“Defendemos La Educación Pública”

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“Defendemos la educación pública” (We defend public education). This chant was heard in the capital building in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March. Teachers, parents, and supporters of public education rallied against a proposal to close more public schools.

If you ask Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher why she is closing an additional 283 schools this summer (last summer it was 167 schools), she would say it’s because of the declining enrollment as many students and their families fled to the US after Hurricane Maria. Keleher would cite 1 in 13 (22,350) students have left their neighborhood schools. There are 1,100 schools remaining (NPR).

Puerto Ricans have a long-standing history of resistance in the sphere of education. Lauren Lefty pointed out that since 1960’s and 1970’s, campaigns promoting community control of schools, along with the curricula focused on Black and Puerto Rican studies, with slogans, “Seize the schools, que viva Puerto Rico libre!” formed an essential part of the education reform.

But despite a history of strong resistance, “the island’s political leaders and investors are hoping the post-hurricane confusion and demobilization will allow them to push their agenda through” (Jacobin).

If you ask Mercedes Martinez, president of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation the same question, she would say Keleher is using the hurricane as an excuse to accelerate closures. “Our Secretary of Education has a plan to shut down schools. She wants to privatize and close more, but the communities have fought back” (NPR).

Martínez sees these reforms as part of a larger push to hollow out the public sector, undermine labor rights, and sell the island’s public education system to the highest bidder. “Public education in our country, like in all capitalist countries, has been under attack for many years,” says Martínez. (Jacobin).

An investigation of school closures revealed Keleher “never conducted a comprehensive analysis of the impact of closing the 283 schools she plans to close.” However, after seeing mounting opposition to her plan, she quickly backtracked saying she plans to visit every one of the 283 schools on the closure list to make a quick and hurried assessment (NPR).

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Keleher has advocated to bring charter schools and reform the educational system since her arrival to the island as an education program specialist for the DOE in 2007.  She was appointed Education Secretary in January 2017. She has argued the hurricane has given Puerto Rico an “opportunity” to reform the system, citing the changes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (Telesur).

The Puerto Rico public school system still is very rural and many of the schools are small, serving poorer communities that are some distance from urban centers. Following the hurricane, many schools became community centers and aid distribution sites and shelters. In some communities, parents and neighbors cleaned schools of debris and did repairs, even helping provide food for meals so children could return to classes (NBC News).

“No a los charters buitres!” (No to the vulture charters!).

Much like in New Orleans, the movement to privatize public education in Puerto Rico started before Hurricane Maria struck.  An IMF-backed, hedge fund–commissioned report sought school closures, with school-choice policies in 2017. However, unlike New Orleans where 7,000 public school teachers were fired after Katrina, Keleher announced there will be no layoffs or employment terminations. Those who currently work in schools slated for closure will be given new assignments in different locations.

Keleher’s plan is to start with 14 charter schools, two in each of the island’s seven provinces. “If the schools are super successful and more people want them, we should allow that up to a point” (The Intercept).

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a group of reporters “she was very encouraged by Puerto Rico’s leadership for embracing school choice after the hurricane. She praised its approach for thoughtfully “meeting students’ needs … in a really concerted and individual way” (Politico).

The proposed legislation would also allow for the creation of virtual charters in Puerto Rico – a particularly contentious type of online school, even among school choice supporters. (DeVos is a big proponent of virtual charters, and a former investor in them.)  (The Intercept).

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has exacerbated concerns he is not considering the risks of the proposed education reforms. Last week he visited an ASPIRA charter school in Philadelphia, and reported it represents an “excellent charter school model.” Interesting statement. Two months ago Philadelphia voted to close two ASPIRA charter schools for their low academic quality, as well as a host of financial scandals and mismanagement issues (The Intercept).

Diane Ravitch identified many misleading statements coming from Puerto Rico regarding school closures and the impact to the island:

  • The Government of Puerto Rico has been unable to sell any previously closed schools and is leasing 50 schools for $1 annually.
  • The Governor acknowledged there is very little cost savings from closing schools.
  • A recent Pew research study found municipalities get a fraction of the savings they budget for when they close schools.
  • The government just passed voucher and charter school legislation written by Betsy DeVos that would cost the Puerto Rico up to $400 million a year.
  • The Puerto Rico Secretary of Education argued that school closings were driven because the fiscal board required it. However, in a recent interview with Telemundo, Jose Carrion, Chairman of the Fiscal Control Board, said the Fiscal Board did not require school closings.

If Keleher is closing schools because of declining enrollment, then why is she also opening charter schools at the same time? Using New Orleans or Philadelphia as exemplar models should scream what NOT to do. We know how this story ends. We’ve seen it before.

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These are my reflections for today.

5/11/18

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Who is Charles Foster Johnson?

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Charles Foster Johnson is the pastor of the small, interracial Bread Fellowship  in Fort Worth, Texas. Much of his time is spent preaching behind the pulpit, but lately he has a different audience and a different message.

Johnson is also the executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, an independent ministry and outreach group of 2,000 pastors and church leaders across Texas. According to the website, the mission is:

To provide “wrap-around” care and ministry to local schools, principals, teachers, staff and schoolchildren, and to advocate for children by supporting our free, public education system, to promote social justice for children, and to advance legislation that enriches Texas children, families, and communities (Pastors for Texas Children).

Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children are leading what is now a nationwide charge against state legislators to stop the growth of vouchers and charters.

In a message to Texas legislators, Johnson said, “You have the right to home-school your children. You have the right to ‘private school’ your children. You don’t have the right to ask the people of Texas to pay for it…” “When you take public dollars through vouchers and charters that are connected to religious schools, you are violating the First Amendment. You are violating the religious liberty, a gift from God – James Madison didn’t make it up – that government should not be involved in religion” (Pastors for Texas Children).

Last week Johnson took his message to the state house in Indiana, where the voucher system is deeply embedded in the state’s public education system. Since 2011, more than $520 million has been dedicated to Choice Scholarships, which is the state voucher program. More than 90% of schools accepting vouchers in Indiana are faith based– primarily Catholic or Lutheran (Pastors for Texas Children).

Johnson’s platform is simple. He supports the separation of church and state. He advocates for supporting public schools, and teachers. He recognizes teachers for accepting ALL students. “Christians have an obligation to embrace public schools as a social good, especially for poor children”(Dallas News). 

Johnson haters are trying to destroy him and his message. It was reported in one Texas newspaper that Johnson “was kicked out of his denomination for his liberal views” and runs a “fake ‘pastor’ group” that’s a “radical leftist organization.”  Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland wrote to Johnson on Twitter, “You don’t care one bit about children. You care only about $$$ and perpetuating a broken system. Fraud”  (Pastors for Texas Children).

Pastors for Texas Children support a simple model whereby members talk to ministers, youth ministers and children’s ministry leaders about the “moral message of public education for all children” and urge them to connect with their local schools as supporters and volunteers, but without proselytizing (Journal Gazette).

The group urges faith communities such as churches to adopt public schools. Many groups across Texas are providing food-filled backpacks, school supplies and clothing, school facility maintenance, tutoring, mentoring and after school programs (Dallas News). 

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2014, Texas ranked 43rd in per-student spending on public education, spending $8,593, about $3,000 below the national average.

In Waco public schools, more than 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. As such, the district has come to rely on school-community partnerships like the ones Pastors for Texas Children facilitates.

While Johnson critics say he is a failed preacher, he insists he’s just going deeper into the socially provocative teachings of Jesus (Pastors for Texas Children). He advocates for public education and the separation of church and state. “Dozens of churches are involved in Waco schools, but they don’t preach or proselytize” (Reporting Texas).

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Dallas Morning News

Johnson said, “Legislators may not listen to the poor, but they sure listen to pastors” (Reporting Texas). His message is simple, and support for his message is growing exponentially.

These are my reflections for today.

2/23/18

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The Pot and the Kettle

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Last month Facebook revealed it had discovered 450 accounts and about $100,000 in ad spending Russia used during the U.S. presidential campaign. As a result, the company turned over a copy of roughly 3,000 advertisements identified on its platform as spreading covert Russian propaganda. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been investigating any connection Facebook had with Russia. The ads in question potentially caused racial, and other social political tensions during the election (ABC News) (NY Times).

If that wasn’t enough bad press, Facebook has also been scrutinized for encouraging fake news.  Rutenberg and Isaac (2017) wrote, “Facebook has faced criticism for giving too much prominence to fake news; for censoring as offensive an iconic Vietnam War photograph of a naked girl fleeing a bombing attack; and for allegations that members of its “trending topics” team, which is now disbanded, penalized news of interest to conservatives”. As such, the company has issued statements on their policy of publishing so called fake news. The policies prohibit ads that are “violent, discriminate based on race or promote the sale of illegal drugs” (Reuters)

A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing. One that sounds good, and a real one.    ~J. Pierpoint Morgan

In January, Facebook hired Campbell Brown, former host on NBC News and CNN, to lead a team to partner with organizations and journalists to work more effectively with Facebook.  “The addition of Ms. Brown comes as Facebook is struggling with its position as a content provider that does not produce its own content — that is, as a platform, not a media company” (NY Times).

What many people may not know about Brown is she is the founder of The 74. From the website, “The 74 is a non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America. Our public education system is in crisis. In the United States, less than half of our students can read or do math at grade-level, yet the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin. Our mission is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children under the age of 18 the education they deserve” (The 74).

It is no secret Brown has shown her disdain for teacher tenure and teacher’s unions, while supporting charters and vouchers. As the founder of The 74, Brown came out in full support of Betsy DeVos (The 74). Last fall she hosted a Republican Presidential Primary Debate  which was sponsored “solely by the country’s foremost group promoting vouchers, the American Federation for Children, and hosted by her then-new website, the Seventy Four” (Slate).

So much for non-profit and non-partisan.

Then this happened. The Network for Public Education wanted to purchase an ad with Facebook during what they were calling School Privatization week, instead of School Choice Week. According to Diane Ravitch, “We made it a Facebook ad. It was accepted and all was fine. Then, after a few days, Facebook refused our buys and blocked us from boosting any of our posts. We are still blocked from boosting or buying nine months later.”

Ravitch wants to know why Facebook algorithms don’t recognize ads that interfere in our elections but block criticism of School Choice? And why do Facebook algorithms ignore ads placed by Russian propagandists but block ads placed by the Network for Public Education?

Steven Singer, a teacher and public education advocate wrote a recent article called School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less. No sooner had Singer posted the article to his Facebook page, that he was told his story was blocked for one week, and he received a message saying the story “violating community standards.(gadflyonthewall). According to Singer:

This is just an examination of why charter and voucher schools reduce options for parents and students – not increase them.

It’s an argument. I lay out my reasons with reference to facts and make numerous connections to other people’s work and articles.

I don’t understand how that “violates community standards” (gadflyonthewall).

Do you see where this is going? Maybe this is a lesson in what is and what is not acceptable to Facebook. Or maybe it wasn’t acceptable to Campbell Brown because her new job, as noted above is to lead a team to partner with organizations and journalists to work more effectively with Facebook.”  To work more effectively to do what?

On Singer’s ban, Ravitch wrote, “Steven Singer was censored by an algorithm. Or, Steven Singer was censored by the Political Defense team that tries to prevent any criticism of charter schools and TFA. Singer says he’s been posting similar blogs since 2014 without incident. It’s also no secret that Zuckerberg is a big fan of charters and vouchers.

Singer says he has no idea why this particular blog was blocked, and he may never know. I’m curious as to why all of a sudden Facebook is choosing what content will be available, and what will not.

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I’m curious as to the connection through all of this. Coincidence?  I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

These are my reflections for today.

10/13/17

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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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The PBS Controversy

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PBS was in the headlines this week. Some affiliate stations are airing a controversial documentary called, “School Inc.” The film is narrated by Andrew Coulson, former director of the Cato Institute which stands in strong support of privatizing public education. Coulson, who worked hard to get this film out, died suddenly in 2016. He once said public schools were government run, and believed there had been no innovation in public education in 100 years. Coulson often spoke of how competition drives innovation, and how a free market can improve public education in America.

Coulson was a brilliant man who devoted his life to studying and advancing freedom through school choice.
Governor Jeb Bush

In the film, Coulson supports unregulated, for-profit schools, where teachers can sell their lessons to students on the Internet. He portrays miraculous charter schools that show innovation. He uses New Orleans as an example of the success of this approach. New Orleans is far from exemplar on anything related to public education. After Hurricane Katrina, nearly 5,000 teachers were fired, and charters replaced public schools. The results have been mixed-mostly unsuccessful, costly, and discriminatory.

Here’s a synopsis of the film:

This three-part documentary, produced by Free To Choose Media, reveals many unfamiliar and often startling realities: the sad fate of Jaime Escalante after the release of the feature film Stand and Deliver; Korean teachers who earn millions of dollars every year; for-profit schools in India that produce excellent results but charge only $5 a month; current U.S. efforts to provide choices and replicate educational excellence; and schools in Chile and Sweden in which top K-12 teachers and schools are reaching large and ever-growing numbers of students. With its beautiful visuals, surprising twists, and energy, School Inc. takes you on a personal, highly insightful journey.

Looking at who supported funding for this film explains a lot. According to Diane Ravitch, The Anderson Foundation is allied with Donors Trust, where donors can make contributions that can’t be traced to them.  Other contributors to Donors Trust include the Koch brothers’ and the Richard and Helen DeVos foundation (yup). Another sponsor of the film is the Gleason Family Foundation aka Center for Educational Reform which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and pro-education privatization group.

Is the controversy over this documentary because it is a one-sided film supporting charters and vouchers?  Is it that no evidence was provided to support any of the claims in the movie? Maybe it’s because there was no mention of how public school teachers are bound by high stakes testing and accountability, which limits innovation. Or that charters are selective in their admissions process so much that their classrooms do not mirror their public school counterparts?

Coulson mentions  schools in South Korea as exemplar, though there is a high rate of competition which comes at a cost for students, and high stakes testing is the main focus of their drive to success. There is also mention of merit pay for teachers who raise students’ test scores. Study after study has shown merit pay does not yield higher test scores.

In response to an email query on the airing of the film, PBS said the network tries to, “offer programs that reflect diverse viewpoints and promote civic dialogue” and that School Inc. is “an independent production that reflects the personal viewpoint of series creator Andrew Coulson” (Strauss).

PBS has “high editorial standards that ensure that the creative and editorial processes behind the programs offered on PBS are shielded from political pressure or improper influence from funders or other sources.” Yet, the organization offered no explanation when asked why the major supporters of the film are pro-charter.

The controversy is that PBS prides itself on balanced views to informing the American public, and this is not balanced; it is one-sided. Heavily funded by pro-charter and voucher foundations only gives the public a one-sided view. This is the clear message pro-charter and voucher proponents want to sell. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know where I stand on charter schools. I try to provide evidence to support my claims, as it is about presenting factual information-even if opinion is in there.

When I teach my students to write a good research paper, I tell them to find the counter-point to their paper, and address it. What would critics argue about the points in the paper? I tell them to address them clearly, which eliminates any bias and makes for a stronger paper. Often I have students present both sides to a controversial issue- and to do so in such a way the audience cannot tell which side they favor. This would have been a good idea for this film.

These are my reflections for today.                                                                                            6/24/17

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More Charter News

Here’s a compilation of recent headlines about charter schools across the country. As you read, keep in mind this is the direction the current administration is going with regards to charters and vouchers.

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The Ohio State Auditor reported a charter school that was closed due to mismanagement in 2015 owes the state $340,000. “The shutdown, for mismanagement, came after the school had received its per-pupil aid from the Ohio Department of Education for the 2015-16 school year” (Columbus Dispatch).

Gene V. Glass, one of the nation’s most distinguished education researchers, wrote of parents applying to a charter school in Arizona. Parents who registered their child early for kindergarten received a letter of acceptance but in March were asked to fill out another form where they noted  their daughter required speech therapy, which they did not indicate on the first application. They were then told the child was unaccepted and would need to reapply through an open lottery.

The principal of the Crescent Leadership Academy, a charter school in New Orleans, was fired after he was filmed wearing Nazi rings and participating in a “white genocide” tape. The students in the school are almost all African-American (The Root).

A judge in New Orleans found that Delta Charter violated the terms of the desegregation  plan. The local school board in Concordia is seeking reimbursement of millions of dollars, and wants the judge to require the charter school to cancel its enrollment and create a plan of a more inclusive and diverse student body. The plan would include offering transportation to the school which would make it possible for more black students to attend (NOLA.com).

This story from South Carolina explains how foreign investors are buying green cards by investing in charter school construction, and the middlemen are raking in money at  high interest rates. Specifically, Jared Kushner’s sister secured investments in Kushner real estate deals in Beijing, where she promised green cards to investors of at least $500,000.

Three Detroit-area charter schools are closing in June after years of low test scores. This will leave hundreds of families to find new schools before fall. Many of these families have not yet been notified (chalkbeat.org).

In California, the East Bay Times reports an audit released this week suggests Livermore’s two charter schools misappropriated public funds, including a tax-exempt bond totaling $67 million, and mainly pointed the finger at former CEO Bill Batchelor. According to the Times, the Tri-Valley Learning Corporation, “failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships; diverted, commingled and/or misappropriated public funds, including tax-exempt public bonds totaling over $67 million with various private entities; and contributed to an environment of significantly deficient internal controls” (East Bay Times).

In Indiana, four private schools with a consistent record of academic failure were approved by the State Board of Education to begin accepting publicly funded vouchers for incoming students (WFYI). “The schools  had been rated a D or F on the state’s accountability system for at least two consecutive years” (WFYI). Indiana Governor Holcomb recently signed a law allowing private schools to seek a one-year waiver from the requirement of  reporting years of academic improvement to become eligible for the vouchers. The school is being rewarded for failure.

On Thursday, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial and contested bill awarding $419 million to grow charter schools in the state. According to the Miami Herald, “The bill will make it easier for privately managed charter schools to further expand in Florida and to receive additional taxpayer funding to boost their operations. It also includes a wide range of other provisions including daily school recess for most elementary school students and $30 million in extra funding to expand a voucher program that helps kids with disabilities.”

The Florida bill was in heavy opposition from public school advocates across the state and across the country.  Superintendents, elected school board members, parents, teachers are concerned about provision in the bill forcing districts to share millions of local tax dollars earmarked for school construction. Before signing the bill, Scott said, “When I was growing up, I had access to a good quality education, and every Florida child should have the same opportunity” (Miami Herald). Define ‘good quality education’, Mr. Scott?

Diane Ravitch reported today that the New York State Senate is holding a deal to renew mayoral control unless NYC Mayor De Blasio agrees to allow more charter schools.

The Trump administration is pushing a plan to increase funding, fully support charters and vouchers – expand privatization to include vouchers, virtual schools, homeschooling, and other alternatives to public education all unregulated, and many for profit. All of this with very  little research or evidence to support their success.

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What’s happening in Washington, and across the country is disturbing. Politicians are promoting failed and discriminatory practices, and the implications of these failed practices will be felt far and wide, and for a very long time.  What’s reported in the news consistently is a pattern of fraud, misappropriation of funds, discriminatory acceptance practices, and rewards for failure.

What’s happening in your state? Where do your elected officials stand on these policies? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.

These are my reflections for today.

6/17/17

 

 

 

1.6 million poor kids lose in ED budget

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The White House released the proposed education budget this week. The budget is harmful to public education- cutting teacher training and funding to reduce class size, and ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which would affect 400,000 students. And no surprise to anyone who has been following, charter schools would receive $500 million in new funding, an increase of 50%. This is  bothersome.

Equally as disturbing is the $1.2 billion cut of the 21st Century Community Learning Center. This program provides after school academic enrichment for 1.6 million children in the US (ThinkProgress). Children who benefit from this program generally come from high poverty, under-performing schools.

According to the program’s 2014–2015 performance report:

  • 80% of parents whose children are served by after-school programs say that those programs helped them keep their job.
  • 65.2% of teachers reported an improvement in homework completion and class participation for students served by the program.
  • 56% of teachers reported improvement in student behavior (ThinkProgress).

Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation whose work focuses on educational inequality said, “Their stated reason for cutting after-school programs is the idea that there isn’t evidence quickly boosting student achievement.”

This budget is adding $500 million to a voucher program which has very little evidence to support its effectiveness (especially with regard to the positive effects on children living in poverty), while cutting programs which positively affect 1.6 million poor children and data supports its effectiveness. How does this make sense?

With data collected from 30 states, the program’s performance report shows how this program has an overlapping positive impact on the children and  families who participate. Let’s not forget the report which came out recently showing how the DC voucher program was not working.

What’s in the budget for DeVos?  “An additional $158 million for salaries and expenses in the Education Department.” A portion of this money will go for increased security for DeVos, who has contracted the U.S. Marshals Service instead of the ED’s security team (The Fader).

This budget is aligned with what Trump and DeVos have been pushing all along – the privatization of public schools. It’s interesting to note that with all the president has on his plate lately, he still has time to destroy public education and ignore the needs of so many children in this country.

DeVos and her husband are deeply rooted in their evangelical Christian beliefs. Her actions and her beliefs seem to take distinctly different positions on educating poor children. The irony is not lost on me.

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If you would like to get involved in the campaign to let your representatives in Congress know how you feel about the proposed budget: https://networkforpubliceducation.org/2017/05/act-now-stop-cuts-public-education/

These are my reflections for today.

5/20/17