Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

March 1, 2015

Walton Family Foundation Discouraged About Education Privatization in Milwaukee

Filed under: Privatization,Waltons — millerlf @ 11:13 am

In a February 28th article, Alan Borsuk reports on the announcement by the Walton Family Foundation that they will be pulling back from investing in “school reform” initiatives in Milwaukee.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The Walton’s pay their workers substandard wages, benefits and healthcare while implementing discriminatory policies in their workplaces. Yet the Walton Foundation’s claim is to save the children of the very people they exploit. This is the family that is wealthier than the bottom 42% of all Americans combined.

What is their education agenda? Dismantle public education. It is not a coincidence that the “reforms” funded by the Waltons are the same as those advanced by ALEC, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.

Is the intention of the Waltons the liberation of poor communities and communities of color? The truth is that they are the power, the status quo, that must concede for progress to occur.

Borsuk article:

Walton Family Foundation stepping back from Milwaukee education scene

Feb. 28, 2015 MJ Sentinel Alan Borsuk

“We have decided to make grants where we can have the highest impact, which means working in the places that we believe are most ripe for improving our education system.”

Read that sentence and you know that it isn’t coming from someone happy with the education landscape in Milwaukee.

In fact, the statement is from the Walton Family Foundation, the huge philanthropy of the family of the founders of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The foundation is pulling back from a long, strong commitment to “education reform” in Milwaukee.

The Walton decision is important in itself. The foundation has given several million dollars a year to Milwaukee schools and education organizations.

But it is also important in a broader context. Walton is joining a significant list of national players who in one way or another have entered the Milwaukee scene and then departed or reduced their interest.

I came, I got involved, I got frustrated, I didn’t see much change, I moved on. That has been the summary of a parade of those who have found Milwaukee a difficult environment for change.

And there are others (the large and impressive KIPP network of charter schools comes to my mind first) that have declined even to try Milwaukee for similar reasons.

Fifteen years ago, Milwaukee was called by some “ground zero” for school reform. Now, you rarely see national attention to Milwaukee education, at least not for positive reasons. The Walton decision underscores that.

It’s a curious thing, since you would think the current political dynamics in state government would make this a time for enthusiasm among private school choice, charter schools and innovations in the structure of urban education. In some ways that’s true, but in surprising ways, it is not.

In short, I’d attribute this to the entrenched nature of the way we do things, the continuing strength of those opposed to the things Walton favors and missteps by those who favor what Walton favors.

Milwaukee was among a handful of cities targeted in recent years by Walton. Walton had a fairly short list of Milwaukee grants, but they were generally large — frequently in the mid six figures.

It supported the launch or major facility improvements of several religious and charter schools in Milwaukee, in several cases to the tune of $375,000 each.

And it provided major funding to groups such as School Choice Wisconsin, Milwaukee Charter School Advocates and Teach for America in Milwaukee.

According to Walton reports, in 2012 and 2013 combined, it gave $740,000 to Schools That Can Milwaukee, a nonprofit that works on innovation and improvement in all three major sectors (private, charters and Milwaukee Public Schools). Grants for 2014 have not been reported yet.

Abby Andrietsch, executive director of Schools That Can, said the Walton decision, “is definitely hard news and it’s not news that we wanted to get.

“But we have strong community support and we have strong impact data that is getting stronger. We feel very confident that with that data to tell our story and show our impact, we’re going to be able to engage the community going forward.”

‘Wake-up call’
She called the Walton step “a wake-up call” for Milwaukee on the need for cooperation on school improvement.

It is overstating things to say Walton is pulling out of Milwaukee. Let’s call it a big pull back. Walton will make few, if any, new grants to schools or school networks here.

In some cases, it will phase out its support over two years. And the Arkansas-based foundation will no longer have a staff person living in Milwaukee.

What will Walton do?

The statement from foundation spokeswoman Daphne Davis Moore said, “We remain committed to Milwaukee families and are transitioning our focus to improve the environment at the state level in Wisconsin to allow families to have access to more high quality school options.”

Translate that as involvement in Madison in promoting parental choice in general, school accountability aimed at closing or making major changes in low-success schools, and probably “recovery district” ideas that would make more MPS schools into charters.

Howard Fuller, the Milwaukee choice advocate, has had a close relationship with Walton, and organizations he is involved with have received Walton grants.

“From what I see, they’re going to continue to be supportive of the advocacy work in the state of Wisconsin,” Fuller said. “What I hope we can do is create a better overall environment in Milwaukee for creating great schools for kids. Hopefully we can do it not only in a way that Walton would come back, but maybe we can attract others to see Milwaukee as a place that people want to be.”

The Walton decision comes at a time when there are some positive indications of cooperation among the often-warring factions in Milwaukee education. There are a small number of efforts where people have worked together, and efforts to promote a more cooperative environment have been occurring behind the scenes.

There even may be a new player coming to the scene to fill at least some of the gap being left by the Walton decision.

Abigail Schumwinger, who was the Walton representative in Milwaukee until a month ago, said she is beginning to work for a group developing a fund that will make start-up and capital grants to private schools.

Called the Drexel Fund, it will formally kick off this summer and it has a goal of raising $30 million in the next five years. Schumwinger said Drexel expects to focus on six states, including Wisconsin.

Whether you like or dislike the causes Walton has supported, there are messages in the foundation’s decision.

To me, two stand out: Frustration has consequences. And it’s not too late to think working together in pursuit of more high quality schools in Milwaukee could be worth it.

Alan J. Borsuk is senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School. Reach him at alan.borsuk@marquette.edu.

Let’s Demand a Sane Approach to Testing in Wisconsin

Filed under: Legislation,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 10:01 am

Wisconsin is engaging in “education chaos” with the legislative proposals on K-12 education presently being debated in Madison.

Fairtest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, addressed the US Senate in February on reauthorization of ESEA. Their criticisms and proposals should be a roadmap for ending the testing insanity we now face in Wisconsin and across the nation.

Key criticisms from Fairtest on proposed testing policy:
• Increased testing coupled with punitive sanctions caused a wide range of damage. The harm includes narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing out low-scoring children, and cheating.
• Continuing to require every grade testing will perpetuate the damage. Congress should not lock states into another decade of excessive and counter-productive testing.
• Ending punitive sanctions is an essential step, but it alone will not end the pressure to narrow curriculum and teach to the test.
• It should allow states to use federal funds for assessments that enhance learning as well as provide information for parents and public reporting.
• The new “college and career ready” (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) tests states and consortia are now implementing will not solve the problems. Even if they are a modest improvement over current exams, none are good enough to make the focus of instruction. They assess far too little of what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and civic life, while narrowed curriculum and other harms will continue.

FairTest Testimony on ESEA Reauthorization to Senate HELP Committee.
Submitted by fairtest on February 3, 2015

http://www.fairtest.org/

Less Testing, More Learning
Testimony to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Monty Neill, Ed.D., Executive Director, FairTest (National Center for Fair & Open Testing)

Dear Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and Members of the Committee:
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires that states test every student in every grade 3-8 and attach punitive sanctions to results. The result has been damage to educational quality and equity. The harm has been most severe for the students in low-income communities the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is intended to help.

NCLB was intended to accelerate school improvement. But, despite enormous pressure to raise reading and math test scores, the rate of progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at grades 4 and 8 was generally faster in the decade before NCLB took effect than under this law. (See http://www.fairtest.org/independent-test-results-show-nclb-fails). That is also a consistent trend for most demographic groups, including Blacks, English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities. Score gaps between whites and other groups in 2012 were no narrower and often wider than they were in 1998 and 1990.

Nor did NLCB lead to gains on NAEP for high school students. Scores were highest for blacks and gaps the narrowest in 1988. Hispanic scores and gaps have also stagnated under NCLB. Further, SAT scores declined from 2006 to 2014 for all demographic groups except Asians, while ACT scores have been flat since 2010 for all demographic groups.

These results alone would be reason to acknowledge that NLCB has failed and that both sanctions and testing need to be overhauled. But the consequences of NCLB are even worse.

Increased testing coupled with punitive sanctions caused a wide range of damage. The harm includes narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing out low-scoring children, and cheating. (See http://fairtest.org/NCLB-lost-decade-report-home). States and especially districts greatly expanded their own mandated testing in an effort to stave off sanctions. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently reported students are subject to an average of 113 tests between kindergarten and high school graduation. (See http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/11/17/362339421/testing-how-much-is-too-much). In many large cities, students take 10, 20 and more tests in each grade. NCLB also marginalized promising alternative assessments whose expanded use was beginning to improve teaching, schools and learning.

The evidence shows that NCLB has left many children behind, especially those whom ESEA was designed to help. Continuing to require every grade testing will perpetuate the damage. Congress should not lock states into another decade of excessive and counter-productive testing.

Unfortunately, the situation is growing worse. The U.S. Department of Education’s NCLB “waivers” require “value-added” and “growth” measures for judging every single teacher. Research shows this test misuse can be as inaccurate as a coin toss. (See http://fairtest.org/teacher-evaluation-fact-sheet-2014). This requirement is further intensifying teaching to the test and causing a massive expansion of standardized exams as states force districts to carry out the policy. Miami-Dade, Florida, reports it must write 1600 new tests to meet this unfunded mandate, a requirement the Superintended called “insanity.” (See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/us/states-listen-as-parents-give-rampant-testing-an-f.html.) Fortunately, neither the proposed House bill nor Sen. Alexander’s draft bill requires states to continue this program. This renders unnecessary a requirement to test in every grade to obtain scores with which to evaluate educators.

Ending punitive sanctions is an essential step, but it alone will not end the pressure to narrow curriculum and teach to the test. Inertia, the weight of experience under NCLB, will perpetuate the problem. Research prior to NCLB, such as that conducted by Boston College researchers, found that even public reporting induced increased teaching to the test. At a minimum, states should be free to take stronger steps to reduce pressure to teach to the test by ending the every-grade requirement.

The new “college and career ready” tests states and consortia are now implementing will not solve the problems. Even if they are a modest improvement over current exams, none are good enough to make the focus of instruction. They assess far too little of what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and civic life, while narrowed curriculum and other harms will continue.

For these very good reasons, other economically advanced nations do not require testing in more than three grades. They also do not use student scores to judge teachers and schools. Clearly, requiring every-grade tests is not necessary to ensure high-quality schools.

Test proponents seem to believe that parents cannot know how their children are doing without yearly standardized exams. But teachers evaluate and grade students regularly. Research clearly demonstrates that student grades are better predictors of college success than are test scores. Parents do not need annual scores for every grade. Their children need good teachers and schools, ones that do not reduce learning to what is most easily measured. If they do not have them, improvement requires vastly more than focusing on test results.

The federal government has a legitimate role in helping ensure all children receive a strong education. It should neither leave all decisions up to the state nor act as the nation’s school board. What, then, is the proper balance? What should Congress support and require?

It should allow states to use federal funds for assessments that enhance learning as well as provide information for parents and public reporting. Sen. Alexander’s ‘Option 1” accomplishes this. Congress should not functionally block states, districts and schools from making changes that support rather than undermine enhanced outcomes.

One highly relevant example is the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which has a waiver from all state-mandated exams except English Language Arts for its dozens of public high schools. Instead, students graduate by completing individuated performance tasks in language arts, math, science and history. These tasks require the extended work, research, critical thinking and problem solving students need for success in the real world. While Consortium schools mirror New York City’s diversity, every demographic group graduates at higher rates. Higher percentages of graduates also enroll in college. More than the national average of their enrollees remains in college for third semester and beyond.

These and other high-quality assessments could flourish if allowed by federal law. NCLB killed many similar forms of assessment and marginalized others. It is time for Congress to help repair this damage.

FairTest chairs the national Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), which has shared language on accountability and school improvement with the HELP committee (see http://www.fairtest.org/fea-recommendations-improving-federal-law-january). The FEA proposals would redefine accountability and lead to a focus on improvement, not punishment.

For accountability, states and districts would be required to assess the adequacy of resources available to schools, the nature and scope of improvement efforts, and the results of those efforts. States would report on key indicators in these areas and how the state itself is using this evidence to improve schools, particularly those that are in need of assistance. This is an expansion of accountability from Sen. Alexander’s draft, but one that does not put states or districts in a straight-jacket.

To promote improvement, FEA has identified “common elements” found in high-quality schools and successful turnarounds. FEA’s proposals would require states to assist the lowest-performing five percent of schools in implementing, as needed, these common elements. They include leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional learning, school climate, disciplinary practices, parent and community engagement, and wrap-around services. While this, too, would expand federal requirements beyond Sen. Alexander’s bill, the FEA proposal does not specify the actions localities and states must take, but rather the important areas they must address.

In conclusion, FairTest calls on the Senate HELP Committee to:
• Allow states to use grade-span testing and the other means for assessment flexibility and improvement described in Sen. Alexander’s “Option 1.”
• Overhaul accountability and improvement in line with the recommendations of the Forum on Educational Accountability.

Our children, our communities and our nation deserve a strong, effective ESEA. FairTest believes these recommendations are the basis for revising the current federal education law, and they provide a basis for bridging divisions within and between our political parties.

FairTest will be pleased to answer questions and discuss the ideas presented in this brief. You may reach me at monty@fairtest.org, 617-477-9792.

Fairtest at: http://www.fairtest.org/

Resolution Passed by MPS School Board on Walker Budget Proposals

Filed under: MPS,Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 9:42 am

Resolution 1415R-013

WHEREAS, It is important that parents and citizens of the state have a clear understanding of the state budget and its implications for funding at the school district level; and
WHEREAS, When Governor Walker publicly presented his proposed biennial budget on February 3, he stated, “our budget will increase state support for schools by providing more than $100 million annually for the school levy tax credit and more than $100 million in the second year of the budget for equalization aids — while maintaining revenue limits to ensure continuing property tax relief,” no mention was made of the cut of $150 per pupil ($127 million statewide) in special categorical aid in the first year of the proposed budget;
WHEREAS, Such a decrease would result in a “base” cut to the Milwaukee Public Schools of approximately $12.1 million in 2015-2016; and
WHEREAS, While cutting $150 per pupil in the first year — funding that, under current law, would be provided in each year of the 2015-17 biennium — Governor Walker’s budget plan provides no increase per pupil in the revenue limit even to minimally cover inflation, a provision commonly included in previous state budgets that recognized the costs associated with maintaining programs for students; and
WHEREAS, When the base cut and the lack of an inflationary increase in the revenue cap are factored together, the overall result is a total reduction conservatively estimated at $23 million in funding for the provision of educational opportunities for children in the Milwaukee Public Schools; and
WHEREAS, Even though the Governor proposes to include about $142 million (about $165 per pupil) in the per-pupil categorical aid in the second year of the biennium, the net result over the biennium is a cut of approximately $135 per pupil ($112 million); and
WHEREAS, Although the Governor also proposes spending $211.2 million in increased school-levy credits ($105.6 million in each year) and $108 million in increased general aid, with no corresponding increase in the revenue limit, this $319 million is “school funding in name only” —none of which schools will be able to spend to meet the educational needs of their students; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the Milwaukee Board of School Directors join with other school districts in the State of Wisconsin to strongly encourage the Governor and the State Legislature to revise the Governor’s proposed budget to restore school funding in 2015-17 to levels adequate to fund public education in Wisconsin and to reject any decrease in anticipated revenue in the first year of the biennium, while also providing for inflationary revenue increases in both years; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That this Resolution be spread upon the permanent Record of this Board, and that the Board direct the Board Clerk to prepare and to present engrossed copies of this Resolution, suitably signed and sealed, to the Governor and to the State Legislature.
Adopted this 26th Day of February, 2015,
Michael Bonds, President Milwaukee Board of School Directors

February 28, 2015

Public schools serve the whole community

Filed under: Public Education,Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 5:55 pm

Mary Jarvis February 26, 2015 WausauDailyHerald.com

Know the facts about public schools vs. taxpayer-subsidized private schools.

A 21st-century public education system is the foundation of democracy and provides equal opportunity. The doors of public schools are wide open for all students and are essential to the well-being of our communities, state and country.

Do you know the difference between taxpayer subsidized private schools and our community public schools?
• Responsibilities and standards. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools do not need to hire highly qualified teachers and were not required to take state assessments until last year. Public schools are rated by the state every year, but taxpayer-subsidized private schools have a free ride from state report cards until 2017-18 or possibly later.
When taxpayer-subsidized private schools close, taxpayers can’t recoup our losses when displaced children return to public schools. When Life Skills Academy in Milwaukee closed in the middle of the night, $2.3 million tax dollars went down the drain.

• Funding. Wisconsin public schools were subjected to the largest cuts in the nation, totaling $1.6 billion, and there’s another $127 million cut on the table in the new budget proposal. As a result of continuing cuts in resources, there are fewer teachers and less one-on-one time for students. At the same time, taxpayer-subsidized private schools have skimmed $18.4 million dollars from public schools in 2013-2014 with a projection of $54.7 million going to them this year.
You may have noticed the significant increase in local referendums as state funding cuts to local schools, take their toll on students and communities especially rural areas. More communities than ever before are voting to raise their own local property taxes so children can still get a good education.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Nearly 80 percent of private school subsidy goes to students who never attended public schools in the first place — taxpayers are subsidizing private education at the expense of most of the children in our own neighborhoods.

• Special education. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools are only required to offer services to assist students with special needs that can be provided for with minor adjustments. Public schools employ licensed teachers, provide the full scope of special education and comply with federal law. As a result, subsidized private schools enroll far fewer children who require extra attention to succeed.

• Student achievement. Studies have found public schools to be equal or better performing than private institutions. This is true here in Wisconsin, where public school students are outperforming their peers in subsidized private schools. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools aren’t the answer to improving education. They ignore the real factors impacting student success — family income, involvement, and attendance.

• Public oversight. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools do not have democratically elected boards that represent the public — even though you, the taxpayer, are footing the bill. Private schools are not required to meet basic public standards, such as open meetings and records laws, or to publicly release test scores, dropout rates and other information.

• Responsibility to students. Many of the taxpayer-subsidized private schools springing up are private schools geared for profit and looking to advertise their way into getting tax dollars. Just look at the recent request by the subsidy lobby group to get the names, addresses and phone numbers of children in public schools. Subsidized private schools can spend your tax dollars any way they want, because there’s little oversight.
The bottom line: Public schools preserve our democracy and provide a fundamental public purpose for all. They are the heartbeat of thriving communities, the foundation of our quality of life. We need to support our neighborhood public schools so every child has a good public school to attend no matter where they live or what their family circumstances are.

Mary Jarvis of Wausau is a retired teacher and former president of the Wausau Education Association.

February 25, 2015

Wauwatosa School Board asks lawmakers to increase public education funding

Filed under: Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 2:17 pm


$5 Tax savings will further dismantle public education in Wisconsin. Referencing Walker’s proposal to save the average taxpayer $5 over each of the next two years, school board member Michael Meier brought a bag of ten silver coins to the board meeting Feb. 23.

By Rory Linnane Feb. 25, 2015

Facing a loss of about $900,000 in state funding under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget, Wauwatosa School Board members are asking their lawmakers to push for more money for public education.

In a resolution that passed the school board unanimously Monday, Feb. 23, members detailed the restrictions they are under in budgeting for the 2015-17 school years. Walker’s proposed budget would cut $150 in state aid per student in the next school year, while holding the revenue limit flat so that school boards could not raise taxes to make up the difference.

“Therefore, be it resolved, the Wauwatosa School Board calls upon Senator Leah Vukmir and Representatives Dale Kooyenga and Rob Hutton, to work with their legislative colleagues to support increased funding for public education in the current budget for the benefit of Wisconsin’s future and for the benefit of all public school students,” the resolution reads.

Kooyenga said Feb. 24 that he respected the school board’s position and would try to help.
“Just like last time in the budget the Joint Finance Committee increased the funding for public schools, I’ll be working hard to get to the same objective this time to see if we can fix the funding issue for Wauwatosa schools, and work on the resolution as they proposed it,” Kooyenga said. “I’m very supportive and we’ll be working to do that.”
Wauwatosa Superintendent Phil Ertl said although Wauwatosa is in a good financial position to weather “tough times,” other districts are not as fortunate.

“Can we operate with a $1 million cut for a year?” Ertl said. “Sure we can. But can Steven’s Point? Can Green Bay? Can all these other districts around the state that don’t have a fund balance, that have other, different needs than Wauwatosa? No, they can’t. When we fight, it’s not just for Wauwatosa. We’re fighting for public education in general.”
Ertl also said he believes the cuts are discouraging people from going into teaching.

“There’s always going to be a pool of candidates, but are some of our best students deciding they don’t want to go into public education? We’ve seen it,” Ertl said.

Referencing Walker’s proposal to save the average taxpayer $5 over each of the next two years, school board member Michael Meier brought a bag of ten silver coins to the board meeting Feb. 23.
“For ten pieces of silver, I can turn my back on 100 years of public education — my heritage, my community, the future of my grandchildren,” said Meier, who said four generations of his family have benefited from public schools. “I understood four years ago that we didn’t have the money anymore. But this time, it’s for $10.”
Board member Kristy Casey said she was optimistic that lawmakers would step in.

“It’s really early on,” Casey said. “I do believe these numbers will change, or at least I hope that they do. We can’t allow our schools to be victim to things like this, so it’s really important we advocate for what we believe is important in our community, which is our public schools.

Diane Ravitch Speaking in Milwaukee March 18

Filed under: Ravitch — millerlf @ 11:12 am

Diane Ravitch will be giving an address on Wednesday March 18 in Milwaukee.
Time: 6 PM
Place: MATC Cooley Auditorium, 700 W. State

To access the brochure to advertise this event, go to:

ravitch_flyer_2015

February 23, 2015

MPS Board Resolution on Walker Education Budget

Filed under: MPS,Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 7:11 pm

By Larry Miller
This Thursday I am proposing, to the MPS Board of Directors, the following resolution in response to Governor Scott Walker’s cuts in education. Public Testimony will be taken for this item. To see the proposed resolution go to:
MPS Board resolution

Following is a statement by MPS School Board President Michael Bonds.

Statement from Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Michael Bonds regarding Gov. Walker’s proposed 2015-17 biennial budget

MILWAUKEE (February 23, 2015) – Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Dr. Michael Bonds announced Monday that the Milwaukee Board of School Directors will consider a resolution by Director Larry Miller calling on Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature to restore adequate funding to public schools in Wisconsin.

Gov. Walker’s proposed biennial budget cuts more than $127 million in funds to school districts statewide and also fails to provide inflationary increases.

The resolution, in part, calls on the Legislature to “…reject any decrease in anticipated revenue in the first year of the biennium, while also providing inflationary revenue increases in both years.”

“School boards across the state are stepping forward to make sure the devastating impact of the Governor’s proposed budget is understood,” said Bonds. “I fully support Director Miller’s resolution and the call for action.”

Director Miller’s resolution will be introduced at the Milwaukee Board of School Directors’ Regular Monthly Board Meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 26. The meeting will be held in the Donald O’Connell Auditorium in the School Administration Building, 5225 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee 53208.

This news is available online at http://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/News/Statement-from-Milwaukee-Board-of-School-Directors-President-Michael-Bonds-regarding-Gov.-Walker.htm.

February 22, 2015

Racist History of “Right To Work”

The Ugly Racial History of “Right to Work” (Written in 2012 When Michigan Passed “Right to Work”)

Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit ▪ December 20, 2012

The victory for so-called “right-to-work” legislation in Michigan, the heartland of industrial unionism in America, has spurred talk of expanding efforts to pass similar laws to weaken unions in other states, such as Kentucky and even New Jersey. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer goes so far as to suggest that the spread of such anti-union laws is “inevitable,” given economic globalization—a conclusion that might surprise Germans, who have strong labor laws and collective bargaining agreements yet nevertheless manage to compete quite well.

Most of the discussion has centered on the political and economic effects of right-to-work laws—which allow workers to benefit from collective bargaining but withhold dues or agency fees to support the bargaining process. E.J. Dionne correctly notes that Republicans in Michigan were trying to weaken unions for political reasons. In Michigan in 2012, Dionne writes, “Obama won union households 66 percent to 33 percent, the rest of the electorate by 50 percent to 49 percent.” And the Economic Policy Institute finds that workers—whether or not they are in unions—earn about $1,500 less per year on average in right-to-work states, as the policy essentially transfers wealth from workers to employers and stockholders.

But as other states consider such laws, it is important also to remember the ugly racial history of right-to-work legislation. A key driver of the right-to-work movement beginning in the 1930s was Texas businessman and white supremacist Vance Muse, who hated unions in part because they promoted the brotherhood of workers across racial lines. As author Mark Ames notes, Muse bluntly outlined the thinking behind “right to work,” declaring, “From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Indeed, unions have a powerful interest in reducing racial discrimination and animus because racial hostility inhibits worker solidarity and union organizing. Southern segregationists knew this, which is why they eagerly signed on to right-to-work efforts to weaken unions in the middle part of the twentieth century.

In the 1930s and 1940s, organized labor made great strides in the northern and midwestern parts of the United States, but racial animus in the South proved a key impediment to union organizing. It was very threatening to southern segregationists, therefore, when the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) launched “Operation Dixie” in the 1940s to organize the South, because the CIO’s agenda included efforts to reduce discrimination. Southern conservatives feared that if unions united working-class whites and blacks, they could upend the politics of the South, where Jim Crow laws helped keep white and black workers on opposite sides of the political fence. They argued that unions could bring “black domination in the South.” For Martin Luther King, Jr., the unity of interests of labor and civil rights groups was underlined by segregationist opposition to both. In 1961, he told the AFL-CIO that “the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

As historian Tami Friedman notes, the CIO, with a $1 million war chest and 250 organizers, set out in 1946 to organize at least 1 million workers by the end of the year. The AFL also made a pledge to organize 1 million southern workers. CIO president Philip Murray promised both “political and economic emancipation” for southern workers, and vowed to defeat two major segregationists in Mississippi. W.E.B. Du Bois called the CIO the best hope for equal rights in the postwar era.

With President Truman also beginning to move forward on civil rights, southern segregationists ramped up their anti-union efforts. As the CIO began Operation Dixie, southern Democrats joined northern Republicans in voting for the 1947 Taft-Hartley legislation to cripple union organizing, in part by authorizing states to adopt right-to-work statutes. Friedman writes, “While the measure is often seen as the work of a Republican-dominated Congress, southern Democrats were instrumental in its passage; in both houses, over 80 percent of southern Democrats backed the bill. After President Truman vetoed the legislation, 90 percent of southern Democrats in the House of Representatives and over 77 percent of those in the Senate helped override his action.”

Southern segregationists followed up their support for Taft-Hartley with an array of state-based right-to-work laws, a strategy King strongly opposed. He declared, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”
________________________________________

To this day, the states most resistant to unions are those in the former Confederacy and the Jim Crow South. Of the seventeen states that had legally required segregation prior to Brown v. Board of Education, twelve are today right-to-work states. All five states that ban collective bargaining with public employees—Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—are from the Jim Crow South. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the eleven states with the lowest rates of unionization are North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida. All of these states were formerly segregated.
Given this history, one can fully appreciate the bitter irony of Michigan’s adoption of right-to-work legislation. While Michigan’s own racial history is hardly unblemished, the United Auto Workers, led by Walter Reuther, were champions of racial equality within the labor movement. Whereas the AFL-CIO refused to endorse the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, for example, the UAW and Reuther were central players in it.

Sixty-five years later, Operation Dixie has been turned on its head. Not only did labor fail to organize the South; we have now witnessed what was once unthinkable: the passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan, on the heels of the crippling of public employee unionism in Wisconsin.

The far more hopeful story since the 1940s, of course, is the tremendous racial progress made in the United States, and particularly in the American South. Today, Vance Muse’s rhetoric about race is rejected by the vast majority of Americans and serves as a source of enormous embarrassment for the anti-labor, right-to-work movement.

As labor thinks through how to get out of the deep mess it finds itself in, it can draw inspiration from America’s great civil rights movement. In Mississippi, the UAW is framing labor organizing at a Nissan Motors plant as part of a twenty-first-century civil rights movement, and Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, has endorsed the idea of incorporating worker rights to organize into an amended Civil Rights Act. If anything good is to come out of the terrible loss in Michigan, it will be that labor has discovered that the false rhetoric of “right to work” can be directly rebutted with the powerful idea that worker rights are civil rights.
________________________________________
Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and Moshe Z. Marvit is a civil rights and labor attorney. They are coauthors of Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice (2012).

When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:17 am

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.

by Marian Wang ProPublica, Dec. 9, 2014

A couple of years ago, auditors looked at the books of a charter school in Buffalo, New York, and were taken aback by what they found. Like all charter schools, Buffalo United Charter School is funded with taxpayer dollars. The school is also a nonprofit. But as the New York State auditors wrote, Buffalo United was sending ” virtually all of the School’s revenues” directly to a for-profit company hired to handle its day-to-day operations.

Charter schools often hire companies to handle their accounting and management functions. Sometimes the companies even take the lead in hiring teachers, finding a school building, and handling school finances.

In the case of Buffalo United, the auditors found that the school board had little idea about exactly how the company – a large management firm called National Heritage Academies – was spending the school’s money. The school’s board still had to approve overall budgets, but it appeared to accept the company’s numbers with few questions. The signoff was “essentially meaningless,” the auditors wrote.

In the charter-school sector, this arrangement is known as a “sweeps” contract because nearly all of a school’s public dollars – anywhere from 95 to 100 percent – is “swept” into a charter-management company.

The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers. When the agreement is with a for-profit firm like National Heritage Academies, it’s also a chance for such firms to turn taxpayer money into tidy profits.

“It’s really just a pass-through for for-profit entities,” said Eric Hall, an attorney in Colorado Springs who specializes in work with charter schools and has come across many sweeps contracts. “In what sense is that a nonprofit endeavor? It’s not.”

Neither National Heritage Academies nor the Buffalo United board responded to requests for comment. (Update: NHA spokeswoman Jennifer Hoff said in an emailed statement, “Our approach relieves our partner boards of all financial, operational, and academic risks – a significant burden that ultimately defeats many charter schools. Freed from burdens like fundraising, our partner boards can focus on governance and oversight … NHA and its partner schools comply fully with state and federal laws, authorizer oversight requirements, and education department regulations – including everything related to transparency.”)

While relationships between charter schools and management companies have started to come under scrutiny, sweeps contracts have received little attention. Schools have agreed to such setups with both nonprofit and for-profit management companies, but it’s not clear how often. Nobody appears to be keeping track.
What is clear is that it can be hard for regulators and even schools themselves to follow the money when nearly all of it goes into the accounts of a private company.

“We’re not confident that sweeps contracts allow [charters schools and regulators] to fully fulfill their public functions,” said Alex Medler, who leads policy and advocacy work at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter regulators. The organization discourages the arrangements. “We think this is an issue that needs attention.”

Officials have gotten glimpses of questionable spending by some firms using “sweeps” contracts.
Take the case of Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School, another National Heritage Academies school. In 2012, state auditors tried to track the $10 million in public funding given to the school, only to conclude they were ” unable to determine … the extent to which the $10 million of annual public funding provided to the school was actually used to benefit its students.” From what auditors could tell, the school was paying above-market rent for its building, which in turn is owned by a subsidiary of National Heritage Academies. They also had concerns about equipment charges.
The auditors couldn’t ultimately tell whether the charges were reasonable because National Heritage Academies refused to share the relevant financial details. The firm also refused to provide detailed documentation for $1.6 million in costs recorded as corporate services, claiming the information was proprietary, according to the audit. The board president of Brooklyn Excelsior did not respond to our request for comment.

While the auditors in New York were disturbed by what they found, they could do little more than issue reports with advisory recommendations. “We can’t audit the management company,” said Brian Butry, a spokesman for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In Michigan, where NHA is the largest charter-school operator, state education regulators have voiced similar frustrations about the degree to which these private firms are shielded from having to answer to the public about how money is spent.

“I can’t FOIA National Heritage Academies,” said Casandra Ulbrich, Vice President of the Michigan State Board of Education, referring to the right to request public documents from public agencies. “I don’t know who they’re subcontracting with, I don’t know if they’re bid out. I don’t know if there are any conflicts of interest. This is information we as taxpayers don’t have a right to.”

Last year, Ulbrich and the State Board of Education had called for more transparency to be brought to the financial dealings of charter-management firms. They specifically asked the legislature to outlaw sweeps contracts. “Unfortunately,” Ulbrich said, “it fell on deaf ears.”

The Internal Revenue Service has questioned some cases of sweeps contracts, but has not taken a consistent stand on whether the contracts are appropriate.

It’s not just charter regulators and auditors that have reason to be wary of such setups. Some charter-school boards that signed sweeps contracts have found themselves shut out of the operations of their own schools.
In Ohio, ten charter-school boards sued their management firm, White Hat Management, in 2010 after they couldn’t get answers to basic questions about why their schools’ performance lagged and how the school’s money was spent.
Even so, it was a challenge for the schools to take back control. After handing over the bulk of their money to White Hat for years, the schools had little money of their own, said Karen Hockstad, an attorney who’s been representing the school boards in continuing litigation.

“Their hands are tied. They don’t have the money to build brand new infrastructure and get new desks and books and anything else,” said Hockstad. White Hat Management did not return a request for comment.
Some charter-school regulators – recognizing their limited authority over charter-management companies – are beginning to push back, requiring schools to get more information from management firms. Still, that hasn’t stopped some management companies from putting up a fight.

Regulators in the District of Columbia are seeking more legal authority over management firms after two recent scandals. The DC Public Charter School Board has asked the city council to pass legislation that would allow access to the books of management companies under certain conditions. So far, that effort has gone nowhere.
Related coverage: Read about how a chain of charter schools is channeling millions of public education dollars to for-profit companies controlled by the schools’ founder.

If you have information about charter schools and their profits or oversight — or any other tips — email us at charters@propublica.org.

Example of Charter School Regulation in Minnesota

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:12 am

When a Wildlife Rehab Center Regulates Charter Schools: Inside the Wild World of Charter Regulation
Charter school “authorizers” are charged with making sure schools can be trusted with kids and with public money. Problem is, many lack the tools to do the job.

by Marian Wang ProPublica, Feb. 20, 2015
Nestled in the woods of central Minnesota, near a large lake, is a nature sanctuary called the Audubon Center of the North Woods. The nonprofit rehabilitates birds. It hosts retreats and conferences. It’s home to a North American porcupine named Spike as well as several birds of prey, frogs, and snakes used to educate the center’s visitors.
It’s also Minnesota’s largest regulator of charter schools, overseeing 32 of them.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded, privately run schools freed from many of the rules that apply to traditional public schools. What’s less widely understood is that there are few hard-and-fast rules for how the regulators charged with overseeing charter schools are supposed to do the job. Many are making it up as they go along.
Known as “authorizers,” charter regulators have the power to decide which charter schools should be allowed to open and which are performing so badly they ought to close. They’re supposed to vet charter schools, making sure the schools are giving kids a good education and spending public money responsibly.

But many of these gatekeepers are woefully inexperienced, under-resourced, confused about their mission or even compromised by conflicts of interest. And while some charter schools are overseen by state education agencies or school districts, others are regulated by entities for which overseeing charters is a side job, such as private colleges and nonprofits like the Audubon wildlife rehabilitation center.

One result of the regulatory mishmash: Bad schools have been allowed to stay open and evade accountability.
“Almost everything you see come up as charter school problems, if you scratch past the surface, the real problem is bad authorizing,” said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

In 2010, an investigation by the Philadelphia Controller’s Office found lavish executive salaries, conflicts of interest and other problems at more than a dozen charter schools, and it faulted the authorizer – the School District of Philadelphia’s charter school office – for “complete and total failure” to monitor schools. In 2013, more than a dozen Ohio charter schools that had gained approval from various authorizers received state funding and then either collapsed in short order or never opened at all.

“Considerable state funds were lost and many lives impacted because of these failures,” the Ohio Department of Education wrote in a scathing letter last year to Ohio’s charter-school regulators. The agency wrote that some authorizers “lacked not only the appropriate processes, but more importantly, the commitment of mission, expertise and resources needed to be effective.”

Aside from such dramatic implosions, it’s hard to tell how many authorizers are doing at this important public function. They’re generally not required to say much about the details of their decision-making.
Take Minnesota’s Audubon Center. As a group, the schools overseen by the center fall below the state average on test scores. The group has several persistently low performers, acknowledged David Greenberg, Audubon’s Director of Charter School Authorizing, and a few years back, made the tough call to close one. But test scores offer a limited window into how a regulator is performing. The center works with several schools serving high-need students in Minneapolis, and high-need students tend to have lower test scores. A full picture requires a more holistic evaluation – one that the Minnesota Department of Education is just starting this year.

In the early years of the charter movement, charter supporters focused on creating more authorizers, in order to spur the creation of more schools. That’s still true in some states, where charters are taking off. But as the movement has matured, there’s been a realization that “having too many authorizers undercuts quality,” in the words of the National Association for Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter regulators. NACSA has worked to educate states and individual authorizers on what good oversight looks like, while promoting measures such as “default closure” to help bypass authorizers that may be reluctant to close chronically underperforming schools.
While there are promising signs, NACSA acknowledges there’s still a long way to go. “It feels like whack-a-mole, but in the long term, you’re getting closer,” said Alex Medler, the group’s vice president of policy and advocacy. Even if states have some strong authorizers, weak ones can undermine the whole system, as underperforming schools can find refuge with them.
“It’s not how many are good, it’s are there any bad ones left?” Medler said. “If you’re running a bad school, you look for the presence of bad authorizers. You ignore the good authorizer.”
Consider Indiana, a state that has sought to strengthen charter-school accountability in recent years. On one hand, the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office is widely regarded as a strong charter-school regulator. The schools it oversees have as a group performed better on state tests than Indianapolis Public Schools, and the office has made some tough calls, revoking charters when it sees fit and flagging suspected cheating at its schools.
On the other hand, there’s Trine University, a small private college in rural Northeast Indiana and a charter-school regulator that has taken on schools that left other authorizers, in some cases after those regulators had sought to close them.
(more…)

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