Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

The far-right Goldwater Institute has filed a lawsuit claiming that the state has no right to regulate how parents spend their voucher money, the money that is paid by taxpayers. Goldwater says that if the parents misspent the money, it should be refunded to parents so they can try again. The Goldwater Institute, along with the DeVos family and Charles Koch, have sponsored efforts to expand the voucher program to cover all students in the state. They began with the “camel’s nose” under the tent, offering vouchers for students with disabilities (who abandon their federally-protected rights when they go to private schools); then added students in foster care; then added students in “failing” public schools; then students on reservations; then students from military families. They won’t be satisfied until every student in the state gets a voucher to leave public schools for a private school.

The Arizona Republic reports:

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, has filed suit against the state Department of Education contending it doesn’t have the authority to enforce rules governing Arizona’s school voucher program.

The suit — which was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court and names the state attorney general as a defendant — alleges the Department of Education didn’t follow the state’s rule-making process when it created the ESA handbook, a set of rules that outlines the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. The ESA program grants parents money to send their children to private school.

The suit also contends the Department of Education does not have the authority to require that parents who have misspent ESA money reimburse the state for those funds. It is demanding the Department of Education instead put that misspent money back into parents’ accounts. 

Finally, the lawsuit claims the department has no right to make funding conditional on parents filing expense reports to document how they spent the taxpayer money. It calls the quarterly reports “cumbersome and time-consuming” and says as a result payments to participants are often late, breaching their contract and causing them to miss payments to private schools.

Under the ESA program, parents receive 90% of the state funding that would otherwise go to their local public school districts. Children in six categories, such as those with special needs, in foster care, from failing schools and others, are allowed to enroll in the program. 

The voucher money, loaded on debit cards, is intended to cover specific education expenses such as private- or religious-school tuition, home-school expenses and education-related therapies.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, which has opposed expansion of the ESA program, said the suit is really about stripping power from Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic superintendent of public instruction elected in 2018.

“They (Goldwater) don’t want her having any say over it,” Penich-Thacker said. 

Parents have complained about the expense reports for years but Goldwater only now filed suit, Penich-Thacker said. 

Last year, two bills in the Arizona Legislature would have stripped oversight of the ESA program from Hoffman and given it to the Treasurer’s Office, which is overseen by Republican Kimberly Yee.

“Suddenly, this is when the school choice community is up in arms,” Penich-Thacker said. “Parents are saying this is happening since day one, but it took the election of 2018 for anything to actually become a problem.” 

The Goldwater Institute has been involved in shaping the ESA program since before the voucher program became law in 2011. 

The think tank was instrumental in writing the legislation that created the program. It was also deeply involved in the numerous expansions of the law, which were often copied from model legislation written by special interests.

It was a big backer of the universal voucher expansion that would have allowed all 1.1 million Arizona public school students to use public money to go to private school. The number of students receiving the funds would have been capped at 30,000. Voters overturned the voucher law in November 2018 by a vote of 65% to 35%.

Goldwater also has wielded an “iron-like grip level of influence” behind the scenes with the Department of Education, attempting to dictate how the program should be implemented and acting as if it retained ownership of the program.

During the Obama administration, Congress passed legislation to protect students who had been defrauded by for-profit colleges. In most cases, the “colleges” made claims about their success in placing their graduates in jobs. As a result of these misleading claims, thousands of students paid for a worthless degree. The Education Department attempted to help them get restitution. The Education Department was on the side of the victims of predatory colleges.

But times change, and now Betsy DeVos is in charge. In the past, she has invested in for-profit colleges. She has no sympathy for students who were defrauded. She thinks they are trying to get free money, and she has dragged her heels. Clearly she sides with for-profit colleges, not students.

A lawsuit was brought against the Department of Education for sending debt collectors to hound students who had been defrauded. The judge in the case, Judge Sallie Kim, fined the U.S. Department of Education $100,000 after ED admitted that it attempted to collect on debts owed by 16,000 students. For some unknown reason, the $100,000 was supposed to help those students, but each one would receive just a few dollars, maybe enough for a cup of coffee.

After the fine was imposed and DeVos was held in contempt of court, the Department announced that it had sent debt collectors to yet another 29,000 students (well, now that $100,000 fine amounts to about $2 for each defrauded student).

Despite the fine and the court order, the Department admitted that it continued to pursue students at late as last month.

Now Judge Kim must decide how to deal with the contemptuous, possibly criminal activities of the Department of Education. 

A federal judge is weighing higher fines for the Education Department after the federal agency disclosed that it pursued scores of additional borrowers for debt collection — violating a court order.

Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco agreed this week to consider a request by former Corinthian Colleges students to increase the $100,000 fine she levied against the department in October. The judge imposed those sanctions and held Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in contempt for pursuing loans owed by 16,000 students from the defunct for-profit chain despite a May 2018 order halting collections.

In December, the Education Department revealed in a court filing that it identified another 29,000 people who were pursued for loan payments. The agency also informed attorneys for the students that it never fully ceased collections and went after at least 21 people for payments as recently as last month…

Attorneys for the Corinthian students have argued that the department’s continued violation of the order warrants harsher penalties. Hundreds of people lost wages or tax refunds because of the collection practice, while thousands of others were hit with negative marks on their credit reports. Some people who lost wages told attorneys that their utilities were cut off or they faced eviction.

The Education Department has collected more than $20 million from Corinthian students represented in the class-action case. It has yet to refund all of the money.

Money from the $100,000 fine was meant to provide redress for 16,000 borrowers, but because 45,000 people were affected, attorneys say far more compensation is needed….

The ongoing dispute stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2018 by the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University and the Housing and Economic Rights Advocates on behalf of Corinthian students. The groups alleged DeVos had illegally limited loan forgiveness due to students under a statute known as borrower defense to repayment.

Kim agreed the Trump administration violated privacy laws by using Social Security Administration data to calculate loan forgiveness. She banned the Education Department from using the earnings data to grant partial student debt relief to Corinthian students and halted collection on their loans.

DeVos has cited the ruling as the reason the department sat on nearly 300,000 borrower defense claims for more than a year. The department began clearing the backlog in December after updating its methodology with a sliding scale based on a borrower’s wages to determine loan forgiveness.

In other words, DeVos took the position that if the student was defrauded but was earning money, the student could not recover the money spent on a worthless degree.

The judge has the power to increase the fine the Department must pay, which means that we the taxpayers have to pay for DeVos’ efforts to protect the predatory colleges and persecute the defrauded students.

Peter Greene wrote about this controversy here.

G.F. Brandenburg wrote about it here. 

Brandenburg says he hopes DeVos goes to jail.

Clearly the judge will not fine her personally.

The students should be paid back.

I agree with Brandenburg: DeVos should go to jail for her ruthless indifference to the plight of students who were defrauded and were supposed to be protected.

It was a curious fact that when billionaire Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York City for 12 years, he had complete control of the public schools yet did not have any fresh ideas about how to improve them.

This should not be surprising, because he was never an educator. He hired another non-educator–Joel Klein–to be his chancellor. The two of them relied heavily on McKinsey and other consultants to guide them. They hired lots of MBAs to staff top  positions. They hoped to adopt a corporate style of organization, which made sense because they had low regard for actual educators.

He adopted every aspect of No Child Left Behind: high-stakes testing, closing schools, firing teachers and principals. He loved opening small schools, and when they failed, he reopened them with a new name so they could start over.

New York City was a faithful replication of NCLB, with punishments and rewards leading the way.

His main idea was to hand schools over to private charter operators, assuming that they would have better ideas about how to run schools than he did.

Some of the charter operators made a point of excluding low-performing students, which artificially boosted their test scores.

Some closed their enrollments in the fourth grade, so they would not have to take in new students after that point.

Some kicked out kids who were in need of special services.

Bloomberg’s favorite charter chain was Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy, which used all of these tricks to get astonishingly high test scores.

Bloomberg was obsessed with data and test scores. He even adopted Jeb Bush’s policy of letter grades for schools (which his successor Bill DeBlasio abolished).

The New York City charter industry practiced all the tricks of raising test scores by manipulating the student population.

In addition, the charter sector mastered the ability to organize mass rallies, flooding legislative halls with students and parents, pleading for more funding for new charters (which they could not attend since they were already enrolled in charters).

So pleased was Bloomberg with his charter policy that it is now the centerpiece of his national education agenda.

He doesn’t care about the nearly 90% of kids who are enrolled in public schools.

He believes in privatization.

If elected, he could retain Betsy DeVos as his Secretary of Education and maintain continuity with Trump’s education agenda.

Last month, Betsy DeVos testified to Congress about her role in the student loan program. 

Her Department hounded students to pay back loans instead of canceling them because their for-profit college defrauded them. A federal judge ordered the Department to stop harassing the students, then fined the Department $100,000 for violating the court order.

Rep. Josh Harder of California grilled her for her failure to side with the students. He accused her of acting like a lobbyist for the for-profit colleges.

It’s a powerful segment. Worth watching to see her utter and callous indifference to the suffering of students who accumulated tens of thousands of dollars of debt for a worthless degree.

Rep. Harder said he understood why she didn’t care: a student’s debt of $40,000 represented a minuscule fraction of the cost of one of her 10 yachts.

 

Angie Sullivan teaches in a Title 1 elementary school in Carson County, Nevada. She teaches the children who were left behind.

She sent this post to every legislator in Nevada:

A small group of vocal teachers, parents, and activists have been publicly concerned about national public school privatization for two decades.  
 
Diane Ravitch is the leader of that pack.  
 
Her new book is coming out soon.  
 
Her last books included characters who are national culprits in destroying American Public Schools.  Some have come from my state of Nevada.  
 
Reform was meant to change a system of education that needed to change.  Still needs change. Admittedly we need to improve.  No one argues against that.  Teachers have always been willing to improve.  
 
This reform was not ever meant to improve.  
 
Change came.   The wrong kind.  
 
Big bad horrific and public school destroying change came.   
 
It was bad change bought by corporations who do not love children, will not love children, and seek money even if harm comes to children. 
 
Wrecking ball.  
 
National level well funded and crushing. 
 
Reformers will not use the data – they supposedly worshipped – to admit – they were wrong. 
 
Devastatingly wrong. 
 
Wrong in ways that were really destructive over two generations.   Destroying the central fabric of America – attacking our local public schools.  Kids were warehoused in experiments.  Kids without teachers.   Kids hooked up to innovations that made money but did not educated.  
Billions spent on reforms:  disruption, return on investment, testing, take over, turnaround, triggering, attacking teachers, standardization, score chasing has barely moved American Students on the NAEP Assessments.  
 
The data is back. 
Business reformers failed.   Return on investment was zero.  
 
Reform has been successful at systematically privatizing huge amounts of education cash.  It has segregated.  It has devastated.  It has destroyed public school communities.  And disenfranchised students are further behind than ever before. 
 
The teachers were crushed and millions left. 
 
This expensive business-type reform did not improve education.  
 
Unfortunately, the folks driving reform were not teachers – nor were they interested in authentic education.   Billionaires who were successful in business took over.  They bought the top levels of government and spread cash from the top down.  Both parties.   Anyone with power.   And policy makers and leadership sold out hard. Money taken from public schools to be spent on scams and fads. 
Billions wasted.   
 
Money and people who chase dollars should never be in charge of education policy.  Neoliberals and corporations who hide from liability will never create the synergy, caring, and community building that teachers can do in a school building. 
 
Now the billionaires know – public school teachers will fight.  Activists will engage.  Those who love children will activate. 
 
Take that Goliath.
 
A band of loud people who care – will fight with any small stone we can find. 
We are not scared – because we are right.  
 
Time for policy makers and leadership to buy a book.  
 
O God hear the words of my mouth – hold us in Your Hand because we are small against those seeking to harm kids.  
 
The Teacher,
Angie Sullivan. 

 

Jennifer Berkshire writes in The Nation about the quandary of Democratic candidates. For years, charter schools had bipartisan support. Clinton and Obama both supported charter schools, and joined with Republicans to expand the federal Charter Schools Program, which is now the single biggest source of funding for charter schools at $440 million annually (the second biggest source is the Walton Family Foundation).

Then came the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos, with their full-throated advocacy for school choice, including vouchers. In red states like Ohio, voucher programs are exploding, and Democrats are pushing back against school choice. They are also pushing back against charter schools, as we saw in Kentucky and Virginia, where pro-public education governors were elected.

Meanwhile, the current crop of Democratic candidates are weaving and bobbing. Sanders and Warren have come out against charter schools and privatization. Other candidates are trying to thread the needle, not fully rejecting charter schools, but opposing “for-profit” charter schools (which are legal only in Arizona, but are found in almost every state with charters that are managed by for-profit EMO managers).

Berkshire begins:

When seven of the Democratic presidential candidates descended on Pittsburgh recently for a day-long forum on public education, one of Pennsylvania’s unlikeliest new political stars was on hand to greet them. Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks, a black single mom from North Philly, won an at-large seat on the Philadelphia City Council this fall, stunning the political establishment. At the heart of Brooks’s insurgent campaign was her resistance to Philadelphia’s two-decade-long experiment with school privatization, including the explosion of charter schools and the mass closure of neighborhood schools. “If we as community members don’t commit to this public institution that we fought so hard for generations ago, we’re going to lose control of it,” says Brooks.

Her message resonated with Philly’s voters, and thrilled the audience of teachers and activists who were on hand in Pittsburgh to hear a long list of presidential hopefuls weigh in on the future of the country’s schools. But just outside of the convention center, on a rain-slicked plaza, the resistance to the Democrats’ leftward swing on education was on vivid display. Over 100 charter school parents, part of the same school choice network that disrupted an Elizabeth Warren campaign event last month, came armed with a message of their own: Black Democrats support charter schools.

Welcome to the Democrats’ school choice wars. For the last three decades, charter schools have attracted bipartisan love, amassing an unlikely—and unwieldy—amalgam of supporters along the way: GOP free marketeers, civil rights advocates, ‘third way’ Democrats, and hedge fund billionaires. But in an era of fierce political partisanship, that coalition is now unraveling.

Progressive Democrats recognize that charters are a step towards vouchers and are fully a part of the DeVos crusade to eliminate public schools. We will watch to see what happens to the other candidates.

And we will also watch as DeVos hands out yet another $440 million to corporate charter chains, charter advocacy organizations, and even to states that don’t want the money (see New Hampshire and Michigan, both of which said they did not want more money for charter schools).

We now know that the core constituency for charters and vouchers are Wall Street financiers, hedge fund managers, billionaires, libertarians, right-wingers, ALEC, and the far-right. Where do Democrats fit into this coalition?

 

Thomas Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, has written the first review of my new book SLAYING GOLIATH: THE PASSIONATE RESISTANCE TO PRIVATIZATION AND THE FIGHT TO SAVE AMERICA’S SCHOOLS.

He liked it!

He calls it “spiritually uplifting” and describes it (accurately) as a “fight to save the commons.”

Enjoy!

Mercedes Schneider writes here about Betsy DeVos and her not-innovative idea of a “backpack full of cash.”

Betsy used the metaphor to refer snidely to a disguised voucher. It is a common metaphor among rightwing advocates of privatization. Betsy didn’t realize she was using the title of a popular documentary, shown in hundreds of communities across the country as a warning about privatization.

(If you want to book a screening of Backpack Full of Cash, go to the website.)

The film-makers, Sarah Mondale and Vera Aronow, borrowed the term from choice advocate Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform, who has dreamed for years about defunding public schools by strapping the child’s cash in a backpack and sending the child to a charter school, religious school, cyber charter or home school, the less regulated the better. Anything will do for the backpack of cash except a public school.

Betsy didn’t know the etymology of the term but loved the idea of taking money away from public schools and giving it to any entrepreneur or grifter who wanted it.

Read the post to learn the not-sad fate of the rightwing’s favorite bad idea.

Nancy Bailey explains here that if you are dissatisfied with your public school, blame the Disruption Machine, the ones who call themselves “reformers,” like Betsy DeVos.

They have run public schools into the ground for the decades.

They have imposed their malevolent ideas and policies on public schools, with no accountability for their mistakes.

She writes:

Frustrated by public schools? Look no further than the corporate education reformers and what they have done to public education.

Education Secretary DeVos and her corporate billionaire friends have been chipping away at the fabric of democratic public schools for over thirty years!

The problems we see in public schools today are largely a result of what they did to schools, the high-stakes testing and school closures, intentional defunding, ugly treatment of teachers, lack of support staff, segregated charter schools, vouchers that benefit the wealthy, Common Core State Standards, intrusive online data collection, and diminishing special education services.

Big business waged a battle on teachers and their schools years ago. The drive was to create a business model to profit from tax dollars. Now they want to blame teachers for their corporate-misguided blunders! It’s part of their plan to make schools so unpleasant, parents will have no choice but to leave….

I student taught in an elementary school in Detroit, in 1973. Schools were certainly not perfect, but my modest school did a good job.

The third-grade teachers were excellent reading teachers. They organized rotating small groups of students based on their skill needs decoding letters and words. There were no data walls. No child appeared to compare themselves unfavorably to other children.

Students were encouraged to read, did free reading, lots of writing, and had access to plenty of books. The school had a nice library with a librarian who often read beautiful and funny stories to the class. They spent time studying social studies, science, and art and music. Teachers worked closely with the PTA and reached out to parents.

There was no testing obsession. Students didn’t fear failing third grade. They were continually learning, and most liked school. There were twenty-two students in the class.

Teachers did their own assessment, and they discussed the results with each other at their grade level meetings. The school had a counselor and I believe a nurse stationed at the school. We worried about the students and addressed concerns about issues like why some showed up without mittens in the cold weather.

Students did class projects to help remember what they learned in their subjects. For science, we created a rocket out of a huge cardboard box. We painted it and spent time studying the solar system. Children took turns sitting in the rocket pretending they were astronauts.

This school had an excellent Learning Center where teachers could share materials to cut down on costs. They had a nice collection of resources for every subject.

My supervising teacher was kind, well-prepared, and tough. She expected daily written lesson plans which she reviewed with me before I taught. She was an excellent mentor!

Where’s that school today? I wish I could go back and visit, but it closed years ago, razed and turned into a housing development. It was shuttered like 225 other public schools in Detroit!

Peter Greene writes here about the budget approved by Congress for the Department of Education.

There is good news and bad news. Peter Greene thinks it’s mostly good news. I’d say there is both.

Congress did not appropriate a penny for Betsy DeVos’s top priority, her $5 billion request for vouchers (aka “education freedom scholarships”). Sorry, Betsy, nada. Even Republican Congressmen and Senators represent public school parents.

But Congress appropriated $440 million for Betsy’s charter school slush fund, otherwise known as the federal Charter Schools Program. The CSP is a swamp of fraud, waste, and abuse, as the Network for Public Education demonstrated in its “Asleep at the Wheel” and “Still Asleep at the Wheel” reports, which showed that more than $1 billion in federal funds were wasted on charters that either never opened or closed not long after opening. The House (controlled by Democrats) wanted to cut CSP to $400 million (which is $400 million too much), but the Senate (controlled by Republicans) negotiated it back to level funding. The CSP was created by the Clinton administration in 1994 to help start-ups, mom-and-pop or teacher-led charters that needed some extra funding. Betsy has turned it into a big fat plum for corporate charter chains like KIPP and IDEA, which are not start-ups and which are already richly endowed with funding from billionaires, most of them right-wingers. At present, the federal government is the single biggest funded of charter schools in the nation, even in states that don’t want them or need them, like New Hampshire, where Betsy gave the state $46 million to double the number of charters, but the state legislative fiscal commission rejected the money. Congress showed its lack of concern for accountability; that’s for the little people.

Peter Greene writes:

Trump asked for a 10% cut to the department and the elimination of twenty-nine programs. That didn’t happen (though it’s worth noting that many Trump appointees like DeVos have figured out that you can cut spending in your department by simply letting positions stand empty).

There is more money for Title I. It’s about a 3% increase, while Democratic candidates are calling for increases of 200% to 300%.

The Charter Schools Program– the fund that has wasted a billion dollars on charter school waste and fraud– will stay art current levels, with neither the boost the GOP wanted nor the cut that Democrats called for.

And special ed funding will once again not be increased to its full, required level. This makes forever years for Congress to stiff the states on the granddaddy of all unfunded mandates. Thanks a lot, Congress.