Charter schools pose financial risk to municipalities by James Mulholland

The charter school industry is proposing a change to Connecticut’s school funding system to require that local communities hand over local funds to subsidize charter schools attended by local students.  The “money follows the child” funding system leaves local public schools without the resources necessary to ensure children have access to a comprehensive education.  In this piece, first published in the CT Mirror, educator and education advocate James Mulholland examines this latest money grab by the charter schools.

Mulholland writes;

In  December of last year, the Connecticut Department of Education issued a request for proposals for new charter schools – the first time in nearly three years.  As the state grapples with a budget disaster and Gov. Dannel Malloy continues to propose changes that would dramatically change the way Connecticut pays for education, the state should refrain from opening any new charter schools and freeze the funding of existing ones.

Moody’s credit rating service has warned of the fiscal risks to municipalities posed by charter schools.  In its 2013 report, Charter Schools Pose Growing Risk for Urban Public Schools, Moody’s concluded that a rise in charter school enrollment, “is likely to create negative credit pressure on school districts in economically weak urban areas.”

According to Michael D’Arcy, one of two authors of the report, “A small but growing number of traditional public districts face financial stress due to the movement of students to charters.”

As urban areas such as Hartford teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, lowered bond ratings could have a devastating effect on already dire budgetary circumstances.  Gov. Malloy is proposing a new municipal accountability system for cities and towns facing severe fiscal difficulties.  The proposal includes a multi-tiered ranking system for communities that could lead to greater state oversight of local budgets and limit annual property tax increases for the cities and towns deemed most at risk.

Under the proposal, a municipality could be assigned to one of the first three tiers if it has a poor fund balance or credit rating.  Bridgeport and Stamford have resisted the state’s efforts to open charter schools in their cities.  In 2015, the State Board of Education unanimously approved the application of the Stamford Charter School for Excellence despite the fact that the Stamford Board of Education voted 7-1 to urge the state to deny the application.  The state of Connecticut may very well force cities to accept a charter school that may adversely affect its credit rating in the future.

Moody’s recently reiterated its belief about the adverse effects of charter schools this past November when Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected legislation that would have increased the state’s cap on charter schools.  Moody’s warned Boston and three other Massachusetts cities that passage of a ballot measure to expand charter schools could weaken their financial standing and ultimately threaten their bond ratings.

Nicholas Lehman, an assistant vice president at Moody’s, warned that passage of the referendum would be a “credit negative” for the cities.  Moody’s responded to Massachusetts voters’ rejection of the plan with a “credit positive” and reiterated that the history of charter schools shows they drain money from city education budgets.

Connecticut currently provides funding in excess of $100 million per year to operate 24 charter schools, 10 of which are managed by six management companies.  These companies charge a management fee of approximately 10 percent of the amount they receive from the state.

“If we saw fees of 10 percent or less, that would be reasonable,” says Robert Kelly, who oversees charter schools at the education department.  In part, these fees are used to duplicate administrative services such as payroll and human resources, which are already provided by the districts in which charter schools operate.  It seems particularly wasteful at a time when the state is looking to regionalize municipal services.

While cities and towns have seen their education funding slashed, Connecticut’s charter management companies have seen their coffers overflow. Last year, the State Board of Education increased charter school enrollment by 4 percent for the current school year. While the enrollment increase cost the state an additional $4.1 million, funding for traditional public schools was cut by $51.7 million and regional magnet schools, opened to help desegregate city schools, had budget cuts totaling $15.4 million

The diversion of millions of dollars from traditional public schools is one reason the New England Conference of the NAACP and the Massachusetts Lawyer’s Committee filed a motion against the effort to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.  It was the belief of Juan Cofield, president of the New England Conference of the NAACP, that “setting up a separate system is destructive to the notion of providing the best education for all students.”

Connecticut should not continue to pursue charter schools as a means to meet the educational needs of its children.  The financial risk to our cities and towns is just too great.

You can read and comment on the original piece at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/02/13/opinion-james-mulholland-2/

No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’

In a commentary piece entitled, No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’, and first published in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator and public education advocate James Mulholland took on the absurd rhetoric that is being spewed by the corporate funded education reform industry.

Collecting their six figure incomes, these lobbyists for the Common Core, Common Core testing scam and the effort to privatize public education in the United States claim that more standardized testing is the key to improving educational achievement.

Rather than focus on poverty, language barriers, unmet special education needs and inadequate funding of public schools, the charter school proponents and Malloy apologists want students, parents, teachers and the public to believe that a pre-occupation with standardized testing, a focus on math and English, “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies for students and undermining the teaching profession will force students to “succeed” while solving society’s problems.

Rather than rely on evidence, or even the truth, these mouthpieces for the ongoing corporatization of public education are convinced that if they simply say an untruth long enough, it will become the truth.

In his recent article, James Mullholland takes them on – writing;

In a recent commentary piece, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, praises the Connecticut State Board of Education’s support for using student SBAC results in teacher evaluations. He claims, “The absence of such objective data has left our evaluation system light on accountability.” He further contends, “Connecticut continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the SBE appears committed to continuing to take this issue on.”

Contrary to Mr. Villar’s assertion, there is little, if any, evidence to support the idea that including standardized test scores in teacher evaluations will close the so-called achievement gap.

In some ways, it is a solution looking for a problem. Mr. Villar writes, “recently released evaluation results rated almost all Connecticut teachers as either proficient or exemplary. That outcome doesn’t make much sense.”

Other education reform groups express similar disbelief that there are so many good teachers in the state. In her public testimony during Connecticut’s 2012 education reform bill, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN testified that too few teachers were being dismissed for poor performance: “When you look at the distribution of ratings in those systems, you again see only about two percent of teachers, maybe five max, falling at that bottom rating category.” (Transcript of legislative testimony, March 21, 2012, p. 178.)

Education reform groups seem dismayed that they have been unable to uncover an adequate number of teachers who are bad at their jobs and continue to search for a method that exposes the boogeyman of bad teachers. But that’s exactly what it is: a boogeyman that simply doesn’t exist.

Regardless of the methodology that’s used, the number of incompetent teachers never satisfies education reform groups. They see this as a flaw in the evaluation system rather than a confirmation of the competency of Connecticut’s teachers.

However, Connecticut isn’t alone. After both Tennessee and Michigan overhauled their teacher evaluation systems, 98 percent of teachers were found to be effective or better; in Florida it was 97 percent. The changes yielded only nominal differences from previous years.

Mr. Vallar believes that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will decrease the achievement gap. There is no evidence to support the belief that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will lessen the differences in learning outcomes between the state’s wealthier and less-advantaged students.

In 2012, the federal Department of Education, led by Secretary Arne Duncan, granted Connecticut a waiver from the draconian requirements of No Child Left Behind. To qualify for the waiver, the results of standardized tests were to be included in teacher evaluations.

However, the policies of the secretary, which he carried with him from his tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Chicago to Washington D.C., never achieved the academic gains that were claimed. A 2010 analysis of Chicago schools by the University of Chicago concluded that after 20 years of reform efforts, which included Mr. Duncan’s tenure, the gap between poor and rich areas had widened.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that, “One of the most striking findings is that elementary school scores in general remained mostly stagnant, contrary to visible improvement on state exams reported by the Illinois State Board of Education.”

Most striking is a letter to President Obama signed by 500 education researchers in 2015, urging Congress and the President to stop test-based reforms. In it, the researchers argue that this approach hasn’t worked. “We strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.”

Using standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness reminds me of the time I saw a friend at the bookstore. “What are you getting?” I asked. “About 14 pounds worth,” he joked. Judging books by their weight is a measurement, but it doesn’t measure what is valuable in a book. Standardized tests measure something, but it’s not the effectiveness of a teacher.

To read and comment on James Mulholland’s commentary piece go to:  http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/04/20/opinion-james-mulholland/