Archives for category: School Choice

Please sign up and join the discussion between Steve Suitts and me on Zoom on Wednesday September 16. We will be talking about Steve’s new book Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement. You will be amazed to learn of the true history of school choice. It is definitely not the “civil rights issue of our time,” as Trump and DeVos claim.

Steve has been involved in civil rights work throughout his career. He was founding director of the Alabama Civil Liberties Union; executive director of the Southern Regional Council; and vice president of the Southern Education Foundation. He is also the author of a biography of Hugo Black, a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who played a large role in history.

You can sign up here.

Steve and I will talk for an hour, and then we will open the floor for your questions.


PUBLIC SCHOOL ADVOCATES URGE ARKANSAS LEGISLATURE TO END BROKEN VOUCHER PROGRAM

In a letter sent to Arkansas legislative leaders last week, Public Funds Public Schools, along with other state and national organizations, urged the Arkansas General Assembly to end the state’s harmful and inequitable private school voucher program. The letter highlights alarming information revealed in the recently released biennial report on the “Succeed Scholarship Program,” Arkansas’ voucher program for students with disabilities and students in the foster care system.

The letter was signed by leading advocates for Arkansas students and families, including Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Arkansas Citizens First Congress, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, and Arkansas-based philanthropic and education leader Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton. In addition to PFPS, several regional and national education advocacy groups also signed on, including Education Law Center and SPLC Action Fund (which collaborate on PFPS), and the Southern Education Foundation.

“The 2020 Report illustrates in detail the glaring deficiencies in Succeed Vouchers’ ability to improve academic outcomes and promote equity and access for historically – and currently – marginalized students. It also illustrates the profound difficulties in ensuring appropriate oversight of this publicly-funded program,” the letter notes.

The State’s 2020 Report, which was mandated by bipartisan legislation passed in 2019, also underscores the lack of data necessary to evaluate the academic effects of the Succeed Vouchers, noting that “meaningful comparative data regarding student performance based on the assessment scores private schools provide is hindered by several factors.” The academic outcome information that was collected, however, shows low test scores for the majority of voucher recipients. This failing is consistent with research demonstrating the ineffectiveness of private school voucher programs across the country in improving students’ academic outcomes.

The 2020 Report also exposes inequitable enrollment statistics, troubling data inconsistencies, and little accountability for the public funds spent on the voucher program.

Key findings include:

* There are significant gaps in data on the racial demographics of voucher students. Of those for whom data was available, there are significant racial disparities: 5% of voucher students were Latinx, 12% were Black, and 78% were White. Students with disabilities in Arkansas public schools, on the other hand, are 11% Latinx, 23% Black, and 61% White.

*Due to participating private schools’ inconsistent reporting and data collection standards, the Free or Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) status of 44% of participating students is unreported. Of available data, just 30% of voucher students were eligible for FRPL, while 60% of Arkansas public school students are eligible.

*Only three-quarters of participating private schools are accredited, while a quarter are on some type of path to accreditation. Thus, schools participating in the voucher program are receiving taxpayer dollars without completing a rigorous accreditation process, let alone being held to the same accountability and reporting standards as public schools.

*Nearly 20% of voucher students have left their private schools, for reasons including dismissal, inability to pay tuition amounts not covered by their voucher, and lack of access to transportation.

The letter to Arkansas lawmakers notes that, as more resources are needed to meet students’ needs due to COVID-19, the impact of the pandemic on Arkansas’ education budget will be over $2 billion for the next fiscal year, making it more urgent than ever to focus limited public funds on effective, research-based programs that meet the needs of Arkansas’ public school students, who are the vast majority of Arkansas schoolchildren. Instead of diverting millions to an ineffective and inequitable voucher program, the letter urges legislators to “redirect those public funds to the public school system in order to improve educational opportunity for students with disabilities, foster care students, and students from low-income families.”

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24
skrengel@edlawcenter.org

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics in California, writes frequently about school “reform,” aka school choice, as a substitute for adequate funding.

In this post, he explains the fraud of school choice and why billionaires and rightwing zealots promote it. To read it in full,as well as his kinks, open the full post.

He begins:

Birthed in the bowels of the 1950’s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

Market Based Ideology

Milton Friedman first recommended school vouchers in a 1955 essay. In 2006, he was asked by a conservative group of legislators what he envisioned back then. PRWatch reports that he said, “It had nothing whatsoever to do with helping ‘indigent’ children; no, he explained to thunderous applause, vouchers were all about ‘abolishing the public school system.”’ [Emphasis added]

Market based ideologues are convinced that business is the superior model for school management. Starting with the infamous Regan era polemic, “A Nation at Risk,” the claim that “private business management is superior” has been a consistent theory of education reform promoted by corporate leaders like IBM’s Louis Gerstner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family, Bloomberg LP’s founder, Michael Bloomberg and SunAmerica’s Eli Broad. It is a central tenet of both neoliberal and libertarian philosophy.

Charles Koch and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by Friedman’s doyen, Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek, the brothers agreed that public education must be abolished.

To this and other ends like defeating climate change legislation, the Kochs created the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This lobbying organization has contributing members from throughout corporate America. ALEC writes model legislation and financially supports state politicians who promote their libertarian principles.

Like the Walton family and Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch promotes private school vouchers.

In an effort to fire up his base, Trump identified three of the most extreme rightwing Senators as next in line for a Supreme Court appointment. One is Ted Cruz of Texas. During the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed that Ted Cruz was a key figure in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Apparently he told author Bob Woodward that he placed the story in the National Enquirer, even picked the photo of Cruz to run on the first page. If Trump should win, that’s the end of abortion, federal support for health care, and gay rights, as well as public schools, environmental protection and every progressive accomplishment of the past 50 years. Expect universal vouchers for religious schools and an explosion of charter schools. Expect a dramatic contraction of federal protection for civil rights. We can’t let it happen. We can’t throw away nearly a century of modernism.

President Trump on Wednesday named Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) to his shortlist of potential nominees for the Supreme Court should he win a second term.

Trump’s announcement, aimed at firing up conservatives eight weeks before the election, reflects the degree to which he has supercharged the politicization of the judicial branch, plunging the court system more deeply into the partisan fray than at any time since five Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents delivered the White House to George W. Bush in 2000.

All three senators have been plotting potential 2024 presidential campaigns of their own. Each man has been crystal clear that he would support overturning reproductive rights codified in Roe v. Wade, strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and rule against LGBTQ rights if given the chance.

Thomas Ultican has yet again performed a public service by investigating a reformy think tank, where people get huge amounts of money from billionaires to tell the world that public schools are terrible and private management is the way to go.

In the linked post, he delves into the philosophy and fundraising genius of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

As Tom shows, it is very lucrative to knock the public schools. Foundations stand in line to offer millions for more evidence that our nation’s public schools, which educated 90% of us (but NOT Donald Trump!), are rotten.

We have been waiting thirty years to see the miracle of charter schools and vouchers and the portfolio model, but no matter. It’s a good living for them that bring bad news.

Jen Gibson, who lives in Charleston, writes about how school choice will drain resources from underfunded public schools while not providing access to better schools or better education:

Normally this time of year, my son and I are on the hunt for new shoes and the perfect pencil pouch. This year, we are struggling with masks and stocking up on hand sanitizer.

Like most parents, our family is wrestling with decisions about our work schedules, our vulnerable parents, and our child’s academic and social needs. All of our energy is focused on supporting students, teachers and our community during this unprecedented crisis.

That is why I was shocked and saddened when U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Henry McMaster and S.C. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island, took advantage of this crisis to declare war on our public schools with their coordinated effort to move tax dollars allocated for public schools into private schools.

Under the guise of giving parents a choice, deceitful Republicans are trying to divert millions of our tax dollars to subsidize elite private schools. They argue that low-income students and parents deserve the choice to opt out of their poorly-performing public school. I have bad news for them. Research proves that vouchers for private schools will not improve educational outcomes for students.

Forget the fact that vouchers won’t even pay for the basic tuition at a local private school. Let’s talk about book fees, uniform costs, fieldtrip fees, transportation costs and the loss of income for the parent who no longer has access to before- and after-school childcare. Most students will stay in their neighborhood public school because a private school education is still out of reach.

Those who can scrape together the additional money to add to the government assistance will have to navigate the complicated world of evaluating private schools. These schools do not have to meet the same education standards as our public schools and are not legally required to provide accommodations to students with special needs.

In South Carolina, the money to pay for the tax credit comes directly from the budget of the public school the student would have attended. Tax money collected for public schools which are supposed to benefit the entire community will instead benefit individual students and private businesses. This weakens our public schools, and it does not guarantee individual students will have access to a better education.

Since 2008, South Carolina House members have not fully funded the Base Student Cost. They use a loophole in the law to avoid appropriating the actual cost of providing every student with even a minimally-adequate education. If the voucher/choice legislation that has been proposed passes, the state legislature will take even more money away from our cash-strapped public schools and jeopardize the education system responsible for over 90 percent of our students.

Do you know what would make education choices easier for parents? Public schools that deliver more than a minimally-adequate education for every student.

Let’s try that first

In this post, Thomas Ultican reviews Steve Suitts’ devastating new book about the origins of school choice.

Advocates of school choice like to claim economist Milton Friedman as their godfather but Suitts, who has spent his career working in civil rights activism, shows that the true originators of “freedom of choice” were Southern governors and legislatures who were determined to thwart the Brown decision of 1954. Suitts doesn’t ignore Friedman. He points out that his 1955 essay proposing freedom of choice proposed that in a choice system, there would be all-white schools, all-black schools, and mixed-race schools.

The segregationists loved Friedman’s ideas because it mirrored their own. They knew that in a free-choice regime, the status quo would be preserved by racism and intimidation.

So when you hear libertarians and right wingers talking about the glories of choice, think George Wallace. Think Bull Connor. Think James Eastland. Think White Citizens Councils. Read Steve Suitts’ book and be informed. Don’t be fooled by those who claim falsely that choice advances civil rights. It does not. It never has.

Johann Neem, historian of education at Western Washington University, wrote an article in USA Today about the threat that COVID-19 poses to the future of public education. Affluent parents, he notes, are making their own arrangements. Some have created “learning pods” and hired their own teachers. Others will send their children to private schools, which have the resources to respond nimbly to the crisis. He recounts the early history of public schools and points out that they became essential as they served an ever-growing share of the community’s children.

Neem writes that the increase in the number of charter schools and vouchers, as well as Betsy DeVos’s relentless promotion of charters and vouchers, has already eroded the stature of public schools.

He warns:

We are at a moment of reckoning. The last time public schools were closed was when Southern states sought to avoid integration. The goal then was to sustain racial inequality. Even if today the aim is not racist, in a system already rife with economic and racial inequality, if families with resources invest more in themselves rather than share time and money in common institutions, the quality of public education for less privileged Americans, many of whom are racial minorities, will deteriorate.

His warnings are timely. Others warn that home schooling will increase so long as pinprick schools stay closed or rely on remote learning.

But there is another possibility: Eventually, schools will open for full-time, in-person instruction, when it is safe to do so.

How many parents will continue home schooling when their children can attend a real school with experienced teachers and a full curriculum and roster of activities? How many parents will pay $25,000 or more for each child when an equivalent education is available in the local public school for free? At present, only 6% send their children to charter schools. How likely is that to increase when new charters close almost as often as they open?
How many parents want vouchers for subpar religious schools, when only a tiny percentage chose them before the pandemic?

My advice: Don’t panic. Take care of the children, their families, and school staff. Fight for funding to make our public schools better than ever. After the pandemic, they will still be the best choice because they have the best teachers and the most children.

Two of the nation’s leading education experts ponder the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Espinoza decision. Bruce D. Baker of Rutgers University is a school finance expert. Preston C. Green III of the University of Connecticut specializes in education law.

I confess that I was relieved that the Espinoza decision was limited in scope. I was afraid that the religious zealots on the Court might sweep away all barriers to public funding of religious schools. It did not. But Baker and Green persuade me that I was wrong, that Espinoza was another step towards breaking down the Wall of Separation between church and state and should be viewed with alarm.

I urge you to read their analysis of where we are going, how it involves not only vouchers but charter schools, and what states must do to protect public schools.

You may wonder, What’s a libertarian school? Good question. It’s not Summerhill. Read Mitchell Robinson’s post about Thales Academy in Apex, North Carolina, which is a voucher school.

It’s a low-cost, low-quality Private school that’s designed to standardize students and protect them from creative or critical thinking. It’s yet another entrant in DeVos’ “Cabinet of Horrors.” More of this and we will slip back into primordial slime.