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Education

A take on special ed funding

by Dan Burns on January 24, 2018 · 0 comments

From a good Minnesota education blog.

 

Over the last 15 plus years, the deficit in special education funding to public school districts has been on the rise. Part of the increase may be attributable to inflation, but a significant part of the rising deficit must be attributed to the rising costs of compliance with the federal and state special education mandates and shortfalls in the appropriations to cover those costs.
 
Services to special education students, mandated by federal law, are paid for by a combination of federal special education funds (funneled through the State Department of Education) and state special education funds. Total funding to state school districts is determined by the state budget. The state must, under the constitution, find a way to provide adequate funding for these mandatory services, but in each budget year, the state fails to do that. The formula for funding provided to local district is calculated according to a complex, somewhat arcane, set of formulas. Those formulas intentionally are built to create a deficit in reimbursement, and that deficit is rising. (In addition, students receiving special education are entitled to receive regular education services, just like all other students.) The education provided to a hypothetical special education student in a teacher’s classroom includes (1) teaching and other services funded by the regular education formula, and (2) extra special education services funded by state and federal special education funds.
 
The Figure below displays the total mandated special education expenses for all school districts in Minnesota in hundreds of millions of dollars (blue line) and the total combined state and federal funds provided to meet those expenses (red line). The red line is beneath the blue, because the mandated spending is hundreds of millions of dollars less than the funds provided. The total deficit in funding is currently running at $1.4 billion per biennium and it is scheduled to rise.
(JvonKorff on Education)

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Trying to revive predatory for-profit colleges

by Dan Burns on December 19, 2017 · 0 comments

Cooper-Union-We-are-Students-Not-Customers-e1373664073701This would presumably need sixty votes to clear the Senate. But bear in mind that efforts to roll back Dodd-Frank appear to be getting that.
 

A controversial rewrite of the Higher Education Act that just passed out of committee in the House of Representatives in a strict party-line vote will likely reboot floundering for-profit colleges and revive the scandals associated with this industry should it clear intact the full House and Senate.
 
The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act aims to, according to a report in The New York Times, “dismantle landmark Obama administration regulations designed to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges and to repay the loans of those who earned worthless degrees from scam universities.”
(OurFuture.org)

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abanschoolA couple of items.
 

The initial pages provide boilerplate information for parents about federally required testing and its ties to Minnesota’s notoriously rigorous and independent academic standards. (Minnesota is only one of a handful of states, for example, that require all high school students to take Algebra 2 in order to graduate.) But on the last page of the form, a paragraph all in bold type pulls out every scare tactic in the book:
 
“I understand that by signing this form, my student will receive a score of ‘not proficient’ and waives the opportunity to receive a college-ready score that could save him/her time and money by not having to take remedial, non-credit courses at a Minnesota State college or university.”
 
Any parents still resisting are then served a final dose of guilt. Those who choose to opt out, the form warns, may deprive not only themselves but their whole school district of “valuable information” that could cause a potential drag on any local or state attempts to “equitably distribute resources.”
(The Progressive)

The word “alternative” implies a choice. But in an era when the freedom to pick your school is trumpeted by advocates and politicians, students don’t choose the alternative schools to which districts send them for breaking the rules: They’re sentenced to them. Of 39 state education departments that responded to a ProPublica survey last year, 29, or about three-quarters, said school districts could transfer students involuntarily to alternative programs for disciplinary reasons.
 
Like Logan, thousands of students are involuntarily reassigned to these schools each year, often for a seemingly minor offense, and never get back on track, a ProPublica investigation has found. Alternative schools are often located in crumbling buildings or trailers, with classes taught largely by computers and little in the way of counseling services or extracurricular activities.
(ProPublica)

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abanschoolThere is a pretty substantial body of research now showing that the charter movement for the most part hasn’t worked, isn’t working, and won’t work.
 

This month the, NPE (Network for Public Education) released a stunning report called “Charters and Consequences.” NPE Executive Director Carol Burris stated, “… nearly every day brings a story, often reported only in local newspapers, about charter mismanagement, failure, nepotism or outright theft and fraud.” About the report she writes, “This report … is the result of a year-long exploration of the effects of charter schools and the issues that surround them.”
 
This 50-page report’s conclusion is shared on the last page:
 

“For all of the reasons above and more, the Network for Public Education regards charter schools as a failed experiment that our organization cannot support. If the strength of charter schools is the freedom to innovate, then that same freedom can be offered to public schools by the district or the state.

(Tultican)

The latest School Performance Scores for the state of Louisiana are in. And that makes now a pretty good time to finally come to terms with the fallacy of the miracle in New Orleans.
 
For the first time in more than a decade all public schools in Orleans Parish were lumped together in the state performance rankings—no separation of Recovery School District (RSD) campuses from Orleans Parish School Board campuses. We suppose that makes sense with the impending “return” of schools to “local control.” Though, we suspect that the actual reason for the grouping is far more disturbing. With the state department of education finally getting ready to return schools it snatched from local control back in 2005, grouping all these schools together in this year’s performance rankings is an early tip-off to the fact the state education department, the RSD and the “reform” advocates are ready to wash their hands.
 
We can almost hear them saying, “Sure, we have had your schools under our control for 12 years. And, yep, we joyfully and willingly turned them over to outside, for-profit organizations to operate so we didn’t have to bother. Uhhh, yeah, our oversight of those charter operators was marginal at best. Of course, those operators made beaucoup money off the backs of some of the most underserved and disenfranchised public school children in Louisiana. Why do you think we snatched the schools to begin with? Sorry, no, we really didn’t improve educational outcomes for the community. But real soon, we will be giving them back with the caveat that they all remain under the control of charter management operators; and they will be your problem.”
(AlterNet)

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The tax plan and schools and how we got here

by Dan Burns on November 22, 2017 · 0 comments

abanschoolThere is a lot of good stuff out there about what the Party of Trump tax plans would mean for education. This is among the most effective that I’ve seen.
 

The House tax bill is an all-out attack on the future prosperity of America, not that any of the major news organizations are telling you that in plain English. Lost in the dense bureaucratic language of modern news reports is the simple fact that the House bill takes from striving students so that the already rich and major corporations can have more.
 
This bill is a long-term disaster in terms of what economists call opportunity costs. That term refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. This tax bill gives up the future wealth from investing in brainpower in favor of permanent tax cuts for the already rich and corporations.
 
This tax bill should be called the Intellectual Destruction Initiative Outrageous Tax Savings Act, a.k.a. the IDIOTS Tax Act of 2017.
(DCReport.org)

This next one is not a pleasant, optimistic read. And it doesn’t acknowledge that a lot of elected Democrats are not all-in on school privatization, by any means. But it is a good history of how things got to where they are.
 

Today’s Democratic school reformers—a team heavy on billionaires, pols on the move, and paid advocates for whatever stripe of fix is being sold—depict their distaste for regulation, their zeal for free market solutions as au courant thinking. They rarely acknowledge their neoliberal antecedents. The self-described radical pragmatists at the Progressive Policy Institute, for instance, got their start as Bill Clinton’s policy shop, branded as the intellectual home for New Democrats. Before its current push for charter schools, PPI flogged welfare reform. In fact, David Osborne, the man so fond of likening teacher unions to arch segregationists in the south, served as Al Gore’s point person for “reinventing government.” Today the model for Osborne’s vision for reinventing public education is post-Katrina New Orleans—where 7,500 mostly Black school employees were fired en route to creating the nation’s first nearly all-charter-school-system, wiping out a pillar of the city’s Black middle class in the process.
(The Baffler)

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school3Namely, in Virginia. You know, the one even corporate media is calling a “game-changer,” because of just how big the butt-kicking laid on Republicans was.
 

But Northam differed significantly from Gillespie on the issues as well as the image. Northam generally disagreed with Gillespie’s call to expand the number of charter schools in the state and favored instead more investment in traditional public schools. Northam also opposed Gillespie’s proposal for education savings accounts that allow parents who pull their children from public schools to direct that funding to private school tuition or other “education expenditures.”
 
As a result, Northam was backed by teachers unions while Gillespie got financial backing from the DeVos family – who expect their lavish cash donations to Republicans to result in support for charter schools and voucher programs that send public money to private schools – and from conservative groups, including those backed by the Koch brothers, that pounded on Northam for his opposition to “school choice.”
 
So education was a defining issue in the race, and where the candidates stood mattered a lot. But it’s also important to note Northam got education right not only by differing from Betsy DeVos but also by distancing his views from some views held by Democrats too, especially those Democrats aligned with leftover policy ideas from the Barack Obama presidential administration.
(Jeff Bryant/OurFuture.org)

Speaking of DeVos, I too have seen where numerous outlets are reporting that she’s expected to quit soon. I’ll believe it when I see it. But it is true that like most Trumpkins she has an infantile need for instant gratification, and hasn’t been getting it. Of course if she does go while we can’t get anyone worse for a replacement, we would likely get someone just about as bad.
 
The text of the next article does include a range of viewpoints on its subject.
 

(Teacher Union Reform Network) shares some similarities with another growing labor effort—Bargaining for the Common Good—whereby unions partner with local allies to push for more community-oriented demands in their contract negotiations, such as less punitive school discipline policies and more equitable access to healthcare. Although unions have generally been legally restricted to bargaining over little more than wages and benefits, more locals are coming to think that ceding to this legal reality without a fight is neither the right thing to do, nor something unions can politically afford.
 
Like Bargaining for the Common Good, TURN members also believe teachers need to approach bargaining more creatively and boldly. Specifically, TURN wants to see unions negotiate over policies that “advance student learning,” such as reducing the number of standardized tests students must take while also pushing for new kinds of assessments that measure skills like creativity.
(In These Times)

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What’s bad for teachers unions is bad for kids

by Dan Burns on October 26, 2017 · 0 comments

school3This is written by someone who used to teach in Wisconsin, and it’s very effective.
 

Back in Wisconsin, I remember our negotiated contract became a handbook. The politicians told us we were now “free agents.” They said, “Go negotiate your own compensation!” But when I asked my superintendent what he could do for me. He said, “Nothing.” The law said we could negotiate for only our base salaries – and no increase could surpass inflation.
 
The law and the big-money ad campaign that went with it completely decimated morale in my district. We felt we were being blamed for everyone else’s problems. When they take your dignity, teaching isn’t fun anymore. As teachers retired, the districts wouldn’t hire anyone to replace them. The duties and workload increased for the rest of us.
 
It all hurt students in the end. I don’t think anyone even tries to deny it anymore.
(MinnPost)

This tells it like it is about “school choice.” It is full of supporting links and is absolutely definitive.
 

At every level, so-called “school choice” is a lie.

 

It’s about preserving the status quo for the wealthy while providing substandard services for the poor and middle class.

 

It’s a power grab by the business community to profitize public funds set aside to educate children.

 
And perhaps the easiest way to combat it is the simplest: stop calling it school choice.

 

Call it what it is – school privatization.
(gadflyonthewallblog)

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school2We’ll see whether the author of this is right, but it’s important as an awareness-raiser.
 

In other words, this should be fertile territory for Democrats. But the coming decimation of public sector unions also means that the Democrats will be more dependent than ever on corporate money, especially from the financial sector. Accept the growing influence of the party’s biggest donors, comprised of Wall Streeters, hedge funders and Silicon Valley elites, and you also get their cramped and narrow vision of what is possible. And the moneyed influencers within the Democratic Party share a vision of education—personalized, privatized, union free—that’s increasingly difficult to distinguish from the one DeVos espouses.
(AlterNet)

On September 28, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would give a handful of states, including Minnesota, an “additional $253 million in grants to expand charter schools,” in order to spur on school choice–an education reform strategy long embraced by Democrats, Republicans and wealthy financiers…
 
Such announcements are often accompanied by cheerful talk of innovation and choice. The new federal funding is all about “seeing how we can continue to work with states to help ensure more students can learn in an environment that works for them,” according to DeVos. But this new funding will also support Minnesota’s increasingly segregated public and charter school landscape, as well as an exodus of money and students from union-staffed districts. (Charter school teachers and staff are mostly non-unionized, in Minnesota and beyond.)
(Bright Light Small City)

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schoolsThe (Education Secretary Betsy) DeVos bus tour didn’t exactly dominate the headlines. Not an impressive undertaking.
 

While DeVos’s bus tour paints a bleak and failing portrait of our nation’s public schools, a new survey reveals that parents’ attitudes toward public education are very different
 
As Education Week reports, the national poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates, finds, “Most parents like their public school and want to support teachers, whom they trust more than anyone else to make choices for education.” The survey was conducted for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers’ union.
 
Contrasting to DeVos’s message about public schools as being “a mundane malaise,” 73 percent of parents responding to the poll “said their public school was ‘excellent or good,’ 20 percent said it was ‘adequate,’ and just 7 percent said their public school was ‘not so good or poor.’”
 
In contrast to DeVos’s promoting more expansions of private schools and charter schools, the poll found, “Over 70 percent of parents said they would prefer a good quality neighborhood public school for their children over the ability to have more choice of what schools they can send their children to.”
(Education Opportunity Network)

Maybe, somehow, such poll results can convince legislators in Minnesota to do more about the following. But as long as the Party of Trump has majorities there, that’s wishful thinking.
 

The education achievement gap in Minnesota is a real and persistent problem. For example, the 2016 graduation rate among black students was 22 percent below that of white students, while the rate among American Indian students was 35.5 percent below. While the gap in graduation rates has narrowed in recent years, it is still large and troubling. In response, conservatives wring their hands, bemoaning the lack of progress in closing the gap, despite “all the money” that the state has spent on education. In fact, real per pupil state investment in E-12 education has declined over the last fifteen years, especially in the two central city school districts that have a disproportionate share of the state’s minority students.
(North Star Policy Institute)

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devosPerhaps politicians of both parties at least vaguely realize how unpopular an agenda of massive cuts and for-profit privatization would be.
 

However, (on September 6), DeVos got some bipartisan push back from federal lawmakers. A Senate sub-committee rejected two proposals that, if approved by Congress, would have helped DeVos to move forward with school privatization plans.
 
The panel rejected her requested $1 billion boost to the Title I program, which is designed to educate disadvantaged students. DeVos wanted to use that money to help local districts create or expand her privatization agenda which, in addition to vouchers, also includes charter schools run by for-profit companies. It also rejected a proposal to use a program within the U.S. Department of Education to nurture private school vouchers…
 
Speaking of after school programs, that same Senate subcommittee also rejected a Trump-DeVos request to eliminate federal funding to help cover the cost of such programs. Instead, the panel approved $1.2 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Center. The House has approved similar funding.
(Education Votes)

Despite having been the birthplace of charters, Minnesota remains one of the best states overall for public schools. But that should be understood in context.
 

In six out of every seven Minnesota school districts, FY 2019 real per pupil state aid is projected to be lower and real per pupil property taxes are projected to be higher than in FY 2003; in nearly half of these districts, total per pupil revenue is projected to decline relative to FY 2003, as projected levy increases will not be sufficient to offset state aid reductions. Whatever increase in revenue did occur since FY 2003 among the remaining districts should be considered in the context of the increased concentration of special need students, increased testing, and other requirements that have been placed upon districts over the last sixteen years.
 
The conclusion is clear: while the financial circumstances of Minnesota school districts have improved in recent years, real per pupil state aid remains significantly below the FY 2003 level, both in aggregate and in the vast majority of districts. To the extent that real per pupil revenues have increased at all over the last sixteen years, the cost has been borne primarily by local property taxpayers.
(North Star Policy Institute)

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