Archives for category: Privatization

The parents and educators who created SOS Arizona blocked the last expansion plan for vouchers by getting a referendum on the state ballot in 2018. They had to fight the governor, the legislature, the Republican party, the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, and other monied interests, who wanted to keep expanding vouchers until every student in the state was eligible for a voucher.

The all-volunteer SOS Arizona group gathered over 100,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot, fought the efforts of the Koch brothers to kick them off the ballot, and the referendum went to the public, where voucher expansion was overwhelmingly defeated by a margin of 65-35%.

Now SOS Arizona needs your help to put another referendum on the state ballot, to end voucher expansion. Volunteers must collect 350,000 signatures to initiate this referendum. They need YOUR help!

Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), the grassroots group responsible for stopping universal voucher expansion in Arizona in 2018, has gone on offense. In spite of their overwhelming 2-to-1 defeat of Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) voucher expansion, the Arizona state legislature attempted to pass 6 different voucher bills in 2019–all killed by SOSAZ and in 2020 is working to allow ESA vouchers to expand vouchers across state lines. Save Our Schools, once again, said “Enough!”

On February 26, 2020, Save Our Schools Arizona filed a statewide citizens’ initiative (read it here). A critical next step in fighting the privatization movement, capping the program once and for all. The Save Our Schools Act:

Limits private school vouchers to 1% of the AZ student population, allowing current students to stay in the program while blocking ALL new voucher programs in AZ FOREVER

Prevents taxpayer dollars from going to out-of-state private schools

Prevents taxpayer dollars from being deposited into personal accounts to pay for college expenses (a recent public records request by the Arizona Republic uncovered $33 million sitting in unspent recipient accounts including 9 families with a balance of more than $100,000 and dozens of others with more than $50,000.

Prioritizes existing ESA vouchers for special needs students, for whom the program was originally designed

Creates a “Taxpayer Protection Fund” to sweep remaining ESA voucher funds at the end of the fiscal year to enforce the law and increase accountability; remaining funds will transfer to the Exceptional Special Needs public school fund

To successfully place the Save Our Schools Act on the November 2020 ballot, SOSAZ has launched a statewide effort to gather 350,000 signatures by July 2. Please help by donating to this critical cause at https://secure.everyaction.com/gTzwyTPPjU2EeS_rLATvZA2

This review from the National Education Policy Center by William Mathis demolishes an absurd claim about the hypothetical economic benefits of expanding Wisconsin’s voucher program. The review is actually hilarious.

Mathis reviews a report by a voucher proponent published by a libertarian, pro-voucher thinky tank, claiming that expansion of the state’s voucher program would increase the number of college graduates, increase personal wealth, and add billions to the state’s coffers. The report relies on “peer-reviewed” studies by the same author, published in pro-choice, libertarian journals that support vouchers.

Mathis writes:

There exist countless articles on school choice, ranging from general interest publications to peer-reviewed professional articles in prestigious journals. Yet the limited references in this report are drawn from a narrow, non-representative slice of the field. Eleven of the 12 selections in the bibliography are drawn from raw data sources (e.g., the Bureau of Labor Statistics) or pro-school-choice articles. The one exception is the Brookings brief, which is the basis of the human-capital claims and numbers (i.e., the claimed benefits of moving an individual from a high school graduate to a college graduate).
Yet the report overtly appeals to the strength of peer-reviewed articles to buttress its claims (p. 7).

From page 2 of the report:

This study estimates the economic impact from expanding Wisconsin’s parental choice programs by using similar methods to previous studies, the first of which has already been published in a peer-reviewed journal (Flanders & DeAngelis 2018a; Flanders & DeAngelis 2018b; DeAngelis and Flanders 2019).

Note that all three pieces are co-authored by the author of the Ripple Effect. Looking at the report’s reference section, we find that these are cites not known to peer-reviewed publi- cations, but to Tennessee’s free-market Beacon Center, to something called “School Sys- tems Reform Studies,” and to the Mississippi State University Institute for Market Studies. Searching online, one finds that the School Systems Reform Studies piece was indeed sub- sequently published in the Journal of School Choice,5 a common venue for articles touting vouchers. The paper does later cite to a peer-reviewed article that offers some support for the claim that Milwaukee voucher students are more likely to graduate high school. How- ever, this study itself has some serious limitations. Fifty-six percent (56%) of the original
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/ripple-effect 6 of 12
sample were no longer enrolled in a voucher program by the time they should have been in the 12th grade. Furthermore, “Only one of the findings could be considered statistically significant at conventional levels.”

Mathis quite correctly points out that 56% of the students who enter voucher schools drop out before graduation and return to public schools, so the “higher” graduation rate from voucher schools consists of the 44% who survived.

This is a worthwhile read, if only for the laughs at the struggle of voucher proponents to ignore the multiple studies of the negative effects of vouchers from D.C., Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Jeremy Mohler, In the Public Interest Communications Director, 301-752-8413, jmohler@inthepublicinterest.org

Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, a national nonprofit that studies public goods and services, said:

“The Trump administration refusing to use the World Health Organization’s (WHO) test and instead outsourcing to two corporations amounts to privatization that is costing the country precious time.”

“We need to take the word ‘public’ in ‘public health crisis’ seriously. The private market can’t create and protect the public goods we all rely on—individually and as a nation. It isn’t providing adequate health care and testing. It isn’t providing paid sick leave to many workers.”

“If coronavirus is exposing anything, it’s that we’re all in this together. Protecting the public health of all us requires protecting the health of each of us, without exception.”

If you have an hour to spare, you might enjoy this no-holds-barred interview by Leonard Lopate, asking questions of me about SLAYING GOLIATH.

When I was in San Francisco, I talked about SLAYING GOLIATH with Susan Solomon, president of United Educators of San Francisco. It was videotaped by CSPAN Book TV and has been broadcast.

Here is the full interview:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?468918-1/slaying-goliath

Now that most public gatherings have been canceled, I am happy to share this conversation with you.

Please let me know what you think about the discussion. I appreciate your feedback.

If you read the book and like it, please do me the great favor of giving a copy to a local school board member and/or your state legislator.

The way to improve public education is to educate the public.

Two important chapters in SLAYING GOLIATH that you should pay attention to: Why standardized testing preserves the achievement gap (it is built into the design); and what cognitive scientists in the 21st century have learned about the sources of motivation.

Standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. The bell curve never closes. Advantaged kids dominate the top half. That’s true of every standardized test.

Jeanne Kaplan served two terms on the elected board of education in Denver. She has been an outspoken critic of the Disruption policies of the Michael Bennet-Tom Boasberg era, and she worked with other parents and activists in Denver against the monied interests that promoted Disruption, high-stakes testing, and charters in that city.

Miraculously, a new board was elected last fall which had a majority of advocates for public education. But they have implemented none of the changes they promised.

In this post, she wonders why the new, supposedly pro-public education board has been so passive.

Her post begins:

On November 5, 2019 Denver voters gave education reform an “F” which was reflected by the election of three new board members, none of whom was supported by the usual suspects in Denver’s education reform landscape: DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), SFER (Students for Education Reform), Stand for Children or as I recently heard referred to as STOMP ON CHILDREN. The three winners – Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann, and Brad Laurvick, joined two other non-reform members to make what should have been an easy 5-2 majority. Taking action to undo the District’s business model of education reform should have been a gimme. It is now four months later, and while there are members who want to see the District go in a new direction, the sense of urgency is definitely not there. The new majority appears to be unwilling or stymied as how best to make essential change and how best to honor the voters’ desires. I have attended various DPS events these past few weeks, and I was struck by how easily it could have been 2009 or 2013 or 2017. Many of the same people are in charge, most of the same policies are being pursued, the same policy governance baloney is being pushed. Education reform continues to dominate the conversation and decision making. The window of opportunity for this board to act is closing rapidly and before we know it, a new election cycle will be upon us. Denver Board of Education – it is incumbent upon you to act now. If you continue to drag your feet, we will lose another generation to education reform and its portfolio model. Some possibilities as how to proceed and achieve change quickly follow:

The Board must begin a search for a new superintendent. Superintendent Susana Cordova and all of her senior team must be replaced. For a short while I believed Ms. Cordova could stay without her current senior staff, but it has become apparent that that would be an unworkable situation. All who are so deeply vested in the education reform direction the District has followed need to be replaced by qualified leaders who are not afraid to admit the failures of the last 15 years and who are willing to develop a bold, new direction for the District. The current leadership in DPS is wedded too heavily to the past (some might call it the status quo). Denverites want change and have said so clearly in the past two elections. The only way for that to happen is for a complete change in top leadership. In a recent post written specifically for Loving Community Schools Newsletter, The CURE, education historian and hero of the transformers’ movement Diane Ravitch said this:

“The new Denver school board should use this unique opportunity to repudiate the failed “reforms” of the past decade. They have not closed achievement gaps; they have not improved the opportunities of all children. They have failed.

“It is time for the school board to find new leadership willing to strike out in a new direction. That means leaders who do not define schooling by deeply flawed standardized tests and who understand that a great public education system benefits all children, not just a few.”

The Board must take back power it has ceded to the superintendent.

It must:

*decide what board meeting agendas should look like.
*direct the superintendent to direct the staff to follow up on Board Directors’ subjects of interest.
*consider returning to two public board meetings per month. That used to be the norm until the Bennet/Boasberg regimes. The reduction in meetings has resulted in less transparency and fewer meaningful public discussions.
*revise policies DJA and DJA-R so the threshold for Board approved purchases is lowered from the current $1 million.
*reduce the number and length of PowerPoint presentations. One thing DPS has improved over the past 15 years is its PowerPoint presentations. They are now very colorful, very long, and very, very obtuse. No more “Death by PowerPoint.”

The Board must change the budget and educational priorities from one based on reform-oriented tenets and expenditures to one that reflects priorities voted for in the elections of 2017 and 2019.
SPF – Accountability based on data, data, data which is based on testing, testing, testing. Why is the District continuing to pursue and spend taxpayer money on a flawed, racist, punitive, inequitable accountability system upon which most of its other educational decisions are based? While the SPF is being “re-imagined” and the possibility of using the state system is being considered, few board members seem willing to tackle real change which could result in a wholly different accountability system. Why is the Board not directing the staff to develop an entirely new accountability system focused on “school stories,” for example, based on things other than test scores? Why is the Board unwilling to make real change but instead seems satisfied to just nibble at the edges?

Choice – A complicated, expensive to operate, stressful system where the number of “choices” has increased from five schools to twelve schools per student. Who could really be satisfied with a number past even five? Is this just another way for DPS to pretend a reform is working by saying “XX% got one of their top choices. Look. It’s working!” And why is the Board majority allowing the District to continue to ignore focusing on most family’s first Choice, their neighborhood schools? What are the costs of Choice from implementation to transportation and everything in between? And how could that money not be better spent in the classroom?
Charter Schools – these “publicly funded, privately managed ‘public’ schools” seem to have it both ways; they are funded with taxpayer dollars, yet they are not overseen by our duly elected officials. The Board must work with the legislature to bring more transparency, oversight and accountability to charter schools in general. (See next section). Just last week in a 2 hour, 27 page PowerPoint presentation, DPS had a Focus on Achievement study session devoted to “Positive Culture Change for Educators of Color.” None of the data reflected Charter School recruitment, hiring, demographics, retention, turnover. Nothing. The head of Human Resources actually said, “We do not include charters in this data. Charters are not required to provide their employee data or demographic data to the District.” (minute 39) WHAAAT?? Sixty out of 200 schools are charters. 20%. No accountability to the Board. As for bond and mill levy monies? Same thing. DPS is touted for sharing these funds with its charters, yet once again there is no oversight and accountability for the charters.

Bonuses – Awarding bonuses is one of those business practices that works better in the private sector than the public sector. As DPS has plowed forward with all things reform, bonuses have become a huge part of its model. Teachers earn bonuses based on criteria established in the 2019 strike settlement. The dollar amount per year starts at $750 and can go as high $6000 a year. Administrators earn bonuses based on criteria established by, one assumes, by the superintendent. Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) has engaged a financial analytics consultant to analyze salary and expenditure trends within the DPS budget. Detailed compensation data for the fiscal years ending 2014 – 2019 was provided by DPS to INC through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

From this data, DPS is showing that the largest beneficiaries of Bonus Compensation were those in the “Administrator” job classification. For the six-year period, Administrators received 82% ($3.8 million) of the total bonuses paid ($4.6 million). What’s more, the 20 highest bonused Administrators received 33%, or $1.4 million of the overall $4.6 million. Let that sink in – $1.4 million paid from 2014-2019 went to 20 Administrators. In a District strapped for cash. In a District that is asking teachers to make up a budgetary shortfall by increasing their pension contributions.

Please read the rest of the post. It is all sensible and reasonable. It is time for the board to represent the constituents who asked for a change in the status quo.

I confess that I was very disappointed by the review of my new book in the New York Times. The reviewer thought that I should have presented “both sides,” not argued on behalf of public schools, which enroll 85-90% of American children. If we starve the public schools that enroll most children, we harm them and the future of our society. I debated whether to respond on this blog but then decided against it. Sometimes it is best to remain silent.

Happily, Neil Kulick, a teacher, critiqued the review. He posted his comment here.

Thank you, Neil!

He writes:

Your new book gives public school teachers (like me) hope. You are truly our champion. Thank you.

A while back, I read the review of “Slaying Goliath” in the NY Times. I did not quite like the review. Here is my reply to it:

Readers of Annie Murphy Paul’s review of Diane Ravitch’s “Slaying Goliath” (in the February 2 NYT Book Review) can be forgiven for thinking that Professor Ravitch has lost her way and written a book in which she exults in the failures of all who are interested in strengthening our public schools.

In fact, “Slaying Goliath” is a work of meticulous scholarship that chronicles the failure of every single “reform” in recent decades, most of them market-based (as if children or their teachers were commodities, or schools factories) and virtually all funded by billionaires who know little about teaching and learning but are glad to call the shots when it comes to our schools. Professor Ravitch is not against reform but rather the particular set of “reforms” that have been foisted on our public schools and our teachers and students, including so-called merit pay and the oddity of evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores. Her book ends with a call for genuine reform, which would require adequately funding our public schools so that they have a fair chance of educating a population that includes so many children born into poverty and who come to school already behind and lacking the supports at home of their more affluent peers. It would also require funding programs to support impoverished families. Our public schools are not broken; our society is.

Professor Ravitch accurately terms those who push (and, astonishingly, continue to push) for these failed reforms “disrupters,” because the purpose or effect of their actions is to undermine the very institution of the public school. And yes, Professor Ravitch does name names. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for one, is not an advocate of public schools. Rather she favors “choice,” as if that were an end in itself. But that choice does not include a well-funded public school for every child, though if Secretary DeVos had her way it would include a charter school. Charter schools, unfortunately, are generally no better than public schools, and some are militaristic, so that students learn not to question but to obey. Nor are charters known for serving the needs of children with learning disabilities or who have emotional or behavioral problems or for whom English is not their first language. They do, however, succeed in draining money from public schools.

Ultimately, Professor Ravitch is optimistic, believing that today’s “reformers” will inevitably lose, despite their vast wealth, because the “resisters” — parents and grandparents, schoolchildren, and their teachers — are multitudinous and motivated by passion. And they cannot be bought. As a public school teacher, I hope Professor Ravitch is right.

Some might wonder why public schools matter. Apart from the fact that the vast majority of American schoolchildren attend them, public schools are our best hope for a flourishing democracy. In public schools, children from diverse backgrounds come together as one community. They learn together, and they learn from each other. John Dewey understood how essential public schools are to our way of life: “A democracy,” he wrote, “is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.”* It is just this “conjoint communicated experience” that public schools afford.

This decision was announced on March 11:

Metropolitan News-Enterprise

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Court of Appeal:
Nonprofit Chartered Schools Are Not Exempt From County Property Taxes, Assessments

By a MetNews Staff Writer

The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner’s determination that a nonprofit charter school is not impliedly exempt, under the California Constitution, from payment of property taxes and special assessments.

The plaintiffs—Los Angeles Leadership Academy, Inc., which operates schools in Lincoln Heights, and two nonprofit public benefit corporations that own the land—brought suit for refunds and declaratory relief, contending that their schools, like public schools, should not be taxed.

Justice Elizabeth Grimes of Div. Eight wrote the opinion affirming Bachner’s judgment in favor Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang and others.

Public Schools’ Exemption

Public schools are expressly exempt, under the state Constitution, from paying taxes and, it has been held, are impliedly exempt from paying special assessments, Grimes recited.

She wrote:

“We find no support in statutory or case law for plaintiffs’ implied exemption claim. Plaintiffs cannot establish that charter schools are public entities for purposes of exemption from taxation. Plaintiffs’ policy arguments to the contrary—that charter schools should be treated like public entities because monies taken for taxes and special assessments reduce monies available for educating students, and put charter schools at a competitive disadvantage with other public schools—are properly addressed to the Legislature, not to this court.”

Grimes noted that in the 2006 case of Wells v. One2One Learning Foundation, the California Supreme Court held, in an opinion by then-Justice Marvin Baxter, that while charter schools are “part of the public school system” for some purposes, they are not entitled to governmental tort immunity.

Legislative Specification

The Legislature has specified the circumstances under which chartered schools are a part of the public school system, Grimes said, pointing out:

“Notably absent is any suggestion that charters schools are to be treated like school districts for taxation purposes.”

The case is Los Angeles Leadership Academy v. Prang, B292613.

Thomas R. Freeman, A. Howard Matz, Hernan D. Vera and Fanxi Wang Bird of Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, represented the plaintiffs. Joel N. Klevens of Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro joined with Los Angeles Deputy County Counsels Nicole Davis Tinkham and Justin Y. Kim in arguing for the assessor.

Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company

Now here is a refreshing story from Florida.

Republican State Senator Tom Lee says he is fed up with the legislature’s micromanagement of education policy. Moreover, he actually noticed that the Legislature spends most of its time on 20% of the state’s students while ignoring the other 80% who attend public schools.

“As I talk to members, I don’t think there’s anyone quite where I am yet, but I’m fed up,” said the former Senate President. “With a Legislature that spends 80% of its time focusing on 20% of the students, we might as well name our education committee the committee on charter schools and vouchers. And if we get into this budget, I got plenty to say about our education budget as well.”

Lee complains there’s not a lot of flexible spending money for school districts, especially because of HB 5007, which the Legislature passed earlier this year. It changes how much state employees must contribute to the pension system. And it could end up costing school districts nearly $233 million statewide.

“I just think that until we get our foot off the neck of local school districts,” he said. “Let these school boards’ constitutionally elected officers manage the school districts. Get rid of some of these categoricals and stop micromanaging.”

Lee says that he’s just not interested in micromanaging and implementing punitive measures to create unequal competition between choice, charter and public schools. He says sometimes he feels like Republicans have run out of good ideas.

“Until you get a chance to go ‘mano a mano‘ with people on this floor and tell the truth and play a little game of show and tell here about what’s really going on, you’re not going to move public policy in this state because the fix is in.”

EPIC virtual charter school is locked in a battle with state auditors over the question of whether public money belongs to the public or to the owners of the school.

Face-Off Between Epic, State Centers on Controversial ‘Learning Fund’

EPIC is a charter school but it’s defense is that it is a private business, not a public agency. How refreshing!

The story:

The state is drawing a hard line: Public education funds that flow to a private company are public.

Founders of the state’s largest online charter school are fighting to shield those funds. Their company has refused to comply with subpoenas from the State Auditor and Inspector.

The showdown is headed to court and could have major ramifications for Epic Charter Schools and its for-profit management company, Epic Youth Services, both of which have drawn controversy since inception a decade ago.

At the heart of the issue is something Epic calls the “learning fund.” It’s a major draw for students and families and has helped propel Epic’s stunning enrollment growth.

Here’s how it works: Epic makes at least $1,000 available to each student annually in the student’s learning fund. Dollars are deducted for their choice of curriculum and for a plethora of other items of their choice, such as laptops and iPads, science kits and craft supplies, soccer club fees, horseback riding lessons, gymnastics and summer camps.

Parents don’t receive the money directly but instead request a purchase from Epic. Epic transfers the money to Epic Youth Services, according to the court filing, which then pays the vendors directly. There are more than 1,400 private learning-fund vendors.

The school makes periodic transfers of state funding into a checking account specifically for learning fund purchases. The school transfers into a separate checking account 10% of its total revenue to Epic Youth Services for a management fee.

Epic Charter School co-founder Ben Harris is seen at a board meeting in Oklahoma City on Oct. 16, 2019. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)
Epic was founded by David Chaney and Ben Harris; the two men also own Epic Youth Services LLC. Chaney and Harris have split at least $10 million in profits from Epic Youth Services between 2013 and 2018, according to the OSBI, which is investigating Chaney and Harris on allegations of embezzlement and racketeering.

Chaney and Harris have denied wrongdoing, and no charges have been filed. Through an attorney, they responded to the auditor’s court motion with a written statement.

“The state Auditor’s legal position – that private businesses are subject to state audit – should concern every business owner in Oklahoma. Epic Youth Services has offered to voluntarily allow the auditor to review records appropriate to their request, but we have received no response prior to this court filing. We will vigorously fight for the protection that has historically been provided to private businesses like Epic Youth Services.”