Archives for category: Arizona

Nancy Bailey writes here about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ contempt for the time-honored tradition of separation of church and state. She has made clear her strong preference for religious schools and her low opinion of public schools. We have never in our history had a Secretary of Education (or before the Education Department was created in 1980, a Commissioner of Education) who was so flagrantly hostile to public schools. Reagan’s second Secretary of Education Bill Bennett was a cheerleader for “choice,” but in the early 1980s, he didn’t have the wind behind his back nor did he have Betsy’s billions to advance the cause.

The United States is a very diverse nation, where people are associated with scores of different religions or none at all. The Founders wrote the First Amendment to prohibit the establishment of any official religion and to protect the free exercise of religion. They knew the dangers of state-sponsored religion. In our time, rightwing libertarians and anti-government ideologues are using their political clout to support government funding for religious schools.

It’s worth noting that every state referendum on vouchers for religious schools has gone down to a decisive defeat, most recently in Arizona, where 65% said no to vouchers.

DeVos has taken advantage of the pandemic to divert billions of dollars to private and religious schools, usually at the expense of public schools, which enroll the students with the greatest needs.

One good reason to vote for Joe Biden is to send DeVos home to Michigan.

He can’t possibly appoint anyone worse than DeVos.

The state auditor in Arizona made a weird decision. She decided that the charter schools that applied for and received $100 million in federal funds from the Paycheck Protection Program didn’t really take federal funds at all.

What?

Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic writes:

Arizona charter schools that received up to $100 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans can keep the money and not have any of their state funding cut, the Arizona Auditor General’s Office has determined.

At issue is a rarely enforced state charter school law that prohibits taxpayers from paying “twice to educate the same pupils.”

The law requires a school that has been twice compensated to have their base-level funding reduced by an equal amount if additional federal or state monies received by the school were “intended for the basic maintenance and operations of the school.”

But Auditor General Lindsey Perry concluded the state law “does not apply to loan proceeds charter schools” obtained through the federal PPP program.

Her office ruled the loans — despite being 100% forgivable with minimal justification to show that the money was needed — were not “monies received from a federal or state agency” as described in state law.

Eli Saslow of the Washington Post interviewed Arizona Superintendent Jeff Gregorich about the prospect of opening schools in his district with the coronavirus still active in the region. The article causes me to wonder why decisions about when to open schools are made by politicians, not scientists, medical experts, and educators.

Gregorich was candid, blunt, worried.

This is my choice, but I’m starting to wish that it wasn’t. I don’t feel qualified. I’ve been a superintendent for 20 years, so I guess I should be used to making decisions, but I keep getting lost in my head. I’ll be in my office looking at a blank computer screen, and then all of the sudden I realize a whole hour’s gone by. I’m worried. I’m worried about everything. Each possibility I come up with is a bad one.

The governor has told us we have to open our schools to students on August 17th, or else we miss out on five percent of our funding. I run a high-needs district in middle-of-nowhere Arizona. We’re 90 percent Hispanic and more than 90 percent free-and-reduced lunch. These kids need every dollar we can get. But covid is spreading all over this area and hitting my staff, and now it feels like there’s a gun to my head. I already lost one teacher to this virus. Do I risk opening back up even if it’s going to cost us more lives? Or do we run school remotely and end up depriving these kids?

This is your classic one-horse town. Picture John Wayne riding through cactuses and all that. I’m superintendent, high school principal and sometimes the basketball referee during recess. This is a skeleton staff, and we pay an average salary of about 40,000 a year. I’ve got nothing to cut. We’re buying new programs for virtual learning and trying to get hotspots and iPads for all our kids. Five percent of our budget is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Where’s that going to come from? I might lose teaching positions or basic curriculum unless we somehow get up and running.

I’ve been in the building every day, sanitizing doors and measuring out space in classrooms. We still haven’t received our order of Plexiglas barriers, so we’re cutting up shower curtains and trying to make do with that. It’s one obstacle after the next. Just last week I found out we had another staff member who tested positive, so I went through the guidance from OSHA and the CDC and tried to figure out the protocols. I’m not an expert at any of this, but I did my best with the contact tracing. I called 10 people on staff and told them they’d had a possible exposure. I arranged separate cars and got us all to the testing site. Some of my staff members were crying. They’ve seen what can happen, and they’re coming to me with questions I can’t always answer. “Does my whole family need to get tested?” “How long do I have to quarantine?” “What if this virus hits me like it did Mrs. Byrd?”

We got back two of those tests already — both positive. We’re still waiting on eight more. That makes 11 percent of my staff that’s gotten covid, and we haven’t had a single student in our buildings since March. Part of our facility is closed down for decontamination, but we don’t have anyone left to decontaminate it unless I want to put on my hazmat suit and go in there. We’ve seen the impacts of this virus on our maintenance department, on transportation, on food service, on faculty. It’s like this district is shutting down case by case. I don’t understand how anyone could expect us to reopen the building this month in a way that feels safe. It’s like they’re telling us: “Okay. Summer’s over. It’s been long enough. Time to get back to normal.” But since when has this virus operated on our schedule?

I dream about going back to normal. I’d love to be open. These kids are hurting right now. I don’t need a politician to tell me that. We only have 300 students in this district, and they’re like family. My wife is a teacher here, and we had four kids go through these schools. I know whose parents are laid off from the copper mine and who doesn’t have enough to eat. We delivered breakfast and lunches this summer, and we gave out more meals each day than we have students. I get phone calls from families dealing with poverty issues, depression, loneliness, boredom. Some of these kids are out in the wilderness right now, and school is the best place for them. We all agree on that. But every time I start to play out what that looks like on August 17th, I get sick to my stomach. More than a quarter of our students live with grandparents. These kids could very easily catch this virus, spread it and bring it back home. It’s not safe. There’s no way it can be safe.

If you think anything else, I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy. Kids will get sick, or worse. Family members will die. Teachers will die.

Laurie Roberts is a columnist for the Arizona Republic who has written frequently about frauds in the charter and voucher sectors. When I was writing Slaying Goliath, I found her reporting and her sharp to be invaluable. She read Carol Burris’s article about the Network for Public Education study of charters that double dipped in two different pots of federal funding, and she thought that their greed was ridiculous.

As Congress considers the next economic stimulus package, it’s worth mentioning that America’s charter schools snagged at least $925 million in emergency funding from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to an analysis by Network for Public Education.

In Arizona, 100 charter school operations bagged anywhere from $40 million to nearly $100 million in emergency funding, the analysis of U.S. Small Business Administration records shows.

That’s a lot of stimulation, economically speaking. Especially when you consider that the losses at publicly funded charter schools are largely a figment of the federal government’s imagination.

Unlike small businesses that saw their operations fall off a cliff when COVID-19 hit, Arizona taxpayers fund Arizona’s charter schools.

Charters already getting state, federal aid

Not only have charter operators received their regular per-student allotments of state money, they are eligible for a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act funding that is being pumped into public schools to cover added costs due to COVID-19 and budget shortfalls.

So, what losses?

The Arizona Charter Schools Association sent me a statement saying charter schools were concerned this spring that the coronavirus would lead to state budget cuts, requiring them to lay off teachers.

“Charter schools have not only faced questions about the uncertainty of the state budget, but also seen steep declines in charitable fundraising and programs such as before-and after-care – which are important revenue sources for our schools and students,” the statement said. “These federal funds have provided financial assistance to eligible recipients, as Congress intended.”

No word on how many of those schools returned the money when those state budget cuts didn’t happen.

Roberts notes that more than 400 charter schools had the decency not to apply for money they didn’t need.

But:

Among the 100 charters that went for the windfall was – surprise! – American Virtual Academy. The management company, which runs Primavera Online School, snagged somewhere between $2 million and $5 million in PPP money.

This is the same company whose CEO, Damian Creamer, managed to pay himself a combined $10.1 million in 2017 and 2018 out of taxpayer money set aside to educate students. Never mind that fewer than a third of his students couldn’t read or do math at grade level or that nearly half were dropping out.

Creamer’s education technology company, StrongMind, also scored a $2 million to $5 million forgivable loan from the PPP program, according to The Arizona Republic’s Lily Altavena. Meanwhile, Verano Learning Partners, which was founded by Creamer and lists the same address as American Virtual and StrongMind, snagged a PPP payout of $150,000 to $350,000.

Curtis Cardine of the Grand Canyon Institute created this updated list of the charter schools, private schools, and religious schools in Arizona that received federal grants from the Paycheck Protection Program, which was supposed to help small businesses survive the pandemic. It is a very long list. Public schools were not eligible to apply for these funds. Charter schools collected millions from funds allotted only to public schools, then collected more millions from PPP as small businesses.

You can see the dataset here.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey—a zealot for charters and vouchers whose election was funded by Charles Koch and Betsy DeVos—has ordered the state’s public schools to reopen on August 17 as the disease rages out of control in his state. School leaders are not so sure this is a good idea.

Common sense suggests it is a very bad idea.

The Arizona Republic reports:

The school year hasn’t begun, but an Arizona teacher has already died from COVID-19, according to a school superintendent.

As President Donald Trump’s administration pushes for schools to reopen on time, a small community in eastern Arizona is reeling from the death of a teacher who contracted COVID-19 after she taught summer school virtually while in the same room as two other teachers.

The school district’s superintendent, Jeff Gregorich, said three teachers went above and beyond in taking precautions against the spread of the virus while teaching in the same room, but all three contracted COVID-19.

Kim Byrd, who started teaching the Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District in 1982, died.

Gregorich does not believe Arizona schools are ready to open and said Trump does not understand the magnitude of recent remarks insisting on reopening schools.

“The learning can be made up, but the lives will never be brought back,” he said.

On Wednesday, Arizona school and public health leaders were still processing a flurry of comments made by Trump, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Vice President Mike Pence leaning on state leaders to reopen schools.

The administration’s push comes as a record 2,008 suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients visited Arizona emergency rooms on Tuesday, according to data released by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The data showed the state reached a new high for hospitalizations related to the coronavirus that same day.

Many Arizona schools are preparing to open for in-person classes by Aug. 17, a target date set by Gov. Doug Ducey. Five weeks away, it’s unclear if Arizona is ready for that step.

Maricopa County’s leading health official on Wednesday said that data currently shows the county’s schools should not open.

“With community-wide transmission at such high levels in Maricopa County right now, it would not be a good idea to put school back in session,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of disease control for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Kathy Hoffman, Arizona’s schools superintendent, has pushed back against the Trump effort to reopen schools. In an interview with The Arizona Republic on Wednesday, she called the messaging from the White House “confusing.”

“It’s out of touch with the reality here in Arizona with the severity and magnitude of COVID-19 cases,” she said.

Tulsa experienced a surge in new infections, and Tulsa health officials say that the Trump rally on June 20 was a likely cause.

Keep watch on the numbers in Arizona and South Dakota, where Trump held rallies, also Trump’s next stop, New Hampshire.

He is a Super Spreader. He is a one-man catastrophe.

In six weeks, the Republican National Convention will be held in Jacksonville, Florida. No social distancing. No requirement to wear masks. Lots of cheering and droplets in the air. Then delegates will fan out across the country, some bringing the disease home.

This is no way to fight a pandemic.

Barbara Veltri is a teacher educator at Northern Arizona University. She has mentored TFA corps members, and she wrote a book about TFA.

In this essay, she notes that Doug Ducey, Republican Governor of Arizona and a favorite of Charles Joch, is an avid supporter of Trump, school choice, and TFA.

She writes:

Tara Kini, wrote, “We’re hearing a lot of conflicting scenarios and projections related to the teacher workforce come fall. On the one hand, there is a fear of massive layoffs precipitated by the Cov-19 recession and state budget cuts. On the other, there are projections of staffing shortages and state budget cuts. (June 25, 2020).

We have been here before.

In 2012, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that in fiscal year 2013, 35 states were spending less than they did during the recession. Since 2009, more than 200,000 teacher jobs vanished and in spite of teacher movements, states were still not back to pre-recession spending levels of a decade ago, which prompted national Teachers’ Movements and voter initiative to support K-12 teachers.

According to NEA job survey data from my state, Arizona teachers’ starting salaries at $30,404 in 2010 ranked 35th in the nation. Then, even veteran teachers in hard-to-staff assignments, such as special education faced reduced-in-force measures, while novice teachers without focused special needs training, were hired. Then, Arizona paid finder’s fees for Teach For America Teachers of more than 1.5 million dollars (noted on IRS Form 990 over the years 2010-2013).

And now, amid the rising temperatures and Cov-19 numbers, Governor Doug Ducey, who served on Teach For America’s Regional Board of Directors, announced in the Arizona Education Grant on Wednesday, “$500,000 for Teach For America to provide tutoring to students needing extra help.”

This when Wallet Hub (2019) ranked Arizona’s pupil-to-teacher ratio, the worst in the nation.

This when Arizona educators earn less than peers in 48 other states, yet pivoted immediately to prepare, present, and teach to support their students.

The Governor’s Education Grant also includes $700,000 for leadership and $1million for micro grants, that leave open too many questions as to just who will benefit from these funds.

Policies minimized educators in a state that has prioritized and legislated millions of dollars in funding directed towards Teach For America, over the last two decades, with friends in high places. In 2016, Wendy Kopp the founder of TFA was the commencement speaker at Arizona State University.

The Dean of The College of Education serves as a TFA Regional Board Member member. Ms. Kopp addressed the Arizona Legislature and Arizona Chamber of Commerce who overwhelmingly support her initiatives and corps member teachers.

The education non-profit reported:
$1,329,197 on lobbying (TFA IRS 990, 2019) ‘for direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials or a legislative body,” (Schedule C, IRS Form 990, 2017, pg. 3);
$45, 222, 433 in government grants (IRS 990, 2016, Part VII, p. 9);
$11, 255, 064 in Publicly Traded Securities/Non-Cash Contributions (IRS 990, 2017, line 9 p. 94) and $9,259 in crypto currency (Average sale price, line, 28).

The non-profit reports, “Program Service Revenue,” in the amount of $23, 415, 992 (Form 990, 2017, line 2A):

“Teach for America has contractual agreements with various school districts across the United States of America to recruit, select, train, and place corps members to teach within their school districts. Teach for America recognizes revenue related to these contractual agreement as earned, that is when the corps member is placed.”

These ‘program service fees’ are ‘finders’ fees’ that schools and districts pay to TFA (up front and in full), even if novice corps members leave their placement any time prior to their two-year commitment. And, Districts pay each TFA corps member’s salary and benefits.

Annie E. posed the question eight years ago, in a May 8, 2012 blog post, “So, is TFA’s mission still about education? If it is, then why take money from huge foundations and corporations whose missions are clearly not about education?”

But there’s more to this….

In a recent interview with CNBC, Merck CEO, Kenneth Frazier shared how he had the opportunity, as a black youth in Philadelphia’s inner city, to “change his life trajectory.”
He boarded a bus and rode 30 miles to the suburbs where he received a rigorous opportunity to learn from lifelong teachers and interact with peers who lived in middle-class and affluent professional neighborhoods.

A lightbulb went on for me at that moment.

As someone who researched, met, mentored and learned from TFA teachers and their students, I recognized that instead of the opportunity for schooling to change his life’s trajectory, corporations, lobbyists, universities, media, philanthropists and policymakers (who I term The CLUMPP Network) opted instead to jointly support, through financing, marketing, in-kind donations (i.e. office space), in-state tuition, and even taxpayer funded AmeriCorps stipends, a Caucasian, female’s undergraduate sociologist thesis in 1989 that she reworked with diligence, focus, and good intent.

The education initiatives that supported black and brown children moving out of high-poverty community schools, as Mr. Frazier experienced, instead brought in, recent college grads who knew nothing about education, weren’t trained, might’ve been idealistic, didn’t stay, uprooted veterans’ local knowledge of the community, but kept poor children of color, exactly where corporations and policymakers wanted them – in schools that were underfunded, with scripted teaching, constant assessments, police presence in schools, no frills curriculum, limited resources for arts, music, sports and, not removed from the realities of systemic poverty.

I chronicled my ethnographer’s notes from their teaching field, over consecutive years.
Then, in the middle of all of financial and environmental crisis when teachers lost jobs, not only was TFA hired, but Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and others (as noted on TFA tax returns) paid millions of dollars each in finder’s fees to bring TFA novices in (and out) over multiple years – while the kids, and their communities were effected by innovation.

It didn’t matter which tag line: One Day All Children, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, or Every Child Succeeds – the trajectory for poor kids, no matter how many competitions or standardized tests, didn’t match the learning that Kenneth Frazier experienced.

And the reason is this – unlike the educational policies of the 60s that transported a young Kenneth Frazier, from his Philly inner city neighborhood to the suburbs, where he notes that he received a quality education that “paved the way for my admittance to Penn State University (undergraduate degree) and then Harvard law school,” three decades of young people who just happened to be born poor, black or brown, were/are recipients of another social experiment that not only made segregation popular, but profitable – charter schools.

Policies kept poor children of color localized in their communities as suburban communities, fell back on residency requirements and real estate pricing to maintain an us vs. them mindset.

In Stamford, Connecticut my kids were transported, by bus, to a public elementary magnet school, surrounded by “the projects.” The arts and critical thinking curriculum and admissions policy: 50% majority/50% minority; 50% male/ 50% female (with siblings automatically accepted) was supported by community buy-in and integrated schools. The by-product – from a young age, kids learn from and befriend kids from different religions, ethnicities, social class, and race.

So what happened?

From 1990-2020 we saw a systemic attempt to control who gets to be schooled where and by whom. And with limited opportunity for kids to interact, learn, befriend and grow up with children other than themselves, in public schools, the system promotes and finances policies that separate us and keep kids living and learning, within limited societal structures and neighborhoods by bringing in young outsiders and paying for that service.

Over the last two decades, policies embraced by both sides of the political spectrum, advanced homeschooling, tax credits for religious schools, charter schools, encouraged a police presence within low-income schools and limited financial opportunities for programs that benefitted my kids, and Merck CEO Frazier.

The result: The alignment of the “CLUMPP” network of which, TFA was/remains the cog in the wheel that moves and advances an agenda that is predetermined and particularized to keep poor children of color from leaving where they were born, to be schooled in the suburbs.

To taxpayers, teachers and parents across the other 40 U.S. states whose Governors are appropriating pandemic education support dollars…. Examine the funding and think Teachers, not TFA.

Trump spoke in Phoenix yesterday to some 3,000 Students for Trump in a megachurch. Most of the students, packed in close quarters, were maskless, like Trump.

The Arizona Republic noted that most recent polls have shown Biden leading Trump.

Trump arrived as hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus were spiking.

Some local physicians were unhappy about the rally:

Two Arizona doctors told The Republic they were concerned about the large, indoor event and what it could mean for the disease here.

“We’re already seeing a tremendous surge in infections here in Arizona. This is not the time to be taking chances on spreading the disease further,” Dr. Christine Severance, a family physician in Phoenix, said.

Dr. Sheetal Chhaya, a rheumatologist in Phoenix, said she appreciates rallies as part of the democratic process, but said an event at this time in Phoenix is not the most “socially responsible.”

“We are, with one event, virtually knocking out, almost nullifying, some of the efforts that we’ve made as a group of physicians, but also as a community, to be able to help mitigate this virus,” Chhaya said.

Anyone expecting Trump to express sadness about the 120,000 Americans who have died of the virus were disappointed. Trump is not one to express regret or empathy, nor did he refer to the CDC guidelines.

This is what he said about the pandemic:

The president didn’t dwell on the coronavirus or offer condolences or messages about precautionary steps the public can take. Instead, he often referred to it as the “plague” and insisted it would be gone soon.

Trump took shots at the media for what he views as overblowing the pandemic and detailed how he believed his administration had taken all the right steps to mitigate the spread of the disease, test people at high numbers and make sure equipment like ventilators were available.

Trump blamed the increase in cases on more testing, though health officials in Arizona have said the growing number of hospitalizations and cases are due to more than just an increase in testing.

“When you have all those tests, you have more cases,” the president said.

He added: “Then they’ll say, ‘We have more cases.’ We want to do testing. We want to do everything. But they use it to make us look bad.”

Trump also called the coronavirus the “Kung Flu,” embracing for at least a second time a racist phrase that has proven an applause line at his speeches, but which has prompted condemnation from Asian American members of Congress.

Trump continues to spread the dangerous message that wearing a mask is a culture war issue. Real men and strong women don’t wear masks, he suggests by his own reckless behavior. No wonder that the EU is considering banning travelers from the U.S.

The parents and educators who created SOS Arizona blocked the last expansion plan for vouchers by getting a referendum on the state ballot in 2018. They had to fight the governor, the legislature, the Republican party, the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, and other monied interests, who wanted to keep expanding vouchers until every student in the state was eligible for a voucher.

The all-volunteer SOS Arizona group gathered over 100,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot, fought the efforts of the Koch brothers to kick them off the ballot, and the referendum went to the public, where voucher expansion was overwhelmingly defeated by a margin of 65-35%.

Now SOS Arizona needs your help to put another referendum on the state ballot, to end voucher expansion. Volunteers must collect 350,000 signatures to initiate this referendum. They need YOUR help!

Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), the grassroots group responsible for stopping universal voucher expansion in Arizona in 2018, has gone on offense. In spite of their overwhelming 2-to-1 defeat of Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) voucher expansion, the Arizona state legislature attempted to pass 6 different voucher bills in 2019–all killed by SOSAZ and in 2020 is working to allow ESA vouchers to expand vouchers across state lines. Save Our Schools, once again, said “Enough!”

On February 26, 2020, Save Our Schools Arizona filed a statewide citizens’ initiative (read it here). A critical next step in fighting the privatization movement, capping the program once and for all. The Save Our Schools Act:

Limits private school vouchers to 1% of the AZ student population, allowing current students to stay in the program while blocking ALL new voucher programs in AZ FOREVER

Prevents taxpayer dollars from going to out-of-state private schools

Prevents taxpayer dollars from being deposited into personal accounts to pay for college expenses (a recent public records request by the Arizona Republic uncovered $33 million sitting in unspent recipient accounts including 9 families with a balance of more than $100,000 and dozens of others with more than $50,000.

Prioritizes existing ESA vouchers for special needs students, for whom the program was originally designed

Creates a “Taxpayer Protection Fund” to sweep remaining ESA voucher funds at the end of the fiscal year to enforce the law and increase accountability; remaining funds will transfer to the Exceptional Special Needs public school fund

To successfully place the Save Our Schools Act on the November 2020 ballot, SOSAZ has launched a statewide effort to gather 350,000 signatures by July 2. Please help by donating to this critical cause at https://secure.everyaction.com/gTzwyTPPjU2EeS_rLATvZA2