Indiana has one of the most expansive voucher programs in the nation, even though the state constitution explicitly forbids spending public money for religious schools. The state courts decided that the constitution doesn’t mean what it says. Former Governor Mitch Daniels initiated the voucher program and Mike Pence expanded it. Although born a Catholic, Pence is now an evangelical Christian.

 

Mother Jones investigated the Indiana voucher program and found that it has been a boon for religious schools, including many that teach creationism. Student performance in the voucher schools is poor; maybe someday the state will realize that it has to save kids who are failing to learn in mediocre voucher schools.

 

“One of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s pet projects as governor of Indiana was expanding school choice vouchers, which allow public money to pay for private school tuition. President-elect Donald Trump has said he’d like to expand such vouchers in the rest of the country, but what happened in Indiana should serve as a cautionary tale for Trump and his administration.

 

“Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools—ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth—at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools. Indeed, one of the schools was a madrasa, an Islamic religious school, briefly attended by a young man arrested this summer for trying to join ISIS—just the kind of place Trump’s coalition would find abhorrent.

 

“In Indiana, Pence created one of the largest publicly funded voucher programs in the country. Initially launched in 2011 under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, it was sold as a way to give poor, minority children trapped in bad public schools a way out. “Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels declared after the voucher legislation passed. It was supposed to be a small program, initially capped at 7,500 vouchers. Full vouchers, worth 90 percent of the per-pupil spending in a school district, were reserved for families with incomes up to 100 percent of the cutoff for free or reduced-price school lunch, about $45,000 a year for a family of four.

 

“But in 2013, Pence and the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature raised the income limits on the program so that a family of four with up to $90,000 in annual income became eligible for vouchers covering half their private school tuition. They also removed most requirements that students come from a public school to access the vouchers, making families already attending private school eligible for tuition subsidies, thus removing any pretense that the vouchers were a tool to help poor children escape failing schools.

 

“Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church- and-state issues.

 
“By the 2015-16 school year, the number of students using state-funded vouchers had shot up to more than 32,000 in 316 private schools. But Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church-and-state issues. Almost every single one of these voucher schools is religious. The state Department of Education can’t tell parents which or even whether any of the voucher schools are secular. (A state spokeswoman told me Indiana doesn’t collect data on the school’s religious affiliation.) Out of the list of more than 300 schools, I could find only four that weren’t overtly religious and, of those, one was solely for students with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, and the other is an alternative school for at-risk students.

 

“Opponents, including public school teachers and local clergy, sued the state to try to block the voucher program in 2011, arguing that it clearly violated the state constitutional provisions that protect taxpayers from having to support religion. They were also concerned that the money going to the religious schools was coming directly from local public school systems, draining them of critical funding in violation of the state constitution. But the Indiana state Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the voucher program was constitutional because public money was going to the students and not to religious institutions directly….

 

“Perhaps not surprisingly, the kids in these schools aren’t performing very well on the state’s standardized tests, putting voucher schools among the state’s worst-performing schools. The three campuses of Horizon Christian Academy rank near the bottom. Two of its schools were once for-profit charter schools that lost their charters because they were badly underperforming. They reconstituted as private religious schools and now take taxpayer-funded vouchers. In 2015, less than 9 percent of the students at one of the Horizon campuses passed the state standardized tests in math and English, a rate worse than most of the state’s public schools from which the vouchers were supposed to provide an escape.

 

“A study by researchers at Notre Dame University published last year shows that in the first three years of the program, Indiana kids who left public schools to attend voucher schools saw their math scores decline in comparison with their peers who remained in regular public schools. The public school students saw improvements in their English skills, but the voucher kids’ results stayed flat. The voucher schools can’t necessarily blame low test scores on poverty, either. According to data from the state, today more than 60 percent of the voucher students in Indiana are white, and more than half of them have never even attended any public school, much less a failing one. Some of the fastest growth in voucher use has occurred in some of the state’s most affluent suburbs. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a Chicago-based think tank, recently concluded that because white children’s participation in the voucher program dwarfed the next largest racial group by 44 points, the vouchers were effectively helping to resegregate public schools.”

 

This is what is in store for the nation in the Trump-Pence era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nevada state constitution contains this language:

 

Article 11, Section 10: “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

 

Mercedes Schneider explains how the Nevada Supreme Court did a fancy rhetorical two-step to conclude that the state constitution does not forbid vouchers, it just forbids funding them. Got that?

 

She then shows a video of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, telling a Florida lawyer how corporate taxes can be used to provide vouchers for use in any school, including religious schools. This, despite the fact that the Florida state constitution explicitly says in Article 1, Section 3:

 

“There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace or safety. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

 

This, despite the fact that the voters of Florida rejected an effort to change this portion of the Florida state constitution to allow vouchers for religious schools in 2012. The so-called “Religious Freedom Amendment” was voted down by 55-44%.

 

US Secretary of Education nominee and “true pioneer of the school choice movement across the country,” Betsy DeVos, explains how the educational tax credit enables what would be public money (collected in the form of corporate taxes) from becoming public money at minute 4:45 in the 2015 Youtube video below in which Edward Pozzuoli, the president of Florida-based Tripp Scott Law Firm, interviews then-American Federation for Children (AFC) Chair DeVos, about tax credits.

 

The entire 9-minute video is an eye opener; DeVos talks about how the AFC does it all: finds the school choice candidates (she’s particularly keen on private school choice); puts “political effort” behind electing/defeating candidates; “works on the policies… the actual legislation,” and “helps parents and kids to find schools and schools to find parents and kids.”

 

“Reformers” intent on replacing public schools with for-profit charters and religious schools don’t let a little thing like the state constitution get in their way. Conservatives used to call themselves “strict constructionists” when it came to the federal or state constitution. They insisted on abiding by the original intent of those who wrote the constitution. It turns out now that they believe quite the opposite and are ready to reinterpret the clear language of state constitutions to achieve their goal of privatization.

Bruce Baker is a professor of education at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers; his area of specialization is school finance and the economics of education.

 

This new paper is a major analysis of the effects of charter schools on their host districts. Until now, there has been little attention paid to the ways that the expansion of charter schools affects the budget and policies of the district in which the charters open. Over the past twenty years, the United States has been developing a dual school system of public schools, open to all and responsible for all students who enroll, and charter schools, which are free of most state regulations and free to remove students they don’t want.

 

Baker is interested primarily in the fiscal impact of charters but he does consider the disciplinary policies of charters and also their segregating effects.

 

Here is his summary of his findings. I urge you to read the paper in its entirety to understand how charters are depleting the resources of public schools without necessarily providing a better quality of education.

 

Effects of charter expansion

 

District schools are surviving but under increased stress

 

In some urban districts, charter schools are serving 20 percent or more of the city or districtwide student population. These host districts have experienced the following effects in common:

 

*While total enrollment in district schools (the noncharter, traditional public schools) has dropped, districts have largely been able to achieve and maintain reasonable minimum school sizes, with only modest increases in the shares of children served in inefficiently small schools.
*While resources (total available revenues to district schools) have declined, districts have reduced overhead expenditures enough to avoid consuming disproportionate shares of operating spending and increasing pupil/teacher ratios.
*Despite expenditure cutting measures, districts simultaneously facing rapid student population decline and/or operating in states with particularly inequitable, under-resourced school finance systems have faced substantial annual deficits.
Charter expansion is not driven by well-known, high-profile operators

 

Most charter expansion in these cities has occurred among independently operated charter schools.
*High profile, frequently researched nonprofit charter school operators including the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) have relatively small shares of the charter school market in all cities except Newark.
*In many of these cities, some of the leading charter operators (those with the most market share) have been the subject of federal and state investigations and judicial orders regarding conflicts of interest (self-dealing) and financial malfeasance. These operators include Imagine Schools, Inc., White Hat Management, National Heritage Academies, and Concept Schools.
*The varied and often opaque financial practices across charter school management companies, while fitting with a competitive portfolio conception, leads to increased disparities across students, irregularities in the accumulation of additional public (publicly obligated) debt, and inequities and irregularities in the ownership and distribution of what were once commonly considered public assets—from buildings and vehicles right down to desks, chairs, and computers.

 

Charter schools are expanding in predominantly low-income, predominantly minority urban settings

 

Few are paying attention to the breaches of legal rights of students, parents, taxpayers, and employees under the increasingly opaque private governance and management structures associated with charter expansion.
Expansion of charter schooling is exacerbating inequities across schools and children because children are being increasingly segregated by economic status, race, language, and disabilities and further, because charter schools are raising and spending vastly different amounts, without regard for differences in student needs. Often, the charter schools serving the least needy populations also have the greatest resource advantages.
With the expansion of charter schooling, public districts are being left with legacy debts associated with capital plants and employee retirement systems in district schools while also accumulating higher risk and more costly debt in the form of charter school revenue bonds to support new capital development.
In many cases, the districts under investigation herein are large enough to be cut in half or thirds while still being financially viable, at least in terms of achieving economies of scale. In effect, charter expansion has already halved the size of many urban districts. Similar charter expansion in smaller districts, however, may lead the districts to enroll fewer than 2,000 pupils in district schools and suffer elevated costs. Given the literature on costs, productivity, and economies of scale, it makes little sense in population-dense areas to promote policies that cause district enrollments to fall below efficient-scale thresholds (around 2,000 pupils) or that introduce additional independent operators running below efficient-scale thresholds. It makes even less sense to introduce chartering to rural areas where schools and districts already operate below efficient scale.

 

Beyond issues of economies of scale, charter expansion can create inefficiencies and redundancies within district boundaries, from the organization and delivery of educational programs to student transportation, increasing the likelihood of budgetary stress on the system as a whole, and the host government in particular. In addition to increasing per pupil transportation expense, ill-planned (or unplanned) geographic dispersion may put more vehicles on already congested urban streets, contributing to traffic and air quality concerns, and significantly reduces the likelihood that children use active transportation (walking or biking) to school (Baker 2014b; Davison, Werder, and Lawson 2008; Evenson et al. 2012; Merom et al. 2006; Rosenberg et al. 2006; Wilson, Wilson, and Krizek 2007).

 

Here are a few excerpts that I found edifying:

 

While charter schooling was conceived as a way to spur innovation—try new things, evaluate them, and inform the larger system—studies of the structure and practices of charter schooling find the sector as a whole not to be particularly “innovative” (Preston et al. 2012). Analyses by charter advocates at the American Enterprise Institute find that the dominant form of specialized charter school is the “no excuses” model, a model that combines traditional curriculum and direct instruction with strict disciplinary policies and school uniforms, in some cases providing extended school days and years (McShane and Hatfield 2015). Further, charter schools raising substantial additional revenue through private giving tend to use that funding to a) provide smaller classes, and b) pay teachers higher salaries for working longer days and years (Baker, Libby, and Wiley 2012). For those spending less, total costs are held down, when necessary, through employing relatively inexperienced, low-wage staff and maintaining high staff turnover rates (Epple, Romano, and Zimmer 2015; Toma and Zimmer 2012). In other words, the most common innovations are not especially innovative or informative for systemic reform….

 

As early as the mid-1990s, authors including Paul Hill, James Guthrie, and Lawrence Pierce (1997) advocated that entire school districts should be reorganized into collections of privately managed contract schools (Hill, Pierce, and Guthrie 2009). This contract school proposal emerged despite the abject failure of Education Alternatives, Inc., in Baltimore and Hartford. This proposal provided a framework for renewed attempts at large-scale private management including the contracting of management for several Philadelphia public schools in the early 2000s. Philadelphia’s experiment in private contracting yielded mixed results, at best (Mac Iver and Mac Iver 2006).2 Notably, Hill and colleagues’ contract school model depended on a centralized authority to manage the contracts and maintain accountability, a precursor to what is now commonly referred to as a “portfolio” model. In the portfolio model, a centralized authority oversees a system of publicly financed schools, both traditional district-operated and independent, charter-operated, wherein either type of school might be privately managed (Hill 2006).3 The goal as phrased by former New York City schools’ chancellor Joel Klein is to replace school systems with systems of great schools (Patrino 2015).

 

A very different reality of charter school governance, however, has emerged under state charter school laws—one that presents at least equal likelihood that charters established within districts operate primarily in competition, not cooperation with their host, to serve a finite set of students and draw from a finite pool of resources. One might characterize this as a parasitic rather than portfolio model—one in which the condition of the host is of little concern to any single charter operator. Such a model emerges because under most state charter laws, locally elected officials—boards of education—have limited control over charter school expansion within their boundaries, or over the resources that must be dedicated to charter schools. Thus, there is no single, centralized authority managing the portfolio—the distributions of enrollments and/or resources—or protecting against irreparable damage to any one part of the system (be it the parasites or the host)….

 

Increased attention is being paid to the fiscal and enrollment effects of charter schooling on host districts. These concerns come at a time when municipal fiscal stress and the potential for large-scale municipal and school district bankruptcies are in the media spotlight (Governing 2015). Many high profile cases of municipal fiscal stress are in cities where the charter sector is thriving, for example Chester Upland, Pa., Detroit, and Philadelphia (Layton 2015; Graham 2015; Pierog 2015). Some charter advocates have gone so far as to assert that school district bankruptcy presents a “huge opportunity” to absolve the taxpaying public of existing debts and financial obligations and start fresh under new management, reallocating those funds to classrooms (Persson 2015). Of course, this strategy ignores the complexities of municipal bankruptcy proceedings, and the contractual, social, and moral obligations for the stewardship of publicly owned capital (and other) assets and responsibility to current and retired employees.

 

Advocates for charter expansion typically assert that charter expansion causes no financial harm to host districts. The logic goes, if charter schools serve typical students drawn from the host district’s population, and receive the same or less in public subsidy per pupil to educate those children, then the per pupil amount of resources left behind for children served in district schools either remains the same or increases. Thus, charter expansion causes no harm (and in fact yields benefits) to children remaining in district schools. The premise that charter schools are uniformly undersubsidized is grossly oversimplified and inaccurate in many charter operating contexts (Baker 2014c). In addition, numerous studies find that charter schools serve fewer students with costly special needs, leaving proportionately more of these children in district schools. Perhaps most important, the assumption that revenue reductions and enrollment shifts cause districts no measurable harm for host ignores the structure of operating costs and dynamics of cost and expenditure reduction.

 

Moody’s Investors Service opined in 2013 that “charter schools pose greatest credit challenge to school districts in economically weak urban areas.” Specifically, Moody’s identified the following four areas posing potential concerns for host urban districts with growing independent charter sectors:

 

Weak demographics and district financial stress, which detract from the ability to deliver competitive services and can prompt students to move to charter schools
Weak capacity to adjust operations in response to charter growth, which reduces management’s ability to redirect spending and institute program changes to better compete with charter schools
State policy frameworks that support charter school growth through relatively liberal approval processes for new charters, generous funding of charters, and few limits on charter growth
Lack of integration with a healthier local government that can insulate a school system from credit stress (D’Arcy and Richman 2013)
Moody’s reiterated these concerns in a follow-up report (Moody’s Investors Service 2015)…

 

Rarely if ever considered in policy discourse over charter school expansion is whether children and families should be required to trade constitutional or statutory rights for the promise of the possibility of a measurable test score gain. In fact, the public, including parents and children, is rarely if ever informed of these tradeoffs and does not become aware until an issue arises. Charter operators have shown time and time again that they are willing to push boundaries regarding student rights and discipline policies. An evaluation of New York City charter school disciplinary policies by Advocates for Children of New York (2015) found, among other things, that “107 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed permit suspension or expulsion as a penalty for any of the infractions listed in the discipline policy, no matter how minor the infraction.”14 Further, these policies included numerous violations of rights to due process when disciplinary actions are taken. While the report asserts that these policies violate state and federal laws it remains unclear whether charter operators might successfully shield themselves by their “private” status. That is, in many state contexts, charter schools may simply not have to follow the same rules in the establishment and implementation of their rules for children, parents, and the public at large.

 

The loss of rights or the requirement to trade rights for the promise of marginal test score gains—is concerning from an equity perspective because chartering, in particular no-excuses15 charter models are not evenly distributed across communities and children. Table 2 shows that nearly 12 percent of large city student populations are in charter schools, where those populations are 57 percent low income and nearly 70 percent black or Hispanic on average. Suburbs of large cities, which have much lower minority and low-income shares, have charter market penetration less than one-third the rate of large urban centers.

 

I hope that municipal finance analysts across the nation read this report with care. Moody’s warned Massachusetts that if it expanded the number of charters, several urban districts would be financially distressed. Until now, the reformers have not paid attention to how charters affect the finances of the host district or have not listened to these concerns. Perhaps they thought that a fiscal crisis in the host district would lead to a collapse of the governing authority and thus to more charter schools. But “gimme” is not sound public policy. Sound public policy would be concerned about supplying  good schools to all children, not just to some children.

Back in 2009, when Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competition, he said we as a nation would literally be “racing to the top” of international competition by adopting his favored ideas: expanding charter schools, evaluating teachers to a significant degree by the test scores of their students, “turning around” low-scoring schools by radical measures such as closing them, creating state and national data storehouses to track students, and adopting “college and career-ready standards” (aka, the Common Core). Almost every state fell in line, because they had to do what Arne wanted in order to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion.

 

But the report cards have not been kind to these “reforms.” When the National Assessment of Education Progress issued its regular report in 2015, test scores were flat or declining in most states.

 

Now the latest international test scores are out, and the U.S. has made no gains. We are not racing to the top. We are standing still. Why? Because Race to the Top did not address the root causes of academic failure: poverty and racial segregation. Charter schools have produced marginal gains at best, with some far worse than public schools. Evaluating teachers by test scores has been an abject failure, criticized by the nation’s leading scholarly organizations, including the American Statistical Association, which is not an arm of reformer-dreaded teachers’ unions or the “status quo.”

 

Here is today’s report from politico.com:

 

PISA RESULTS: BAD NEWS IN MATH: American 15-year-olds are getting worse at applying their math skills in the real world, when compared to their international peers. The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment results are out and they show a drop in “mathematics literacy” scores for U.S. students since 2012 and 2009. “Of particular concern is that we also have a higher percentage of students who score in the lowest performance levels … and a lower percentage of top math performers” compared to the international average, said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the results. The disappointing numbers come after results on another international study – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – recently showed gains made by U.S. fourth and eighth graders in math since 1995.

 

– U.S. science and reading literacy scores weren’t much different from previous years. Boys outperformed girls in science and math, while girls outperformed boys in reading. Scores for Massachusetts, North Carolina and Puerto Rico were broken out for international benchmarking purposes, and revealed that Massachusetts students, on average, are outperforming students in the U.S. and worldwide in all three subjects. North Carolina students were comparable with U.S. average scores and Puerto Rican students fared worse. PISA measures the performance of 15-year-olds every three years in three subjects across dozens of education systems worldwide. Check out the results here .

 

– Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is in Massachusetts today to hail the state’s success with PISA – while noting that the nation as a whole is “losing ground.” According to prepared remarks, King will say that it’s “a troubling prospect when, in today’s knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world. Students in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Minnesota aren’t just vying for great jobs along with their neighbors or across state lines, they must be competitive with peers in Finland, Germany, and Japan.” King will say that Massachusetts embodies the importance of perseverance. “The PISA results announced today for Massachusetts didn’t happen instantly or by accident,” he’ll say. “It has taken years of people showing courage – principals, teachers, parents, students, and state and district leaders. It has taken years of overcoming challenges. It has taken years to make real and meaningful change happen. And it will take time to see the work we are continuing to do today truly pay off for students.” More on King’s visit.

 

– Other noteworthy highlights: U.S. students value a career in science and have high expectations of having a science career, but they’re falling short when it comes to skills. Countries like Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Japan are also seeing better student outcomes than the U.S., while investing fewer hours in actual teaching – giving teachers more time for professional development and advancing their careers.

 

As I have often written before, the international test scores do not predict the future of our economy or anything else. Scores on standardized tests measure family income and income inequality. If you want to know more, read my chapter in “Reign of Error” on international tests and what they mean and do not mea.

Molly Hunter of the Education Law Center sent me its news release on the ruling in Nevada that the state cannot take funding dedicated to public schools and use it for “education savings accounts” (ESA), a thinly disguised voucher.

 

A Nevada judge enjoined the implementation of the voucher program last January.

 

In the 2016 election, Democrats in Nevada gained control of both houses of the legislature. They do not need to repeal the ESA legislation, although they could. All they need to kill the vouchers is to not allocate any funding to ESAs. The state courts made clear that the funding could not be taken away from the public schools, a policy embedded in the state constitution.

 

 

From the Education Law Center:

 

September 29, 2016

 

Education Law Center welcomes the Nevada Supreme Court decision in Lopez v. Schwartz firmly declaring the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program unconstitutional and permanently blocking its implementation.

 

The Court’s ruling makes clear that the Nevada Legislature violated a constitutional prohibition against the use of public education funding for any purpose other than the operation of the public schools. The ESA voucher program would have diverted funds from the public schools for private education expenditures.

 

This decision strikes at the heart of the ESA voucher program, which was designed to remove significant amounts of funding from public school budgets to pay for private school tuition and other expenses, even for the wealthy. The court’s sweeping ruling permanently blocks the program from being implemented in the future.

 

“The Court confirmed that the parent plaintiffs’ claims were correct – the state constitution expressly directs that funds appropriated by the Legislature for public education be used for that purpose and that purpose alone,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director, and, along with ELC attorney Jessica Levin, a member of the pro bono legal team representing Nevada parents and children in the voucher lawsuit.

 

ELC is a partner in Educate Nevada Now (ENN), a Nevada campaign in support of public education founded by the Rogers Foundation. ENN and the Rogers Foundation provided crucial support in the voucher lawsuit. With implementation of the voucher program now blocked, ELC will continue to work with ENN and the Rogers Foundation to improve the educational experiences of the half million children in Nevada’s public schools.

 

Here is a brief chronology of the case, Lopez v. Schwartz, also from the ELC:

 

On September 9, 2015, a group of parents whose children attend Nevada public schools filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new voucher law. The lawsuit, Lopez v. Schwartz, has generated media attention and interest from parents, educators and taxpayers.

 

In June 2015, the Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 302 (SB302) establishing a controversial program to use public funding to pay for private schooling. For students who qualify, the voucher law directs the State Treasurer to deposit taxpayer funding into private bank accounts – called “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) – to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, online classes, home-schooling expenses, transportation to and from private schools, and other private services.

 

ESAs are funded by diverting the per pupil funds provided by the Legislature for Nevada public schools. The ESA amount is based on the statewide average per pupil amount guaranteed in the state budget to operate the public schools. The vouchers are either 90% or 100% of that amount, or between approximately $5,100 and $5,710. For each ESA, the State Treasurer deducts the per pupil amount from public school district budgets, which then reduces the funding available to educate public school students.

 

Nevada parents sued because ESAs will take critically needed funding away from public schools and lower the quality of education for their children. ESAs will also reduce public school funding, causing cuts to teachers, support staff and other vital programs for the 450,000 Nevada children attending public schools across the state, many of whom are children with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), and students at-risk of falling behind or dropping out.

 

The Nevada Constitution prohibits taxpayer funds provided by the Legislature for the operation of the public schools from being used for any other purpose. The parents claim that the voucher program violates this constitutional ban by diverting the funding necessary to educate their children in the public schools to pay for private school vouchers.

 

The parents also claim that the voucher law violates the Nevada constitution by lowering the amount of funding provided in the Nevada state budget for public education and by using public funds to pay for private schools that are not required to serve all students, are not subject to anti-discrimination laws, and are not accountable for student performance like the public schools are.

 

In January 2016, the parents won their motion for a preliminary injunction in the trial court, which halted implementation of the voucher program. State Treasurer Dan Schwartz appealed the trial court decision to the Supreme Court of Nevada, which heard oral arguments in July 2016. On September 29, 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that the ESA voucher program is unconstitutional because it violates the prohibition on use of public school funds for other purposes, and permanently blocked its implementation.

 

 

 

 

Steve Mnuchin, the Goldman Sachs partner that Trump has chosen as his Secretary of the Treasury, is a very, very lucky man. ProPublica reports that he made a killing during the mortgage meltdown, among many other lucky breaks.

 

Jesse Eisinger writes:

 

The former Goldman Sachs banker nominated to become Donald Trump’s treasury secretary had the perspicacity to purchase a collapsed subprime mortgage lender soon after the financial crisis, getting a sweet deal from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Now, if he’s confirmed, he will likely be able to take advantage of a tax perk given to government officials.

 

Mnuchin was born into a family of Wall Street royalty. His father was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs for 30 years, serving in top management. He and his brother landed at the powerful firm, too. After making millions in mortgage trading, Mnuchin struck out on his own, creating a hedge fund and building a record of smart and well-timed investment moves.

 

He dodged disaster when he inherited his mother’s portfolio. She was a longtime investor with Bernie Madoff, the largest Ponzi schemer in American history. After she died in early 2005, Mnuchin and his brother quickly liquidated her investments, making $3.2 million. The Madoff trustee, Irving Picard, sued to retrieve the money from the Mnuchins, as he did from other Ponzi scheme winners, contending that they were fake gains. A court ruled that Picard could only claw back money from those who had cashed out within two years before the collapse. The Mnuchins, having pulled out roughly three years before, got to keep their Madoff money. That something was dodgy about Madoff was an open secret on Wall Street.

 

After the financial crisis, the FDIC seized IndyMac, whose irresponsible mortgage loans failed as the housing bubble burst. Desperate to offload the bank, the FDIC subsidized the takeover by sheltering Mnuchin and his team of investors, including hedge fund managers John Paulson and George Soros, from losses. The investors injected $1.55 billion into the bank in 2009. They changed the name to OneWest and five years later, sold it to lender CIT for more than $3 billion, doubling their investment.

 

There is more, much more about Mnuchin’s good luck. If you lost your mortgage and your home when the bubble burst, you were a loser. But Mnuchin was a winner.

 

Some people have all the luck.

 

Trump has put the fox in charge of guarding the hen house.

 

 

In this post, Mitchell Robinson lays out the strategy of Betsy and Dick DeVos in Michigan, which they have since exported to other states in their well-funded campaign to destroy public education and substitute for it a marketplace of for-profit charters and publicly-funded religious schools.

 

Robinson, a professor of music education at Michigan State, writes:

 

 

“As Michiganders know, Betsy and Dick DeVos are religious and school privatization/choice/voucher zealots. They were humiliated by the twin failures of voucher legislation in 2000 and Dick’s loss in the Michigan governor’s race to Jennifer Granholm in 2006, and these dual humiliations resulted in the development of the DeVos’ “long-game” strategy to achieve their goals of privatizing public education:

 

*destroy the Democrats’ biggest single source of financial support by gutting teacher unions via Right to Work legislation
*capitalize on the elimination of the charter school “cap” to explode the number of non-regulated and for-profit charter schools in the state
*use charter schools as the mechanism to “blur the lines” between public and private/religious schools
use this “blurring” of boundaries between church and state to build public support for the redistribution of public funds to religious and private schools”

 

In the timeline that Robinson created, he includes the infamous secret video of Dick DeVos speaking at the Heritage Foundation in 2002.

 

He writes:

 

“One of my first encounters with the DeVos ideology of education was stumbling upon this video of a speech that Amway heir Dick DeVos (husband of Betsy, brother-in-law of Blackwater private mercenary army founder Eric Prince, Betsy’s brother), gave on December 3, 2002, at the Heritage Foundation (which is funded generously by the DeVos family foundations). The gist of this speech was Mr. DeVos’ argument that school privatization was an issue that was deeply divisive, and not at all popular with the public; so in order to get vouchers and privatization through the legislature a “stealth approach” was necessary: “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities.”

 

At least we know where she stands. She is not neutral among the different sectors of K-12 education. She doesn’t like public schools. She wants unregulated competition among charters and religious schools, all funded by taxpayers.

 

A few years back, I visited Michigan and spoke to a group of district superintendents who collectively represented about half the students in the state. They described Michigan’s public school choice program, which obliterated district lines. Students could go to any public school, taking their dollars with them. Every district competed with every other district to lure students because total revenues rose or fell based on enrollments. Each district spent about $100,000 a year on radio and TV advertising, trying to “poach” students from neighboring districts. No one liked this approach. No one thought it was educationally sound. It was a colossal waste of money. Add to this the competition with charters, most of which operate for profit, and you have a state school system focused on dollars as the bottom line, not students or education.

 

 

 

Jennifer Berkshire (aka EduShyster) is a funny, affable, charming person who often visits reformer gatherings, to learn more, get to understand the reformer ideas, and engage reformers face to face. Not in a hostile way, but as an interested observer who listens and learns.

 

In this remarkable post, she explains what Betsy DeVos wants. She first encountered Betsy DeVos at a Republican candidates’ parley in the summer of 2015. The candidates spoke, each outlining their bipartisan views on school choice, and DeVos spoke, and Berkshire wondered:

 

Could the education reform coalition’s major selling point, its bipartisan-ness, really stretch to incorporate the extreme right-wing views of DeVos?”

 

Some reformers are less than thrilled with DeVos, says Berkshire, especially because of her personal role in torpedoing efforts to bring some order and accountability to the charters in Detroit. Other reformers did not appreciate the “outsized role she has played in shaping Detroit as an, um, education laboratory in which an out-of-control lab fire now burns.” Detroit is hardly an advertisement for educational reform via school choice.

 

For a brief moment in time, there was a genuinely broad-based coalition that wanted to save Detroit. It formed in 2014, and it seemed to be heading towards a hopeful conclusion. But the effort collapsed in the summer of 2016:

 

The feel-good story screeched to a halt last summer thanks to a wall of GOP opposition. Except that *wall* and *opposition* make it sound as though there were a whole bunch of people involved in the kneecapping that went down. There was a single family: Betsy and Dick DeVos. The bill that ultimately passed, with the DeVos’ blessing and with the aid of the lawmakers they bankroll, did virtually nothing to regulate Detroit’s *wild west* charter school sector, and will likely hasten the demise of the Detroit Public Schools. While Michigan’s burgeoning charter lobby was well represented in the final negotiations, elected representatives from Detroit were missing; in a clear violation of House rules, they weren’t even allowed to speak on the bill. And in a final twist of the shiv, the legislation that emerged lets uncertified teachers teach in Detroit, something not allowed anywhere else in Michigan. Oh, and don’t forget the new punishments for teachers who engage in *sick outs* to call attention to the appalling conditions in the city’s schools.

 

There is a queasy, racialized undertone to much of the education reform debate, with its constant implication that students of color fare best in schools over which their communities have little say. In Michigan, though, that argument has been taken by reform advocates, Betsy DeVos chief among them, to its extreme conclusion. The official message of DeVos’ organization, the Great Lakes Education Project, during last summer’s legislative battle was that dissolving the Detroit Public Schools would *protect kids and empower parents,* a cause that came with its own hashtag: #EndDPS. But what GLEP really meant was hard to miss. Detroit is a tax-hoovering abyss whose residents are too corrupt and incompetent to oversee their own schools.

 

After the GOP took control of Michigan in 2010, the charter cap was lifted, then eliminated. The state, once home to the nation’s industrial unions, became a right-to-work state. The legislature passed a law allowing “emergency managers” to take control of financially stressed districts, with unlimited powers. Voters passed a refendum eliminating the emergency managers, but the legislature revived it in a budget bill.

 

Guess whose districts and and schools were taken over by emergency managers and turned over to charter operators?

 

You’ve heard about Detroit, and Flint, with its poisoned water, but there are other less well known cases—like Benton Harbor, Muskegon, and Highland Park, which at last count was down to a single public school. Within a few years of Public Act IV’s enactment, half of Michigan’s Black population was living under some form of emergency management. *The municipalities and school districts that have been taken over are predominantly African American and poor,* David Arsen, an economist at Michigan State University, told me when I interviewed him last summer. *The optics are not good, especially in the context of the long civil rights struggle for voting rights.*

 

Berkshire realized that the real danger of the Trump era is that he is “moldable clay,” amenable to the plans of others.

 

The terrifying thing about the dawning of the Trumpian era isn’t just the specific awfulness of the President-elect’s policies. It’s that Trump is what the long gamers think of as *moldable clay,* receptive to whatever plots and plans they’ve spent years dreaming and scheming up. In Michigan, the long game has long been about making over the state’s schools: breaking up the government monopoly over education and getting rid of that pesky prohibition that keeps public monies from following kids to private schools, especially private schools of the religious variety. When Detroit-based writer Allie Gross set out this summer to document the long history of the efforts of the DeVos family and its allies to remake Detroit’s schools, she dug up an archival piece that a reporter at her paper, the Metro Times, wrote in 1995. Gross’ predecessor described a *relentless attack* on Michigan’s public education system, and a *Trojan horse* meant to blur the distinction between public and private schools en route to realizing the real goal: public funding for parochial schools.

 

Betsy DeVos is playing the long game, and she knows what she wants. What others want is irrelevant.

 

 

 

 

Here is a great article in The New Republic by staff writer Graham Vyse, asking the crucial question, “Can Democrats Save Public Education from Trump and DeVos?” It acknowledges that the Democrats paved the way for the school choice agenda of the far-right by touting privately managed charter schools for the past eight years.

 

So the question now is whether Democrats will really fight for public education or will they continue the pretense that privately managed charter schools are “public?” Will they continue to endorse charters and oppose vouchers? Can you be half-pregnant?

 

As the Democrats aped the Republicans on key social issues, like education, they lost their unique identity. Now there are only 14 states with Democratic governors. If they keep pretending to be Republicans, there will be even fewer.

 

Andrew Cuomo of New York has used the same language as Trump, referring to community public schools as a “government monopoly,” and he endorsed legislation to compel the city of New York to give free space to charters, even those that are able to pay rent, like Eva Moskowitz’s fabulously wealthy charter chain. Dannell Molloy has been a champion for charter schools in Connecticut and gives them preference over public schools. Jerry Brown in California opened two charter schools when he was mayor of Oakland, and he recently vetoed legislation to ban for-profit charter schools.

 

Will they fight the privatization agenda, now that it is the Trump agenda?

Jeff Bryant has written a stunning documentation of the damage done by the charter industry to public schools in North Carolina. It is worth your time to read it all. It is a preview of what lies ahead for public education in the Trump era, unless parents and educators and public-spirited citizens join to save their public schools. It is not a pretty picture.

 

The Tea Party Republicans in the legislature and Governor Pat McCrory in the state house set a course to undermine, underfund, and starve public schools while opening the state to charter schools, whether nonprofit or for-profit. Jeff Bryant shows how funding for the public schools is below 2008 levels, even though enrollment has grown by nearly 80,000. Public schools have had to make budget cuts, at the same time that charter schools and online charter schools take away students and funding. In North Carolina, as in many states, if a student leaves a charter school after October to return to the public school, the charter school gets to keep the full year of tuition and is not obliged to replace the student who left.

 

The board that oversees charter schools and decides which new charters to approve is filled with charter school advocates. As Donald Trump used to say, “It’s a rigged system, folks, it’s a rigged system.”

 

Bryant explains in detail how the for-profit charter management companies make money. He uses the example of National Heritage Academies, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the hometown of Donald Trump’s designated Secretary of Education. Half their teachers may be uncertified, which means they have lower salary costs. But the real money is in the real estate.

 

Bryant writes:

 

How do these schools make a profit? The best answer the reporter for the Charlotte Observer could find was in management fees for the EMOs [educational management organizations], which In North Carolina equal to 7 – 19 percent of total school operational costs.

 

But based on my inquiries, that figure represents a very small part of the profit these schools make.

 

Out Of Michigan And Florida

 

“North Carolina is one those states that is new to the charter game,” Ellen Lipton tells me in a phone call to her office in Michigan – home of National Heritage Academies. NHA is based in Grand Rapids, where Betsy DeVos also lives.

 

“The low per-student funding that tends to characterize Southern states generally kept charter school operators from moving into those states,” she contends. “But now states like Michigan are getting saturated” so the charter chains have decided to move south.

Lipton is a Michigan State Representative who has spoken out against the spread of charter schools through the state’s Education Achievement Authority, an appointed agency, similar to the Achievement School District North Carolina created last year, that takes over low-performing schools and turns them over to charter operators.

 

According to Lipton, NHA has “fine-tuned” the business of chartering to ensure they make a profit. She points me to a recent investigative report by the Detroit Free Press that finds, “It is difficult to know how charter management companies are spending money … Unlike traditional school districts, the management companies usually don’t disclose their vendors, contracts, and competitive bid documents.”

 

“NHA is a business model based on, not necessarily educating kids, but on being a facilities management company,” Casandra Ulbrich, another Michigan source, tells me.

 

Ulbrich is currently serving her second eight-year term on the Michigan State Board of Education and also works in education administration at a state community college.

 

She tells me how the NHA business model works: First, NHA forms a charter school board to “invite” NHA to manage a new school. The governing board is not independent of the management company, and members of the board can serve on multiple NHA charter boards across the state, thus creating a network of charter school boosters the work on promoting these schools.

 

After securing a contract to manage the new school, NHA purchases a building – it could be a storefront in a strip mall or an abandoned warehouse – and requests approval from an authorizer to open a school there. After the authorization, the charter board signs a lease agreement with Charter Development Company, LLC to take over ownership of the building. Charter Development Company, which has branches in all the states where NHA has schools, has its home office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the same address as the home office of NHA.

 

Now NHA and its related enterprises own the building and its contents, even if desks, computers, and equipment have been purchased with taxpayer money. It receives rent payments from the district. It owns the curriculum the school teaches. And if NHA is ever fired, the charter board – and by extension the district – is in the awkward position of having to buy back its own school.