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FCMAT – California’s Unaccountable Political Player

28 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/28/2022

California Assemblywomen Delaine Eastin wrote legislation creating the Financial Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) in 1991. Her legislation was in response to the bankruptcy of the Richmond School District and requests for financial help from four other districts. In 1992, Governor Pete Wilson signed the legislation into law and located FCMAT (pronounced Fick-Mat) under the auspices of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. Since then, its power has grown and portfolio expanded with little oversight. Today, there is a burgeoning chorus of critics calling for reform or even termination.

In the mid-1990’s, I made the trip through the south end of the San Joaquin Valley many times. On the car radio, the only listening choices available were Rush Limbaugh and the Buck Owens show from the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. Bakersfield is named after founder Thomas Baker but the name easily could refer to the weather. The city of a half-million sitting about 140 miles from Death Valley regularly sees temperatures over 100° F between May and October. It gets really hot for extended periods. That is where the FCMAT home office is located.

Bakersfield, the county seat of Kern County, is an economic powerhouse in both oil and agriculture. In 2020, it had a slightly larger Republican voter registration than Democratic (R=158,771 & D=152,102). Registrations have been almost evenly split for decades. In 1992, when Republican Governor Pete Wilson chose the Kern County Office of Education as administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT, the Republican voter registration advantage totaled 118.

The Developing Juggernaut

FCMAT employs a neoliberal structure popularized in the United Kingdom called QUANGO. The Scottish writer Roland Watson describes QUANGO as a “quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.” Those of short duration are sometimes referred to as a task force. They carry out government mandates by receiving and issuing contracts. Watson noted that “its rear end looks distinctively democratic and accountable but the front part is definitely statist and bureaucratic.” The problem with a QUANGO is the tendency to overtly support the political agenda of whoever is in power.

The Data Center Reported that in 1992 FCMAT had a budget of $562,000 which ballooned to $35.6 million by 2002. The report also criticized its use of no-bid contracts and lack of accountability. Los Angeles State Assembly Woman Jackie Goldberg called for an audit of FCMAT in 2003. The state auditor reported that FCMAT was providing value to districts but did criticize the over use of no-bid contracts. That appears to be the only audit ever done of FCMAT.

Besides the legislation listed in Table 1, there are many legislative edicts for FCMAT to audit specific school districts. The districts are charged a no-bid fee for the mandated audits; FCMAT contracts out much of the work. Local school districts that have had previous financial issues often must pay a consulting fee to obtain FCMAT’s blessing in order to implement a budget. In districts with financial problems, this agency has more power over district policy than voters.

Transparent California reveals that the top 2020 total salary at FCMAT, $313,780.72, went to CEO Michael Fine. Including Michael, there were thirteen FCMAT staff members who earned more than $214,000 that year. The data shows that FCMAT had seventeen employees on staff being paid a total salary of $3,568,008.

Is it really about Gentrification?

In 2018, two school districts in California requested emergency funding to maintain operations. Both Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) arrived in this predicament due to incompetent (unethical?) administration during a state takeover.

California took over Inglewood’s schools in 2012 because of financial problems that should properly be credited to George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and the state of California’s almost unregulated charter school movement. In 2016, Secretary of Public Instruction (SPI) Tom Torlakson recruited Vincent Mathews to be IUSD’s forth state appointed Superintendent.  

At the beginning of the millennium, Mathews led the for-profit Edison school in San Francisco. Later, he went through training at the infamous Broad Academy which included studying their handbook for closing public schools. He also served for two years as the state appointed superintendent for OUSD (2007-2009).

Mathews stayed 18 months in Inglewood before accepting the Superintendents position in San Francisco. About his Inglewood tenure, the LA Times noted,

“A recent report by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found that, under Matthews, Inglewood had left day-to-day tasks to consultants, hadn’t monitored its budget and had underestimated its salary costs by about $1 million. The district had also overestimated its revenue, in part by incorrectly counting the number of students.”

FCMAT was supervising that state loan given to IUSD and was charged with monitoring the district’s finances. However, they missed the bad budgeting practices implemented by the state appointed administrator.

In Oakland Antwan Wilson another Broad Academy graduate blew a hole in the Budget under FCMAT’s less than watchful eye. After two and a half years on the job, he left Oakland to be superintendent of schools in the nation’s capital. Soon after that, huge budget problems were discovered causing the school board to immediately order more than $15 million in mid-year budget cuts.

In an article detailing some of the mismanagement and greed in Oakland, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported:

“Wilson brought in dozens of executive staff members from outside the Oakland district, creating new positions and departments that were not budgeted, and paying more than was customary in the district, …. In 2013, before Wilson arrived in Oakland, only four administrators earned more than $200,000; two years later, at least 26 did…

The 2018 solution to these financial issues from the state legislature was AB 1840 which dictated the terms under which OUSD and IUSD could receive emergency funding. It signified that in the budget acts for the coming years, Oakland and Inglewood could apply for emergency funding if they met certain criteria. It also meant that their respective counties – Alameda and Los Angeles – would assume control from the state and use FCMAT to financially supervise the districts.

In SB 74 the 2020 budget act, Oakland received $16 million with the law stipulating “affirmative action by the governing board to continue planning for, and timely implement, a school and facility closure and consolidation plan that supports the sale or lease of surplus property”.

The next year, the new school board turned down $10 million authorized in SB 129 which again required “Affirmative action by the governing board to continue planning for, and timely implementation of, a school and facility closure and consolidation plan that supports the sale or lease of surplus property.”

FCMAT explains on their web site how the governing power in OUSD was changed by AB 1840:

“Under the provisions of Assembly Bill (AB) 1840 (Chapter 426/2018), the trustee serves under the direction and supervision of L.K. Monroe, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. Assembly Bill 1840 designates FCMAT as the agency to identify and vet candidates to serve as county trustee. The final selection of a candidate for Oakland Unified School District trustee will be made by Superintendent Monroe, with the concurrence of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) and the president of the State Board of Education.”

In other words, OUSD no longer under state control is now under county control and their fiscal agent is FCMAT. Many people are wondering if the big push to sell off school properties from both the state and county is not motivated by gentrification and developer profits. It is well known that outside of a onetime cash infusion there are no significant savings associated with closing wholly owned school sites.

Working for the Bosses!

Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) in San Diego County went through a grueling few years. In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members plus district Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. Unlike the previous board that got its financial support from the construction industry, the new board members were all supported by the teachers’ union. This was not greeted enthusiastically by some local political forces.

During their first three years, the district ran harmoniously. In 2018, trouble emerged. There was a transition in leadership within the SUHSD financial team. The CFO, her top assistant and two other members of her small team retired after submitting the budget for the 2018-19 school year. That summer the new CFO, Jenny Salkeld, discovered a $20 million dollar error. She immediately reported her discovery to the district and county.

After receiving Sweetwater’s alert about the accounting errors, the County Office of Education officially disapproved the 2018-19 budget the district had submitted. The reasons for disapproving the budget were the reasons Salkeld had reported.

Apparently someone at the county leaked the budget information to the Voice of San Diego. The district which was in the process of understanding the extent of the problem lost the opportunity. Instead they were faced with a withering public attack in both the San Diego Union and The Voice of San Diego. Headlines implied that a group of incompetent people at SUHSD were incapable of managing their affairs honestly.

Enter FCMAT. SUHSD was forced to pay them $50,000 to have finances reviewed. A preliminary report was delivered that December at a SUHSD district school board meeting. Voice of San Diego’s Will Huntsberry shared,

“FCMAT’s chief executive officer Michael Fine told board members that 302 entries in the district’s accounting system were doctored to create the impression the district had more money than it really did. ‘That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up,’ …”

For weeks, local San Diego TV and Print media were filled with damning headlines like the NBC affiliate’s, “Audit of Sweetwater Union High School District Finds Evidence of Fraud” or the online publication Voice of San Diego’s “Audit Finds Sweetwater Officials Deliberately Manipulated Finances.” Every local news outlet published a story with some version of these headlines. There was speculation that the fraud had to do with a large school bond measure voters had approved and predicted multiple people were going to prison.

The following June FCMAT issued its completed report. It certainly weighed an ‘A’ (my mother’s satirical goal for a college research paper) but was not of great value. By the time the report arrived, SUHSD had already implemented a vast majority of the recommended fixes to their budgeting process. Eventually, the former SUHSD CFO was fined $28,000 for falsely attesting to the accuracy of the budget and the district agreed that they would bring in an independent consultant for any future bond offerings. Ironically, the district had used an independent consultant for the bond offering in question.

This April, the San Diego Union’s Kristin Tanaka reported, “Seventeen of San Diego County’s 42 school districts are projecting that they will spend more than they take in — not just in the current school year, but the next two years — as districts grapple with rising costs and lower enrollment, according to the latest batch of financial projections districts submitted to the county.” SUHSD was not one of the seventeen. The district survived the crisis and still has the same apparently popular school board in place.

It was a similar story in 2003 for OUSD. Then Superintendent Dennis Chaconas realized that the accounting system was dated and needed modernizing. EducationNext reported “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.” Most sources say it was actually a $37 million dollar deficit but still big and shocking.

Ken Epstein shared, “OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.”

Local political leaders like then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and influential state Senator Don Peralta wanted OUSD taken over by the state. They used FCMAT in an effort to make it happen. Online news source Majority reports that when OUSD proposed covering the shortfall with construction funds:

“Tom Henry, the CEO of California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT) opposed this plan, and Mayor Brown questioned it heavily. (During a state takeover, FCMAT would be responsible for monitoring the school district’s financial progress.) Phone records later obtained by the Oakland Tribune revealed over 40 phone calls on key dates between Brown, Henry, and Randolph Ward, who would end up in charge of OUSD when it was placed under state control, in the two months before the state takeover.”

During the same period, there were no phone calls to OUSD Superintendent Dennis Chaconas.

OUSD was forced to accept a $100 million dollar loan and taken over by the state instead of paying off the deficit with the $37 million dollars from their construction fund. After almost two decades of state and county control financially supervised by FCMAT, Oakland is still stuck with $6 million dollar yearly loan payments until at least 2026 and the state appointed administrator was allowed to create a new financial crisis.

….

At the very minimum, it is time to reign in and reform FCMAT. They have become an authoritarian lever used by people in power to enact their unpopular agendas. It is supposedly an “Assistance Team” but in reality FCMAT is causing more damage than their “assistance” is worth.

MAGA Re-Districting Incites School Litigation

10 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/10/2022

Attorney Cory Briggs has filed a suit against San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) over their new Trustee Area map. California law requires school districts to rebalance the board member areas after each decennial federal census. Led by Trustee Mike Allman three of the five district trustees apparently decided to use this requirement for political advantage. In the process, the suit claims they not only broke the spirit of the law but actually acted illegally.

Table 1: SDUHSD Population Change

All of the trustee areas experienced population growth with area-5 showing significant growth, so it was surprising to see the trustee from that area, Julie Bronstein, being mapped out of the district. Attorney Briggs stated in the suit,

“Over the last couple years, SDUHSD’s governing board has become fractured by a 3-to-2 vote on multiple topics and the board members in the majority have become openly hostile toward the board members in the minority. The majority recently misused the statutorily required procedure for adjusting the boundaries of SDUHSD’s five trustee areas in order to give the majority’s members an electoral advantage in upcoming elections, and to put the minority’s two members at a disadvantage, by altogether rearranging the boundaries instead.”

If this is true, they also ignored the warning based on the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) from San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Paul Gothold. He wrote,

“However, under Cal. Education Code section 5019.5, each school district has an independent obligation to approve maps that are consistent with the intent and purpose of the CVRA. This section envisions that there will be adjustments to trustee areas by a district and not the wholesale re-writing of boundaries.”

MAGA Man

Michael Allman is a self-described “libertarian-leaning Republican.” He arrived in San Diego to work for Sempra Energy; he is a former executive of Southern California Gas Co. and until 2016 was an executive at a software company called Bit Stew Systems. Allman received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State University and an MBA from the University of Chicago home of infamous libertarian economist Milton Friedman.

In 2020, he ran for an SDUHSD school board seat. It was Allman’s second foray into electoral politics. He ran in the 2018 district 52 congressional primary. He was matched against incumbent Democrat Scott Peters and five fellow Republican challengers. Allman reported $415,109.45 total campaign spending in that race of which $300,000 came via his personal loan.

He garnered a disappointing 3.9% of the vote.

Four days before the 2020 school board election Allman posted,

“Teachers unions’ goals are in direct conflict with those of school boards.

“I will be your independent voice on the board and will work for students, parents and taxpayers. I am not beholden or supported by the teachers union.”

In his school board race, he personally contributed $29,000 of the $33,333.55 in campaign contributions and loaned his campaign another $30,000. He out-spent his opponent five to one. Allman won the seat with 7,507 votes to 7,181 votes.

He went to his first board meeting as a Trustee on December 15, 2020 with his MAGA agenda locked and loaded.

Trustee Mossy introduced an Allman inspired proposal to change the time of the regularly scheduled Thursday at 5 PM board meetings to an alternating schedule of 9 AM and 5 PM (amended to 3 PM and 5 PM). This change to years of precedence obviously made it more difficult for working people especially teachers to attend school board meetings.

Allman wrote a proposal calling for the board to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules of Order in place of Roberts Rules of Order. According to Jurassic Parliament, the Rosenberg Rules are less Democratic giving more power to the chair and the majority. They are simpler with their rules stretching only to 10 pages compared to the 787 pages explaining the Roberts Rules, but that also gives the chair more power to make ruling interpretations. After a discussion the item was labeled a “future agenda item.”

He proposed changing the board’s legal council to Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP. Most public school district would not touch such a “school choice” promoting law firm. The firm’s web site states,

“If you view charter or private schools as opportunities to improve public education, we are aligned with you. We want to help you make a positive difference.”

This proposal was sent to a legal committee for further review.

Allman’s big agenda item of the day was for all SDUHSD schools to open on January 4, 2021 for face to face instruction. Part of the resolution he authored stated, “The Governing Board designates Trustee Allman as the Board’s spokesperson for matters addressed by or arising from this Resolution.”

The board made it clear that all board members would be spokespersons and not just Allman. They also decided to start with one day a week in person before going to five days a week on January 27. After those changes the MAGA coalition of Allman, Muir and Mossy provide the three required votes.

The San Dieguito teacher’s union immediately took legal action that stopped the at once in person school openings.

From that first meeting until today, Allman has been a force dividing people and instigating scorched earth politics.

New Area Maps Reflect Radical Power Politics

The trustee positions in SDUHSD have a duration of four years with odd numbered areas-1, -3 and -5 holding elections in non-presidential off years. Areas-2 and -4 are voted on during presidential election years.

The adopted new map known as Scenario 8 radically redrew area-1 and swaps the area number with area-2. This leads to about 30,000 people in the former area-1 not voting this year and about 30,000 people in the former area-2 voting again this year. So some citizens will not vote for 6 years and others will vote after 2 years.

Trustee Muir whose term is up this year is moved into the new Area-1 and Trustee Young who normally voted with the minority is also now in the same new area-1. For Young whose term ends in 2024, she has a difficult decision to make. Does she serve out her final two years and then not be able to run for re-election in 2024 or does she run again this year for basically the same seat she won in 2020?

Melisse Mossy whose term ends this year has seen her area-3 significantly reshaped to the point she no longer lives in it. Mike Allman’s area-4 is still similar to the current map. He is the only trustee not negatively affected by the new map.

The boundaries of area-5 have also been significantly redrawn; moving area-5 Trustee Julie Bronstein who is up for re-election to the extremely redrawn area-3. At a board meeting last month, Bronstein retorted, “It would make sense, Trustee Allman, if you were being sincere about wanting it to be coastal, but the way it’s been drawn, it literally has a line just right around my house.”

The new areas-1 and -5 have no current board members living in them. The adopted map splits the cities of Solana Beach and Encinitas into three areas and it splits the city of Cardiff into 2 areas.

In the suit filing, Attorney Corey Briggs stated,

“SDUHSD’s demographers initially prepared at least three maps – known as Scenario 1, Scenario 2, and Scenario 3 – that lawfully adjusted the five trustee areas’ boundaries. Furthermore, one of the three map finalists considered by SDUHSD’s governing board on February 17, 2022 – Scenario 1C – also lawfully adjusted the five boundaries.”

Map scenarios 1, 2 and 3 were presented to the board by a lawyer from F3 Law which arranged for demographers to create them. According to Trustee Katrina Young,

“It has been stated that the Teacher’s Union is behind Map 1C. However, in two separate emails to the Board, a community member has identified herself as the ‘constituent who drew and submitted Community Maps C and D, which were presented to the public as Scenarios 1C and 6 respectively.’”

The mystery is where did the adopted scenario-8 map originate? The San Diego Union reports that all of the board members with the exception of Mike Allman who did not respond claimed not to know.

On his Facebook page, Allman claims that scenario-8 is legal and defiantly states, “The decision on which map to choose is up to our Board, and no one else.”

Observation

Democracy, the rule of law and fair play have long been upheld as American virtues. However, the former president brought into open a cancer inflicted modern conservatism causing many of its leaders to eschew these virtues. Their MAGA philosophy venerates political power above all and makes them more akin to radicals than conservatives. Conservatism has value to offer our society but when it turns against fair play, the rule of law and even democracy itself, it veers toward fascism.

In his 1894 essay “How to become a Genius,” (Selected Non-Dramatic Writings of Bernard Shaw Page 346) George Bernard Shaw wrote,

“The America of to-day is built on the repudiation of royalty. The America of to-morrow will be built on the repudiation of virtue.”

Let’s hope that was not prescient.

Pirates Profiteers and Privatizers

21 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/21/2021

Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” The new book, The Privatization of Everything, documents the widespread theft of the commons facilitated by Reagan’s anti-government philosophy. His remark echoed a claim from the “laissez-faire cheerleader” Friedrich Hayek that government has us all on the “road to serfdom” (Privatization 120). Sherrilyn Ifill, the former Director-Council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund observed,

“What we’re seeing in our country today: the rhetoric, the hate, the ignorance, the coarseness, the vulgarity, the cruelty, the greed, the fear is the result of decades of poor citizenship development. It is a reflection of the fully privatized notion of citizenship, a feral conflict for the scraps left by oligarchs (Privatization 13).”

Libertarian politicians like former speaker of the house Paul Ryan and Senators Ron Johnson and Rand Paul claim Hayek and writer-philosopher Ayn Rand as their guiding lights. In a 2012 article, Politico reported, “…, to bring new staffers up to speed, Ryan gives them copies of Hayek’s classic “Road to Serfdom” and Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — books he says inspires his political philosophy.” Politico also stated,

“But Hayek and Rand were violently opposed to each other’s ideas. It is virtually impossible to hold them in the same brain. When the termagant Rand met Hayek, she screamed across the room, ‘Compromiser!’ and reviled him as an ‘abysmal fool,’ an “ass” and a ‘totally, complete, vicious bastard.’”  (Termagant: a violent, turbulent, or brawling woman.)

Ayn Rand’s problem with Hayek was that he was not really the “laissez-faire cheerleader” he was purported to be. He certainly opposed many of the ideas emanating from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal believing they would lead to worse problems than the ones being addressed. Fundamentally his thinking was shaped by a fear of communism. However, unlike today’s libertarians, he was not opposed to all government programs or interventions and that is what stirred Ayn Rand’s fury.

Robert Nielsen’s 2012 review of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom observes,

“He also calls for social insurance in case of sickness and accident, as well as government assistance after a natural disaster. ‘But there is no incompatibility in principle between the state providing greater security in this way and preservation of individual freedom.’ I think most advocates of Hayek have not read this passage and don’t realise he is not an extremist arguing against all forms of government. Let me repeat this, Hayek is arguing there is a good case for the government to get involved in healthcare, either in the form of universal healthcare or government insurance.”

John Maynard Keynes is thought of as the liberal economist whose theories guided President Roosevelt as he grappled with the great depression. Hayek’s and Keynes’s economic theories were in some ways polar opposites. However, Hayek came to London to work at the School of Economics where he and Keynes who was 16-years his senior became friends. They exchanged several letters concerning Hayek’s works in which Keynes found some agreement.

Chet Yarbrough’s audio book review of The Road to Serfdom states,

“Contrary to a wide perception that John Maynard Keynes (a liberal economist in today’s parlance) denigrated ‘The Road to Serfdom’; Keynes, in fact, praised it.”

“Though Keynes praised ‘The Road to Serfdom’, he did not think Hayek’s economic’ liberalism practical; i.e. Keynes infers that Hayek could not practically draw a line between a safety net for the poor, uninsured-sick, and unemployed (which Hayek endorsed) while denying government intervention in a competitive, laissez-faire economy.”

It is disingenuous to cite the theories of Friedrich Hayek as the justification for privatizing government functions and the commons.

The Privatization of Everything

The Privatization of Everything co-author Donald Cohen is the founder and executive director of In The Public Interest. Co-author Allen Mikaelian is the bestselling author of Metal of Honor and a doctoral fellow in history at American University. Besides the authors’ individual work, the team at In The Public Interest contributed significantly to the book with research and documentation.

Of their intention in writing the book, the authors state,

“Our approach is both idealistic and practical. We want readers to see the lofty values and big ideas behind the creation of public goods, and we want readers to feel empowered to question those values and introduce new ones. We want to help change the conversation, so we can stop talking about ‘government monopolies’ and return to talking about public control over public goods (Privatization 19).

They detail several cases showing the downside of the government being forced to give control over to private business. In this era of human-activity-induced climate change, what has been happening at the National Weather Service (NWS) is instructive.

In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy believed that the US and the Soviet Union could find a field of cooperation in supporting the World Meteorological Organization. As a result, 193 countries and territories all agreed to provide “essential data” on a “free and unrestricted basis.” “Each day, global observations add up to twenty terabytes of data, which is processed by a supercomputer running 77 trillion calculations per second (Privatization 267).”

The book notes, “In the 1990s, at about the same time that forecasting got consistently good, private interests and free-market absolutists started insisting that the NWS and related agencies were ‘competing’ with private enterprise.” Barry Myers, head of AccuWeather was loudly accusing the government of running a “monopoly.” He went to the extreme of calling for the government to get out of the weather predicting business which made no sense since AccuWeather is completely dependent on NWS predictions. (Privatization 268)

After a killer tornado in 2011, NWS employees proposed a smart-phone app to better inform the public. The author’s report, “… this ultimately took a backseat to Myers’s insistence that his AccuWeather apps shouldn’t face ‘unfair’ competition (Privatization 270).” To this day, NWS has no smartphone app.

Weather forecasts are pretty good for up to a week but after that as time passes they become more and more useless. The models for predicting the weather are highly dependent on the preceding day and the farther you get from accurate data for that day the more error invades the predictions. NWS restricts its predictions to a one-week time-frame but AccuWeather and the Weather Channel in order to attract customers provide meaningless 2-week up to 90-days predictions. (Privatization 272)

Extreme weather events are life threatening. The authors state,

“The NWS’s mission includes saving lives. The business model of corporations like AccuWeather includes saving lives of paying customers only (Privatization 273).”

There are many episodes like NWS detailed. In the section on private prisons, we read about such atrocities as the Idaho correctional facility known as the “Gladiator School” (Privatization 140). When detailing the privatization of water we are informed of Nestles CEO, Peter Brabeck stating how extreme it was to believe that “as a human being you should have a right to water (Privatization 54).”

Privatizing Public Education Stabs Democracy in the Heart

The First Public School in America

Boston Latin School was founded April 23, 1635. America’s first public school only accepted boys for their curriculum centered on humanities including the study of Latin and Greek. Its more famous revolutionary-era students were Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin. These revolutionary thinkers who gave America democracy were educated in a public school and would latter agree that free public schools were necessary to a functioning democracy.

When Betsy DeVos was calling for vouchers and charter schools, she was implicitly demanding public dollars support religious schools that would not accept transgender students or homosexual teachers. She wanted schools free to teach a doctrine of science denial and religious bigotry. “Freedom of choice in this case meant the freedom to discriminate, with the blessing of public funds (Privatization 210).”

One of the several disturbing stories about the menace of privatizing schools comes from Reynolds Lake Oconee, Georgia. Wealthy real estate developer Mercer Reynolds III made a charter school the center of his community development. The charter school application called for 80% of the children to come from Reynolds properties. The other 12% would go to students in nearby wealthy white communities and the remaining 8% would go to countywide residents. (Privatization 211-212)

With a mix of taxpayer and private funding, Reynolds built an impressive school. It had a piano lab with 25 pianos, a pond and offered 17 AP classes. The school is 73% white. The nearby public school that is 68% black and would never dream of a piano lab has seen the Reynolds school continually siphon off more of their students. They have been forced into laying-off staff and tightening budgets. (Privatization 212)

Cohen and Mikaelian concluded,

“This was a clear-cut case of rich whites diverting money from struggling black families in order to further push them to the margins. And they used the ideas of school choice and free market to justify it.

As the book makes clear, every time a public good is privatized the public loses some of their democratic rights over that lost good. This is a powerful book that everyone should read. In the last chapter the authors call out to us,

“We can’t let private interests sell us public goods as consumers, because the free market can’t avoid creating exclusions. School choice quickly devolves into segregation. Public parks and highways are divided into general versus premium services. In the midst of a notional health crisis, ventilators go to the highest bidder.”

Neoliberal Forces Dominate Public Education in Sacramento

29 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/29/2021

Two pieces of legislation are racing through California’s state legislature both advancing the school privatization agenda. A third piece designed to protect taxpayers from the ravenous charter industry has been squashed. Public schools and sound pedagogy are being harmed by a radical market based ideology. Democrats continue their complicity in this conservative agenda.

Governor Newsom’s Charter School Give Away

A few weeks ago, Oakland school board Trustee Mike Hutchinson raised alarm bells about Governor Newsom’s education budget trailer bill. Hutchinson wrote on Facebook, “Buried on page 95 is a clause that would extend the length of every charter school’s charter, so that every charter school in California will get two extra years before they would be required to go through a renewal process.” California’s Department of Finance definition states, “The Trailer Bill Language is the implementing language of the California State Budget Bill.” It is where California governors execute their agenda.

Oakland School Board Trustee Mike Hutchinson

For his first chief of staff, Gavin Newsom selected Ann O’Leary. That was a very clear signal that he would not be a reliable friend for public schools. O’Leary was on Hillary Clinton’s senate staff in 2001 where she was deeply involved in writing the No Child Left Behind education bill. She was latter a senior policy advisor on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and is a well known neoliberal who has been a long time cheerleader for the charter industry. Although O’Leary resigned as Chief of Staff this past December, her neoliberal ideology seems to permeate Newsom’s education policy.

From Page 7 of 22 – 2021-22 Governor’s Budget / May Revision Trailer Bills

The picture above was clipped from page 7 of the list of trailer bills promulgated by the governor’s office. The “K-12 Omnibus Trailer Bill (MR)” with tracking number RN 21 12772 states on page 95,

“Section 47607.4 is added to the Education Code, to read: 47607.4. Notwithstanding the renewal process and criteria established in Sections 47605.9, 47607, and 47607.2 or any other law, effective July 1, 2021, all charter schools whose term expires on or between January 1, 2022, and June 30, 2025, inclusive, shall have their term extended by two years.  (Emphasis added)

Monetizing Dyslexia

Early this year, California Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino proposed SB237 mandating dyslexia testing and intervention. It appears to be speeding through the state legislature with little opposition. On June 1st it passed on the senate floor with 39 yeses, zero no’s and one did not vote. The legislation awaits a final vote on the assembly floor.

The bill stipulates a specific set of dyslexia testing for all students kindergarten through third grade and requires the “State Board of Education to establish an approved list of culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate screening instruments” to meet the mandate. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.”

Jan Malvin is a retired University of California researcher with a PhD in Educational Psychology from Northwestern University. She states,

“Formal diagnostic assessment is the only way to identify dyslexia or decoding challenges. The drive for universal screening and other dyslexia-specific policy is ‘a privatization agenda in which public schools become mandated consumers for a growing dyslexia industry, and in which the nature of instruction for students with reading difficulties is narrowly prescribed.”’

While the idea of dyslexia is not a new concept, many current papers make the point that “across more than a century, researchers have failed to consistently identify characteristics or patterns that distinguish dyslexia from other decoding challenges.” In a December 2020 report for the Literacy Research Association, Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon of the University at Albany stated, “Current efforts at dyslexia screening are misleading about 50 percent of the time.”

While many children do have trouble learning to read and there is reason to believe dyslexia is real, a simple industry provided screening test for K-3 students is likely to misidentify significant numbers of students; labeling some as dyslexic who are not and missing an equal number who are.

Many researchers like Rachael E. Gabriel of the University of Connecticut point out that while the called for “structured literacy” approach has not been disproven even the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse states it is “not supported by evidence.”

The list of supporters for SB237 is long and the only California organization that was formally opposed to SB237 in time to be listed in the state’s bill analysis is Californians Together. They were a group formed in 1988 to fight against that year’s proposition 227 which prohibited bilingual education. Tax records show that they are a modest in size non-profit headquartered in Long Beach, California.

Other organizations that have since announced their opposition to SB237 include the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), California School Boards Association (CSBA), Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), and California Teachers Association (CTA).

No Charter School Reform or Taxpayer Protection

When San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan brought down the $50 million A-3 charter scam, she noted, “People v. McManus revealed many weaknesses in the State’s education system in the areas of fraud enforcement, student data tracking, auditing, school finance, and oversight of charter schools.”

To address these weaknesses Assembly Members Daniel O’Donnell, Cristina Garcia, and Kevin McCarty introduced AB1316. The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) expressed strong opposition to the bill.  As education writer Carl Peterson observed, “Unfortunately, AB1316 was placed in the inactive file by a political system unwilling to risk the wrath of the California Charter School Association.”

This year is turning into a very bad year for public education in California. Neoliberal Democrats and the CCSA are having their way.

Cato Indoctrination for Educators

8 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/8/2021

The Education Week Advertiser just notified me about an opportunity to be indoctrinated into the Cato Institute’s culture and education views. The ad proclaims, “The Cato Institute and the Sphere Education Initiative are excited to announce the return of Sphere Summit: Teaching Civic Culture Together for the Summer of 2021!” They generously offer impressive full scholarship programs for educators and administrators.

The money for all this comes from Charles Koch and associated libertarians. It is funneled through the Cato Institute which was originally called the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc. when he and fellow libertarian Edward Crane founded it in 1977. It is one of the many organizations and businesses that Charles Koch uses to advance his personal interests which are often referred to as the Kochtopus.

Sphere Summit Speakers

Ryan Bourne – According to libertarianism.org, he is “the R. Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics at Cato.” Bourne writes about fiscal policy, inequality, minimum wages, infrastructure spending and rent control.He is a contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the UK website ConservativeHome.

Arnold Kling – A Senior Affiliated Scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University to which the Charles Koch Foundation contributed a total of $29,156,700 in 2017 and 2018 (EIN: 48-0918408). He specializes in housing-finance policy, financial institutions, macroeconomics, and the inside workings of America’s federal financial institutions. He also is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC.

Clark Neily – He is vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute. Neily served as co-counsel in the District of Columbia v. Heller case in which the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment rights had been violated. The ruling overturned the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and requirement that lawfully owned rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.”

Tom G. Palmer – He is a senior fellow at Cato Institute and director of Cato University. He is also a VP of the Institute for Humane Studies (HIS) at George Mason University and a VP for International Programs at the Atlas Network. HIS was co-founded by Charles Koch in 1974. An outgrowth of HIS, the American Energy Alliance, had a central role in Koch’s successful campaign defeating the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill to limit greenhouse gasses (Kochland pages 448-449).

Jonathan Rauch – He is a senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institute and author of books and articles on public policy, culture, and government. His many Brookings’ publications include the 2015 ebook Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy.

Jeffrey Rosen – He is President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate the public about the U.S. Constitution. Rosen is also professor at The George Washington University Law School and a contributing editor of The Atlantic.

Nadine Strossen – She was president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) between1991 to 2008. Veteran National Review fans may be familiar with Strossen, because she was a friend and frequent sparring partner of William F. Buckley.

Darrell West – He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of TechTank. His current research focuses on artificial intelligence, robotics, and the future of work. West is also director of the John Hazen White manufacturing initiative and vice president of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute.

It appears that the first four presenters will be delivering the libertarian message and the second four will be delivering a mixture of pro-edtech and pro-American positions. All eight speakers have two commonalities. They are professionals who will be paid well for their appearances and none of them have any k-12 teaching or administrating experience.

Four professional development workshops are to be presented by:

  1. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education which was founded by Alan Charles Kors in 1999 to dismantle the so-called liberal bias in higher academia. Source Watch reports that they were part of the right wing State Policy Network.
  2. The Bill of Rights Institute, established in September 1999 by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, is a Virginia based nonprofit that promotes teaching a conservative interpretation of the Constitution.
  3. The National Constitution Center is a nonprofit institution devoted to the Constitution of the United States.
  4. iCivics is a non-profit organization offering teachers digital civics education curriculum including games, digital tools, and lesson plans.

For more than fifty years, Charles Koch has been pouring money into advancing his libertarian free market philosophy. Koch has taken Austrian economic theory from its 1950s fringe thinking status to an influential force in American governance. This is a continuation of that effort. Targeting teachers and school leaders is designed to expand Koch’s ultra-conservative low tax and small government agenda.

Charter School Experiment FAILURE Documented Again

17 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/17/2020

Marketing and lack of oversight have obscured the failure of the charter school industry. The latest research reported by Carol Burris and her team at the Network for Public Education (NPE) documents the atrocious going out of business rate among charter schools.

The United States Education Department (USED) has invested more than $4 billion promoting the industry but has not effectively tracked the associated fraud, waste and failures. After 25-years of charter schooling, Broken Promises is the first comprehensive study of their closure rates.

Charter School Myths and Promises

Former American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union President, Albert Shanker, is often cited as the father of charter schools. His Wikipedia entry says, “In 1988, Shanker was the first to propose charter schools in the U.S.” He was not, nor was he central to charter school development.

Five years before Shanker’s famous 1988 speech in which he mentioned charter schools, the Reagan administration had published the infamous A Nation at Risk. In his speech, Shanker was clearly responding to that report as well as President Reagan’s call for choice in education and his own belief that American education was not serving the majority of students well.

At the time, Shanker was reading Ray Budde’s book from which he appropriated the terminology “charter.” In his 1988 speech, Shanker proposed,

“The school district and the teacher union would develop a procedure that would encourage any group of six or more teachers to submit a proposal to create a new school.”

“That group of teachers could set up a school within that school which ultimately, if the procedure works and it’s accepted, would be a totally autonomous school within that district.”

“I would approve such a proposal if it included a plan for faculty decision making, for participative management; team teaching; a way for a teaching team to govern itself; and a provision that shows how such a subunit would be organized so the teachers would no longer be isolated in the classroom throughout their professional lives, but would have the time to be available to share ideas and talk to and with each other.”

The actual development of charter schools was far different. Education Writer Rachel Cohen described what arose,

“At its outset, the real power in the charter coalition was what might be termed the ‘technocratic centrists’: business leaders, moderate Republicans, and DLC members looking for Third Way solutions that couldn’t be labeled big-government liberalism. While charters have drawn praise from other quarters—for instance, some educators and progressive activists see them as tools for racial and economic justice—these groups have never formed the heart of charters’ power base.”

In 1991, Bill Clinton – then Arkansas Governor and Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) – embraced the technocratic version of charter schools as a “Third Way” solution. Shanker would later complain, “It is almost impossible for us to get President Clinton to stop endorsing [charters] in all his speeches.”

By the time charter schools were birthed in Minnesota, Albert Shanker had agreed with several of the main points presented in “A Nation at Risk.” In accord with the DLC, Shanker stated,

“The reforms that resulted from A Nation At Risk and the other reports constituted a much-needed corrective to the softness of schools in the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s. Yes, we needed schools that had standards, and we still do.”

However, the public school failure belief was based on little more than illusion.

While writing an NPR article on the 35th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk,” Anya Kamenetz discovered that the report “never set out to undertake an objective inquiry.” Two of the authors admitted to her that they were “alarmed by what they believed was a decline in education, and looked for facts to fit that narrative.” The dubious evidence presented in their report would have never withstood a rigorous peer review process.

Some powerful evidence points in the opposite direction and indicates that the results from US public schools in the 60s and 70s were actually a great success story.

One measuring stick demonstrating that success is Nobel Prize winners. Since 1949, America has had 383 laureates; the second place country, Great Britain, had 132. In the same period, India had 12 laureates and China 8.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis report on education achievement gaps states, “The gaps narrowed sharply in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, but then progress stalled.”

The digital revolution and the booming biotech industry were both created by students mostly from the supposedly “soft public schools” of the 60s and 70s.

In his 1999 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve, Education writer Alfie Kohn described the philosophy of current education reform saying it “consists of saying in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner and we’ll have a better country.”’

Corporate groups, Third Way Democrats and the AFT all called for manufacturing style standards to be applied to public education. Unfortunately, standards based education has proven to be toxic; leading to jejune classes and the sundering of creativity. Children are learning to hate learning.

In his book Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas calls modern social reform based on the belief that business leaders and market forces are the sure way to a better society “MarketWorld.” Charter schools are a “MarketWorld” education reform that has brought disruption, harm to public schools and accelerating segregation. They have produced superior marketing not superior education.

Broken Promises

Broken Promises opens by quoting the words of student mother Elouise Matthews to the Orleans Parish School Board:

“I am a parent of Mary D. Coghill [Charter School]. For the last three years I have had to place my kids at different schools each year because the schools keep closing. My child was attending MCPA, that school closed. He then went to Medard Nelson, that school closed. Now, he is at Coghill and y’all are trying to close that school. I am tired of moving my child every year because y’all are closing schools.”

In the modern era of school choice, the one choice New Orleans parent do not have is sending their children to a stable public school. New Orleans is a 100% privatized school district. It is the epitome of “MarketWorld” education reform.

“Broken Promises” looked at cohorts of newly opened charter schools between 1998 and 2017. Ryan Pfleger, Ph.D. led the analysis of charter schools closures utilizing the Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD).

Before 1998, the massive government data base did not uniquely identify charter schools and the last complete data set available for all schools in America was 2017.

Startup charter school cohorts were identified by year and the cohort closure rates were tracked at 3, 5, 10 and 15 years after opening. The overall failure rates discovered were 18% by year-3, 25% by year-5, 40% by year-10 and 50% by year-15.

The NPE team discovered that half of all charter schools in America close their doors within fifteen years.

All Cohort Failure Graphic

Graphic from Broken Promises Showing Charter School Failure Rates

Many charter schools close within their first year of operations. “Broken Promises” shares the story of several of these quick failures. The following story was based on a TV newscast in North Carolina:

On a Thursday morning in September of 2014, parents dropped their children off at the Concrete Roses STEM Academy charter school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Families were handed a notice that the school would close the very next day. The school had claimed (and was funded for) an enrollment of 300 students although actual enrollment was only 126.

 Concrete Roses STEM Academy was open for only one month.

Because Concrete Rose STEM Academy closed before officially reporting attendance to the federal government in October, they do not count as a failed school. In the CCD database, they never showed students thus did not meet the criteria for having opened.

Burris and team document close to a million students being displaced by school closures. These displaced students then put tremendous pressure on public schools which are required to take them in.

“Broke Promises” also cites National Education Association research showing that “52 percent of students displaced by charter closings receive free or reduced-price lunch.”

Census tract maps collated with charter school closures were utilized to understand where the closures were happening. In Detroit for example, they noted that between 1998 and 2015 245-charter schools opened of which 106 had closed (43%) by 2017.

The report states, “Fifty-nine percent of the failures were located in tracts with 30 percent or above rates of poverty, although there were a far greater number of tracts with lower levels of poverty.”

Census Tract Map Showing High Poverty Neighborhoods with Highest Charter Churn.

Mounting Evidence Shows Charter Schools Are Bad Policy

As charter schools started becoming a more significant part of local school districts, fiscal impacts mounted. In 2014, researchers Robert Bifulco from Syracuse University and Randall Reback from Bernard College published a study of the fiscal impacts in the public schools of Buffalo and Albany, NY. They estimated that the net costs in Buffalo were between $633 and $744 per pupil and in Albany between $976 and $1,070 per pupil. Thus, public school students were suffering reduced fiscal support in order to finance charter schools.

In 2016, Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers University produced Exploring the consequences of charter school expansion in U.S. cities for the Economic Policy Institute. In the summary of this report he stated,

“Other reports have shown how high test scores and popularity of charter schools could be the byproducts of using data from cherry-picked charter schools that serve cherry-picked or culled populations. This report adds further insights for the debate on how expanding charter schools as a policy alternative achieves the broader goal. Specifically, it shows that charter expansion may increase inequity, introduce inefficiencies and redundancies, compromise financial stability, and introduce other objectionable distortions to the system that impede delivery of an equitable distribution of excellent or at least adequate education to all children.”

In 2017, NPE Executive Director Carol Burris produced “Charters and Consequences.” In it she stated,

“… nearly every day brings a story, often reported only in local newspapers, about charter mismanagement, failure, nepotism or outright theft and fraud.”

“This report … is the result of a year-long exploration of the effects of charter schools and the issues that surround them.”

To accompany the report, NPE started an ongoing web page, #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal, which catalogues and makes available the horrific charter industry record of fraud and malfeasance.

In 2018, Professors Helen F. Ladd of Duke University and John D. Singleton of Syracuse University published The Fiscal Externalities of Charter Schools: Evidence from North Carolina. Like the study of Buffalo and Albany they found powerful evidence that it was costing schools in Durham, NC $3600 per student lost to charters. The paper also stated, “We find smaller, though sizable, Net Fiscal Impacts in the non-urban districts and considerable heterogeneity across them.”

That same year professor Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon published Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.” Lafer stated,

“In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District. The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.”

Last year, NPE published two investigations of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). In Asleep at the Wheel, they stated, “We estimate that program funding has grown to well over $4 billion. That could bring the total of the potential waste to around $1billion.” At a congressional hearing, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaking about the report testified, “The report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda.”

In response, NPE redoubled efforts and in December published Still Asleep at the Wheel where they documented that their conservative claims in the first report under-reported the extent of wasted money and negligence associated with the CSP.

Time to join with the NAACP in their 2018 call for a charter school moratorium. With the industries record of creaming, advancing segregation and self-dealing, charter profiteering can not be accepted. Charters have not delivered significant education improvements just disruption, community harm and fraud. School chartering is a FAILED experiment.

School Choice and White Supremacy like Two Peas in a Pod

9 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/9/2020

In Overturning Brown, Steve Suitts provides overwhelming evidence for the segregationist legacy of “school choice.” He shows that “Brown v Board” has been effectively gutted and “choice proved to be the white supremacists’ most potent strategy to defeat it. In the 21st century, that same strategy is being wielded to maintain segregation while destroying the separation of church and state.

(Note: In this article references to “Overturning Brown” given as Suitts page#)

Defeating Brown

On May 17 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” He added it is “inherently unequal” and plaintiffs were “deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”

A large portion of the United States was not intensely affected by the ruling but in the Deep South, the response was hostility and a determination to fight. Southern politicians organized a “massive resistance” movement. In Jackson Mississippi, the editor of the Jackson Daily news declared, “This is a fight for white supremacy” (Suitts 31).

Governors and state legislators established commissions or committees “to develop options for preserving segregation.” (Suitts 18)

Wallace and Connor

People like Mississippi Senator James Eastland, Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor and Alabama Governor George Wallace are well remembered for their egregious support of “white supremacy.”

Eastland who served in the US Senate for 30-years stated, “I have no prejudice in my heart, but the white race is the superior race and the Negro race an inferior race and the races must be kept separate by law.”

Bull Connor employed Birmingham firemen and policemen using water hoses and police dogs against African-American demonstrators. It was after his arrest during those demonstrations that Martin Luther King wrote his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail. He stated in the missive, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

In 1958, John Patterson, bested George Wallace for Governor of Alabama. Patterson, a proven segregationist and former Alabama attorney general, had attempted to put the NAACP out of business through a series of harassing lawsuits. The loss prompted Wallace to vow, “No other son-of-a-bitch will ever out-nigger me again.” (Suitts 26)

In 1963, Wallace won the Alabama Governor’s office. In his inaugural address, he attacked governmental overreach in Washington DC and “the illegal 14th amendment.” That is the amendment to the constitution that guarantees all citizens “equal protection under the law.” It was the central argument under-girding the Supreme Court’s “Brown” decision. In the address written by soon to be Klan leader Asa Carter (Suitts 26), Wallace famously called for “segregation now … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever.”

These infamous segregationists were not decisive in stopping what they called the “forced mixing” of students in school. It was the committees and commissions with their schemes for school choice leading to “virtual segregation” that effectively frustrated “Brown”.

Soon after the “Brown” decision, Alabama’s Boutwell Committee reported their plan which aimed for “virtual segregation.” The report decried “forced integration” claiming it would lead to “violence, disorder, and tension for the state and its children.” (Suitts 20)

The primary intellectual force behind the plan was a corporate attorney in Birmingham, Forney Johnston. He was a staunch segregationist who represented Alabama’s Big Mules:” coal, railroads, wealthy industrialists and investors. (Suitts 19)

The Boutwell plan posited four basic strategies for stopping compulsory “mixing” of races in schools. The key to the plan was school choice and not mentioning race as a reason for not admitting a student. The four main points:

  • Eliminate all prohibitions against the operation of mixed schools.
  • Remove from the state constitution any suggestion that there is a right of education and an obligation of the state to fund public school children. The state is to promote education in a manner and extent consistent with available resources, and the willingness and ability of the individual students.
  • Give local school officials the power to refuse admission to individuals or groups whose scholastic deficiencies would compel undue lowering of school standards.
  • Provide vouchers and other tax funds for both black and white children. (Suitts 21)

The plan called for a school choice system that enabled children “to attend all-White schools, all-Black schools, or desegregated schools in a state-financed system of public and private schools.” They called it the “Freedom of Choice Plan.”

The editor of the Montgomery Adviser called it “manicured Kluxism.” The plan was ratified by 61% of Alabama voters in 1956. (Suitts 22)

Southern segregationists often “condemned integration as the work of communists.” (Suitts 32) Adopting the language of University of Chicago libertarian economist Milton Friedman, they began denouncing the “monopoly of government schools” calling it “socialism in its purest form.” (Suitts 59)

By 1965, most voucher programs adopted in Southern states had been declared unconstitutional including indirect expenditures such as tax credits. (Suitts 49) Sill it is estimated that by the 1980s in the eleven states of the former Confederacy as much as 75% of private school white students were virtually segregated. (Suitts 64)

Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks noted in Cutting School that using the federal government’s economic power finally broke the back of state-sanctioned segregation in the South. Rooks shared, “By 1973, almost 90 percent of southern schoolchildren attended integrated schools.”

Re-segregating America’s Schools

When nominating Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Republican Party platform stated its opposition to busing for desegregation, support of private school tuition tax credits and vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools. It was the first time a major political party had called for vouchers.

In his acceptance speech, President Regan asserted, “We must continue the advance by supporting discipline in our schools, vouchers that give parents freedom of choice; and we must give back to our children their lost right to acknowledge God in their classrooms.” (Suitts 72)

Steve Suitts observed:

“…, the southern states’ first plan for defeating court-ordered desegregation, the one that Johnston and Boutwell devised in 1954 in Alabama, is exactly what today’s advocates and supporters of vouchers seek to implement: no compulsory ‘race-mixing’ in schools and no mention of any intent to discriminate. What could be more American than the freedom of parents to choose their children’s school – private or public – with public financial support? (Suitts 91)

Segregation by caste and segregation by class are the two common types of segregation. Caste segregation is by skin tone and class segregation is by economics.

With class segregation, it is perfectly acceptable for a few Black and Brown students to be in a school with a majority of White students if their parents hold the requisite wealth. Both types of segregation are harmful to all students.

The 1975 Supreme Court decision, Milliken versus Bradley, struck down inter-district remedies to segregation. Professor Jack Schneider of the University of Massachusetts claims this decision was the “beginning of the end of school desegregation.” He stated, “In determining that school districts could not be compelled to integrate students across their borders, Milliken dramatically narrowed the promise of the 1954 Brown v. Board case.”

In his Milliken dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall stated, “Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.”

Public School Enrollment by Race Graphic

Brookings Chart Shows Growing Pluralism in American Schools

A paper from the Brookings Institute says, “School districts and metro areas that were released from court-ordered desegregation plans during the 1990s and 2000s showed a marked trend towards greater segregation, especially in the South.”

On the subject of desegregation trends, a Civil Right Project report from UCLA added,

“These trends began to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision made it easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans. Most major plans have been eliminated for years now, despite increasingly powerful evidence on the importance of desegregated schools.” (Emphasis Added)

In the 2002 Supreme Court ruling Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the court ruled that publicly funded vouchers could be used to send children to religious schools providing that certain constitutional prerequisites were met. The divided court’s 5-4 decision allowed for taxpayers being forced by state law to send their dollars to religious schools.

In the Espinosa decision handed down this year, the Supreme Court again split 5-4 along what looks more like political lines than lines of legal judgment. Their decision means that if a state gives money to any private schools it cannot refuse money to religious schools.

Last week leaders of the Catholic Church in America penned an opinion piece championing a federal bailout. Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Gómez called for help with their fiscal problems. They stated,

“The most effective and immediate way to accomplish this is to fund scholarship assistance this summer to families who are economically disadvantaged and need such support. The scholarships would be used at Catholic or other non-government elementary or secondary schools. This approach would be similar to providing Pell grants that can be used at any institution of higher education, including religious institutions.”

In her fascinating book The Good News Club, Katherine Stewart quotes President Ulysses S. Grant’s diametrically opposite advice from that of the Catholic Church leaders. He said in 1876,

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards, I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Last fall, the Urban Institute studied where school segregation occurs. They concluded, “Holding school size constant, private and charter schools tend to have higher average contributions to segregation than traditional public schools.”

In the 1990s, charter schools first appeared. Since then, they have been significantly contributing to the re-segregation of America’s K-12 schools. A Brookings Institute study of segregation in schools reported,

“Charter schools are more segregated than TPS [traditional public school] at national, state, and metro levels. Black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.”

The growth of both charter schools and private schools has engendered growing segregation among America’s school children. This trend portends a divided inefficient society.

Professors Linda R. Tropp and Suchi Saxena along with many other sociologists and educators have conducted research identifying the clear benefit of and need for school integration. They state, “New social science research demonstrates the importance of fostering sustained interracial contact between youth in order to prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.”

A research brief by Professor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley of Virginia Commonwealth University states,

“What is clear, however, is that racially diverse schools are not linked to negative academic outcomes for white students. And in a number of subjects, like math and science, diverse educational settings are consistently linked to higher test scores for whites. One analysis of 59 social science articles related to school composition effects on mathematics outcomes found, for instance, that math out-comes were higher at every grade level for students from all racial and SES backgrounds who attended racially and socioeconomically integrated schools.”

Conclusions

Steve Suitts book Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement is strongly recommended for anyone interested in American education history or school policy.

To reverse the re-segregation of schools in America, stopping public school privatization is necessary.

The separation of church and state must be reestablished.

Indianapolis: Home of America’s Second Most Privatized School System

27 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/27/2020

With the introduction of Innovation schools in 2015, Indianapolis Public Schools quickly became the second most privatized taxpayer supported school system in America. It has zoomed past Detroit and Washington DC in the privatization sweepstakes to only trail the poster child for disaster capitalism, New Orleans. The right wing billionaire funded organization, The Mind Trust, has played a major role in this outcome.

Brown and Money

The Mind Trust CEO Brandon Brown Enjoys Flood of Billionaire Dollars

Nations 2nd Most Privatized

How terms and principles are defined is crucial. For example, Stephanie Wang of Chalkbeat paraphrases The Mind Trust CEO, Brandon Brown as saying, “There has never been a civil rights movement that hasn’t been led by the people most directly affected by the work.” Brown often couches his work in terms of fighting for civil rights, but is stripping minority communities of their democratic right to a voice in the operation of neighborhood schools really fighting for civil rights?

Professor Noliwe Rooks labels the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation “segrenomics.” Professor Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and she definitely would not see The Mind Trust as a civil rights organization.

Another term that needs a careful definition is public school. Network for Public Education Director Carol Burris provided a thoughtful and clear explanation of what constitutes a public school in an interview with the Busted Pencils pod cast. She said there are two aspects to qualifying as a public school: (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be governed by an elected local entity such as a district board.

In September 2019, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent, Aleesia Johnson, presented an updated facts and figures report. It showed 22,659 students in public schools with another 8,416 students in 20 Innovation schools and 1,562 students in state governed turnaround schools. By cross referencing the state list of Indianapolis charter schools with state charter school enrollment data, Indianapolis charter school enrollment was found to be 32,127 of which 2,340 were in schools designated innovation. In other words, of the 62,424 taxpayer supported students in Indianapolis only 36.3% were in schools controlled by local voters.

School Privatization Graphic

Number of Students in Various Indianapolis Taxpayer Funded Schools

In 2014, the Indiana state government responded to American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation by creating innovation schools. David and Charles Koch, the main financial support behind the creation of ALEC, have a 50-year history of opposing public education. In a January news release, The Mind Trust explained, “Innovation Network Schools operate with full autonomy and are governed by independent nonprofit boards.” Like charter schools, innovation schools are governed by private boards independent of voter input. They no longer meet the definition for public schools.

An organization from Texas called Pastors for Children recently tweeted,

“If charter schools are public schools, then they should not have private boards.”

“Bring charters under local district control now.”

The same goes for innovations schools. There is no good reason that they are not under local district control but there is history.

In 1983, the Reagan era A Nation at Risk promoted the idea that public schools were failing by distorting data that showed the opposite. They touted reform based on business principles as the answer to this “failure.” In 1990, John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s influential book stated that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” The billionaires Jon Arnold and Reed Hastings have taken this un-American and anti-democratic ideology to heart.

In 2018, Arnold and Hastings put up $100 million each to establish a new organization, The City Fund, dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school reform. Simply put, the portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or innovation schools. This means that especially schools in poor and minority neighborhoods are at risk.

Paul Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington, created the portfolio model as a path to privatizing public education.

Last year, The City Fund gave a three year $18 million grant to The Mind Trust. They claimed it was for “Operating support and support for expansion of high quality schools in Indianapolis, IN” which means advancing the portfolio model. A sure sign that an organization is promoting public school privatization is the ubiquitous claim that it is developing “high quality schools.”

Shockingly, the Indianapolis Public School district has a Portfolio Management page on their web site.

In 2018, The Mind Trust co-founder, David Harris, quit as CEO to become a Partner at The City Fund. He is still on The Mind Trust board where he serves alongside CBS Sunday Morning Anchor, Jane Pauley.

With Harris’s resignation, a new wave of TFA developed leaders took over.

The Billionaire Created Privatization Army

Mercedes Schneider writes in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp was the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and the young idealists for sale were her temp teachers who had no intention of staying in the classroom. Schneider also shared that in 2011 the Walton Family Foundation donated $49.5 million to TFA. Furthermore, Schneider listed TFA corporate donors in the $100,000 to $999,000 category as:

“Anheuser-Busch, ATT, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Boeing, Cargill Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Emerson, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Fedex, Fidelity Investment, GE, Marathon Oil, Monsanto, Peabody, Prudential, State Farm, Symantec, Travelers, Wells Fargo.”

She further pointed out that all of these big money donors are members of ALEC.

Since 2010, billionaires and corporations have continued making large investments in TFA. TFA’s latest IRS filing shows $235,973,769 in contributions for the fiscal year May 2017 to May 2018. The previous year’s grants totaled to $245,190,571. Additionally this so called non-profit now has a total asset value of $366,724,130 and the average yearly income of the top 10 earners at TFA is $325,134. Founder Wendy Kopp, listed as working 10-hours per week, was paid $136,879.

The TFA Indianapolis web page says The Mind Trust played a critical role in bringing TFA to Indianapolis “and one-third of its current staff are Teach For America alums including its CEO, Brandon Brown.” The local TFA Executive Director, Amar Patel, noted, “Nearly 20 percent of schools here in Indianapolis are led by TFA alumni.”

TFA teachers are completely unqualified. Prior to taking over a classroom, TFA teachers receive just five weeks of training. Their training is test centric and employs behaviorist principles. TFA corps members study Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. He never formally studied or practiced education.

TFA corps members are typically in their early 20’s and have just completed a bachelors degree – likely in a field unrelated to what they will teach. For example, Brandon Brown taught English the fall after he earned a Bachelor’s in political science and psychology. Worst of all, TFA corps members thoroughly assimilate the neoliberal message of failing schools, inept principals and bad teachers.

Real professional educators provide proof of mastery of the course they will teach and spend a minimum of one-year in a post-graduate teacher training program.

Another organization recruited to Indianapolis by The Mind Trust is TNTP (formerly The New Teachers Project). The Mind Trust states, “TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows program has supported 375+ Indianapolis teachers since 2007, several of whom have been school or district teachers of the year.” TNTP was created at TFA in 1997 by Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee. It was designed to be an alternative route to teacher certification and professional development.

Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education, a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they were unqualified. If policy makers in New York wanted to create and alternative teacher certification path, they would have turned to an established institution like Columbia University’s Teachers College to create and manage the program. They would not have turned to a private non-profit with no track record and little experience on staff.

An April 10, 2019 press release from The Mind Trust states:

“Today, the Indiana State Board of Education approved Relay Graduate School of Education … to prepare aspiring teachers for Indiana certification through its Teaching Residency program in Indianapolis. … The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, has raised an initial $3.5 million to support the expansion of Relay Graduate School of Education to Indiana and the launch of the Relay Teaching Residency program in Indianapolis.”

The title of the post Relay Graduate School: a Slick ‘MarketWorld’ Education Fraudsuccinctly describes this new billionaire funded scheme to further de-professionalize teaching in America. Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her post, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

Indianapolis TFA described their relationship the $15 billion Lilly Foundation started by the big-pharma founder Eli Lilly in 1937 and their relationship with Relay Graduate School:

“An instrumental player in bringing Teach For America to Indianapolis, the foundation continues to works closely with TFA to support the recruitment of a diverse pipeline of teachers for Indianapolis students.”

“Corps members new to teaching will have the opportunity to earn their teaching certification through a master’s degree at Relay Graduate School of Education, our graduate school partner. Most corps members will be able to qualify for AmeriCorps funding that covers the full cost of tuition.”

“The program culminates with a cash award of up to $2,500 for fellows to pursue their new solution.”

The Mind Trust reported on working with the Fairbanks Foundation to advance Relay Graduate School:

“The Mind Trust … is now accepting applications for the fourth cohort of Indianapolis school leaders to participate in Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF), ….”

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation has awarded The Mind Trust a $990,000 grant to help sponsor Indianapolis school leader participation for the next three years, bringing the Foundation’s total investment in the program to $1,756,000.”

With the infusion of billionaire money, The Mind Trust is not only able to offer training stipends for teachers to attend these “reform” institutes, it can now pay people to spend a year or even two to develop new innovation school plans. This year, they proposed 10 new innovation schools. CEO Brandon Brown observed,

“With the creation of the state law, we were now positioned to do the work that The Mind Trust has been wanting to do for years, working collaboratively with the district to provide great leaders with high autonomies to create great schools. Shortly after, we created the fellowship program to provide school leaders the planning time they needed. It wasn’t clear that IPS had the resources internally to do this work on their own, and we were excited to collaborate with them.”

Besides spending liberally to push school privatization efforts within the education community, The Mind Trust is also paying community members to promote their privatization ideology. Chalkbeat reported on the new parent advocacy fellowships stating, “The fellowship comes with an estimated salary of $75,000 to $90,000 per year.”

Final Observations

Brandon Brown cites a recent study by Stanford’s CREDO group to justify privatizing schools. In an IndyStar op-ed, Brown stated, “A 2019 study from Stanford University found that students who attend Innovation Network Schools achieve the equivalent of 53 additional days of learning in English and 89 additional days of learning in math each year when compared to their traditional public school peers.”

The study referred to here is the CREDO Cities Studies Project in which CREDO applied an undisclosed growth model to Indiana testing data. CREDO is the only scholarly organization that gives any credence to the days of learning metric. Although the study comes from a purportedly scholarly institution, it has never been submitted for peer review. The use of growth models have never been proven reliable and CREDO is known to have received much of its funding from school privatization entities. Somehow, CREDO is able to interpret 0.05 standard deviation differences in a noisy study as equating to three months of learning. It’s hogwash.

Why are billionaires spending so much to undermine professionalism in public education? It is probably not altruism. More likely, they want to reduce the biggest cost associated with education; teacher’s salaries. In the antebellum south, plantation owners preached anti-tax ideology because they owned the most and paid the most. Today’s billionaires aren’t much different. Most of them won’t put their children in public schools and really don’t value high quality public education. It seems the big motivation is to reduce tax burdens and simultaneously create new education industries.

Federal Charter Schools Program a Fountain of Corruption and Disruption

19 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/19/2020

Last year, the Network for Public Education (NPE) published two investigations of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). The first one called Asleep at the Wheel came in March. In it they made several claims including that hundreds of millions of dollars had gone to schools that never opened or were shut down.

The authors, Carol Burris and Jeff Bryant, stated, “Therefore, we recommend that Congress end funding for new charter grants coming from CSP.”

Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, harshly criticized the report to Congress saying, “It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”  In response, NPE redoubled efforts and in December published Still Asleep at the Wheel where they documented that their conservative claims in the first report under-reported the extent of negligence associated with the CSP.

DeVos Graphic

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

The Charter Schools Program

After Walter Mondale’s crushing defeat in 1984, a group of mostly southern Democrats including Bill Clinton founded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). According to a 1997 article in the New Republic,

“… [T]he DLC’s mission was to wrest the Democratic Party away from its left-wing establishment—particularly minority interest groups and labor unions—in order to transform it into a party that championed middle-class values. The old Democrats called for minimum wage increases, antipoverty programs, protectionism, and school busing; the DLC’s self-described new Democrats sought balanced budgets, welfare reform, free trade agreements, and charter schools.”

In his book Kochland, Christopher Leonard wrote, “If the new era was defined by any term, it was still the soupy and ambiguous term of ‘neoliberalism,’ which combined the machinery of a welfare state with deregulatory efforts for the select few special interest groups that had the money and lobbying power to make their case heard in Washington, DC.”

The Charter Schools Program was established in Title 10 of the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The purposes cited were to provide support for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools. The intent stated was to enhance parent and student choices among public schools.  The business men and politicians writing the law believed these choices and standards would result in higher student achievement. In his paper “Schooling the State: ESEA and the Evolution of the U.S. Department of Education,” Patrick McGuinn explained,

“In the 1994 ESEA reauthorization, President Clinton—a former “education governor” and ‘New Democrat’— secured changes that would push states to increase performance reporting and embrace educational accountability. Under this new ESEA and a companion piece of legislation, Goals 2000, states were required to establish academic standards in each grade and create tests to assess whether students had mastered the standards. The tests were to be administered to all poor children at least once in grades three through five, six through nine, and ten through twelve.”

In “Still Asleep,” Burris recites,

“Begun with just $6 million in 1995, Congressional appropriations for the CSP jumped to $190 million by 2001 and nearly $219 million in 2004. In 2019, the federal Charter Schools Program was funded with $440 million in taxpayer dollars.”

The charter school theory was that these privately operated schools without interference from state education departments and local school districts would unleash dramatic innovation and improvement. In response to “Asleep,” DeVos wrote Representative Grijalva stating, “Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has shown that charter school students outperform their peers in traditional public schools.” However, her Education department’s 2019 study concluded that charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools.

When Bill Clinton first pushed charter school legislation, it was promoted as an experiment. The experiment is now 25-years old. This new class of privatized schools has come with many unintended consequences. They have driven up education costs through the inefficiencies associated with running dual systems; they have undermined teacher professionalism; they have weakened one of the great pillars of democracy in America and they have diminished the role of schools as a unifying historical entity in neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, they have not unleashed dramatic innovation and improvement; just disruption.

Asleep at the Wheel

The March 2019 paper “Asleep at the Wheel,” states in the executive summary,

“The federal outlays we examined are not modest expenditures amounting to little more than rounding errors. In its 2015 analysis, CSP stated that since its inception in 1994, the program had provided $3.3 billion to fund the startup, replication, and expansion of charter schools, creating 40 percent of operational public charter schools in the nation. We estimate that program funding has grown to well over $4 billion. That could bring the total of the potential waste to around $1billion.

“The waste of public dollars on closed charter schools is not the only concern. Of the grant recipients that manage to stay open, we uncovered extensive evidence that raises serious questions as to whether or not these schools are truly ‘high quality,’ meeting the CSP goal of providing equitable access for disadvantaged students.

“Through detailed examination of CSP’s application process, and by comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, we found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny.”

“The CSP’s own analysis from 2006-2014 of its direct and state pass through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.”

On April 10, 2019, Secretary of Education DeVos testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor where she was repeatedly queried about different claims made in “Asleep at the Wheel.” When Wisconsin Congressman Pocan asked about the more than $200 million grant to IDEA Charter Schools and their plan to lease a private jet for 6-years at $2 million per year, DeVos deflected and never answered the question but she did say, “The report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda.”

That was a lie. It still has not been totally debunked or even seriously challenged.

In a written reply to follow up questions by the committee DeVos stated,

“Quite simply, the Network for Public Education is anti-reform, anti-charter and anti-choice; accordingly, its report represents nothing more than a political attack.”

“Unfortunately, several of your colleagues appear to have embraced this report without a careful examination of it. This rush to judgment risks fracturing the longstanding bipartisan support for public charter schools, which so many American families have come to rely upon as the only alternative to failing public schools.”

 “What isn’t debatable is that the Network for Public Education had a purpose when it published its report: to smear public charter schools, the CSP program and its grantees under the guise of research. It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”

“Since 2001, of the 5,265 charter schools that have received funding through a State entity or directly from the Department, 634 did not open and are unlikely to open in the future. As the developers of these schools received only CSP “planning” funds, which serve the specific purpose of enabling a charter school developer to explore the feasibility of opening a new charter school, the average award size for these schools was significantly lower than the average award size for CSP “implementation” grants and subgrants. In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.”

The President of NPE, Diane Ravitch, has a long history of championing standards based education reform informed by standardized testing. It was only after reviewing years of data around 2007 that she concluded it was not working. She certainly never gave up on the idea of improving public education.

Her criticism of charter schools has been the lack of oversight, profiteering and fraud that have plagued the industry.

As far as school “choice” is concerned. In her book School Choice, educator and NPE supporter Mercedes Schneider quoted a 2012 Educational Research Alliance study noting, “The combined pressure to enroll a greater number of students and raise test scores to meet state targets seems to have created perverse incentives, encouraging the practice of screening and selecting students.”

Schneider observed, “[Milton] Friedman’s idea of the market as a disinterested player in the game of choice simply is not consistent with practice.”

Ironically, Secretary DeVos has a well known anti-public education bias. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVoses’ philanthropy for Mother Jones stating,

“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”

DeVos asserting NPE “makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor” is a baseless claim. The reasons no one has been able to convincingly refute the conclusions in either “Asleep” or “Still Asleep” is because of the quality of the supporting data used and the careful rigor applied.

DeVos indicated that the spending on “ghost charters” [charters that never opened] was not nearly as high as stated. In a Washington Post article, Burris used DeVos’s data to defend the paper.

DeVos stated, “In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.” Burris pointed out,

“The total for grants in the 2015 data set we used for our report is $1,794,548,157. Of that amount, 3.5 percent is $62,809,185. Our report said $45.5 million was wasted on ghost schools. Again, it appears as if we did not catch all of the waste.”

Burris also noted that of the 5,265 grantee schools DeVos cited only 3,138 were still in existence according to a department contracted WestEd presentation. That means 2,127 schools either never opened or were closed; a rate of 40.4% of all charters that were funded from active grants during those years. In “Still Asleep,” the percentage of failed charter schools over the same period was stated as 37%.

In other words, using DeVos’s numbers and official reports contracted by the US Department of Education for checking; the NPE numbers proved to be conservative and accurate.

Conclusion

Both “Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are well researched important studies illuminating the profound corruption in the federal Charter School Program.

“Still Asleep” notes, “Hundreds of millions of dollars sent to states with few rules of the road have resulted in the massive waste of federal tax dollars, as grants were doled out to individuals who had no credentials or experience to open up a new school.”

“Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are forty and forty-eight pages in length respectively. The data presented and the illustrative charter school antidotes are meticulously documented. These two documents reveal a corrupt raid on taxpayer money which is negatively impacting K-12 education in America.

The “Still Asleep” recommendations seem like common sense. They urge:

“We therefore strongly recommend that Congress end appropriations for new charter school grants in the upcoming budget and continue funding only for obligated amounts only to legitimate projects. Once those grants have been closed, we recommend that the CSP be ended and that charter schools continue to receive federal support only through other federal funding streams such as Title I and IDEA. Students, not charter school entrepreneurs, should benefit from federal funds.

“We also recommend thorough audits by Congress of previous grant awards, the establishment of regulations to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned to the federal coffers.”

The Vicious Attack on Sweetwater Union High School District

14 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/14/2020

Chula Vista, California

Superintendent Karen Janney and the school board at Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) have a target on their backs. In September 2018, new Chief Financial Officer, Jenny Salkeld, announced there was a $20 million dollar hole in the submitted 2018-2019 school year budget. Salkeld had discovered a long smoldering budget irregularity. Janney immediately reported the budget issue to the County Office of Education and informed the bargaining units with whom she was negotiating about the new uncertainties. Since then, journalists looking for readers and politicians looking for opportunities have robustly slimed the district and its leaders.

A Quadruple Whammy

Besides the mystery of going from a reported $17 million positive budget to an actual $10 million deficit, Janney and the board of trustees had to deal with the states increased pension payment requirements, a hike in special education costs and shrinking enrollment.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the state required school districts to pay 8% of teachers’ salaries to the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). In the just submitted Second Interim budget report, Salkeld revealed that the rate is now 17.1% and will increase to 18.4% in the 2020-2021 school year. In other words, the retirement costs have more than doubled.

This school year, spending on special education has zoomed to $62.5 million and is projected to reach almost $70 million in two years.

In addition, SUHSD is experiencing shrinking enrollment. Between 2014 and today the average daily attendance in the district has dropped from 38,302 to 36,023. That accounts for another $20 million in lost revenue. The drop is almost entirely fueled by the expanding charter school sector. In the 2018-2019 school year, 15% of 7th grade through 12th grade students in the Sweetwater service area were in charter schools; a total of 6,281 students. (Number of students derived by cross referencing county charter school data with state attendance records.)

With all of the turmoil, the fact that SUHSD has 13 high schools and 11 middle schools in excellent facilities with professional leadership and highly skilled educators is often overlooked. According to the state, 23% of the district’s students are English language learners and 60% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. What might surprise outsiders is that the professional educators in Sweetwater love their jobs, their students and their schools. They take great pride in the quality of education being provided and are not disturbed in the least by the learning challenges associated with these kinds of student demographics.

However the current situation has presented an opportunity for demagoguery. Chula Vista Elementary has for several years gotten around the law limiting them to grades K-6 by starting dependent charter schools. They now have five dependent charter schools educating 2,108 students who would otherwise be in SUHSD schools. A recent article in the San Diego Union reports “Chula Vista district leaders say they want to give parents more options for middle school as soon as this July.” They want to steal more students.

Sweetwater 2018 Budgets Compared

Comparing the June 2018 Budget with the Revised October 2018 Budget

Is it Time to Replace Karen Janney?

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. On June 8, 2015 the board selected Karen Janney to be the new permanent Superintendent of the district.

Janney was born and raised in the district. She began teaching in SUHSD in 1978 and soon became an administrator. When Jesus Gandara was appointed Superintendent in 2006, Janney was serving as Assistant Superintendent of schools. By 2009, she had completed her doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration at San Diego State University (SDSU) and had been forced out of the SUHSD by Superintendent Gandara.

Janney had many friends in the district who were excited by her selection as the new superintendent. I was working at Mar Vista High School at the time and vividly recall how two staff members that were taking her education leadership course at SDSU were absolutely thrilled. I was OK with her selection but had some unfounded reservations that I kept to myself.

I soon became troubled by three different Janney agendas. I was bothered when she found funding to buy tee-shirts for all staff. The shirts had “Sweetwater Union High School District Putting Students First” emblazoned across the front. Though not mandated, there was pressure applied to wear these corporate styled promotional tee-shirts on certain days. It reminded me of the corporate approach to leadership employed by large charter school chains.

IMG_20200312_125802

Corporate Type of Promotion Foisted on SUHSD Teachers

A second and more troubling policy change came a few months into her tenure. Janney announced that Sweetwater was joining the Core Districts. Originally conceived as an organization for leaders in urban school districts to share strategies, CORE gained notoriety when its eight districts led by John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified made a legally questionable side deal with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They agreed to evaluate teachers using testing data for a chance at Race to the Top grants. Today, CORE is offering to conduct school evaluations for California districts using the residual-gain growth model as an alternative to the California Department of Education evaluation method.

Worse – in 2017, Janney scrapped the district’s expensive I-pad program and replaced it with another Ed Tech industry scheme for putting students at glowing screens. She purchased laptop computers for all students and staff. She had succumbed to the allure of education technology and its associated bad pedagogy. Janney also signed the Future Ready pledge making SUHSD a target for education technology salesmen.

Since the budget crisis began, it has become apparent that Janney is incapable of creating a good working relationship with the County Office of Education (COE). It may not be all her fault. She has been careful to legally comply with the COE but has not developed any visible cooperative relationships.

Superintendents are in charge. School boards only approve or disapprove of the agenda set before them by the Superintendent. From the beginning of her administration, board members, union leaders and community members recommended that she replace the financial department’s leadership. Janney refused and turned away calls in 2015 for a forensic audit of the district’s finances. She was not willing to accept the almost $2 million dollar price tag. These two decisions are central to the financial situation the district is in today. Many people were predicting financial issues would eventually be revealed.

When the crisis first manifested in September 2018, trustees and others encouraged Janney to utilize existing expertise within the district to run a messaging campaign making sure the district’s side of the story was being told. Janney chose instead to leave existing communications director, Manny Rubio, as the sole district spokesperson. During the first two months, there was no public response to the crisis by SUHSD. Rubio was content to wait and react to media questioning.

As the hidden $20 million dollar problem and growing structural issues created an urgent need for budget cuts, Janney made another critical error. Under her leadership the district’s central office staff has doubled. This is where cuts should be expected but Janney has rejected most cuts to her staff. To successfully solve the crisis she needs the cooperation of the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA – the teacher union), however, cutting teachers before district staff is undermining collaboration.

Union Chart of Sweetwater Staffing

An SEA Flyer for the March 10 School Board Meeting

FCMAT is a QUANGO and that’s Not Good

The Financial Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) was summoned to Sweetwater to look at the budget. After a three day deep dive into SUHSD finances, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine delivered a report and some damning words. He said that 302 entries that made the district finances look better were not well documented. He concluded, “That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up.” He also suggested the district was in danger of a state takeover.

FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT.  It is a QUANGO which Roland Watson describes as “a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization.” It is a neo-liberal construct common in the UK. Those of short duration are sometime called task forces; they are set up to look at an issue, report their recommendations and then disband. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, they have developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

It is eerie how closely the issue in SUHSD echoes the 2003 events in Oakland, California. In 2000, the School Board appointed Dennis Chaconas Superintendent over the objection of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who had pushed a city hall official for the superintendent’s post. In 2003, Education Next Reported, “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”

Chaconas wanted a waiver from the state to allow use of existing construction funds to temporarily pay off the deficit. Instead State Schools’ Superintendent Jack O’Connell and influential Democratic politicians like State Senator Don Perata and Mayor Jerry Brown were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt. Through apparent complicity with FCMAT, a state takeover of the district came about which gave Broad trained administrator Randolph Ward complete control.

The problem with a QUANGO is they carry out the political agenda of whoever is in power. An article in the Black Agenda Report stated,

“FCMAT did “hit” jobs for anyone willing to pay. Brown paid Tom Henry to prevent Oakland from solving its fiscal problem. FCMAT lobbied the State Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the former Democratic Assemblyman from Alameda, to rule that Oakland’s plan to borrow construction funds was a violation of state and local law.” (Tom Henry was FCMAT CEO)

FCMAT is still draining money from Oakland. Former Oakland School District Public Information Officer, Ken Epstein writes,

“State appropriation for FCMAT in 2018-19 was about $6.3 million, plus the fees school districts are required to pay for the “aid” provided by FCMAT staff. This past school year, the district paid FCMAT and the county $1.4 million to oversee OUSD.”

“… The district loan payments are $6 million a year until 2026. The $100 million loan was spent unilaterally by the state Receiver Ward with no input from the community.”

In December 2018, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine accused SUHSD of the felonious offense of covering up bad financial information with no evidence. At the same time his team moved in to perform a forensic audit of Sweetwater’s finances. To this date no evidence of criminal malfeasance has been presented and no forensic audit has been conferred.

That has not stopped Will Huntsberry and the Voice of San Diego from running banner headlines like “State Investigators Say There’s Evidence of a Financial ‘Cover-Up’ in Sweetwater” and linking to these allegations repeatedly throughout the last year.

Another Huntsberry headline claims, “Docs, Interviews Show Sweetwater Officials Ignored Budget Warnings.” This article which Huntsberry repeatedly linked in latter reports says one unnamed employee went to Director of Finance Doug Martens and CFO Karen Michel to raise concerns. Huntsberry says both of them told the employee not to worry about it. Martens and Michel resigned from Sweetwater after the June 2018 budget was submitted. If there were legal or ethical problems with financial reports, they are the main suspects. Technically, the report is not false but it is purposefully misleading and sensationalized.

A Final Observation

I lived through the three superintendents’ tenures of Brand twice and Gandara once. They were perverse and unethical. At the same time, many Trustees serving on the board appeared to represent the construction industry more than parents, students or taxpayers. The present board and superintendent might not be perfect, but I do not believe they are corrupt. That is important.

At this point in time, billionaires throughout America are openly hostile toward public education including US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Many politicians who take money from them would be happy to facilitate the state taking over our school districts. It is in the best interest of the entire Sweetwater family to close ranks and solve this crisis before outside forces take advantage.