Category Archives: Education

Has School Choice Been All It Set Out to Be?

Source: Alan Greenblatt, Governing, May 2016

School choice is having its glass-half-full moment. On the one hand, the various choice options — vouchers, charter schools, home schooling, tuition scholarship programs, open enrollment within districts — have grown enormously over the past decade. Once choice is available, there’s no denying its popularity. Waiting lists for charter schools are common. … On the other hand, proponents of choice say that the better they do in terms of improved test scores, high enrollment and reducing long waiting lists, the more pushback they encounter. People who run and support charter schools contend that traditional school districts and teachers unions use every tactic at their disposal, from political and legal battles to simply hogging school buildings and buses, as part of the ongoing effort to beat them down. … As to measuring the record of accomplishment, it’s not a simple matter. Choice supporters and opponents continually accuse the other side of cherry-picking numbers that overstate the benefits or drawbacks of their own approach. It’s easy to find a study showing that vouchers, for instance, have no effect on test scores, or that kids in voucher programs end up doing worse in reading or math. You can also find a study that demonstrates the exact opposite. … In response to complaints that people have already lost faith, public school supporters respond that charters and other choice options are being pushed by big-money foundations, as well as corporations out to make money by siphoning off per-pupil spending. Programs such as ESAs are seen as giveaways to parents who would be sending their kids to private schools anyway. Private schools and charters can “cream” off their choice of applicants, while old-fashioned neighborhood schools — which have to keep their doors open to all comers — are left to deal with a population of less-motivated parents and often struggling students. …

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State money helping wealthier Arizona kids go to private schools
Source: Rob O’Dell and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, The Republic, February 24, 2016

Two years after state lawmakers granted children from poor-performing schools the right to attend private schools at taxpayer expense, most children using the program are leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts, an analysis by The Arizona Republic has found. … Lawmakers are now considering allowing all public-school students to use ESAs by 2020. The Senate voted 17-13 Monday to expand the program to all public-school students. The House of Representatives was scheduled to debate on the bill Wednesday morning but held it, a sign that it might not have the votes needed to advance.

Divisive Arizona school plan advances in Legislature / Bills divert more funds from public to private schools
Source: Alia Beard Rau and Karen Schmidt, The Republic, March 11, 2014

The Arizona Legislature will soon decide whether to dramatically expand the state’s nation-leading efforts to give parents control over where to spend their child’s taxpayer-generated education funds. The state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program was, at the start of this school year, scheduled to disperse $10.2 million to 761 students. If expanded as proposed, the 3-year-old program could within the next five years apply to more than 28,000 students and strip more than $374 million a year from public and charter schools, based on the current average cost….

Court backs Arizona on use of taxpayer-funded ‘scholarships’ to send kids to private schools
Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, October 1, 2013

State lawmakers are free to give parents what amounts to a voucher of public funds to educate their children at any private or parochial school they want, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled today. In a unanimous ruling, the judges rejected arguments by the Arizona Education and others that providing funds that wind up in the hands of religious schools violates a state constitutional provision barring public funds from being used for religious worship or instruction. Judge Jon Thompson, writing for the court, said the fact that it is the parents who decide the use of the funds, designated as “empowerment scholarship accounts,” makes who ultimately gets the dollars irrelevant.

WKU staff respond to news of new employer

Source: Monica Kast, WKU Herald, May 5, 2016

Employees who will be moving to employment by Sodexo will receive a pay increase, and the starting wage will now be $10.26, one dollar more than the current starting wage. Sodexo will also reimburse employees who want to take courses that will further their career path, according to Russell. Despite the welcome of Sodexo and assurances from administration, not every employee is confident that the change is for the best. Brenda Whitaker has been an employee at WKU for 26 years. She currently works as a BSA on campus. Because she is near retirement, she will remain employed by WKU, but she said she didn’t agree with moving others to Sodexo. … At the forum, BSA employees were able to voice some of that negative feedback. Most concerns were about retaining vacation days and potentially losing tuition benefits that are currently offered to employees. Yost said employees would begin acquiring vacation and sick days with Sodexo on August 1. “Holidays will be determined by Sodexo USA management,” Yost said. “Under Sodexo USA, employees will be awarded a beginning vacation leave balance based upon their years of service at Western Kentucky University. Effective August 1, 2016, employees will accrue vacation and sick time, both of which will be based upon Sodexo USA’s accrual schedule and their years of service to Western Kentucky University.” …

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Frustrations and concerns voiced at WKU budget cut forum
Source: Aaron Mudd, Bowling Green Daily News, April 29, 2016

Frustrations and concerns about a planned budget cut of more than $6 million at Western Kentucky University brought students and staff together for an open forum Thursday. … On Wednesday, the university announced a plan to spread out a $6,039,200 budget cut in fiscal year 2017. The cut was possible by trimming from 24 different areas, Ransdell said, and it had to be done without threatening filled faculty positions, credit-bearing academic programs and core student services.  Some programs were consolidated, reduced or eliminated, Ransdell said. About six current WKU employees will lose their jobs, he said.  Ransdell said a move to transfer 202 building services and grounds employees to private contractor Sodexo will save 25 jobs and about $750,000. A 48 percent employer contribution increase to the Kentucky Employees Retirement System is a notable cost to WKU. … Compared to the 10 vacation days WKU provides in December, Sodexo provides three days. Bryan Russell, WKU’s chief facilities officer, said the university will buy out any unused vacation time when the employees transfer to Sodexo in July.  Despite the budget cut, WKU is also phasing in a 3 percent salary increase for all full-time employees between July 1 and July 1, 2017. …

WKU Building and Grounds Employees Voice Concerns in Budget Forum
Source: Lisa Autry, WKU Public Radio, April 28, 2016

The president of Western Kentucky University says building services attendants will get “pretty similar” benefits when their work is transferred to a private contractor. … Under the change, employees will get fewer sick days. That’s a concern for Paul Barbour, whose wife works as a BSA.  Barbour says she’s taken a lot of time off because of ailments related to a car accident. Barbour fears the Sodexo will put productivity over people. … Sodexo is also expected to offer less paid vacation time around Christmas time.  Employees will get three days off in December compared to the 10 days they were given by WKU.   No BSAs will lose their jobs.  They’ll also receive a one dollar per hour raise when they transfer to Sodexo.

WKU plan privatizes 202 staff positions
Source: Jacob Dick, WKU Herald, April 27, 2016

WKU custodial, building services, groundskeeping and waste management employees working on the Bowling Green campus will be employed by a private company starting in August to save money in the 2016-17 budget. On Wednesday, university administration informed faculty and staff that Sodexo, a private employment management service, would be taking over as employer for an additional 202 WKU workers. The change is supposed to save $745,000 for the next fiscal year. … Chief Facilities Officer Bryan Russell confirmed at a media briefing Wednesday that 18 staff with 20 or more years of employment would remain under WKU. … Russell said employees hired at the starting rate of $9.26 would receive that raise, and staff who were paid more than that amount will have their salaries adjusted with smaller raises. Russell also said children of staff currently enrolled in the university will still receive tuition discounts for attending WKU. Staff will receive discounts until 2017. … WKU has had a contract with Sodexo for 20 years, and the contract will be amended at the end of the fiscal year to include additional staff.

WKU ground and service employment to be privatized
Source: WKU Herald, April 27, 2016

WKU custodial, building services, landscape and waste management employees working on the Bowling Green campus will no longer be employed by the university effective this August. On Wednesday, employees were informed that their employment with the university would end in July and that a private employment management service, Sodexo, would be taking over as their employer. … It continued to state that areas within the Department of Facilities Management, Housing and Residence Life and Downing Student Union would not be impacted.

‘Walk-Ins’ Held At Boston Schools To Protest Budget Cuts, Charter School Impact

Source: CBS Boston, May 4, 2016

Students, parents and educators from several schools in and around Boston held “walk-ins” before school on Wednesday to protest budget cuts and the allocation of money to charter schools. Demonstrators rallied outside schools before classes began, holding signs and chanting. Leading up to the protest, organizers claimed that charter schools will “siphon off $119,405,100 in funds that would otherwise stay in the Boston Public Schools, and be used to improve learning for all students.” … WBZ-TV’s Anna Meiler reported that students and teachers from 50 Boston schools and 80 cities total participated in the walk-ins. … Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker proposed a bill that would allow the state to add up to 12 new or expanded charter schools each year.

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The Great Diversion
Source: Gabrielle Gurly, The Nation, April 7, 2016

Boston’s majority-minority public school system is the largest in the state, with nearly 57,000 students. The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the sole authorizer of charter schools, recently approved the addition of more than 1,000 seats in several of the city’s existing charter schools. That expansion means that the district will have to transfer millions more in new charter-school tuition payments, on top of the nearly $120 million that already flows from district schools to the publicly financed, independently run charter schools. Supporters of the Bay State’s traditional public schools have launched a new fight against a bifurcated system that they argue steers public dollars away from district schools across the commonwealth. … Massachusetts currently has 81 charter schools. (Current state law caps the permitted number at 120.) Of the more than 950,000 public school students in the state, 40,200 (4.2 percent) attend charter schools. A school district’s payments to these schools are designed to not exceed 9 percent of its net expenditures. In the state’s poorest-performing districts, the amount cannot exceed 18 percent. But that could change with the ballot initiative, and Massachusetts’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, is a big supporter of charter-school expansion. … According to a Massachusetts Teachers Association statewide analysis of fiscal 2016 net tuition payments to charter schools, traditional public school districts are losing nearly $409 million to charters, out of total net school spending by these districts of about $11.6 billion.

School board trustees to mull custodial outsourcing

Source: The Gazette-Virginian, May 4, 2016

Halifax County School Board will discuss bids from custodial outsourcing companies when it meets at 6 p.m. Thursday for a work session in the School Board Conference Room in the Mary Bethune Office Complex in Halifax. The board agreed to receive bids until Wednesday at their last meeting after they amended and approved a request for proposal. … After ED-4 Trustee Joe Gasperini told Jennings that he felt the school board should decide if employees were going to stay with the school system, Jennings told the board he wrote the RFP so that companies would give prices based on if they took the employees or if they remained employees of the school system.

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Schools now taking custodial outsourcing bids
Source: Ashley Hodge, Gazette-Virginian, April 13, 2016

Halifax County Public Schools will receive bids from custodial outsourcing companies through May 4 after Halifax County School Board members amended and approved a request for proposal at their meeting Monday evening in Halifax. The RFP was unanimously approved by a 5-0 vote with ED-3 Trustee Kim Farson, ED-7 Trustee R. K. “Dick” Stoneman and ED-1 Trustee Orey Hill absent from the meeting. … The RFP states the first contract will be for 12 months from June 1, 2016 through June 1, 2017 with the school system having the option of extension annually up to an additional five years. Extension will be based upon satisfactory performance of the contractor. The RFP initially said sealed proposals would be accepted until May 13, but ED-6 Trustee Fay Satterfield suggested moving the date to May 4, so bids could be reviewed prior to the board’s May 9 meeting. … Jennings said he wrote the RFP so that companies will give prices based on whether the employees become company employees or if they remain employees of the school system.

Group gives proposal on outsourcing custodial services for schools
Source: Doug Ford, Gazette-Virginian, February 1, 2016

Halifax County School Board trustees decided to seek more information on a possible outsourcing of services after listening to a presentation by GCA Services at its work session in Halifax on Friday. … GCA serves approximately 3,000 schools in 48 states, including 17 partners in Virginia and with a 96 percent contract retention rate. … Halifax County Public Schools currently employs 50 custodians and 18 maintenance workers, all vested in the VRS system. Operations and maintenance accounts for approximately 8 percent or $5,271,184 of the current budget for Halifax County Public Schools, and GCA, if implemented would save the school system approximately $958,240 its first year, not including VRS payments, according to GCA representatives. …

Exposed by CMD: KIPP’s Efforts to Keep the Public in the Dark while Seeking Millions in Taxpayer Subsidies

Source: Lisa Graves, PR Watch, April 28, 2016

Charter schools are big business, even when they are run by “non-profits” that pay no taxes on the revenue they receive from public taxes or other sources. Take KIPP, which describes itself as a “national network of public schools.” KIPP (an acronym for the phrase “knowledge is power program”) operates like a franchise with the KIPP Foundation as the franchisor and the individual charters as franchisees that are all separate non-profits that describe themselves as “public schools.” But how public are KIPP public schools? Not as public as real or traditional public schools. New documents discovered on the U.S. Department of Education’s website reveal that KIPP has claimed that information about its revenues and other significant matters is “proprietary” and should be redacted from materials it provides to that agency to justify the expenditure of federal tax dollars, before its application is made publicly available. So what does a so-called public school like KIPP want to keep the public from knowing? …

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Do KIPP Schools Boost Student Achievement?
Source: Philip M. Gleason, Christina Clark Tuttle, Brian Gill, Ira Nichols-Barrer, Bing-ru Teh, Education Finance and Policy, Early Access, Posted Online November 14, 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is an influential and rapidly growing nationwide network of charter schools serving primarily disadvantaged minority students. Prominent elements of KIPP’s educational model include high expectations for student achievement and behavior, and a substantial increase in time in school. KIPP is being watched closely by policy makers and educators as a possible model for urban education, but existing studies of KIPP’s effects on students have been subject to methodological limitations, making them less than conclusive. We measure the achievement impacts of forty-one KIPP middle schools across the country, using propensity-score matching to identify traditional public school students with similar characteristics and prior-achievement histories as students who enter KIPP. We find consistently positive and statistically significant impacts of KIPP on student achievement, with larger impacts in math than reading. These impacts persist over four years following admission, and are not driven by attrition of low performers from KIPP schools.

A Quarter-Life Crisis for Public Charter Schools?

Source: Greg Richmond, President and CEO, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Huffington Post, May 2, 2016

Charter schools celebrate a milestone this year: 25 years. In our nation, 6,800 charter schools serve nearly 3 million students. Many of these schools are achieving extraordinary results. But instead of celebrating the contributions made by charters to public education over 25 years—and there is plenty to celebrate—I’d rather focus on what must change. …

… Let’s start with Tolerating Bad Actors. The biggest flaw of charter proponents is that we have tolerated bad schools and con artists for too long. For example, some for-profit companies running charters engage in self-serving real estate deals, hide their financial practices from public view, claim they own assets purchased with public monies, and spend large sums to influence state legislators. Then there are virtual schools: most perform terribly yet continue to operate. We should not tolerate these behaviors. …

… For too long, charter school operators and proponents have had too little concern for how charters impact other public schools and students in our communities. … This has produced some schools that will not enroll students in upper grade levels, others that counsel children out mid-year, and even some that tell families of students with disabilities that their school cannot serve them. Some charters have relied on other public schools to be the safety net. …

… Let’s be real: this is a movement led primarily by white middle-class and wealthy individuals, primarily serving low-income communities of color. I am one of those white, middle-class people; I worry that my colleagues and I don’t truly understand the experiences and values of the communities our schools serve. Too often, we’ve resisted including their voices in our organizations. This extends to teacher voices. Al Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers and the original proponent of charters, saw them as a way to empower teachers. In fact, the nation’s first charter school law—25 years ago—required a majority of a charter board to be teachers at that school. …

Money lost to charter schools angers traditional education officials

Source: Evan Goodenow, Oberlin News Tribune, May 2, 2016

Local school districts are demanding a refund from the state. Districts across our community newspapers’ coverage area lose about $5,800 per student in state taxpayer money when students leave for charter schools, more than twice what districts receive in state aid per student. … Oberlin, which lost about $2.6 million between 2000 and last year, is expected to pass a resolution May 24 seeking a refund from the Ohio Department of Education and asking the legislature to directly fund charters to eliminate the disparity. … If the resolution passes, Oberlin will join the Amherst, Elyria, Firelands, Keystone, North Ridgeville and Sheffield/Sheffield Lake school districts in seeking refunds and funding formula changes. The Wellington Schools are considering passing a resolution May 17, said Wellington Superintendent Dennis Mock. The resolutions seek a combined $82 million, according to Greg Ring, superintendent at the Educational Service Center of Lorain County. …

Battles in St. Louis Over School Privatization and Segregation

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, Alternet, April 30, 2016

The St. Louis Public Schools and the St. Louis NAACP recently filed litigation in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against the Missouri Board of Education, claiming that state officials have diverted millions of dollars to charter schools over the past decade, in violation of a court-ordered desegregation settlement. The litigation alleges that those funds should have been allocated to traditional public school desegregation programs. Public school officials want to see more than $40 million returned to the district’s coffers. But charter school advocates argue that giving back those funds would harm their students and undermine school choice in Missouri. … The legal dispute hinges on whether public charter schools are entitled a portion of the revenues raised from a local “desegregation tax.” As part of a 1999 federal settlement, St. Louis voters approved a two-thirds of 1-cent sales tax to fund district desegregation programs. … But in 2006, Missouri revamped the state education funding formula to allocate local tax revenues to charter schools on a per-pupil basis. The desegregation sales tax was included in the new local funding calculation. St. Louis public school district officials, who did not learn that desegregation tax funds were going to charter schools until two years later, argue that those funds should be allocated only to traditional public schools, not to charters. …

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St. Louis Public Schools file $42 million suit against charter schools
Source: Chris Regnier, Fox 2 Now, April 20, 2016

A federal court battle over whether St. Louis Public Schools can recover millions in local sales tax revenues paid to charter schools in the city could put the future of the charter schools in jeopardy. … The suit filed against the Missouri Board of Education, on April 11th, focuses on the millions of dollars that Charter Schools receive each year from a sales tax that voters approved in 1999. The tax funds court ordered desegregation programs in the St. Louis Public School District. When Charter Schools started in 2000, proceeds from the desegregation tax weren`t used to fund their operations. But since 2006, the state has been sending revenue from the tax to charter schools. The plaintiffs argue that directing revenue from the tax away from city schools violates the desegregation settlement agreement. But the state argues that the distribution of the funds does follow the desegregation agreement. The suit is asking the state to not only return the $42 million that has gone to charter schools since 2006 but also an additional $8.8 million expected to go to Charter Schools for this current school year.

Opinion: The Union War on Charter-School Philanthropists

Source: Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2016

This $35 million donation was “part of a coordinated national effort to decimate public schooling,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in an April 13 article at the Huffington Post. “Wealthy donors and their political allies,” she warned, are “pushing unaccountable charter growth in urban centers while stripping communities of a voice in their children’s education.” … Today, 25 years after Minnesota passed the first charter-school law, nearly three million students attend about 7,000 charter schools in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Yet over one million students remain on charter waiting lists, meaning that additional schools can’t come soon enough. And because charters nationwide receive, on average, 72 cents for every dollar that district-run schools do, philanthropy is vital to expansion. Philanthropists have always contributed to their alma maters and other civic institutions, but opportunities to support public education have been limited. Donors want their contributions to have measurable results, and few successful businesspeople would voluntarily send money to poorly performing district bureaucracies. Mark Zuckerberg learned this lesson the hard way when much of his $100 million gift to public schools in Newark, N.J., was frittered away. …

Hundreds attend N.J. school district meeting to fight outsourcing

Source: Brittany M. Wehner, NJ.com, April 29, 2016

A South Jersey school district has decided to seek bids for services that could replace staff, school board officials said Thursday night. Due to a deficit in the budget, Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District administration is being forced to find a way to fill the gaps. One possibility is job cuts, then outsourcing, or bringing outside services into the district. Woodstown-Pilesgrove faced a $1.4 million deficit in the budget in May 2015, which also brought layoffs. However, the budget is still at a deficit of $333,223, according to District Business Administrator Frank Rizzo. Since 2010, the district has already cut more than 30 staff positions. The district now faces possible cuts in class-three maintenance, custodial, cafeteria, and paraprofessional staff. … When it came down to the vote granting administration permission to research costs for outsourcing, the board was split. It passed with a 4 to 3 vote with one abstention. … However, hundreds of parents, teachers, and staff turned out for the board meeting and made their voices and concerns heard, claiming outsourcing is not the way to go.