Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

Andre Perry led a charter chain in New Orleans. He became disillusioned. As a black scholar, he questions the Walton-funded effort to portray black support for charters as monolithic, which it is not. 

Perry wrote in response to the controversy that occurred when pro-charter demonstrators disrupted a speech by Elizabeth Warren in Atlanta. He is aware of the white Republican money behind the demand for more charters.

He wrote:

Warren needs to learn from black voices — but the charter school movement is not ours to defend.

Organizations such as the charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools have orchestrated statewide campaigns using dark money to influence state ballots to increase the number of charter schools, hiding who’s actually behind the movement. The Associated Press reported in December 2018 that an advocacy group that received $1.5 million from the Walton Family Foundation, one of the biggest funders of education reform, paid for 150, mostly black parents from Memphis to travel to Cincinnati two years prior to protest at a meeting of the NAACP. The parents sought to lobby against an NAACP proposal — which the organization passed despite the protests — to call for a moratorium on charter schools. They denied that the Walton Family Foundation asked them to carry out the protest.

This political season, black people cannot afford to be human shields for white leaders who don’t have the legitimacy to enter black communities on their own.

Perry notes that most Democratic candidates, notably Sanders and Warren, have abandoned charters.

He writes:

This reversal of position by Democrats is a sign that members of the party are listening to black communities….

Over the course of more than two decades, charter school expansion resulted in a significant loss in black-held jobs and a reduction in black political power in several black-majority cities. Black teachers were fired en masse in New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Newark, N.J., decimating the black middle class there.

Hundreds of millions of dollars directed towards electing pro-charter candidates ultimately empowered Republicans in many states. The pro-charter group Students First realized that its funding of Republican candidates had backfired. The association of the charter cause with the Republic party lead to the defeat of pro-charter proposals. Democratic voters showed they will not support movements that bolster the Republican Party — the same party that refuses to check Trump’s blatant racism. Democrats who support the idea of charter schools should make it clear to Republicansthat they will not tolerate a charter system that offers improved academic performance for some black students only by harming the communities in which those students live.

However, Democrat reformers developed a bad habit of accepting this Faustian bargain, and staying silent in red states on issues like jail expansion, cuts to higher education and attacks on organized labor because dissent ran the risk of slowing the proliferation of charters. Yes, black families want and need choice, but the current charter school movement is too tightly braided with Republican causes; a defense of one is a defense of the other.

To embrace charter schools in 2020 is to embrace Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump and other Republicans who stand to gain more politically from charter support than black communities have gained in jobs and educational benefits. Black kids lose when Democratic educational reformers act like Republicans.

Perry quotes the EdNext poll, noting that the publication is “pro-reform.” It is more accurate to acknowledge that EdNext (on whose board I once served) is a very conservative, pro-charter, pro-voucher publication funded by rightwing foundations. Frankly, polls about charters are worthless because most people admit when asked that they aren’t sure what a “charter school” is. If they don’t know what a charter school is, how can their view—positive or negative—signify anything?

Perry is right to point out that the Dark Money behind charters has a different agenda than most black parents. The Waltons and DeVos and their allies in ALEC want to bust teachers’ unions and privatize public schools. Perry is right to peer behind the curtain and see whose interest is served by the well-funded attacks on public schools.

He writes:

The funders of charter schools continuously put black parents and teachers in the position of fighting against their own interests. White-led philanthropy and education groups will eventually abandon public policy experiments when it is no longer popular, politically expedient or, in some cases, lucrative. For-profit charters are in education ostensibly for the money.

Some black charter leaders feel they must defend the schools because black children attend them. But we don’t need to fall into that trap. We can defend black children and workers without defending charter schools. Black people need systemic change. We can’t allow the cry for charters to drown out the demands for school financing reform, better work conditions, higher teacher pay, universal pre-K, free college, teachers’ training and recruitment programs, stronger labor protections and workforce housing initiatives.

 

Politico reports that Betsy DeVos thanked her ideological bedfellow, ALEC, for its help in framing proposals to defund public schools (aka vouchers, opportunity scholarships, tax credits, education savings accounts, a rose by any other name, etc.).

ALEC is the far-right extremist libertarian organization that hates public schools, gun control, unions, environmental regulations, and anything else that infringes on the right of corporations to pursue profits without regard to consequences. ALEC is also a strong supporter of charter schools.

 

DEVOS IS SCHEDULED TO THANK ALEC FOR EDUCATION FREEDOM SCHOLARSHIP SUPPORT in a speech to the council’s conference in Arizona today, the Education Department said. The proposal, which has found little traction in Congress, would create a new $5 billion federal tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations to pay for students to attend private schools or expand their public education options.

DeVos is a longtime friend to ALEC’s group of conservative state legislators. The secretary’s addressed the group’s conferences before, and drawn protests with a push for local control of education issues.

Arizona unionists have planned extended protests at ALEC’s conference, and have been aware that DeVos would be visiting.

Politico Morning Education reports that the U.S. Department of Education mistakenly collected debt from many thousands of students who had been defrauded by a failed online for-profit college and were previously unreported. The last time the Department acknowledged having hounded students in error, it was fined $100,000. Why not fine the Secretary and the officials in charge personally so that they get the message that it is wrong to pursue collections from students whose debt should have been forgiven? (Today’s Politico was underwritten by the Waltons.)

 

A COURT FILING THIS WEEK REVEALED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF ADDITIONAL CORINTHIAN COLLEGES STUDENT BORROWERS WERE TARGETED FOR COLLECTION BY THE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT. The new disclosures have infuriated plaintiffs of an ongoing lawsuit against the government.

In October, after the Trump administration initially said it erroneously collected on the loans of some 16,000 Corinthian borrowers, a federal judge held DeVos in contempt of court and imposed a $100,000 fine for violating an order to stop collecting on student loans from the defunct for-profit college.

Now, according to the department, that means a total of 45,801 borrowers “were erroneously taken out of forbearance or stopped collections status.” That includes the roughly 29,000 newly identified borrowers, plus the original 16,034 borrowers. “FSA has now placed all 45,801 borrowers in the correct status,” the government’s court filing said.

What’s to blame for the mixup? The department said an “isolated communication” between Federal Student Aid and its contractors, plus “other logistical issues” caused the undercount. The government said FSA “now believes that it has an accurate account of existing borrower defense applicants.”

“Students and taxpayers should be infuriated by the Department of Education’s complete disregard for student borrowers,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending. “Secretary DeVos has already been found in contempt of court for her illegal collections on students. Now we find out the impact was far greater than previously reported, and she still hasn’t returned all the money owed to students. It is galling, it’s unlawful, and it can’t be tolerated.”

New Hampshire has divided government. The governor is a Republican, who chooses the State Commissioner. But in the last election in 2018, Democrats won control of the legislature.

The State Commissioner is a home-schooling parent who is hostile to public schools. He comes from the Betsy  DeVos mold.

Speaking of DeVos, she gave New Hampshire $46 million from the federal Charter Schools Program, which is her own $440 million slush fund to promote charters.

If spent, this money would double the number of charters in the state, a dramatic expansion.

But the Legislature used its powers to hold up the grant. They want answers to their questions about how the state’s public schools would be affected, and how the charter expansion would affect the state’s finances.

The pending charter expansion grant – the largest earmarked for any state – aims to double the number of charter schools in New Hampshire over the next five years. It is currently on hold, after Democrats on the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee cited concerns that building more charter schools would lead to unanticipated costs for the state and harm existing, non-charter public schools. 

Governor Chris Sununu criticized the hold, calling the money a “game-changing grant [that] would have cost New Hampshire taxpayers nothing.”

But an analysis by the public education non-profit Reaching Higher estimated that, because charter schools are typically funded by the state rather than local districts, the state’s plan to expand charters with this grant money could cost the state over $100 million in the next ten years.

Is this a pig in a poke?

 

Politico Morning Education reports that the Trump administration has joined a court case on the side of a Christian school in Maryland that was removed from the state’s voucher program because it discriminates against LGBT students and teachers.

This is not surprising. The DeVos family has funded anti-gay organizations and state referenda for many years. The Trump administration takes the view that if religious organizations discriminate, that is no one’s business, even though they are receiving public funds. Thus, DeVos and Trump carve an exemption in civil rights law. It is okay to discriminate against persons if your discrimination actions stem from sincere religious beliefs. Where will this end? Gay students and teachers today, black students and women tomorrow. The civil rights protections that have been a sturdy bulwark against bigotry since 1964 are being picked apart, one group at a time. The federal government has embarked on a religious campaign to eviscerate civil rights protections, and this campaign begins with the least numerous, least popular group: Gays. So long as a school sincerely believes that gay students and teachers are loathsome, the state and federal government will not stand in the way of their discriminatory acts.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION BACKS CHRISTIAN SCHOOL’S LAWSUIT OVER VOUCHERS: The departments of Justice and Education on Tuesday sided with a private Christian school that’s fighting Maryland’s decision to kick it out of a state voucher program over its anti-LGBTQ views. The Trump administration filed a “statement of interest ” backing the federal lawsuit filed by Bethel Christian Academy, which accuses Maryland education officials of unconstitutionally discriminating against the school based on its religious beliefs.

— Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said in a statement that the Constitution protects religious schools from being forced “to choose between abandoning or betraying their faith and participating in public programs.”

— Robert S. Eitel, a top adviser to Secretary Betsy DeVos, said in a statement that “Americans do not give up their religious liberty protections simply because they may participate in a government program or interact with a state government.” He added that the Education Department “cannot sit on its hands as the First Amendment rights of Bethel Christian Academy are violated.”

— Maryland education officials have previously said they were trying to prevent taxpayer money from flowing to institutions that discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation, which is prohibited under the rules of the voucher program.

— A main point of contention is whether the language in the school’s handbook that doesn’t accept same-sex marriage or opposes transgender people complies with the state’s nondiscrimination requirement. The school says it doesn’t consider sexual orientation in its admissions process.

— A federal judge ruled earlier this month that the lawsuit, which is being brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom, could move forward. The judge ruled the school had presented a “plausible” case that the state had “unjustly conflated the school’s religious beliefs with discriminatory behavior.”

Many people have written to me to complain about an article that appeared Wednesday on the front page of the New York Times, saying it was pro-charter propaganda. The article claims that black and brown parents are offended that the Democratic candidates (with the exception of Cory Booker, now polling at 1%) have turned their backs on charter schools.

This is not true. Black parents in Little Rock, Arkansas, are fighting at this very moment to stop the Walton-controlled state government from controlling their district and re-segregating it with charter schools. Jitu Brown and his allies fought to keep Rahm Emanuel from closing Walter Dyett High School, the last open enrollment public high school on the South Side of Chicago; they launched a 34-day hunger strike, and Rahm backed down. Jitu Brown’s Journey for Justice Alliance has organized black parents in 25 cities to fight to improve their neighborhood public schools rather than let them be taken over by corporate charter chains. Black parents in many other districts–think  Detroit–are disillusioned with the failed promises of charter schools. Eve Ewing wrote a terrific book (Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side) about resistance by parents, grandparents, students, and teachers in the black community to Rahm Emanuel’s mass closings of public schools to make way for charter schools; Ewing called their response “institutional mourning.” When Puerto Rico teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, parents, teachers, and students rallied against efforts to turn the Island’s public schools over to charter chains.

The article’s claim that “hundreds of thousands” of students are on “waiting lists” to enroll in charters links to a five-year-old press release by a charter advocacy group, the National Alliance for Charter Schools. In fact, there has never been verification of any “wait list” for charters. Although there are surely charters that do have wait lists, just as there are public schools that have long wait lists, there is no evidence that hundreds of thousands of students are clamoring to gain admission to charters. That claim appears to be a marketing ploy. Earlier this year, a member of the Los Angeles school board revealed that 80% of the charters in that city have empty seats. Just this past week, a well-established Boston charter announced that it was closing one campus and consolidating its other two because of declining enrollments. Four of Bill Gates’ charter schools in Washington State have closed due to low enrollments. The only effort to verify the claim of “waiting lists” was carried out by Isaiah Thompson, a public radio reporter in Boston; his review showed that the list contained many duplications, even triplications, since many students applied to more than one school, and the same lists held the names of students who had already enrolled in a charter school or a public school.

Perhaps the Times will now interview Dr./Rev. Anika Whitfield in Little Rock to learn about the struggles of Grassroots Arkansas to block the Walton campaign to destroy their public schools. Perhaps its reporters will interview Jitu Brown to hear from a genuine civil rights leader who is not funded by the Waltons or the Bradley Foundation or Betsy DeVos. Perhaps they will dig into the data in Ohio, where 2/3 of the state’s charter schools were rated either D or F by the state in 2018, and where the state’s biggest cyber charter went into bankruptcy earlier this year after draining away over $1 billion from public schools’ coffers. Perhaps they will cover the news from New Orleans, the only all-charter district in the nation, where the state just posted its school scores and reported that 49% of the charters in New Orleans are rated either D or F. Perhaps they will cover the numerous real estate scandals that have enabled unscrupulous charter operators to fleece taxpayers.

Fairness requires that the New York Times take a closer look at this issue, not by interviewing advocates for the charter industry but by trying to understand why so many Democrats, especially progressives, have abandoned the charter crusade. Why, as the Times asked in July, have charter schools lost their luster?  (I asked the same question last April.) [Editor’s note: I added these two links to refer to use of the term “lost their luster.”] Why have the number of new charters plummeted nationally despite the expenditure of $440 million a year by the federal government and even more by foundations like Gates, Broad, DeVos, Bloomberg, Koch, and Walton. Maybe it was disappointment in their lackluster, often very poor, academic performance. Or maybe it was the almost daily revelations of waste, fraud, and abuse that occurs when public money is handed to entrepreneurs without any accountability of oversight.

The question that must be answered is whether it is just and sensible to create two publicly funded school systems, instead of appropriately funding the public schools that enroll 47 million students, almost 90% of all students. It serves the interests of billionaires to keep people fighting about governance and structure, but it serves the interest of our society to invest in great public schools for everyone.

 

ON TAP Today from the American Prospect

NOVEMBER 27, 2019

Kuttner on TAP

The Times: In the Tank on Charter Schools. The Times ran an overwrought and overwritten front-page story Wednesday under the breathless headline, “Minority Voters Feel Betrayed Over Schools.” Betrayed? The headline on the jump page where the story continues is even more exaggerated: “Minority Voters Chafe as Democrats’ Charter School Support Wanes.”

The piece reads as if it were dictated by the charter school lobby. Read the story very carefully, if you bother to read to the end, and you will learn that some black and Hispanic voters see charters as a good alternative to public schools, while others are concerned that charters, which serve only a fraction of minority kids, drain resources from the larger number of kids in public schools, as the Prospecthas documented.

And if you read all the way to paragraph 38 (!), you will learn that according to a poll by Education Next, a journal that supports charters, black opinion on charter schools is in fact evenly divided, 47 percent supportive to 47 percent opposed. But that kind of nuance doesn’t get your story on the front page, while quoting fervent charter school activists and making unsupported generalizations does.

Other 2017 polling by Peter Hart Associates showed that large majorities of voters, black and white, oppose shifting funds from public schools to charters. Black parents were opposed, 64 to 36. Hart’s Guy Molyneux says there’s no evidence that these views have changed.

Does the Times have fact-checkers? Editors? Do they hold writers accountable?

Back to school!

Robert Kuttner’s new book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy.

Teacher Steven Singer writes here about the protest at an Elizabeth Warren debate in Atlanta. 

He notes that a reporter for The Intercept, Ryan Grim, attended the rally and wrote that the protestors were funded by the Waltons, who have never shown any support for civil rights issues and are actively hostile to unions, which lift low-income workers out of poverty.

He also quotes Intercept journalist Rachel Cohen, who wondered why charter parents would object to higher transparency standards.

Singer points out that the billionaire Waltons have used their money to advance for their policy goals.

Carol Burris and Kevin Welner wrote in another article that Warren’s plan would mean additional funding for both public schools and charter schools without closing any charter schools. The Waltons object to her wealth tax proposal, as well as her promise to eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program, meant for startups but used now by Betsy DeVos to fund big corporate charter chains like KIPP, IDEA, and Success Academy..

Ouch!

New Orleans is the nation’s first all-charter district.

New Orleans is supposed to be the shining star of the charter movement, proving the value of school choice and market-based reforms, closing schools and replacing them with new schools, then closing failing schools, ad infinitum.

But newly released state grades reveal that nearly half of the district’s charter schools (49%) received a grade of D or F, meaning failing or near failing.

Della Hasselle writes in the New Orleans Advocate:

The release of the state’s closely watched school performance scores earlier this month offered an overall update on New Orleans schools that seemed benign enough: A slight increase in overall student performance meant another C grade for the district.

But a closer look reveals a startling fact. A whopping 35 of the 72 schools in the all-charter district scored a D or F, meaning nearly half of local public schools were considered failing, or close to it, in the school year ending in 2019. Since then, six of the 35 have closed.

While New Orleans has long been home to struggling schools, the data released this month are concerning. There was an increase of nearly 11% percentage points in the number of schools that received the state’s lowest grades from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19.

Someone, please let Betsy DeVos know.

Let Cory Booker and Democrats for Education Reform know.

Let Michael Bloomberg, Reed Hastings, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad know.

Let the Mind Trust and City Fund know.

Tell the Walton Foundation, which has poured over $1 billion into charter school proliferation.

Wow. Some model for the nation to follow!

 

Almost 90% of American students attend public schools, subject to democratic control. 6% of American students are enrolled in privately managed charter schools. Under the leadership of Betsy DeVos, it is obvious that the promotion of both charters and vouchers is central to the education policy of the Trump administration.

Two Democratic senators who are candidates for president, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have released education plans that recommend an end to federal support for charter schools (currently $440 million), which DeVos has handed out to corporate charter chains like IDEA and KIPP.

Senator Cory Booker, having equivocated during the campaign about his previous zealous support for charters, vouchers, and Betsy DeVos, surprisingly reversed course and wrote an article in the New York Times, once again stating his support for charters.

Since Senator Booker is polling at less than 2% in the primaries, he may be looking past the election to restore his relationship with his funders, who love charter schools and were disappointed by his apparent defection from their cause.

Leonie Haimson writes here about Senator Booker’s curious use of the word “boogeyman” to belittle critics of charter schools.

She notes that reporters at the New York Times have also used that term to belittle charter critics. Then she googled and found that the same word has been used by charter defenders thousands of times.

Haimson points out that charters in NYC divert more than $2 billion each year from the public school system. That money might have been spent to meet crucial capital needs and to reduce class sizes.

Also, Senator Booker did not mention that the national NAACP passed a resolution in 2016 calling for a moratorium on charters.

There are many reasons to be critical of charters, including their diversion of funding from public schools, their private governance, their long and well-documented record of waste, fraud, and abuse.

To dismiss all criticism of charters as a fear of a boogeyman is cynical, to say the least, and serves only the interests of the charter industry.

 

 

Peter Greene reports that Betsy DeVos won an award from an anti-feminist women’s group. She used the occasion to lambaste public schools (again).

You won’t hear her complain about the Ohio legislators who hope to outlaw facts. You won’t hear her complain about the religious schools that use the Bible as a science textbook.