Archives for category: Biden

After four years of science-denial, Biden is introducing a new era. Science and facts are in again. Truth matters. No alternative facts. Ignorance and stupidity are no longer honored or tolerable.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Saturday that he was “always going to lead with science and truth” as he announced top science and technology officials on his White House staff, reaffirming trust in the kind of expert research that the Trump administration often ignored or disdained.

Extolling what he called “some of the most brilliant minds in the world,” Mr. Biden said his new team’s mission would be to ask: “How can we make the impossible possible?” He vowed to elevate scientific research and thinking on topics like the coronavirus, cancer research, climate change, clean-energy jobs, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing and other fast-advancing technologies.

The appointees included Eric S. Lander, whom Mr. Biden will nominate to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a position that will for the first time hold cabinet rank.

President Trump left the position of science adviser unfilled for 18 months and his administration routinely ignored the guidance of government scientists on issues ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change.

Without specifically mentioning Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris drew an implicit contrast with his administration’s dismissive attitude toward expert opinion.

“The science behind climate change is not a hoax,” Ms. Harris said during the introductions, held at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. “The science behind the virus is not a lie.”

Dr. Lander, who will also serve as presidential science adviser, was a leader of the Human Genome Project. As Dr. Lander’s deputy in the science and technology office, Alondra Nelson, whom was also named by Mr. Biden, is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, who has studied the intersection of science with social inequality and race.

Mr. Biden also named two co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology: Frances H. Arnold, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Maria Zuber, a geophysics and planetary science expert and the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission.

Mr. Biden also said that Dr. Francis S. Collins would remain as the director of the National Institutes of Health.

The Bidens will bring two dogs, Champ and Major, with them to the White House. And they plan to get a cat as well.

Both of the Biden dogs are German Shepherds. Major, the younger one, was adopted from a shelter in Delaware.

Major, in particular, has a “wags to riches” tail.

He’ll soon be the first dog to go from a shelter to the White House. That shelter, the Delaware Humane Association, plans to “indogurate” Major on Sunday in a virtual ceremony. (People and pets alike are invited to attend.)

Though Major is digging up new ground as the first shelter pup in the White House, he follows in the pawprints of Yuki, another rescue to reside with the first family. 

“He is the friendliest, and the smartest, and the most constant in his attentions of all the dogs that I’ve known,” said Yuki’s owner (and President) Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Johnson was fond of singing with the white terrier mix. His daughter picked up Yuki at a gas station in Johnson City, Texas, according to the Presidential Pet Museum.

President Trump is the first president in more than a century not to have a dog. William McKinley had only cats and birds, including a parrot named Washington Post.

Just goes to show: Never trust a man or woman who doesn’t like dogs.

A Trump supporter attacked Biden for “wasting taxpayer dollars” on the Delaware Humane Society’s “Indoguration” fundraiser. But it is not paid for with public funds!



The office of Senator Bernie Sanders released the following statement about President-Elect Biden’s coronavirus relief plan:

BURLINGTON, January 14 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement regarding President-Elect Biden’s plan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis:

“President-Elect Biden has put forth a very strong first installment of an emergency relief plan that will begin to provide desperately needed assistance to tens of millions of working families facing economic hardship during the pandemic. The president-elect’s COVID-relief plan includes many initiatives that the American people want and need, including increasing the $600 direct payments to $2,000, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. As the incoming Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I look forward to working with the president-elect and my colleagues in Congress to provide bold emergency relief to the American people as soon as possible.”

President-Elect Joe Biden released his comprehensive plan to control the pandemic and help the economy, families, students, and schools. The attached PDF has the full plan. This is the section that pertains directly to schools.


Provide schools the resources they need to reopen safely. 


A critical plank of President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 plan is to safely reopen schools as soon as possible – so kids and educators can get back in class and parents can go back to work. This will require immediate, urgent action by Congress. The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, and the students and parents they serve. School closures have disproportionately impacted the learning of Black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities and English language learners. While the December down payment for schools and higher education institutions was a start, it is not sufficient to address the crisis. President-elect Biden is calling on Congress to provide $170 billion — supplemented by additional state and local relief resources — for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. These resources will help schools serve all students, no matter where they are learning, and help achieve President-elect Biden’s goal to open the majority of K-8 schools within the first 100 days of his Administration. 

● Provide $130 billion to help schools to safely reopen. Schools need flexible resources to safely reopen and operate and/or facilitate remote learning. The president-elect’s plan will provide $130 billion to support schools in safely reopening. These funds can be used to reduce class sizes and modify spaces so students and teachers can socially distance; improve ventilation; hire more janitors and implement mitigation measures; provide personal protective equipment; ensure every school has access to a nurse; increase transportation capacity to facilitate social distancing on the bus; hire counselors to support
students as they transition back to the classroom; close the digital divide that is exacerbating inequities during the pandemic; provide summer school or other support for students that will help make up lost learning time this year; create and expand community schools; and cover other costs needed to support safely reopening and support students. These funds will also include provisions to ensure states adequately fund education and protect students in low-income communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. Districts must ensure that funds are used to not only reopen schools, but also to meet students’ academic, mental health and social, and emotional needs in response to COVID-19, (e.g. through extended learning time, tutoring, and counselors), wherever they are learning. Funding can be used to prevent cuts to state pre-k programs. A portion of funding will be reserved for a COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grant, which will support state, local and tribal governments in partnering with teachers, parents, and other stakeholders to advance equity- and evidence-based policies to respond to COVID-related educational challenges and give all students the support they need to succeed. In addition to this funding, schools will be able to access FEMA Disaster Relief Fund resources to get reimbursed for certain COVID-19 related expenses and will receive support to implement regular testing protocols.

 ● Expand the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The president-elect’s plan will ensure colleges have critical resources to implement public health protocols, execute distance learning plans, and provide emergency grants to students in need. This $35 billion in funding will be directed to public institutions, including community colleges, as well as, public and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions. This funding will provide millions of students up to an additional $1,700 in financial assistance from their college. 

● Hardest Hit Education Fund. Provide $5 billion in funds for governors to use to support educational programs and the learning needs of students significantly impacted by COVID-19, whether K-12, higher education, or early childhood education programs.

Read the full pdf here.

Well, that didn’t take long!

The Biden administration has selected a TFA person for one of the plum jobs in the White House.

At least half a dozen individuals recently appointed to positions in the White House include those with teaching experience and others who have worked with education-focused organizations. While several have most recently worked on the Biden-Harris campaign — and didn’t necessarily jump straight from the classroom into government — they’ll still have direct knowledge of issues that matter to both teachers and parents.

The incoming White House staff, for example, includes Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers, who taught fifth grade in the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and spent 2013 and 2014 advising Teach for America “corps members” and interviewing future candidates. Demers has been appointed special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs.

The director of policy at DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), which consists of hedge funders who oppose teacher tenure and advocate for high-stakes testing, expressed his pleasure at the appointment.

I wonder if the Bidens know that TFA is a favorite recipient of gifts from the anti-union, anti-public school Walton Family Foundation.

Josh Hawley, graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, took the low road, aligning himself with Trumpism and trying to block the pro forma certification of Biden’s election. He saluted the rioters as they encircled the Capitol and prepared to storm it. Even after the siege, he continued to press the case against Biden’s certification. He pandered to seditious thugs carrying Confederate flags, some wearing T-shirts that said 6MWNE (six million were not enough), a reference to the Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.

The reaction to Hawley’s self-disgrace was swift.

Simon & Schuster canceled his book deal.

His mentor, the respected former Senator John Danforth, said that he regretted his association with Hawley, calling it “the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.”

Former Missouri Sen. John Danforth spent years promoting Josh Hawley as the future of the Republican Party, a “once-in-a-generation” candidate destined to contend for the presidency, perhaps in 2024.

But a day after the riot at the U.S. Capitol left four people dead, Danforth blamed his former protégé for sparking the insurrection.

“I thought he was special. And I did my best to encourage people to support him both for attorney general and later the U.S. Senate and it was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life,” he said Thursday. “I don’t know if he was always like this and good at covering it up or if it happened. I just don’t know.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch denounced Hawley in scathing language.

Sen. Josh Hawley had the gall to stand before the Senate Wednesday night and feign shock, shock at what happened — hours after he had fist-pumped and cheered the rioters as they arrived on Capitol Hill. Hawley’s tardy, cover-his-ass condemnation of the violence ranks at the top of his substantial list of phony, smarmy and politically expedient declarations.

Americans have had enough of Trumpism and the two-faced, lying, populist politicians who embraced it. Hawley’s presidential aspirations have been flushed down the toilet because of his role in instigating Wednesday’s assault on democracy. He should do Missourians and the rest of the country a big favor and resign now.

To add injury to insult, Hawley’s biggest campaign donor harshly criticized his craven behavior and recommended that Congress censure him.

For once, just desserts. Or, karma is a bitch.

Valerie Strauss writes in her Washington Post blog called “The Answer Sheet” about the growing number of states that want waivers from the federal requirement for annual testing. DeVos granted waivers last year but said she would not do it again. But she will be gone. Now it is up to Joe Biden and Miguel Cardona to decide whether it is wise to subject students to high-stakes standardized tests in a year where schools have repeatedly opened and closed, beloved teachers have died, family members have fallen ill, and many families are without food or a secure home.

I am sorry that the Secretary of Education-in-waiting describes the standardized tests as “an accurate tool,” because the only thing they accurately measure is family income, disability status, and English language proficiency. There are cheaper ways to get this information than to subject millions of children to useless standardized tests of reading and mathematics The tests are completely useless and provide no information to teachers about student progress: None. As Strauss points out, the results come in months after the tests were given, the students have different teachers, the teachers seldom see the questions and are not allowed to discuss them, and they never discover how their students answered any given question.

Let me repeat: The tests benefit no one other than the testing corporations, who collects hundreds of millions of dollars. Whatever we want to know about test scores and “achievement gaps” could have been gleaned at far less cost and inconvenience from the biennial National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), which was canceled this spring. The annual tests for individual students in grades 3-8 should have been canceled instead. No high-performing nation gives a standardized test to every student every year as we do.

Strauss writes:

There are growing calls from across the political spectrum for the federal government to allow states to skip giving students federally mandated standardized tests in spring 2021 — but the man that President-elect Joe Biden tapped to be education secretary has indicated support for giving them.

The issue will be an early test for Miguel Cardona, the state superintendent of education in Connecticut whom Biden picked for education secretary, and his relationship with teachers and others critical of giving the exams during the coronavirus-caused chaos of the 2020-2021 school year.

The current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, approved waivers to states allowing them not to administer the annual exams last spring as the coronavirus pandemic led schools to close. She said recently she wouldn’t do it again, but Biden’s triumph in November’s elections means the decision is no longer hers. It’s up to Cardona — assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, as expected — and the Biden administration to decide whether to provide states flexibility from the federal law.

The annual spring testing regime — complete with sometimes extensive test preparation in class and even testing “pep rallies” — has become a flash point in the two-decade-old school reform movement that has centered on using standardized tests to hold schools and teachers accountable. First under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law and now under its successor, the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, public schools are required to give most students tests each year in math and English language arts and to use the results in accountability formulas. Districts evaluate teachers and states evaluate schools and districts — at least in part — on test scores.

But just how much the scores from the spring tests ever reveal about student progress, even in a non-pandemic year, is a major source of contention in the education world.

Supporters say that they are important to determine whether students are making progress and that two straight years of having no data from these tests would stunt student academic progress because teachers would not have critical information on how well their students are doing.

Critics say that the results have no value to teachers because the scores come after the school year has ended and that they are not allowed to see test questions or know which ones their students got wrong. There are also concerns that some tests used for accountability purposes are not well-aligned to what students learn in school — and that the results only show what is already known: students from poor families do worse than students from families with more resources.

Enter Cardona into this testing thicket. Biden last week surprised the education establishment by naming Cardona, who less than two years ago was an assistant superintendent of a 9,000-student school district. One big factor in his favor for the Biden team was that he has not been a partisan in the education reform wars of the past two decades. Yet he won’t be able to avoid it over this issue.

Last spring, Connecticut, like other states, did not administer spring standardized tests after receiving waivers to the federal law from DeVos.

Cardona has said he wants students to take the exams this spring but with a caveat: He doesn’t want the results used to hold individual teachers, schools and districts accountable for student progress on the scores. (DeVos, too, had said she would have granted that kind of flexibility to states in 2021.)

“This [academic] year, we want to provide some opportunity for them [students] to tell us what they learned or what gaps exist so we can target resources,” Cardona said at a recent news conference before he was tapped by Biden, according to the Connecticut Post.

The education department he heads in Connecticut released a memo in October calling state assessments “important guideposts to our promise of equity.” It said: “They are the most accurate tool available to tell us if all students — regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, disability, or zip code — are growing and achieving at the highest levels.”

Cardona’s press secretary, Peter Yazbak, said the Biden transition team was answering all questions about his role as education secretary. The Biden team did not immediately comment about whether the new administration would consider providing waivers from the tests.

Cardona is already facing a growing chorus of voices who are demanding some flexibility from the federal law, including some that say forcing students to take the tests for any reason is a waste of money and time.

The Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonprofit that represents state education chiefs, released a statement this month calling for unspecified flexibility around the spring testing requirements. While its members are “committed to knowing where students are academically,” it said, “states need flexibility in the way they collect and report such data.” The CCSSO said it wants to work with the Biden administration “on a streamlined, consistent process that gives states the flexibility they need on accountability measures in the coming year.”

Others were more direct, including the two major teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. In a letter to the Biden transition team, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote:

“We know there are concerns that not having this data will make student achievement during covid-19 and particularly deeply troubling equity gaps less visible, that this will mean two years of lost data. However, there is no way that the data that would come out of a spring 2021 testing cycle would accurately reflect anything, and certainly not accurate enough to hold school systems accountable for results. But curriculum-linked diagnostic assessment is what will most aid covid-19 academic recovery, not testing for testing’s sake.

Another issue is whether the tests can be administered to all students safely this spring. Millions of students are still learning remotely from home as the pandemic continues to infect and kill Americans. Though Biden has called for the safe reopening of most schools within 100 days of his inauguration, it is not clear whether that will happen or whether the tests can be securely administered online.

Bob Schaeffer, interim director of a nonprofit called the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which works to stop the misuse of standardized tests, noted that DeVos recently sought the cancellation of the 2021 administration of the national test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) because it could not be administered effectively and securely.

“IF NAEP is cancelled for 2021 due to pandemic-related concerns, how can federal and state mandated exams be administered safely and accurately this academic year?” Schaeffer said. Meanwhile, his group, FairTest, has launched a national effort for a suspension of all high-stakes standardized tests scheduled for spring 2021.

This is why a waiver strategy is so necessary,” it says.

It’s not only state superintendents, teachers unions and testing critics who are looking for flexibility from the federal testing mandate.

As early as June, officials in Georgia said they would seek a waiver from the spring 2021 tests. DeVos’s Education Department denied the request, so this month, state officials agreed to dramatically reduce the importance of end-of-course exam grades for the 2020-2021 school year. They will have virtually no weight on students’ course grades.

In South Carolina, SCNOW.com reported, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, a Republican who is among Trump’s strongest supporters, signed onto a letter calling for a testing waiver for spring 2021, as did Rep. Tom Rice (R).

Scores of Texas state representatives from both sides of the political aisle have joined to ask State Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to seek necessary federal waivers to allow the Texas Education Agency to cancel the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test in the 2020-2021 school year.

A letter, sent by the office of Democratic Rep. Diego Bernal said: “The covid slide, an academic deficit that the agency has widely recognized, has resulted in students, across the state, being behind grade-level in nearly every subject. Instead of proceeding with the administration of the STAAR as planned, the agency, along with our districts and campuses, should be focused on providing high-quality public education with an emphasis on ensuring the health and safety of students and educators.”

In Ohio, Dayton schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli recently said that that state should seek a federal waiver from the spring standardized testing, WHIO-TV reported. “Using the standardized testing as we typically have done is inappropriate and ineffective,” Lolli said.

“The only thing it does is it rates poverty,” she said. “We know that the lowest scoring schools across this country are schools that have high numbers of children who live in poverty. That’s the only thing we’re doing [by testing] is identifying those locations once again.”

In North Carolina, the State Board of Education in early December tentatively approved a proposal that would have students take the exams but that would ask the federal government if it can have flexibility in how it uses the scores of the tests.

In Colorado, advocates for English-language learners have asked the state Board of Education to cancel ACCESS, the test these students take annually, or to make sure parents know that they can opt their children out without penalty.

Other actions are being taken in other states to persuade officials to seek and lobby for federal waivers, and that is likely to pick up in pace as spring approaches.

The American Prospect has advice for Joe Biden about how he can make dramatic changes on Day One.

Pick your topic: Corporate taxes, the War on Terror, student debt.

Everything is here except for what he can do on Day One to help American education. He can end the Reign of Error of NCLB, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, and Common Core. On Day One, he could waive all federal testing mandates for 2021. That would be a start.

Jake Jacobs is a middle school art teacher in New York. He is the co-administrator of the New York BadAss Teachers Association, an organization of militant activist teachers.

He writes:

Joe Biden’s recent nomination of Miguel Cardona as a relatively lesser-known, less controversial selection for Secretary of Education was telling. It shows the incoming administration’s reticence to take a side in the ongoing battle over school choice and standardized testing, just like most members of Congress and the major U.S. media.

On the campaign trail, Biden drew cheers from teachers for his promise to end standardized testing, but he noticeably never added any such policy to his website. As was well known by teachers in those audiences, federally mandated tests provide no educational benefit but are the fuel in the engine driving charter school expansion.


President-Elect Biden did vow to cut federal funding to for-profit charter schools, however this affects only about 12% of charters (who could easily change their model while still enriching their for-profit management arms). Biden has acknowledged charter schools siphon money away from public schools, agreeing to new language in the (non-binding) DNC platform to discourage charters from discriminating against high-need students but as we know well, Democrats for many years have bent to pressure from deep-pocketed industrialists seeking ever more charter schools


Not much has changed since the same billionaires threatened to fund other candidates if Hillary Clinton didn’t continue to signal support for charters. Remember Eli Broad’s explicit ultimatum to withhold campaign cash if Hillary sided with teachers against charter schools? We do. 


But Broad also donated money to then-senator Kamala Harris, and like many ultra-wealthy education reformers, Broad made good use of the “revolving door”, hiring Biden’s former chief of staff Bruce Reed (2011-2013) to run his foundation. 


AS THE DOOR REVOLVES: The same day he revealed Cardona as his education nominee, it was announcedBiden rehired Reed as deputy chief of staff, despite pre-emptive protest from progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad who objected to Reed’s past hostility to safety net programs like Social Security. A former top advisor to President Bill Clinton, Reed’s own bio touts his oversight of the 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda.


Starting in 2015, Reed was a senior advisor for Emerson Collective, the “social change” LLC founded by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs who is also close to Vice President-Elect Harris. Though it’s not clear how Reed might influence Biden’s decision-making on K-12 education, he is expected to have a “major role” as Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff particularly shaping technology and data privacy policy. And echoing Trump, Reed calls for the elimination of Section 230 which protects internet companies from lawsuits over user postings.
In 2014, while serving as CEO of the Broad Foundation, Reed made worrisome comments to Hillary’s education advisors, suggesting in private that whole cities could be mass-charterized in the wake of natural disasters, calling New Orleans an “amazing story”. Reed also voiced support for personalized digital learning using the Summit Charters model.


TAX BREAKS LINKED TO CHARTERS: It’s great to see watchdog groups expose significant waste and fraud in the charter school industry, but because U.S. media is so silent about the political influence of pro-charter billionaires, hardly any attention is paid to the generous federal tax credits enriching investors through “nonprofit” charter school construction and financing as public schools struggle for resources. One such program, the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), did make it onto Biden’s web page, showing he wants to expand the credit to $5 billion per year and make it permanent.


It might not be controversial to use a seven year, 39% tax refund to incentivize wealthy investors to start caring about economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in dire need of manufacturing plants and low-income housing, but why does the NMTC favor charter schools over traditional public schools which are literally crumbling on our heads? 


I tried to find whose idea it was to include charter school construction, financing and leasing deals in the NMTC. 
The program itself traces back to 1998 when a “membership organization” called NMTC Coalitioncomprised mostly of banks, investment funds, developers, LLPs and LLCs came together under the management of Rapoza Associates, a large DC lobbying and government relations firm who supplies policy briefs and “comprehensive legislative and support services to community development organizations, associations and public agencies”. Sound a lot like ALEC?


Legislation was championed by then-Speaker Denny Hastert and Texas Rep. William Archer, both Republicans. The program was signed into law by President Clinton and went live as past of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, but it appears charter schools weren’t included until 2004. The California charter nonprofit ExEd claims to have “pioneered” NMTC charter financing deals, boasting of dozens under their belt. By 2017, more than $2.2 billion in NMTC allocations were deployed to expand charter schools nationally.


The contention was that although charter schools receive operational funding for enrolled students, they must procure and finance their own space, thus they needed a helping hand from Uncle Sam. Today however, 27 states have enacted legislation granting some level of access to district facilities, suggesting some re-examination is in order.


Operators also contended that their charter renewal terms, usually five years, are shorter than typical mortgage terms which range from 10 to 30 years. Thus the need for charters to quickly show results introduced a perverse incentive, driving all-out obsession for good scores on standardized tests so the school can not only guarantee their charter renewal, but demonstrate to lenders they are a safe bet (or attract even more expansion capital). 
STAKES RAISED FOR TEST SCORES: Because the NMTC tax credit and a host of other federal programs give charters significant fundraising advantages over public schools, it provides financial impetus to target nearby public schools for closure. Anything that can be done to raise scores – or lower the competition’s scores – will help their chances. This not only gives rise to round-the-clock test prep, but the notorious practice of cherrypicking students. 


The shiny new facilities help attract the best test-takers, while rigid “zero tolerance” discipline policies are employed to dump “troublesome” kids back on the public schools. Even though the deck is stacked, superior test scores create the “secret sauce” narrative used to sell politicians on charters and drum up support for more tax breaks.


Over the decades, poverty-stricken areas have been repeatedly carved up and designated as “Enterprise Communities”, “Empowerment Zones”, “Renewal Communities” or “Promise Neighborhoods”. In 2004, President Bush announced the “Opportunity Zones” program which Donald Trump renewed in his 2017 tax reform law, with support from Democrats like Cory Booker. This program could potentially dwarf the NMTC because it allows tax credits and deferments for trillions in untapped capital gains income. 


Although Opportunity Zone deals are available to public schools, they would need to first sign over their property to investors. But it’s not clear these programs even work. Besides being rife with cases of abuse like the Steven Mnuchin or Rick Scott front-page patronage scandals, a University of Iowa study of 75 enterprise zones in 13 states found little to no economic benefit and noted other harmful impacts such as displacement, gentrification, or giveaways for development in up-and-coming areas that would have happened anyway. 


As chronicled by Network for Public Education and noted by Congress, the array of creative charter school flim-flams has been incalculable – from exorbitant CEO salaries, predatory leases and consulting fees to management firms charging taxpayers to buy out a school’s name and logo. Even school districts got into the act, authorizing charters schools so as to generate oversight fees that help plug budget gaps. But there’s a marked difference between sketchy charter operators and multi-billion dollar programs designed to help charters replace existing schools.


SWEETENING THE POT: The tax credits, designed by the rich for the rich, are only the first layer of the subsidy onion for charter schools though. Linked to the tax breaks are tax-exempt charter school financing bonds traded in investment markets, and then even more inducement via a secondary tranche of bonds leveraged by government subsidies to backstop the first set of bonds against default. One such program, administered through the infamous No Child Left Behind Act is the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program, which not only assumes downside risk, it artificially buoys bond ratings and lowers interest rates for the borrower. 
These credit enhancements can be backed by federal or state funds, banks or private investors but again, the guarantees may be tied to academic performance benchmarks which precipitate discrimination against high-need students. 


To lure developers into distressed neighborhoods, enormous bond guarantee and credit enhancement funds (starting at $100 million) were created under the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) program, enacted as part of the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act. Charter school developers were among those offered access to long-term credit at below-market rates. In 2012, twelve of these CDFI fund management groups came together to form the Charter School Lenders Coalition, underwritten by usual suspects the Gates and Walton Foundations. The collaborative melded together ALL of the aforementioned programs with a stated goal of lobbying congressional reps to support more charters. 


Earlier this year, high-profile Democrats including Senators Sanders, Warren and Van Hollen co-sponsored legislation that would automatically deploy CDFIs in areas impacted by natural disasters or economic crises. 
If all these financial instruments are starting to sound complicated, it’s no accident – I’ve spared readers most of the dizzying acronyms like CDEs, CMOs, UDAGs and QALICBs, but the less everyday people understand, the greater the chance this all flies under the radar. Even the developers – be they charter operators or wealthy financial backers – require a lot of hand-holding by intermediaries to guide them through the maze of policy intricacies and applications. 


This is where yet another funding stream comes in, namely the federal Charter Schools Program, or CSP, which since 1994 has grown to into a $440 million annual slush fund for discretionary grants found to be so wasteful a third of 2006-2014 grantees never opened or quickly folded. Other recipients were found to be buying skyboxes or private jets, or unscrupulously charging themselves rent in cities and towns where local authorities are ill-equipped for oversight.


PULLING OUT THE STOPS: By the time Betsy DeVos took the helm, the U.S. Dept. of Education wasn’t just awarding start-up money to school-level charter developers but to all manner of other financial intermediaries including charter associations, nonprofits, state educational agencies, charter authorizers, and credit enhancement funds. The DeVoses know well that raining money on these entities will enrich real estate and banking interests, trickling down onto pro-charter candidates, local PACs and friendly media outlets. A week before the 2020 election, DeVos shamelessly announced the Trump Administration will start ignoring the crystal-clear prohibition on federal funds for charters affiliated with religious organizations, rupturing the separation of church and state. 


The NMTC technically expires on Dec. 31, 2020 but proposals for renewal have been very popular – the 2019 bill in the Senate had 37 bipartisan co-sponsors including Minority Leader Schumer, Amy Klobuchar and center-left Senators Jeff Merkeley and Sherrod Brown. The House version had 130 co-sponsors including Karen Bass and 22 other members of the Progressive Caucus. 


If there was an amendment to remove the exclusive carve-out for charter schools from the NMTC, it would allow the community investment to continue (for better or worse) but take the finger off the scale in the competition for educational resources. 


Such an amendment may not deter anti-union oligarchs like the Koch family bent on undermining public education. It may not deter data-mining tech billionaires seeking lucrative contracts or access to captive student audiences. It may not deter neoliberal social engineers who think their wealth ordains them to rejigger education as they see fit. It may not deter Betsy DeVos and her ilk from crusading for taxpayer-funding of religious schools.


But it could deter the garden-variety investor just looking to turn a buck, and it could bring attention to the little-understood giveaways to charter school investors. Also, it will flush out members of Congress afraid to go on record either for-or-against charters. As the battles over public education funding rage on, we hope incoming House members will infuse new energy into the fight, showing Biden, Harris and other policymakers the real-world harms and inequity built into charter school tax credits.

As a new year begins, and as a new administration prepares to take charge of the U.S. government, our fight to support and improve public education goes on.

The Network for Public Education is and will continue to be the single largest voluntary group advocating on behalf of public schools. We had humble beginnings, starting with a bank account of a couple of thousand dollars and a board of enthusiastic parents and educators. We now have a full-time executive director (Carol Burris) who is helped by three amazing part-time workers.

We are not like the City Fund, which opened its doors in 2018 with $200 million in the bank (thanks to billionaire John Arnold and billionaire Reed Hastings). The City Fund exists to push high-stakes testing and to destroy community-based, democratically-controlled public schools. It has no members; we have about 350,000 who work with us. The “reformers” have tons of money and malevolent intentions.

Last year, we issued two bombshell reports that showed the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which doles out $440 million every year, mostly to corporate charter chains. We discovered and documented–using U.S. Department of Education data–that about 35-40 percent of the federally funded charters either never opened or closed not long after opening. They are the day lilies of American education, and they waste money that should go to support under-resourced public schools.

We published a report about the 1,200 or so charters that double-dipped into CARES funds intended to save small businesses. The charters, whose funding from public sources, never ceased, collected from $1-2 Billion from the Paycheck Protection Program. All of the data are available in public sources, but you have to know where to look to see that some very savvy charters and charter lobbyists cleared huge sums of PPP money (some collected $1 million or more) while public schools each collected only about $134,500.

We will continue to support real public schools, the kind that are publicly accountable to public officials. We will push the Biden administration to regulate or eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program and stop funding failure. We will fight against high-stakes testing and the misuse of standardized tests.

We will demand a suspension of federally mandated testing this spring and turn our energies toward removing the federal mandate for annual testing, which has manifestly failed to provide equity or excellence. We will remind the public that tests do not reduce achievement gaps; they are measures, not remedies. Mainly, they measure family income. Why waste hundreds of millions of dollars measuring family income?

Yes, knowledge is power, and we generate the knowledge you need to fight for public schools as the democratic institution that they are.

We welcome your financial support. Whatever you want to give, we are grateful.

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