Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education

First published on Washington D.C.’s The Hill Website, Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education;

To Betsy DeVos, school choice is not simply the inherent right that every parent has to choose their child’s educational setting, it is all about requiring taxpayers to pick up the tab for that parent’s private individual choice, regardless of whether the parent chooses a public school, a charter school, a nonprofit private school, a religious school or even a fly-by-night online virtual school.

Historically, the United States has devoted itself to a comprehensive system of public schools, locally controlled and funded by public resources. Parents who didn’t want their children to attend the public schools, could, of course, pay for them to go to a private school.

But DeVos and her associates in the corporate education reform movement have been working hard to undermine that historic concept and replace it with one in which public funds are used  to subsidize whatever “choice” a parent makes for their child.

The most common form of public subsidy for “school choice” has been the rapid rise of the charter school industry. Today there are approximately 3 million students attending about 6,900 charter schools in the United States. Supporters of these publicly funded but privately owned and operated entities claim that their primary purpose is to provide parents with choices.

However, advocates for privatizing public education support a far broader array of school choice options, including funneling public money directly to private schools.

And in Donald Trump, DeVos and her allies have found someone who will champion the cause of shifting massive public resources away from the nation’s public schools to subsidize the country’s private and parochial schools.

During his presidential campaign Donald Trump proposed using $20 billion in federal money to allow parents to send their children to charter, private, or religious schools.

While Betsy DeVos’ confirmation process was much more controversial than Trump could have expected, his policy goals undoubtedly remain intact. In the coming weeks and months we’re likely see Trump’s new Secretary of Education propose a variety of programs and mechanisms to promote their agenda, including efforts to persuade states to dramatically expand support for charter schools and school voucher efforts.

As Fox Business News reported, DeVos told a group in 2015, “Let the education dollars follow each child, instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars. This is pretty straightforward. And it’s how you go from a closed system to an open system that encourages innovation. People deserve choices and options,”

Although critics point out, the nation’s public schools are already underfunded and vouchers and other privatization programs further undermine the ability of public schools to provide students with the comprehensive educational opportunities they need and deserve, the Trump administration is likely to “go all in” with the effort to redirect public resources to privately owned and operated school settings.

These privatization efforts will probably include education savings accounts and school vouchers, either paid for directly with tax dollars or funded through a system of tax credits.

Under an Education Savings Account program, parents who withdraw their children from public school are given stipends that are deposited into government-authorized savings accounts.

Parents can then use those funds to pay for private school tuition and fees. Alternatively, parents are given a School Voucher that they can then use to direct public funds to a selected private or parochial school. In this case, the funds meant for paying for the child’s public school education follows that child to the private school.

According to the pro-privatization advocacy group, Ed Choice, about 400,000 children in 29 states attend schools with the help of vouchers.

In many of the existing situations, school vouchers are limited to families with lower incomes and schools that accept vouchers must meet a series of mandatory academic standards.

To fund their voucher system, Trump and DeVos may look to have the program funded out of federal dollars or they may seek to utilize tax-credit to fund the vouchers. Tax-credit vouchers, also called, scholarships, allow taxpayers, often businesses, to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships.

While a school voucher proposal is likely, critics say that DeVos’ voucher plan would exacerbate educational inequality, that “voucher programs do not work to improve student achievement”, and “voucher programs and charter school expansion drain both money and social capital from the traditional public schools, creating even more of an imbalanced, two-tiered system.”

The problem is that undermining the nation’s public education system is exactly what Trump and DeVos are trying to do.

You can read and comment on the original piece at: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/318948-beware-of-trump-and-devos-grand-plan-to-privatize-public

Charter School Industry’s reach expanding even before Trump…

President-elect Donald Trump is a HUGE fan of charter schools.  His nominee for Secretary of Education, billionaire Betsy DeVos, is even more supportive of the privately owned but publicly funded corporate entities that run charter schools.  DeVos has spent hundreds of millions of dollars championing charter schools, public funded vouchers for private and religious education and the inappropriate Common Core standards.

Charter schools are counting on the Trump administration to dramatically accelerate to privatization of public education in the United States.

But even before Trump and DeVos take office, the charter school industry has been enjoying unprecedented growth thanks to Presidents Bush and Obama and their corporate education reform allies like governors Dannel Malloy and Andrew Cuomo.

In a report issued late last year by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the charter school industry bragged that as of 2014-2015 there were 17 U.S. cities in which charter schools controlled at least 30% of all students.

While there were more than 6,700 charter schools in the country enrolling approximately 3 million students (about 6% of all students), the charter school industry’s saturation rate is much higher in a group of poorer urban areas.  While charter school reached was 30% in 17 school districts in the United States, the percent of students attending charter schools was more than 50% in three school districts, New Orleans, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan

According to their report,

“The districts across the country where at least 30 percent of students are enrolled in charter schools are: New Orleans (92 percent); Detroit (53 percent); Flint, MI (53 percent); Washington, D.C. (45 percent); Gary, IN (43 percent); Kansas City, MO (40 percent); Camden, NJ (34 percent); Philadelphia (34 percent); Indianapolis (31 percent); Dayton, OH (31 percent); Cleveland, OH (31 percent); Grand Rapids, MI (31 percent); Victor Valley, CA (31 percent); San Antonio, TX (30 percent); Natomas, CA (30 percent); Newark, NJ (30 percent); and St. Louis (30 percent).

The charter school industry also explained that that,

“Los Angeles has the highest overall number of students enrolled in charter schools, with more than 156,000. During the 2015-16 school year, Los Angeles charter schools enrolled an additional 4,700 students over the previous year. New York City is second with almost 100,000 charter school students last year, nearly double its enrollment five years ago. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of charter school students in New York City has increased from nearly 39,000, to nearly 94,000 – an increase of more than 54,000 students. Rounding out the top 10 districts in charter school enrollment are: Philadelphia (63,520); Chicago (59,060); Miami-Dade (58,280); Houston (55,710); Detroit (51,240); Broward County, FL (44,320); New Orleans (44,190); and Washington, D.C. (38,910). These top 10 districts serve nearly a quarter of all charter school students in the country.”

And the reported concluded that, “there are six districts in which about 40 percent of the students are enrolled in charter schools; 17 school districts have 30 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools and 44 districts have 20 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools.”

Overall, there are now at least 190 districts that have at 10 percent or more of their students enrolled in charter schools, according to the national association that represents charter schools.

In state after state, district after district, charter schools discriminate against students who require special education services, students who need help learning the English language and students who have disciplinary issues.  Yet despite that record of failures, charter schools are collecting billions in taxpayer funds.

Worse, they are now planning for a windfall of riches thanks to Donald Trump and his administration.

BREAKING NEWS – Having lied about her education background – Linda McMahon is now a Trump appointee

President-Elect Donald Trump has announced that World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon will head the Small Business Administration.  McMahon is well known in Connecticut, including her record of lying about her educational background.

As the Wait, What? headline, I’m Linda McMahon and my degree is in English, ah… no French, yeah… French, explained in 2012,

Recalling the “English, ah… no French, yeah… French” Episode.

As a strong supporter of public education, and having served on the General Assembly’s Education Committee, I found it particularly offensive when Governor Jodi Rell announced that she was appointing Linda McMahon to the Connecticut State Board of Education in January 2009.

After conducting some research, I wrote a memo to the Democratic members of the Legislature’s Nominations Committee outlining a number of factors that I believed made the case for rejecting her nomination and keeping McMahon off the State Board.

As a later Freedom of Information request by the Stamford Advocate’s Brian Lockhart revealed, when a member of the committee told Rell’s office that she had heard from a constituent who was “concerned about whether Mrs. McMahon would be an appropriate role model,” Rell’s staff, McMahon’s lobbyists and the WWE’s vice president of global public affairs kicked into high gear.  In one memo they explained that they were going to, “polish McMahon’s image, craft her confirmation hearing statements and schedule as many one-on-one meetings as possible with legislators.”

In another, McMahon’s operatives provided the Governor’s Office with “notes” responding to “a list of concerns being circulated by Jonathan Pelto.”

At the top of that “list of concerns” was the fact that, in a number of official places, Linda McMahon’s biography stated that she graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in English.  However, East Carolina University listed her as having received a Bachelor’s degree in French in 1969.

For example, in documents submitted to the New York Stock Exchange, her biography reads, “Born October 4, 1948, and raised in New Bern, N.C., Mrs. McMahon was a high school honor society student who was also fond of basketball and tennis. She and Vince were married in 1966. After graduating from East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., with a Bachelor of Science in Education, Linda and Vince moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a paralegal at the law firm of Covington & Burling.”  (see http://www.nyse.com/pdfs/LMcMahonBio.pdf)

However her most recent biography on the WWE website reads, “Born October 4, 1948, and raised in New Bern, N.C., Mrs. McMahon was a high school honor society student who was also fond of basketball and tennis. She and Vince were married in 1966.  After graduating from East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., with a Bachelor of Science in French and certified to teach, Linda and Vince moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a paralegal at the law firm of Covington & Burling.”

By the time McMahon went before the General Assembly’s Nominations Committee on February 5, 2009, her prepared statement read;

“A major interest in education has been a significant constant in my life. I attended East Carolina University with the goal of becoming a teacher.  However, a gentleman named Vince McMahon came into my life.  Vince and I were married while in college, and this changed the course of my life and my professional career.

After I graduated from East Carolina with a Bachelor of Science in French and certified to teach, Vince and I move to Washington…”

So, French it was…

And McMahon went on to be confirmed by the State Senate and House of Representatives and served on the State Board of Education for a year, before resigning to begin her first run for the United States Senate.

POST SCRIPT:  When I finally got a copy of Linda McMahon’s official State of Connecticut background questionnaire, a document that was signed and notarized on January 9, 2009, McMahon wrote (in her own handwriting) that she graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in English.

Yet as we now know, on February 5, 2009, when she testified before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Executive Nominations Committee, Linda McMahon said had graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in French.

But hey, English and French are both Indo-European languages, so it is easy to get them mixed up.

Draining the swamp?

So Trump goes with yet another member of the corporate elite, a “1 percenter”  who can’t even tell the truth about what degree she received in college.

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