Secretary of Education designate Betsy DeVos’ crusade against public education (By Wendy Lecker)

First published in the Samford Advocate, Wendy Lecker lays out the details about Secretary of Education designate Betsy DeVosas anti-public education legacy.  Lecker writes;

President-elect Donald Trump selected Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as his candidate for Secretary of Education. The DeVos nomination should alarm anyone who values public education. First, she is wholly unqualified to be Secretary of Education. She has no education degree or background, and has never worked in, attended or sent her children to public school. More worrisome, she and her husband have been on a 20-plus year crusade to eliminate public education.

Betsy DeVos freely admits that she buys political influence. As The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote, DeVos declared that she expects a “return on our investment” in donating to politicians. The return she seeks is the creation a conservative Christian government. For example, DeVos and her husband bankrolled the successful 2004 ballot referendum in Michigan banning gay marriage.

Among the DeVos’ long-running crusades in their quest to “christianize” America is their campaign to destroy public education. DeVos pushed Michigan’s first charter school law in 1993. As noted in a 1996 Detroit Metro Times article, while the DeVos’ ultimate aim was to abolish public education and steer public funds to parochial schools, they knew not to be blatant about that goal. Thus, they chose a vehicle that blurred the lines between public and private schools- a “gateway drug” to privatizing public education: charter schools.

As videos and documents discovered by journalists reveal, the DeVos and their allies crafted a covert strategy to privatize education. They advised focusing on “school choice” rather than mentioning “parochial schools.” They warned against having this campaign seen as a “conservative” idea, thus they sought to enlist those not on their political spectrum, especially people of color. Therefore, they suggested speaking of “choice” as the “civil rights issue” of our time. A central strategy was to relentlessly discredit public schools, linking the smear of public schools with efforts to defund them.

While the DeVos were unsuccessful in pushing school vouchers in Michigan, they were successful in creating an unregulated, wild-west charter sector in Michigan that has destabilized predominately minority school districts in the state. The DeVos’ influence in expanding charter schools, together with an inadequately-funded state school finance system in which “money follows the child” to whichever school she attends, has wreaked havoc on Michigan’s poorest cities.

Detroit is the poster child for the damage the DeVos have done to Michigan’s public schools. As Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press observed, thanks to the DeVos’ efforts to block any regulation, anyone can open a charter school there without regard to quality or qualifications.

It is universally acknowledged that the explosion of charters in Detroit is a major factor in the decline of the city’s public schools. Since schools have many fixed costs, the loss of students does not automatically translate into savings commensurate with the funding schools lose. So, Detroit schools have had to respond to the hemorrhaging of funds by drastically cutting services and staff, and closing schools. And because the charters that replaced public schools are among the lowest performing in the state, children in Detroit have no good “choices.”

This past legislative session, the Devos poured $1.45 million into successfully defeating a bill that would have brought some oversight to Detroit charters.

Betsy DeVos’ nomination brings to the fore some important truths about charter schools. Charter schools are part of a larger strategy to privatize and eliminate public schools. The slogan that charters and choice are part of a “civil rights” agenda is propaganda originating from ultra-conservative white Christian activists disguising their true aims.

In reality, choice in the form of charters increases segregation and devastates community public schools in our most distressed cities. As charters have proliferated in predominately minority cities, children and parents of color bear the brunt of this destruction.

So it is mind-boggling that, in reacting to the DeVos nomination, Jennifer Alexander, head of the charter lobby ConnCAN, described DeVos as a “strong advocate for choice, particularly for our most vulnerable students … And she does seem to be a strong advocate for high standards and accountability for results.”

Seriously? DeVos intentionally decimated education for Michigan’s most vulnerable students and spent millions to block any accountability for charter schools that were abysmal failures by any standard.

Like DeVos, ConnCAN and other charter advocates have spent millions to buy political influence in Connecticut, weakening accountability for and ensuring the expansion of charters, all the while claiming they were advancing “civil rights.” So perhaps Alexander’s doublespeak praise for DeVos is fitting. They seem to be on the same team.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece on Betsy Devos at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-DeVos-crusade-against-public-10688037.php

 

Warning – Malloy likely to propose shifting State’s massive unfunded liability problem onto our children

Since taking office in January 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy’s fiscal policies have been based on a reckless strategy of coddling the rich, record cuts to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, reducing the availability of vital public services and undermining public education … all while shifting more and more of the burden to pay for public services onto Connecticut’s regressive and anti-Middle Class property tax system.

Some will remember that upon his arrival in the Governor’s Office, Dannel Malloy whined about the fact that he had “inherited” a $3.7 billion budget shortfall following the fiscally irresponsible policies of Governor Jodi Rell and the Democratic-controlled Connecticut General Assembly.

However, rather than use his time in office to put the state back on track, Malloy’s irresponsible budget tactics have further exacerbated Connecticut’s fiscal problems.

Proof of this growing disaster can be found in the reality that as the Malloy administration prepares to propose Connecticut’s next state budget, the governor and his staff are facing a projected biennial budget shortfall in excess of $3.3 billion and growing.

Will this be the year that Governor Dannel Malloy finally takes the steps necessary to confront the budget problems challenging the state?

The answer is almost certainly a resounding NO!.

Sources close to Malloy are reporting that the neo-liberal politician’s “solution” to Connecticut’s fiscal crisis will be to propose a budget full of gimmicks, all the while dumping the responsibility for dealing with the state’s catastrophically high debt and unfunded liabilities onto our children and future generations.

Behind closed doors, Malloy and his team have begun the task of putting together the state’s FY18-FY19 proposed budget.  Knowledgeable sources suggest that this new budget will be built on more cuts to vital services, shifting even more of the burden for a college education onto the backs of Connecticut’s students and their families and significantly reducing the amount of municipal aid, thereby further increasing the property tax rates on Connecticut’s middle income families.

Equally appalling is the growing probability that Malloy, with the support of the legislature, will simply walk away from the state’s obligation to confront its $74 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities.

For decades Connecticut state government has refused to properly fund its state employee and teacher pension and benefit plans.

Making matters even worse, Malloy and the legislature have been using the state’s credit card in inappropriate ways, including Malloy’s much heralded corporate welfare program designed to reward companies he favors.

Now all of those “chickens are coming home to roost,” but rather then step up and take action to reduce state debt and adequately fund pension and benefits, it now appears that Malloy will simply propose dumping the burden onto Connecticut’s children and future generations.

While facing the fundamental obligation to do what is right, their operating motto seems to remain – Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow – no matter how devastating that delay will be for our children and those yet to come.

If Connecticut voters are not outraged, they aren’t paying enough attention.

Truth From Fiction – The real story about CT School Funding (by Wendy Lecker)

A primer about Connecticut School Funding by Wendy Lecker

In September, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued a controversial decision in Connecticut’s long-running school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell.  Judge Moukawsher set forth a very narrow vision of what is needed in public schools in order to provide an adequate education; a vision that contradicted precedent across the United States and precedent from the Connecticut Supreme Court itself.  He essentially ruled that the State need only provide the “bare minimum” of facilities, teachers and instrumentalities of learning, and labeled anything beyond these three narrow categories as “extras;” even though it is accepted that students, especially our neediest students, need much more than that in order to have the opportunity for an adequate education.

Judge Moukawsher did highlight the inequities in wealthy versus poor districts in Connecticut. However, he refused to recognize that the extra resources that districts with needy students require are part of a constitutionally adequate education. Thus, if allowed to stand, his decision would render it impossible to create an equitable school funding system in Connecticut- one that provided adequate resources to our neediest districts. His decision has been appealed by both the State and CCJEF, and will reach the Connecticut Supreme Court in the spring of 2017.

In the meantime, there have been calls for Connecticut to fix its school funding formula before the CCJEF appeal is heard. The loudest calls have been coming from the charter lobby, which wants to seize this opportunity not to create a more just school funding system, but rather to create a system that facilitates the diversion of public dollars intended for public schools to privately managed charter schools.

The charter lobby has usurped the language of equity to advance its cause. It claims that Connecticut needs a system that funds “all public schools the same” and provides the same funding to students “no matter which public school they attend.”  As discussed below, while charter schools are considered public schools, they are by no means the same as traditional, district public schools, and should not be funded at the same level. Any claims about funding “students not schools” or “all public schools equally” should raise alarm bells. These claims lay the groundwork for not only diverting state funding to charter schools, but also diverting local funding to charter schools that are not part of a local district.

In their effort to persuade the public to divert more public funds to privately managed charter schools, the charter lobby will often use questionable statistics. For example, they will compare the $11,000 state allocation to charters to the full amount, including state, local and federal dollars, a local school district spends per pupil on its students.  This false comparison will always make it appear as if charters are being shortchanged. Thus, one must view any charter funding claims with a healthy skepticism.

Successful school finance reform always begins with an assessment of how much education costs, and always entails an increase in funding for public schools.  It is rumored that an organization close to the charter lobby, The Connecticut School Finance Project, is working with Governor Malloy to revamp the school funding system.  Governor Malloy already has stated that this year will be a “lean” budget year. Therefore, it is suspicious that he would choose a year in which he essentially acknowledges he will not provide adequate funding to public schools to engage in school finance reform.  This move should signal that he is not interested in providing adequate resources to public schools, but rather intends to shift money away from public schools to other “choice” schools, such as charters.

Now more than ever it is essential that we all understand some basic principles for school funding in Connecticut.

Some Principles for Connecticut School Funding

The goal of a state school funding system is to ensure that school districts, no matter what the wealth of those districts is, have sufficient resources to provide all students, no matter what the students’ needs and circumstances are, an opportunity for an adequate education.

Resources Necessary for an Adequate Education

Courts in school funding cases across this country have developed a consistent “basket of goods” that are necessary to provide all students the opportunity for an adequate education, including:

  • Reasonable class size;
  • Sufficient number of teachers, administrators and other personnel who are adequately trained and qualified;
  • An expanded platform of services for at-risk students (this usually means additional academic and social supports, including extra learning time, to enable at-risk children to access the same educational opportunities. It can include preK, as preK gives at-risk students additional time to catch up. There are those who advocate universal prek- i.e. prek as its own essential resource. That is a viable approach, although viewing prek as an at-risk intervention may be easier for courts and legislatures to accept)
  • Sufficient resources for children with extraordinary needs;
  • Up-to-date broad curriculum;
  • Adequate facilities;
  • Adequate instrumentalities of learning (books, textbooks, computers, supplies, etc);
  • Safe and orderly environment.

The goal in a state funding system, therefore, is to ensure that all districts are able to provide these essential resources to their students. In order to do so, the state must assess the cost of providing these programs, staff and services, and devise a fair manner in which to allocate funding (state/local share) for these resources.

Note:  In the CCJEF trial court decision, now on appeal, Judge Moukawsher, in contrast to all precedents across the country, limited the notion of adequacy to comprise only sufficient teachers, facilities and instrumentalities of learning- and he said the state is already providing adequate funding.  He called interventions for at-risk students “extras.” Thus, pursuant to his vision, it would be impossible to construct a funding system that is adequate or equitable.

State Funding Formula:

Many states, including Connecticut, adopt a “foundation” formula.  Most simply, a foundation formula establishes a “foundation amount,” which is supposed to represent the cost of educating a student with no additional or special needs.  The foundation amount is then adjusted to reflect the number of students in a district, and the needs of the students in those districts.  Often the foundation amount is also adjusted to reflect regional costs of education.  Once the amount for a district is calculated, the state must have a mechanism to determine the state share and the local share of paying for this amount.  That mechanism should take into consideration the municipality’s ability to raise revenue, thus the property wealth and income wealth of a municipality.

Foundation Amount:

The accepted method for determining the cost of education is to conduct an education cost study, which would essentially cost out the resources necessary to provide an education that would meet some agreed upon standard.  CCJEF conducted one in 2005, using a nationally known firm, APA.  There are several methodologies for conducting cost studies and many cost studies now use more than one (eg successful school and professional judgment) in order to assure accuracy.  It is essential that whoever conducts this cost study is recognized as an education finance expert and uses and accepted methodology.  These studies can be skewed to suit a political end.

The ECS formula has a foundation amount.  However, the Foundation Amount was never based on the actual cost of education (no cost study was ever done to determine the cost of education- the amount was based on existing spending at the time). Thus, the foundation amount in the ECS formula never represented the true cost of education.

Student Need:

Education cost studies have shown that it costs more to educate certain children than others.  Different children have needs that require additional services that cost money, therefore it costs more to provide them the same educational opportunity as it would children with no additional needs.

Poverty:  Costs studies have shown that it can cost up to twice as much to educate a child living in poverty (social supports, additional learning time, etc). Children who live in deeper poverty (eg, free vs. reduced price lunch) have additional needs that may increase the cost of educating them.  In districts with more concentrated poverty, the costs increase.  Thus, a weighting for poverty must account accurately for the existence of poverty, the intensity of that poverty and the concentration of poverty.  (Criticism of free and reduced price lunch is that it may be inaccurate and it is self–reported. Often students in secondary school do not identify as eligible for FRPL, so the poverty count is artificially lowered).  It is essential not to rely on national estimates or other measures that may not accurately reflect the facts on the ground.

The ECS formula never based its poverty weighting on the actual cost of educating children living in poverty.

English Language Learners (ELL): Costs studies have also shown that it can cost up to twice as much to educate an ELL student as a student with no additional needs.  ELL services are distinct from services provided to children living in poverty, so these weights are NOT interchangeable.

The ELL weight in the ECS formula was never based on cost. Moreover, in 2013, upon the urging of ConnCAN, the legislature completely removed ELL as a weight in the ECS formula.

Students with Disabilities:  It can cost up to four times as much to education a child with disabilities.

The ECS formula never included a weight for students with disabilities.

Regional Cost of Education

Formulas do adjust for the regional cost of education, using several possible methodologies.

State/Local Share: 

In order to accurately assess these shares, the state must have an accurate and reliable and up-to-date measure of a municipality’s property and income wealth.

The ECS measure of a municipality’s local share has been improperly skewed toward property wealth.

Any state school funding system must ensure adequate resources, equitably allocated to school districts.  Moreover, it must provide a predictable and stable source of funding. It is perfectly reasonable to use the framework of the ECS but assure that it is based on the actual cost of educating students with all types of needs, and that it accurately apportions the state and local share.

Why the state funding system should not be “student based”

Over the years, there has been a proposal to institute “student based” funding (called weighted student funding, money follows the child, among other names), in which funding gets assigned to the student no matter what school she attends.  This proposal is often pushed under the guise of equity but really is a mechanism to facilitate funding intended for district schools to go to charter schools.  These proponents claim that it is only fair for all “public schools” to get the same amount.

What this system would do would be to take the ostensible cost of educating a child, including both state and local allocation, and say each child should get this amount no matter which school they attend.  So if the state allocation does not cover the cost, the district in which that school is located would have to pay the rest of that amount.  This would mean, in the case of charter schools, that local districts would have to pay a local contribution for each student attending.  As charters expand, more and more money would be drained directly from local budgets.

There are different types of schools that Connecticut calls “public.”  However, they are not all the same. Charter schools in particular are not at all like district public schools.  They are exempt from many of the regulations and requirements to which district public schools are subject.  They do not need to serve all grade spans, provide all programs, serve all children in a district, etc.  In addition to the sanctioned exemptions, charters in Connecticut often underserve the neediest (ELL, students with disabilities, free lunch) and most expensive students. In addition, charters have always been envisioned as transitory, and if there is proper oversight, their charters can be revoked.  For these and other reasons, courts across the country have rejected claims by charters to obtain an equal level of funding as district public schools.

The State has an obligation to students to provide an adequate education (charters have no constitutional right to an education- children do). As long as a child can attend an adequately funded school in her district, that obligation is satisfied. There is no right for students to choose the “flavor” of school they get. There is no right to have two parallel school systems, public and charter.  In fact, diverting money from a school system that must serve all students (district public schools) to one that need only serve the few undermines the state’s goal and obligation to have a fully funded school system that serves the needs of all students.

In fact, the Connecticut Attorney General has declared recently in a pending federal suit (where charter advocates are attempting to lift any cap on charter expansion) that Connecticut’s district public school system is the vehicle that the legislature has chosen to fulfill the State’s constitutional obligation to provide each child with an adequate education.  The Attorney General pointed out that magnets and charters are “purely statutory vehicles that the General Assembly thus far has authorized and funded as a matter of public policy, and that the General Assembly could discontinue at any time if it were so inclined.” Thus, district public schools fulfill Connecticut’s constitutional obligations, while magnets and charters are voluntary, transitory, purely statutory creations.

Moreover, the Connecticut Attorney General has acknowledged in these same court papers that to fund a system of magnet and charters would be more expensive than providing adequate support to the existing traditional public school system.  Connecticut should, to use the words of the Attorney General, “be devoting the State’s limited resources to improving those schools, as opposed to creating and fully funding a new and more expensive system that is based on charter and magnet schools.”

Loosely regulated, charter schools pose fiscal risk (by Jonathan Pelto) 

This article was first published in The Hill newspaper of Washington D.C.  You can read and comment on the article at: http://origin-nyi.thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/303815-loosely-regulated-charter-schools-pose-fiscal-risk?amp

While the subprime mortgage crisis remains the epitome of what occurs when greed and corruption go unchecked, a growing number of experts and observers are warning that a new economic scandal is taking shape in the United States.

In an article published earlier this month, Business Insider observed:

 “We just got even more evidence supporting the theory that charter schools are America’s new subprime mortgages.”

The magazine wrote:

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released the results of a damning audit of the charter school industry which found that charter schools’ relationships with their management organizations pose a significant risk to the aim of the Department of Education.

The findings in the audit, specifically in regard to charter school relationships with CMOs, echo the findings of a 2015 study that warned of an impending bubble similar to that of the subprime-mortgage crisis one of the authors, Preston C. Green III, told Business Insider.

With more than 6,700 charter schools spread across 42 states and the District of Columbia, fraudulent activities associated with the publicly funded, but privately owned, charter school industry have become the fodder for almost daily news stories.

According to an October 2015 investigation conducted by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion over the past two decades on the creation and maintenance of the charter school industry.  CMD noted:

“The Department of Education is pushing for an unprecedented expansion of charter schools while paying lip service to accountability, but independent audit materials show that the Department’s lofty rhetoric is simply not backed up by its actions.” The report added, “the lack of tough financial controls and the lack of public access to information about how charters are spending federal tax dollars has almost inevitably led to enormous fraud and waste.”

The impact of waste, fraud and corruption are hardly isolated, with newspaper and blog headlines like “Who Is Profiting From Charters?,” “The Big Bucks Behind Charter School Secrecy,” “Financial Scandal and Corruption; The Ugly Charter School Scandal Arne Duncan Is Leaving Behind and As Scandals Plague Charter Schools, Calls for Oversight Grow” becoming increasingly commonplace.

Recently, the depth of the charter school scandals even made it to John Oliver’s HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” where he observed, in Philadelphia alone, at least 10 executives or top administrators have pleaded guilty in the last decade to charges like fraud, misusing funds and obstruction of justice.

To Watch click – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I

To Watch click – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I

And earlier this fall, the Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog focused on the growing controversies surrounding charter schools observing:

Ohio and Utah are known in education circles for having extraordinarily troubled charter school sectors, and the same is true in Pennsylvania, where Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a report this year and declared his state’s charter school law the “worst” in the nation.

But there is yet another place with a scandal-plagued charter sector, and is one that is receiving far less national attention than it should be: California.

The Washington Post continued:

“There is a never-ending stream of charter scandals coming from California. For example, a report released recently (by the ACLU SoCal and Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group) found that more than 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law. A Mercury News investigation published in April revealed how the state’s online charter schools run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., the largest for-profit charter operator in the country, has ‘a dismal record of academic achievement’ but has won more than $310 million in state funding over the past dozen years.”

Charter schools were originally envisioned to serve as incubators of excellence where teachers and schools were given the flexibility to explore alternative strategies for helping children succeed. However, that model was quickly replaced by those who saw charter schools as a mechanism to profit off the privatization of public education. Today, billions of taxpayer dollars are being diverted from the nation’s public schools to charter schools and with those funds has come a growing crisis of so-called education entrepreneurs who are using some of those scarce public funds to line their own pockets.

With minimal oversight and regulation, the charter school scandals will grow until elected and appointed policymakers take dramatic action to overhaul the country’s charter school system and demand greater accountability from those involved.

Today is a day to remember that Malloy and the Legislature STOLE Connecticut’s school seat belt money!

From today’s Chattanooga Times Free Pres, 6 students in ICU after school bus driver charged in crash that killed Woodmore Elementary students,

Five students are confirmed dead in the Woodmore Elementary School bus crash and six remain in critical condition this morning.

Three of the students killed were in fourth grade, one was in first grade and another in kindergarten, according to Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly.

Descriptions from the crash scene appear to confirm that the death and injury toll would have been significantly reduced if children were wearing seat belts.  However, in Tennessee only school buses transporting special education students are required to have seats belts.

By comparison, school buses in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York must be equipped with seat belts and Texas requires that all school buses purchased after 2010 must be fitted with seat belts.

As Tennessee newspapers are now reporting, State Representative Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, “led an unsuccessful effort to require seat belts on Tennessee school buses last year after two students and a teacher’s aide died in a bus crash in Knoxville. Many lawmakers opposed the proposal, saying it was too expensive.”

But seat belts work…

According to a 2010 study conducted by the University of Alabama, seat belts work.  The three year tracking study found,

  • Students are six to eight times safer riding to school in a school bus than riding to school in their parents’ cars.
  • The addition of seat belts would make already-safe school buses even safer.
  • Based on 170,000 observations of pupils in pilot-project buses, the average seat belt- use rate was 61.5%.
  • Adding seat belts increases the thickness of seat-backs, leading to fewer rows of seats.

School bus seat belts might have made a huge difference in yesterday’s fatal school bus accident, but policy makers deemed that they were “too expensive.”

The cost issue was also raised in Connecticut, as well, when the General Assembly last debated mandating that seat belts be put into school buses.

At the time, a special fund was set up to help town mitigate the cost of installing seat belts.  To pay for the program the state dramatically increased the fee a driver must pay when reinstating their driver’s license.

But while the extra fee has brought in millions of dollars, none of the money has been used to help towns pay for installing seat belts in buses.

Why?

Because Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly STOLE the money from that special fund to help balance the state budget … not once … but twice!

It has been an issue that Wait, What? has written about many times.

For example, in a Wait, What piece entitled, They stole the fricking school bus seat belt money again! and published on June 7, 2016;

Hidden deep inside the new state budget bill negotiated by Governor Dannel Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders, and approved last month by the Democrats in the General Assembly, was a provision that, once again, transferred the money that had been set aside to help school districts retrofit school buses with seat belts into the general fund.

As Wait, What? readers know, this is not the first time Governor Malloy and the Democrats have stolen the School Bus Seatbelt Account in order to make the state budget balance.

Since taking office, Malloy has reached into the special school seat belt fund four times, grabbing close to $10 million dollars.

Rather than use the funds for their intended use – to protect our children – Malloy and the Democrats simply grabbed the money to plug holes in the state budget.

This time, rather than adopt a fair and honest budget, the Democrats added Section 28 to Senate Bill 501 which “transferred” $2 million from the School Bus Seatbelt Account to the General Fund.  The legislature also swept $2 million from the Seat Belt fund to address a small part of the $250 million Fiscal Year 2016 budget deficit.

Previous Wait, What articles on this issue can be found via the following links:

The Train Wreck of the Democrats’ State Budget. [Or for long-time Wait, What? readers file under – Not the Fricking School Bus Seat Belts again!] (6/3/2015)

School Bus Seat Belt Fund: A prime example of Connecticut’s budget gimmickry (1/14/2014)

Remember when school bus seatbelts were a big priority?(12/20/2012)

The School Bus Seat Belt Account was created following the tragic January 2010 school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.  Following the accident, the Connecticut legislature kicked into action, passing Public Act 10-83.

The law created the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account, “a separate non-lapsing account in the General Fund” and required that the funds be used to help school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the Legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175, using the extra $50 per person to create a funding stream for the important program.

Now six years later, no school bus seat belts have been installed, thanks to the fact that Connecticut’s governor and legislature have stolen nearly $10 million from the fund.

When these elected officials come looking for support, ask them why they didn’t do more to stop this outrage.

For more on how Connecticut’s elected officials stole the money meant to help ensure seat belts were installed in school buses read these Wait, What? posts;

Democratic Budget Deal – An irresponsible farce (12/8/2015)

The Train Wreck of the Democrats’ State Budget (6/3/2015)

School Bus Seat Belt Fund: A prime example of Connecticut’s budget gimmickry (1/22/2014)

Remember when school bus seatbelts were a big priority?  12/20/2012

Arrogance and Hubris at the University of Connecticut

The great actor and musician Theodore Bikel once said;

All too often arrogance accompanies strength, and we must never assume that justice is on the side of the strong. The use of power must always be accompanied by moral choice.

As if to prove the point, in recent years, the administration of the University of Connecticut saw fit to destroy the historic and respected non-profit UConn Co-op bookstore…because it wasn’t profitable enough.

It also destroyed the university’s age-old alumni association…because it was deemed too independent and perceived not to be loyal enough when it came to meeting the administration’s demands.

And now, despite more than 30 years of work and a state law anointing UConn’s Museum of Natural History as Connecticut’s official State Museum of Natural History, the UConn administration has unilaterally closed the important facility…because even the law isn’t enough to limit UConn’s hubris.

UConn’s student newspaper, the Daily Campus, reports on the latest development in an article entitled, Former Connecticut lawmaker: UConn broke law in museum relocation.  Student reporter, Marlese Lessing explains;

The University of Connecticut has violated the law in its recent relocation of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History, said Jonathan Pelto, who co-sponsored the Senate Bill establishing the museum in 1985.

The museum, which was relocated from its former home on Hillside Road earlier in August, was established by Senate Bill 341 (Public Act 85-563) in 1985, as an act by the Connecticut State Legislature.

“What the University has done violates the letter and the spirit of (the law) we originally intended,” Pelto said. “It’s a problem that can’t be explained away by what the university has (previously) said.”

The museum was originally intended to prepare exhibits and education programs about the natural history of Connecticut. A board of directors was to be established and be in charge of the museum’s planning.

According to co-chair of the museum’s current board, Natalie Munro, the board of directors did not make the decision to move the museum – the UConn administration did.

“It wasn’t up to us,” Munro said. “We suggested a few alternatives to try to keep the building, but ultimately UConn made the decision.”

The museum’s relocation violated the law, since the decision to move it was not up to the board of directors, Pelto said, and because the museum no longer exists in a physical location.

University spokesman Tom Breen said the university owns the building on Hillside, and that buildings and resources are allocated by the university under its authority, based on its needs as a whole.

“The language of the law requires only that the museum be ‘within The University of Connecticut,’” Breen said. “At the time the law was passed, the museum wasn’t located in the old Apple Sales Building on Hillside Road, and it moved more than once before arriving in Hillside Road. Like other programs contained within the university, the State Museum of Natural History has been allocated resources to help meet its responsibilities and fulfill its mission, and the university remains committed to that.”

Though the museum no longer has a physical location, it still exists as an institution, running programs and exhibits throughout the university, according to UConn Today. The museum’s relocation involved moving it to the Office of Public Engagement where the museum will focus more on public relations, Breen said.

“With so much of the museum’s work involving public education and community outreach, it made sense to house it in the relatively new Office of Public Engagement,” Breen said. “The Office of the Provost, the Office of Public Engagement and the museum’s staff were all involved in the process of making the transition, with the goal of positioning the museum to successfully carry out its mission.”

Running programs simply isn’t enough to constitute a museum, Pelto said. It needs to have a physical location to fulfill its purpose stated in the bill, or there is no museum.

“Having programs isn’t sufficient to having a museum. The university is violating the law and either needs to stop that or be held accountable,” Pelto said.

The building on Hillside was home to the museum for 16 years. The museum was originally housed in several units by Horsebarn Hill before its relocation to the building on Hillside in 2000, according to its current director Leanne Kennedy Harty.

The building had potential, but required several renovations before it could be a displayable museum, including modifications to the second floor to make it more exhibit-friendly, Harty said.

Although the UConn 2000 (Now 21st Century UConn) plan included a $5M line item for the museum’s renovations in the early 2000s, Harty said, budget cuts left the museum without the promised expansions.

“(When) the project got cut, we were left in the building without the commitment through the capital project to expand,” Harty said. “So we just tried raise the money ourselves.”

About $500,000 in donated funds from museum supporters was used to renovate the second floor, Harty said. Lighting, displays, classrooms and other modifications were completed in 2007. The donations made up about half of the renovation budget, Harty said, with UConn paying for the other half.

Now that the museum has been moved, the building space is inhabited by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences administrative offices. The renovations paid for by the donor money can no longer be used by the museum.

“It’s hard,” Harty said. “I feel like we need to do right by the people who gave money… A lot of time and energy went into planning the exhibits.”

The museum’s relocation was a logistical decision, Breen said, due to the scheduled demolition of Faculty Row, which formerly housed several administrative offices.

“The decision to relocate the offices of the Museum of Natural History came out of the process by which the museum became part of our Office of Public Engagement,” Breen said. “With building space at a premium on campus, the university is always looking for the best ways to use our resources. The move…puts the CLAS Academic Services Center in a building close to the heart of campus.”

The loss of the building, however, meant an end to many potential plans and exhibits, Munro said.

“We were initially disappointed to lose the building, because we spent many years fighting to get a building, and working to raise money to get a building,” Munro said. “Ultimately we hoped to expand so we could better serve the needs of the museum. It took away our ability to have a real museum that had the collections and the public engagement space all in one location.”

There are still buildings around Horsebarn Hill, Harty said, where the museum keeps several exhibits and collections. However, the relocation from the Hillside Road building represented a loss to a public exhibition space.

Although UConn has the authority to the buildings, Pelto said, the university also has a responsibility to the museum to give it a permanent, physical building.

“They have an obligation to find an alternate location,” Pelto said. “They can’t not have a museum.”

The University of Connecticut’s arrogance and hubris has become all too commonplace.

Perhaps such action should be expected from a state university that pays its president upwards toward $1 million dollars a year.

The stunning reality is that the University of Connecticut has become an institution where students and families are required to pay more and get less.

You can read and comment on the original Daily Campus article at: http://dailycampus.com/stories/2016/11/16/former-connecticut-lawmaker-uconn-broke-law-in-museum-relocation

More lawsuits against public education coming from charter school industry

In addition to spending tens of millions on campaign contributions and lobbying, the charter school industry is fond of bringing lawsuits in their never-ending effort to privatize public education in the United States.

Now the corporate interests behind the charter school industry are taking their strategy a step further with the development of a “charter school defense fund,” to help charter schools and their associations engage in more legal maneuvers to divert scarce public funds to their privately owned, but publicly funded entities.

As Politico, the national news website reported Friday,

NEW FUND FOR CHARTER SCHOOL DEFENSE: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has launched a Charter School Legal Action Fund to serve as a “national watchdog and resource” when it comes to legal threats against charter school growth, funding, autonomy and constitutionality across the country. The legal action fund plans to help defend charter schools in lawsuits and get involved with “carefully selected offensive litigation to improve the statutory and regulatory environment in states that stand to impact the national charter school community,” the organization said in a letter to its allies. The Walton Family Foundation provided $500,000 in seed funding to help launch the legal action fund.

— “Legal cases can be very costly — most nonprofit [charter management organizations] and independent charter schools don’t have financial reserves to address these cases,” NAPCS President Nina Rees told Morning Education. “We started the Fund to protect students and families, and their right to keep attending a school that’s working for them. Most of these battles are being fought in the courthouse, not the statehouse through legislation.” The legal action fund will provide financial help for defending and advancing cases as long as local partners provide matching funds.

According to their website,

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (National Alliance) is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the public charter school movement. Our mission is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter movement.

The website also features an endorsement from Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school chain with schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island, whose board and leadership is closely connected to Governor Dannel Malloy.

Achievement First, Inc. is quoted as saying

“As we grow, we need a partner like the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to help us continue to focus on what we need to focus on and also provide resources.”

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is led by a Board of Directors that includes;

Brian Jones – President, Strayer University

Sara Steinhardt Berman – Foundation Trustee, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life

Andrew Broy – Chair, State Leaders Council and President, Illinois Network of Charter Schools

Jeb Bush, Jr. – Managing Partner, Jeb Bush & Associates

Moctesuma Esparza – CEO at Maya Cinemas North America, Inc.

Senator Tim Hutchinson – Former United States Senator, Senior Director, Greenberg Traurig

Senator Mary Landrieu – Former United States Senator

John Katzman – Founder and CEO, Noodle Education

Deborah McGriff – Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund

Christopher Nelson – Managing Director, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund

Paul Pastorek – Former LA State Superintendent of Education

Carol Quillen – President, Davidson College

Governor Jane Swift – Former Governor of Massachusetts;

Gene Wade – Founder and CEO, UniversityNow

Jed Wallace – President and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Fernando Zulueta – President, Academica Corporation

The major funders for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools are the same organizations that provide money to charter schools at the state and local level.  They include;

Arnold Foundation

Broad Foundation

Louis Calder Foundation

Doris and Donald Fisher Fund

Gates Foundation

Kauffman Foundation

Kern Family Foundation

NCSRC

Robertson Foundation

Schwab Foundation

William Simon Foundation

Walton Family Foundation

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is also closely affiliated with charter school front groups like ConnCAN/50CAN, Democrats for Education Reform, Students for Education Reform, and other corporate funded lobbying and advocacy organizations.

Teachers – Please participate in this University of Pittsburg study on Election 2016

Wait, What? and education blogs across the country have been asked to post the following message and link about an important study that is being conducted about teachers and the Election of 2016.

According to the researcher;

The purpose of this research study is to understand how teachers are responding to the 2016 presidential election outcomes in their classrooms and schools. For that reason, we will be surveying teachers from across the country. We are asking you to complete a brief questionnaire (approximately 20 minutes). If you are willing to participate, our questionnaire will ask about your background (e.g. age, race, years in the classroom), as well as your experience in your classroom since the presidential election.

This is an entirely anonymous questionnaire, and so your responses will not be identifiable in any way.

In addition, Please forward the following link to colleagues in the teaching profession.

You can find the survey via:

https://pitt.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0rlGdn20Hu8t6IJ

Charter School Industry – Big Donations to Malloy, No Oversight from Malloy administration

When it comes to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Charter School Industry, two things are certain.  The campaign money from charter school advocates has been flowing into Malloy’s political operation at record levels while Malloy’s administration has been turning a blind eye to the fact that charter schools are violating Connecticut laws, regulations and policies.

Even the most cursory review of state and federal campaign finance reports reveal that Malloy’s pro-charter school agenda continues to pay “big dividends.”

Major donors associated with ConnCAN, the Achievement First charter school chain and other corporate education reform entities have donated in excess of $250,000 to Malloy’s Democratic State Central Committee in just the last four years.

Leading the way has been Jonathan Sackler, a member of both ConnCAN’s and Achievement First’s Board of Directors.  Sackler and his immediate family have given Malloy’s state Democratic committee more than $116,000 and that doesn’t even count the donations that have come from Sackler’s political action committee, the Purdue Pharma PAC.

In addition to Sackler’s money, charter school executives and the financial backers of the corporate education reform movement have donated tens of thousands more to Malloy’s political aspirations in recent years

And as education advocate and school finance expert Wendy Lecker observed in an article last summer, Malloy’s education policies have led to, A void in oversight of charter schools

Writing in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker explained;

One would think that after the scandals involving Connecticut’s two large charter chains, Jumoke and Achievement First, Connecticut’s education officials would finally exert some meaningful oversight over Connecticut’s charter sector.

One would be wrong.

This week the Connecticut Mirror reported that Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell dismissed a complaint against Bridgeport Achievement First, for using uncertified teachers for 47 percent of its staff, in violation of Connecticut statute. Wentzell unilaterally decided that the law allowing complaints against public schools does not apply to charters; despite the fact that charters receive more than $100 million each year in public taxpayer dollars.

Wentzell disregarded the data showing Achievement First’s misdeeds, claiming the State Department of Education (SDE) will wait until the charter comes up for renewal. Wentzell apparently ignored the law allowing her to put a charter on probation “at any time.”

The laissez-faire attitude toward charter schools pervades this administration. At the June 1 State Board of Education meeting, where the board voted to grant waivers to six charters to increase their enrollment beyond the statutory cap, longtime State Board of Education member Joseph Vrabely stated that when it comes to charter oversight, “we operate in the dark” until the renewal process.

While SDE closes its eyes, the complaints against charters pile up. Last week, students at Achievement First’s Amistad High School in New Haven staged a mass walkout to protest racial insensitivity and harsh discipline. They might have also protested the abominable graduation rate which, counting attrition since ninth grade, was 53 percent in 2015 — well below New Haven’s.

Amistad is one of the schools granted an enrollment increase waiver on June 1; supposedly based on Amistad’s academic performance (a 53-percent graduation rate?). Recommending the increase, SDE declared that Amistad draws 100 percent of its students from New Haven. However, the New Haven Independent, in reporting the walkout story, noted “(a)t 10:20, students who live in Bridgeport went inside after they were told they would not be allowed to board buses home if they didn’t.” Indeed, students told reporter Paul Bass that half of Amistad students come from Bridgeport every day. Is anyone at SDE minding the store?

Students have well-founded complaints about Amistad’s discipline practices. While suspensions statewide decreased from 2010 through 2015, they skyrocketed at Amistad, from 302 to 1,307 suspensions. There were more suspensions in 2014-15 than there were students, who numbered 984. During that five-year period, enrollment increased by about 25 percent, while suspensions more than quadrupled.

Other charters granted enrollment expansion waivers on June 1 also have deplorable suspension rates. Bridgeport’s Achievement First had 1,641 suspensions, almost double the number of students, 977, in 2014-15. The number of suspensions more than tripled since 2010-11, when there were 456, and 409 students.

Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport, operating for just one year, had 154 suspensions, outpacing its enrollment of 127 students. Great Oaks received the waiver for the largest increase in seats. Explaining the basis for exceeding the statutory cap, Linabury stated that there was a strict focus on the school’s performance.

Apparently SDE does not consider abusive discipline worth investigating. It should. A recent UCLA report found that nationwide, suspensions lead to dropouts, costing more than $46 billion in lost tax revenue and other social costs.

SDE admitted that, academically, Great Oaks performs well below the state average, and worse than Bridgeport, its host district. Yet SDE still recommended Great Oaks for an increase, which the board rubber-stamped.

Beyond its appalling lack of oversight, SDE made blatant misrepresentations in its quest to expand charters. SDE’s CFO, Kathleen Demsey, declared that before these charters opened, “local approval and support” were required. For Great Oaks and another school granted a statutory increase, Stamford Charter School for Excellence, that statement is false. The public and the local boards of education opposed these charters.

Some state board members feigned dismay that there was ample funding for charter increases while the state slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from vo-tech, magnets and public schools. They then approved the enrollment increases, without any investigation into discipline abuses, uncertified teachers or other misdeeds.

The members declared it would be unfair not to expand enrollment because the charters already held the lotteries for these seats. When asked why the charters held lotteries for seats before they were even approved, SDE again abdicated responsibility, claiming SDE has no say over charter lotteries.

With billions of dollars and student well-being at stake, Connecticut’s children and taxpayers deserve better than officials who sit idly by while charter schools call all the shots.

Malloy administration fails to properly regulate Connecticut charter schools.

Charter schools are privately owned, but publicly funded organizations that grab more than $110 million a year from Connecticut taxpayers.

But thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school policies, charter schools are allowed to violate Connecticut laws and walk away from their obligations to Connecticut’s students, parents and teachers.

For example, charter schools fail to hire certified teachers and employees.  See Wait What? post entitled Connecticut charter schools violate state law with use of uncertified teachers and administrators

In addition;

Charter schools refuse to educate their fair share of students who require special education services or those who need help learning the English language

And

Charter schools maintain inappropriate and unfair discipline policies that lead to unacceptably high numbers of students being suspended from school.

Instead of stepping up and ensuring these corporations are following the laws, regulations and policies, Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration simply looks the other way.

Earlier this year, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education made her position extremely clear.

As the CT Mirror reported;

 The state education commissioner says she does not have the same obligations in investigating complaints from parents, students and teachers against charter schools that she does for regular public schools.

The state says charter schools are not subject to what is known as a 10-4b process, which lays out mandatory steps the state must follow to respond to complaints. The state said it has more discretion about whether and how to proceed with complaints against charter schools than it does for schools operated by local school boards.

[…]

The issue is a symptom of a larger controversy over whether charter schools should be given the increased latitude they have to run their schools while still receiving millions of dollars in state education aid

The failure to properly regulate charter schools has become so severe the national financial experts are now calling for greater charter school oversight.

A national publication recently covered this very issue in NFMA Calls for Detailed Charter School Disclosures.

The National Federation of Municipal Analysts is urging charter schools to provide detailed financial, academic, and staffing information in primary and secondary disclosure documents.

The news article added;

“The charter school sector has been very active in the last … four to five years [and] it traditionally has not had a lot of public rating coverage,” said Gilbert Southwell, vice president at Wells Capital Management and co-chair of the NFMA disclosure subcommittee that drafted the paper. “[The RBP] is both educational for our membership but also helps to establish our disclosure expectations when we’re looking at these deals.”

Dean Lewallen, vice president and senior analyst at AllianceBernstein L.P. and co-chair of the subcommittee with Southwell, said the RBP is the product of a year-long vetting process with a variety of market participants and thus reflects “an industry consensus.”

The document’s recommendations begin with key information that should be included in a primary offering statement (POS). According to the RBP, a charter school’s POS should disclose all material financial agreements, including the proposed indenture, loan agreement, capital leases, management agreements, and tax regulatory agreements. It should also include information from twelve other broader topics, like descriptions of facilities and their financing, pledged revenues, and projected cash flows. NFMA also wants descriptions of debt service, repair and replacement, operating and deficit, as well as insurance and property tax reserve funds.

The RBP lists disclosures in a successful charter school POS related to academic performance as well as school management and operations.

“A charter school’s academic performance has been identified as an especially important factor in charter school long-term stability and success,” NFMA said in its RBP. “Consequently, the POS should disclose all relevant aspects of the charter school academic performance.”

Charter schools cost taxpayers huge amounts of money.  Malloy’s gift to Connecticut’s charter schools are closing in on half a billion dollars in public fund.  It is time that elected officials make sure these corporate entities meet the same basic standards that public schools must adhere too.