Archives for category: Funding

Our wonderful allies, Pastors for Texas Children, send us wonderful news: Friends of public education raised their voices, stood together, and stopped new voucher legislation!

 Vouchers Blocked Again!
Last week, we celebrated the victory of your tireless advocacy for public education funding for our children when we announced Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to extend “hold harmless.” Today, we have another piece of good news: 

The voucher proposal in this session’s House Bill 3 has been removed. 

In a meeting earlier today with Pastors for Texas Children and Raise Your Hand Texas, HB 3 author Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) indicated that all education issues, including vouchers, are being taken out of the bill. This change will be reflected in a committee substitute later this week. We thank Chairman Burrows and Gov. Abbott for their wisdom in removing the voucher from the bill.

PTC Executive Director Rev. Charles Johnson gives “joyous testimony to the love and support Texans have for their neighborhood and community public schools – and firm opposition to the privatization of them through vouchers.”  

“That we have to keep delivering that memo to the Governor and a third of the Legislature is outrageous and unacceptable,” he says.  

Year after year, Pastors for Texas Children will continue to deliver that message, with your help.  

In case you missed it, HB3 is a pandemic response bill that deals with many issues, among them school vouchers. Here is the language of the voucher: If a district of residence fails to compensate the off-campus instructional program before the 46th day after the date of receiving a bill, the commissioner of education shall reimburse the off-campus instructional program from funding deducted from the district. 

According to this bill, the commissioner of education would get to decide which programs qualify for reimbursement from the state, which would be “deducted from the district” directly.  

A voucher bill has been filed in every Texas Legislature since 1995, so we were not surprised, nor were we unprepared. The people of Texas do not want vouchers taking money from their public schools. Furthermore, we will remain vigilant to block any future voucher proposals. 

We are thankful that this dangerous proposition was short-lived, and especially thankful for the public education advocacy community, which includes each of you, for making sure of that. 

Last week, we were honored to join dedicated public education advocates in a webinar with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. We love the different perspectives given by all the panelists, covering this issue thoroughly from all angles. The webinar is called “Fighting Voucher Legislation in 2021: An Update on State Voucher Bills and Tools to Oppose Them.” You can view it here to brush up on your talking points, as they will continue to be relevant. 
PO Box 471155, Fort Worth, Texas, 76147

You may recall that sociologist and author Eve Ewing wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that said it was time to end the debate about charter schools and celebrate all good schools, whatever they are called. This is one of the talking points of the charter industry, which prefers the public not to notice how many charter schools close every year, how many are low-performing, and how many are run by non-educators who turn a handsome profit.

My response was here.

The New York Times published letters to the editor about the Ewing article. Only one was favorable, written by Jeanne Allen, who runs a charter advocacy organization called the “Center for Education Reform,” funded by rightwing billionaires and Wall Street financiers. CER promotes all kinds of school choice and is hostile to public schools.

The first letter was written by Denis Smith of Ohio, who has appeared on this blog:

To the Editor:

Re “End the Fight Over Charter Schools,” by Eve L. Ewing (Op-Ed, Feb. 23):

Why do we allow two separate but seemingly parallel systems of education, using scarce public funds that are taken from traditional public schools to fund charters, a seeming experiment gone awry? Why do we allow one entity that is accountable and has governance conveyed from the voters in each community and allow the other to avoid the same transparency and accountability?

Here in Ohio, charters are exempt from 150 sections of law that the public schools must be in compliance with to legally operate, yet the public schools are required to support charters with the school district’s transportation system and other services at no cost.

So no, we can’t stop fighting about the subject of charters until we have the same rules for both. If one is exempt from wholesale sections of the law, then by definition it is not a public school but something else, a school that acquires public funds to operate yet has its own rules and is free from much oversight.

Denis D. Smith
Westerville, Ohio
The writer, a charter school critic, is a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, responsible for assuring legal compliance in the operations of these schools.

The nation’s two teachers’ unions joined together to issue an unusual joint statement that advises federal, state, and local leaders what must be done not only to revive education after the pandemic but to restart it with a fresh vision that focuses on the needs of children, not assumptions about their “learning loss” or “COVID slide.”

They introduce the document and its visionary proposals with these words:

Nation’s educators release shared agenda to ensure all students succeed Organizations offer proven ways to help students overcome Covid-19 opportunity gaps and meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs
 WASHINGTON, DC – Today the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s two largest educators’ unions, released a bold, shared agenda to ensure that all students receive the supports and resources they need to thrive now and in the future.  

Over the course of the last month, AFT and NEA have come together to define the essential elements needed to effectively understand and address the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted students’ academic, social, and developmental experiences. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to create the public schools all our students deserve,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “It is our mission to demand stronger public schools and more opportunities for all students- Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike. And we must support the whole learner through social, emotional and academic development. The ideas presented in this roadmap will lay the groundwork to build a better future for all of our students.” 

“COVID-19 has laid bare this country’s deep fissures and inequities and our children, our educators and our communities have endured an unprecedented year of frustration, pain and loss,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “As vaccine access and effectiveness suggest the end is in sight, it is incumbent on us to not only plan our recovery, but to reimagine public schooling so our children, families and educators can thrive.  

“The crises gripping our country are weighing heavily on young people, who are the future of our communities. That’s why our schools must, at a minimum, be supported and well-resourced to address our students their trauma, social-emotional, developmental and academic needs. This framework is an invaluable tool to help us get there,” Weingarten added. 

Shared with Sec. of Education Cardona last week, Learning Beyond Covid-19, A Vision for Thriving in Public Education offers the organizations’ ideas on ways our education systems can meet students where they are academically, socially, and emotionally.  The framework outlines five priorities that can serve as a guide for nurturing students’ learning now and beyond COVID-19 including learning, enrichment and reconnection for this summer and beyond; diagnosing student well-being and academic success; meeting the needs of our most underserved students; professional excellence for learning and growth; and an education system that centers equity and excellence. 

The full document can be found here

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently published a study claiming that charter schools do no fiscal harm to public schools, and may even lead to greater funding. Dr. Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Schools, has visited public school districts that are in a deep financial hole because of the financial drain caused by the proliferation of charter schools. She read the Fordham study with care and concluded that it was misleading and inaccurate.

Her article was published on Valerie Strauss’s “The Answer Sheet,” along with a response by the author of the study, Mark Weber. Weber agreed with her main point: – That said, I agree that my report does not provide evidence that charter school growth does not harm school district’s fiscal health. That fact is that this report can’t answer that question. My hope, however, is that it does provide a framework for having a more informed discussion about the costs of charter schools on the entire K-12 system.

Her full post is here.

It begins like this:

A recent study published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, entitled Robbers or Victims: Charter Schools and District Finances, was rolled out with fanfare and sent to policymakers across the country.  When the Fordham Institute sent out its mass email, trumpeting its report, its subject line read: “New report finds charter schools pose no fiscal threat to local districts.” That subject line is a blatantly false and unsupported by their own deeply flawed study.

In the report and its public relations campaign, Fordham cynically attempts to razzle-dazzle the reader with misleading conclusions based on questionable data in hopes of convincing the public that charter schools do no financial harm to public schools. The Walton Foundation and The Fordham Foundation, the Fordham Institute’s related organization, funded the study. It is worth noting that The Fordham Foundation sponsors eleven charter schools in Ohio, for which it receives administrative fees.

The origins of the study, unacknowledged in the report, is author Mark Weber’s 2019 doctoral dissertation. Advocacy organizations are often accused of cherry-picking examples. With Robbers and Victims, Fordham cherry-picked a study on which to base its puffery. In a Fordham podcast and his blog, Weber, an elementary school music teacher who completed his doctoral studies at Rutgers University, reports that Fordham approached him to author their report after they read his dissertation, which is composed of three papers, the first of which is the basis of the Fordham report.

There are differences in substance between the dissertation and the report; however, these are not enough to substantively change results. Also, Robbers or Victims adds two more years of data (2016 and 2017). The research questions are re-phrased, some states were excluded, and several of Weber’s original cautions regarding the interpretation and limitations of his findings are either downplayed or dropped. Glossy bar graphs replace Weber’s tables.

In both the dissertation and the report, Weber attempts to show the association between charter growth and districts’ finances in revenue and spending—as charter schools expand. He found that in most cases in the states whose data he analyzed, revenue and expenditures either increased or stayed the same when the number of students attending charters located in the district went up.  In all cases, there is no evidence of causation, just correlation.

For those not familiar with the distinction, a correlation occurs when two observations follow the same trend line. It does not present evidence that one causes the other. The classic example is the correlation between ice cream sales and murder rates—both are higher during summer months in big cities and then drop as the weather gets cooler. Then, there are hilarious examples of Spurious Correlations that show the associations between such oddities as the age of Miss America and murders by steam, hot vapors, and hot objects.

Fordham’s Petrilli latches onto the correlation and concludes that it appears charters do no financial harm to districts. In their news brief about the report, the National Alliance of Charter School Authorizers take Fordham’s deliberate attempt to deceive one step further saying, “Their findings show that if anything, increasing charter school enrollment has a positive fiscal impact on local districts.”  That is blatantly false and deliberately misleading.  “Impact” means that the study can support a causal inference.  It clearly does not. But that is not the end of this study’s problems.

The Critical Question Not Posed

There is an obvious question that is neither posed nor answered. How do increases and decreases in district revenue and spending compare to districts without charters? Are the comparative rates higher, lower, or the same?

I read the Fordham report and Weber’s dissertation three times in search of that answer or at least a discussion of the limitation. The author never addresses it.

To ensure I was not misinterpreting the analysis, I emailed Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers University, a national expert on school finance. He is familiar with Weber’s dissertation, having served as his advisor. I noted in my email that even if increases in revenue and spending are associated with charter growth, it is meaningless unless you can compare those increases to those of other districts with no charter schools.

Baker acknowledged the absence of comparative data and then went one step further (quoted with his permission).

“Comparing districts experiencing charter growth with otherwise similar districts (under the same state policy umbrella) not experiencing charter growth is the direction I’ve been trying to push this with a more complicated statistical technique (synthetic control method).

“But even with that, I’m not sure the narrow question applied to the available imprecise data is most important for informing policy. The point is that the entire endeavor of trying to use these types of data – on these narrowly framed questions – is simply a fraught endeavor and one that added complexity can’t really solve.”

Consider the following oversimplification of the problem. Between 2013 and 2018, national spending on K-12 education has increased 17.6% as states recovered from the Great Recession. That is the average. Spending increases in the states ranged from a 2% decrease in Alaska to a 35.5% increase in California. Both states have charter schools. Vermont, with no charter schools at all, had an 18% increase in spending. Florida, which has an ever-expanding charter school sector, increased spending by 11%. Only Alaska (which Weber does not include) did not see an increase. If we look at this from a national perspective, it is a safe guess to expect that revenue followed an upward slope similar to spending. So did the proliferation of charter schools. And so, frankly, did my age.

Parents and educators overwhelmingly oppose the New Hampshire voucher proposal, which would be the most expansive in the country. In terms of turnout, voucher opponents outnumber proponents by 6-1. Proponents claim that it is only educators who oppose vouchers, but many parents turned out to testify against the legislation.

Yet the Republican sponsors of the bill are forging ahead, claiming that so few children want a voucher that it would have no impact on the budget. In fact, the bill would have the state pick up the cost of tuition for children currently attending religious and private schools, and would fund homeschoolers as well. Critics estimate the cost at $100 million per year.

As background to the discussion, take a look at the research on vouchers. This report from the Center for American Progress finds that using a voucher is equivalent to missing about one-third of a year in school. Yet 23 states, including New Hampshire, are going full speed ahead to enact a harmful and demonstrably ineffective waste of public dollars.

The Senate’s school voucher bill drew a crowd debating the merits and liabilities of the program that would allow parents to receive state money to find the best educational fit for their child.

But opponents called Senate Bill 130 the latest attempt to privatize education and alleged it would set up a parallel education system with one tier for the well-to-do and the other for those who cannot afford an alternative for their children.

They said the proposal would be the most expansive educational choice program in the country and the most lax, with little accountability or transparency.

Supporters said the pandemic has heightened awareness that every child learns differently and needs options and choices to reach their full potential.They said the program would not only help students, it would save state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, although opponents claimed it would cost the state that much money.

The House had a nearly identical bill, but the House Education Committee decided to hold the bill for a year to try to improve some of the flaws.The ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, Rep. Mel Myler, D-Hopkinton, urged his Senate counterparts to either do that or recommend killing the bill...

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, said the House hearing on House Bill 20 drew 1,100 parents in support showing grassroots support. And he said a recent poll indicates 70 percent of New Hampshire adults approve of vouchers.

He did not say that nearly 7,000 people signed in opposition to the House bill.“On one side you have lobbyists and advocates and on the other side are parents,” Cordelli said. “It is the school units versus the kids.”

Carl Ladd, executive director of the NH School Administrators Association took issue with Cordelli’s statement.“This school system versus student argument implies that advocates for public education are anti-student, that is a real disservice to educators,” Ladd said. “I really take umbrage at that particular characterization…”

The student’s parents would receive the basic state adequacy grant of about $3,700 as well as additional money if the student qualified for free or reduced lunches, special education services, English as a Second Language instruction, or failed to reach English proficiency.

The average grant is estimated to be $4,600.

Will $4,600 be enough to gain admission to an elite private school? No. It will be enough to pay for a low-quality private or religious school that hires uncertified teachers and cannot match the offerings or facilities of the public schools. Or you might think of it as a transfer of public funds to students already in private/religious schools and home-schooled.

The Commissioner claimed that between 0.01 to 2.43 percent of eligible students would use the voucher. So, choose your rationale: either vouchers are wildly popular or hardly anyone will want one.

Commissioner Edelblut’s goal is to wipe out public schools. The people of New Hampshire will have to stop him. He is not a conservative. He is an anarchist.

In 2018, voters in Palm Beach County, Florida, were asked to decide on a referendum to raise property taxes for the “operational needs of district non-charter schools.” That is, for public schools, not charter schools. After the measure passed, two charter schools in the district sued for their “share” of the revenues. The case went to an appeals court which ruled 2-1 against the charters. Then it went to the full court of appeals, which ruled 7-4 that the charter schools were entitled to a share of the money.

The opinion also said that the wording in the ballot measure that prevented charter schools from receiving money was “severable” — essentially meaning that it can be disregarded — and that the rest of the referendum could remain in “full force and effect.”“Severing and striking the ‘non-charter’ limitation from the 2018 referendum still accomplishes the 2018 referendum’s intent to generate additional revenue ‘to fund school safety equipment, hire additional school police and mental health professionals, fund arts, music, physical education, career and choice program teachers, and improve teacher pay.’ The only difference is that a portion of those funds must be shared with charter schools,” said the 17-page majority opinion shared by Chief Judge Spencer Levine and Judges Dorian Damoorgian, Burton Conner, Alan Forst, Mark Klingensmith, Jeffrey Kuntz and Edward Artau.

But dissenting judges lambasted the majority for deciding that the referendum could remain in effect and for deciding to take up the case en banc.They argued, in part, that allowing the referendum to remain in effect violates the will of voters, who thought they were casting ballots on a measure that would exclude funding for charter schools. Judge Robert Gross described it as an act of “judicial hocus pocus.”

“Rather than taking that principled approach and acknowledging the only proper remedy is the referendum’s invalidation, the majority has instead rewritten the referendum and pulled a bait-and-switch upon the voters of Palm Beach County,” Gross wrote in a dissent joined by Judges Martha Warner and Melanie May. “By judicial fiat, the majority has imposed a levy for the benefit of charter schools that the voters never approved ‘by local referendum or in a general election’ as required (by a section of state law).”

In a separate dissent, Judge Cory Ciklin pointed to the majority “ignoring the will of 528,089 Palm Beach County voters who participated in a countywide election. Not this court nor the School Board nor the charter schools can legally agree to severing and striking the non-charter limitation from the 2018 referendum as if the sanctity of voter intent is of no concern and one that can be blithely cast aside as nothing more than an unimportant annoyance.”

The voters thought that the ballot explicitly excluded the charter schools from the taxes they were willing to increase. The court decided otherwise.

As Judge Gross said in his dissent, this is a classic case of “bait and switch.”

Jan Resseger is one of our wisest commentators of issues of education, equity, and social justice. She devoted her professional life to these issues. In her latest blog post, she is critical of Eve Ewing for ignoring the “economic catastrophe” that charter schools impose on public schools. She has seen it up close and personal in Cleveland and other cities in Ohio, where public schools suffer as charter schools expand, and most of the state’s charter schools are rated as “low-performing” by the state.

She begins:

I am a great fan of Eve Ewing’s book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard.  I have read the book twice, visited in Chicago some of the sites she describes, given the book to friends as a gift and blogged about it.  In that book, Ewing documents the community grief across Chicago’s South Side, where the now three decades old Renaissance 2010 “portfolio school plan” pits neighborhood public schools and charter schools in competition and closes the so-called “failing” neighborhood public schools when too many families opt for a charter school.

In a column published in Monday’s NY Times, Eve Ewing wants to make peace with charter schools.  She writes that we should allow families to choose and ensure that neighborhood schools and charter schools can all be well resourced and thriving. Ewing grasps for a third way—some sort of amicable compromise in a very polarized situation.

Ewing is a University of Chicago sociologist, and, in her column she examines many of the factors by which neighborhood public schools and charter schools have been compared and rated. She points out that academic quality is a mixed bag with neighborhood and charter schools sometimes besting each other in terms of student achievement. Then she wonders, “What would it look like if we built an education policy agenda dedicated to ensuring… resources for all students?

The problem in Ewing’s column this week is that she never identifies or addresses the matter of public funding for education. I assume she wants to equalize school funding across both sectors. But when charter schools compete for students with public schools, there are now two separate education sectors to split what has proven to be a fixed pot of money.  In every single place I know about where charter schools have been allowed to open up, this is a zero sum game.  A sufficient and growing body of research demonstrates that there is no way to split the funding both ways without cutting the funding that most states and local school districts have been budgeting for their public schools.

Bruce Baker, the school finance expert at Rutgers University, explains that one must consider more than the comparative test scores and students’ experiences in neighborhood schools and charters, and instead examine the impact of adding new charter schools into what he calls the entire educational ecosystem of the school district: “If we consider a specific geographic space, like a major urban center, operating under the reality of finite available resources (local, state, and federal revenues), the goal is to provide the best possible system for all children citywide….  Chartering, school choice, or market competition are not policy objectives in-and-of-themselves. They are merely policy alternatives—courses of policy action—toward achieving these broader goals and must be evaluated in this light. To the extent that charter expansion or any policy alternative increases inequity, introduces inefficiencies and redundancies, compromises financial stability, or introduces other objectionable distortions to the system, those costs must be weighed against expected benefits.” “In this report, the focus is on the host district, the loss of enrollments to charter schools, the loss of revenues to charter schools, and the response of districts as seen through patterns of overhead expenditures.”  In his report, Baker calls charter schools “parasites.”

One issue is that charter schools tend to serve fewer English language learners and fewer students with extremely severe disabilities, leaving behind in the neighborhood public schools the children whose needs are most expensive to serve.  Research by Mark Weber and Julia Sass Rubin at Rutgers University demonstrates, for example, that: “New Jersey charter schools continue to enroll proportionally fewer special education and Limited English Proficient students than their sending district public schools. The special education students enrolled in charter schools tend to have less costly disabilities compared to special education students in the district public schools…  (D)ata…  show that many charter schools continue to enroll fewer at-risk students than their sending district public schools.”

In Pennsylvania, the state funds special education in charter schools at a flat rate of $40,000 per student no matter whether the child is autistic, blind, a victim of severe multiple handicaps or impaired by a speech impediment.  Peter Greene reports that in Chester Upland, where a charter school is sucking up a mass of special education funding, in a court decision, Judge Chad Kenney declared: “The Charter Schools serving Chester Upland special education students reported in 2013-14… that they did not have any special education students costing them anything outside the zero to twenty-five thousand dollar range, and yet, this is remarkable considering they receive forty thousand dollars for each one of these special education students under a legislatively mandated formula.”

The biggest financial loss caused by the introduction of a charter sector into a school district is that it is not possible for the school district to recover the stranded costs when children exit to  charter schools.  In a groundbreaking 2018 report, the Oregon political economist, Gordon Lafer demonstrates that California’s Oakland Unified School District loses $57.3 million every year to charter schools.  Here’s how: “To the casual observer, it may not be obvious why charter schools should create any net costs at all for their home districts. To grasp why they do, it is necessary to understand the structural differences between the challenge of operating a single school—or even a local chain of schools—and that of a district-wide system operating tens or hundreds of schools and charged with the legal responsibility to serve all students in the community. When a new charter school opens, it typically fills its classrooms by drawing students away from existing schools in the district…  If, for instance, a given school loses five percent of its student body—and that loss is spread across multiple grade levels, the school may be unable to lay off even a single teacher… Plus, the costs of maintaining school buildings cannot be reduced…. Unless the enrollment falloff is so steep as to force school closures, the expense of heating and cooling schools, running cafeterias, maintaining digital and wireless technologies, and paving parking lots—all of this is unchanged by modest declines in enrollment. In addition, both individual schools and school districts bear significant administrative responsibilities that cannot be cut in response to falling enrollment. These include planning bus routes and operating transportation systems; developing and auditing budgets; managing teacher training and employee benefits; applying for grants and certifying compliance with federal and state regulations; and the everyday work of principals, librarians and guidance counselors.”

Lafer concludes: “If a school district anywhere in the country—in the absence of charter schools—announced that it wanted to create a second system-within-a-system, with a new set of schools whose number, size, specialization, budget, and geographic locations would not be coordinated with the existing school system, we would regard this as the poster child of government inefficiency and a waste of tax dollars. But this is indeed how the charter school system functions.”  In the same report, Lafer adds that in 2016-17, the San Diego Unified School District lost $65.9 million to charter schools.

In a subsequent report, Lafer explains: “Public school students in California’s West Contra Costa Unified School District are paying dearly for privately managed charter schools they don’t attend… Charter schools add $27.9 million a year to WCCUSD’s costs of running its own schools… That’s a net loss, after accounting for all savings realized by no longer educating the charter school students.”

Please continue reading her excellent post.

I reviewed A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door in The New Republic. It is an important book that pulls together all the threads of the privatization movement and shows that their agenda is not to improve education or to advance equity but to destroy public education. The review is here.

Tonight, I will join the authors at a town hall Zoom meeting in Seattle at 9 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. PST. Please join us!

It begins like this:

Two years ago, Margaret Spellings, George W. Bush’s secretary of education, and Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s secretary of education, wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post lamenting the decline of public support for the bipartisan consensus about education policy that began under Ronald Reagan. Elected officials strongly supported a regime of testing, accountability, and school choice, they wrote, but public enthusiasm was waning due to a lack of “courage” and “political will.”

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of Schoolby Jack Schneider and Jennifer BerkshireBuy on BookshopThe New Press, 256 pp., $26.99

They were right. Elected officials, educators, and parents were rapidly losing faith in the bipartisan consensus. For a decade, it had failed to produce any improvement on national tests. Parents were opting their children out of the annual testing mandated by federal law; in New York, 20 percent of eligible students refused to take them. Teachers went to court to fight the test-based evaluation methods imposed by Duncan’s Race to the Top. Communities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia were complaining about the growth of charter schools, which diverted funds away from public schools. A year after Spellings and Duncan’s essay appeared, teachers across the nation, from West Virginia to California, went on strike to protest low wages, low funding, and large class sizes, issues that were ignored during the era of bipartisan consensus.

What went wrong? Why did the bipartisan consensus that Spellings and Duncan praised fall apart? In their new book, historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire provide a valuable guide to the history and the politics of the rise and fall of the bipartisan consensus. Theirs is indeed a cautionary tale, because they show how Republicans and Democrats joined to support failed policies whose ultimate goal was to eliminate public education and replace it with a free-market approach to schooling. Betsy DeVos was publicly reviled for her contemptuous attitudes toward public schools, but she was not an exception to the bipartisan consensus: She was its ultimate embodiment. She was the personification of the wolf at the schoolhouse door. 

Schneider and Berkshire write that they began the book to answer “a puzzling question: Why had conservative policy ideas, hatched decades ago and once languishing due to a lack of public and political support, suddenly roared back to life in the last five or so years?” Their prime example was private school vouchers, an idea first promoted by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s and rejected at that time by Congress. Private school vouchers were not the only policy prescription that was recycled from the ashcan of failed ideas. There was also “market-based school choice, for-profit schools, virtual schools,” and deregulation. These ideas were repackaged as innovative while their history and their conservative ideological origins were obscured. True believers, intent on eliminating public schools, built donor networks, cultivated political alliances, and churned out ready-made legislation. A key element in this network-building was the enlistment of billionaires who were enamored of free-market solutions and who opened their wallets to persuade national and state elected officials to inject competition and private-sector solutions into the public education system. 

This is a book you will want to read. Give it to your local school board members and your legislators.

Since the 2020 election, when Republicans won many seats in state legislatures, there has been an explosion of proposed voucher laws, to allow people to get public money to pay for religious schools. David Berliner, one of our nation’s most distinguished researchers of education, explains why funding religious schools with public money is a terrible idea.

Why Religious Schools Should Never Receive a Dollar of Public Funding

David C. Berliner

Regents’ Professor Emeritus

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Arizona State University

I believe in separation of church and state. I think it has done the United States a lot of good to honor Jefferson’s metaphoric and aspirational “wall” between the two. I also believe that money corrupts too many people and too many institutions. Holding those two beliefs simultaneously means 1.) I never want to see any local, state, or federal money used to aide any religious group, and 2.) I don’t want to see any religious group, or affiliated religious organizations, donating to the campaigns of public officials. The latter may be impossible to stop in an era of “dark money.” But the former—government support of religious institutions– is almost always done in public view and is worth stopping now, immediately, as it could easily damage our fragile republic.

Overstated? Hardly! Read on! Few citizens pay attention to the expenditure of public dollars for support of religious schools, but it occurs frequently. It can cost citizens billions of dollars annually, and ends up supporting some horrible things. A contemporary example of this is the criteria for entrance to the Fayetteville Christian School in North Carolina. 

Fayetteville Christian School (FCS) are recipients, in a recent school year, of $495,966 of public money. They get this in the form of school vouchers that are used by students and their families to pay for the students’ religious schooling. The entrance requirements for this school, and other religious schools like it, are quite frightening to me, though clearly acceptable to North Carolinians. From their website, in 2020:1

“The student and at least one parent with whom the student resides must be in agreement with (our) Statement of Faith and have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. In addition, the parent and student must regularly (go to) a local church. (We) will not admit families that belong to or express faith in religions that deny the absolute Deity/Trinity of Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior and path to salvation. …. FCS will not admit families that engage in behaviors that Scripture defines as deviate and sin (illicit drug use, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality (LGBT), etc.)

Once admitted, if the student or parent/guardian with whom the student resides becomes involved in lifestyles contradictory to Biblical beliefs, we may choose to dis-enroll the student/family from the school.” 

So, despite the receipt of public money, the Fayetteville Christian School is really notopen to the public at all! This school says, up front and clearly, that it doesn’t want and will not accept Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s, and many others. Further, although supported by public money, it will expel students for their family’s alleged “sins”. Is papa smoking pot? Expelled! Does your sibling have a homosexual relationship? Out! Has mama filed for divorce? You are gone! The admissions and dismissal policies of this school–receiving about a half million dollars of public funds per yearare scandalous. I’d not give them a penny! North Carolina legislators, and the public who elects them, should all be embarrassed to ever say they are upholders of American democracy. They are not. 

Besides the anti-democratic admission and retention problems in many religious schools, Christian or otherwise, some have serious curriculum problems as well. Those curriculum problems actually terrify me when they occur in publicly supported religious schools. With public money–my money–many of these schools spread ideas that are objectively/scientifically untrue. And some are simply repugnant! 

Do you remember Bobby Jindal? A few years back, Jindal was Governor of Louisiana and even, for a short time, a candidate for president of the United States of America. He pushed hard for publicly supported charter and voucher schools. The curriculum materials in these schools frequently came from one of two sources: Bob Jones University Press (associated with the scandal-ridden university), or from A Beka Book, a publisher of Christian books (now called Abeka). Between them, with the public’s money, these publishers have taught our youth some amazing things, as reported either by Deanna Panor by Alice Greczyn.3

Pan and Greczyn share some very interesting text excerpts. For example, I never learned from the textbooks in my public school that “The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.” Nor did I ever imagine that “To help them endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave Christian slaves the ability to combine the African heritage of song with the dignity of Christian praise. Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is from the bondage of sin.”

I also didn’t know that “The Ku Klux Klan in, some areas of the country, tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”

I admit that I didn’t exactly get an “A” in my high school algebra course, but I never thought that abstract algebra was too complicated to learn. Perhaps I was wrong. An A Beka book states that “Unlike the ‘modern math’ theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute…A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.” (Italics mine.)

Another analyst of Christian school text books, Rachel Tabachnick,4 also informed me of things I never suspected. I simply never knew that “Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.” This quote is from Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999.

Through Tabachnick I also learned that children receiving their education in some Christian schools supported with public money are informed that gay people “have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.” That quote is from the Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999, Bob Jones University Press, 1998.

         Writing in Salon Magazine, Wilson5 documents other outrageous claims made in these curricula materials, some of which are purchased with public money for Christian schools in the USA, although these curriculum materials are in use throughout the world:

  • Only ten percent of Africans can read or write, because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists.
  • God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ.
  • It cannot be shown scientifically that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere’s ozone layer.
  • God has provided certain ‘checks and balances’ in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists.
  • The Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda. 
  • Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.

Religious schools should not be subject to much state oversight—I understand that. But many such schools claim to offer curriculum compatible with neighboring public schools, thus allowing their students to move to the public schools should they or their parents request that. For example, it is not uncommon for students in Christian schools to transfer at 6th or 9thgrade to a traditional, public junior or senior high. Or, with a high school degree after years of private Christian education, a student might seek admission to a public college. Since student transfers like these are common, shouldn’t there be more inspection and approval of the curriculum and instruction in private Christian schools? Shouldn’t Christian schools, or Jewish or Islamic or any other school receiving public money, be inspected regularly by some agency of the government so they can be certified not to be teaching anti-democratic, anti-scientific, and anti-communitarian values? We have enough strife in this country without paying for schools whose values and curriculum are antithetical to our increasingly secular democracy. 

Am I overreaching? Although ordinarily private schools should not be subject to public scrutiny, if they accept public funds and if they are teaching age-inappropriate or anti-democratic content to their students shouldn’t the public know? Shouldn’t all public funds be subject to some kind of public audit? 

         For example, Rawls6 cites an adult whose memory of sixth grade instruction in a Christian school was still quite vivid. The teacher “passed around shocking photographs of dismembered babies to teach about abortion.” Sometimes abortion in Christian schools is compared to the holocaust. Other times elementary school students have been taken to local and state abortion protests, even to national events in Washington DC. Some schools regularly take their students to abortion clinics to protest. Are public expenditures for curriculum materials and activities like were just cited appropriate? Shouldn’t we know what is taught and learned in schools supported by public funds?     

Naturally, as part of their anti-abortion campaign, many Christian schools worry a lot about sex. So, they pass along unsubstantiated claims about condom failure and the horrible and life-long consequences of sex outside of marriage. It is often public money that supports curriculum and instruction of this type. Should that be the case? Should the state, often with comingled federal funds, support schools with anti-abortion programs when many state courts, and the Supreme Court, has ruled that abortion is legal? I have absolutely no issues with debate about abortion issues in upper grade levels, but should schools be providing anti-abortion education for our youth with public funds? 

Pregnancy, as might be expected, is often greeted with expulsion for girls at Christian schools. I certainly don’t know anyone who recommends teen parenthood, but if it occurs, shouldn’t the mother be helped, not thrown out of school? Wouldn’t that be the Christian thing to do? 

To accommodate the fact of teen motherhood, a public high school I visited proudly showed me a classroom-cum-nursery, allowing teen mothers a safe place to leave their infants while attending classes to earn their high school diplomas. In fairness, one might ask if that is a proper role of a public school. I believe, as do many Americans, that preparation for successful adulthood is the mission of our public schools—even if it entails these kinds of accommodations to keep youth in school and help them to graduate.7

         Another curriculum question is this: Is it appropriate for American education to promote lessening tensions between nations and religions? I think so. But public funds support Christian schools that teach “[T]he darkness of Islamic religion keeps the people of Turkey from Jesus Christ as their savior.” They teach that “[O]ver 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus Christ, [but] no one witnessed Mohammed’s supposed encounters with the angels.” And they teach that Islam is “fanatically anti-Christian.” 3 

         Finally, I want to point out the almost unanimous call to end corporal punishment of minors by the UN and by psychologists and other social scientists. Because of this I ask, should public money be used to support schools that still engage in corporal punishment? Sadly, both Christian and public schools, particularly in the Southern United States, approve of and still engage in spanking, or “paddling.”8

Although physical punishment of children has not disappeared in contemporary times, it appears to be more prevalent in Christian schools than in public schools because many of them operate on the principle of “spare the rod spoil the child.” Codes of conduct for many Christian schools say it is their obligation to use physical punishment, citing Proverbs 23: 13 and 14, among other biblical sources. There they are told “do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul…” 

Thus the “rod,” switch, or paddle, along with other harsh punishments to ensure proper child rearing, is recommended in many Christian advice books for Christian parents.So it is not surprising that more physical abuse takes place in fundamentalist Christian schools than in public schools. For example, in 2007, a Chicago Christian school was sued for injury and surgical costs after forcing a 14-year-old boy to kneel in place for nine days, causing a hip injury. In 2011, a Christian school teacher in Orlando was arrested on charges of beating a boy at her home with a rusted broom handle.6 And in 2015, at the Christian based Zarephath Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, a cell phone video shows male students holding down a female student, while her teacher paddled her in front of the whole class. The horrible offence the student committed? Running in the cafeteria!10

         Conclusion: There are certainly debates to have about the admissions and retention policies, qualifications of teachers, and especially the curricula used in all our schools—public, private, charter, religious or secular. We, the American people, settle controversial debates about issues like these in public forums. We rely on an open press, and we settle these debates through citizen voting and in our courts. Public oversight of public funds is part of the American tradition. 

Frequently, oversight of public funding is carried out by inspector generals. In fact, the first inspector general of the USA was appointed, in part, because General Washington had an ill-trained army for the task he had ahead. So, our very first inspector general was charged with identifying an educational problem, and asked to rapidly fix it! 

Now, literally thousands of people work for various offices of federal, state, and (occasionally) municipal inspector generals. Each are typically responsible for identifying fraud, waste, abuse, and criminal activity involving public funds, programs, and operations. But outside of the federal government, few inspector generals are devoted to education, even though roughly 45 percent of all state budgets, and 45 percent of all local budgets are used to support educational activities11. Thus, there is little oversight of how educational dollars are spent, and some of that spending has turned out to be scandalous!12 Just as bad, I think, is that there is even less concern about what is taught and what is learned in secular charter and private schools, or religious schools, that receive public money. This is not how it should be. I certainly would rest easier if there were inspectors spending a bit more time in the field overseeing what is taught and what is learned in our schools, in addition to their worries about how public money is spent. In particular, we need to examine religious institutions receiving public funds, so that the public has the information needed to maintain Jefferson’s wall, as best we can. 

In fact, if I made law, I would see to it that no private school– religious or not—ever received a dime of public money! Such schools can too easily sow seeds of separateness, privilege and dissension, hindering the achievement of one of our nations most cherished goals: e pluribus unum. Out of our many, one!

1.   Fayetteville Christian Church, Admissions. Retrieved February 8, 2021 from https://www.fayettevillechristian.com/copy-of-criteria-1

2.   Pan, D. (2012, August 7). 14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools. Retrieved February 13, 2021 from https:/www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/08/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars

3. Greczyn, A. (2020, Blog of June 7). Christianity’s Role in American Racism: An Uncomfortable Look at the Present and the Past.

Retrieved February 2, 2021 from https://www.alicegreczyn.com/blog/christianitys-role-in-american-racism

4. Tabachnick, R. (2017, January17) Vouchers/Tax Credits Funding Creationism, Revisionist History, Hostility Toward Other Religions. Talk to Action. Retrieved February 18, 2021 from: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/5/25/84149/9275

5. Wilson, B. (2012, June 19). Shocking Christian school textbooks:Thousands of Louisiana students will receive state voucher money to attend religious schools. What will they learn? Retrieved February 7, 2021 from: https://www.salon.com/2012/06/19/shocking_christian_school_textbooks_salpart/

6. Rawls, K. (2015, January 12). 10 Frightening Things Happening at Conservative Christian Schools That May Be Funded With Your Tax Dollars. AlterNet. Retrieved January 29, 2021 from https://www.alternet.org/2015/01/10-frightening-things-happening-conservative-christian-schools-may-be-funded-your-tax/

7. It is worth noting here that public schools frequently do spend our public money counseling such students and their families, while private schools frequently do not. It is a simple fact that all sorts of “problem” students, the more costly ones, not just the sexually active or pregnant, are frequently expelled from charter and private schools of all kinds, and sent to genuine public schools. Moreover, most charter and voucher schools frequently find ways not to accept special education students, either. Thus, the public schools incur educational expenses that most charter and voucher schools receiving public money do not. So public schools face budgeting challenges that private schools receiving public money do not. Thus, when one hears that charter or voucher schools are more cost efficient than “wasteful government schools,” these facts must be kept in mind.

8. So common has been physical punishment that the precise size and thickness of paddle to be used has often been codified, eg., specifying the type wood, length of paddle, thickness of paddle, etc. Moreover, there is a likely reason that paddling is more common in Southern schools. Severe paddling was used to punish slaves so as to not leave any scars. A whip-scared slave was of less value than an unscared one, because the scars indicated an uncompliant slave and/or a runaway slave. Severely paddled slaves, it was believed, obeyed their masters better–as is desired of children by many adults.

9.  Berliner, D. C. (1997). Educational psychology meets the Christian      right: Differing views of children, schooling, teaching, and learning.  Teachers College Record, 98, 381-416. 

10. Retrieved February 10, 2021 from: https://www.news4jax.com/news/2015/03/10/video-shows-girl-held-down-paddled-in-school/

11. The Condition of Education, National Center for EducationalStatistics (2020).  Retrieved February 20, 2021 from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cma.asp

12. Berliner, D. C. (2022, in press). The Scandalous History of Schools That Receive Public Financing, But Do Not Accept the Public’s Right of Oversight. In Berliner, D.C. and Hermanns, C. (Eds.), Public Education: The Cornerstone of American Democracy. New York. Teachers College Press.

One of our greatest allies for public schools in the nation is the remarkable Pastors for Texas Children. They are active every day in Texas, urging the public to support and fund their public schools. Their leadership has helped to spur similar organizations in other states where public schools need help and where privatizers are making a play for public funds.

Here is their latest appeal for funding the public schools of Texas, attended by five million students:

After last week’s freeze, the Texas Legislature is back to work at the Capitol. Our focus on funding public schools fully and fairly is more important than ever.  As you know, our Texas Constitution says in Article 7, Section 1:  “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

 Here are three ways we can fulfill our constitutional obligation:

1. Federal COVID Relief Dollars
Last spring, Texas received $1.3 billion in federal stimulus funding earmarked to public education. The money was intended to equip schools for education during a pandemic, including PPE, technology, internet capabilities, and updating facilities. That package was not ever distributed to the local school districts, but was used to fill state budget holes.  

In December 2020, the state received the next federal relief package of $5.5 billion for public education purposes, which has not yet been distributed to school districts.  

We are asking our state leaders to release this and any future stimulus money for its intended purpose: to enable local districts to operate and educate safely without having to dip into reserves. Our friends at Raise Your Hand Texas have developed a helpful fact sheet about the federal stimulus funding. You can read that here, along with other resources.

1. Federal COVID Relief Dollars
Last spring, Texas received $1.3 billion in federal stimulus funding earmarked to public education. The money was intended to equip schools for education during a pandemic, including PPE, technology, internet capabilities, and updating facilities. That package was not ever distributed to the local school districts, but was used to fill state budget holes.  

In December 2020, the state received the next federal relief package of $5.5 billion for public education purposes, which has not yet been distributed to school districts.  

We are asking our state leaders to release this and any future stimulus money for its intended purpose: to enable local districts to operate and educate safely without having to dip into reserves. Our friends at Raise Your Hand Texas have developed a helpful fact sheet about the federal stimulus funding. You can read that here, along with other resources.

Read the Pastors’ legislative priorities here: