Lunch Shaming

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Michael Padilla is a state senator from New Mexico. As a child, he spent many of his school days mopping floors so he could have lunch. He befriended cafeteria workers for a piece of bread or a left over sandwich. Padilla grew up in foster homes where lunch money was an exception (NPR).

Della Curry made national headlines a few years ago as a cafeteria worker in Aurora, CO who gave lunch to a child who was crying because she didn’t have lunch money and she was hungry. The act of a good Samaritan  was defined by district and federal policy as stealing. Curry was fired (NPR). Scott Simon wrote, “The school district says students from poor families can qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Curry says those programs overlook students from families who may struggle, but don’t quite qualify — if that’s the word — as poor” (NPR).

Stacy Koltiska was a cafeteria worker in Pittsburgh, PA. Last year she quit her job when she was forced to take lunches away from two students and replace them with sandwiches because the families owed more than $25. These were elementary students. High school students don’t even get the sandwich. Koltiska posted to facebook her experience with the school district. Remembering the day, she said “His eyes welled up with tears. I’ll never forget his name, the look on his face” (CBSnews)Koltiska said what these children experience is humiliating and embarrassing, and she fought for this practice of so called lunch shaming to stop.

Earlier this year, Padilla introduced legislation in New Mexico which would prevent any child from being lunch shamed. When the bill was introduced, he read about other schools and policies of lunch shaming.

Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich. Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together (NPR).

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       School districts practicing lunch shaming would use this stamp on a child’s arm.                                It says, I need lunch money.

Padilla’s bill – the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, which became law in April, requires the USDA, which administers the federal school meal program, to require all school districts have a written policy on how to deal with students who can’t pay for their lunch, or have an outstanding balance with the district. Since the introduction of this bill, Padilla has heard from lawmakers from other states who are interested. California state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D) introduced the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act.

New York took a different approach to the problem. Beginning fall 2017, free lunch is available to all 1.1 million students, regardless of income level. Seventy five percent of students in NY already qualified for free or reduced lunch (NY TImes).

The new initiative reaches another 200,000 children, saving their families about $300 a year per child. These additional lunches are not expected to cost the city more money, thanks to the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, under which schools that offer free lunch and breakfast to all children are reimbursed based on students’ poverty level. By taking advantage of the federal Community Eligibility Provision, schools can increase reimbursement for meals — thus wiping out meal debt — while they improve nutrition, eliminate stigma and cut administrative costs. (NY TImes).

New York City joins other cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit who have put an end to lunch shaming. Unfortunately there are still too many districts still employing barbaric practices of lunch shaming. Humiliating a child for being poor is a horrific practice. I applaud districts for working with district, state, and federal policies to eliminate such practices.

These are my reflections for today.

9/29/2017

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Even More Charter Scandals

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LOS ANGELES – Over the summer, I wrote about the Los Angeles School Board Elections (Philanthropy and Politics in Education).  With the financial influence of such people as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, there was a lot of purchasing and positioning charter  advocates to the LA School Board.  According to a report in the LA Times this week, School Board President Ref Rodriguez was arrested and charged with three felony counts, “conspiracy to commit a crime, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, and he faces 25 misdemeanor charges, one for each donor he allegedly reimbursed.” Rodriguez apparently cashed out on an investment for $26,000 and instructed his cousin Elizabeth Melendrez to deposit the check into an account under his parents name. The complaint in the file claims Rodriguez’s mother “then wrote checks to her son’s friends and relatives, reimbursing them for donations to his campaign” (LA Times).  His first fundraising statement indicated he had raised roughly $51,000. However, prosecutors say 25 of the donations were reimbursed, and that of all the money raised, $24,250 actually came from the candidate himself.

Rodriguez had been under investigation for two years, but apparently nobody on the board knew until last week. News of Rodriguez’s arrest sent shock waves through LA, especially school board members. As we have learned in countless other charter scandals, an indictment does not require anyone to step down from their positions. As one board member said, “To be accused of a crime does not preclude from being able to serve as a board member” (LA Times).  Opponents say this is just another example of the failure of reformers “and their billionaire allies [who] have often been allowed to act with impunity, and above the law(LA Times). If convicted, Rodriguez faces up to four years in prison.  Days after his arrest, Rodriguez stepped down as president but remains on the board.

ALBUQUERQUE –  This week Tim Keller, the New Mexico state auditor released results of an investigation into a likely fraud-embezzlement scandal with the La Promesa Early Learning Center. According to the report, “a half a million dollars was diverted from the School into a former employee’s personal bank account between June 2010 and July 2016. Keller reviewed bank statements and school records and “discovered an apparent forgery scheme that funneled over $475,000 from the School to an employee’s personal bank account. As a result, hundreds of kids were defrauded of funding that should be going to their education. (krwg.org).  The report can be found in its entirety here.

NASHVILLE – According to The Tennessean, a lawsuit was filed against RePublic, a Nashville based charter network. The lawsuit alleges that “RePublic violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending messages through a commercial auto-dialing service without the consent of recipients The Tennessean. One text read: 4th-grade parents, your child is eligible to attend Nashville Academy of Computer Science next year. Please call us at 615-873-0484 to tour our facility! The Tennessean

This is just one example of what happens when student information becomes public record. School board member Will Pinkston said, “The RePublic lawsuit underscores, in real time, the reason why our district needs to get a long overdue handle on student and family data security”The Tennessean.

ATLANTA -The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that criminal charges were filed against Christopher Clemens, the 38 year old founder of Latin Academy. Charges against Clemons include 55 counts of forgery and theft of at least $1.3 million after a Fulton County grand jury indicted him on seven additional charges.  One charge claims $800,000 theft from the school which later closed. Another charge is for thefts of more than $500,000, including money allegedly taken from Latin Grammar School and Latin College Preparatory School (AJC). Clemens is also accused of using the school’s credit card for “dinners, non work-related travel expenses, bonuses to employees, ATM withdrawals and personal entertainment at night clubs” according to the Atlanta police (CBS46).

BATON ROUGE – In an ongoing investigation, police in Baton Rouge have charged Laurel Oaks Charter School principal and founder Shafeeq Syid Shamsid-Deen with cruelty to a juvenile and false imprisonment (The Advocate). “The child told investigators that Shamsid-Dean, 31, told her to ‘go into the closet with the spiders, and if she screamed, he would turn the lights off’ (The Advocate).

One of the teachers who found the child told police that she was “weeping hysterically” when they opened the closet door. The closet contained paint, other supplies, and a small chair that appeared to have been placed there recently because of its cleanliness, police said.

When one of the teachers emailed Shamsid-Deen with objections about the punishment, he responded that the school “will work to make sure we have a proper time-out area for scholars to reset in the cafeteria,” the warrant says (The Advocate).

As a side note, Samsid-Deen has a BA in history and political science and after college,  worked for the Teach for America. He then spent three years with New Mexico’s department of education, overseeing the development of a new teacher evaluation system.

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I recognized that I preach to the choir as many of my readers are connected to public education in some way.   Please share this blog with others who may not be aware of these horrific scandals plaguing so many schools and children across the country. Ignorance is no excuse.

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These are my reflections for today.

9/22/17

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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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A new box of crayons

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Many of us remember when we were kids, one of the highlights of going back to school was getting new school supplies. There was nothing better than a brand new box of Crayola crayons. Whether it was 12, 24, 48, or if you were really lucky, you got the 64 box with a built-in sharpener. The smell. the perfectly flat heads, and the colors; brick red, periwinkle, and the ever-popular burnt sienna. New crayons were a simple pleasure, and one we revered. Much like new sneakers could make us run faster and jump higher, a new box of crayons could make us artists.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) roughly 15 million children (or 21%) are living in families with incomes below the poverty threshold. Not only can these families not afford to provide for their basic necessities, but school supplies are a luxury. A new box of crayons is for privileged kids.

In researching for this blog, I found inspiring stories about how communities are making sure kids are getting the supplies they need.

In Raleigh, NC, children from low-income families, came up with a plan to raise money for supplies, and new clothes. Two children set up a lemonade stand called “Sweet and Sour Lemonade.” On a good day, the stand can make up to $100. The money raised will be used to help members of their community get what they need to start school (KRON). 

In Rockingham, NC  the owners of Hooks BBQ and Buffet sponsored a BBQ with support from other community sponsors to give low-income children a good time and some needed school supplies. Hundreds of people attended and at the end of the evening 200 book bags stuffed with binders, pencils and crayons were given away as prizes (Richmond County Daily Journal).

Just outside Sacramento, CA community members used facebook to ask parents how much they spent on school supplies and if they knew if their child’s classroom pooled supplies. “The post generated a lengthy discussion from dozens of local parents, teachers and one board member. Most reported how much they spent on school supplies this year. Answers ranged from $25 to $100, many indicating that this cost was outside of new backpacks and clothing” In this district, 61% of  households classify as low income, so parent donations are needed and greatly appreciated. (Galt Herald online).

In Westchester County NY, community members are teaming with The Sharing Shelf to collect and distribute school supplies to children in need. Rob Astorino, Westchester County Executive said, “Since launching our backpack partnership, we have helped give vital school supplies to thousands of children in Westchester County. As always, our goal is to help as many children as we can” (Pelham Daily Voice).

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Photo courtesy of http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150715/submitted/150719388/

In Maine, members of the Augusta Elks Lodge plan a back to school giveaway of items they say are “tools kids need to have a chance to be successful in the classroom” (Kennebec Journal). The giveaway includes pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks, lunch boxes, clothing and healthy snacks.

For 25 years, Catholic Charities in Joliet, IL has a Back to School Fair for students from low-income families. This event offers pens and paper, books, medical exams and social services (The Herald News).

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Photo courtesy of  http://www.theherald-news.com/lists/2017/08/03/1230d07772f24b56a92682c691fc50f0/index.xml?page=1

I found so many stories of this kind- a wonderful demonstration of communities helping children. Each of these stories has the common thread of giving kids the tools they need to succeed. If you remember the excitement of a new box of crayons, how about the next time you see a Crayola display pick up a few boxes and take great joy in proving that excitement for a child who wouldn’t otherwise get that.

Local churches, temples or other houses of worship, the community YMCA, and Starbucks are a few places that accept donated school supplies. You could always just take them right to a school. Providing a new box of crayons to a child who can get creative and colorful, and start the school year on a positive note.

These are my reflections for today.

9/1/2017

 

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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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A microphone, an audience, and truth

Every once in a while I come a cross a story about someone doing something awesome, and it restores my faith in humanity. Here is an inspirational story about a recent high school graduate from New Haven, CT. Her name is Coral Ortiz.

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While in high school, Coral was elected to the Board of Education as a student representative, and served a two-year term. During her time on the board she questioned the inception of an all black boys charter school, saying it didn’t make much sense, and how could the school ignore Hispanic students? Rather, she suggested creating a program within an existing school to offer extra attention and help for boys of color (New Haven Independent). The charter school never got off the ground.

Coral was named valedictorian, and this is the commencement address she gave. Her story is in her words.

I would like to start by first and foremost thanking God and every person who helped us get where we are today. In particular, thank you to our friends and families who supported us as we worked towards this moment, and who are here supporting us as we graduate. I would like to personally thank my teachers, mentors, counselors and all of my peers and friends. Lastly and most importantly, my family: I could not thank my parents enough for the support they gave me.

I’ve thought a lot about this day; about what I want to say, and what message I want to send. I thought about preparing something different, but as I thought, I decided it was best to share the truth. The truth about what this day actually means. The truth about what we as a class represent.

When we were young, we were taught that we were “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Our country taught us that no matter our income or race, we would all have the same chance to achieve our dreams. We were taught that there would never be a bias against a certain group of people, and that society believes in each and every one of us. These lessons of equality were taught as self-evident. These lessons of equality have and continue to be a lie.

The reality is that despite the fact that we recite the words “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” it has been 50 years since the civil rights movement that our country has never been equal. We—a class mostly made up of minority, low income, and first generation students—have had the odds stacked against us, but here we are standing at this graduation with 3 state championships, college acceptances, and one of largest increases in graduation rates in the State, because we didn’t let the inherent inequality stop us from achieving our goals.

I would be lying if I said today is like any other day, because today is not like any other day. Most importantly, Today is not your typical high school graduation; it is more than that. Today is the day when we walk across a stage and take our diplomas, as an act of defiance to those who said we could not. We have had many students, administrators, and teachers come and go. We have had heart break; we have had our nation turn its backs on us, through supporting those who support hate. So, to those that believed my classmates and I were incapable, I have decided to leave a message for you:

To the teacher who said my classmates and I would fail and that the taxpayers wasted resources on our education -– Today, we teach you that you were wrong.

To the counselor who told me students at this school never get into prestigious colleges – we didn’t let your perception of us define who we are.

To the people who assume we are robbing their stores because of the color of our skin – don’t judge a book by its cover.

To the people who told us that only boys were good at math – Girls are more than just pretty faces.

To the people who violated our bodies – no means no.

To the people who questioned our dedication to the things we were involved in – you didn’t see our sleepless nights and three championship trophies.

To the person who believed that our socioeconomic status would define us – you do not need to be a millionaire to succeed.

To the lady on the bus who told me my peers and I would go to jail because of the high school we attended – we are still free.

To the politicians and corporations that refuse to address gun violence because it might cost them money- life has no price.

To the people who assume that our names are too ghetto to be qualified – our names have taken us farther than you could have imagined.

To the leaders who thought it was okay to make decisions that forced us to go to classes without textbooks – it is far from okay.

To the person who told us we only got into college because we were minorities – the color of one’s skin does not determine intelligence.

To the people that talked poorly about us in the newspaper – you taught us how to be fearless.

To the people who thought it was okay to experiment with our education – the math of 5 principals in 4 years just doesn’t add up.

To the people who want to privatize education – public education is the reason we succeeded.

To the politicians who choose unqualified people to affect our lives because you feel loyal to your party – you did not take a vow to serve a party. You took a vow to serve the people.

To the person who believes my classmates and I are dangerous – we are human.

To the people who told me my friends and I are not beautiful – black is beautiful.

To those who believed that my peers and I would drop out – looks like you were wrong.

To everyone who voted for hate – love wins.

I could go on for hours talking about the people who defined us as something other than successful. But today is not solely about the obstacles that were placed in front of us. Today is about the truth. The fact that there were several times people underestimated us and we were able to prove them wrong. We stand here and take our diplomas not only as an act of defiance, but also as an act of gratitude. Thankful for the adults that cared, thankful for the teacher that spent hours educating us, thankful for the parents, family members, counselors, friends, politicians, and mentors that believed we could make it to this moment.

We could not have done this without you because it takes a village to raise a child. Despite the fact that our education was treated like an experiment, lacked in resources, and was marked by the presence of people who stopped believing we were capable, we did it. In 6 years we were capable of going from a 51 percent graduation rate to a 91 percent graduation rate. Today we acknowledge the fact that our country is not equal and that we have it harder than many other people. We acknowledge that, despite this inequality, we beat the odds. We did it, and now we have the chance to not only reach our own dreams, but also to help others reach theirs.

If we were able to overcome all of these obstacles, then there is nothing that can stop us. No one that can stop us, no dream that we can’t reach, and no adversity that we cannot overcome, because in the end, they said we couldn’t, so we did, and when they say we won’t, we will. Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2017 (New Haven Independent).

With a microphone and an audience Coral Ortiz spoke truth. Much of what she said might be argued or denied by those who don’t agree or don’t want to hear her truth.  She spoke from her heart of her experiences, and the experiences of her classmates. Brava.

Coral has a bright future ahead of her. Regardless of what she studies, she will succeed. Where will she study? She’s staying close to New Haven and will attend Yale University (rumor has it she turned Harvard down).

These are my reflections for today.

7/14/17

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The School to Prison Pipeline

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  • The drop out rate for urban high schools in the U.S. is 40%.
  • 70% of prisoners in the U.S. are high school drop outs. (Coherent Education).

The connection between high school drop out rates and incarceration is known as the school to prison pipeline. Some people believe it begins with a disproportionate number of students of color who are punished, suspended, or expelled from school. “Black students are suspended or expelled three times more frequently than white students. And while black children made up 16 percent of all enrolled children in 2011-12, according to federal data, they accounted for 31 percent of all in-school arrests”(justicepolicy.org).

This is the result of a zero tolerance policy. Students affected by the zero tolerance policy begin to fall behind academically, suffer emotionally, and often give up and drop out of school. These students are given their first exposure to the criminal justice system and so begins the cycle. Other believe the cycle starts when under-performing students are pushed out of high schools because their standardized test scores would not help the school increase their overall performance. Regardless of the reason, the problem exists.

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This is the cost to the dropouts. What is the cost to taxpayers?

  • High school dropouts cost taxpayers $300,000 over the course of their lifetime.
  • The average cost to incarcerate one prisoner per year in a federal prison in 2015 was on average $32,000.
  • If all of the high school dropouts from the class of 2011 earned diplomas, the nation would benefit from an estimated $154 billion in income over their working lifetime (thinkprogress.org).

As if the importance of universal preschool has not been stated enough, one way to break the school to prison pipeline is to support preschool for all children, and educate teachers on how to use positive reinforcement with all students.  Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation found that many of the problems children have in school might begin in preschool, and have a lot to do with how white teachers view behaviors of white children differently than black children. What might be acceptable for white children, such as pushing another child down in frustration- the same action from a black student might be seen as the beginning of aggressive behavior and dealt with more harshly (thinkprogress.org).  Potter found one resolution to this is to help teachers understand what motivates children to react as they do, and address this before it becomes a problem. How important is this? Wilson (2017) found that, “preschool improves poverty level kid’s achievement and high school completion” (Coherent Education).

  • The average per pupil spending amount in the U.S. is $11,000, but can go as high as $20,000 (New York) or as low as $7000 (Utah) (census.gov).

What strikes me about the studies and data is the disparity of dropout rates and incarceration with students of color when compared to white students. If you carefully consider the amount of money spent to educate a student compared to how much it costs to incarcerate a prisoner, why aren’t we spending more time and energy ensuring all students have a quality education in this country – an education that begins with preschool?

My dad used to say figures don’t lie, liars figure. Rather than supporting the idea of strengthening our public schools to reverse these trends, the plan is to take this per pupil spending amount, funnel it towards charters and vouchers and see if that fixes the problem. The reformers figure they have the solution but the problem goes deeper than per pupil spending and charters. The problem seems to be rooted in racism and discrimination. Maybe we start there.

These are my reflections for today.

7/7/17

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