The devil you know

Last January the education world was rocked by the announcement of Betsy DeVos as the nominee for Secretary of Education. Those of us in the field were riddled with anxiety over her nomination. DeVos is the wife of a billionaire with no experience in public education. She did not attend or send her own children to public schools, and has never worked in a public school. She is, however, a strong advocate for school choice.

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Her tenure as Secretary has been tainted from the start, going back as far as her nomination hearing when she said one reason teachers should have guns is due to the threat of grizzly bears. She is the only cabinet nominee who was given the job by the vice-president’s vote to break the tie.

She visited schools where she was met with protestors. She did not have a clear understanding of the federal role in helping students with disabilities, and no clear understanding of the questionable use of test scores in public schools to measure proficiency. According to the NY Times, “Two weeks after DeVos’s hearing, more than 300 (overwhelmingly Democratic) lawmakers in all 50 states submitted a letter to Congress opposing DeVos. Two powerful national teachers unions helped mobilize thousands of calls to senators’ offices to decry DeVos.”

In July, 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against DeVos over the decision to freeze Obama’s borrower defense to repayment which helped forgive student loan debt for people whose for-profit colleges closed amid fraud accusations. Additionally, many senior positions in the department remain unfilled.

Many people in her inner circles have touted her as resilient, focused on her agenda, and unwilling to waiver on her beliefs, despite the constant resistance she has faced from day one. A big blow came when the majority Republican Congress rejected her budget proposal to fund a school choice initiative.

This week the rumor mill has been churning stories of her imminent resignation. Sources close to the Secretary say she has consistently blamed the bureaucracy in Washington as the main reason she has not been able to move her agenda. In a recent interview with Politico magazine, DeVos said the bureaucracy is, “smothering creativity and blocking innovation.”

“Morale is terrible at the department,” said Thomas Toch, the director of FutureEd, an independent education think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “I’ll tell you, in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long. I think she’s been probably one of the most ineffective people to ever hold the job” (Metro).

DeVos’ biggest downfall might be attributed to her lack of experience in government as well as public education. So aside from her agenda of turning over any policies supported by the Obama Administration, and providing more school choice-she brought nothing to Washington.

Politico notes, “When it comes to the most contentious debates surrounding America’s K-12 system — vouchers, standards, incentives, tests — DeVos had more tangible influence as a private citizen in Michigan than she does now in Washington.”

Before you get too excited about her resignation.. turns out there isn’t much to the rumor. It started on social media and came from sources lacking credibility. The source hinting at DeVos’ resignation was updated by the end of the week. “The original article stated that officials were planning for DeVos to exit the Trump administration, it has been updated to state that an insider assumes DeVos “won’t stay long” at her post as education secretary (Salon.com).

I have have been very critical of her since day one and I admit I initially felt a sense of relief at the thought she may have finally recognized she’d met her match in Washington. My relief of her pending resignation was followed by concern. As the expression goes, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” If DeVos were to resign, who would take her place? I shudder at the thought.

These are my reflections for today.

11/10/17

 

 

 

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For-profit universities

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For-profit universities are institutions operated by private, for-profit businesses that receive fees from each student they enroll. For-profit education is common in many parts of the world, making up more than 70% of the higher education sector in India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia (Shah & Nair, 2013).

Not so long ago, these institutions were touted as the future of higher education  in the US largely because they targeted non-tradition students – meaning they were drawing from a population of older people with jobs who can’t or don’t necessarily want to attend school full-time. Many schools marketed heavily in the business sector, looking to draw students from the corporate world. The selling point was at lower costs, students could attend classes online, and take as many or as few classes as they wanted. There was a boom in enrollment from 1990-2010.

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What has happened since 2010? Regulators started cracking down on the industry’s misdeeds. Here are a few examples.

For-profit colleges are far more expensive than community colleges, their closest peers, but, according to a 2013 study by three Harvard professors, their graduates have lower earnings and are actually more likely to end up unemployed. To make matters worse, these students are usually in a lot of debt. Ninety-six per cent of them take out loans, and they owe an average of more than forty thousand dollars (Surowiecki, 2015).

In an incident involving Corinthians Colleges (with over 24 campuses in the US and Canada) investigators  found  the school lied about job-placement rates nearly a thousand times. In a 2010 undercover government investigation of fifteen for-profit colleges found that all fifteen “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” (Surowiecki, 2015). Corinthians and 24 of its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

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President Barack Obama worked to stop many of the abuses of for-profit schools by cracking down on the industry-which was later blamed for pushing Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech into bankruptcy.

Enter Betsy DeVos. Her connection to for-profit institutions is deep. Recently she hired former DeVry Institute Dean Julian Schmoke who made headlines last year, as he was under fire from state prosecutors and the Federal Trade Commission. DeVry agreed to pay $100 million to students who complained that they had been misled by its recruitment pitch.

DeVos also hired Robert Eitel who now serves as a special assistant to the secretary. Eitel’s former job was as a corporate owner of for-profit colleges. He spent the last 18 months as a lawyer for a company facing government investigations-one that ended with a settlement of over $30 million over deceptive student lending (Halperin, 2017).

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Trump’s pick to be the Education Department’s general counsel, Carlos Muñiz, is a lawyer who provided consulting services to Career Education Corp. which is a for-profit education company under several investigations.

Betsy DeVos’ department is hell-bent on removing many of the Obama administration’s regulations governing the for-profit college sector. Here’s one example:

DeVos has stopped approving new student-fraud claims brought against for-profit schools. The Education Department has a backlog of more than 87,000 applications from students seeking to have their loans forgiven on the grounds they were defrauded, some of which date to the previous administration (Collins, 2017).

As a result, in July 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against DeVos over the decision to freeze Obama’s borrower defense to repayment which helped forgive student loan debt for people whose for-profit colleges closed amid fraud accusations, leaving students without degrees and with piles of debt.

Since the election last November, stocks of for-profit institutions have soared as Trump made clear he supports any plan which will slash government regulations (Cohen, 2017).

Sarah Dieffenbacher borrowed $50,000 in federal student loans to attend Corinthian’s Everest College from 2007 to 2012. While waiting for a reply to her claim to have her loans discharged, she had her wages garnished. Though a federal judge ordered the Education Department in June to rule on her application, they have not rendered a decision (Cohen, 2017).

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said in September, “It’s telling that Secretary DeVos is once again quick to blame students who were victims of fraud, including many of our nation’s veterans, rather than the predatory for-profit colleges who defrauded them” (Douglas-Gabriel, 2017).

Hard to say what DeVos loves more – unregulated charter schools or unaccountable for-profit universities.

These are my reflections for today.

11/3/17

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Education Bill Fails in Senate Committee

Betsy DeVos once said, “School choice increases equity for our nation’s students and families by placing power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children” (Washington Post).   Apparently the Senate Appropriations Committee does not agree as it overwhelmingly rejected the Secretary’s budget (29-2) last week. Not only did the committee reject the 14% cut in the budget, but members voted to increase spending  by $29 million (Washington Post).

The budget included $2 billion for Title II, a federal teacher training program, which Trump  proposed scrapping. The budget did not include a $1 billion increase Trump  wanted in funding school choice programs There was a $25 million dollar increase in funding for charter schools, but that fell far short of the $167 million proposed (Washington Examiner).

The Trump administration wanted to cut $1.2 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which helps school districts cover the cost of after-school and summer-learning programs. That, too was rejected (EDWeek).

The administration had sought a $1 billion boost for the nearly $15 billion Title I program, the largest federal K-12 program, which is aimed at covering the cost of educating disadvantaged students. The Trump administration had wanted to use that increase to help districts create or expand public school choice programs. And it had hoped to use the Education Innovation and Research program to nurture private school choice.

The Senate bill essentially rejects both of those pitches. It instead would provide a $25 million boost for Title I, and $95 million for the research program, a slight cut from the current level of $100 million.

But importantly, the legislation wouldn’t give U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team the authority to use that money for school choice. In fact, the committee said in language accompanying the bill that the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos must get permission from Congress to create a school choice initiative with the funds (EDWeek).

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Republicans and Democrats on the committee acknowledged that the bipartisan agreement isn’t the bill either side would have written on its own. Patty Murray (D-WA) said,  “While this budget is not what I would have proposed on my own, I am pleased we are continuing to invest in our students and educators and I will continue to hold Secretary DeVos accountable if she tries to undermine our public schools”  (EDWeek).

This budged was lauded by teachers unions, state governors, and other educators across the country. There is still work to be done – especially when it comes to cutting funding for Pell Grants for college students,  but this is a bipartisan step in the right direction.

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Agreement on this budget is not expected until the end of year, but there is reason to hope Congress, perhaps, is doing their homework on such important issues in education.

These are my reflections for today.

9/15/17

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Did you hear the one about _____?

While many of us are busy enjoying the waning days of summer – here's a few stories you may have missed. Maybe they were buried under so much other news dominating the front pages.

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So what if it doesn't work?  The Brookings Institute compiled data for two years on the effectiveness of voucher programs. Four studies with four different research designs came to the same conclusion: “On average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools” (Newsday).  What the study found was that students who remained in voucher programs for three to four years began to make up for what they lost academically in the first two years. What this means is after three or four years of a voucher education supported by taxpayers, students gain some ground but only end up where they would have been without them.

Florida charter dodges a bullet.  A charter school which had received a failing grade (F) for two consecutive years (and D's before that) has closed  but… wait for it…. will reopen as a private school, thus still able to siphon $170 million from the public schools to open as The Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. Administrators have already assured students and parents that they are all eligible to receive scholarships from the state of Florida (Clay Today Online).

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How much for that Governor?  Carol Burris reported this week just exactly how much money has been contributed to Governor Andrew Cuomo (The Answer Sheet)The corporation with the largest number of charter schools under the control of the SUNY Charter School Institute is the Success Academy charter chain, run by Eva Moskowitz.  Her political action committee, the Great Public Schools PAC, contributed $65,000 to Cuomo in 2011-2012 and another $50,000 to date in 2017. Success Academy Chairman Daniel Loeb, founder and chief executive of Third Rock Capital, and his wife, have directly contributed over $133,000 to Cuomo. Since 2015, Loeb has added $300,000 to Moskowitz’s PAC, and another $270,000 to other PACs that support Cuomo. That’s more than $700,000.

Sorry, kids it's just not working out.  Two homeless students in a New Orleans charter school were suspended for not having the right uniforms (Alternet.org). The two boys, ages 7 and 10 showed up wearing new sneakers their mother borrowed money to buy. The school requires solid black shoes, and when the boys showed up wearing sneakers with check marks on them, they were sent home. "Their mother covered up the checks using a black marker, which she thought took care of the problem, but the school said that wasn’t good enough and unless they were in compliance, they couldn’t come back to school" (Alternet.org).

Show me the money. In the City of Brotherly Love is a charter school call Khepera in North Philly has a pretty bad track record. According to Philly.com Khepera has had some problems:

  • Closed early last year because of financial problems.
  • Teachers are still owed back pay.
  • The landlord has gone to court to kick the school out of its building because of unpaid rent.
  • The company that provides special-education teachers, substitutes, and counselors has filed suit, alleging it is owed $90,000 for its staffing services.
  • Khepera failed to make $1 million in payments to the state teachers’ pension fund.
  • The school failed to submit annual financial reports for 2015 and 2016, as required by state law.

The School Reform Commission (SRC) voted in June to begin the process of revoking Khepera's charter. While the SRC considers the fate of the charter, the school will still receive a $400,000 payment from the School District for the academic school year.

It costs how much?  Politico reports this week that the U.S. Marshals Service will charge the government almost $8 million to protect Secretary DeVos for the next six months.  How does that compare? The past four Education secretaries have been protected by the Education Department’s own small security force.

And finally…

Wait, what???  According to Matt Barnum, in 2015-16 something like half of New York City teachers were evaluated in part, by tests in subjects or of students they didn’t teach. While it may only be 53% of the teachers, that number is actually lower than in previous years (City and State).

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These are my reflections for today.

8/11/2017

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Hide and Seek

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It has been a few weeks since I’ve written about the Secretary of Education. She hasn’t been seen or heard from much since she dropped a few bombs in DC. If you want to ask Mrs. DeVos what she’s been up to, you’ll have to find her first. She might be hiding and this might be why:

First, the attorneys general of 18 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia are suing the Department of Education over a rule to protect student loan borrowers that was supposed to go into effect July 1. According to the New York Times, “An existing federal law allows borrowers to apply for loan forgiveness if they attended a school that misled them or broke state consumer protection laws. Once rarely used, the system was overwhelmed by applicants after the wave of for-profit school failures. Corinthian, a for profit school collapsed and led to more than 15,000 loan discharges, with a balance of $247 million. ITT Tech, another for-profit with nearly 40,000 students, shut down in 2016.”

Ms. DeVos froze Obama Administration rules that would have shifted some risk back to the institutions by requiring schools at risk of closing to put up financial collateral. They would also ban mandatory arbitration agreements, which waived students’ rights to a class action lawsuit in cases of misconduct. According to the Los Angeles Times, “No one should be surprised that the Trump administration is going after federal safeguards that protect consumers at the expense of corporate profits.”

Second, Superintendents across the country are speaking out against the deep cuts in Medicaid as it will deeply impact low-income students in a loss of healthcare and special education services.

Third, according to NPR, On July 1, interest rates on federal student loans will cost 4.45%, up from 3.76 %. Graduate Stafford loans will  cost 5.31 % to 6 %, while PLUS loans are up to 7% from 6.31 %.

Fourth,  the budget proposes to cut $143 billion from federal student loans.

And a few more

  • DeVos announced an intention to appoint A. Wayne Johnson, who runs a private loan refinancing company, as the new head of the Office of Federal Student Aid. (Isn’t that like asking the fox to watch the hen house?)
  • She has loosened the rights on civil rights investigations, including issues around transgender students as well as sexual assault at institutions of higher education.
  • She revoked guidance that protected transgender students.
  • And finally, she cut $76 billion by creating one plan for new borrowers to pay their loans based on their income. This would require borrowers to pay a larger share of their income each month than most plans available today.

The Chronicles of Higher Education reported on DeVos’ silence since these devastating  proposed changes were announced.

“There has been a public silence from Ms. DeVos. It has been several weeks since her last open news event. There were two events listed as open on Ms. DeVos’s schedule in the middle of June, but when a reporter inquired about them, he was told they had been incorrectly posted by the department’s web team. The schedule was updated to reflect that the events were closed. There are no public events listed on the secretary’s schedule this week.”

Recently, she said, “My first priority is to protect students”. What students? These proposed cuts impact those who need government assistance the most in order to earn a college degree. I don’t see how students are protected in any of these cuts. Back in the day, those who attended college were wealthy white landowners. Is this the direction we’re heading? Those who are privileged can go to college and those who own loan companies, and open for profit schools are protected from cheating anyone who attends their school and borrows money to do so? That protects investors-not students.

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DeVos finally turned up this week in Denver to speak to one of her favorite conservative groups – the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC).  ALEC is a business-backed group that writes conservative legislation at the state level and advocates for limited government. Her connection to ALEC is deep but not surprising. Her family’s organization, the American Federation for Children, is a financial contributor to ALEC. Her father in-law received ALEC’s “Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award” in 1993, for his promotion of market-based school reform.

DeVos was met by hundreds of Denver teachers, students and administrators who walked in protest from the capitol to the Hyatt where ALEC was meeting. The protesters argued the expansion of vouchers and charters, as they will ultimately destroy public education.

Two recent studies from credible universities came to similar conclusions regarding the success of voucher programs:

The first study, a joint project from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance and the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project, found that voucher programs did not produce improvement on students’ test scores.

A second study examined the statewide school voucher program in Indiana, one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the U.S. The unpublished study from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Kentucky, which is pending peer review, found that Indiana’s 34,000-student program had a negligible effect on educational performance for children in third grade through eighth grade from 2011 to 2015.

According to NPR, “Her rhetoric was more fiery than it’s been since she assumed her post, as she talked about a “fight”, a “struggle,” and being on the “front lines”. She invoked Margaret Thatcher’s famous line that “there is no such thing” as “society” (NPR).

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She argued this tweet from the AFT. “They have made clear that they care more about a system – one that was created in the 1800s – than about individual students. They are saying education is not an investment in individual students. And they are totally wrong. What, exactly, is education if not an investment in students?”

Back in March, DeVos criticized Denver Public Schools for a weak agenda when it comes to school choice. She said Denver does not provide parents with a voucher program, which the state Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional. The irony here is that her speech  in March was to the Brookings Institute in Washington, which ranked the DPS school choice system as top in the nation for the second straight year this year. She doesn’t know who she’s talking to or what she’s talking about.

ALEC creates a yearly report card on the success of states’ public schools. Criteria for grading includes the level of access to charters and vouchers. Massachusetts and Connecticut are at the top of the list for student performance, but earned a C or C- because of voucher and charter accessibility. The top two states receiving A’s for this are Florida and Arizona, two states with many failing public schools, and a growing number of questionable charters. A successful model employed in these two states (and so many others) which increases student performance gets a C, and states failing miserably but encourage charters and vouchers get A’s.

She argues that her ideals and those shared by her family and other billionaire philanthropists support public education, when their actions support their lack of understanding of public education, and the consistent lack of a model of success for the very ideas they’re supporting. Look at what she’s done in the last month. These decisions do not support public education, nor do they support students.

Meanwhile, back in Washington…

At an event on Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said school voucher programs were the “slightly more polite cousins of segregation” (USA Today).

These are my reflections for today.

7/22/17

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Philanthropy and Politics in Education

According to the Center for Public Education, there are several roles of every board of education.

  • School boards look out for students. Education is not a line item on the school board’s agenda—it is the only item.
  • When making decisions about school programs, school boards incorporate their community’s view of what students should know and be able to do.
  • School boards are accessible to the public and accountable for the performance of their schools.
  • School boards are the education watchdog for their communities, ensuring that students get the best education for the tax dollars spent.

The makeup of a school board can heavily influence student achievement. Boards that govern districts with high student achievement scores behave quite differently from boards that govern districts with low student achievement score. “The practices of effective boardsmanship, as detailed by the assessment, have a strong correlation with high student achievement(NSBA).

Much like Congress, if there is a balance, then there is some level of democracy, and decisions can be made fairly and with the best interest of the community – especially the students. In a perfect world, this would be the case, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

Last month in Los Angeles, charter supporters took control of the school board by voting in hand-selected and financially supported candidates. This action will lave long term implications to the nation’s second largest school district, as charter advocates can now advance their agenda of opening more unregulated (and for profit) charter schools, draining the public schools of millions of dollars.

According to the LA Times, this was the most expensive school board election in US history, with the charter advocates far outspending their rivals. Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO of Netflix donated $5 million to the campaign in support of charter advocates. Hastings is a strong proponent of charter schools.  He once serve as the California State Board of Education President- he served from 2001-2005. In a speech this week, Hastings said he “hopes to see the majority of children in the nation’s public schools enrolled in charter schools, something he said he is committed to supporting even if it takes decades to accomplish” (Ed Source).

Along with Hastings, other billionaire philanthropists gave a total of $17 million to the campaign. Eli Broad, another philanthropist and charter supporter donated heavily.

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This week one of the newly elected board members, Nick Melvoin, 31, former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school teacher said he is not about promoting more charters. Rather he wants to see what is working in public schools and promote those ideas, thus strengthening the public sector (EdSource). Melvoin said the election was more about best practices, not advancing charters. I wonder if Hastings and Broad would agree?

In New York City, the largest public school district in the country, Mayor de Blasio pleaded his case this month to keep control of the public schools with his office. Control of the schools has been with the mayor since 2002 when NY voted to remove the school board, and place responsibility for the schools with the mayor-then Michael Bloomberg. At the time of the decision, there was bipartisan agreement that the old system of the school board was rife with corruption.

The negotiating point for legislators last week was charter schools. Senate Majority Leader John Flannagan wanted approval of mayor control in exchange for more charters. According to WYNC,  Flannagan noted in a statement: “Denying charters the ability to grow and preventing parents’ ability to choose would shut the door on 20 years of proven gains in academic achievement.”  I sure would like to see data to support this claim.

Flannagan said 50,000 more kids are waiting to get in to charter schools and extending mayoral control should be linked to increasing the number of charter schools (WYNC). What he doesn’t say is that reverting to the old school board system will cost the city in excess of $1.5 billion over 10 years (WYNC).

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Late this week, the NY State Assembly passed an omnibus bill with a two-year deal for mayoral control ending the arm wrestle over control of the nation’s largest school system and its 1.1 million students. Assemblyman Charles Barron said, “That was a real victory for the Assembly” (NY Times).

Clearly the motivation in Los Angeles to replace board members with pro-charter advocates is to grow charters. The LA school board was bought by wealthy people who want to push their agenda. In New York there was a clear plan to increase the number of charters, but the Mayor was not on board. So, I guess if you don’t like the rules, change them. Or if you don’t like the school board, buy another one.

Set aside the philanthropy and politics for a moment. For the players in this game, charters are an investment. Is it for financial gain? Control? Is it to prove a point- maybe that unions really are the enemy? Is anyone really thinking about the children?

Diane Ravitch wrote about how corporate privatizers claim that turning public money over to operators of privately-managed contract schools is the “civil rights issue of our time.” I would agree this is a civil rights issue, but not in the way they do.

The NAACP also sees this as a civil rights issue. Last summer the NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools until important issues of accountability were addressed and corrected.

While we might agree on the need for better schools in urban areas, the answer is not unregulated schools with unlicensed teachers who support unethical admissions and discipline practices.  Charters are opening in low-income urban areas, not high-income suburban areas. When the players (philanthropists, politicians) start talking about turning wealthy white suburban schools into charters-staff them with inexperienced and unlicensed teachers, then this will be a very different conversation.

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There is so much transparency in these decisions. I only wrote about LA and NYC. This is happening to school boards all over the country. The privatization movement is gaining momentum, and with support in the White House and the Department of Education, the push is starting to snowball.

We need fair and balanced school board elections which yield fair and balanced decisions. We need billionaire philanthropists to stop monopolizing school boards, schools, teachers, students and parents. They have an agenda – and it is transparent.

These are my reflections for today.

7/1/17

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Trinity Lutheran decision

This is an addendum to I story I’ve been following. Back in April I wrote The floodgates about a case in the Supreme Court. The case was Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.  Trinity asked for state funding to resurface a preschool playground. The state of Missouri said no because there is a provision in the state constitution prohibiting public money from being given to religious organizations and houses of worship.

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The Supreme Court had to decide whether this conflicts with the First Amendment, “specifically whether Missouri was violating the free-exercise clause by preventing Trinity Lutheran from participating in a secular, neutral aid program” (The Atlantic).

Yesterday, the court voted 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran. In his decision, Justice John Roberts said the state of Missouri “cannot deny public funds to a church simply because it is a religious organization” (The Atlantic). The precedent for the decision falls under the Blaine Amendment (1875)-so named after Representative James Blaine. The Blaine Amendment, which did not pass in the Senate and was so adopted in 38/50 states says, “no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools . . . shall ever be under the control of any religious sect” (Huffington Post).

While the Trinity case may seem mundane enough, it certainly has caught the attention of many people as may set a precedent, and so narrows the separation of church and state. This decision also changes the landscape for vouchers being used public schools – an idea DeVos is already selling.

Meanwhile back at Trinity Lutheran, the state had already reversed its decision and the playground was resurfaced using state funding. So much for that.

These are my reflections for today.

6/27/17

 

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