Archives for category: School Choice

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has been accumulating case studies of what he calls “the Destroy Public Education Movement.” His latest case study centers on Indianapolis, but he observed that the nexus of so much advocacy for school privatization is the Harvard University Program on Educational Governance and Policy at the Kennedy School. This program was founded by tenured Professor Paul Peterson, one of the nation’s leading advocates for every kind of choice except public schools. Peterson trained many of the nation’s academic proponents of school choice (including vouchers), such as Jay Greene and Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas “Department of Education Reform.” In addition to churning out “studies” that tout the glories of privatization, PEPG also sponsors the rightwing journal Education Next, whose editorial board is firmly in the privatization camp. (When I was a fellow at the rightwing Hoover Institution, I was on the editorial board of EdNext, which is a sounding board for rightwing academics and would-be academics who have no scholarly credentials but do have the “right” views).

Ultican writes:

It is not the kind of objective journal expected from an academic institution. Influenced by super-wealthy people like Bill Gates and the Walton family, Education Next’s reform ideology undermines democratic control of public schools. It promotes public school privatization with charter schools and vouchers. The contributors to their blog include Chester E. Finn, Jay P. Greene, Eric Hanushek, Paul Hill, Michael Horn, Robin J. Lake and Michael Petrilli. Robin Lake’s new article “The Hoosier Way; Good choices for all in Indianapolis” is an all too common example of Education Next’s biased publishing.

Ultican draws the ties among the EdNext gang, the portfolio model, Paul Hill, Robin Lake, and Lake’s celebratory treatment of the expansion of privatization in Indianapolis.

He writes:

The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio. It is a plan that guarantees school churn in poor neighborhoods, venerates disruption and dismisses the value of stability and community history.

Robin Lake was one of Hill’s first hires at CRPE. She became his closest confederate and when he decided to reduce his work load in 2012, Lake took his place as the Director of CRPE. Lake and Hill co-wrote dozens of papers almost all of which deal with improving and promoting charter schools. Since the mid-1990s Lake has been publishing non-stop to promote the portfolio model of school management and charter schools. Lake’s new article up on Education Next is her latest in praise of the portfolio agenda for wresting school control from local voters.

Like a large number of the contributors to Education Next, neither Robin Lake nor her mentor Paul Hill have practiced or formally studied education. None-the-less, they have been successful at selling their brand of education reform; which is privatization. They describe their organization, CRPE, as engaging in “independent research and policy analysis.” However, Media and Democracy’s Source Watch tagged the group an “industry-funded research center that . . . receives funding from corporate and billionaire philanthropists as well as the U.S. Department of Education.”

Ultican traces the bipartisan nature of the privatization movement in Indianapolis, which centered on a neoliberal group called The Mind Trust:

Today, charter schools which are not accountable to local residents of Indianapolis are serving nearly 50% of the city’s students. Plus, 10,000 of the 32,000 Indianapolis Public School (IPS) students are in Innovation schools which are also not accountable to local voters. The organization most responsible for the loss of democratic control over publicly financed schools in Indianapolis is The Mind Trust….

Tony Bennett served as Superintendent of public schools in Indiana during the administration of Republican Governor Mitch Daniels. Bennett was“widely known as a hard-charging Republican reformer associated with Jeb Bush’s prescriptions for fixing public schools: charter schools, private school vouchers, tying teacher pay to student test scores and grading schools on a A through F scale.” He left Indiana to become Florida’s Education Commissioner in 2013, but soon resigned over an Indiana scandal involving fixing the ratings of the Crystal House charter schoolwhich was owned by a republican donor.

In 2011 before leaving, Bennett was threatening to take action against Indianapolis schools. The Mind Trust responded to Bennett with a paper called “Creating Opportunity Schools.” Lake writes,

“In response to a request from Bennett, The Mind Trust put out a report in December 2011 calling for the elimination of elected school boards and the empowerment of educators at the local level. … At the same time, Stand for Children, an education advocacy nonprofit, was raising money to get reform-friendly school-board members elected, and much of the public debate centered on The Mind Trust’s proposal. … A new board was elected in 2012 (the same year Mike Pence became governor) and the board quickly recruited a young new superintendent, Lewis Ferebee, to start in September 2013.” (Emphasis added)

Lewis Ferebee was a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. He was selected to continue the Jeb Bush theory of education reform. It is the theory Bush developed while serving on the board of the Heritage Foundation in the 1990s.

The dark-money group Stand for Children soon joined the fray and helped to direct philanthropic money to the privatization program, which was premised on removing democratic control of the schools.

Lewis Ferebee, a key figure in the anti-democratic private takeover of the public schools of Indianapolis, is now chancellor of the schools of the District of Columbia.

 

 

Jeremy Mohler of the nonpartisan group In the Public Interest writes that the best choice is great, well-funded public schools. The flaw of market-based choice is that competition guarantees winners and losers. Our goal as a society should be equal educational opportunity. We have never come close to achieving it. But we should not abandon that quest and exchange it for the vagaries of the market.

Mohler writes:

Last week was “National School Choice Week,” and odds are you’re confused. Why was there a week dedicated to something nobody would argue against? Shouldn’t every child be able to attend a great school?

The answers lie in who paid for the bright yellow scarves and signs on display at last week’s thousands of events.

Surely some well-meaning parents and students celebrated. But they were joined by powerful people who, despite what they say, don’t believe that every child deserves a great school.

Instead, these people believe in a certain kind of choice over all others. In their worldview, market choice is more important than democracy, parents are consumers rather than members of a broader community, and education is a competition between students, with winners and losers.

National School Choice Week was founded in 2011 by the Gleason Family Foundation, the philanthropy arm of a machine tool manufacturing company in Rochester, New York. As of 2017—the most recent year data is publicly available, albeit incomplete—the foundation gave at least $688,000 to organize the self-described “nonpartisan, nonpolitical, independent public awareness effort.” The total is likely higher—in 2014, the foundation’s spending on the week topped $4.3 million.

The Gleason Family Foundation has little public presence, not even a website, but much can be gleaned from who it supports. As of 2016, it had given money to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Cato Institute, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (now called EdChoice), and countless other conservative organizations bent on privatizing public education.

So, the “choice” in National School Choice Week clearly means certain educational options, namely private school vouchers and charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated.

But it goes further than that. By recklessly pushing vouchers and charter schools at all costs, the privatizers funding the school choice movement actually aim to eliminate choices for parents, students, and teachers.

Shouldn’t parents have the choice to send their child to a well-funded neighborhood public school? Yet, private school vouchers siphon precious funding from public school districts, many of them already struggling to raise revenue.

Additionally, research has shown that each new charter school that opens diverts money from districts. Charter schools cost Oakland, California’s school district $57.3 million per year, meaning $1,500 less in funding for each student who attends a neighborhood school. Last fall, the struggling district moved forward with a plan to begin closing 24 of its 80 schools. Budget pressure caused by unlimited charter school growth surely contributed to this decision.

Simply put, allowing more and more charter schools to open threatens the existence of by-right, neighborhood public schools.

Polling shows that parents prefer neighborhood public schools, as long as those schools receive adequate investment. A majority of Americans also agree that public schools need more money. Yet, the well-funded, conservative members of the school choice movement don’t agree with these choices.

ALEC and think tanks like Cato are staunch advocates for lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy, which has slowly drained money from America’s public education system, especially in the wake of the 2008 recession.

The majority of states continue to spend less on education than they did ten years ago. More than half of the country’s public schools are in need of repairs. In 2018, more than 60 percent of schools didn’t employ a full- or part-time nurse. Nationally, teacher pay is so low, nearly 1 in 5 teachers works a second job.

This all fits squarely with the school choice movement’s worldview that market competition belongs everywhere, even in public education. Instead of investing in all public schools, and especially those where the needs are greatest, the likes of the Gleason Family Foundation want our communities to leave public education up to private markets.

Simply put, the funders of National School Choice Week don’t share the same values as the many parents who just want a great school for their child.

Here’s what school choice should mean: every family should be able to make their neighborhood school their top choice, and every school should be a first choice for somebody.

 

Bethlehem School Superintendent Joseph Roy spoke candidly about charters and race and expected he had struck a hornets’ nest. 

He said in a public forum, not for the first time, “that some parents send their kids to charters so they won’t have to go to school with “kids coming from poverty or kids with skin that doesn’t look like theirs.”

Roy is among many superintendents, including Allentown’s Thomas Parker, who are calling for state officials to overhaul the charter school system because of the cost to school districts, which pay tuition for students who enroll in charters.

The Bethlehem Area School District expects to spend more than $30 million this year. Allentown spends about twice as much. Statewide, districts sent $1.8 billion to charters in 2018.

I met with Roy to discuss charter school funding, public accountability and other topics that I may write more about later. He also opened up about the controversy.

It started with his comments at the news conference about why students attend charters. He offered several reasons, including bus transportation, longer school days, specific academic programs and uniform requirements. He also mentioned race.

“The honest fact is, not all, but some parents send their kids from urban districts to charters to avoid having their kids be with kids coming from poverty or kids with skin that doesn’t look like theirs,” Roy said.

Five days later, Saucon Valley School Board President Shamim Pakzad, who enrolls one of his sons in a charter school, called for Roy to resign, though he didn’t mention him by name.

“What they said was ugly, divisive and outside of the boundaries of human decency,” Pakzad said at a school board meeting.

Roy also got backlash from the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. Parents from several charters demanded an apology.

Others defended Roy, including Bethlehem’s school board and Bethlehem NAACP President Esther Lee. He said he received emails of support from district parents.

I asked Roy why he believes some people don’t want to talk about issues involving race.

“No one wants to be called or viewed as a racist,” he said. “That’s one of the worst things you can say. But then that is used as a defense mechanism to shut down any honest conversation about it.”

Charter schools have varying levels of diversity. Some are made up primarily of minority students, while others are overwhelmingly white. Income levels vary, too.

I was reminded of the time I spoke to the Florida School Boards Association a few years ago. I asked its executive director why students left public schools to attend charter schools. He bluntly said, “They don’t want to go to schools with kids who don’t look like them.”

School choice encourages segregation by race, social class, income, and religion. It takes determination and willpower to overcome segregation.

Valerie Strauss wrote a column in her Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post about the two most horrifying stories in the past decade of high-stakes standardized testing. Both occurred in Florida, a state where standardized testing is treated as an unerring and essential metric, except for students who use state money to attend religious schools, which are exempt from the state’s testing regime.

So devoted is Florida to standardized testing that all its legislators, the governor and the State Commissioner Richard Corcoran (whose wife runs a charter school) should be required to take the tests required of eighth graders and publish their scores.

You should subscribe to the Washington Post just to read Valerie Strauss.

Strauss writes:

Of all of the absurd and appalling stories that emerged from the standardized test-based school reform movement in the 2010s, there were two that, arguably, best revealed to me how bankrupt and even cruel some of the things policymakers foisted on children could be….

There were stories about teachers being evaluated on the test scores of students they didn’t have and subjects they didn’t teach.

There were stories of high-performing teachers getting poor evaluations because of complicated and problematic algorithms that were used to calculate their “worth” in class — which some reformers said could be ascertained by eliminating every single other factor (even hunger and chronic grief) that could affect how well a child does on a test….

But there were two that still resonate deeply and reveal just how vacant — and mean — some of the policy was. Why recount them? Because as new school reform efforts are being implemented, it is worth remembering that good intentions are not enough and that bad policy has real and sometimes extreme effects on children and adults.

One of these stories was from 2013, when the state of Florida required a 9-year-old boy who was born without the cognitive portion of his brain to take a version of the state’s standardized Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The boy, Michael, was blind, couldn’t talk or understand basic information. Judy Harris, the operator and owner of a care facility for children in Orlando where Michael was left shortly after birth, told News 13 at the time:

Michael loves music, he loves to hear, and he loves for you to talk to him and things like that, but as far as testing him, or questioning him on what is an apple and a peach, what is the difference? Michael wouldn’t know what that is.”

But the rules said every student could take a test and be evaluated, however severe their disabilities might be. I wrote about the situation at the time and asked education officials in the Florida Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education why this was happening. They all said every student could be assessed. At the time I wrote:

State Rep. Linda Stewart of Orlando told me she didn’t think that a young boy who can’t tell the difference between an apple and a peach should be taking any test, and tried to get officials in the Education Department to step in to stop the charade of Michael taking a test.
She said nobody did. “Nobody wanted to take the responsibility of stopping it,” she said.
Rick Roach, an Orange County, Florida, school board member who was following Michael’s story, confirmed that Michael was in fact forced to take the test, meaning that a state employee sat down and read it to him, as if he could actually understand it.

In 2013, Roach had told Michael’s story to educator Marion Brady, who wrote about it for The Answer Sheet. I recently asked Roach about Michael’s status and he said Michael, now 15, still lives at the home run by Harris.

The second disturbing story was about a boy in Florida named Ethan Rediske, who suffered a brain injury at birth and had cerebral palsy, epilepsy, cortical blindness and the developmental equivalency of a 6-month-old child. He died on Feb. 7, 2014.

In 2013, Ethan was forced to “take” a version of the FCAT over the space of two weeks because Florida still required every student to take one. His mother, educator Andrea Rediske, managed to obtain a waiver so that he didn’t have to take the test in 2014, but it turned out there was a hitch. As Ethan was in a morphine coma dying in a hospital, the state insisted that his family prove he deserved the waiver. The ugliness of the situation was captured in the following email she wrote to Orange County School Board member Rick Roach and to reporter Scott Maxwell, who wrote about Ethan and similar cases for the Orlando Sentinel:

Rick and Scott,
I’m writing to appeal for your advocacy on our behalf. Ethan is dying. He has been in hospice care for the past month. We are in the last days of his life. His loving and dedicated teacher, Jennifer Rose has been visiting him every day, bringing some love, peace, and light into these last days. How do we know that he knows that she is there? Because he opens his eyes and gives her a little smile. He is content and comforted after she leaves.
Jennifer is the greatest example of what a dedicated teacher should be. About a week ago, Jennifer hesitantly told me that the district required a medical update for continuation of the med waiver for the adapted FCAT. Apparently, my communication through her that he was in hospice wasn’t enough: they required a letter from the hospice company to say that he was dying. Every day that she comes to visit, she is required to do paperwork to document his “progress.” Seriously? Why is Ethan Rediske not meeting his 6th-grade hospital homebound curriculum requirements? BECAUSE HE IS IN A MORPHINE COMA. We expect him to go any day. He is tenaciously clinging to life.This madness has got to stop. Please help us.
Thank you,
Andrea Rediske

The cases of Michael and Ethan were not isolated. Since that time, the national obsession with standardized testing has somewhat abated. Many states have moved away from evaluating teachers by test scores and reduced the consequences for low scores. Yet most students are still required to take standardized tests, and problems with them remain.

These stories are two I don’t believe I will ever forget.

The distinguished education researcher Gene Glass reads this blog and occasionally comments. Yesterday I quoted a short statement by Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO, the Walton-funded evaluator of charter schools, who stated publicly that markets don’t work well in schooling. We can speculate on why markets don’t work: parents don’t have enough information, information is distorted by marketing and propaganda, test scores are the wrong information, etc. If you believe that society has a fundamental obligation to provide good schools for all children, the market is the worst delivery mechanism because it exacerbates inequity. The one thing the market can never do is produce equality of educational opportunity.

Gene Glass responded to the post with this comment:

Wikipedia describes Kenneth Ewart Boulding as “… an economist, educator, peace activist, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher. “ Indeed, Ken Boulding was all of those things and many more. At the University of Michigan in the 1950-60s, he founded the General Systems society with Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Born in Liverpool in 1910, he was educated at Oxford (Masters degree).

His textbook, Economic Analysis (1941) was virtually the introduction to Keynesianism to American academics. He never obtained a doctorate, though surely he never felt the want of one due to the many honorary doctorates he received. In his long career, he served as president of the Amer. Econ. Assoc. and the AAAS, among other organizations. He died in Boulder in 1993.

I was very lucky to be situated at the University of Colorado when Boulding left Michigan in 1967 to join the Economic Department at Boulder. I had joined the faculty there in 1966. Within a few years the word spread that this new fellow in Economics was someone to listen to. Twice, in the early 1970s, I sat through his undergraduate course in General Systems. The undergraduates had no idea how lucky they were; I was enthralled. Boulding was a Liverpudlian, and that coupled with a pronounced stammer made listening to him lecture extremely demanding. But somehow the effort produced greater concentration. I can recall so many of the things he said though more than 40 years have passed. “”The invention of the correlation coefficient was the greatest disaster of the 19th century, for it permitted the subtitution of arithmetic for thinking.”

From 1969 through 1971, I was editing the Review of Educational Research for the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In the office, I enjoyed a few small privileges in connection with the 1971 Annual Meeting. For one, I could invite a speaker to address the assembled conventioneers. I invited Boulding. An expanded version of his talk was published in the Review of Educational Research (Vol. 42, No. 1, 1972, pp. 129-143). I have never read anything else by an economist addressing schooling that equals it.

Here is the merest sampling of what he wrote:

Schools may be financed directly out of school taxes, in which case the school system itself is the taxing authority and there is no intermediary, or they may be financed by grants from other taxing authorities, such as states or cities. In any case, the persons who receive the product-whether this is knowledge, skill, custodial care, or certification-are not the people who pay for it. This divorce between the recipient of the product and the payer of the bills is perhaps the major element in the peculiar situation of the industry that may lead to pathological results. (pp. 134-135)

Boulding originated the notion of the “grants economy” in which A grants a payment to B who delivers a service or product to C. Of course, this turned on its head the paradigm used by most economists, who imagine C paying B for services or products. When Boulding referred to this grants economy underlying schooling as leading to “pathological results,” he was referring to the fact that the schooling industry is “not normal,” i.e. does not follow the course of classical economic models. In the years ensuing since Boulding’s early forays into this notion, the grants economy has become increasingly important to understanding a nation’s economy.

Boulding was considered a bit of a rebel. David Latzko wrote of Boulding that “The narrow bounds of the economics discipline could not contain his interests and talents.” Perhaps this accounts for why many traditional economists have not followed him where reality leads. Perhaps this is why Dr. Margaret Raymond could pronounce so recently that “And it’s the only industry/sector [schooling]where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.” In fact, the “market mechanism” fails to work in many sectors.

But back to Dr. Raymond. Margaret Raymond is the head of the Hoover Institution’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes. As key researcher in charge of the first big CREDO study of charter schools that dropped on the charter school lobby with a big thud: charter schools no better than old fashion public schools, some good, some really bad. And then more recently, CREDO under Raymond’s direction conducted a study of charter schools in Ohio, a locale that has known its problems attempting to keep charter schools out of the newspapers and their operators out of jail. What did this second CREDO charter school study find? Charter schools in Ohio are a mess.

All of this bad news for the charter school folks caused Dr. Raymond to go before the Cleveland Club and confess thusly:

“This is one of the big insights for me. I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And it’s the only industry/sector [schooling] where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.”

Of course, it is positively absurd to think that schooling is the only “industry” in which free markets just don’t work. And Dr. Raymond didn’t give up entirely on the free market ideology for education — she would probably have to find a professional home outside the Hoover Institution if she did. She went on to tell the Cleveland Club that more transparency and information for parents will probably do the trick.

Frankly parents have not been really well educated in the mechanisms of choice.… I think the policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement.

So parents just aren’t smart enough to be trusted to make choices in a free market of schooling, and they need more information, like test scores, I presume. I’ll leave Dr. Raymond at this point, and recommend that she and her associates at the Hoover Institution spend a little more time with Kenneth Boulding’s writings.

The Education Law Center created this graphic and explanatory information about the battle to keep public funds in public schools. The graphic shows the state of the voucher movement and identifies which states have advanced or repelled efforts to privatize public funding to religious and private schools via vouchers. It is heartening to see the number of states that rejected voucher legislation, especially when such legislation was defeated by a coalition of rural Republican legislators and urban Democratic legislators, as was the case in Texas and Arkansas. Thanks to all those who are joining forces to keep public funds in public schools.

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PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS: ANALYSIS OF 2019 STATE LEGISLATIVE SESSIONS
For a larger version and a text description of this map with a list of the states in each category, click ​here​.
In anticipation of states’ 2020 legislative sessions, this is the first in a series about the fate of private school voucher proposals during 2019 sessions.
Introduction
Despite the continued promotion of school privatization by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as well as support from a number of governors, legislatures, and well-funded advocacy organizations across the country, only two states enacted new private school voucher programs during their 2019 legislative sessions. Although some states expanded existing voucher programs, most passed no voucher legislation at all, and the majority of those that did made small-scale changes.
2019 Legislative Session Highlights:
  • Bipartisan majorities in Georgia, Kentucky, and West Virginia rejected voucher proposals supported by those states’ newly elected governors.
  • Although 22 states have full Republican control, only Florida and Tennessee were able to pass legislation creating new voucher programs in votes largely along party lines.
  • In Nevada, just a few years after the nation’s most expansive Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher law was passed, a new governor signed a bill repealing the program, which had never been implemented.
2019 Legislative Session Lowlights:
  • Tennessee passed a new private school voucher program, though it is limited to two counties.
  • Florida added yet another voucher program to the state’s existing voucher system.
  • Other states increased funding for their previously enacted programs, including Indiana and Iowa.
State Actions in Brief:
Arkansas
For the second consecutive legislative session, rural Republican lawmakers teamed with Democrats in a bipartisan effort to defeat legislation that would have created new school voucher programs. Proposals for a tax credit voucher and a traditional voucher were defeated. Although eligibility for the state’s existing ESA vouchers was modestly expanded, a bill passed requiring a biennial study that will provide lawmakers with important information to analyze how public funds are being spent in that program.
Arizona
Months after voters overwhelmingly rejected the 2017 expansion of the state’s ESA voucher program, legislators introduced a number of bills to again expand the program. Two of these bills passed out of relevant committees but were not taken up by the House or Senate. The remaining expansion bills did not advance, and a bill that slows the growth of tax credit vouchers passed into law.
Diverting public money to private education starves public schools of vital resources and does not lead to improved academic outcomes. For information about various types of private school voucher programs, visit the Public Funds Public Schools website. The PFPS website also highlights a wide range of research showing that private school voucher programs are an ineffective and harmful use of public funds.
Florida
Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed Florida’s latest private school voucher plan, the “Family Empowerment Scholarship Program,” into law. This program will divert an estimated $130 million to private schools over the authorized period and will make vouchers available to middle class families earning up to $80,000 a year.
Georgia
Despite a new Republican governor who supports private school vouchers, voucher legislation failed in the State Senate. Six of the 13 Republican senators who represent rural areas of the state voted against the bill.
Indiana
Governor Eric Holcomb (R) signed legislation to increase funding for Indiana’s existing tax credit voucher program by almost 15% over the next two years. The legislation also increases the voucher amount for eligible families.
Iowa
Governor Kim Reynolds (R) signed legislation to increase the cap for Iowa’s existing tax credit voucher program by $2 million over the next two years. A bill to establish an ESA voucher was not considered by the full legislature.
Kentucky
Mobilization at the state capitol by educators standing up for public schools and several days of school sickout closures led to the defeat of legislation to create a tax credit voucher program. The Republican majority did not bring the bill up for a vote.
Louisiana
In Louisiana, a bill creating a “reading voucher” for public school students to use for private tutoring and other private uses passed the House but did not make it out of the Senate Finance Committee.
Mississippi
A bill to expand the state’s limited ESA voucher program was not voted on in the Republican-led House Education Committee. However, as the session was ending, the Lieutenant Governor included $2 million in new ESA funding in a bill to fund state construction projects.
Missouri
Bills to create a tax-credit-funded ESA voucher program were not acted upon before the legislative deadline.
Nevada
Governor Steve Sisolak (D) signed a bill formally repealing the state’s ESA voucher program first passed in 2015, and subsequently struck down by the Nevada Supreme Court. Additionally, a number of bills to create ESA vouchers for students deemed “victims of bullying” failed to advance in the legislature.
North Dakota
A bill that would have authorized a “school choice” study, including of ESA vouchers, passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.
Pennsylvania
Governor Tom Wolf (D) vetoed a major expansion of the state’s tax credit voucher program passed by the Republican-led legislature. The bill would have nearly doubled the amount that could be diverted to the program, included automatic annual expansions, and significantly raised the income limit for participating families.
South Carolina
Two bills were introduced in the legislature to establish an ESA voucher for students with disabilities. Both were referred to their chamber’s education committee, with no action taken by the legislature.
Tennessee
Governor Bill Lee (R) signed a law to establish an ESA voucher program. Concessions were made to rural Republican legislators in order to pass the bill, including limiting the program to the state’s two largest school districts and capping it at 15,000 students per year.
Texas
State leadership, including Republican legislators and the governor, did not include vouchers among their education priorities in 2019. In response to electoral losses in the suburbs and a lack of support for vouchers, legislative leaders emphasized improving the state’s public school financing system instead.
West Virginia
After a nine-day teachers’ strike in 2018, educators went on strike again, closing all but one of the state’s 55 county public school districts, to protest bills to allow charter schools and to create an ESA voucher program. The voucher bill did not pass during the regular session. Vouchers were again considered, but the program did not pass, during a special session on education legislation.
Resources
Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Jason Unger for compiling the research and drafting this series on 2019 legislative sessions.
Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
973-624-1815, ext. 24

Jan Resseger writes here about the damage that “portfolio districts” do to students, schools, and communities. The original concept for “portfolio districts” was developed by Paul Hill of the Gates-funded Center for Reinventing Public Educatuon at the University of Washington. The fundamental idea was that the school board would act like a stock portfolio manager, closing low-performing schools, replacing them with charter schools, keeping open the schools with high test scores. Students would choose where to go to school. The concept was adopted by many districts as the latest thing, and many beloved neighborhood schools serving black and brown communities were shuttered. If their replacement got low scores, it was also closed. The students were collateral damage.

She writes:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein launched this scheme in New York City by creating district-wide school choice, breaking up large comprehensive high schools into small schools with curricular specialties, encouraging the opening of a large number of charter schools, co-locating many schools—small specialty public schools along with charter schools—into the same buildings.  Those running the school district would consider all of these schools of choice as if they were investments in a stock portfolio. The district would hold on to the successful investments and phase out those whose test scores were low or which families didn’t choose.

Portfolio school reform has created collateral damage across the school districts which have experimented with the idea. After the Chicago Public Schools, another district managed by portfolio school reform theory, closed 50 schools at the end of the 2013 school year, the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research, and separately a University of Chicago sociologist, Eve Ewing tracked widespread community grieving when neighborhoods lost the public school institutions that had anchored their neighborhoods.

But there have been other kinds of collateral damage beyond the tragedy of school closures. In a new piece for the NY Times, Eliza Shapiro documents how district-wide school choice in New York City has contributed to inequity along with racial and segregation.

One problem is inequitable access to information. Parents who can afford to pay for consultants and who have the skills and position to understand how to navigate the system are able to privilege their own children with access to the schools widely thought to be desirable.  Shapiro explains: “There is a trick to getting to the front of the lines that clog sidewalks outside New York City’s top public high schools each fall. Parents who pay $200 for a newsletter compiled by a local admissions consultant know that they should arrive hours ahead of the scheduled start time for school tours. On a recent Tuesday, there were about a hundred mostly white parents queued up at 2:30 p.m. in the spitting rain outside of Beacon High School, some toting snacks and even a few folding chairs for the long wait. The doors of the highly selective, extremely popular school would not open for another two hours for the tour. Parents and students who arrived at the actual start time were in for a surprise. The line of several thousand people had wrapped around itself, stretching for three midtown Manhattan blocks.”

Resseger adds:

My own children graduated from a racially and economically diverse public high school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  Articles like Shapiro’s cause me to appreciate our family’s privilege in a way I had never really previously considered.  From the time they entered Kindergarten, our children knew they would someday go to the big high school at the corner of Cedar and Lee.  At a week-long summer music camp in our school district, middle school students play side-by-side with some of the members of the high school band and orchestra. Our daughter learned to know the high school tennis coach when he worked with younger students in the city recreation program. And the summer before his high school freshman year, our son, knowing that the high school cross country team worked out in a city park during August, went to the park and asked the coach if he could start working out with the team. High school for our children was a natural, predictable, and exciting transition. How lucky we were.

 

Republican Mike Turzai, Speaker of the House in Pennsylvania, is encouraging the state to adopt the Betsy DeVos agenda for diverting public funds to religious and private schools.

Turzai’s agenda is described here by Lawrence Feinberg, a school board member in Haverford Township and director of the Keystone State Education Coalition.

Feinberg writes:

The 2022 race for governor’s race has begun, and Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai wants to make it clear that he shares Betsy DeVos’ vision for privatization of public education.

In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece, Turzai, R-Allegheny, touted our state “as a gold standard with respect to funding public school districts”, completely ignoring the fact that Pennsylvania is home to the widest per pupil funding gap between wealth and poor districts in the country.

Under his leadership, the Pennsylvania Legislature has been negligent, willfully and deliberately ignoring the state’s historic gross inequity in the distribution of school funding and locking students in poorer districts into their underfunded and under resourced predicament. A school funding lawsuit is pending, with the trial tentatively set to begin in summer 2020.

In fiscal 2015-16, only 36.8 percent of aggregate education funding came from the state while 57.2 percent came from local sources, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s “Annual Financial Reports.”

The U.S. Census’ “Annual Survey of School System Finances” data from fiscal year 2015 ranks Pennsylvania 47th out of the 50 states in state support for public schools.

Instead of addressing the funding issue, he has consistently and aggressively promoted anything but democratically governed public schools that are accountable to taxpayers. While he supported the Financial Recovery Act of 2012 setting in motion a plan for distressed school districts to get back on track, he is thwarting that effort by ensuring that such districts remain in financial distress.

His signature tax credit program, which diverts public tax dollars to private and religious schools, skirts the Pennsylvania Constitution which explicitly says that “no money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”

 

Jennifer Berkshire writes in the New Republic that Betsy DeVos is deeply unpopular in swing-state Michigan. Voters in Detroit can see a district disrupted by a generation of failed reforms. Suburban voters like their public schools and don’t want charters or vouchers.  Berkshire notes that the Democrats are picking up unlikely victories in districts where education is a big issue.

In 2016, Darrin Camilleri was 24 and teaching at a Detroit charter school 20 miles from where he grew up, when Michigan lawmakers took up a measure to implement more rigorous oversight of the city’s charter schools. Seemingly anyone could open a charter in Detroit, and the schools closed just as suddenly as they opened. From his classroom on the city’s southwest side, Camilleri watched the reform effort fail. “Watching that play out really showed me the downside of deregulation,” he told me. “No one is holding anyone accountable.” That year, he decided to run for state representative in southern Wayne County, a largely blue-collar area that shades rural at its edges. Rather than hewing to standard Democratic talking points—health care, for instance, or Donald Trump’s erratic comments—Camilleri made charter school oversight and school funding his central issues, and in 2016, he became the only Democrat to flip a Republican state house seat in Michigan.

In the three years since Trump turned Michigan red, education has emerged as a potent political issue in the state, thanks to a steady stream of grim studies and embarrassing news stories. Between 2003 and 2015, the state ranked last out of all 50 for improvement in math and reading. According to a recent study, Michigan now spends less on its schools than it did in 1994. Republicans have slashed funding to give tax cuts to big businesses. And the number of people who choose to become teachers has fallen dramatically….

Consider the political climate in Michigan’s suburban districts. In 2018, when Padma Kuppa challenged a Republican state representative, she homed in on the GOP’s role in undermining public education and won, claiming a seat in Troy, an affluent suburban district north of Detroit that Democrats had never held before. Suburban districts like the one in Troy regularly top “best schools in Michigan” lists, with high test scores and graduation rates, and loads of AP offerings. “People here like their public schools, regardless of what party they belong to,” Kuppa said. The GOP’s steady expansion of a largely unregulated charter school sector has very little to offer voters in communities like hers.

Matt Koleszar, a high school social studies and English teacher, won his race for state representative in suburban Plymouth with a message of what he describes as “tenacious support for public schools.” His call for adequate school funding resonated in this “purple” district, he told me, but so did tying his opponent, Jeff Noble, to Betsy DeVos. Noble had scored an endorsement from the education advocacy group DeVos founded, and raised thousands from her extended family. In 2018, he even backed a controversial law to give charter schools a cut of any property tax increases at the county level. “When I went door to door, explaining to people that this meant that their taxes were going to some for-profit charter school headquarters that’s not even in the district, they were outraged,” Koleszar said….

That relationship could backfire on Trump not only in Michigan’s suburbs, but also in rural areas, where the GOP’s education policies have even less to offer voters. There, the local schools are foundational community institutions, and the conservative push to privatize public services has transferred bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers, and even some coaches on to the payroll of private contractors that pay less than the state does while providing fewer benefits. “When you’ve gutted all of the insurance for these jobs, they’re not that attractive,” said Keith Smith, the superintendent of schools in rural Kingsley, Michigan. Cuts have forced school districts like his to ax “extras,” such as music, counseling, and the vocational programs that prepare students to work in skilled trades….

 

 

 

New Hampshire’s Republican Governor, Chris Sununu (his father John Sununu was Chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush), appointed a man who homeschooled his children to be State Commissioner of Education. Commissioner Frank Edelblut has dedicated his time in office to undermining public schools. His big idea is called “Learn Everywhere,” which would allow the State Board of education to allow graduation credits for anything they wished, whether it was for-profit, or commercial, or lessons with Miss Sally, or anything else. Local school boards now have that authority, and they rightly complained that Learn Anywhere infringed on their realm.

Edelblut wants to put public schools out of business by allowing anything and everything to count for credit.

He is the Betsy DeVos of New Hampshire.

But Democrats in the legislature threw a big obstacle in front of Edelblut’s plan.

Lawmakers on New Hampshire’s legislative rules committee voted Thursday to reject the proposed “Learn Everywhere” program from the state’s Department of Education, in the latest blow to a months-long effort by Commissioner Frank Edelblut. 

In a 6-4 vote led by Democrats on party lines, members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted to issue a final objection to the proposed rule change. 

But the action doesn’t kill the program for good. Under state law, the Department of Education can proceed with the rules over the objections of lawmakers. Doing that, though, would be risky. The department would assume all liability in the case of legal action, according to lawyers for the state’s Office of Legislative Services on Thursday.

If the citizens of NewHampshire want to save their public schools and prevent massive fraud with their tax monies, they have to replace Governor Sununu when he runs again and insist that the new governor put an educator in charge of the State Education Department.