Will work for school supplies

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I attended public schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. So have my children. The majority of my classroom teaching was in public schools. I teach at a public university.  I am a strong advocate for public schools, and in my work I try to recruit and train pre-service teachers to teach in urban public schools.

I believe the very foundation of our democracy is reflected in offering every citizen a free and appropriate public education. We benefit greatly from a well-educated, informed electorate (which is questionable these days…but I digress).  I also firmly believe the quality of an education should not be determined by zip codes or income levels. That is not equal. Wealthy parents who want to send their children to private schools, have the prerogative to do so, but this should not have any bearing on the quality of education offered to every child in this country attending a public school. Not ever. That is not equal.

As I have so often written in my blog, I have such great disdain for charters and vouchers- because that money is taken away from the very students who need it the most.

Let me get to the point. Like many of you, I’m trying to get my head around this proposed tax scandal being considered in Washington.  As far as I can understand, this is how it will potentially impact public education:  The current bill being considered would offer incentives to private school parents while at the same time cutting the deduction for state and local taxes that fund public schools. That means the wealthiest people in this country would be able to divert their tax dollars to pay for private and parochial school tuition, possibly even before a child is born.

“It’s crazy that we’re eliminating the ability of people to deduct their state and local taxes that go directly to local services, including schools . . . while at the same time providing a $10,000 incentive for folks to send their kids to private schools,” said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director for policy and advocacy at the American Association of School Administrators, which represents public school superintendents across the country (Washington Post).

What else is in the tax bill? This from the Network for Public Education:

  • Both the House and Senate bills dramatically lower the federal deduction for state and local taxes, making it tougher to raise funds for public schools. This means you will be taxed on part of your income already taxed to support public schools.
  • The House bill also eliminates the tax deduction for student loan interest, taxes tuition waivers as income, and eliminates the small tax credit for teachers to buy school supplies.

Before the bill was passed, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said, “This change will have real and significant effects. Your vote will expand options for parents and children spending their own money, and will prioritize the education of the next generation of Americans” (Washington Post).

If I could paraphrase, “Your vote will expand options for wealthy parents spending their own money on private and religious schools, and will take from the poorest (and largest) percentage of families, further expanding the level of income inequality for the next generation of Americans”.  

One more thing this tax bill proposes is to eliminates a $250 tax deduction for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies. Really???

Rather than further pontificate on this bill, or this Congress, I am asking for your advocacy for public education. Here’s a link to voice your opinion. Please sign and share. Tell this deplorable Congress that taking funding away from the poorest children and eliminating $250 deduction for teachers is absolutely ridiculous.

These are my reflections for today.

12/8/17

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Reflections in Education

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Sunday marks one year since I began writing this blog. I started it mostly out of frustration from the presidential election, and fear of what this presidency might do to public education in the US. But I also started writing because I wanted to seize an opportunity to inform and educate people on so many issues related to public education, which is a topic near and dear to me. Since November 26, 2016, I’ve had almost 2,000 views and 1,500 visitors. That’s pretty awesome to me because I didn’t think anyone would read it.

If I look at commonalities in my posts, clearly Betsy DeVos’ name appears more than any other. She has become as notorious as the president in her disdain for public education, poor people, while promoting white privilege.

I have written about the push to grow charters and vouchers, along with the almost daily stories of corruption. Last week I wrote how the reform movement is seeping into the distraught island of Puerto Rico. Other topics include the Department of Education, DACA, civil rights, and the school to prison pipeline.

I find tremendous catharsis in writing my reflections, and I am happy with the growing number of faithful readers. Thank you for sticking with me for a year. I hope you find the blogs informative and enlightening. Perhaps leave a comment, or suggest a future blog. I think it would be great to engage in some discourse.

When you read one that resonates with you, I hope you will share it with like-minded people, or people who need to be informed. Ignorance is no excuse.

Thank you for your support. I’ll keep writing, if you keep reading.

These are my reflections for today.

11/24/17

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Bill Gates’ new project

Back in 2000, Bill Gates threw his hat into the ring of “fixing” public education. He spent millions and millions of dollars on an idea to break big high schools into smaller schools.  After a few years he abandoned this idea as the test scores of high school students in the smaller schools didn’t climb, as he had hoped.

Next came his support of aligning teacher performance evaluations to student test scores. Not only is this a highly researched and unproven idea, it became one of the conditions for any state applying for Race to the Top funding. In order to qualify, states had to connect teacher performance with student test scores. This, too failed.

Then came Gates’ idea of Common Core Standards.  While many states went ahead with the adoption of national curricula standards, test scores did not improve after implementation. This may be, in part, because they were written by non-educators, never piloted, and cost school districts millions to implement; many abandoning millions of dollars worth of textbook series’ adoptions because they didn’t align with the new standards.

This week, Gates announced he is investing $1.7 billion to “bolster public education in the United States.” He made the announcement this week, saying “Education is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging areas we invest in as a foundation,” Business Insider. Perhaps this is because his investments have not been paying off.

Where will the money go this time? Nothing specific was outlined in his announcement. However he hinted the money will be divided like this:

Roughly 60% of the funding will go toward supporting “the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions,” Gates said. A large chunk of those problems involve schools that are effectively segregated based on race.

Another 25% will go toward “big bets” — programs that could change public education over the next 10 to 15 years (no further details provided).

And 15% will address the sector of charter schools, which Gates believes are vital for helping kids with moderate to severe learning disabilities receive a high-quality education Business Insider.

First, the development of new curricula. Back in 2014, Sue Desmond-Hellman, Gates Foundation Director said of Common Core Standards, “Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning” (Washington Post).
Creating new curricula did not work the first time, and now Gates wants to spend more money trying again.  At what cost (again) to school districts?

Next, programs that could change public education.  In 2016 a scathing editorial in the Los Angeles Times called, “Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda” (LA Times).  In the editorial,

The Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run (LA Times).

And finally,  charter schools. If you are a frequent reader of this blog or any other source for news on public education, you know how that’s going. Charter scandals. More charter scandals. Even more charter scandals… Florida, Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico, Mississippi, Arizona, New Jersey, California, Louisiana, and so many others. Previous blogs I’ve written on charters are here, here, here, and here. Charters rob low-income districts of funding, and run without accountability. Another failed reformer idea.

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Mr. Gates is a smart, successful business man. Here are a few questions he and his foundation should consider: What could $1.7 billion buy low-income school districts? Teachers? Technology? Support Services? Books? Professional Development? Modern facilities? Healthcare? Clean water? Parent education? After-school programs?

He’s building a house of cards, but at least it’s with his own money.

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These are my reflections for today.

10/27/17

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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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