Archives for category: Education Industry

Writing in The Nation, David Kirp reviewed a book about the college rating system devised by US News and finds it to be as ridiculous as we have long believed. The book is BREAKING RANKS: HOW THE RANKINGS INDUSTRY RULES HIGHER EDUCATION AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT by Colin Diver, former president of Reed College.

Which are the “best” colleges and universities, according to the rankers? The most selective. The richest. The ones that have their pick of the most gifted students. The ones with the money to have fabulous student centers, libraries, gyms, etc.

This is nuts.

Kirp writes:


A few years back, the “Varsity Blues” scandal made front-page news. Rich parents, desperate to ensure that their offspring were accepted by an elite university, paid huge sums of money to an entrepreneur who promised “side door” admissions. Over the course of nearly a decade, athletic records were faked, bribes were paid to university staffers, and hired experts took the SAT instead of the students. To the public, the perp-walk treatment received by these parents and those who abetted them was a justified comeuppance for those who cheated the system.

But did the prosecution of these cheaters really solve the problem? Hardly. The titillating story about entitled parents, far from being an isolated scandal, was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg: It illustrated how the college admissions system in the United States is systemically broken. With places in top-rung schools almost as rare as the Hope Diamond, affluent parents scramble for every advantage. But universities made this system what it is today: They are these parents’ eager enablers, competing fiercely for the prestige and money that comes with success in the rankings game.

In Breaking Ranks, Colin Diver, a former president of Reed College, details how the rankings industry—most notoriously, U.S. News & World Report—powers this unvirtuous cycle. If you are buying a car or a refrigerator, a Consumer Reports–style rankings system works just fine. But, as Diver points out, there is no right answer when it comes to choosing a college—for all the fancy formulas the rankings companies trot out, they offer faux science. When the powerhouses, like U.S. News and its ilk, weigh competing values—selectivity versus affordability, reputation versus higher-than-predicted graduation rates—they are making an ideological judgment about what really matters in a college education. (The Washington Monthly’s formula emphasizes a college’s contribution to the public good, focusing on social mobility, research, and promoting public service. It’s a fine, if imperfectly executed, idea, but there is scant evidence that the magazine has much of an impact on students’ choices.) Thus, it’s apparent from the results that what counts most in these calculations is the wealth of the institution and, indirectly, the wealth of its students. Were it otherwise, would all of the top 20 universities be wealthy private schools?

The rankings game is a high-stakes affair. Where an institution stands in the U.S. News pecking order affects the number and credentials of its applicants, whose decisions are heavily influenced by a school’s prestige; the generosity of its donors, who like to give to the winners; the bragging rights of its trustees; and its appeal to the professoriate. It’s a perpetual cycle: A college that admits more well-credentialed students, has a growing endowment, and boasts a more highly regarded faculty receives a higher ranking, which in turn generates greater selectivity, bigger donations, happier trustees, and more-pedigreed professors. Because rankings are a zero-sum game, an institution that doesn’t do as well slips in the charts, and all hell breaks loose on the campus.

Kirp can imagine a fairer ratings system: one that credits colleges and universities for improving the life chances of their students:

A fairer rankings system would highlight universities like Georgia State and CUNY, whose mission is to help students from poor families enter the middle class, rather than fixating on institutions like Yale and Princeton, which burnish the prone-to-success credentials of their students. It would give a shout-out to colleges where the teaching is first-rate, the students are engaged in learning, and the alumni describe themselves as living a fulfilling life. But such an approach is unlikely to gain traction in this hyper-competitive society, where the meritocratic myth prevails and prestige is all that matters.

Like many other states, Texas is facing a dramatic shortage of teachers. Teachers are fed up by low pay, poor working conditions, and the disrespect heaped on them by hare-brained politicians like Governor Gregg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. While the politicians blabber on about “parental rights,” by which they mean the right of parents to dictate curriculum and to censor books, none of them talk about the value of teachers and their importance.

Politicians tell teachers that they must not discuss gender or sexuality. They must not discuss the past or presence of racism, which is alive and well in Texas and everywhere else. Politicians prattle on about “critical race theory,” which they do not understand and cannot define. Bottom line, they don’t want teachers to talk about racism because it makes the politicians uncomfortable; it makes racists uncomfortable when you mention their bigotry.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

More Texas teachers are considering leaving the profession than at any point in the last 40 years, according to new polling from the Texas State Teachers Association.

The survey found that 70 percent of teachers were seriously considering quitting this year, a substantial jump from the 53 percent who said so in 2018, the last time the typically biennial survey was conducted. Teachers attributed their grim outlook to pandemic-related stress, political pressure from state lawmakers, less support from parents and stretched finances.

I don’t know where they got that “last 40 years” number, because there was never a time when so many teachers were ready to throw in the towel and walk away from their classrooms.

Texas can’t afford to pay teachers more? Nonsense. Texas, under Abbott’s non-leadership, doesn’t want to pay teachers more. Abbott sees more to be gained politically by demonizing teachers.

In the survey, which was completed by 688 Texas teachers, 94 percent said the pandemic increased their professional stress, and 82 percent said financial stress was exacerbated. Experts have pointed to better pay as a key way to recruit and retain teachers. Respondents taught for about 16 years on average, and their average salary was around $59,000. That’s about $7,000 below the national trend, according to the teachers association.

Besides salary, Texas teachers on average also receive some of the worst retirement benefits of those in any state, a separate study from June found. Teachers who have retired since 2004 have not received a cost-of-living adjustment, although the Legislature has passed some “13th check” bills that send extra annuity payments.

In addition to pay, 85 percent said they felt state lawmakers held a negative view of teachers, 65 percent said the public held a negative view and 70 percent said support from parents had decreased over the last several years.

Abbott and fellow Republicans in the Texas Legislature have recently enacted several high-profile education policies, over opposition from teachers groups and education experts.

Last year, the Legislature placed restrictions on social studies curriculum, prohibiting certain discussions about racism. Abbott banned school districts from instituting mask mandates last fall, as COVID-19 cases surged. And schools are now facing calls for censorship of books that include discussions about race, gender or sexual orientation.

“For political reasons, Gov. Abbott has been trying to drive a wedge between parents and teachers, and this has definitely hurt teachers and hurt their students as well. It threatens the future of public education in Texas,” wrote TSTA President Ovidia Molina.

“Many of these teachers will be missing from our classrooms this fall, and for others, it is only a matter of time.”

Abbott has defended the measures as a way to depoliticize education and restore power to families about what their children do and don’t learn. He is calling for “Parental Bill of Rights” legislation next year to give parents even more control, as conservatives criticize the public school system as too progressive.

“Many parents are growing increasingly powerless about what to do to regain that control. That must end,” Abbott has said. “No government program can replace the role that parents play in the education of their children.”

A spokeswoman for the governor, Renae Eze, emphasized his commitment to education funding and “support for our hardworking teachers.”

“In 2019, the Governor signed into law one of the biggest teacher pay raises in our state’s history—over $1 billion in annual investment—and established the Teacher Incentive Allotment, which puts teachers on a pathway to earning a six-figure salary while prioritizing high-need areas and rural schools,” Eze said.

The Teacher Incentive Allotment gives raises to high-performing teachers. It has been rolled out to about 10 percent of Texas’ roughly 1,200 school districts, but almost all of the funds for the statewide program go to Dallas ISD — receiving 10 times more than any other district. The program is opposed by teachers unions, which advocate instead for universal raises.

Here are a few thoughts for Governor Abbot.

You have done everything possible to politicize the classroom with your bans and censorship.

You have insulted teachers.

You have pitted parents against teachers.

You have put your money into a merit pay incentive program that has never worked anywhere in the nation. Ever.

Your gag orders, your insertion of politics into what teachers teach, your hostility to public education demonstrates your contempt for teachers.

Your devotion to vouchers shows that you prefer schools where teachers have no certification, no preparation at all to teach. If you get your way, employers will avoid Texas. You favor indoctrination over education. You oppose freedom of thought. Your students will finish high school poorly educated. Texas will go backwards.

Shame on you.

John Thompson is a historian and a retired teacher. He follows politics in Oklahoma closely. This article appeared first in the OkObserver.

The arc of the history of corporate school reform has been tragic; the survival of public education in a meaningful and equitable manner is in doubt in Oklahoma and much of the rest of the nation. To understand how and why this catastrophe happened, Tennessee provides perhaps the best case study.

This multi-generational assault on schools took off during the Reagan administration with its spin on A Nation at Risk, which misrepresented the report’s research. Back then, these attacks were largely propelled by two theologies: evangelical Christianity and a worship of the “Free Market.” Two decades later, corporate school reform was driven by Neoliberal ideology, and President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was pushed by both Republicans and Democrats and resisted by bipartisan grassroots movements of educators, parents, and students. I will always love President Obama, but during his administration the Race to the Top (RttT) undermined teachers unions, increased segregation, and drove holistic instruction and teachers (who resisted “drill and kill” teach-to-the-test malpractice) out of so many schools.

The damage was made much worse when the Trump administration further ramped up the campaign to use charter schools and vouchers to undermine public education. Now, Tennessee is again at the front of the rightwing’s “nationwide war on public schools.”

The Progressive Magazine’s Andy Spears explains that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s “point person on education policy is Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, a private, Christian evangelical school located in Michigan.” Arnn “compared public school systems to ‘enslavement’ and ‘the plague,’” and “accused teachers of ‘messing with people’s children,’ saying they are ‘trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country,’”

Spears reported, “Lee announced in his State of the State address that he’d reached an agreement with Arnn for Hillsdale to operate up to 100 charter schools in Tennessee.” Gov. Lee defended Arnn’s rhetoric, saying, “I’m not going to rebut someone who was speaking about left-wing problems in public education in this country.”

Clearly, Tennessee schools, like those in Oklahoma and many other states, are facing a new set of dangerous threats, and they do so after being weakened by the RttT, just as the RttT’s failure was made more predictable due to the damage done by the doomed-to-fail NCLB, which was a legacy of coordinated attacks on public education initiated by the Reagan administration.

In order to resist the latest ideology-driven falsehoods, lessons must be learned from Tennessee’s rushed corporate school reforms. Race to the Bottom, by former Nashville Board member Will Pinkston is a great example of what we need to learn about the last two decades of assaults that have left public education so vulnerable. Pinkston begins with an apology:

I helped sell the public on the Obama administration’s multi-billion-dollar Race to the Top competition. In my home state of Tennessee, Race to the Top delivered $501 million to benefit public schools — and along the way spawned some of the most-damaging education policies in modern American history.

Pinkston explained that the RttT was driven by the same “irrational exuberance” that the true believers in the “Free Market” expressed. Briefly and predictably, the half billion dollar gamble produced quick, temporary gains in the reliable NAEP test scores. Soon afterwards, scores stagnated and/or declined; after ten years they dropped to the pre-RttT levels.

Worse, Tennessee’s early education program did something that would previously have been thought to be virtually impossible. High-quality early education has a record of producing significant, often incomparable benefits, for the dollars invested. However, graduates from Tennessee’s pre-k programs were found to have “lower academic scores, more behavioral problems and more special education referrals than their peers who did not attend.” The author of the report on the longterm outcomes, Dale Farran, worried that the state’s “pre-K overall has become too academic, especially when it is enveloped by the school system, and children don’t get enough time to play, share their thoughts and observations, and engage in meaningful, responsive interactions with caregivers.”

From the beginning, the Tennessee teachers union (as would also prove true in Oklahoma) knew that data-driven, corporate reformers were ignoring the overwhelming body of social science as to why their quick fixes would backfire. But, states received “up to $250,000 each to hire consultants (McKinsey & Co. and The Bridgespan Group) to help them fill out their applications,” and establish “reward and punish” systems. I must add that in conversation after conversation with these smart Big Data experts, who “didn’t know what they didn’t know” about schools, they refused to listen to educators like me and social scientists explaining why their hurried, punitive corporate approach would backfire.

And as it became obvious that their mandates were failing, the blame game was ramped up and outsiders like the “American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative think tank with ties to the Koch brothers,” successfully pushed for “stripping teachers of collective bargaining rights.”

Perhaps the biggest fiasco was teacher evaluations where 35 percent of the evaluation would be based on invalid, unreliable student-growth data and algorithms that were biased against teachers in high-poverty schools. The most absurd model for firing teachers used data from students who they had not taught!

Secondly, the rush to expand charter schools led to a dramatic over-expansion of schools run by Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) (as opposed to locally-led charters that might have been good partners.) CMOs were notorious for increasing economic segregation by not welcoming and/or “exiting” high-challenge students. Fortunately, Tennessee did a better job than Oklahoma of using the courts to push back on the worst of teacher evaluations and charters that would not retain higher-challenge students.

(On the other hand, pushback led by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister saved Oklahoma schools from a disaster which would have occurred if almost every student and teacher was held accountable for inappropriate Common Core test scores, as she pushed for more charter school accountability, and promoted high-quality early education.)

Based on his personal experience and scholarly research, Pinkston concluded, “intentionally or not, Race to the Top laid the groundwork for the attempted destruction of America’s most important democratic institution — public education.” And now, a huge increase in charter schools will advance a conservative curriculum which “relies on approaches developed by Arnn and other members of the 1776 Commission appointed by Trump to develop a ‘patriotic education’ for the nation’s schools.”

In response to the latest rightwing push described by The Progressive, Pinkston tweeted:

Fellow veterans of TN’s charter wars, just a friendly reminder: Long before Hillsdale, there was Great Hearts — which actually was pushed by Hillsdale. In the words of Nashville’s former top charter zealot Karl Dean: “It’s all connected.”

And that is why Oklahomans who are upset by Gov. Stitt’s attempts to expand charters and vouchers, ban Critical Race Theory, bully transgender students, and coerce educators into complying with these mandates should remember Tennessee’s history. Alone, those attacks would have been harmful. But today’s politics of destruction are on steroids. These assaults are more frightening because they are just the latest of destructive mandates, such as NCLB and the RttT, that have dramatically weakened public schools and undermined holistic and meaningful instruction.

During the last two decades, too many Neoliberal corporate reformers were able to “kneecap” public schools. Now we’re facing extremists who now want to go for the throat, and wipe out public education while it’s down.

David Lapp, director of policy research for Research for Action in Philadelphia, recently wrote about the money wasted on Cybercharters in Pennsylvania. Apparently, the industry has a strong hold on the Pennsylvania legislature. There is no other reason that it continues to thrive.

During the worst of the pandemic, schools closed for reasons of safety and caution. Cybercharters boomed to fill the gap. But with physical schools open, the truth must be told about Cybercharters: they are a poor substitute for real schools.

Lapp writes:

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools into remote learning instruction many Pennsylvania policymakers expressed deep concerns. Many lamented the impact on mental health when students stopped receiving in-person learning and the important social skills that develops. Many were upset by the evidence of significant learning loss that accompanied the switch to virtual instruction.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly even enacted a new law allowing students to voluntarily repeat a grade to make up for lost educational opportunities.

This year policymakers should consider bringing that same energy to a similarly harmful and even more wasteful form of remote learning. One that’s been growing for more than two decades and reached a boiling point during the pandemic. I’m talking about the soaring enrollment growth and accompanying financial cost of Pennsylvania’s cyber-charter school expansion.

There’s solid research both nationally and in Pennsylvania that cyber-charter schools have an “overwhelmingly negative” impact on student learning. The learning loss students experience from virtual instruction in cyber-charter schools appears similar to the learning loss students experienced from virtual instruction during the pandemic.

For each year a student is enrolled in cyber-charter school they are also more likely to experience chronic absenteeism and less like to enroll in post-secondary education.

There’s also clear evidence that spending on cyber-charter school expansion comes at the expense of students receiving in-person learning in school districts and brick & mortar charter schools, where more effective instruction is provided. In fact school districts—which pay for cyber-charter tuition from their own school budgets—have indicated that charter tuition is now their top budget pressure.

It’s easy to understand why. Pennsylvania already had the highest cyber-charter school enrollment in the country and then enrollment grew by 22,618 additional students during the pandemic. Districts are now spending over $1 billion dollars a year on cyber-charter tuition, reflecting an increase of $335 million from before the pandemic. These surging expenses impacted the vast majority of school districts in the state.

Cyber-charter tuition likely represents the most inefficient spending in Pennsylvania school finance. For one, the cyber-charter system is redundant. Both before and since the pandemic, most school districts continue to offer their own virtual schools. Secondly, the tuition rates mandated under current PA law require districts to pay cyber-charters more than it actually costs to operate virtual schools. And finally, when students leave for cyber-charter schools, districts must of course still operate their own brick & mortar schools for remaining students, only now with fewer resources….

In Research for Action’s recent report, The Negative Fiscal Impact of Cyber Charter Enrollment Due to COVID-19, we estimated that the tuition increase in just one year of the pandemic, from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, led to between $290 to $308 million of additional stranded costs borne by school districts. Nearly the entire amount of increases in school district total expenditures statewide in 2020-21 were accounted for by increases in school district tuition payments to charter schools, most of which were for cyber-charters specifically.

Meanwhile, this tuition spike has left cyber-charters in Pennsylvania flush with surplus resources. More than half of the additional funding cyber-charters received from districts in 2020-21 was not even used for student expenses. Rather, cyber- charters funneled over $170 million into their general fund balances that, unlike school districts, have no statutory limits.

In North Carolina, charter operator Baker Mitchell plans to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal a court decision barring him from requiring girls to wear skirts to school.

The nonpartisan organization “In the Public Interest” reports:

A charter school which lost a case in federal court recently over its mandatory rule that girls wear skirts is going to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Baker Mitchell, the owner of the school, “said the ruling could change the landscape of charter schools. He said in the newsletter he believes it undermines the foundation charter schools were created on, taking away parental right to choose the education their children receive. Mitchell said he believes the ruling is creating a slippery slope, and in the future courts could allow states to govern what is taught in charter schools and how.” But “experts say dress codes can and do discriminate based on sex, and this ruling proves that. Wendy Murphy, an attorney and adjunct professor at New England Law Boston, said even though parents can choose whether to send students to charter schools, that’s not the point of the ruling: regardless, if a school receives federal funding, it cannot discriminate based on sex. ‘The statute itself is very simple,’ Murphy said. ‘You cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, period.’”

In 2014, Baker Mitchell’s for-profit charter chain was investigated by the U.S. Departnent of Education for financial issues. Mitchell, who is not an educator, won a fourth charter. “Mitchell has collected in the neighborhood of $16 million in taxpayer funds over the past five years for managing three other charter schools in southeastern N.C. Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Pruden is locked in a battle with Mitchell, hoping to convince State Board of Ed members to scrutinize his management practices and hold off awarding him more charters to open up schools.”

North Carolina teacher-blogger Stuart Egan called out Baker Mitchell in 2019 after Mitchell wrote a defense of charters in the Wall Street Journal. Egan pointed out that Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academies are highly segregated and do not outperform public schools.

ProPublica wrote a report about Baker Mitchell and his charter school profiteering.

Mitchell is a member of the board of the libertarian John Locke Foundation and sat on the state charter school advisory board.

Best of all the Baker Mitchell is the pledge that students recite daily, as reported by Charlotte Magazine:

“Try to forget for a minute the outrage of wealthy businessman Baker Mitchell using North Carolina’s nascent charter school system to funnel millions of public dollars through four Wilmington-area charter schools he runs to private companies he controls, as detailed in an outstanding piece of reporting by ProPublica this week.

“Set aside the obvious conflict of interest in that arrangement, and Mitchell’s none-of-your-damn-business attitude about it: “It’s so silly. Undue influence, blah blah blah.” (He actually said that.)

“Look past his service with Art Pope on the John Locke Foundation board, and the world of symbolism in this paragraph:

To Mitchell, his schools are simply an example of the triumph of the free market. “People here think it’s unholy if you make a profit” from schools, he said in July, while attending a country-club luncheon to celebrate the legacy of free-market sage Milton Friedman.

“Turn your attention to the pledge that students, faculty, and staff at his schools are required to recite every morning just after the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge contains these lines:

I pledge to be truthful in all my works,

guarding against the stains of falsehood from

the fascination with experts,

the temptation of vanity,

the comfort of popular opinion and custom,

the ease of equivocation and compromise, and

from over-reliance on rational argument …

I pledge to be obedient and loyal to those in authority,

in my family,

in my school, and

in my community and country,

So long as I shall live.

“The stains of falsehood … from over-reliance on rational argument”? What? The philosophical basis for this bizarre statement—which, again, adults and children are required to recite every day—is the example of Roger Bacon, the medieval scholar and Franciscan friar who lends his name to the company that manages Mitchell’s charter schools.

“You can read here about Bacon’s extensive study of the science of alchemy, and here about his view of the relationship between insight and science: “Of all kinds of experience, the best, he thought, was interior illumination, which teaches many things about Nature which the external senses could never discover, such as the transubstantiation of bread.”

“Students are being taught this superstitious garbage, with taxpayer money, which then lines the pocket of the provider. What the hell have we let happen to education in this state?”

Carol Burris has followed closely the development and passage of regulations written by the U.S. Department of Education for federally-funded charter schools. The regulations, she believes, are reasonable and intended to assure that charters funded by the federal government are held to standards of transparency, honesty, and accountability.

She was taken aback to learn that rightwing groups have filed suit to block the regulations. Apparently, those filing the suit think that charters should get federal money without any oversight.

She writes about it here.

Those who want a wild west of unregulated charter schools never give up. A right-wing legal defense firm called the Pacific Legal Foundation has teamed up with the Michigan charter lobby and The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation to stop the reasonable rules of the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the Department has no right to make rules regarding the program.

Here are other lawsuits in which Pacific Legal is engaging:

· Fighting minimum wages for those who wish to move up the ladder at Texas Wally Burgers and Dairy Queens.

· Fighting opportunities for businesses of color to get some competitive advantage in obtaining government contracts after years of discrimination.

· Fighting attempts by three competitive Boston schools to expand enrollment opportunities for under-represented students of color by allotting spots by zip code.

The two plaintiffs, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, have vested financial interests in charter growth. Fordham is an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio, taking 3% of all the taxpayer dollars that the charters receive for providing “oversight.”

The argument, in its essence, is that the Department does not have the right to set up new conditions beyond what is memorialized in ESSA. If that is so, then when De Vos permitted state entities to distribute money to charter schools from their CSP grants for purposes beyond the opening and expansion of charters during the pandemic, she would have been in violation, too. Here is New York’s redistribution request that was granted. CSP funds were used for a “pandemic response,” as Betsy De Vos approved, without Congress’s permission. If the charter lobby wins this frivolous lawsuit designed to bully the Department into kowtowing to charters, perhaps taxpayers should sue to claw all of the money De Vos distributed back from charter schools.

Finally, I wonder why organizations that claim they fight for charter schools to help low-income kids succeed would run to a law firm that fights minimum wages, reduces disadvantaged kids’ chances of getting into a competitive high school, and roll back opportunities for minority-owned businesses. Perhaps their agenda has nothing to do with children at all.

I was thinking of titling this post “Libertarian Crackpots Take Charge of School Funding in New Hampshire” but decided to bite my tongue.

Garry Rayno, a writer for InDepthNH.org, reports that the Koch-funded plan to defund public schools in New Hampshire is a “success.” Not because most parents want to put their children in private or religious schools, but because the overwhelming majority of students using the new education freedom accounts are already enrolled in nonpublic schools. Thus, public funds are now underwriting private education. At some point, the public schools will shrink to be just one among many choices even though the people of New Hampshire never voted to abandon their community public schools. This is a theft of public dollars for private use.

By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org 

The new education freedom account program is a success judging by the number of students participating in the first year.

More students are expected to participate in the second year and state education officials predict it will continue to grow into the future.

One of the most expansive school choice programs in the country, it was sold as a way for students and parents to find the best educational avenues to fit their student’s individual learning needs.

That would be wonderful and would fulfill the education department’s long-standing goal of individualized student pathways, but that is not what happened for a majority of students.

Instead the program has increased the state’s education spending while few students changed their learning environment.

The vast majority of students — around 85 percent — participating in the first year, did not attend public schools the year before. Instead they were in private or religious schools, or home schooled, or too young for school.

That does not change the learning environment for that 85 percent of students.

What did change under the program was the parents’ financial obligations, which were reduced thanks to the influx of state taxpayers’ money.

Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, a program advocate, told lawmakers the first year of freedom accounts would cost the state’s Education Trust Fund about $300,000 and the second year about $3.2 million. Instead the cost was close to $9 million this year.

Why the increase? Edelblut’s estimates were for students leaving traditional public schools to participate in alternative programs, not for those already in other programs applying for state help to cover the costs of private and religious schools, or home schooling.

Essentially most of the state money flowed through the parents to private and religious schools and for homeschooling costs all previously paid for by the parents or religious institutions.

When the program was first debated this term, the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Assistant’s office estimated the state’s exposure could be as high as $70 million if all the students in private or religious schools applied for grants.

The program provides grants to parents of students who earn no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level or about $80,000 a year for a family of four.

You only have to qualify once, so if the next year your family makes $125,000, you still qualify and if you double that the next year, you still qualify.

Grants range from about $4,500 to $8,000 per student with the average the first year a little under $5,000 per student.

The money can be spent in any number of ways, for tuition, books and instructional programs, supplies, computers, individual instruction on a musical instrument, etc.

The money to pay for the freedom accounts comes from the Education Trust Fund established more than 20 years ago when the state overhauled its funding system after the Claremont II Supreme Court decision saying the then current system of relying on local property taxes with widely varying rates to pay for public education was unconstitutional because it violated the proportional and reasonable clause of the state constitution.

For most of its early years, the trust fund ran a deficit and state general fund money had to be added to meet the state’s education aid obligations.

In recent years the fund has had a surplus including this biennium. The state budget passed last year estimates a $54.4 million surplus at the end of last fiscal year June 30 and a $21 million surplus at the end of the 2023 fiscal year.

The surplus at the end of last fiscal year is much larger than that as the overall state revenue surplus is more than $400 million, but most of that has already been spent through legislation this year such as the $100 million settlement fund for the children abused at the Youth Detention Center.

The law establishing the freedom accounts has a provision if the education fund does not have enough money to cover the cost of the grants, the needed money will be withdrawn from general fund revenue without any action needed from the legislature or the governor.

Such a provision is extremely rare as lawmakers like to be able to determine how general funds are spent.

The number of students participating in the program the first year would probably not be so large if not for the American for Prosperity, an “education organization” funded by the Koch network and other like thinking libertarians who have longed advocated that public education tax money also pay for private and religious schools, homeschooling and charter schools.

The New Hampshire affiliate had a campaign ready to go when the freedom account legislation passed as part of the budget package last year. The group helped parents enroll their students in the program, many who were in private or religious schools or home schooled.

Last week the same organization held an “education fair” for parents to meet representatives of some of the organizations and groups approved to other alternative education programs under the freedom account program.

The fair was promoted by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut who tweeted a photo from the fair, and the department had a booth there to promote its 603 Moment campaign on social media.

Others touting the fair included members of the House freedom caucus and others in the free state/libertarian wing of the GOP.

The fair is intended to help grow the program, meaning more state money will be drawn from the Education Trust Fund and ultimately the state’s general fund.

This is a well planned operation that only required the state to agree to a school choice program with few guardrails to begin taking the state down the road to greater educational “freedom” and less traditional public education.

The Koch network has recently developed a proposal to “reform” public education with one of its officials calling public education the “low hanging fruit.”

The reform would look a lot like what the freedom account program looks like and would shift resources as it does away from traditional public education to alternative pathways.

As the freedom account program grows, observers of the legislature know what will happen eventually.

As more and more education trust fund money is allocated, there will be pressure to reduce the amount of money going to traditional public education and, depending on which party is in control, to charter schools.

That is how public education becomes the low hanging fruit.

The education commissioner and others talk about the achievement gap between students from well off areas and minority students and those from low-income families.

Edelblut maintains that gap has not changed in 50 years despite numerous efforts on the federal and state level and says that is why education needs to change.

He downplays what the recent education funding commission made the centerpiece of its work, that the achievement gap is due to the resources available to students.

Students from property poor communities perform below students from property wealthy communities.

The economic disparity gap between students from property wealthy and property poor communities is larger now than it was when the Claremont lawsuit was filed 30 years ago.

Proponents of alternative education programs say it is not about spending more money, and the education funding commission said the same thing.

But the commission said the resources needed to be distributed differently, while the advocates for freedom accounts say it is about finding the right fit for a student.

Those advocates are saying the issue is not economic disparity.

Ultimately their goal is to make government smaller and they can accomplish that by disrupting traditional public education with lower cost, less regulated alternative programs.

Eventually traditional education will be small enough to be just one more alternative pathway for students among many.

That is why public education is the low-hanging fruit and freedom accounts are just the beginning.

In the Texas governor’s race between the vile Gregg Abbott and challenged Beto O’Rourke, the candidates are fighting for rural votes on the issue of vouchers. Rural Republicans have a strong allegiance to their public schools, which are often the heart of the community and its biggest employer. Many rural communities do not have any other schools.

Yet Governor Abbott has supinely sought the approval of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children.

The Texas Tribune summed up the conflict:

A battle over school vouchers is mounting in the race to be Texas governor, set into motion after Republican incumbent Greg Abbott offered his clearest support yet for the idea in May.

His Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, is hammering Abbott over the issue on the campaign trail, especially seeking an advantage in rural Texas, where Democrats badly know they need to do better and where vouchers split Republicans. O’Rourke’s campaign is also running newspaper ads in at least 17 markets, mostly rural, that urge voters to “reject Greg Abbott’s radical plan to defund” public schools.

Abbott, meanwhile, is not shying away from the controversy he ignited when he said in May that he supports giving parents “the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student.” He met privately last week with Corey DeAngelis, an aggressive national school choice activist who had previously criticized Abbott as insufficiently supportive of the cause.

“School choice” tends to refer to the broad concept of giving parents the option to send their kids to schools beyond their local public school, while vouchers would allow parents to use state tax dollars to subsidize tuition for those other options, including private schools. Opponents of vouchers say they harm public school systems by draining their funding. In the Legislature, vouchers have long encountered resistance from Democrats and rural Republicans whose public schools are the lifeblood of their communities.

O’Rourke is leaning into the bipartisan salience of the issue.

“For our rural communities, where there’s only one school district and only one option of public school, he wants to defund that through vouchers, take your tax dollars out of your classroom and send it to a private school in Dallas or Austin or somewhere else at your expense,” O’Rourke told a rural audience recently.

As usual, the voucher vultures are pushing the lie that money taken away from your public school will allow children to attend elite private schools.

It can’t be said often enough: voucher funds are never enough to pay for elite public funds. It is a lie. Voucher funding ranges from $4,000 to $8,000. The tuition at elite private schools ranges from $30,000 to $70,000.

Elite private schools don’t have vacancies. When they do, they don’t seek to enroll poor kids.

After 25 years of vouchers, the research is clear: kids who leave community public schools for voucher schools lose academic ground. Large numbers return to their public schools.

Meanwhile public schools are grievously harmed by the withdrawal of funding. They must lay off teachers and cut programs.

If the Devil designed a program to hurt the public schools, he would call it vouchers. And it would be funded by the American Federatuon for Chiildren.

Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, has pushed policies that are driving teachers out of their profession. He knows exactly what he is doing. He favors charter schools and voucher schools, where teachers have no job security, no pensions.

Teachers are leaving public schools. They are quitting. DeSantis is getting what he wants.

BOCA RATON, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) (Copyright © 2022 MetroDesk Media, LLC) — The Palm Beach County School District appears to be in desperate need of teachers as the new school year gets underway. The first day of school for students is August 10th. Several teachers tell BocaNewsNow.com that they — and their colleagues — are leaving their long-held positions due to what they call the politicization of teaching by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

“From ’Don’t Say Gay’ to other bizarre positions,” said one teacher who asked not be identified, ”teaching is no longer teaching. It’s politics. Politics should have no place in the classroom, unless it’s actually a class about politics.”

“We have elementary school students who have same-sex parents,” said another teacher at a Palm Beach County elementary school. ”Are we really not allowed to acknowledge that? If we get fired, we lose benefits. If we resign now, we get what we have. This is why so many teachers are leaving. The Governor got it wrong.”

While the school district has been transmitting email blasts — and taking to social media — to promote job fairs and open positions, a check of the actual ”help wanted” website reveals just how dire the situation appears to be. As of noon on July 31st, 2022, a search of the word ”teacher” on the official Palm Beach County School District employment website yielded 1,784 jobs. While we did not review each and every listing, a spot check of several listings suggests that the openings are real. They range from full-time gifted to part-time continuing education. They range from Eagles Landing Middle School in Boca Raton to schools in all parts of the county.

It’s not just teachers. Transportation Services is also in need of bus drivers. The need is so great that the school district is offering a $1000 signing bonus to new transportation department employees.

Carol Burris knows every detail of the U.S. Department of Education’s new regulations for charter schools. She has studied them closely and written about what they mean. They are a reasonable effort to create accountability for the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars a year on charter schools. The federal Charter Schools Program began in 1994 as a $4 million annual fund to start new charter schools. In the nearly three decades since then, the program has grown (in response to the powerful charter lobby) to $440 million a year. The program, until now, has been unregulated. It has been riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. As two well-documented reports (see here and here) by the Network for Public Education demonstrated, a large number of charters received federal funding but never opened or closed soon after opening. While the original intent of the program was to jumpstart small, teacher-led or mom-and-pop charters, the program grew into a slush fund for big charter chains, grifters, and slick, for-profit entrepreneurs.

The U.S. Department of Education wisely decided it was time to set some rules. Federal funding comes with rules.

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg knows none of this context. He recently wrote (or one of his aides wrote) an uninformed article in the Washington Post about the Department’s new regulations for the Federal Charter School Program. He falsely claimed that the regulations were a “victory” for the charter industry, even though the charter industry fought the regulations vigorously. Bloomberg’s article was a lame attempt to put a happy face on a major defeat for the charter lobbyists.

Carol Burris responded:

Michael Bloomberg embarrassed himself with his recent op-ed published in the Washington Post entitled “Charter School Change is a Victory for Children.” It would appear that given the efforts and funding that his organization put into blocking Charter School Program reforms, he now feels the need to take an unearned victory lap.

Bloomberg begins his op-ed by thanking the Biden Administration for listening to parents and editorialists—like himself. After participating in the month-long hate fest that claimed the President was “at war with charter schools,” he and his allies at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools are likely eager to creep out of the doghouse.

In addition to its heated rhetoric insulting the President and telling Secretary Cardona to back off, the charter lobby deliberately spread misinformation regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s then-proposed Charter School Program reforms. They falsely claimed that over-enrollment in district schools and cooperation with a public school district were prerequisites to obtaining CSP funding. Bloomberg used his influence to write op-eds that parroted the campaign of misinformation.

As I explained here in the Washington Post Answer Sheet, neither claim was valid. Now, Bloomberg once again twists the truth with three additional false narratives in his recent op-ed.

The first is as follows.

“The Department of Education’s original proposal could have prevented public charter schools with long wait lists from expanding or replicating if the district schools were under-enrolled.”

This was inaccurate when he first wrote it and is still untrue. Under-enrollment was an example of one of the ways charter schools could demonstrate need. Waiting lists, special missions, and other ways to show need were always allowed. This was clarified by the Department long before the final regulations were published.

The second false claim in his op-ed is:

“It [proposed regulations] would have prioritized funding for public charter schools that enter into formal contracts with district schools, making charters dependent on the good will and good faith of schools that may see them as competitors.”

Mr. Bloomberg better check again.

Priority 2 (charter/district cooperation) is still in the regulations as an invitational priority this year. Invitational is one of three levels of priority. The proposed regulations never stated which level priority 2 would have. The priority, by being retained, also opens the door for priority 2 to become a higher priority in the coming years.

And finally:

“And it would have restricted public charters from receiving early implementation funding that can be crucial to the process of opening a school. The proposal was amended to prevent those outcomes.”

The amendment he refers to (see below) was a change without distinction. Those implementation funds cannot be used; therefore, the original restriction, for all intents and purposes, is still intact.

This is the minor change between the proposed and final regulations, as explained by the Department here.

“We amended Assurance (f) to remove the requirement that applicants provide an assurance that they will not “use or provide” implementation funds for a charter school until after the eligible applicant has received an approved charter and secured a facility so that applicants are required only to provide an assurance that they will not “use” implementation funds prior to receiving an approved charter and securing a facility.”

If the schools cannot use the funds, whether or not they are “provided” is irrelevant.

I do not know who penned this op-ed for Mr. Bloomberg. But I do know this. His buddies at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, likely with his financial support, spent a king’s ransom trying to get the U.S. Department of Education to scrap or delay the regulations. In the process, they alienated members of Congress, especially powerful House Appropriations Chair Rosa De Lauro, as well as members of the Department. Their campaign was relentless, nasty, and very expensive.

But in the world of Michael Bloomberg, the truth is flexible, and he can use the influence derived from his fortune to put in print whatever “truth” suits his purpose.

However, those of us who have followed this carefully know the deal. As charter devotee, Jeanne Allen tweeted to the National Alliance’s Nina Rees, who was also trying to claim victory, “You should probably read thoroughly the final CSP #charterschool rules. All 135 pages. Not only did nothing really change, but the explanations make it worse than it was to start.”