Category Archives: Schools.K-12

Betsy DeVos’ 6-month report card: More undoing than doing

Source: Associated Press, August 10, 2017
 
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the news cycle has been dominated by stories of White House controversy: a travel ban, North Korea, health care and more.  Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been busy fulfilling her conservative agenda that seeks to broaden school choice and market-based schooling in pre-K through higher education.  As a researcher of education policy and politics, I’ve been following Secretary DeVos’ first six months in office. Here’s a quick look at what’s she’s done – and what’s been left in limbo. …

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School’s out: Teachers union chief Randi Weingarten says Trump leads “most anti-public-education” administration ever
Source: Chauncey Devega, Salon, August 7, 2017
 
How can public education be saved in America? What role does Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos play in the crisis facing America’s public schools? Why do so many Americans believe in the false promises and lies of school privatization and other neoliberal so-called reforms? How are strong American public schools essential for a strong democracy and robust economy?  In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page. …

Betsy DeVos Is Making “School Choice” Toxic for Democrats
Source: Graham Vyse, New Republic, July 26, 2017
 
Trump and DeVos are among the many opponents of public education who, for more than a decade now, have cast school privatization as a civil rights mission, arguing that vouchers and charters extend opportunity to communities of color. Even many Democrats, while maintaining that education is a public good, have bought into this narrative. But last year, the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives called for a moratorium on charters, with the former saying the schools exacerbate segregation and destabilize traditional public schools (not least by diverting funds away from them). These civil rights groups, the Times reported, “portray charters as the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires, and argue that the closing of traditional schools as students migrate to charters has disproportionately disrupted black communities.” …

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When Privatization Means Segregation: Setting the Record Straight on School Vouchers

Source: Leo Casey, Dissent, August 9, 2017

In recent weeks, the issue of private school vouchers has taken center stage in debates over the future of American education. Policy proposals to use public funds for private school tuition vouchers have a long history, dating back to a seminal 1955 essay by Milton Friedman. Over the last twenty-five years, small voucher programs have been established in several states, including Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as in Washington, D.C. … Public education advocates have taken on the Trump-DeVos push for vouchers. The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) issued two important research briefs, Vouchers Are Not A Viable Solution For Wide Swaths of America and The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers. In her keynote speech to the American Federation of Teachers’ recent biannual education conference and in her Huffington Postcolumn, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten addressed the “past and present” of school vouchers, condemning such programs as “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” Both CAP and Weingarten highlighted events around one of the five school desegregation cases that were rolled into the Supreme Court’s historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County.

… In the wake of the CAP reports and Randi Weingarten’s speech, voucher advocates were compelled to respond. Three lines of defense have emerged to dismiss the historic connection between private school vouchers and racial segregation. They are as unconvincing as the original arguments. … Try as privatization advocates might, there is no getting around the segregationist history of school vouchers in the United States. From Milton Friedman to the recalcitrant white elites of Prince Edward County and the legislators they voted in, the forerunners of today’s “school choice” movement understood their freedom as the freedom to deny others an equal education. That history continues into the present: empirical studies of vouchers programs in the United States and internationally show that they increase segregation in schools. As a Trump administration that openly appeals to white racial resentment proposes a massive school voucher program, we would be foolish to ignore the policy’s origins.

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The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers
Source: Chris Ford, Stephenie Johnson, and Lisette Partelow, Center for American Progress, July 12, 2017

… Voucher schemes—such as those backed by President Trump and Secretary DeVos—are fundamentally positioned to funnel taxpayers’ dollars into private schools while draining much-needed resources from public schools and the vulnerable students who attend them. Policymakers must consider the origins of vouchers and their impact on segregation and support for public education. No matter how well intentioned, widespread voucher programs risk exacerbating segregation in schools and leaving the most vulnerable students and the public schools they attend behind.

School board rejects plan to privatize food services

Source: Christina Daly, Long Beach Herald, July 13, 2017

The Long Beach Board of Education voted 3-2 to reject a plan to privatize the school district’s lunch program that administrators said would have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. At a contentious July 6 meeting, the board rejected a bid by Chartwells, a food- service company, to take over the district’s food operations and help fill a budget gap. School officials said the district lost about $400,000 in food services in each of the past two years due to a lack of student participation in the federally funded National School Lunch Program, which partially reimburses the district for lunches that the agency considers healthy. …

In Georgia, Citizens Can Redirect Their Taxes to Private Schools

Source: Ty Tagami, Tribune News Service, June 26, 2017
 
Georgia’s highest court has determined that a state law allowing taxpayers to steer some of what they owe the state to private schools instead does not violate the state constitution. The unanimous ruling Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court strikes a blow against the claim by Raymond Gaddy and other taxpayers that the state law establishing tax credit student scholarships is unconstitutional. … Taxpayers pledge money — up to $1,000 for an individual, $2,500 per married couple and $10,000 for shareholders or owners of businesses (except “C” corporations, which can contribute up to three quarters of their state tax debt) — to specific private schools and get a tax credit off what they owe the state for the same amount. The money passes through nonprofit scholarship organizations that assign it as scholarships to students and keep up to 10 percent as fees.

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Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools
Source: Stephanie Saul, New York Times, May 21, 2012

When the Georgia legislature passed a private school scholarship program in 2008, lawmakers promoted it as a way to give poor children the same education choices as the wealthy. …A handout circulated at the meeting instructed families to donate, qualify for a tax credit and then apply for a scholarship for their own children, many of whom were already attending the school. … The exchange at Gwinnett Christian Academy, a recording of which was obtained by The New York Times, is just one example of how scholarship programs have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children. Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs are operating in eight states and represent one of the fastest-growing components of the school choice movement. This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization. Legislators in at least nine other states are considering the programs. …. One big proponent of the tax-credit programs is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a coalition of conservative lawmakers and corporations that strongly influences many state legislatures. The council became a flash point in the Trayvon Martin case because it had championed the controversial Stand Your Ground gun laws.

Amherst TM takes action on elementary schools

Source: Scott Merzbach, Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 4, 2017

Town Meeting unanimously agreed to $15.5 million as the town’s share of a $31.3 million budget for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools and $22.5 million budget for the elementary schools. … The budgets also include money to bring the food service program back in-house, which Hazzard said will mean better tasting, less processed, more organic and locally sourced foods. …

Is charter school fraud the next Enron?

Source: Preston Green III, The Conversation, April 27, 2017

… As a scholar who studies the legal and policy issues pertaining to school choice, I’ve observed that the same type of fraud that occurred at Enron has been cropping up in the charter school sector. A handful of school officials have been caught using the Enron playbook to divert funding slated for these schools into their own pockets. … Enron’s downfall was caused largely by something called “related-party transactions.” Understanding this concept is crucial for grasping how charter schools may also be in danger. Related-party transactions are business arrangements between companies with close associations: It could be between two companies owned or managed by the same group or it could be between one large company and a smaller company that it owns. Although related-party transactions are legal, they can create severe conflicts of interest, allowing those in power to profit from employees, investors and even taxpayers.

… Without strict regulation, some bad actors have been able to take advantage of charter schools as an opportunity for private investment. In the worst cases, individuals have been able to use related-party transactions to fraudulently funnel public money intended for charter schools into other business ventures that they control. … Fraudulent related-party transactions can also occur between education management organizations (EMOs) and their affiliates. EMOs are for-profit or nonprofit entities that sometimes manage charter schools, and might also own smaller companies that could provide services to those schools. … Because of insufficient oversight, Fastow’s fraudulent use of related-party transactions at Enron was not stopped until it was too late. Similarly, the Ivy Academia and Renaissance Academy examples reveal insufficient checks and balances in the charter school sector. In both cases, the monitors responsible for protecting charter schools found nothing wrong with the rental agreements. …

School board votes down outsourcing custodial services

Source: Chris Ford, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, May 5, 2017

More than two hours into Wednesday evening’s Mat-Su Borough School District’s regular board meeting, the crowd erupted into applause following a vote not to award a more than $4.8 million, three-year contract to NANA Management Services for custodial services. The board heard from about a dozen individuals on potential budget cuts under consideration as the district continues to wrangle with unknown funding sources as its June 30 deadline to approve a balanced budget nears. Privatizing the service was expected to provide of the largest savings in the at least $11 million deficit. But when the question came, the issue failed on a 4-3 vote. …

Petition circling to stop Mat-Su school district from outsourcing custodial, cafeteria positions
Source: Sierra Starks, KTVA Alaska, March 27, 2017

Faced with a $10 million budget deficit, cuts sometimes have to be made beyond the classroom, says Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District (MSBSD) assistant superintendent Luke Fulp. As a “viable option to help reduce ongoing expenses and financial obligations,” the district is looking to outsource its custodian and nutrition service workers. In February, the MSBSD voted 4 to 3 to move forward with a request for proposal (RFP), calling for companies interested in providing contracted employees. It’s a move Fulp says could save the district up to $4.3 million. And with a $10 million budget deficit, he says the district is “exploring all options, and making sure everything is on the table, especially when it comes to support services, where we could limit the disruption to students.” … But those cuts come at the cost of connections made over the years, says Karen Salisbury, president of the Mat-Su Classified Employees Association, which oversees the borough’s custodians and nutrition workers. … Potential for a flood of new faces in the district’s schools doesn’t sit well with Salisbury, so she’s spearheading an online petition to get the school board to say no to outsourcing when the measure is up for a vote in April. … Meanwhile, the district is moving forward with the process to outsource. An intent-to-award letter was issued to Nana Management Services on Friday, Fulp says. …

Valley Stream Contractor Charged With $700K Wage Theft

Source: Timothy Bolger, Long Island Press, May 4, 2017

A contractor from Valley Stream was arrested for allegedly cheating 10 workers out of nearly $700,000 in wages and benefits on taxpayer-funded New York City public school construction projects, authorities said. Vickram Mangru was charged with felony counts failure to pay the prevailing rate of wage or supplements and falsifying business records. He was released without bail following his initial court appearance. … Prosecutors said Mangru paid workers “well below” legally mandated prevailing wage rates on city Department of Education projects in the Bronx between December 2012 and February ‘15. … He was previously debarred and banned for a five-year period from performing public work projects by the city Comptroller’s Office for failing to pay proper prevailing wages to workers, prosecutors said. But the suspect instead changed the name of his company and continued allegedly underpaying workers, authorities said. …

RPS board votes to outsource bus driver jobs

Source: Corina Curry, Rockford Register Star, May 9, 2017
 
The Rockford School Board voted 5-2 tonight to accept a bid from First Student and begin negotiating a contract with the private company, thereby outsourcing bus driver jobs.  First Student’s bid — the only one the district received after a request for proposals — was slightly more than $35.7 million for three years. The district’s estimated three-year cost to keep busing in-house is just over $36.1 million or about $426,000 more than the First Student proposal. … If First Student hires more than 50 percent of the district’s bus drivers, the bus drivers union — American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1275 — will remain intact, and drivers will begin contract negotiations with First Student, said Robert Rutkoski, First Student area general manager.  Bus drivers, nutrition service workers and teachers’ aides — all of whom are represented by AFSCME unions — went on strike for three days in March for better pay and more affordable insurance rates. …

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RPS looks to save $425K by privatizing bus services
Source: Corina Curry, Rockford Register Star, May 2, 2017
 
Rockford Public Schools hopes to save a little more than $426,000 in labor costs over the next three years by outsourcing bus driver jobs.  District leaders discussed a bid from Ohio-based First Student tonight during a public hearing. A team from First Student — the only company to bid on bus service — gave a presentation and answered questions from board members and union representatives. There was a time for public comment, as well. About 60 people attended the meeting. … Union leaders also said they think First Student’s proposal would end up costing the district $500,000 more over the next three years.  “Our experience as a union, the research that we’ve done, lends us to believe that this proposition will cost taxpayers more and will be less safe for children,” said Ed Sadlowski, staff representative for AFSCME Council 31.  The school district is in the process of seeking bids to outsource food services, as well. …

RPS 205 Board Considers Outsourcing Bus Drivers
Source: Gregory Cormier, My Stateline, May 2, 2017

Just before 3p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, Rockford School District 205 buses can be seen going about their daily routine outside of Auburn High School. A routine however, that could see major changes for the men and women behind the wheel. “It’s unsettling, it’s not about kids at all, it’s a distraction,” said AFSCME Council 31Representative Edward Sadlowski. “The board needs to come to it’s senses and do right by children,” he added, upset that the Rockford Public School District is considering bids from a third party to outsource jobs for bus drivers. He thinks if done, it will cost the district more. “This is a more costly proposition, outsourcing and privatization of Rockford resources to Cincinnati and the United Kingdom,” he said. …

SAVED: School Committee votes to keep nutrition services in-house

Source: Bryan McGonigle, Wicked Local Georgetown, May 4, 2017
 
In a striking twist of irony, Georgetown’s school cafeteria workers spent School Nutrition Employee Week – meant to honor and highlight their value to the community – fighting for their jobs.   … After three hours of discussion and debate, the School Committee unanimously voted to keep the district’s current program and not outsource food services to Whitsons Culinary Group – a national school lunch and catering corporation. … Under the Whitsons proposal, most employees would be invited to stay and work for that company at the same hourly rate. But benefits would only be offered after a 90-day probationary period – meaning employees would have to wait 90 days to get something they currently have.   And benefits would only be offered to full-time employees, with 30 hours a week being the full-time benchmark. Only a couple of employees currently work 30 hours or more, however, so most would not even qualify.  “The jobs they hold now will be gone, and they will be replaced, only with an offer to do the same job for less,” Jim Durkin, representative from the AFSCME Council 93, said to the committee. “Less money, less paid time off, a reduction in retirement benefits through the loss of pension eligibility, and a loss of eligibility for health insurance for them and their kids.” … If improvements aren’t seen and participation doesn’t rise, the committee will likely send out another RFP for outsourcing the program next year.