Archives for category: Accountability

So now we see the consequences of DeSantis’ fabricated culture war against African-American history. Too much—or any—attention to racism runs afoul of Florida’s STOP WOKE law. One school decided to “stop woke” by ordering the teacher to remove pictures of Black heroes. The teacher quit. Escambia County, where this happened, has a severe teacher shortage.

An Escambia County public school teacher resigned this week over what he characterized as racist behavior by a school district employee.

The teacher, Michael James, emailed a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith in which he wrote that a district employee removed pictures of historic Black American heroes from his classroom walls, citing the images as being “age inappropriate.”

Images that were removed from the bulletin board at O.J. Semmes Elementary School included depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver, James said.

District concludes its investigation:Escambia school district refutes teacher’s account of removal of Black leaders’ photos

“It really floored me,” James told the News Journal. “I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it just really floored me when she did that.”

James chose the board’s theme because the majority of the students and the residents in the neighborhoods that surround O.J. Semmes are Black, and he wanted to motivate his students with inspirational leaders they could easily look up to and see themselves.

James, 61, of Daphne, Alabama [who is white], sent his letter to the governor Monday night. He officially resigned from his position as an exceptional student education teacher at O.J. Semmes Elementary School on Tuesday morning.

His resignation came in the midst of a national teacher shortage, a day before the start of the new school year Wednesday.

Superintendent Smith said teachers are permitted to decorate their classrooms with educational materials and he was unaware of any policies that would prohibit a teacher from displaying pictures of inspirational American heroes on their walls.

Smith said a full investigation of the incident, which he called an “anomaly,” has been launched.

Charlie Crist, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor to challenge DeSantis in November, blamed the governor’s “culture wars” for politicizing Florida’s public schools.

The district concluded its investigation and disputed the teacher’s account. It said that two staff members—including a “behavior analyst”— came to help Mr. James set up his classroom. They noticed that he had pictures of “black luminaries” in the front of the room when he should have installed a list of state standards instead.

The behavior analyst told James that the bulletin board directly behind his teaching area had to be dedicated to state-required curricular materials that he would require to teach his specific students, according to the district.

“To be clear, due to the nature of this specific population of students, it is critical the instructional materials be within their line of sight during instruction, for the purposes of student focus and retention,” read the district’s statement.

“The Behavior Analyst observed his bulletin board was ‘Awesome,’ because of the history tied to it, but the language and reading levels on the posters were too complex for this particular group of students,” the statement said.

Mr. James said that the district’s account was malarkey.

David Lapp, director of policy research for Research for Action in Philadelphia, recently wrote about the money wasted on Cybercharters in Pennsylvania. Apparently, the industry has a strong hold on the Pennsylvania legislature. There is no other reason that it continues to thrive.

During the worst of the pandemic, schools closed for reasons of safety and caution. Cybercharters boomed to fill the gap. But with physical schools open, the truth must be told about Cybercharters: they are a poor substitute for real schools.

Lapp writes:

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools into remote learning instruction many Pennsylvania policymakers expressed deep concerns. Many lamented the impact on mental health when students stopped receiving in-person learning and the important social skills that develops. Many were upset by the evidence of significant learning loss that accompanied the switch to virtual instruction.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly even enacted a new law allowing students to voluntarily repeat a grade to make up for lost educational opportunities.

This year policymakers should consider bringing that same energy to a similarly harmful and even more wasteful form of remote learning. One that’s been growing for more than two decades and reached a boiling point during the pandemic. I’m talking about the soaring enrollment growth and accompanying financial cost of Pennsylvania’s cyber-charter school expansion.

There’s solid research both nationally and in Pennsylvania that cyber-charter schools have an “overwhelmingly negative” impact on student learning. The learning loss students experience from virtual instruction in cyber-charter schools appears similar to the learning loss students experienced from virtual instruction during the pandemic.

For each year a student is enrolled in cyber-charter school they are also more likely to experience chronic absenteeism and less like to enroll in post-secondary education.

There’s also clear evidence that spending on cyber-charter school expansion comes at the expense of students receiving in-person learning in school districts and brick & mortar charter schools, where more effective instruction is provided. In fact school districts—which pay for cyber-charter tuition from their own school budgets—have indicated that charter tuition is now their top budget pressure.

It’s easy to understand why. Pennsylvania already had the highest cyber-charter school enrollment in the country and then enrollment grew by 22,618 additional students during the pandemic. Districts are now spending over $1 billion dollars a year on cyber-charter tuition, reflecting an increase of $335 million from before the pandemic. These surging expenses impacted the vast majority of school districts in the state.

Cyber-charter tuition likely represents the most inefficient spending in Pennsylvania school finance. For one, the cyber-charter system is redundant. Both before and since the pandemic, most school districts continue to offer their own virtual schools. Secondly, the tuition rates mandated under current PA law require districts to pay cyber-charters more than it actually costs to operate virtual schools. And finally, when students leave for cyber-charter schools, districts must of course still operate their own brick & mortar schools for remaining students, only now with fewer resources….

In Research for Action’s recent report, The Negative Fiscal Impact of Cyber Charter Enrollment Due to COVID-19, we estimated that the tuition increase in just one year of the pandemic, from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, led to between $290 to $308 million of additional stranded costs borne by school districts. Nearly the entire amount of increases in school district total expenditures statewide in 2020-21 were accounted for by increases in school district tuition payments to charter schools, most of which were for cyber-charters specifically.

Meanwhile, this tuition spike has left cyber-charters in Pennsylvania flush with surplus resources. More than half of the additional funding cyber-charters received from districts in 2020-21 was not even used for student expenses. Rather, cyber- charters funneled over $170 million into their general fund balances that, unlike school districts, have no statutory limits.

My friend in Oklahoma’s baby died in utero at 7 months. They forced her to carry until her body expelled it. She ended up with peritonitis, nearly bled to death and can no longer conceive. Expect this in IN too.

Tweeted by @Fifi_Larue

The Lincoln Project draws a historical parallel.

Watch it and worry.

In North Carolina, charter operator Baker Mitchell plans to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal a court decision barring him from requiring girls to wear skirts to school.

The nonpartisan organization “In the Public Interest” reports:

A charter school which lost a case in federal court recently over its mandatory rule that girls wear skirts is going to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Baker Mitchell, the owner of the school, “said the ruling could change the landscape of charter schools. He said in the newsletter he believes it undermines the foundation charter schools were created on, taking away parental right to choose the education their children receive. Mitchell said he believes the ruling is creating a slippery slope, and in the future courts could allow states to govern what is taught in charter schools and how.” But “experts say dress codes can and do discriminate based on sex, and this ruling proves that. Wendy Murphy, an attorney and adjunct professor at New England Law Boston, said even though parents can choose whether to send students to charter schools, that’s not the point of the ruling: regardless, if a school receives federal funding, it cannot discriminate based on sex. ‘The statute itself is very simple,’ Murphy said. ‘You cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, period.’”

In 2014, Baker Mitchell’s for-profit charter chain was investigated by the U.S. Departnent of Education for financial issues. Mitchell, who is not an educator, won a fourth charter. “Mitchell has collected in the neighborhood of $16 million in taxpayer funds over the past five years for managing three other charter schools in southeastern N.C. Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Pruden is locked in a battle with Mitchell, hoping to convince State Board of Ed members to scrutinize his management practices and hold off awarding him more charters to open up schools.”

North Carolina teacher-blogger Stuart Egan called out Baker Mitchell in 2019 after Mitchell wrote a defense of charters in the Wall Street Journal. Egan pointed out that Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academies are highly segregated and do not outperform public schools.

ProPublica wrote a report about Baker Mitchell and his charter school profiteering.

Mitchell is a member of the board of the libertarian John Locke Foundation and sat on the state charter school advisory board.

Best of all the Baker Mitchell is the pledge that students recite daily, as reported by Charlotte Magazine:

“Try to forget for a minute the outrage of wealthy businessman Baker Mitchell using North Carolina’s nascent charter school system to funnel millions of public dollars through four Wilmington-area charter schools he runs to private companies he controls, as detailed in an outstanding piece of reporting by ProPublica this week.

“Set aside the obvious conflict of interest in that arrangement, and Mitchell’s none-of-your-damn-business attitude about it: “It’s so silly. Undue influence, blah blah blah.” (He actually said that.)

“Look past his service with Art Pope on the John Locke Foundation board, and the world of symbolism in this paragraph:

To Mitchell, his schools are simply an example of the triumph of the free market. “People here think it’s unholy if you make a profit” from schools, he said in July, while attending a country-club luncheon to celebrate the legacy of free-market sage Milton Friedman.

“Turn your attention to the pledge that students, faculty, and staff at his schools are required to recite every morning just after the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge contains these lines:

I pledge to be truthful in all my works,

guarding against the stains of falsehood from

the fascination with experts,

the temptation of vanity,

the comfort of popular opinion and custom,

the ease of equivocation and compromise, and

from over-reliance on rational argument …

I pledge to be obedient and loyal to those in authority,

in my family,

in my school, and

in my community and country,

So long as I shall live.

“The stains of falsehood … from over-reliance on rational argument”? What? The philosophical basis for this bizarre statement—which, again, adults and children are required to recite every day—is the example of Roger Bacon, the medieval scholar and Franciscan friar who lends his name to the company that manages Mitchell’s charter schools.

“You can read here about Bacon’s extensive study of the science of alchemy, and here about his view of the relationship between insight and science: “Of all kinds of experience, the best, he thought, was interior illumination, which teaches many things about Nature which the external senses could never discover, such as the transubstantiation of bread.”

“Students are being taught this superstitious garbage, with taxpayer money, which then lines the pocket of the provider. What the hell have we let happen to education in this state?”

Perhaps you thought the voucher fight was over in Arizona in 2018 when voters rejected vouchers by a decisive margin of 65-35%.

But no, the clear and overwhelming decision of the state’s voters did not deter the Christofascists who are determined to destroy public schools by transferring funding away from them to any form of non public schooling, be it religious, private, homeschooling or a business run by a fraudster.

Governor Doug Ducey signed a law creating a universal voucher plan on July 6. The new law will subtract $1 billion from the state’s public schools.

SOS Arizona is once again leading the fight against universal vouchers, led by Governor Ducey and championed by the Republican legislators. The dark money behind the voucher campaign comes from the usual suspects: the Koch machine and the Betsy DeVos combine.

If Save Our Schools Arizona and its supporters can secure 118,823 valid signatures before September 24, the voucher expansion law will be placed on hold until November 2024, when voters get a chance to express their views, as they did in 2018.

The stakes could not be higher – this is a referendum to decide the future of education in Arizona and across the nation.

You can see more about the SOS Arizona signature drive here: teamsosarizona.com.

Beth Lewis, the director of SOS Arizona, wrote to provide the context for the battle over vouchers:

Universal voucher expansion is the KEY issue driving right-wing politics in the US, and hardly anyone is talking about the well-moneyed, dangerous forces driving it. The AZ legislature’s myopic focus on pushing private school voucher expansion over any other piece of legislation for the past 6 years is enough to tell us that — not to mention the massive focus FOX News has placed on vouchers since the bill’s passage here in Arizona. Recently, Christopher Rufo admitted he created the CRT furor in order to advance universal vouchers.

We desperately need folks to plug in – people all over the state can get petitions at our hubs: teamsosarizona.com or sign up to volunteer: bit.ly/SVEvolunteer.

As you know, we are truly the tip of the spear when it comes to privatization. Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children is mobilizing (somewhat ineffectively) against our efforts, and the battle lines are drawn. It is evident that universal voucher expansion will become a pattern across the US, as Republican Governors are all declaring that every red state should adopt this policy. We have seen the dangers of private school vouchers first-hand here in Arizona, and our public school system has been starved in order to give credence to those who wish to privatize our public education system.

Charlie Kirk is partnering with an incredibly rightwing Evangelical church (Dream City Church) to open Turning Point Academies across Arizona. Here is the June article from Newsweek describing their plans to proliferate campuses across AZ and then the nation. It is no coincidence this plan was announced the same month the AZ state legislature passed universal vouchers.

Kirk recently spoke at Freedom Night hosted by Dream City Church, and this expose in the AZ Republic shows the hateful ideology against LGBTQ and trans youth Kirk and the Church spread. It’s terrifying – and infuriating to think this is where our taxpayer dollars are headed.

It is abundantly clear that special interests who favor extremist Christian Nationalism are driving the bus on these issues – and it makes sense. Private school vouchers are the perfect solution for building a long-term, endlessly replenishing base of voters who also favor Christian Nationalism.

We only have 42 more days to collect the signatures to put this bill on the 2024 ballot. We expect massive legal battles, as dark money will pour in and the usual suspects will challenge every signature. We are confident we will push back successfully and get the measure on the ballot – we must, as goes Arizona, so goes the nation.

You can help these fearless, intrepid volunteers by sending a contribution to: sosarizona.org/donate.

George Conway doesn’t like Donald Trump. Conway is a lawyer and a conservative. He is married to Kellyanne Conway. I think it’s fair to say that George hates Trump. I would love to be a fly on the wall at their dinner table.

George regularly mocks Trump on Twitter. He attacks him in opinion pieces in the Washington Post. He slams him on TV news shows.

He was interviewed yesterday on “Morning Joe.”

Raw Story reported:

“I think the walls are closing in on him,” Conway said. “There are so many different investigations. There’s also civil suits that are chasing him down. I think, bit by bit, we’re finally going to see the processes apply to him. He had his deposition taken yesterday by the New York attorney general. There are some civil depositions coming up, and he is being forced, essentially, to put up or shut up in these investigations. Yesterday, he, you know, took the Fifth 440 times, which is basically the most respect I think he’s ever shown for the Constitution of the United States.”

“But the Georgia case, I think, is particularly one to keep looking out for,” Conway continued. “It’s the one that sort of seems to be moving ahead the most quickly, but I think this documents investigation is one that we haven’t heard the last of. I mean, [Washington Postcolumnist] David [Ignatius] is absolutely right about the innate cautious and by-the-book nature of Merrick Garland. I think that he is handling this absolutely perfectly. I don’t think the Justice Department should be saying anything more than it already has said, which is basically nothing about this, because that’s what the rule of law requires. That is what grand jury secrecy requires.”

“The whole point of this exercise is that nobody is above the law,” he added. “The law applies equally to you and I, to the rich and the poor, to ex-presidents and just regular citizens. One of those protection people have is grand jury secrecy and the presumption of innocence. The reason why the Justice Department does not say anything about ongoing investigations, except in unusual circumstances or when indictments are there, is to protect the reputations of those that are the subject of investigation. If he really thinks that there is a witch hunt going on with these documents that were at Mar-A-Lago, he should tell us exactly what happened. Show us the search warrant. What was the government looking for? What did they take? He has a list of what they took, or should have a list, and that would tell us a great deal. But he doesn’t want to say anything because he knows it’s not going to be helpful to him, I’m sure. Just as actually answering questions from Letitia James yesterday wasn’t going to be helpful to him.”

Do you remember that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh liked beer? During his Supreme Court hearings, he was accused of sexual assault when he was in high school. The FBI had a tip line for complaints about Kavanaugh. We now know that the tips were forwarded to the White House, which decided which ones to investigate. Vanity Fair said “We now know that the FBI Investigation of Kavanaugh was a total sham.”

Supreme Court confirmation hearings aren’t usually burned into people’s minds, but there were a number of things that went down during Brett Kavanaugh‘s that will be difficult to ever forget. For one thing, the fact that he referenced his love of beer approximately 30 times, telling the lawmakers interviewing him for the job: “We drank beer. My friends and I. Boys and girls. Yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. Still like beer. We drank beer.” For another thing, the fact that his answer to the question “Was there ever a time when you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened or part of what happened the night before?” wasn’t a simple “No” or “Not since college,” but “Have you?” Then, of course, there was the weeping over calendars.

Still, the thing that probably struck people as the most memorable, because it was the most disturbing, was the fact that much of the proceedings centered around the credible accusations of sexual misconduct that had been lodged against the would-be justice, most notably by Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted and tried to rape her when they were in high school. (Kavanaugh has denied this and all other allegations against him.)

Given these allegations—in addition to Kavanaugh’s temperament, which, to put it in terms he can understand, could be best described as “a hothead who just did a 10 Jägerbombs”—it struck many as outrageous for him to be given a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. That sense of outrage only deepened last year, when we learned that the FBI had received 4,500—4,500!—tips about Kavanaugh, which were referred to the White House, i.e. the organization trying to get the guy confirmed to the Court. And now, the FBI has confirmed that, yeah, it didn’t really feel the need to look into any of those tips, and when it did follow up on some, the White House was making sure it didn’t dig too far.

Baker Mitchell is not an educator but has created a charter school empire soon after the Tea Party took control of North Carolina. In 2014, the U,S. Department of Education conducted an investigation of Mitchell’s financial practices at his for-profit schools. NC Policy Watch reported that he collected $16 million in only three years from his chain.

Carol Burris has followed closely the development and passage of regulations written by the U.S. Department of Education for federally-funded charter schools. The regulations, she believes, are reasonable and intended to assure that charters funded by the federal government are held to standards of transparency, honesty, and accountability.

She was taken aback to learn that rightwing groups have filed suit to block the regulations. Apparently, those filing the suit think that charters should get federal money without any oversight.

She writes about it here.

Those who want a wild west of unregulated charter schools never give up. A right-wing legal defense firm called the Pacific Legal Foundation has teamed up with the Michigan charter lobby and The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation to stop the reasonable rules of the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the Department has no right to make rules regarding the program.

Here are other lawsuits in which Pacific Legal is engaging:

· Fighting minimum wages for those who wish to move up the ladder at Texas Wally Burgers and Dairy Queens.

· Fighting opportunities for businesses of color to get some competitive advantage in obtaining government contracts after years of discrimination.

· Fighting attempts by three competitive Boston schools to expand enrollment opportunities for under-represented students of color by allotting spots by zip code.

The two plaintiffs, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, have vested financial interests in charter growth. Fordham is an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio, taking 3% of all the taxpayer dollars that the charters receive for providing “oversight.”

The argument, in its essence, is that the Department does not have the right to set up new conditions beyond what is memorialized in ESSA. If that is so, then when De Vos permitted state entities to distribute money to charter schools from their CSP grants for purposes beyond the opening and expansion of charters during the pandemic, she would have been in violation, too. Here is New York’s redistribution request that was granted. CSP funds were used for a “pandemic response,” as Betsy De Vos approved, without Congress’s permission. If the charter lobby wins this frivolous lawsuit designed to bully the Department into kowtowing to charters, perhaps taxpayers should sue to claw all of the money De Vos distributed back from charter schools.

Finally, I wonder why organizations that claim they fight for charter schools to help low-income kids succeed would run to a law firm that fights minimum wages, reduces disadvantaged kids’ chances of getting into a competitive high school, and roll back opportunities for minority-owned businesses. Perhaps their agenda has nothing to do with children at all.

Leonie Haimson provides an update on the battle over the city’s education budget. Parents and teachers are fighting budget cuts by Mayor Eric Adams.

She writes:

Dear folks–

Sorry to say that late in the day yesterday, the Appellate Court granted the City a stay on Judge Frank’s decision that the Education budget was illegally adopted, which means that the school budget cuts can legally remain in place until the court hears the City’s appeal on August 29.

What’s particularly infuriating is that the City could have asked for a speedy decision from the Appellate court to settle this matter, but instead asked that the hearing not occur until the end of the month, which merely prolongs the uncertainty and the chaos that the City complained about in its brief. The statement from the Attorney for the plaintiffs about this latest decision is on the website here.

We have also prepared an updated FAQ about the court decisions. We are now asking the Council to push the Mayor to agree to a budget modification to restore the cuts as soon as possible, and not wait for any decision from the Court so that parents, teachers and kids can be assured of a safe, healthy and positive learning climate when they return to school in September.

Tomorrow, Thursday August 11, at 1 PM, parents, advocates and teachers will gather on the steps of City Hall to urge the City Council Members to demand the Mayor propose a budget modification, as they make their way into a Council stated meeting. They will then hold a press conference at 2 PM to convey this message . Please join them if you can! We must all do what we can to stop these horrific cuts to schools.

More soon, Leonie

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
phone: 917-435-9329
leonie@classsizematters.org
www.classsizematters.org
Follow on twitter @leoniehaimson
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Host of “Talk out of School” WBAI radio show and podcast at https://talk-out-of-school.simplecast.com/