you will watch, then buy the book, which makes a great holiday gift! To give you a feel for the book, here’s a new piece Kevin just wrote.

Perilous De-DeVos-ing Cleanup Is Underway

The Biden education transition team today assured a worried public that it is carefully following established procedures for the clean-up of the U.S. Department of Education. “The de-DeVos-ing process is indeed grueling, but all necessary precautions are being taken to assure a safe and complete mission,” said spokesperson Darcy Wiggins.

Four years of policy contaminants are reported to have been strewn throughout the Department at a level that sources insist must have been either intentional or extraordinarily reckless. “In the Title IX area alone, we found a spill of transphobia and a release of toxic masculinity all over the sexual assault regulations. That latter one may take years to fully mop up.”

There are also said to be large vats of voucher policies piled up in storage closets, but they haven’t yet broken containment.

Additional dangers, however, remain. According to a member of the transition team we spoke with, an unknown amount of policy contaminants may have been transported a mile northeast, to the chambers of several Supreme Court justices who seem determined to release the policies on the general public at the earliest opportunity.

Here is a photograph of the Biden transition team in the midst of De-Vos-ing contents of the U.S. Department of Education.

I enjoyed reading Kevin Welner’s new book “Potential Grizzles.” There are many hilarious short pieces about education fads, absurd federal laws, Duncan, DeVos and more.

You will enjoy reading about the innovative Ammocentric Charter School in Arizona. Or the discovery that when the bottom 5% of teachers are fired, another bottom 5% pops up the next year. Or the insight that teachers can be fairly evaluated by their height. Or what happened when a promising student got a growth on her mindset.

Kevin and I discussed the book on a Zoom sponsored by the Network for Public education. We had a lot of laughs thinking about the absurd disconnect between research and policy.

Kevin has pledged any royalties he earns to NPE. I hope you will watch, listen, then buy the book.

Kevin Welner is the director of the National Education Policy Center and a Professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

He writes:

The definition of chutzpah, according to the old joke, is the kid who kills his parents and then asks the judge for mercy because he’s an orphan. President Trump has added a twist on the joke: the kid who kills his parents and then complains that they don’t drive him to school.

When the European Union was hit early and hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, its member countries took the necessary steps to drive down their infection numbers. Through the now commonly understood mitigation steps such as social distancing, masks, and testing plus isolation, once-devastated countries like Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium now regularly report daily deaths in the single digits. In contrast, the death rates in the US have doggedly remained around 500 per day, with infection rates again climbing upward. While EU countries urgently buckled down, our corresponding urgency was to reopen bars, tattoo parlors, and hair salons. And we bizarrely managed to turn mask-refusal into a political statement. That difference between the EU and the US is one reason why they can now take cautious steps to return to normal-ish life while we drunkenly stagger toward an uncertain future.

President Trump can’t be exclusively blamed for all of the US failures, but his policies, public statements, and actions set us apart from countries that responded with greater urgency and wisdom. Now he’s threatening to cut off federal funding to schools if they don’t return to in-person instruction this fall. His framing is overtly political: “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” he tweeted on Wednesday morning.
Interestingly, the timing of this tweet corresponded with the publication of a front-page article in Wednesday’s New York Times about how Sweden’s decision to not impose social distancing has been a misadventure, costing thousands of lives and doing little to sustain the economy. The other three countries name-checked in the Trump tweet are similarly instructive. Denmark and Norway responded strongly even before the virus attacked there; the two countries together account for fewer than 900 deaths total, and the current infection rates are negligible. Germany was hit hard around April, with some days recording 300 or more deaths, but its serious response quickly lowered the spread of the disease. The current daily death rate across Germany is in the single digits.

So, yes, these countries and others are now able to open their schools. But they first laid the groundwork. Ideally, we can do so as well. Any political considerations – for or against the election of a given presidential candidate – should be irrelevant. As the President’s tweet correctly pointed out, re-opening schools (in person) is important for children and families. Moreover, infection, disease and transmission risks are lower for the children and youth who would be attending K-12 schools. For this reason, as well as the importance of education, the American Academy of Pediatrics has called for schools to reopen if possible.

This is, quite reasonably, a risk analysis – one that takes into account benefits as well as costs of in-person schooling at this time. Last spring’s experience illustrated the many important roles played by our public schools and the urgent need for in-person schooling. (Although, ironically, both President Trump and Secretary DeVos have questioned the value of education provided in public schools.) Recently in the Answer Sheet, Carol Burris made a compelling case for re-opening, as did Emily Oster in the Atlantic.

Yet no compelling case of societal benefits will suffice if children, parents, teachers and other school staff feel that school attendance is not worth the personal risk. Because of such concerns, substantially more parents are looking at homeschooling for the fall. For-profit online schooling companies (which, along with other software companies, have been marketing aggressively) are also apparently experiencing a boost – notwithstanding extraordinarily poor outcomes. We can expect that many teachers will similarly weigh their personal risks and, particularly in cases of older teachers or those with other risk factors or who are more financially secure, opt against teaching before it is safer to return.

President Trump himself can make in-person reopening more likely and more successful. Most obviously, he can urge all people in the U.S. to wear a mask when in public – and he can set the example by doing so himself. Legislatively, he can work with his allies in Congress to provide the $200 billion in federal stimulus funding needed to cover estimated shortfalls in state and local funding for P-12 education over the next two years. The nation’s public schools are facing major funding cut-backs at a time when the President and the rest of us are asking them to do much more – in terms of addressing greater student needs and in terms of virus mitigation and social distancing.

In short, the chutzpah of the President’s current push for in-person schooling in the fall is that he, more than anyone else, has created the conditions that make such reopening so difficult and risky – and he, more than anyone else, has it in his power to ease that difficulty and that risk.

Kevin Welner, a lawyer and specialist in education policy, wrote about the Espinoza decision at Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet in the Washington Post:

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that was once unthinkable. It required the state of Montana to set aside its own constitution’s ban on direct or indirect funding of religious private schools: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious” (p. 20 of the slip opinion).

The principles underlying the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause, while not yet dead, are in exceedingly poor health this morning.

To be fair, the wall of separation between church and state never really existed. But for a while, there was a fairly high fence. It protected religious institutions from entanglements with the government, and vice versa. In countries without such separation, state institutions such as schools can become instruments of the state’s preferred religion — as the writers of the U.S. Constitutions observed in England and other European countries.

England is, however, an instructive case of what can happen over time. The entanglement between the two institutions initially bolsters the church, but genuine religious beliefs are harder to impose than is nominal adherence to those beliefs. So Americans became more religious over time as they voluntarily brought church attendance and religious teachings into their lives. But the English became less so, even while maintaining state financial assistance for church schools to this day.

In the United States, that high fence of separation between church and state existed from approximately the mid-1940s through the mid-1980s. It transformed our essentially Protestant public schools into secular institutions attended by a cross-section of the population, including strongly religious families. That seeming contradiction of religious upbringing plus nonreligious schooling was, in fact, entirely consistent with Thomas Jefferson’s reasons for embracing a “wall of separation” to avoid government involvement that could corrupt free religious practice, while also protecting the government against church influence.

Churches and related religious institutions benefit from this arrangement in three key ways. First, the government stays away from the internal affairs of churches. While this can lead to fraud and abuse, it also protects religious liberty. Second, the government grants churches freedoms denied to other institutions, including the freedom to discriminate. Third, because “the power to tax involves the power to destroy,” churches are given an extraordinary number of tax benefits. This was outlined in an analysis published in The Washington Post in 2013:

When people donate to religious groups, it’s tax-deductible. Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get “parsonage exemptions” that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits).

As part of this exceedingly hands-off approach, church-affiliated institutions were not, in the past, eligible to participate in some government programs. For instance, while private religious colleges could receive aid to help students fund their education, the court prohibited state aid directly to religious K-12 schools.
Today’s Supreme Court does not share Jefferson’s vision. In fact, the court has been sawing away at the high fence for decades. In cases posing challenges to state funding of religious institutions, the court has steadily permitted greater and greater financial entanglements.

In fact, in a case three years ago called Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the court pronounced that states can, under some circumstances, be constitutionally required to fund religious institutions, pursuant to the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Will the Supreme Court’s Trinity decision lead to the spread of school voucher programs?
When providing a public benefit (in that case, state grants for playground resurfacing), the state cannot make religious status an impediment to receipt of that benefit — at least where the benefit is not directly supporting religious practice.

Even from this conservative court, the Trinity Lutheran decision was a bit of a surprise. Earlier, in 2004, in a case called Locke v. Davey in which the majority opinion was written by the very conservative Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the court found no constitutional impediment to a state prohibiting a college scholarship from being used directly to support religious practice, by excluding students pursuing a “degree in devotional theology.”

With those key precedents, the court today decided a case involving a neo-voucher law that had been adopted in Montana. The law used tax credits to create a funding mechanism for small vouchers (about $500 each) to help pay for private school tuition. Because the Montana state constitution includes a “no aid” clause that prohibits direct or indirect state support for church-controlled schools, the Montana Department of Revenue only allowed the law to go forward on the condition that religious schools be excluded.

A lawsuit called Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue challenged that ruling and made its way to that state’s Supreme Court. That court struck down the entire neo-voucher law, thus avoiding the possibility of anti-religious discrimination raised in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, while also avoiding a violation of the Montana constitution. That should have ended the matter, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided to weigh in.

Before discussing the court’s decision in the Espinoza case, it’s important to step back and consider the unusual ideological extremity of the current Supreme Court. The court was designed as a moderating institution. One fundamental reason for this is that the more-extreme views of any single justice typically will have only a minimal impact on the court’s final decision. The court will only take the law as far as the “fifth vote” or “swing vote.” If four justices wanted, for instance, to declare all affirmative action programs unconstitutional, but the fifth vote in that case wanted to allow limited affirmative action programs under narrow circumstances, then the latter becomes the new legal standard.

The court also is designed to be somewhat insulated from political pressures, with justices appointed for life. One result is that presidents can ultimately be surprised by their appointments. We saw this, for instance, with Eisenhower appointee Justice William J. Brennan Jr. ending up to the left of Kennedy appointee Justice Byron R. White.

Yet the Supreme Court has now become almost as ideologically predictable as the Congress. And the ideological pendulum has become a one-way bulldozer — a process that started during the Nixon administration. The so-called swing justice went from Lewis F. Powell Jr. in the 1980s to Sandra Day O’Connor, to Anthony M. Kennedy to, now, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. All of these were Republican appointees, but they’ve become more conservative with each new retirement. So the court has moved further and further to the right. There’s now a reliable five-justice majority on issues ranging from school vouchers and affirmative action to border control and deregulation.

I would be remiss if I did not mention here the most momentous and egregious event in this process of building the current ultraconservative court: the unprecedented obstruction of President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.

Scalia died unexpected in February 2016, and Obama put forward Garland’s nomination in March. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to allow any confirmation hearings, citing the presidential election to take place eight months later. President Trump eventually appointed Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to the seat, maintaining the conservative five-justice majority (which was soon strengthened with Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony M. Kennedy). Had Garland replaced Scalia, the swing justices (depending on the issue) would have been moderate-liberal justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan and Garland — with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor reliably to their left. Even though Garland was generally seen as a moderate judge, this would have been the court’s most momentous shift to the left since the 1960s. Decisions like that handed down today would have looked far different.

But the Espinoza decision was itself decades in the making. The legal landscape for vouchers supporting private religious schools has changed 180 degrees, corresponding to the shift in the makeup of justices on the Supreme Court. Vouchers for religious schools have moved from being broadly understood to be constitutional forbidden in 1970s to constitutionally allowed in 2003, via the Zelman decision, to now arguably constitutionally required, at least under the Montana circumstances.

Let’s return to that high fence mentioned earlier. Once the Supreme Court decided to hear the Espinoza case, we were left to hope that it would at least leave in place a speed bump of separation between church and state.
What we got instead is a shotgun marriage between church and state.

The court’s decision this morning held that application of the “no aid” provision in the Montana state constitution was barred by the Constitution’s free-exercise clause. The Montana provision prohibited any direct or indirect aid to a school controlled by a “church, sect, or denomination.” Like the dispute at issue in the Trinity Lutheran case, this prohibition was based on status as a religious institution, rather than a religious use. But the court’s Espinoza majority opinion — written by Roberts and joined by the other four conservative justices — also minimizes that distinction, which was important in Locke and potentially crucial to the decision in Trinity Lutheran:

“None of this is meant to suggest that we agree with the Department [of Revenue] that some lesser degree of scrutiny applies to discrimination against religious uses of government aid. Some Members of the Court, moreover, have questioned whether there is a meaningful distinction between discrimination based on use or conduct and that based on status. [Citations to Justices Gorsuch and Thomas]. We acknowledge the point but need not examine it here. It is enough in this case to conclude that strict scrutiny applies under Trinity Lutheran because Montana’s no-aid provision discriminates based on religious status. (Page 12, with internal citations omitted.)”

Here’s more critical language, from pages 13-14 of the court’s slip opinion (with internal citations omitted and emphasis placed on one sentence):

“Locke differs from this case in two critical ways. First, Locke explained that Washington had “merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction”: the “essentially religious endeavor” of training a minister “to lead a congregation.” Thus, Davey “was denied a scholarship because of what he proposed to do — use the funds to prepare for the ministry.” Apart from that narrow restriction, Washington’s program allowed scholarships to be used at “pervasively religious schools” that incorporated religious instruction throughout their classes.”

By contrast, Montana’s constitution does not zero in on any particular “essentially religious” course of instruction at a religious school. Rather, as we have explained, the no-aid provision bars all aid to a religious school “simply because of what it is,” putting the school to a choice between being religious or receiving government benefits.

At the same time, the provision puts families to a choice between sending their children to a religious school or receiving such benefits. Second, Locke invoked a “historic and substantial” state interest in not funding the training of clergy, explaining that ‘opposition to … funding “to support church leaders’ lay at the historic core of the Religion Clauses.” … But no comparable “historic and substantial” tradition supports Montana’s decision to disqualify religious schools from government aid.

The court concludes, “[I]t is clear that there is no ‘historic and substantial’ tradition against aiding such schools comparable to the tradition against state-supported clergy invoked by Locke.” (p. 16). But this historical focus was a side note in the court’s earlier Locke decision. What Roberts did this morning was to limit Locke to its unique facts, marginalizing its usefulness as a precedent.

But note that sentence in bold from the passage above. A state’s constitution is given meaning by the state’s courts. Imagine if, upon remand, the Montana Supreme Court issues a new decision, saying something like: “In view of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, we interpret the ‘no-aid’ provision in our state constitution to prohibit any direct or indirect financial support to religious instruction in church-controlled schools.”

This would allow a voucher law that provides support to religious schools but not to religious education. Implementing or enforcing that funding mechanism would entangle the state with the operations of the religious schools, but it would seem doable. Would the Roberts court find that approach to be constitutional, or would it further restrict the reach of Locke?

What’s clear for now is that the long-standing “tuitioning” voucher systems in Maine and Vermont, which are limited to nonreligious private schools, cannot stand. There will have to be a shotgun wedding between church and state in those two states.

Other implications, which will reach beyond school vouchers, will emerge in the upcoming months and years.

After Elizabeth Warren released her bold K-12 education plan, with massive funding increases for poor students (Title1) and for students with disabilities, the charter lobby reacted with outrage because she also announced that she would eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program. The CSP has been not only wasteful and ineffective but has been used by Betsy DeVos as her personal slush fund, to reward corporate charter chains and charter advocacy organizations.

Carol Burris and Kevin Welner explain here why Warren’s plan would benefit all needy students, including those enrolled in charter schools. Educators should welcome her plan, whether they are in public schools or charter schools.

Please share widely, tweet and distribute.


In an important article, Kevin Welner and William Mathis of the National Education Policy Center argue that school choice is not “the civil rights issue of our time,” as Betsy DeVos and Trump (and before them, Arne Duncan) maintain.

School choice was devised by southern segregationists to fight the Brown decision of 1954, and school choice today is promoting racial and economic segregation.

Segregation is bad for students and for our society.

As they show, Jeanne Allen and other charter and voucher zealots attacked not only Randi Weingarten for accurately describing the history of school choice, they even attacked the NAACP for calling for a moratorium on new charters.

Choice is a consumer good but not a social good.

They write:

”When schools shift from democratically run to privately run institutions, their very purpose itself can shift toward merely serving the private interests of customer parents. In that context, success is often realized by wooing more students who are lower-cost and higher-achieving.

“Contrast this with the purposes of education memorialized in states’ constitutional provisions. To advance the common good, Massachusetts speaks to wisdom, knowledge and virtue among all groups of people. New Hampshire says that knowledge and learning must be spread throughout the various parts of the land. Vermont speaks of expanding virtue and preventing vice. The private benefits of an education received by individual children are valuable, but so are the societal benefits of a thoughtful, informed and united popu-lace.

“The genius of the American educational system is not just in what it gives to the individual. It is in what it provides to society as a whole. We face the great challenge of providing equal opportunities and common values to an increasingly fragmented society. Can we sustain and transmit this democratic covenant of rights and responsibilities to a new generation? Can we do this in a society with increasing levels of privately run choice schools?”


Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center has written a thoughtful (and optimistic) commentary on the Gates Foundation’s latest big bet on reforming education. The new one will invest $1.7 billion in networks of schools in big cities, in the hopes that they can work together to solve common problems.

Welner, K. (2017). Might the New Gates Education Initiative Close Opportunity Gaps? Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved [date] from

Welner notes that the previous big initiatives of the Gates Foundation failed, although he believes that Gates was too quick to pull the plug on the small schools initiative in 2008, into which he had poured $2 billion. Gates bet another $2 billion on the Common Core, and that was sunk by backlash from right and left and in any case, has made no notable difference. Gates poured untold millions into his plan for teacher evaluation (MET), but it failed because it relied too much on test scores.

Welner says that Bill Gates and the foundation he owns suffer from certain blind spots: First, he believes in free markets and choice, and he ends up pouring hundreds of millions into charters with little to show for it; second, he believes in data, and that belief has been costly without producing better schools; third, he believes in the transformative power of technology, forgetting that technology is only a tool, whose value is determined by how wisely it is used.

Last, Welner worries that Gates does not pay enough attention to the out of school factors that have a far greater impact on student learning that teachers and schools, including poverty and racism. These are the factors that mediate opportunity to learn. Without addressing those factors, none of the others will make much difference.

Welner is cautiously optimistic that the new initiative might pay more attention to opportunity to learn issues than any of Gates’ other investments.

But he notes with concern that Gates continues to fund charters, data, technology, and testing. He continues to believe that somewhere over the rainbow is a magical key to innovation. He continues to believe in standardization.

It seems to me that Kevin Welner bends over backwards to give Gates the benefit of the doubt. With his well-established track record of failure, it is hard to believe he has learned anything. But let’s keep hoping for the best.