Archives for category: Funding

Tomorrow, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in a crucial case called Espinoza v. Montana.

The goal of the Espinoza plaintiffs is to strike down state laws that prohibit public funding for religious schools.

This is a case that could not only erase the line between church and state but could actually compel states to fund religious schools. It would require states to fund religious schools of every kind, and no one knows who will determine what is a legitimate religious school. It would divert funding from public schools to support students enrolled in religious schools, now and in the future.

The plaintiffs are represented by the libertarian Institute for Justice. Its efforts on behalf of school choice have been funded over the years by anti-public school activists like the Walton Family Foundation (which has launched one of every four charter schools in the U.S.), the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee (which fought in court to establish vouchers in that city), the DeVos family, and the Koch Foundation.

Twenty or thirty or forty years ago, the Supreme Court would have dismissed this case out of hand. In the past, the Court ruled that states should pay for ancillary matters like transportation and textbooks in religious schools, but not tuition.

But the Supreme Court today has a 5-4 conservative majority. Many conservative justices in the past were moderates compared to those now on the court. The two justices appointed by Trump are religious extremists who can be counted on to rule in favor of access to public funding for religious groups as well as their “freedom” to discriminate against those groups who offend their religious beliefs.

For more about this case and its ties to the evangelical right and anti-union funders, read this article that appeared in In These Times. 

The Washington Post described the case:

KALISPELL, Mont. — It is a blessed time at Stillwater Christian School, where Scripture adorns the gymnasium wall, enrollment is climbing and Head of School Jeremy Marsh awaits the four new classrooms that will be built in the spring.

It is a place that embraces the beliefs that sinners avoid eternal condemnation only through Jesus Christ, that a marriage consists of one man and one woman and that “human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions . . . from conception through natural death.”

“The religious instruction isn’t just in little pockets of Bible class,” Marsh said. “It really comes out as we are learning in all classes.”
If a family craves Stillwater’s academic rigor but not its evangelism, Marsh said he will gently advise that “this might not be the place for them.”

Parents who believe religious schools such as Stillwater absolutely are the places for their children are at the center of what could be a landmark Supreme Court case testing the constitutionality of state laws that exclude religious organizations from government funding available to others. In this case, the issue rests on whether a scholarship fund supported by tax-deductible donations can help children attending the state’s private schools, most of which are religious.

Arguments are scheduled for Wednesday.

A decision in their favor would “remove a major barrier to educational opportunity for children nationwide,” plaintiffs said in their brief to the Supreme Court. It is part of a movement by school choice advocates such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to allow government support of students seeking what she recently called “faith-based education.”


Said Erica Smith, a lawyer representing the parents: “If we win this case, it will be the U.S. Supreme Court once again saying that school choice is fully constitutional and it’s a good thing and it’s something parents should have. And that will provide momentum to the entire country.”


Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said such a ruling would be a “virtual earthquake,” devastating to the way states fund public education.

And Montana told the court that, as in 37 other states, it is reasonable for its constitution to prohibit direct or indirect aid to religious organizations.
“

The No-Aid Clause does not prohibit any religious practice,” Montana said in its brief. “Nor does it authorize any discriminatory benefits program. It simply says that Montana will not financially aid religious schools.”


But Montana is being called before a Supreme Court increasingly skeptical of such stark lines between church and state. A majority of justices in 2017 said Missouri could not ban a church school from requesting a grant from a state program that rehabilitated playgrounds. They have since been joined by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who has signaled other such restrictions deserve the court’s attention.


The Montana case is prompted by a 2015 decision by the state’s legislature to create a tax-credit program for those who wanted to donate to a scholarship fund. The program allowed dollar-for-dollar tax credits to those who donated up to $150 to an organization that provides aid to parents who want to send their children to private school.


About 70 percent of qualifying private schools in Montana are affiliated with a religion, so that meant at least some of the money would go there.
And that conflicts with a section of the state constitution that prohibits public funds for “any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”


Litigation followed, and the Montana Supreme Court ultimately struck down the program — for religious and nonreligious private schools — and said Montana’s provision did not violate religious protections in the U.S. Constitution.

The Montana Constitution that is now being challenged was adopted in 1972.

The amicus briefs supporting Montana and opposing public support for religious schools are attached here.

 

Jennifer Hall Lee is a parent activist in Pasadena, California. She wrote this article about the different amounts of money available to different types of schools in Pasadena. Remember that one of the goals of American public education is “equality of educational opportunity.” How is this possible when children in public schools do not have access to the resources as children in other kinds of schools in the same community?

Here is an excerpt:

Let’s look at a few of the current annual fund goals for schools in the Pasadena area.

  • $75,000 is the annual fund goal for Eliot Arts Magnet Academy (a PUSD school).
  • $500,000 is the annual fund goal for an Altadena charter school.
  • $4.3 million is the annual fund goal for a Pasadena private school.

These annual fund numbers reflect the income levels of parents because when you set a goal for an annual fund you must reasonably expect that the goal can be reached. Annual funds in public schools derive monies primarily through parents and alumni.

 

During the Clinton administration, Congress enacted a program called EB-5, which promised green cards to foreign investors who put their money into job-creating projects. One of those designated projects for foreign investors was charter schools. Give a lot of money, invest in charter school construction, get a green card.

The middle-men quickly figured out how to make this exchange pay off in profits.

Example: a charter school in North Carolina that won $3 million from foreign investors (six green cards), but has accumulated staggering debt.

The Center for Immigration Studies tells this sordid tale:

We have suggested in the past that the combination of the loosely run charter school movement with the loosely managed EB-5 immigrant investor program shows every sign of being a disaster for everyone involved(students, teachers, and taxpayers) — except for the middlemen.

They usually do just fine, thank you.

We have been following, among others, the case of one specific charter school in the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C., where until recently the state government has been, at the very least, more lax than most states in its supervision of charter schools.

This is a school in which six (probably Chinese) aliens have invested $500,000 each in the hopes of getting a family-sized set of green cards through the Homeland Security-managed EB-5 program. It is the Lakeside Preparatory Academy in Cornelius, N.C., sometimes known as the Lakeside Charter Academy, and as Thunderbird Preparatory Academy, Inc.

Financial Background. The struggling school opened a few years ago with four financial handicaps:

  • As we recorded in some detail, the campus had been sold, and resold and resold, apparently never at arms’ length, among Utah-based firms, some with the same postal address, so that several middlemen made major profits as its paper value moved up from $1.3 million to $9.5 million — despite a real estate assessment, for tax purposes, of $3.3 million (there was also a couple of million dollars worth of remodeling done during this time);
  • Somewhere along the way, the campus’ landlords collected $3 million from the alien investors which helped underwrite the aforementioned profits;
  • There was a falling-out among the middlemen that resulted in the school accepting a $450,000 judgment against it, a sum it had to borrow; and
  • Much of this debt remains, and is subject to a 20 percent interest rate (public school debt rarely exceeds 2 percent or 3 percent).

Bear in mind that the campus is owned by a for-profit entity in Utah, which had the advantage of the EB-5 funding; the school itself, though apparently controlled by the landlord, is a non-profit entity, and receives tax moneys for the education it provides.

In this dismal setting, a recent audit found that the school lost $103,875 in the 2017-2018 school year, and then a loss of $292,463 in the more recent 2018-2019 school year. The most recent loss occurred while the school reported a gross income of $983,091, down from a gross of $1,252,807 the prior year. So the gross was falling and the loss rising. At the end of the last school year, the cumulative loss was $363,471.

The Prospect of Bankruptcy. If one reads the audit carefully — what follows is not stressed anywhere — one finds that during the most recent school year the school paid the Utah landlords only some $23,000 in rent, and that in its current year it is obligated to pay 25 percent of its gross or, if the experience of the most recent year is to continue, $246,522, or about $223,000 more in rent than the previous year, which, if income and expenses remain the same, would suggest a loss in the current year of well over $500,000.

This would mean that the school went from about $100,000 in losses, to about $300,000 in losses the most recent school year, to more than $500,000 in losses for the current year.

Given those prospects, how in the world will the EB-5 investors get their money back?

The True Numbers. What we have reported above reflects the most recent audit by Rives & Associates, a North Carolina CPA firm. Local critics of the audit say that even these grim numbers do not reflect the dire state of the school.

We have a copy of an invoice, for example, that shows that the non-profit school owed the for-profit landlord (Lakeside Charter Holdings LLC) $1,720,503 at the end of the 2018-2019 school year; the date that debt is due is not shown, this debt is about double the school’s entire income for that year, and it apparently is not recorded in this audit. What we do see, on p. 14 of the audit is this, perhaps Delphic, statement: “Some liabilities, including bonds payable and accrued interest, are not due and payable in the current period and therefore are not reported in the funds.”

So, discounting a bit of auditing sleight of hand, the true debt of the school — with about 100 pupils — is well over $2 million!

It may well be in the interest of the landlord, and of the EB-5 middlemen, to seek to hide the true level of the school’s debt.

With all this in mind, EB-5 investors should look carefully at the proposed investments, and they should look at least twice if a charter school is involved.

The EB-5 program calls for 10 new jobs to be created by each $500,000 investment; since charter schools do not create jobs (they just take them away from the public schools), it is hard to agree with the underlying DHS decision to accept any charter school investment as appropriate in the EB-5 program.

One can only hope that the taxpayers will not be forced to bail out this little school.

Earlier this year, LAUSD board member Scott Schmerelson revealed that 82% of the charter schools in Los Angeles have empty seats (no waiting lists).

Yet because of California’s charter-friendly environment, the privately managed schools continue to open.

A report in 2017 found that charters in Los Angeles are proliferating where they are not needed. 

The report points out that traditional school districts can’t build new schools when real or potential enrollment fails to justify expansion. But those rules don’t apply to charter schools, which can open anywhere and qualify for state funding or subsidies to build or lease facilities. The report says public funds helped open and sustain at least 450 charters in areas with plenty of existing classroom space.

“Paying for more schools than are needed wastes taxpayer dollars,” the report says. “Furthermore, an oversupply of schools serves to undermine the viability of any individual school.”

The latter argument has been made repeatedly by L.A. Unified officials, who say that rapid and widespread charter growth is one of several factors threatening the solvency of the nation’s second-largest school system.

The report’s lead researcher, Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center, attributes the problem to a lack of clarity and vision in state policy.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes here about Superintendent Joe Roy, a champion for students and public schools. I add him now to the honor roll of the blog.

Superintendent Joe Roy is a fearless fighter for better opportunities for the students that attend his small city school district of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  His district is diverse, and about 60% receive free or reduced price lunch.
 
In 2016, he was the Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year. This is what he said when honored, “I’m one person out of 2,000 people in the district who do great work. So many people contribute, and it’s nice to have the recognition, but it shouldn’t be one person.”  That is who Joe Roy is.
 
Two years ago, I spoke with Joe Roy who told me how his district is being drained of funding by charter schools and cyber charters. I was shocked by how much they cost. You can read about our conversation and what I learned here.
 
Now Joe is fighting side by side with other superintendents of Pennsylvania city districts whose finances are becoming unsustainable due to charter school drain. Joe therefore has become a target of the charter lobby. At a public meeting he said the following.
 

“During the question-and-answer portion of the news conference, a reporter asked Roy why parents choose charter schools. The superintendent listed a variety of reasons like academic programs, transportation — for some parents the limited busing to the district’s neighborhood schools is a turn off — and uniforms. The longer school day at some charters paired with the bus ride can mean real child-care savings for families, Roy said.

And some parents send their children to charter schools “to avoid having their kids be with kids coming from poverty or kids with skin that doesn’t look like theirs,” Roy said.”

What Joe Roy said, which anyone who has ever worked in schools knows, is that some parents engage in  “white flight.”  They do so through curriculum tracking or leaving a district for a private or charter school. 
 
The charter lobby of Pennsylvania was outraged! He is calling white parents who choose a charter school “racists”, they claimed. They called for a public apology. They called for his resignation. They did what many charter proponents have been doing lately since pushback against charters has begun–they twisted a statement and then bullied their target.
 
But Joe Roy works for a good board elected by the people of Bethlehem. This was their response:
 
“This board, all nine publicly elected members, support Dr. Roy and echo his comments,” board President Michael Faccinetto said. “We will not back down in this fight for charter reform, and we will not ask Dr. Roy to back down or be silenced because a few unelected lobbyists disagree with the facts.”
 
You can read the full story here
 
Joe Roy is a hero. He does not hate charter schools. But he hates what the 30 million dollars his district must handover to charter schools is doing to his students and taxpayers. He is seeing neighboring districts fall into real financial crisis. He believes in public education and so does his Board of Education.
 
Hooray for the leadership of Bethlehem for speaking the truth to the powerful charter lobby!

John Thompson is a historian and a retired teacher, who blogs often, here and on other blogs. He has keen insight into what’s happening in Oklahoma.

He writes:

Since 2015, the Tulsa Public Schools have cut $22 million from its budget, even dipping into its reserve fund to balance the books. Now it must cut another $20 million.

Given the huge support for the TPS by local and national edu-philanthropists, patrons should ask why it faces such a crisis, even after the state has started to restore funding. Despite the assistance of the outcome-driven Billionaires Boys Club, the TPS has lost 5,000 students, especially to the suburbs and online charters. But that raises the question of why Chief for Change Superintendent Deborah Gist and her staff of Broad Academy administrators have produced such awful outcomes.

https://www.gkff.org/what-we-do/parent-engagement-early-education/prek-12-education/

After a series of community meeting, Gist recommended school closures designed to save $2 to 3 million. Gist also seeks $3 million in saving by increasing class sizes. Then, Gist proposed $13 to 14 million in cuts to district office administrators.

It’s great that most of the burden will be carried by the central office. But that raises the question why the district has such a well-funded administration.

Even though the Oklahoma press wouldn’t dare ask what the corporate reform-subsidized administration has accomplished, Tulsans should ask why the district in near the nation’s bottom in student performance from 3rd to 8th grades. Why does it have more emergency certified and inexperienced teachers than other districts after being awarded Gates Foundation “teacher quality” grants?

https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/tulsa-public-schools-patrons-weigh-in-on-million-budget-cut/article_fecdcb9d-f914-578c-913a-433ecb90d7b7.html

Participants in the recent community engagement process “were most willing to make budget reductions related to student transportation and bell times, teacher leadership opportunities, building utilization and district office services.” Perhaps as a repudiation of the Gates Foundation’s experiment, cutting teacher coaches was the recommendation that received the most votes. Tulsans were most protective of teacher pay, class sizes, and social-emotional learning and behavioral supports.

The fear is that closures and increased class sizes will result in more patrons leaving the district. Community participants also expressed concerns that closures will lead to more charter schools. The Tulsa World’s report on community meetings noted the worries of a parent, Wanda Coggburn:

Many shared Coggburn’s suspicion of a charter school taking over Jones or the other targeted elementary school buildings. But Gist said the needs of the six TPS-sponsored charter schools did not factor into the recommendation to close the schools.

The World also reported the fears of parents with disabilities. The parents of a child who has cerebral palsy and a developmental delay that causes behavioral issues say he was moved from a special education to a general education class against their wishes, and “they worry that adding more students would hinder his progress even further.”

Betty Casey of TulsaKids also describes the protests of parents whose deaf children attend Wright Elementary, which the superintendent wants to close. She talked with a mom who said of Wright:

She fears that it will be given to Collegiate Hall Academy, a charter school which currently shares space with Marshall Elementary. She wants her child to continue at Wright, not a charter school. She pointed out that Marshall has two gyms and a swimming pool currently not being used that could be put to use by public school students. Why not close College Bound Academy and put those students in Wright and Marshall? Closing a small charter school without a building would be much less disruptive.

https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/tulsa-s-jones-elementary-school-was-closed-once-before-and/article_2a08579f-2236-5bb8-b2a5-feb9db156682.html
https://www.tulsakids.com/where-does-tps-find-20-million/

Why would patrons have such fears? Maybe it’s because Gist responded to a question about a closed building saying “she’s confident the growing TPS-sponsored charter schools are interested in the potential space and are closely watching this process.”

I previously said that the traditional press hasn’t dared to investigate the results of corporate reform in Tulsa. However, Ms. Casey’s TulsaKids is a parents’ magazine that asks the questions that journalists have ducked. She recently wrote:

Why is it that when public schools are starved, and resources are stretched to the breaking point, that TPS is supporting a parallel school system of charters that drain more resources from the public schools? … The savings in closing schools is a drop in the bucket, but once the school is closed, it’s very difficult to go backward. Didn’t the superintendent say she was going to try to draw families back to TPS? Where will those returning families put their children? If Wright becomes a College Bound Charter, the families who wish to remain at a neighborhood school will have only one “choice” of a charter school.

Casey further explains:

I’m glad that Superintendent Gist has vowed to interview all the families leaving TPS. But, it seems a little late to wonder why people are leaving as they walk out the door. Why not work to create public schools that families love right now? …

Maybe it’s time to look at the “reforms” being implemented by the superintendent, and prior to that, Dr. Ballard’s acceptance of Gate’s Foundation money (MAP testing), and admit that those changes aren’t working for our kids, and families are leaving as a result.

https://www.tulsakids.com/where-does-tps-find-20-million/

Last week, John Merrow posted his congratulations to readers for matching up with an algorithm that selected them to make a substantial contribution to a worthy organization.

In this post, he cancels his congratulations and explains why he was in error–or just kidding around.

John Merrow writes here about the Governor’s Inaugural Address. It could be delivered in any state. It should be delivered in every state.

It is about the importance of education to creating the future we all hope for.

Read the entire address and email it to your governor. Perhaps he or she will crib a few lines.

Let’s remind ourselves that public education serves an important public purpose.  Yes, of course there is an undeniable private benefit to getting education: children who finish high school and college will earn significantly more over their lifetimes than high school dropouts.  Parents know that, which is why they seek out communities reputed to have ‘the best schools.’

However, in addition to the individual’s private gain, education provides significant public benefits.  Investing in one child’s education helps all of us.

Think about it: Educated citizens have better jobs, pay more taxes, are more likely to vote, get involved in civic life, and work cooperatively with their neighbors.  Educated citizens are less likely to be on welfare, live in homeless shelters, or require public benefits.

It’s a win-win when people are educated.  That’s why we–government–cannot stand by and leave it to parents to see their children get educated. We need to enable, and we need to provide.  And we need to pay the bills!

Let me remind you that, until fairly recently, America understood that. The GI Billpaid for the college education of millions of returning World War II veterans, creating the middle class and the greatest economic boom in history.  In the mid-1960’s generous Pell Grants opened the door to college opportunity for millions of low income young people, creating another economic surge.

But during the Reagan years government walked away from a public commitment to education. Pell Grants were cut.  States cut their commitments to their public colleges and universities. Government began making students borrow for college, rather than using public dollars to help them.  Basically, we swapped grants for loans, and now student debt is over $1.5 trillion!

There have been other harmful changes.  For the past 20 or more years, those controlling public education have emphasized test scores to the detriment of just about everything else.  Adding to those bad policies, two major economic downturns did serious damage to school budgets, harm that most of our communities have not yet recovered from.  School spending here in _______ is down from 2008, just as it is in 31 other states.  And because too much money is being spent on testing and too much time on test-preparation, our young people are not enjoying art, music, drama, physical education, field trips, and other extra curricular activities–all the good stuff that (at least for me) made school enjoyable.

Schools need less testing and more money.  Making that happen will require the courage cited in the ‘Serenity Prayer,’ because we also must change how we pay for schools here in _______.  Back in 1973, the US Supreme Court ruled that education is not a federal constitutional right; it’s the job of individual states to educate its citizens.  As in most states, here in ______ we have passed down the job to cities and towns and let them figure out how to pay for it.

 

California Sunday Magazine published interviews with teachers about their role in striking, walking out, negotiating, bargaining.

It begins:

On February 22, 2018, some 20,000 teachers in West Virginia — many of them wearing red in solidarity — walked out of their classrooms. That April saw strikes in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma, as teachers vented their collective frustration in what became known as the #RedforEd movement. In early 2019, educators picketed in Oakland and Los Angeles, in districts across Washington state and Oregon, and again in Colorado. And this fall, educators in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, took to the streets.

After years of system-wide underinvestment, educators are pushing back hard. They have married concerns about pay with their ability to adequately educate students . They have made a few gains — one or two fewer students in their overcrowded classes and significant raises in some cases. But many still see a long way to go, and as another election ramps up, the public will have to decide how much these issues matter. In these pages, we hear from teachers who made the decision to walk the picket lines and others who decided to stay put.

Michelle Obama surprised the staff and children of Randle Highlands Elementary School in D.C. by bringing them a box filled with $100,000 cash to buy whatever they need for the schools.

Valerie Strauss wondered why the school is unde-resourced, why teachers have to dig into their own pockets, when the city has a large surplus.

What about the schools where Ellen doesn’t send a gift of $100,000?

It really is a wonderful gesture, but public schools should not have to depend on charity to meet their basic needs.

Watch the video if you can. It really is heartwarming, and almost makes you forget that the city is failing to fund its schools.

Strauss writes:

Former first lady Michelle Obama recently walked into an elementary school in the nation’s capital and delivered a box with a stunning gift: $100,000 in cash, courtesy of entertainer Ellen DeGeneres. Children and adults screamed and jumped for joy when they saw the money in a genuinely heartwarming scene (that you can see below in the video Obama tweeted). And why not?

For one thing, Obama is, according to some polls, the most admired woman in the world. Having her show up at your school is a treat by itself. What’s more, the school can certainly use the money.

All of the mostly African American students at Randle Highlands Elementary School in Southeast Washington come from economically disadvantaged homes, according to D.C. Public Schools’ website, and Principal Kristie Edwards said in the video that many of the children are homeless or in the foster care system. Edwards says in the video that her school is in one of the “roughest” areas of the city, but that her students know they can expect “love and a hug” when they come to school — and that they will be safe.

As the box was opened, Obama said, “Ellen is giving you guys $100,000 to help you cover whatever business that you have for the schools, whether it is for the food pantry or whether it’s computer programs. We hope this will make sure that you will not have to go into your pockets any longer for these kids because we know how amazing you guys are.”

So what’s wrong with this picture?

“I had so much fun putting a smile on all of these little faces from Randle Highlands Elementary School in Washington, D.C. Thanks to the @TheEllenShow for letting me be a part of !”

The problem certainly is not a visit from a former first lady or an entertainer trying to help a school.

Rather, the problems are:

  • The funding system in U.S. public education leaves the poorest schools with the fewest resources
  • School system budgets do not provide most teachers with all the supplies they need to do their jobs — and this has been baked into the process for many years.
  • The D.C. government has had multimillion-dollar budget surpluses the past few years, and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is in charge of the school system. Why are there campuses that don’t have all of the supplies they need?

In her comments at Randle, Obama said she and DeGeneres hoped the $100,000 would “make sure that you will not have to go into your pockets any longer.” The reference reflected the fact that at least 94 percent of teachers nationally, according to the latest federal data, spend an average of nearly $500 of their own money on supplies, often for basics such as paper and pencils, tissue and furniture.