Tag Archives: public schools

Right Wing School Daze in Nevada

School Corridor Lockers And now the National School Boards Association weighs in – along side the National Education Association – that’s not a combination one sees all that often. What might bring them together?  Nevada’s egregious Strip The Schools Funding scheme, or SB 302. (pdf) [RGJ]  Others who’ve found the new private/home school funding scheme an atrocious way to funnel funds away from public education include the NAACP, the SPLC, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.  All these organizations oppose the right wing privatization plan.  They’re right.

The brain fart  child of Republican Scott Hammond (NVS-18) who has an interest in the Somerset Academy (as a founding member), is yet another way to line the pockets of  Floridian entrepreneurs, specifically the Zuluetas who control about $115 million in south Florida real estate, all exempt from property taxes as “public schools.”  [MiamiHerald]  The Zuluetas’s little empire has a fairly broad reach, as explained by the Miami Herald:

Academica’s reach extends from Florida to Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Utah and California, where the company also manages charter schools. But Academica is best known for managing four prominent school networks in Miami-Dade and Broward counties: the Mater Academies, the Somerset Academies, the Doral Academies and the Pinecrest Academies.

In the 2010-11 school year, these four chains had 44 South Florida schools with about 19,000 students. Each network of schools is run by a nonprofit corporation, which in turn is run by a volunteer governing board. These boards set policy for the schools, and also approve the management contracts and property leases — including the land deals with the Zulueta companies. While the teachers and principals work for the nonprofits, Academica routinely vets personnel and recommends principals from within its stable of schools.

As much as the principal characters in the Academica wish to claim altruistic motives and concern for the education of their little enrollees, there have been serious questions about the  “land deals” in Florida – since when have there not been questions about land deals in Florida? – and the connectivity between the academies and the corporation…a corporation which on at least one occasion held a lovely  corporate session in the Bahamas at the expense of the schools. [MiamiHerald] [CIOK] Enough questions were raised to grab the attention of the Feds who investigated Academica. [EdDive]

By April 20, 2014 the Department of Education’s office of inspector general had heard enough to begin an audit of Academica’s dealings. [MiamiHerald]

Little wonder some major organizations have questions regarding the transfer of funds – tax dollars – away from public schools whose lease arrangements, contracts, funds, and all other operations must be conducted in public, as matters of public record, complete with audits.

The byzantine labyrinth of connections between land developers in Florida and education in Nevada might be sufficient to call this inane bit of legislation into question – but wait, there’s more:

“Unless otherwise stated in the legislation, nothing in the legislation will be deemed to limit the independence or autonomy of any participating entity.” [edchoice]

If my reading skills haven’t escaped me this means that the State Treasurer can’t object to public funds being shipped off to the “Flower Child School of Sensitivity and Sensations,” the “Spartan Academy for Children in Need of Physical Restraint,” or parents who believe that everything a child needs to know in life can be taught by learning to knit.  There’s another item in the list that might give some serious militarists pause: What would prevent a “school” from encouraging a “gap year” for a student to “study with ISIS in Syria?”

However, the dubious intent of some recipients of Nevada tax dollars may be a side show.  The real intent is the privatization (and profitization) of American public schools.  If sufficient funds are stripped away from public schools, then their overhead expenses and personnel costs will be such a burden as to precipitate a financial collapse and consequent “need” for “flexible” charter/private education.  The plan is relatively simple, just flood a market with private schools, “market share demonstration sites,” – or call them “investment sites” – and those vulnerable markets will pave the way for the privatization process. [CashKids]

There’s nothing secret about this, the privatization contingent has a road map:

“First, commit to drastically increasing the charter market share in a few select communities until it is the dominant system and the district is reduced to a secondary provider. The target should be 75 percent. Second, choose the target communities wisely. Each should begin with a solid charter base (at least 5 percent market share), a policy environment that will enable growth (fair funding, nondistrict authorizers, and no legislated caps), and a favorable political environment (friendly elected officials and editorial boards, a positive experience with charters to date, and unorganized opposition). For example, in New York a concerted effort could be made to site in Albany or Buffalo a large percentage of the 100 new charters allowed under the raised cap. Other potentially fertile districts include Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.” [EdNext]

Proponents of privatization toss the usual buzz words into the discussion: Choice, Flexibility, Market Share, Free Markets, etc.  What they are NOT inserting is also germane:  Shareholder Value Theory, and Return on Investment.  If privatization is the model, then current financial theory is part of that system, and it isn’t too far fetched to believe that the insertion of the Shareholder Value Theory is part of the mindset of those advocating private education services.   Is it too difficult to imagine what a Martin Shkreli could do with a few schools?

In short, the “Nevada System” under SB 302 is an invitation to corporate cronyism, corporate malfeasance, theoretically valid but ethically unspeakable administration, and good old fashioned chaos.  The National School Boards Assn. and the other organizations are correct in pushing back against this disturbing trend.

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Dear Grandkids, We’re Leaving You Some Bills

GrandparentsDear Grandchildren,

It’s March 16, 2013 and we’re all in a dither about the debt we’re passing along to you.  Yes, it’s a big one.  The lines on the charts look devastating indeed:

National debt by administration

We chose to ignore the actual debt and real deficit reduction efforts in order to focus on cutting the “size of government” in your life so you could have more “freedom.”

National Debt Presidencies But, all this said, we are leaving you some bills we sincerely hope you can pay!  In our fervor to erase the national budget deficits and reduce the level of national debt we left a few things for you to do to pick up after us, we hope you don’t mind.

The Water Bill:    We knew that as of 2009, and more information is coming on March 19, 2013, that we were running up an $11 billion per year backlog of funding to replace aging water system components.  In reality, the 2009 report wasn’t our first clue:

“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded in 2003 that “current funding from all levels of government and current revenues generated from ratepayers will not be sufficient to meet the nation’s future demand for water infrastructure.” The CBO estimated the nation’s needs for drinking water investments at between $10 billion and $20 billion over the next 20 years.” (emphasis added)

We knew that there had been a 159% increase in the demand for clean drinking water between 1950 and 2000, but we did precious little about the issue.  We moaned about the ARRA’s expenditures for water treatment, about how it would run up the Debt, so our Congress appropriated a “drop in the bucket.”

“The new federal stimulus law provides $6 billion for water projects, with $2 billion of that directed to drinking water systems. But that money is only, well, a drop in the bucket: a report released last month by the E.P.A. estimated that the nation’s drinking water systems require an investment of $334.8 billion over the next two decades, with most of the money needed to improve transmission and distribution systems.” [NYT, 2009]

We knew that the design life of concrete treatment plants would expire in 60-70 years, so the plants built in 1950 are now on their last legs.  We knew that the trunk mains were built to last from 65 to 95 years. Some of those are now aging into oblivion. [ASCE]  So we’re leaving you with the bill for $334.8 billion over the next twenty years to pay for the maintenance of a water distribution system we bragged about but didn’t really want to pay for.

The Sewer Bill:  Our 15,000 public wastewater treatment facilities serve about 225 million people in this country, but we’re still subject to about 900 billion gallons of good old raw sewage discharged every year from aging and dilapidated facilities. [NYT 2011]  We knew back in November 2002, when you were just little tykes, that the Congressional Budget Office estimated the expenditures needed for new and improved wastewater treatment would be in the range of $3.2 to $11 billion. [CBO pdf]  There was a Gap Analysis conducted by the CBO back in 2002 which had some more disheartening information:

“According to the Gap Analysis, if there is no increase in investment, there will be a roughly $6-billion gap between current annual capital expenditures for wastewater treatment ($13 billion annually) and projected spending needs. The study also estimated that if wastewater spending increases by only 3% per year, the gap would shrink by nearly 90% (to about $1 billion annually).

The CBO released its own gap analysis in 2002, in which it determined that the gap for wastewater ranges from $23 billion to $37 billion annually, depending on various financial and accounting variables.”  [ASCE]

So, when all is said and done, we dawdled around until the EPA estimated that it would cost about $390 billion over the next 20 years to repair or replace inadequate water treatment plants and other components of the systems.  We hope you don’t mind we’re leaving you this bill for $390 billion?

The Education Bill:  It’s hard to account for all the needs of our 98,917 public schools in this country. [NCES]   If we’re being honest, we haven’t really looked at the number of aging buildings, or carefully studied their functional age since the “turn of the last century,” in 1999.  We do know that children who are in poverty are also in the oldest buildings. [NCES]   Additionally, we’ve known this not-so-fun fact since the 1999 study: “While 40 percent of small schools (enrollments of less than 300) were built before 1950, 23 percent of large schools (enrollments of 1,000 or more) were built before 1950.”  Since large schools tend to be secondary, we can assume we’ve been following the time honored practice of building nice big new high schools and moving the junior high kids into the old buildings?  Then there’s the “portable building” problem — we’ve known since the Fall of 2005 that portable buildings have more problems which interfere with instruction than standard buildings. [NCES] While the issues might not be too far from the similar interferences in standard buildings — we know they exist — it was just cheaper to ignore them.  Our spending on school construction, as analyzed by the ASCE might give you some pause:

“While detailed conditions and needs numbers do not exist, we do have up-to-date numbers on spending levels. According to the American School and University’s 34th Annual Official Education Construction Report, school construction completed in 2007 (which included both new construction and renovations) totaled more than $20.2 billion. That is down from a peak of $29 billion in 2004. The downward trend is expected to continue: with $52.7 billion in funding is projected between 2008 and 2010. This represents a significant decrease from the $68.4 billion spent between 2005 and 2007.1″

If you are thinking that you might be able to kick this discussion down the road, as we did, because privatization is the solution to every public problem, please think again. First, the charter schools are public buildings in which instruction is immediately governed by groups outside the system.  Secondly, they may not be located conveniently near you, or serve the age groups of your offspring:

“In 2009–10, over half (54 percent) of charter schools were elementary schools. Secondary and combined schools accounted for 27 and 19 percent of charter schools, respectively. In that year, about 55 percent of charter schools were located in cities, 21 percent were in suburban areas, 8 percent were in towns, and 16 percent were in rural areas. [NCES]

There are studies indicating some charter schools are doing better than some public schools, but we have to be careful with our numbers.  For example, one summarization of the different levels of educational achievement (read: test scores) failed to note that charter schools youngsters tend to be from more financially secure families.  [WaPo]  However, if we’re honest, we’d tell you that we’ve not been looking too closely behind the numbers of either the cost of building or maintaining schools, or at the cost of employing qualified teachers… But, Hey, we walked to school and back uphill both ways in driving blizzards.   And, about those standardized tests — “States are likely to spend $1.9 billion to $5.3 billion between 2002 and 2008 to implement NCLB-mandated tests, according to the non-partisan Government Accounting Office (GAO),” as of 2005. [RSO]  We’re leaving you the bill for that too. Whatever it might be.

The War Bill:  We were going to have another “Splendid Little War,” the one in Iraq.  The Bush Administration and a compliant Congress authorized the expenditures as “supplemental appropriations,” meaning that we didn’t have to look at the tab we were running in real time.

Total federal spending associated with the war has reached $1.7 trillion. Future promised health and disability payments for veterans through 2053 add up to $490 billion. So, as it stands now, the Iraq War has cost $2.2 trillion, which is a far cry from the initial 2002 estimates of $50 to $60 billion. When you factor in the interest, war expenses could swell to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades. [NYDN]

So, we missed by a few dollars… but we’re leaving you with the very possible  $6 trillion bill anyway.

We might have paid for some of these items ourselves. We might even have given more consideration to the state of our bridges, dams, and public buildings.  We could have thought of the state of the air traffic system, or the highway syste, or the rail transportation system, we were leaving to you.  However, fretful as we were about these expenses and future costs, we decided that it was not in our best interests to close tax loopholes for giant multi-national energy corporations, or for yachts, or for private jets.  We decided that we “over taxed” our corporations, and rewarded them when they “repatriated” money earned overseas to the U.S.   We decided it was more important to appropriate money for airplanes that didn’t fly than to pay for G.I. benefits earned by service.  We decided it was more important to protect the interests of Wall Street than Main Street.  We decided that money earned in speculation was just as hard won as income from investments or good old fashioned hard labor.   We didn’t want to “burden” you with restrictions on financiers, or humongous banks, or on the incomes to be earned by the top 1% of the population — we wanted you to be “free,” to have “liberty,” and to say nice things about America!

We love you dearly, and want you to know that we think of you always.   Good Luck.   (PS: Hope you don’t mind we’re moving in with you.  After cuts in Social Security and the voucherization of Medicare we’re having a little financial difficulty at the moment.  Even Meals on Wheels isn’t coming anymore.  We could babysit for you now that the Headstart Program serves only a few kids in your neighborhood?)

The Gramps

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Privatization Posse Rides With Rhee

“There they go again.”  The Privatization Posse rolled into Nevada with the most recent incarnation of plans to privatize our public education system. “The proposed bill would allow parents and teachers to petition school district officials to execute one of several federal recipes for school improvement, including replacing the principal and half the staff, closing the school or converting it into a charter school.”  [LVSun]

Consider the Source

The first clue to the ultimate intent of the legislation is the enthusiastic sponsor — Nevada’s very own right wing Tea Party state Senator Mike Roberson (R-LV).  The second clue is that the astroturf StudentsFirst organization founded by former Washington, D.C. school superintendent Michelle Rhee, is aligned with the Chamber of Commerce, and Republican Governors in Ohio and Michigan, and — not surprisingly — Florida’s Governor Rick Scott. [HuffPo]

The third clue is that the vultures are circling; here’s one example among many:

“In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.  The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.” [Reuters]

The Premise

The proposed legislation rationalizing the privatization of our public schools rests on the highly questionable premise that parents have “no voice” in the operation of their schools.   Not True.   At worst, this premise discourages parents and guardians from active participation in school district discussions by informing parents in advance that they are powerless in the face of overwhelming bureaucracy.   After spending many a less than thrilling hour attending school board meetings, I can say without much fear of too much contradiction, a packed room works wonders in terms of the enlightenment of school committee or board members.  Nothing so moves a recalcitrant principal to action as a few telephone calls from parents, and nothing is more appreciated by classroom teachers than calls from parents asking what they can do to get Johnny or Susie’s arithmetic grades up.

Parental involvement matters.  Better still, parents don’t have to adopt proposals for expensive consultants, pricey Silver Bullets from corporate vendors, and for-profit “management solutions.”   Corporate proposals for education are analogous to selling any other product — We, say the corporations, will do for  you what you don’t want to do for yourself.  And, that’s the premise of any private service, from selling carpet cleaning to lawn care — the corporation or firm will do for us what we do not wish to do for ourselves.

It’s ironic that while stoutly defending and “promoting” parental involvement in the education of their children, the proponents of the right wing privatization plans are essentially telling parents: Here’s a legislative answer to your desire for better education which allows you to outsource the education of your children to for-profit corporations.   And, IF your local elementary school is transferred to the management of a private corporation answerable to their shareholders from an elected board of education who are members of the community — then which organizational structure is obviously more closely accountable to parents in the LOCAL area?  In which structure do parents have more power?

Fiscal responsibility matters.  The Privatization Posse depends on the myth that private sector management is always cheaper and more efficient.  Not True.  They are cheaper. [BIPP]  They are not necessarily more efficient, nor do they necessarily provide a better outcome.

Management Issues:  There appears to be a generalized premise that public schools can fail, but charter schools do not.  Wrong.

“Of the approximately 6,700 charter schools that have ever opened across the United States, 1,036 have closed since 1992. There are 500 additional charter schools that have been consolidated back into the district or received a charter but were unable to open.”  [AJC]

So, from 1992 to 2011 6,700 charter school lost 1,036 to closure and another 500 to reversion.   That computes to a 22.92% failure rate, approximately 1 in 4.

What were the reasons for the failure: “There are five primary reasons for charter closures – financial (41.7 percent), mismanagement (24 percent), academic (18.6 percent), district obstacles (6.3 percent) and facilities (4.6 percent).” [AJC]

Combine the top two reasons for charter failure and we find 65.7% going down because of financial constraints and/or mismanagement.   Now we should return to the question of parental and voter involvement, because the solution offered by proponents of chartered education are NOT advising more parental control, to wit:

“As overseers of charter school performance, financially affiliated directors serve as an important link to external resources and support flowing into the school insofar as they act as a credible signal to other donors and sponsors. Additionally, the academic program supplied by the charter school must be of high quality and financial resources are properly managed by school administrators and governing board.”  [CharterNB] (emphasis added)

To whom are the charter managers and administrators responsible?  “Donors and Sponsors.”  Those are not necessarily voters and parents.

Getting Results

The essential question should be for all the abdication of parental influence in school management, and for all the public funds funneled to private education corporations and groups — do charter schools offer better education?

“Middle-school students who were selected by lottery to attend charter schools performed no better than their peers who lost out in the lottery and attended nearby public schools, according to a study funded by the federal government and released Tuesday.

This is the first large-scale randomized study to be conducted across multiple states, and it lends some fuel to those who say there is little evidence to back the drive for more charters.” [ChSciMon]

Similar results were obtained in a study of charter schools in Michigan. [MLive] [EJ.org] There is some evidence that urban low income areas may benefit from charter schools, but the notion that charter schools have an across the board advantage over the public schools is not substantiated by the research to date.

This is a Test

Q: If the research to date does not offer evidence that charter schools are necessarily any better at educating our children, then why should parents hand over their authority to directly elect school boards of education to boards of unelected corporate managers?

You may open your blue-book now.

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