Archives for category: Budget Cuts

The Republican-controlled legislature in Missouri has imposed charter schools on the state’s two urban districts (but not their own). The legislature is now considering HB1552, which will financially benefit charter schools. Emily Hubbard, a parent in St. Louis, wrote to ask the Budget Committee to stop expanding and favoring charter schools and to fund the state’s public schools equitably and adequately. She sent this email to the Budget Committee, which I am posting with her permission.

Dear Budget Committee Members, 

I am planning to come speak to you in person, so I will keep this email brief. 

I am a parent of four children in St. Louis Public Schools. They are amazing kids who have been loved and taught well from our neighborhood elementary school to the magnet middle school my two oldest attend. With my youngest in second grade, I have another decade in SLPS, assuming that the district manages to survive.

Y’all, I am so tired of certain members of the state legislature pitting charter schools against public school districts. I am especially baffled that this bill is sponsored by someone with no charter schools in his district. Who is he representing with this bill? Because of the laws y’all or your predecessors have already made, this statewide law will only affect two cities (and maybe Normandy?), and I know you know these are the cities with the most Black kids (mine included). 

My new neighborhood school (we recently moved from Rep. Aldridge’s district to the 81st) is a school that serves students who speak many different languages at home. ESOL services cost money. I don’t know if you have the time to watch this video from the October legislative committee of the Board of Education, but let me remind you that around 20% of SLPS kids do not have stable housing. That’s around 5000 children. This data is 2018-2019 (from this site) , but please look at these numbers: 

all SLPS kids: 21,814

all Charter kids: 10,109

homeless population at SLPS: 4,771

homeless population at charters: 470

SLPS homeless percentage: 21.87% 

charter homeless percentage: 4.65% (but some have zero, some are high as 13%, some have closed 2019)

SLPS serves a student population with disproportionately higher needs than charter schools, whether it’s through our fantastic ESOL programs; the difficult task of walking through trauma with kids (one of my daughter’s classmate’s mother was murdered over Christmas break); the cost incurred by the desegregation program which doesn’t seem to have done that much to integrate our schools (especially the neighborhood ones) and instead allows white and privileged parents the ability to cluster in the particular magnet schools and hoard their resources for the sake of their already resourced children; or the special education costs which we shoulder alone, not shared like in the county. 

And then there’s the whole transportation thing–did you know that some charter schools don’t provide transportation? So you can’t really choose that school if you don’t have a safe way to get your kid to school and home again.

I don’t know anything about the education system in Kansas City, so I can’t speak to that, but please please please consider the effect that passing this bill will have on the children of St. Louis. 

I am an evangelical Christian (a pastor’s wife, even), and I have seen our school be the means that does the Lord’s work: they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the orphan, minister to the foreigners within our gates, not to mention, for our family at least, providing an education that has enabled my children to grow in their faith as we take what they’ve learned at school and use it to glorify God together. 

Please don’t take away from funds that enable SLPS to do the work it does, however imperfectly.

And could we just as a state, fund education at a higher rate all together? I know the rural schools are struggling too. 

Also if we could alleviate homelessness, do what it takes to end gun violence, prioritize the health of all Missourians, raise the minimum wage, deal with our opioid addiction crisis…there are a ton of non-education things that if addressed, would significantly and positively affect not just our district, but all the districts. Just think about it, okay?

Thanks so much for your time–see you on Tuesday! I’m sorry that this wasn’t brief at all, I just care a whole lot.

With appreciation for the difficult work you do,

Emily Hubbard

Carondelet, St. Louis

Ever since Republicans in North Carolina took control of the General Assembly (legislature) in 2010, they have tried to diminish the state’s responsibility for the common good or to extinguish it altogether. No institution has suffered as much by their hostility as the public schools.

NC Policy Watch is an outstanding source of information about the state. It recently reported about the General Assembly’s refusal to obey a court order to rectify the unconstitutional funding of the public schools, which is grossly inequitable. The historic ruling was the Leandro case, and Republicans have offered charters and vouchers instead of equitable and adequate funding. Now they are rumbling about impeaching the judge who told them to fix the funding.

Despite multiple judicial determinations that the state’s K-12 schools are unconstitutionally deficient, the Republican politicians – including, last week, a pair of appellate court judges – say that no court can order the legislature to actually fix the problem.

According to the judges in question, state courts have “no authority to order the appropriation of monies to satisfy any execution of [the Leandro] judgment.”

In effect, they argue, 25-plus years of trials, expert witness testimony, findings, rulings, appeals and remedy planning were all just a meaningless exercise in pushing paper. When it gets right down to it, the power to decide whether to make our K-12 schools constitutional remains right where it’s always been – at the whim of state legislative leaders who are the chief authors of the current failed system.

And just in case anyone had any doubts about the complete power they claim to wield (or had any inkling to question it), GOP lawmakers are firing some unmistakable warning shots designed to intimidate naysayers.

In concert with right-wing allies, lawmakers have sent the clear and appalling message in recent days (see item #8 of the recently adopted adjournment resolution) that they are considering the extraordinary (and deeply treacherous) step of impeaching Superior Court Judge David Lee – the visionary and courageous jurist who has been seeking to enforce the Leandro ruling and make it real.

This article by Ed Montini in the Arizona Republic explains the childish behavior of Republican leaders, who engage in taunts instead of reasoned discourse about their agenda. They don’t want to expand Medicare. They don’t want universal pre-K. They don’t support efforts to combat climate change. They oppose paid family leave for families in need after surgery or childhood. They are against a federal guarantee of two years tuition-free community college. They oppose higher taxes on billionaires. They don’t care about voting rights. They don’t want to expand opportunity. They don’t want to reduce inequality. They don’t invest in the future.

What are they for? Tax breaks for the rich.

Since they have no agenda, their goal is to make sure Biden can’t succeed. After blocking everything he proposes (with the help of Senator Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Krysten Sinema), they have nothing to offer other than the schoolyard chant.

Ed Mancini was walking his dog early one morning, and he saw two other dog owners engage in conversation, a man and a woman. As they part ways, the man says to the woman, “Let’s go, Brandon!” then turning away.

The woman is puzzled and asks Montini if he knows what that phrase means.

So, first thing in the morning I am called upon to explain this recent cultural phenomenon to one of the few American grown-ups who has managed to remain a fully functioning adult, while most of the rest of us have been transformed by social media into crude, smart-alecky 8-year-olds.

There’s that Southwest Airlines pilot

This particular sign was a the Boston College-Syracuse football game Oct. 30. A fan’s juvenile jab at President Joe Biden.Joshua Bessex

For instance, the woman had not heard about the Southwest Airlines pilot who recently signed off on a flight, telling passengers, “Let’s go, Brandon.”

Or about how the whole thing began when a race car driver named Brandon Brown won a NASCAR race and, while being interviewed on TV, the crowd started chanting, “F–k Joe Biden.” The flummoxed interviewer suggested they might be saying, “Let’s go, Brandon.”

After that, the phrase became a way for grown-up 8-year-olds to say the f-word about Biden without actually using it.


Elected Republican politicians in Washington, D.C., started using the phrase.

Donald Trump began selling “Let’s go Brandon” T-shirts through his Save America PAC for $45, and grown-up 8-year-olds in America actually purchased them.


There are adults who channel their 8-year-old selves by bringing signs saying, “Let’s go, Brandon” to public events, as well as some who scribble the message in paint on the rear window of their automobiles….

How to answer someone who says such a thing

Of course, we all learned as children that infantile behavior tends to draw some type of backlash….

After I explain the whole “Let’s go, Brandon” thing to the woman who’d been walking her dog she says, “That seems incredibly childish. How are you supposed to answer someone who says such a thing?”

I tell her that, as a grown-up, she would be best served simply ignoring it.

As for the rest of us, suffering as we do from social-media-induced age regression, I’d respond, “I’m rubber and you’re glue …”

Reach Montini at

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A wave of labor activism is underway. Amazon workers in Staten Island in New York City are trying to organizing a union. Bloomberg News reports:

Deere & Co. employees, who launched a 10,000-person strike Oct. 14, cited the mandatory overtime that can stretch their shifts to 12 hours. At Kellogg Co., the union went on strike this month after decrying the toll of seven-day workweeks that had kept cereal flowing to stuck-at-home customers during the pandemic. And at Frito-Lay Inc., workers have this year challenged what they called“suicide shifts”: being made to leave late and return early, with only eight hours of turnaround time in between.

Scranton teachers announced their decision to strike on November 3.

SCRANTON, Pa.—The Scranton Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 800 teachers and paraprofessionals, announced today that it will set up picket lines and go on strike at 12:01 a.m., Nov. 3. The union has been working under a contract that expired in 2017.

“We’ve reached the end of the line and our patience with the Scranton School District. The district has refused to address our concerns about the slash-and-burn budget cuts that are significantly affecting the quality of education,” said Scranton Federation of Teachers President Rosemary Boland. “Strikes are always the last resort. We held off for many months, hoping, in vain, we could agree on conditions that are good for kids and provide decency, fairness, respect and trust for our educators.”

Boland expressed optimism that new members will be elected to the Scranton School Board on Nov. 2 and that the needs of students and educators finally will be prioritized.

SFT gave the district more than the required 48 hours’ notice before starting a strike. Picket lines will begin early Wednesday morning on Nov. 3 at most schools.

Teachers and paraprofessionals want realistic solutions to reversing the teacher turnover crisis; raising educator pay that has been frozen since 2016; returning Scranton’s esteemed and essential preschool program; and restoring libraries, bus routes and electives such as consumer[LBC1] science and music.

The austerity budget that is starving Scranton classrooms of the necessary resources, coupled with the administration’s disrespect for teachers, are issues reminiscent of what led to the walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and Chicago in 2018 and 2019, SFT said.

“Teachers and paraprofessionals don’t want to walk out, but they will when their students’ needs are ignored and schools are starved of resources,” Boland said.

Scranton public schools are operating under a state Recovery Plan, which is akin to a state takeover.

“The Recovery Plan prioritizes financial recovery over student achievement, balancing the budget on the backs of students. Yet the plan has not been amended to factor in the $60 million in federal aid that should be used to stabilize the district and pay teachers decent, competitive wages,” she said, noting that the Recovery Plan originally factored in the use of “windfall funds,” such as federal aid when defining “recovery.”

“Since the recovery plan began in 2019, more than 100 teachers and paras have left the district, demonstrating a serious recruitment and retention problem that has harmful ramifications for students,” she said. Classes are severely overcrowded. Special education students are not being served adequately because teachers are pulled into other classrooms. Students aren’t getting individualized attention. In the COVID-19 environment, overcrowded classrooms pose a health hazard.

Boland said teachers and paraprofessionals deserve a pay raise. Teachers have not received a raise for more than four years, which has prompted many of the teacher defections to other school districts. Several paraprofessionals were furloughed, only to be brought back at a lower salary after public outrage. The district also is insistent on an inferior health scheme that would directly impact the Scranton community, as they are still dealing with the impact of COVID-19, the union said.

“It’s time for a contract that’s good for students and fair to educators,” Boland said.

In the race for governor of Virginia, Republicans have focused their campaign on hot-button issues like banning “critical race theory” from the schools, opposing mask mandates, and taking a stand against tiny numbers of transgender students. Republicans have also argued that parents should be able to determine what teachers are allowed to teach and to ban books that they don’t like. And of course, they support school choice. In short, the Republican candidate has decided to base his campaign on “culture war” issues, offering no proposals to improve the schools.

In contrast, the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has promised to raise teachers’ salaries, expand pre-K, and protect students from the virus. He has also taken a stand against parents dictating what should be taught, instead leaving those decisions to teachers. In these times, he has shown that principle and courage are possible when running for high political office, which is why he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education Action. We will learn on November 2 whether principle and courage can beat rank opportunism.

Lisa Lerer wrote in the New York Times about how unusual it is to have a statewide race centered on education. .

WINCHESTER, Va. — …From fights over evolution to desegregation to prayer, education battles have been a staple of the country’s divisive cultural issues for decades. But not quite like this.

After months of closed classrooms and lost learning time, Republicans in Virginia are making the schools the focus of their final push to capture the governor’s office, hoping to rally conservatives around both their frustrations over mask mandates and mandatory vaccinations and their fears of what their children are being taught.

Vocal groups of parents, some led by Republican activists, are organizing against school curriculums, opposing public-health measures and calling for recalls of school board members. And Mr. Youngkin, a former private equity executive, has capitalized, seizing on conservatives’ concerns about instruction on race and the rights of transgender children to argue that Democrats want to come between parents and their children’s education.

Mr. Youngkin’s attacks have forced Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic former governor trying to win back his old job, onto the defensive, and have thrust the ordinarily local issues surrounding schools into the middle of a rancorous nationwide shouting match.

The Virginia race offers an early electoral test of that conservative energy.

A victory by Mr. Youngkin would mark the first statewide win for Republicans in a dozen years and likely trigger a political panic within the Democratic Party about its prospects in next year’s midterm elections. Some Republican officials and strategists liken the surge of activism to the Tea Party, the anti-government movement that helped them win control of the House in 2010 and unleashed a revival of outrage politics that would define their party for the next decade.

“There’s just so much focus on the schools, and it’s visceral,” said John Whitbeck, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia from Loudoun County, where acrimonious school board meetings have led to arrests, death threats and constant airtime on conservative media. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m against the debt ceiling.’ This is like, ‘You’re destroying our children’s education.’ And, look, angry people vote.”

Polling in recent weeks has shown a tight race, with Democrats less enthusiastic than Republicans about voting. Mr. McAuliffe, who was barred from seeking re-election in 2017 by Virginia law, is faring worse in the fast-growing, voter-rich Northern Virginia suburbs than Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, did when he won four years ago, according to some surveys.

Mr. Youngkin’s focus on schools may not resonate as strongly with the broader electorate.

Measures such as mask and vaccine mandates are cutting differently in the governor’s race in more liberal New Jersey and are overwhelmingly popular among Virginia’s independents and Democrats. Critical race theory — an advanced academic concept generally not introduced until college — is not part of classroom teaching in Virginia and many voters say they do not know enough about it to have an opinion.

And turning schools into a cultural war zone by railing against equity initiatives, books with sexual content and public health measures avoids tackling issues like budget cuts and the other thornier problems facing American education.

But in an off-year election, when both sides anticipate a sharp falloff in voting, victory may hinge on which candidate can best motivate their base. Mr. Youngkin and his strategists believe that in the fights roiling schools they have discovered the rare issue that can galvanize their voters, even in places that are shifting the state to the left.

Frustration with education is an issue that unites Republicans, energizing moderates eager to ensure their children remain in school as well as conservatives who see a liberal plot to indoctrinate their children with the belief that white people are inherently racist.

“The former governor is saying, ‘Hey I’ll decide how to teach your kids, not you’ — that’s really the issue driving this,” said John Fredericks, who led Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign last year. “Glenn Youngkin is the candidate that’s been able to straddle both sides of the party. And so far he’s given us just enough where we can enthusiastically vote for the guy.”

Republicans have centered much of their closing argument around a statement by Mr. McAuliffe in last month’s debate.

The comment came after Mr. Youngkin attacked Mr. McAuliffe over his 2017 veto of a bill permitting parents to opt out of allowing their children to study material deemed sexually explicit. The dispute was prompted by a mother who objected to her son, a high school senior, reading literary classics including Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”

Mr. McAuliffe shot back that he did not believe “parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” In the weeks since, he’s stood by those remarks, saying that the state Board of Education and local school boards should determine what is taught in the classroom.

But Mr. Youngkin and Republicans, stripping the quotation from its context, have turned the footage into the core of their argument that Mr. McAuliffe would side with government over parents.

Video of the remark was featured in a flurry of digital ads and a statewide television commercial accusing Mr. McAuliffe of going “on the attack against parents.” Mr. Youngkin’s team began scheduling “Parents Matter” rallies in exurban counties, as they actively courted parent activist groups.

And Mr. Youngkin has also voiced support for Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher in Loudoun County. Mr. Cross was suspended after announcing at a school board meeting that he would not address transgender students by their preferred pronouns because of his Christian faith.

At a campaign rally last week in Winchester, a small town in the Shenandoah Valley in one of the fast-growing exurb counties around Washington, Mr. Youngkin made little mention of Mr. Trump, vaccines or the coronavirus. Instead, he repeatedly invoked issues around schools as top priorities.

He drew some of the loudest applause from the overwhelmingly white audience when he promised to ban critical race theory on his first day in office and vowed that schools would never be closed again.

“This is what big government means for Terry McAuliffe. He not only wants to stand between you and your children. He wants to make government a tool to silence us,” Mr. Youngkin told the crowd of nearly 200 people at a farm stand. “This is no longer a campaign. This is a movement. It’s a movement led by parents.”

Mr. McAuliffe has dismissed the outrage surrounding critical race theory as “racist” and “a dog whistle.” He supports mask and vaccine mandates for students, teachers and school staff. (Mr. Youngkin says he encourages Virginians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus but does not support mandates.)

But there are signs that Democrats sense danger.

Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign has returned to highlighting his education proposals to undercut any argument that Mr. Youngkin could be stronger on the issue, promising to invest $2 billion in education, raise teacher pay, expand pre-K programs and invest in broadband access for students. On Friday, Mr. McAuliffe released an ad saying that Mr. Youngkin would cut billions of dollars in education funding and bring “Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’s education policies to Virginia.”

The parent organizations in Virginia say they are nonpartisan and more focused on school board elections than national politics. But many are led by Republican activists, raise funds from Republican Party donors and are helped by conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, which has held briefings to discuss model legislation to block critical race theory. Last month, the Republican National Committee ran ads attacking “fascist mask mandates” and highlighting video clips of angry parents yelling at school board members.

Jan Resseger hopes that Pedro Martinez, the new superintendent in Chicago, will eliminate the disastrous policy of “student-based budgeting.” The importance of the topic is not limited to Chicago. School officials in Los Angeles are considering a similar program. Everyone needs to learn the lessons that Jan describes. Schools in impoverished communities suffer most from this budgeting method and are “trapped by student based budgeting in an accelerating cycle of decline.”

She writes:

Martinez previously served the Chicago Public Schools as Arne Duncan’s chief financial officer. WBEZ’s Sarah Karp summarizes what have been some positive—and urgently needed—changes in the school district since Martinez left in 2009: “The good news for the new CEO is that CPS is relatively financially stable, at least in the short term. The school district received more than $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money to be spent over three years… Former CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade made equity a focus. They sent extra money to schools serving poor students. They also gave schools the opportunity to apply for specialties, such as dual language or International Baccalaureate programs. In the past, the mayor and school leaders picked which schools got these special programs without any indication as to how or why they were chosen. Jackson and McDade also developed curriculum for every grade and every subject that they touted as a first for the district.”

However, enormous challenges persist. First are the politics. Karp continues: “Few people would disagree that the Chicago Teachers Union and the mayor have a toxic relationship.”

But the biggest problem is structural—at the heart of the operation of the school district: providing quality programming in a district that operates with a plan called “student based budgeting.” Karp explains: “Since Martinez left Chicago Public Schools in 2009, enrollment has dropped by some 80,000 students. This has hit neighborhood high schools particularly hard, leaving some with very few students. At the same time, the school district changed how it funds schools so they get a set amount per student, leaving low enrollment schools with limited budgets. The end result: schools with few students in huge buildings that can’t afford robust programming.”

Student based budgeting sets up a race to the bottom. Once students begin to leave, the district cuts the school’s budget, which inevitably means reducing teachers and diminishing programming. And the downward cycle accelerates.

Student based budgeting was instituted in 2014. Several years later in 2019, researchers at Roosevelt University evaluated the plan: “In 2014, Chicago Public Schools adopted a system-wide Student Based Budgeting model for determining individual school budgets… Our findings show that CPS’s putatively color-blind Student Based Budgeting reproduces racial inequality by concentrating low budget public schools almost exclusively in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods. The clustering of low-budget schools in low-income Black neighborhoods adds another layer of hardship in neighborhoods experiencing distress from depopulation, low incomes, and unaffordable housing.”

Please open the link and read it all.

Renee Sekel is a parent and public school advocate in North Carolina. She sends her children to public schools. She remembers when she naively believed that the state’s legislators supported public schools. Then the budget cuts started coming. Then charters. Then vouchers. Now, she says, public schools are in a race against time.

She wrote:

Four years ago, both Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina at least made a show of claiming to support public education, even as the legislature slashed budgets and passed one policy after another aimed at undermining public schools. What worries me today is how that rhetoric has shifted. Our Republican leaders now openly acknowledge that they are hostile to public education and would prefer to replace public schools with a voucher system. I know that the vast majority of North Carolinians from all across the political spectrum support public schools, but increasingly it feels like we’re in a race against time, trying to get citizens to understand that our schools are under attack. If it becomes orthodoxy in the GOP that public schools are anathema, and a critical mass is convinced that the schools their children attended−that they attended−should be destroyed, there is no going back.

Jan Resseger writes here about the tussle in the legislature over the Ohio education budget. Funding was increased for public schools, but funding for charters and vouchers was also increased. And taxes were cut. Republican supporters of public schools saved the day from the voracious privatizers, led by Andrew Brenner, who is hostile to public schools.

Resseger writes:

The Ohio Constitution defines public schools as an institution embodying our mutual responsibility to each other as fellow citizens and to Ohio’s children.  The budget conference committee’s restoration of the Fair School Funding Plan, even if limited only to the upcoming biennium, will restore adequate funding to the schools that serve our state’s 1.7 million public school students and will significantly equalize children’s educational opportunity across our state’s 610 school districts.

However, the expansion of vouchers and charter schools opens the door for future growth of school privatization.  Ohio’s parents and citizens who believe in a strong system of public education will have work to do to preserve the Fair School Funding Plan beyond the current two-year limit and to prevent the rapid expansion of vouchers and charters at the expense of public schools in future state budgets.

A while back, I read a vitriolic article in a rightwing publication that expressed contempt for the public schools and congratulated Betsy DeVos for trying to cut federal funding for schools.

The article asserted that public schools are “garbage” and the government should slash their funding. A major piece of evidence for the claim that money doesn’t matter was the failure of the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants program, which spent more than $3 billion and accomplished nothing. The evaluation of SIG was commissioned by the U.S Department of Education and quietly released just before the inauguration of Trump. The report was barely noticed. Yet now it is used by DeVos acolytes to oppose better funding of our schools.

The wave of Red4Ed teachers’ strikes in 2019 exposed the woeful conditions in many schools, including poorly paid teachers, lack of nurses and social workers and librarians, overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling facilities. The public learned from the teachers’ strikes that public investment in the schools in many states has not kept pace with the needs of students and the appropriate professional compensation of teachers. Many states are spending less now on education than they did in 2008 before the Great Recession. They reacted to the economic crisis by cutting taxes on corporations, which cut funding for schools.

Sadly, the Obama-Duncan Race to the Top program promoted the same strategies and goals as No Child Left Behind. Set goals for test scores and punish teachers and schools that don’t meet them. Encourage the growth of charter schools, which drain students and resources from schools with low test scores.

One can only dream, but what if Race to the Top had been called Race to Equity for All Our Children? What if the program had rewarded schools and districts that successfully integrated their schools? What if it had encouraged class-size reduction, especially in the neediest schools? Race to the Top and the related SIG program were fundamentally a replication and extension of NCLB.

When Arne Duncan defended his “reform” (disruption) ideas in the Washington Post, he cited a positive 2012 evaluation and belittled his own Department’s 2017 evaluation, which had more time to review the SIG program and concluded that it made no difference. The 2017 report provided support for those who say that money doesn’t matter, that teacher compensation doesn’t matter, that class size doesn’t matter, that schools don’t need a nurse, a library, a music and arts program, or adequate and equitable funding.

The Education Department’s 2017 evaluation shows that the Bush-Obama strategy didn’t made a difference because its ideas about how to improve education were wrong. Low-performing schools did not see test-score gains because both NCLB and RTTT were based on flawed ideas about competition, motivation, threats and rewards, and choice.

Here is a summary of the SIG program in the USED’s report that the Right used to defend DeVos’s proposed budget cuts.

The SIG program aimed to support the implementation of school intervention models in low-performing schools. Although SIG was first authorized in 2001, this evaluation focused on SIG awards granted in 2010, when roughly $3.5 billion in SIG awards were made to 50 states and the District of Columbia, $3 billion of which came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. States identified the low-performing schools eligible for SIG based on criteria specified by ED and then held competitions for local education agencies seeking funding to help turn around eligible schools.

SIG-funded models had no significant impact on test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment…

The findings in this report suggest that the SIG program did not have an impact on the use of practices promoted by the program or on student outcomes (including math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment), at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff. In higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as unobserved differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

These findings have broader relevance beyond the SIG program. In particular, the school improvement practices promoted by SIG were also promoted in the Race to the Top program. In addition, some of the SIG-promoted practices focused on teacher evaluation and compensation policies that were also a focus of Teacher Incentive Fund grants. All three of these programs involved large investments to support the use of practices with the goal of improving student outcomes. The findings presented in this report do not lend much support for the SIG program having achieved this goal, as the program did not appear to have had an impact on the practices used by schools or on student outcomes, at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff.

What NCLB, Race to the Top, and SIG demonstrated was that their theory of action was wrong. They did not address the needs of students, teachers, or schools. They imposed the lessons of the non-existent Texas “miracle” and relied on carrots and sticks to get results. They failed, but they did not prove that money doesn’t matter.

Money matters very much. Equitable and adequate funding matters. Class size matters, especially for children with the highest needs. A refusal to look at evidence and history blinds us to seeing what must change in federal and state policy. It will be an uphill battle but we must persuade our representatives in state legislatures and Congress to open their eyes, acknowledge the failure of the test-and-punish regime, and think anew about the best ways to help students, teachers, families, and communities.

The findings of the report were devastating, not only to the SIG program, but to the punitive strategies imposed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which together cost many more billions. 

My first reaction was, Money doesn’t matter if you spend it on the wrong strategies, like punishing schools that don’t improve test scores, like ignoring the importance of reducing class size, like ignoring the importance of poverty in the lives of children, like ignoring decades of social science that out-of-school factors affect student test scores more than teachers do.

Good Jobs First entered the national scene when it produced documentation that the CARES Act was being used to funnel billions of dollars to private schools and charter schools. The charter schools were double-dipping, first taking money allotted to public schools, then getting millions more from the Paycheck Protection Program, which excluded public schools.

Now, Good Jobs First has released a new report, showing that students are paying for corporate tax breaks.

Abating Our Future:

How Students Pay for Corporate Tax Breaks
Executive Summary

Public school students in the U.S. suffered poorer schools—and local and state taxpayers paid higher taxes—in 2019 due to corporate tax breaks. Thanks to a new government accounting rule, we are able to prove that economic development tax abatements given to corporations cost public school districts at least $2.37 billion in forgone revenue in 2019. That is $273 million — or 13 percent— higher than two years before.

Across the country, 97 school districts lost more than $5 million each; 149 districts lost more than $1,000 per student.

Even though we looked at all 50 states and DC, these dollar amounts come from only 2,498 school districts in 27 states, which represent about 20 percent of independent school districts. For some of the states with no meaningful data, there are legitimate reasons, such as no independent reporting for school districts.

However, as we detail, some dozen states are failing to ensure that school districts and other local government bodies are adhering to the new accounting standard.

In essence, they are either exploiting loopholes in the rule or ignoring it altogether.

With no way of knowing how much revenue school districts are foregoing in these data-absent 23 states and the District of Columbia, it’s clear the harm of abatements is far greater than we can yet prove.

Those costs reduced school budgets, forced states and localities to raise their tax rates to offset at least some of the difference, or some of both.

In some of the states with the most complete disclosures, it is evident that the poor pay more. That is, school districts with the highest rates of poverty (measured by metrics such as the share of students who qualify for free or discounted school lunches) are likely to suffer the highest losses.

And because U.S. poverty is racialized, this means that Black and Brown students often suffer the greatest losses. Indeed, Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark T. Bedell recently called tax abatements “systematic education racism.”

We hasten to add that these tax abatements are, in most states, granted by city or county governments, not by school boards. Even though state equity formulas try to offset the resulting losses, tax abatements effectively amount to what we call an “intergovernmental free lunch,” in which one body of government gets to spend another body’s revenue — a structural flaw that invites over-spending and defeats accountability.
Put another way, local school leaders not only have no say in whether their money should be given away, they often don’t even realize it’s happening.

This 2017-2019 surge in spending on corporate tax breaks also occurred despite the strong economic growth the U.S. enjoyed in that pre-pandemic time span. (Most school districts’ FY 2019 calendars ended June 30, 2019.) Indeed, the nation’s unemployment rate fell to record post-war lows during our study period.

We stress again: The $2.37 billion figure is a conservative summation based on incomplete data. Supposedly, all school districts that use the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) — set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) — should report tax abatements. Though a minority of states do not require their school districts to follow GAAP, many of those districts still do use GAAP accounting, as Wall Street prefers it for rating bonds. Most states do mandate school districts to comply with GAAP, so when their abatement data is missing, we attribute this to either poor state oversight (state auditors, comptrollers or treasurers normally enforce such rules), or loopholes in how “tax abatements” are defined by GASB (or how those definitions have been specified in GASB’s annual Implementation Guides).

These definitional loopholes, or ambiguities of GASB Statement No. 77 (“GASB 77”) — especially regarding tax increment financing (or TIF) and Industrial Development Bonds (or IDBs) — are allowing some of these economic development tax expenditures to go unreported. We detail external evidence of these problems in several states. In other states, foregone revenue is offset through an increased local levy or by state aid. These states argue that GASB 77 does not apply to them because there was no foregone revenue to the districts themselves; instead all taxpayers contribute to the subsidy payouts.

We present in-depth case studies on five states with complete data:

▪ Missouri, where tax increment financing (TIF) proliferates, diverting much- needed revenues away from school districts.

▪ Louisiana, where three of the poorest districts — located in the parishes of West Baton Rouge, St. James, and St. John the Baptist — not only suffered sizeable forgone revenue in 2019 but also large increases from 2017. Indeed, teachers in East Baton Rouge made national news in 2019 when they voted almost unanimously to walk out if the parish school board granted another abatement to ExxonMobil.

▪ New York, where we found statistically significant association between greater tax abatements and higher shares of Black and Hispanic students, after controlling for district size or total enrollment.

▪ South Carolina, where six school districts each lost more than $2,000 per pupil (and four of those have Black + Brown student majorities), while total state losses soared by 31 percent to $423 million in FY 2019.

▪ Texas, where the Chapter 313 program results in heavy per-pupil losses thanks to a system that essentially rewards districts for doling out business subsidies.

In our conclusion, we make seven recommendations to the states and two suggestions to the GASB itself.

The best, most equitable solution is for states to shield school revenues entirely from abatement programs. They can simply rewrite their incentive-enabling laws to exclude from abatements those shares of local property and sales taxes that would normally be apportioned to K-12.

Short of that, we recommend that states cap the share of each locality’s property and sales tax base that can be abated in the name of economic development, and at a very small share, such as two percent. We also recommend caps on dollars per student that can be abated, at $200 annually.

Short of an absolute shield or tight caps, we recommend that states give school boards control to opt in or out of tax-break deals (i.e., to give them equivalent powers enjoyed by cities and counties).

We also recommend four actions by the states now to ensure compliance with GASB 77. They should create clear authority and mechanisms (led by a state auditor, comptroller, treasurer, or education department) to review the financial reports issued by school boards, and if, necessary, correct them. They should require that all localities include a GASB 77 note in their financial reports, whether they have reportable abatements or not. They should require localities to disclose even “immaterial” abatement costs (rather than allowing arbitrary definitional decisions). And they should require all governments that are actively making abatement agreements to compute and report the costs of such deals to all affected jurisdictions in plenty of time for inclusion in annual financial reports.

To the GASB itself, we urge it to start over on tax increment financing (TIF) and issue a clean new Statement that treats all three forms of TIF as reportable abatements akin to those clearly covered by Statement No. 77.

We also urge the GASB to finish the process it began in 2018 and openly declare that property tax abatements that are bundled with Industrial Development Bonds (IDBs) are abatements covered by Statement No. 77.

These safeguards reflect what Good Jobs First has learned since we first explored the tension between abatements and school funding in 2003, and in our many blogs, articles, and studies since GASB 77 was issued in 2015.

Communities cannot determine if tax abatements given to corporations in the name of economic development are worth the price if they don’t know the costs, especially to education.