Archives for category: Privatization

Our blog poet frequently favors with rhyme:

 

Privatize the planet

Privatize the planet
Plunder it for gain
Light the fire and fan it
Mine the golden vein

Privatize the water
Sell it to the poor
Privatize your daughter
Sell her as a whore

Privatize the wildlife
Charge a viewing fee
Like a Wall Street low life
That is what you’ll be

Peter Greene describes Betsy DeVos’s vision of education as provided by the marketplace. He calls it “Voucherland.”

DeVos has long argued that she puts students and families over institutions, but that appears to only apply to public institutions. Students who are not straight, not white, not Christian, and not without special needs—and their families—are on their own in a privatized education marketplace.

In the 1960s and 1970s, certain parts of the country responded to integration orders by setting up segregation academies—special private schools that let white folks keep their kids away from “those people’s” children. By setting up segregation academies, local boards could cut school taxes, leaving more money for white folks to pay academy tuition and less for the already-underfunded public schools. This system, in effect, shifted funds from public schools to private ones. 

Not only can wealthy folks—and, in some cases, corporations—fund their favorite private school, but they can help starve the government at the same time.

The modern version of this is the tax credit scholarship programs. In these voucher-like programs, wealthy people can make a charitable contribution to a private school and count it against their tax liability. If they give $10,000, that’s $10,000 less that they must pay in taxes. 

Not only can wealthy folks—and, in some cases, corporations—fund their favorite private school, but they can help starve the government at the same time.

So that’s Betsy DeVos’s vision for a future Voucherland.

For privately owned and operated schools (and particularly for the struggling Catholic school world), Voucherland is a place where they can finally get their hands on piles of taxpayer dollars, with their ability to operate as they wish unhampered by any rules and regulations. 

For parents and students, Voucherland is a government that says, “Here’s your voucher. Good luck, caveat that emptor, and don’t look to us for any help.”

Greene reminds us that Betsy may be retiring to private life, but she will still be funding religious zealots for public office. And we will still have a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives who do not believe in a Wall of Separation between state and church.

The nonpartisan “In the Public Interest” keeps close watch on privatization across all sectors, including education. Corporate interests are preying on the public sector, looking to extract profit from our public dollars. Be vigilant! Sign up to receive newsletters from ITPI.

Students are flocking to poor-performing online charter schools, straining public school budgets.Superintendents in Pennsylvania are warning that increasing enrollment in online charter schools could strain already burdened public school budgets. “There will be public schools, school districts, in a lot of trouble financially,” said Jeff Groshek, superintendent of the Central Columbia School District. Fox 56

Check out In the Public Interest’s two fact sheets on the widespread poor performance of online charter schools: “Why online education can’t replace brick-and-mortar K-12 schooling,” and “Frequently asked questions about online charter schools.”

“Passionate voucher advocate” joins Tennessee executive branch. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has hired Bill Dunn, a former state representative and passionate private school voucher advocate, to join his administration as a special advisor on education. Chalkbeat Tennessee

Charter school being built across from Florida public school. Jacksonville residents are angry about a charter school being built across the street from their public school. “It’s going to draw resources, funding, and it’s going to bring our student enrollment down, and it could very much possibly affect our teachers,” said Lisa Britt, PTA President at Alimacani Elementary School. News4Jax

Betsy DeVos’s “Voucherland” that could’ve been. Retired teacher and education writer Peter Greene gives us a glimpse of the dystopian future that lay in store for public education had Trump won the election. The Progressive

Some good news… At least some people want to help kids rather than cash in on them. Of the ten largest public bond measures on the ballot on Election Day, six were approved, including a $7 billion bond proposal for the Los Angeles Unified School District and nearly $3.5 billion for Dallas schools. WBAP

And make sure to check it out… On December 2 at 5:00 p.m. ET, join Jesse HagopianDenisha Jones, and Brian Jones for a forum to launch the new book, “Black Lives Matter At School.” Haymarket Books

Welcome to Cashing in on Kids, a newsletter for people fighting to stop the privatization of America’s public schools—produced by In the Public Interest.

Not a subscriber? Sign up. And make sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Derek W. Black is a professor of constitutional law who specializes in civil rights issues at the University of South Carolina. His recent book Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy is a must-read.

Black writes here in an essay written for this blog about recent voucher cases in state courts:

This summer in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the US Supreme Court struck down the provision in the Montana state constitution that prohibited aid to religious schools as a violation of free exercise of religion.  Some public education advocates understandably feared the sky was falling. Voucher advocates hailed Espinoza as a “major win” and began strategizing how they might expand the decision and leverage it in other contexts.  Most notably, the plan they envisioned would use Espinoza to force states to allow religious institutions to operate charter schools.  If they achieved that, public education might not only be privatized, it might become religious.

Far less attention has been paid to the string of state constitutional victories striking down voucher programs and respecting states’ decision to limits on the use of public education funding.  These decisions reinforce the notion that Espinoza is a narrow decision and ought to stay that way.

The first state case was in Tennessee.  Lacking the votes for a statewide voucher package, the General Assembly adopted a program that made vouchers available in the state’s two largest locations—Memphis and Nashville—but nowhere else.  Students in those districts could take the  state and local per pupil expenditure that would have remained in the public schools and spend it at a private school.  

Plaintiffs alleged this program violated a number of constitutional provisions, including the equal protection clause and the state’s obligation to provide for public education.  Those two claims would have taken more factual development, but the trial court was able to easily and immediately strike down the voucher program on the state constitution’s “home rule” provision.  That provision does not allow the general assembly to target individual jurisdictions in this way against their consent.  The Tennessee Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion, affirming the lower courts’ decision to enjoin the program.

The second case in South Carolina involved Governor Henry McMasters’ decision to use federal emergency funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to create a private school tuition program.  While the South Carolina Constitution explicitly prohibits using public funds “for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution,” the Governor contended that the bar did not apply because he received the money from the federal government.  In the alternative, he argued that students were the direct beneficiaries and private schools were only indirect beneficiaries.

The South Carolina Supreme Court rejected both arguments.  The funds became public within in the meaning of the state constitution when the governor take receipt of them and decided how to spend them.  And the fact the money moved directly from state government to the private schools resolved the second issue:  In short, “the  direct payment  of  the  funds  to  the  private  schools  is  contrary  to  the  framers’  intention not to grant public funds ‘outrightly’ to such institutions.”

The third case in Maine was the most complex.  Maine’s constitution obligates it to provide public education to all students in the state, but some of its school districts do not operate high schools.  In those districts, state law indicates the district may contract with either a nearby district that does operate a high school or an “approved” private school.  To be approved, the private school must be nonsectarian.  Plaintiffs claimed that this provision, like the rules in Espinoza, violated the First Amendment guarantee to free exercise of religion. 

The First Circuit Court of Appeals, however, found that this case was distinct from Espinoza.  Espinoza involved discrimination or animus against schools based on their “status” as religious schools.  But Maine’s aim was not to discriminate against religious groups.  Rather Maine’s aim was to prevent the “use” of public funds on religious ends.  The non-discriminatory purpose was all the more evident in light of the fact that the state had not created a voucher program generally open to all.  Rather, its program was designed to ensure that students in districts without a public high school still receive an education roughly equivalent to what they would have received had there been a public high school in the district.  More succinctly, the state contracted with private schools solely to replace the public education opportunity missing in the district.  In this context, the court found that the Free Exercise Clause does not force the state to accept religious instruction as a substitute for public education instruction.

A fourth case in now before the Michigan Supreme Court.  A Michigan statute diverted $2.5 million per year from Michigan’s public schools “to reimburse actual costs incurred by nonpublic schools in complying with a health, safety, or welfare requirement mandated by a law or administrative rule of this state.” MCL 388.1752b(1).  On its face, the statute is highly problematic because the Michigan Constitution provides that that “[n]o public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid . . . directly or indirectly to aid or maintain” any private school.  

The Michigan Court of Appeals, however, reasoned that reimbursements to private schools do not violate the Michigan Constitution because they are for auxiliary services, not educational services.  Plaintiffs’ counter that this argument is non-sensical.  The plain language of the Michigan Constitution prohibits public funding for private schools, regardless of how the state funnels or frames it.  The voters included this provision in the Michigan Constitution to ensure the general assembly did not take funds from public schools and redirect them elsewhere.

Regardless of what happens in Michigan, this developing line of cases suggests that state constitutions are more important to the future of private school voucher and tuition programs than Espinoza.  State provisions that limit diversion of public funds to private schools remain in full force.  The same is true of limits on the use of public funds for religious instruction as long as those limits are not motivated by religious animus.  This distinction is particularly important in stopping the rationale in Espinoza’s from spilling over into charter school programs.

Rob Schofield of North Carolina Policy Watch lives in a state taken over by the Tea Party, who are intent on selling off whatever they can to private industry.

We have fallen victim to corporate propaganda and allowed the corporate foxes into our henhouses.

He has written a brilliant article about what we are losing as our public sector is diminished and privatized. Americans who are concerned about our culture and our society should join the fight against the privatization of everything.

Something strange happened in my neighborhood the other day. It was a warm and pleasant Thursday – the day on which a city sanitation truck arrives each week to empty the trash bins.

The truck just didn’t come.

A couple of days later, another equally strange thing occurred: Our postal carrier didn’t make it to our neighborhood.

There were no holidays that I’d missed and no readily discoverable public explanations for the lapses.

Of course, neither of these developments was completely unprecedented. In the past, during hurricanes and snowstorms, such services have occasionally been interrupted. And neither was a life and death matter. The trash truck finally arrived a few days later and our mailbox was fairly stuffed the next day.

My guess/fear was that COVID might have taken a toll on the local sanitation team. And we all know of the struggles the U.S. Postal Service has been enduring.

But, in both instances – modest and unexplained failures in two core public services that have been utterly reliable for decades – there was something disquieting and noteworthy.

There was a time in our country – not that long ago – in which top-notch public services and structures were not just taken for granted, but widely accepted as points of common civic pride. Almost all Americans knew of the U.S. Postal Service motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Public schools and city halls often featured architecturally impressive buildings that served as important community hubs and gathering places. And public service employment – as a teacher, an employee of a state administrative agency, or yes, a postal worker or a trash truck driver – was widely viewed as an honorable and respectable middle-class career.

Today, it seems, our attitudes and expectations have been altered by a half-century of relentless and cynical messaging from conservative politicians, media outlets and think tanks that has helped set in motion a kind of vicious cycle.

First, government services and structures are demonized as inherently corrupt, inefficient and “the problem.”

Next, politicians demand that these structures and services operate “more efficiently” – “like a business” – so that taxes can be reduced.

After that – not surprisingly given the fact that most private businesses in a capitalist economy fail – numerous public structures and services (like schools, transportation, parks and even mail delivery and trash services) struggle to fulfill their missions.

After that, the whole cycle is repeated again and again until, at some point – especially in moments of crisis and extra stress like, say, a health pandemic – structures and services simply start to crumble and even fade away.

We’re witnessing this phenomenon play out right now in our public schools in North Carolina – particularly in some smaller and mid-sized counties, where the relentless pressure brought on by a decade of budget cuts, privatization (i.e. competition from voucher and charter schools that’s siphoning off families of means), and now the pandemic, is posing what amounts to an existential threat.

Last week, a former school board member in Granville County told Policy Watch education reporter Greg Childress that the public school system there has entered something akin to a death spiral in response to these pressures.

Reports from other counties sound disturbingly similar.

Meanwhile, in New Hanover County, a recent story in the Port City Daily paints a sobering, if familiar, portrait of how performance in that county’s system has been badly damaged by the resegregation that has followed in the wake of the county’s decision to, in effect, heed “market forces” – in this case, the demand of more affluent, mostly white families for “neighborhood schools.”

And so it goes for many other public structures and services as well.

From our torn and threadbare mental health system to our eviscerated environmental protection structures to our frequently overwhelmed courts, prisons and jails to our dog-eared parks and highway rest stops, the destructive cycle of reduced services and disinvestment continues to repeat itself.

All we lack right at present is the awareness, imagination and will to make it happen.

Carol Burris wrote the following post. Marla Kilfoyle provided assistance. They asked me to add that there are dozens more exceptionally well qualified people who should be considered for this important post: they are career educators who believe in public education, not closing schools or privatization.

The media has been filled with speculation regarding Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education. Given the attention that position received with Betsy De Vos at the helm, that is not a surprise. 

In 2008, Linda Darling Hammond was pushed aside by DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) for Arne Duncan, with disastrous consequences for our public schools. Race to the Top was a disaster. New Orleans’ parents now have no choice but unstable charter schools. Too many of Chicago’s children no longer have a neighborhood school from the Race to the Top era when it was believed that you improved a school by closing it.

But the troubling, ineffective policies of the past have not gone away. Their banner is still being carried by deep-pocketed ed reformers who believe the best way to improve a school is to close it or turn it over to a private charter board. 

Recently, DFER named its three preferred candidates for the U.S. Secretary of Education. DFER is a political action committee (PAC) associated with Education Reform Now, which, as Mercedes Schneider has shown, has ties to Betsy De Vos. DFER congratulated Betsy DeVos and her commitment to charter schools when Donald Trump appointed her.  They are pro-testing and anti-union. DFER is no friend to public schools.

The DFER candidates belong to Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, an organization that promotes Bush/Duncan education reform, as Jan Resseger describes here. “Chiefs for Change,” you support school choice, even if it drains resources from the public schools in your district, of which you are the steward. In their recent letter to President BidenChiefs for Change specifically asked for a continuance of the Federal Charter School Program, which has wasted approximately one billion dollars on charters that either never open or open and close. They also asked for the continuance of accountability systems (translate close schools based on test results) even as the pandemic rages.

We must chart a new course. We cannot afford to take a chance on another Secretary of Education who believes in the DFER/Chiefs for Change playbook. 

We don’t have to settle. The bench of pro-public education talent is deep. Here are just a few of the outstanding leaders that come to mind who could lead the U.S. Department of Education. Marla Kilfoyle and I came up with the following list. There are many more. 

Tony Thurmond is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California. Tony deeply believes in public schools. Prior to becoming his state’s education leader, he was a public school educator, social worker, and a public school parent. His personal story is both moving and compelling. 

Betty Rosa dedicated most of her adult life to the students of New York City.  She began her career as a bi-lingual paraprofessional in NYC schools, became a teacher, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, state chancellor, and now New York State’s interim commissioner. 

Other outstanding superintendents include Joylynn Pruitt -Adams, the Superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest in Illinois, who is relentlessly determined to provide an excellent education to the district’s Black and Latinx high school students by eliminating low track classes, Mike Matsuda, Superintendent of Anaheim High School District and Cindy Marten, the superintendent of San Diego.  

Two remarkable teachers with legislative experience who are strong advocates for public schools and public school students are former Teacher of the Year Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and former Arkansas state senator Joyce Elliot

There is also outstanding talent in our public colleges. There are teachers and leaders like University of Kentucky College of Education Dean, Julian Vasquez Heilig, who would use research to inform policy decisions.  

These are but a few of the dedicated public school advocates who would lead the Department in a new direction away from test and punish policies and school privatization. They are talented and experienced leaders who are dedicated to improving and keeping our public schools public and who realize that you don’t improve schools by shutting them down. Any DFER endorsed member of Chiefs for Change is steeped in the failed school reform movement and will further public school privatization through choice. They had their chance. That time has passed. 

 

 

While Trump appointees are doing their best to impose their policies before January 20, a federal judge in California told Betsy DeVos in no equivocal terms by a federal judge that she cannot divert CARES money to private schools. The nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools received $13.2 billion in CARES funding, which they were required to share with charter schools and to private schools with low-income students. However, charter schools, religious schools, and private schools also qualified for billions more from the CARES Payroll Protection Program, which excluded public schools. DeVos initially tried to wedge private schools into the public schools’ $13.2 billion fund, even if the private schools had no low-income students. But three federal judges rejected her efforts. Now she is permanently enjoined.

LANSING, Mich — A judge has formally closed the case on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ efforts to rewrite a section of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that would have diverted $16 million in funding away from public schools in Michigan.

The lawsuit against DeVos was co-led by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. On Nov. 9, U.S. District Court Northern District of California Judge James Donato approved a permanent injunction, thus formally closing the case. He then entered a judgement in favor of all plaintiffs.

“This pandemic has greatly impacted students across the country. The CARES Act is imperative as it provides critical funding for our public schools and the resources teachers need to continue safely teaching our youth,” Nessel said. “This permanent injunction sends a clear message that the publicly funded CARES Act dollars should be used as Congress intended – to educate our public students, and not to serve the political agendas of a select few.”

Under the leadership of Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island is a very charter-friendly state. Raimondo was a venture capitalist before she entered politics. Her husband was TFA.

The welcome mat is out for charter schools in the state. The latest proposal for a new charter comes from Excel Academy in Boston.

Linda Borg of the Providence Journal writes:

PROVIDENCE — Critics of a new charter school application say the Boston-based school will draw millions of dollars away from the traditional public schools and, combined with a proposed expansion of Achievement First, create two parallel school systems.  

Excel Academy hopes to enroll 2,100 students in kindergarten through grade 12 by the time it reaches full capacity in 10 years — at a cost of $7.4 million in lost local revenues to the Providence school district.  

“Frankly, it could be the best school in the universe,”  said state Rep. Rebecca Kislak of Providence. “I want to know why the mayor signed off on more than 6,000 additional charter seats at Achievement First and Excel. It’s a quarter of Providence’s public school students. I am incredibly concerned about what happens to the 75% of students left in the district’s schools…”

Kislak said the charter application speaks to a larger concern. 

“As a parent, it feels to me like the policymakers, the governor, the mayor and the education commissioner, are giving up and saying, ‘We can’t fix your schools. The best we can do is let a quarter of our kids go to these other schools.’ ”

State Sen. Sam Bell, at a public hearing Monday on the Excel application, said the charter’s attendance and discipline problems amount to “child abuse.”

He noted language in the 2019-2020 student handbook that states: “All student absences, including illness, suspension, appointments, vacations, excessive incomplete days, etc., count as absences.” Any student who exceeds 15 absences in a school year may be held back, according to the handbook.

Bell said the student handbook listed 35 reasons to give demerits to students. Excel, like Achievement First, is a “no excuses” charter school. He wondered whether its punitive discipline violated state law.

The school objected to his criticism.

Parents, educators, and other concerned citizens petitioned in opposition to adding a charter school representative to their school board.

PETITION: RCSD United Against Privatization 

Sign the petition against charter school affiliates being appointed to the Board of Ed here: https://forms.gle/uFScKtgxwk1SNo1N9

Write to the Board and tell them what you learned:

Van Henri White – van.white@thelegalbrief.com

This is the petition:

RCSD United Against Privatization 

In response to the announcement that Walter Larkin, current CEO of U Prep Charter School is a finalist for the open board of education seat:

We, the educators, parents, and citizens of the Rochester City School District stand united against the continued attacks on our public school system. We are opposed to the appointment of any charter school employees or affiliates to the board. Not only is this a conflict of interest, but the students and educators of the Rochester City School District deserve board members who trust and value PUBLIC education. Any affiliation with a charter school is a conflict of interest, and can only lead to the further privatization of our school district.

These attacks go beyond the appointment of a single board member. Our newest Superintendent has hired charter school executives such as Dr. Kathleen Black, as our new Chief Academic Officer.

We are also seeing gross inequity between what charter schools are able to offer, as they scoop up 6 times more CARES act funding than the RCSD was able to. Currently the students of the RCSD are being deprived of their right to a sound and basic education, while charter schools are able to offer in person schooling because they have access to funding that the RCSD does not.

The writing is on the wall, the Rochester City School District, which serves 80% of the students of this city, is being defunded and dismantled. Charter schools are being handed cash and are expanding exponentially. Not only have charter schools been shown to show NO better performance than traditional public schools, but they are also contributing to the immediate starvation of the RCSD, with over 80 million dollars coming from the RCSD budget to charter schools last year alone.

We demand a pro-public education replacement be chosen for the open board of education seat. We need someone who has shown a lifelong dedication to the success of public schools, and who has a vested interest in their continued success. Nothing else will be acceptable to the students, educators, and community members of the RCSD.

Open the link to see the names of the signatories.

Tom Ultican writes here about three major school board elections: Oakland, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis. These are districts that are in the crosshairs of the billionaire privatizers. No one can explain why billionaires want to privatize the public schools in these three districts (as well as dozens more). We now have nearly 30 years of evidence that neither charters nor vouchers produce educational miracles. New Orleans is not a national model: Last year, half the charter schools in this all-charter district were identified by the state as D or F-rated schools. Assignment to anyone: Why do the billionaires keep funding failure?

Ultican reports that the pro-privatization candidates vastly outspent the pro-public education candidates. In Oakland, the pro-public education slate won all but one seat (in that race, the pro-public education groups were divided, or they would have had a clean sweep).

In Los Angeles, the billionaires won one seat, enough to give them a single-seat majority of the school board.

In Indianapolis, the billionaires swamped the pro-public education candidates with their vast spending power.

It is an attack on democracy when billionaires from out-of-state (or from in-state) can drop a few million into a local school board race and make it impossible for ordinary citizens to compete. The individuals and the groups funding this assault on democracy–Michael Bloomberg, William Bloomfield, Stacey Schusterman, Arthur Rock, the Walton family, Reed Hastings, Doris Fisher, and other billionaires should hang their heads in shame. So should Stand for Children (which funnels billionaire money into races against public school advocates) and The Mind Trust.

For their ceaseless efforts to dismantle public schools and replace them with privately managed charters, I hereby place the following billionaires on this blog’s “Wall of Shame”: Michael Bloomberg, the Walton family, Reed Hastings, William Bloomfield, Doris Fisher, Arthur Rock, and Stacy Schusterman.

The same richly deserved dishonor goes to the infamous servant of the billionaires, Stand for Children.