Tag Archives: vouchers

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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And then there were two: 2nd Lawsuit filed against Nevada’s school voucher law

School Corridor Lockers There are now two lawsuits filed against the “Education Savings Account” law enacted by the last session of Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom.  The first came late last month from the ACLU, and now a second comes from parents who are disturbed that the law takes revenue collected for public education and diverts it to private and religious schools.

“The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims ESAs violate the state constitution by diverting funds “exclusively” meant for public schools to private schools and other private expenses. It also argues the ESA bill undercuts funding for public schools to a less-than-sufficient level and does not mandate private schools to follow the same non-discrimination and accountability rules that state law requires of public schools.

The lawsuit includes a request for a judge to permanently block the Nevada treasurer’s office from implementing the ESA program, according to a news release.”  [LVRJ]

The notion that private is always better than public seems to undergird the assumptions of the proponents of public support for private education.  There are several streams that converge into this ideological river, some stronger than others.  Some relevant to the issues at hand, and others less so. The arguments are worth exploring.

Diversion

Proponents of the measure argue that since it’s the parents who make the funding request from the State Treasurer’s office, they have every right to make the diversion.  There’s a slippery slope question herein: Does an individual have the right to request the diversion of public funds for the benefit of a private enterprise?

For the sake of the general argument, let’s assume that we are not talking about schools in particular, but any state or local function.  A hypothetical might be illustrative, if not analogously probative – there is a reservoir stocked with fish by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, subsidized from about $231 million is expended in total on “fisheries management.” [NDW pdf] The sale of Trout Stamps brings in about $650,000 annually. [NDW pdf]  Approximately 1% of Nevada’s Department of Wildlife budget comes from the General Fund, and 2% from other state sources.  86% of the budget comes from wildlife fees and grants. Those fees include fishing licenses. A fishing license costs $13, and the Trout Stamp adds another $10 to the total.   Now, imagine an enterprise in close proximity to our hypothetical reservoir which charges admissions and fees to fish in the waters of its reservoir; no state license or special stamps required.

May a individual who doesn’t want to fish in public waters get $23 returned to a “fishing savings account” because he or she doesn’t want to fish in the public reservoir, and prefers to engage in that recreational activity on private lands, under private control?  Taxes and fees are combined to form the revenue base of the Department of Wildlife, so what is the justification for diverting funds from the Department of Wildlife back to those who do not wish to utilize its services?

We might apply the same analogy to other services like local libraries?  If a subscription library were to be established could local residents request a voucher for funds to subsidize their fees to the subscription library?  Could local residents request vouchers to reduce the burden for their payments to use private parks and pools?  May a local resident demand a voucher from a county government which collects property taxes, a portion of which are allocated to the operation of a hospital, if the resident chooses not to use the services of that local hospital?  Might a resident who pays for private security request a voucher for a “protection savings account” to subsidize his or her fees to the private security firm from taxes collected to finance the local law enforcement agencies?

There’s a tricky precedent here in the form of the “individual choice” argument.  The implications go far beyond the funding of private or parochial education, and range from the relatively minor (such as our fishing example) to the more serious (such as the public subsidies for public health or public safety services.)  Extrapolating this precedent could yield a chaotic system in which each individual is only obligated to pay for the “things” he or she personally wants. 

The Grass Is Greener

The “School Choice” argument has been framed as one of allowing parents to choose between the public and private system, with the private or charter schools held to be superior.  This argument branches out into several other strands.  In strand one, the question arises: Should public funds be used for the inculcation of religious ideals and dogma?

Article II of the Nevada Constitution is clear on this subject. “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”  Art II, Section 2 (emphasis added)

Sections 9 and 10 are equally exclusive: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.” And, “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

When the topic comes up three times in one brief segment of the State Constitution, we have to believe that those who crafted the document were serious about the subject.   So, when Bishop Gorman High School schedules Mass during the school day, would this violate the funding proscriptions in Article II of the State Constitution?  The answer seems clear in Section Ten. NO public funds of any kind or character whatever….”  Would this proscription also apply to the Southern Baptist Academy (K-12) online home schooling curricula?  Most likely.

Strand Two assumes parents want to make the best choices for their children, while the state has an obligation to create a “uniform system of common schools.” And at this point the categorization gets complicated.  There are parochial schools which are required to accept the children of any member of the parish.  There are also parochial schools, such as Bishop Manogue in Reno, NV which offer applications including recommendations from at least two teachers (math and English), and high school placement test results.  We should probably guess that those scoring higher will swim faster in the decision pools.  The Meadows is a non-sectarian school in Las Vegas, and its exclusivity is emphasized by the $15,500 to $24,025 tuition fees.  Neither exclusive (as opposed to totally inclusive) schools such as Bishop Manogue or The Meadows quite constitutes a “common” (as in totally inclusive) school.  Now, does a voucher – in the form of an ESA – violate the provisions of the State Constitution that revenue collected for educational purposes be used for schools which are not part of a “uniform system of common schools ” and really don’t intend to be?

Strand Three raises other categorical questions, such as when are other educational alternatives to be considered part of a “uniform system of common schools?”   For example, there are three forms of charter schools in Nevada depending on their sponsorship: District, University/College, and those approved by the State Public Charter School Authority.  The latter category gets us into some Alphabet Soup.  A private charter hires an ESP (Educational Service Provider) to handle day to day operations, and this management comes in two forms, the CMO and the EMO.  (Charter Management Organization, and Educational Management Organization) The EMO’s are more often those corporations which can afford to purchase school facilities.  Once the Alphabet Soup is sorted, it’s easier to examine the program management to see if it fits the template of a school’s definition of an institution fitting into a framework of “a uniform system of common schools.”

The extensive provisions of NRS 386 on Charter Schools should give some assurance of public accountability. There is an annual report from the Sponsor  NRS 386.610: For each charter school that it sponsors with a written charter, an evaluation of the progress of each such charter school in achieving the educational goals and objectives of the written charter. And, For each charter school that it sponsors with a charter contract, a summary evaluating the academic, financial and organizational performance of the charter school, as measured by the performance indicators, measures and metrics set forth in the performance framework for the charter school.  Three consecutive years of underperformance and determined by the CMO/EMO evaluation standards, and they’re out.

Not surprisingly, most of the Nevada charter schools are located in the Las Vegas suburban area.  Nor is it any great surprise that the ethnicity of 61.61% of the state charters is White, as compared to 35.98% statewide, and while the composition of public schools is about 40.56% Hispanic, the state charters enroll only 16.11% of that student population subset. [NVReport Card]  Surely, schools part of a “uniform system of common schools” would have enrollment statistics which better mirror those of the public schools? 

Thus, the question: If a school, while adhering to the testing regime of the State, isn’t representative of the enrollment of the “common schools” using even the most broad statewide description, does it qualify for public funding for its operations?  And, may a school, with the permission of the state, expend public funds if it fails to offer the same programs for special students as are required in the public schools?  In other words, do we have one system of common schools or two?

Who’s Choosing?

Heaven forbid I’m bashing private schooling – I’m one of its products.  However, I am also one who believes that private schooling is a choice, a choice made by parents who don’t want to avail themselves of the choice to send the kids to the public school.  Taxes are paid into state and local coffers for the maintenance of “a uniform system of common schools,” so that every other youngster in town who isn’t a parish member or having the luck to be born to parents who can afford private education,  isn’t denied  schooling.   The passage of the ESA legislation simply means I don’t have the choice NOT to pay for someone else’s choice to attend a private school.

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Education Funding: Bait and Switch, Switch and Bait

Any time there’s a discussion about economic diversification in this state the topic of education comes to the foreground, and this comment from Steve Hill, Nevada’s economic development point man, is no different:

“But I think what most people are saying – and I know the governor has said this publicly – is that we’d like to see more money go into education as our economy improves. I think the question out there for those who have to make this decision is if we raise taxes, is that going to hurt the economy, and ultimately hurt the amount of revenue we bring in and really not help the school system?” [Vegas Inc]

Take note of the modifiers.  More money should be spent on education “as our economy improves.” Notice also the assumption that raising taxes will ultimately “hurt” our school systems.

There are three things we can count on during discussions of educational funding in Nevada.  One: If we are in a recession then we can’t raise taxes because “people are already hurting.” Two: If we are recovering from a recession we can’t raise taxes because that would jeopardize the recovery.  Three: If we are having a period of growth and prosperity, then we can’t raise taxes because to do so would be to imperil the growth and prosperity.

In short, there will always be an excuse not to increase funding for K-12 education and higher education in Nevada.

Beneath the excuses are some very familiar rationalizations:

(1) The K-12 schools are “failing” and therefore we should augment the resources for privatization in the form of charter or private schools.  This contention is most often wrapped in “parental choice” camouflage covering.  That the proposed choice doesn’t exist in many rural communities, or that the proposed choice is extremely limited in urban ones, doesn’t enter into the discussion often enough.  Nor is it observed often enough that school voucher programs are a way to siphon off public funds for public schools and channel the money to private ones.

(2)  Universities are bastions of liberalism and useless information, and therefore the taxpayers should not be required to fund departments which aren’t “producing.”   The argument is often bedecked with common ad hominem attacks on pointy-headed types with tenure.  This might be the time to recall that if Steve Jobs hadn’t dropped in on a calligraphy course at Reed College the Mac wouldn’t have had all those signature multiple type faces and proportional fonts?  We should also remember that the late great Dr. Sally Ride graduated from Stanford with majors in physics and English.

(3) Public service for serf’s wages.  Evidently, everyone has a favorite elementary or high school teacher who encouraged his or her little pupils to seek success — equally evident among conservative pundits is the notion that such favored people are “self centered greedy” people who put their own economic needs above the welfare of their schools and students.  What we have here is the south bound product of a north bound bull.

Teachers who have to moonlight with second jobs to make ends meet can’t devote their entire efforts toward classroom success.  Young people looking at their economic prospects are discouraged from the teaching profession by the fact of salary schedules that top out at the very point at which remuneration is beginning to be actually rewarding in other fields.

A secondary school teacher in Nevada can expect median wages of $52,380 annually. [DETR] A computer and information system manager can expect to be paid median wages of $100,780. [DETR] Any questions?

In the mean time, there’s no reason to believe that the next few years will be any different from those which have passed before, those in which we’ve fallen for any one of the three major excuses NOT to adequately fund our public educational services in Nevada.

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