Monday, February 26, 2018

Subverting Public Education-- A Top Conservative Goal


My best friend Roland is a public school teacher in Compton. He texted me last night that teachers nationwide are wearing all black today in anticipation of the Supreme Court revisiting a 1977 compromise between union and non-union workers at unionized workplaces that declared that when public employees vote to affiliate with a union, state and local governments can require those who don't join the union to pay partial fees to help cover the costs of negotiating and administering the contract that the non-union employees benefit from. Conservatives have been working to undermine it ever since and a case is back in front of the Supreme Court today. And right-wing fanatic Neil Gorsuch, Trumpanzee's appointee, could be the key.
The court split 4-4 the last time it considered the issue in 2016. Gorsuch joined the court in April and has yet to weigh in on union fees. Organized labor is a big supporter of Democratic candidates and interests. Unions strongly opposed Gorsuch's nomination by President Donald Trump.

Illinois government employee Mark Janus says he has a constitutional right not to contribute anything to a union with which he disagrees. Janus and the conservative interests that back him contend that everything unions representing public employees do is political, including contract negotiations.

The Trump administration is supporting Janus in his effort to persuade the court to overturn its 1977 ruling allowing states to require fair share fees for government employees.

The unions argue that so-called fair share fees pay for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees, not just its members. People can't be compelled to contribute to unions' political activities.

The American Civil Liberties Union is on the unions' side against an individual's free speech claims. ACLU Legal Director David Cole said fair share fees do not violate nonunion workers' rights.

Labor leaders fear that not only would workers who don't belong to a union stop paying fees, but that some union members might decide to stop paying dues if they could in essence get the union's representation for free.
The far right is in a frenzy of anticipation.

Clint Smith was a high school English teacher in DC whose work at Harvard focused on race, mass incarceration and education. He's probably best known as a poet and for being part of the winning team at the 2014 National Poetry Slam. Earlier this month he penned an essay for The Atlantic, The New Tax Law’s Subtle Subversion of Public Schools. As Betsy DeVos wanted, the bill facilitates private-school attendance and puts more obstacles in front of the neediest students.

"American public schools," he wrote, "have long been, and remain, deeply unequal. At the most dilapidated and underperforming schools, teachers are blamed for stagnant graduation rates, students are derided for low tests scores, and parents are chastised for not being involved. Too often, however, scrutiny of these schools’ performance doesn’t take into account the structural factors that have contributed to their outcomes. One of the most significant factors contributing to the chasm of educational opportunity is the way that schools are funded."
According to the most recent data made available by the Department of Education in 2015, the wealthiest 25 percent of school districts receive 15 percent more in per-student funding from state and local governments as compared to the poorest 25 percent of school districts. Nationally, that accounts for a $1,500-per-student funding gap, a gap that has grown by 44 percent since the 2001-02 school year. It’s a system that leaves the poor with less and the rich with more-- a phenomenon that the new GOP tax law has the potential to make even worse.

Under the Republican plan passed through Congress last December, families can now use 529 college-savings plans to pay for private K-12 schooling, allowing them up to $10,000 in tax-free withdrawals per child annually. This new provision effectively operates the same way a voucher program would, but without the name: While vouchers distribute funds directly to parents to pay for private school, the new law uses the tax code to facilitate private-school attendance.

This change in tax law will largely benefit the rich, providing families that are aware and take advantage of 529 plans-- families that are predominantly wealthy and can likely already afford private education-- with a $10,000 tax deduction. (It’s worth noting that since 529 plans are administered by states and some states have stipulations in place that don’t comply with the new rule, families who make withdrawals could face high state-tax bills or tax penalties, depending on the state in which they live.) This deduction also creates an incentive for parents to take their children out of public schools and put them in private ones. Without those pupils, many public-school systems could get less money-- but have the same overhead costs-- because they rely on enrollment numbers to qualify for much of their funding.

The Republican plan also caps the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000. Public schools receive most of their funding from these state and local taxes, and with the cap, many may have a more difficult time finding the money they need to keep their doors open. “It is nothing more than a massive transfer of wealth-- a giveaway to corporate special interests and the wealthy paid for by working families and students,” the National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement. According to an analysis from the NEA (which represents more than 3 million teachers, school staff, and administrators and has historically supported Democratic candidates), the tax law would, over the next 10 years, blow a $150 billion hole in state and local revenue earmarked for elementary and secondary schools, putting more than 130,000 education jobs at risk. California would lose more than $35 billion in funding, New York $31 billion. Individual schools will have to come up with millions of dollars to make up for the shortfalls; those in poorer districts will be hit the hardest, as they already receive insufficient funding to begin with.

“We already have a huge teacher shortage due to multiple factors,” said Jose Vilson, a middle-school math teacher in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. “Losing that many teachers would only exacerbate the issues of large class sizes, special-needs students not getting serviced, lack of arts and music classes, and the over-reliance on narrow measures of learning.” To Vilson’s latter point: With fewer teachers and subsequently larger class sizes, educators often have less of an opportunity to provide students with the sort of individualized learning opportunities that come with having a smaller group of students, and that are most closely correlated with increased student achievement and developing deeper, more conceptual understandings of various subjects.

Many GOP governors have already slashed billions of dollars in public-school funding, often redirecting education funding toward programs like vouchers, although recent research suggests that vouchers may not have the unequivocally positive impact that its proponents espoused. In fact, as Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation has noted, recent studies have found that the educational achievement of students who received vouchers to attend private schools has often suffered. In one study, the Brookings Institution’s Mark Dynarski found that voucher students scored lower on reading and math tests than similar students who remained in public school and that, more broadly, the assumed academic superiority of private schools as compared to public schools is no longer necessarily true.

Even the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, pro-school-choice think tank, found that “students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.” Interestingly, however, the study also found a correlation between the existence of a voucher program and improved academic performance among public-school students who didn’t take advantage of it; the researchers attributed that finding to the competition created by vouchers.

That the competition created by school choice improves education for all is certainly a compelling idea. President Trump touted this logic on the campaign trail before the 2016 election when he advocated for reassigning $20 billion in federal funding to a block grant that would enable poor students to enroll in the private or public school of their parents’ choice. “Competition always does it,” he said that September. “The weak fall out and the strong get better. It is an amazing thing.”

The GOP education platform is predicated on the idea of “school choice,” stating that it “gives parents the option to choose the school best suited for their child’s success.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has long been a champion for vouchers, arguing that they reflect “investments made in individual children, not in institutions or buildings.” The rhetoric is enticing. School choice, in theory, is incredibly appealing and sensible-- no one would disagree that it is important for parents to be able to send their children to a strong school where they are able to learn and thrive. Additionally, few would disagree that there are examples of children who have been well-served by the opportunity to attend a different school based on a voucher program.

But in many ways, the very notion of school choice operates under a false pretense-- an assumption that every child has the same set of choices to make and the same places to choose from. It doesn’t contend with the host of structural factors including housing, transportation, and low-wage jobs that preclude parents in poverty from taking advantage of opportunities presented under the guise of choice. Nor does it acknowledge that the disparities in school funding and quality are not simply grounded in the different socioeconomic demographics of neighborhoods, but rather are the result of decades of public-policy decisions meant to socially and economically isolate black people and many immigrants.

This makes especially dangerous the free-market logic of school choice, which operates in a paradigm of winners and losers rather than treating quality education as a universal public good with investments that intend to help all children. The new tax provisions will reinforce the misperceptions about school choice and their consequences.

The rhetoric around competition reflects either a misunderstanding or purposeful ignoring of  how schools are beginning at the same proverbial starting line, when in fact structural disparities such as property-tax funding continue to stagger these starting lines. And over the past 20 years the gap has only continued to widen. According to a Stanford University study, over the past two decades the gap in academic achievement between children from high-income families and low-income families is approximately 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier.

Since the Puritans set up the first public schools in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, local school districts have largely relied on property taxes for funding. In 1973, Demetrio Rodriguez sued the state of Texas, accusing it of violating the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on the grounds that his children in the predominantly Mexican American West Side of San Antonio were not receiving adequate funding for their schools. The case advanced to the Supreme Court, which ultimately held that the school-funding mechanisms in Texas were constitutional. In his opinion, Justice Powell stated that the system of school funding in Texas “was not the product of purposeful discrimination against any class, but instead was a responsible attempt to arrive at practical and workable solutions to the educational problems.”

Justice Powell’s opinion, however, seems to under-appreciate the extent to which resource allocation allows students to receive any semblance of a quality education. It also reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about how systemic inequality perpetuates itself—it need not exist under the pretense of being purposeful in order to be real.

The federal government has never stepped up in a substantive way to establish more equitable funding practices. Lyndon Johnson-- who had, as a young man, taught fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders in an impoverished school for the children of Mexican immigrants in the Rio Grande—signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law in 1965 as part of his War on Poverty, giving schools some federal funding to reduce the disparities between rich and poor school districts. But the federal government still contributes only 10 percent to the cost of running public schools in the United States, less than its counterparts in most other developed countries in the world. Per the National Center for Education Statistics, 93 percent of education expenditures come from state and local funding. As a result, as disparities in wealth and income continue to expand, so do the disparities in school funding. As The Atlantic’s Alana Semuels has previously pointed out, in the 2014-15 school year the schools in the wealthy Greenwich, Connecticut, spent $6,000 more per pupil as compared to the impoverished city of Bridgeport, in the same state.

The Republican tax law is poised make these disparities worse. What’s perhaps most insidious is the public’s lack of familiarity with the harmful impact of tax deductions on public-education funding. Because private-school money is not being directly given to families, the potential for the tax law to exacerbate educational inequality has moved largely under the radar.

Until lawmakers can disentangle property taxes from public education, inequalities-- perpetuated by the Supreme Court and Congress—will persist. Schools shouldn’t have to choose between serving a student with special needs or cutting an art class, laying off teachers or using outdated textbooks. But these are the positions that far too many schools have been placed in, and only a meaningful acknowledgment of the problem can begin the process of getting them out.
Helen Klein was a school psychologist until she retired recently to devote for time to DWT. She wrote this morning that the bottom line question we all have to ask in about what our priorities as a society are. "How much do we really care about our children and their education? They are the future of this country. We will not be competitive without a highly educated work force and our democratic principles will continue to suffer as we have fewer informed citizens. If we really want to 'make America great again' education is surely key. We have lost our way and have been turning a blind eye toward this critically important issue: Betsy DeVos is the ultimate representation of this failure. After World War II, we invested heavily in the GI Bill: the result was the most highly educated work force in the world. We could surely do so again if we had the will. Finland did so-- they decided to invest heavily in their future and decades later, their educational system is number one. Are we willing to put our hearts, minds and money behind educating our students? At this time it does not look good. The Republicans have shown their hand with DeVos: they are clearly not invested in education and have little incentive to change-- poorly educated voters suit them quite well. They’d rather spend our money on other things that please them but do little for the American people."

Ellen Lipton a former Michigan state legislator-- and later President of the Michigan Promise Zone Association-- was successful in holding DeVos at bay in her state. Blue America has endorsed her in her run for Congress. This morning she told us that "One of the best ways to change the narrative around school funding is to require statewide adequacy studies to answer the question 'What are the true costs of educating a student in my state?' When I was elected to the Michigan State House in 2009, I asked this question because two years prior, Pennsylvania had just completed its statewide adequacy study which resulted in a gradual increase in education funding. In Michigan, given the influence of the DeVos agenda, funding to our public schools had been slashed, and by 2010, many of our school districts were in crisis. As such, I introduced legislation to create a statewide adequacy study, and this became law in 2014, when I left the legislature. As we all expected, once the adequacy study was completed, we now had the backing to prove that our state was underfunding our schools by at least 50%, and more if special education costs were included. For the first time in years, a significant increase in the school aid budget has been proposed, primarily in response to the results of the adequacy study. The conversation around public school funding has dramatically shifted from 'schools just need to spend their dollars more wisely' to 'we need to put more dollars into our public schools because we have been underfunding them for so long.'"

Goal ThermometerJenny Marshall is a public school teacher in a hot electoral battle with Paul Ryan's chair of the House Education Committee, a vociferously anti-education fanatic. I have been fighting the privatization of public education," Jenny told us, "for almost a decade now. When I first became a teacher in the late 90's there was no talk about vouchers or charter schools. In the Indiana schools I taught, we were highly unionized and we boasted about having some of the best teaching universities in the nation. Those teachers often came back home to their communities and put down roots to educate the next generation. We all knew that we would not be making the kind of salaries other degreed professionals touted, but when you are a teacher you in it for the outcome, not the income. We would make a difference, but little did we know that the GOP model of educational reform was looming. In 2010 it hit like a tornado out of the blue bill after bill was filed aiming to strip union rights, create a voucher system, greatly expand charter schools and create a system of accountability that would hamstring schools into failing. Over the past decade I have seen the over regulation and systematic defunding of public education push entire school systems to the brink of collapse. It is time that we begin to fight for fully funded public schools. It is time we fight for the rights of teachers to unionize and to ensure that schools are places where both teachers and students have an positive learning environment. It is time that we treat teachers with the dignity and respect that they deserve."

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At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How much do we really care about our children and their education? They are the future of this country."

Rhetorical, Helen?

We voters, former children ourselves (and most of us never learned a damn thing in school, clearly), obviously don't give one flying fuck about "our children, their education or their future".

Kids are loud, smelly and stupid. they break stuff, torment themselves, their parents and their pets. They eat without contributing and shit without cleaning. With kids it's take, take, take, take... always taking.

We americans might care if our kids could pay us or would kiss our ass all the time... but they don't. They're just too expensive and ungrateful.

To hell with them all. Put them to work.

At 3:14 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Burton said...

Yes, the plutocrats are funding Janus. No, the Republicans are not the sole drivers of the movement to eliminate free public education. That's a truly bipartisan effort. The GOP does it with vouchers and "choice." Then the Democrats move in with standardized tests that measure nothing yet are made the legal criteria for everything from teacher salaries to whether kids get to move on to the next grade regardless of what's on their report cards. Indeed, they even determine which schools get to stay open and which get to be either "managed" by corporations or replaced by privately run "charter schools" that are not accountable for how they spend the taxpayers money.

Remember Common Core? That was a gift from Obama.

At 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"education" is a high priority with Bill Gates, for within the programs he pushes on schools is a plan to force more of his crappy software onto the American taxpayers through pretending to increase the educational experiences for today's school kids. This from a guy whose company was on the hook for monopolistic legal action.

Europe smacked him hard for this, threatening to ban his company's products unless he backed off. The US accepted his offer to "modernize" the American governmental infrastructure and now you have to use Windows to pretty much do anything with the Federal Government or you don't have access to what few services remain available to the average mere mortal. End of anti-trust legal action.

The lesson of this is still being learned.

At 6:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The American public education system has been cranking out the dumbest first-world adults for 50 years now.

You need only review the list of those we've elected since Nixon to understand the depth of our stupidity.

Making it worse is only redundant.

At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James Watt already achieved this goal. What other nation on Earth has a population proud of being dumber than dirt?


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