New Reports Confirm Persistent Child Poverty While Policymakers Blame Educators and Fail to Address Core Problem

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a stunning analysis, by the newspaper’s data analyst Rich Exner, of the school district grades awarded by the state of Ohio on the state report cards released last week.  The new report cards are based on data from the 2018-2019 school year.  I encourage you to follow the link to look at Exner’s series of bar graphs, which, like this one, present a series of almost perfect downward staircases, with “A” grades for school districts in communities with high median income and “F” grades for the school districts in Ohio’s poorest communities.

The correlation of academic achievement with family income has been demonstrated now for half a century, but policymakers, like those in the Ohio legislature who are debating punitive school district takeovers, prefer to blame public school teachers and administrators instead of using the resources of government to assist struggling families who need better access to healthcare, quality childcare, better jobs, and food assistance.

Ohio’s school district grades arrived this week. At the same time, and with less fanfare, arrived a series of reports on the level of federal spending on children, reports documenting that, as Education Week‘s Andrew Uifusa explains: “The share of the federal budget that goes toward children, including education spending, dipped to just below 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018—the lowest level in the decade.”

On Tuesday of this week, the Urban Institute released a new report detailing trends in federal spending on children’s needs: “(O)verall spending on children represents a relatively small share of total federal spending, and that share is dwindling. In 2018, overall federal spending on children younger than 19 fell from recent years to about $6,200 per child.  Education and other discretionary spending categories saw the steepest declines last year, as they were squeezed by growing spending on health and retirement programs, as well as interest payments on the national debt.”  Further, federal spending on children is growing thin in particular areas as children’s needs compete with one another: “Increased mandatory spending on health programs for children and adults is putting pressure on education spending and other discretionary spending on kids. In 2018, federal spending on education dropped by $1.9 billion.  This is part of a long-term trend, as 2018 federal spending on elementary and secondary education was 48 percent below peak spending during the recession (in 2010) and 14 percent below pre-recession spending (in 2008).”  “As spending exceeds revenues year after year, the national debt will continue to climb… Under current policies, interest payments on the debt are projected to exceed spending on children in the next few years.”

A new report this month from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Children and Families in Trouble, examines the persistence of child poverty and the federal government’s failure to address it: “Poverty in the United States continued a sluggish decline in 2018, falling to 11.8 percent, with children and young adults still experiencing the highest rates.  Child poverty (ages 0-18) and young adult poverty (ages 18-24) remained unacceptably high at 16.2 percent and 15 percent respectively with alarmingly large racial and ethnic disparities in poverty.  Young children, under age 5, remain the poorest of all, at 17.7 percent….”  “Racial disparities are persistent, stark, and caused by structural factors… Black and Hispanic children are more likely to be poor (29.5 and 23.7 percent respectively) compared to 8.9 percent of non-Hispanic white children, despite high levels of work among their families.”

CLASP reports relatively high levels of employment among families with poor children, but problems with the kind of work available, the wages, and the conditions: “More than two-thirds of poor children (70.3 percent) live in households with at least one worker. Low wages, inadequate hours, and underemployment mean that work still does not pay a family-sustaining wage for millions of households. While unemployment remains near historical lows, a substantial share of low-income workers is employed part time involuntarily, meaning they would prefer to be working full time but are unable to find full-time work or get sufficient hours from their employer. Low-wage jobs predominate in the fastest-growing sectors, such as retail and food service. Such jobs are characterized by few benefits; unstable and unpredicable schedules; and temporary or part-time status.”

In the 13th annual release, last week, of its proposed Children’s Budget, First Focus on Children summarizes several areas in which Congress needs to support children with increased spending:

  • “Almost 80 percent of eligible 3-5 year old children lack access to Head Start programs.
  • “The Federal Government is not fulfilling 55 percent of its funding commitment for Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) grants.
  • “Of the households on the waiting list for housing assistance, 60 percent are families with children.
  • “75 percent of poor families in the U.S. who are eligible for cash assistance do not receive it.
  • “Nearly 83 percent of children who receive free or reduced price lunch during the school year do not have access to the summer meals program.”

The Trump administration has now also proposed a new “public charge rule” which would eventually deny green cards and application for citizenship to members of immigrant families who use public benefits. The new rule will apply in the future to the possible citizenship of today’s infants and children in these families.  In its recent report CLASP highlights special problems for immigrant children if, at the end of a 60 day posting period, the rule goes into effect (on October 15, 2019): “Among children, 425,000 more were uninsured in 2018 versus 2017, reversing a decades-long trend toward greater coverage. This concerning reversal, including a significant worsening among Hispanic children and among young children… likely reflects multiple attacks on health insurance coverage for people with low incomes. Notably, the Trump Administration is waging ongoing efforts to undermine the ACA and Medicaid access, and a hateful anti-immigrant agenda… (is) causing a chilling effect on immigrant families’ access to public programs.”

In late August, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) highlighted “Six Ways Trump ‘Public Benefits’ Policies Harm Children.” NEPC’s newsletter examines how the Trump administration’s proposed new rule would constrain opportunity for children in vulnerable immigrant families: “On August 12th the Trump administration proposed a new rule to change the criteria considered when the U.S. government decides whether to extend visas or grant permanent residency (‘green cards’).  These criteria—which are inextricably tied to a history of bias in the immigration process—have long included evidence about the likelihood of the immigrant becoming dependent on public benefits. But the approach that is now used focuses on cash benefits, such as Supplemental Social Security (‘disability’) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (‘welfare’).  The proposed rule will expand that to the main non-cash benefits used by immigrants: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps; Medicaid; and housing vouchers and other housing subsidies.”  NEPC continues: “(Seventeen) states plus DC have brought two lawsuits against the administration, alleging that the rule redefines the term ‘public charge’ inconsistently with Congress’ intent in the Immigration and Nationality Act; that it violates constitutional equal protection guarantees by effectively targeting immigrants from poorer areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa; that it infringes on states’ rights to protect their own residents; and that it punitively, arbitrarily and capriciously targets immigrants for using public benefits programs that are used by about half the country’s residents.” While school breakfast and lunch programs are not directly affected, “current policy automatically enrolls students in the federal free and reduced-price school meal program if their families receive food stamps… Accordingly, if immigrant families avoid SNAP, (their children) are less likely to receive the meals.”

My reason for quoting all of this information about persistent child poverty is to make the needs of America’s poorest children visible. The bar graph produced by the Plain Dealer‘s Rich Exner clearly shows that child poverty affects academic achievement. Policy makers, however, in the spirit of test-based, sanctions-based school accountability, are instead determined to impose punishments on the school districts serving poor children. They imagine that if they shift the blame onto teachers, nobody will notice that they are themselves failing to invest the resources and power of government in programs to support the needs of America’s poorest children.

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Ohio Senate Education Committee Blames Educators While Underfunding Schools in the State’s Poorest Communities

Members of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, who have been holding hearings on a new state school district takeover plan, continue to scapegoat the teachers and educational leaders in the school districts which serve concentrations of our state’s poorest children.

Despite a large body of research correlating standardized test scores with aggregate family and neighborhood income, Bill Phillis reports that twice last week at a hearing convened by the Senate Education Committee, one senator repeatedly asked: “How much time should we give those who drove the bus into the ditch to get it out?”  The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell quotes Senator Bill Coley, who mused: “I think its maybe the wrong people are running the show and we need to try something different.”

I guess these guys adhere to the old idea that if we were merely to exchange the staffs of the richest and the poorest school districts in the state, the challenges for students in poor communities would magically disappear.  Instead, research shows that economic segregation—where wealthy families are moving farther and farther into the exurbs—has been rapidly accelerating.  Our senators must imagine that public school educators can, on their own, swiftly erase the alarming and growing economic gap between children growing up in pockets of extreme privilege and children segregated in our most impoverished city neighborhoods or living in remote rural areas.

There is a lot of evidence, however, that Ohio’s state senators are mistaken when they blame schools and public school educators.  The state takeovers are based on a set of overly complex and opaque calculations that yield the  school district grades on a state report card.  This year’s state report card ratings were released just last week.  It is not surprising, given what is well known about the correlation of standardized test scores with family and community wealth, that nine of the top ten report card scorers in Ohio are wealthy suburbs of Ohio’s big cities: Solon, Rocky River, Chagrin Falls, Beachwood, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, and Bay Village—suburbs of Cleveland; Madeira and Indian Hill—suburbs of Cincinnati; and Ottawa Hills—a suburb of Toledo.

In fact, yesterday, the Plain Dealer‘s data wonk, Rich Exner published a stunning story on the correlation of Ohio’s report card grades with family income.  Here are his findings: “The latest set of Ohio school report cards not only provided a scorecard for each district statewide – they once again drove home the point that wealthier districts do better on such reports. For example, incomes in the “A” districts were three times higher than those in the “F” districts, and the child poverty rate was 13 times higher in the worst performing districts, cleveland.com found. To get an idea of how closely report card grades from the Ohio Department of Education follow demographic factors, cleveland.com compared those grades to U.S. Census Bureau community data for household income, child poverty and the education level of the adults. In nearly every key report card category, the trends followed census data closely. For example, taking the median household income for each district, the average among those getting “A” overall grades was $95,423. It was $65,307 for B-graded districts, $54,058 for C-graded districts, $44,428 for D-graded districts and $32,658 for F-graded districts. In the A districts, 58.5% of the adults age 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree. That share drops to 17.1% for D-graded districts and 16.3% for F-graded districts. There are outliers, of course. They will be highlighted in an upcoming story. But overall, the trends hold true.”

An enormous body of academic research confirms Exner’s finding that those who judge the quality of public schools by their standardized test scores fail to consider the enormous consequences of economic inequality and poverty. The problems have been exposed by research in a number of disciplines.

In an exhaustive book-long analysis in 2017, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, Daniel Koretz, the Harvard University expert on the design and use of standardized testing, demonstrates the many ways standardized-test-based-accountability distorts and undermines the educational process itself and the reasons why standardized tests are an inappropriate way to measure the quality of schools. Koretz explains that school districts serving primarily privileged students and school districts serving concentrations of poor children cannot be held to the same timelines for meeting specific standards: “One aspect of the great inequity of the American educational system is that disadvantaged kids tend to be clustered in the same schools. The causes are complex, but the result is simple: some schools have far lower average scores…. Therefore, if one requires that all students must hit the proficient target by a certain date, these low-scoring schools will face far more demanding targets for gains than other schools do. This was not an accidental byproduct of the notion that ‘all children can learn to a high level.’ It was a deliberate and prominent part of many of the test-based accountability reforms…. Unfortunately… it seems that no one asked for evidence that these ambitious targets for gains were realistic. The specific targets were often an automatic consequence of where the Proficient standard was placed and the length of time schools were given to bring all students to that standard, which are both arbitrary.” (pp. 129-130)

In Ohio, in a September 4, 2019 report, economist Howard Fleeter explains: “National research indicates that economically disadvantaged students typically cost at least 30% more to educate than do non-disadvantaged students. However… Ohio’s current formula only provides additional funding at less than 20% of the base cost…. Funding is an even lower percentage in districts with less than 100% economically disadvantaged students.”

In an appendix to the same report, Fleeter adds that over the past decade, Ohio has systematically underfunded the very school districts that Ohio’s state senators propose to try to address with governance changes through state takeover:

  • “For much of the past 30+ years, funding for economically disadvantaged students has increased at a far slower rate than the foundation level. Even worse, poverty funding has actually decreased by 13% from FY09 to FY18.
  • “Since 2001, the rate of increase in the number of low income students has been nearly 3 times as great as the rate of increase in state funding for these students.
  • “Funding for economically disadvantaged students in Ohio has become significantly more structured and restricted in the past 15 years as funding has been focused on programs related to the additional needs of these students and away from unrestricted grants.
  • “There has never been an objective study to determine the adequate level of funding for the programs needed to serve economically disadvantaged students.
  • “The focus on funding programs for economically disadvantaged students has largely ignored the impact of poverty on the social and emotional needs of low income children. These issues need to be addressed alongside – and arguably before – the academic needs of these children.”

The National Education Policy Center’s  Kevin Welner and researcher Julia Daniel summarize the research: “(W)e need to step back and confront an unpleasant truth about school improvement. A large body of research teaches us that the opportunity gaps that drive achievement gaps are mainly attributable to factors outside our schools: concentrated poverty, discrimination, disinvestment, and racially disparate access to a variety of resources and employment opportunities… Research finds that school itself has much less of an impact on student achievement than out-of-school factors such as poverty. While schools are important… policymakers repeatedly overestimate their capacity to overcome the deeply detrimental effects of poverty and racism…. But students in many of these communities are still rocked by housing insecurity, food insecurity, their parents’ employment insecurity, immigration anxieties, neighborhood violence and safety, and other hassles and dangers that can come with being a low-income person of color in today’s United States.”

What is the punitive state takeover plan currently being considered by the Ohio Senate Education Committee? The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reports that the plan closely resembles the plan the committee failed to negotiate into the biennial budget passed in July.  O’Donnell writes: “The latest plan… is similar to plans floated by the Senate last spring, but which never won enough support to pass… The plan… eliminates the controversial ‘Academic Distress Commissions,’ and CEOs that take over for local school boards today after three years of failing grades on state report cards. In their place would be a new State Transformation Board that oversees improvement efforts across the state, and new School Improvement Commissions… for each district that does not improve. Those commissions would have many powers similar to the Academic Distress Commissions today.”  For example, the School Improvement Commissions would still have the power to overrule a school district’s elected board of education.  (Here is a detailed description of the School Transformation Plan the Senate proposed last spring.)

Last week, Ohio State Senators Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Tina Maharath (D-Columbus) formally called for an overhaul of the way the state calculates the report cards on which the state takeovers are based.  Fedor, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, explains: “There are serious flaws in the way we calculate districts’ grades… Report cards don’t reflect the quality of the education children receive nor the progress they make. The current measures are not meaningful for the purpose of assessing the district contribution to learning. They penalize large and high-poverty districts, which they threaten with state takeovers. The State recognizes the report card is flawed and depicts a false narrative for our communities and school districts. The legislature has the power to fix these mistakes, and we need to do that immediately.”  Fedor and Maharath explain: “The Progress grade, which represents 20 percent of a district’s total grade, is particularly unfair because the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) uses a formula to adjust for the district’s size that penalizes the grade of large school districts… If a district makes progress, but not as much as the average school district in the state, their grade will be low – not giving credit for actual percentage growth.”

The state report cards not only target the school districts serving very poor children with state takeover but they also feed racial and economic housing segregation by encouraging families to avoid poor and mixed income communities where the schools may be serving their students well despite overall lagging scores. The state report card grades are an example of state-sponsored educational redlining.

And like the legislators on the Senate Education Committee who blame teachers and school administrators for school districts’ aggregate test scores, the state report cards encourage the scapegoating of the dedicated educators who choose to serve the children living in Ohio’s poorest communities.

Embracing Public Schools as the Very Definition of the Common Good

The 2019-2020 school year is now underway, and in an ironic twist, in a business journal, the academic dean of the college of education at the for-profit University of Phoenix has penned a beautiful reflection on the meaning of public education. Dean Pam Roggeman understands the meaning for families and for communities of their public schools.

Roggeman writes: “This early fall, I’d like to honor the millions of parents who…  send their kids to school for the first time. Critics, possibly a bit removed from their neighborhood public schools, at times try to paint public education as a nameless, faceless bureaucratic institution that is riddled with faults. And like many other institutions, our public schools do have flaws. However, those of us rooted in our communities, with or without school-age kids, do not see our schools as faceless institutions. Rather, we associate our schools with our child’s talented teacher, or the principal greeting kids at the door, or the coach waiting for kids to be picked up after practice, or the mom who became this fall’s crossing guard, or the front office staff who commiserate with us as we deliver the forgotten lunch, and… also with the friendly bus-driver who will not move that bus until every child is safely seated. We rely on and embrace our neighborhood public schools as a community enterprise on which we deeply depend.”

Roggeman defines the reason public schools are one of our society’s best opportunities for establishing systemic justice for children: public schools are required by law to serve the needs and protect the rights of all children: “(T)here is one thing that our American public schools do better than any other schools in the country or even in the world: our public schools commit to addressing the needs of every single child. Our public schools are open to ALL children, without prejudice or pause. Our schools attempt to educate EVERYBODY. American students are students who are gifted, students with disabilities, students who need advanced placement, students who have experienced trauma, students who are learning English, students who are hungry, affluent students, students who live in poverty, students who are anxious, and students who are curious.”

Reading Roggeman’s reflection on public education as an essential civic institution caused me to dig out a Resolution for the Common Good, passed by the 25th General Synod of the United Church of Christ more than a decade ago, when I was working in the justice ministries of that mainline Protestant denomination. The resolution was passed unanimously in 2005, in the midst of a decade when an ethos of individualism was accelerating.

The values defined in the introduction to the resolution mesh with Roggeman’s consideration of public schools as the essence of community: “The Twenty-fifth General Synod calls upon all settings of the United Church of Christ to uphold the common good as a foundational ideal in the United States, rejects the notion that government is more unwieldy or inefficient than other democratic institutions, and reaffirms the obligation of citizens to share through taxes the financial responsibility for public services that benefit all citizens, especially those who are vulnerable, to work for more equitable public institutions, and to support regulations that protect society and the environment.”

The introduction of the resolution continues: “A just and good society balances individualism with the needs of the community. In the past quarter century our society has lost this ethical balance. Our nation has moved too far in the direction of promoting individual self interest at the expense of community responsibility. The result has been an abandonment of the common good. While some may suggest that the sum total of individual choices will automatically constitute the common good, there is no evidence that choices based on self interest will protect the vulnerable or provide the safeguards and services needed by the whole population. While as a matter of justice and morality we strive always to expand the individual rights guaranteed by our government for those who have lacked rights, we also affirm our commitment to vibrant communities and recognize the importance of government for providing public services on behalf of the community… The church must speak today about the public space where political processes are the way that we organize our common life, allocate our resources, and tackle our shared problems. Politics is about the values we honor, the dollars we allocate, and the process we follow so that we can live together with some measure of justice, order and peace.”

Recognizing “significant on-going efforts to privatize education, health care, and natural resources, and to reduce revenues collected through taxes as a strategy for reducing dependency on government services,” the delegates resolved “that the United Church of Christ in all its settings will work to make our culture reflect the following values:

  • that societies and nations are judged by the way they care for their most vulnerable citizens;
  • that government policy and services are central to serving the common good;
  • that the sum total of individual choices in any private marketplace does not necessarily constitute the public good;
  • that paying taxes for government services is a civic responsibility of individuals and businesses;
  • that the tax code should be progressive, with the heaviest burden on those with the greatest financial means; (and)
  • that the integrity of creation and the health and sustainability of ecological systems is the necessary foundation for the well-being of all people and all living things for all time.”

Since that resolution passed in 2005, we have watched an explosion of economic inequality, the defunding and privatization of public institutions including K-12 public education, the defunding of social programs; the growth of privatized and unregulated charter schools, the abuse of power by those who have been amassing the profits, and the abandonment of policies to protect the environment.

A just and good society balances the rights of the individual with the needs of the community. I believe that the majority of Americans embrace these values.  I wonder how we have allowed our society stray so far.

New Ohio Report: Cupp-Patterson Plan Creates Adequate School Funding but Must Be Corrected for Equity

Ohio’s legislature will soon hold hearings on a new, much touted, desperately needed, bipartisan school funding plan. The plan was developed and proposed by Rep. Robert Cupp (R) and Rep. John Patterson (D), and has now been formally introduced as House Bill 305.

Ohio’s current school funding formula is so dated and so badly underfunded that 503 of the state’s 610 school districts are currently either capped or on guarantee; they have been receiving from the state just what they got last year and the year before and the year before that.  The new Cupp-Patterson plan was designed to flip that situation and restore the awarding of formula-calculated funding to at least 510 districts.

The new formula was developed to establish a base cost per enrolled student, an amount which every district would receive through combined state and local funding. Everybody agrees that the new formula would begin to create an adequate funding floor.

But huge concerns have arisen since last spring when the formula was first announced. Once the computer runs were released to show how the new formula would treat each of the state’s 610 school districts, it became apparent that many of the state’s very poorest districts—especially poor urban districts with concentrated poverty and rural districts—would end up with meager funding increases, or, in some cases, no additional funding at all, while some of the state’s wealthiest exurban school districts would receive huge increases in state funding.

While the new Cupp-Patterson Plan produced an adequate school funding floor, it failed to achieve equity. Part of the reason is obvious: the outer ring suburbs are rapidly growing, and a higher per-pupil state funding system will add funding as students move to a school district. But until now, nobody has clearly explained what is causing the proposed formula to deny additional funding to the state’s poorest school districts—three of them currently being punished by autocratic state takeover, ten of them threatened with state takeover, and Cleveland under its own form of state supervision.

Last week, however, Howard Fleeter, an expert on Ohio school finance since the early 1990s, published a report for the Ohio Education Policy Institute to evaluate the proposed Cupp-Patterson formula.  In his new paper, Fleeter dissects the history and complexity of the state’s foundation formula along with the history and complexity of the way the state calculates categorical funding—the special funds the state awards to school districts in addition to basic aid for special services—special education, gifted, English learners, transportation, career-technical, and students in poverty.

Fleeter’s paper is extremely technical.  Even as a non-expert reads the new report, however, what becomes clear is that the very complexity of the calculations and the choice of particular factors has disadvantaged the state’s poorest school districts.

One Problem with the Foundation Base Cost Calculation

Any school funding formula is comprised of a state contribution and a local contribution which together add up to a base cost amount. The purpose of the formula is to deliver additional state aid to school districts whose fiscal capacity is lower. While he affirms much of the way the basic aid formula is calculated, Fleeter criticizes one area of the calculation. His concern is the way community median income is being used to calculate the local contribution to the formula. The proposed formula considers the size of the school district’s property tax base and also measures community income as a proxy for the community’s capacity to pass local operating levies.  The assumption here is that wealthier voters will more easily be able to afford to vote for tax levies.

The proposed formula measures income through a complicated calculation called local capacity percentage which is based on median income. Fleeter explains that the way the tiers are set fails entirely to distinguish high income from very poor communities. Fleeter provides an example: “Northern Local School District in Perry County has a median income of $41,826 while Orange City School District has a median income of $93,421 (more than twice as much), and yet both have the same local capacity percentage, which is clearly inequitable.”  The Northern Local School District in Perry County is the extremely poor rural school district where the DeRolph school funding equity lawsuit originated.  Orange City School District includes the very wealthiest communities in Cuyahoga County—greater Cleveland.

Problems with the Calculation of Categorical Funding

Fleeter also considers the mass of calculations which determine categorical funding levels, and he devotes much of his analysis to the way the proposed formula treats the school districts which serve a large number or a concentration of students living in poverty. Ohio’s current formula fails to support these districts even as the state punishes them with punitive measures—most notably state takeover.  Fleeter believes Ohio needs to assist these school districts with significant additional resources: “National research indicates that economically disadvantaged students typically cost at least 30% more to educate than do non-disadvantaged students. However… Ohio’s current formula only provides additional funding at less than 20% of the base cost…. Funding is an even lower percentage in districts with less than 100% economically disadvantaged students.”

In an appendix, Fleeter traces a history of state funding problems for school districts serving children in poverty: “The following points provide a summary of the main issues relating to funding for economically disadvantaged students in Ohio:

  • For much of the past 30+ years, funding for economically disadvantaged students has increased at a far slower rate than the foundation level. Even worse, poverty funding has actually decreased by 13% from FY09 to FY18.
  • Since 2001, the rate of increase in the number of low income students has been nearly 3 times as great as the rate of increase in state funding for these students.
  • Funding for economically disadvantaged students in Ohio has become significantly more structured and restricted in the past 15 years as funding has been focused on programs related to the additional needs of these students and away from unrestricted grants.
  • There has never been an objective study to determine the adequate level of funding for the programs needed to serve economically disadvantaged students.
  • The focus on funding programs for economically disadvantaged students has largely ignored the impact of poverty on the social and emotional needs of low income children. These issues need to be addressed alongside – and arguably before – the academic needs of these children.”

Fleeter examines several reasons why the new school funding plan does not solve the problem.

Historically, the state directed assistance to school districts serving very poor children with what was called Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid—later replaced after the DeRolph litigation with Targeted Assistance and Capacity Aid. In a series of calculations, Fleeter demonstrates that under the new Cupp-Patterson plan, the total of $987.3 million for these two programs, “would still be 20.3% below the actual FY 19 post-cap funding levels for Targeted Assistance and Capacity Aid.”

In the first place, the targeting of funding for disadvantaged students is part of the plan’s six-year phase in.  Over the period of the phase in, school districts would not receive all of the money until the whole plan were fully phased in. “Additionally, the state average base cost amount would increase to $7,190 in FY 20 under the Cupp-Patterson plan. Thus, the per-pupil amount of economically disadvantaged funding received in FY 20, even if there were no phase-in, would only be 25.6% of the new base cost.”

Problems with the proposed formula also derive from the way it counts students for Targeted Assistance. The plan uses overall enrollment instead of Average Daily Membership to calculate Targeted Assistance. (Overall enrollment counts students in charter schools and students receiving vouchers.)  The substitution of overall enrollment for ADM affects the mathematical calculation, making urban districts look wealthier than they actually are. Changing the method of counting students deprives school districts of millions of dollars annually.  For example, Cleveland would lose $27.6 million from the amount of Targeted Assistance it currently receives; Columbus, $27.1 million; Dayton, $21.0 million; Toledo, 19.1 million; Youngstown, $13.54 million; Cincinnati, $11.4 million; Lorain City, 10.1 million; Euclid, $4.7 million; Lima, $4.0 million; and Mansfield, $3.0 million.

Fleeter comments “When providing testimony in support of their plan, members of the Cupp-Patterson work group explained the above outcomes by saying that the number of students educated in the district is in fact the more appropriate measure for determining wealth than is the number of students who live in the district. While this is certainly true for the calculation of an input-based base cost measure, it is less clear for a measure that is designed explicitly to help less wealthy districts keep pace with their wealthier neighbors in providing educational opportunities for their students. Moreover, regardless of the theoretical merits of one student count versus another for making a per-pupil wealth calculation, the funding impact was clearly that high poverty urban districts lost so much revenue from Targeted Assistance under the initial Cupp-Patterson proposal that most of them ended up on the guarantee or with much smaller revenue increases than did the wealthier districts in the state.”

Again and again, Fleeter emphasizes the urgent need for the state to address the needs of school districts serving concentrations of poor children. He castigates legislators for proposing a formal study of the needs of students in these school districts but failing to fund such an investigation: “Finally, HB 305 would direct the state to undertake a study of the true cost of educating economically disadvantaged students in Ohio. Such a study has never been undertaken in Ohio. The final version of the FY 20-21 state budget did include a provision directing the Ohio Department of Education to oversee such a study; however, no funding was earmarked for this purpose. The state needs to be encouraged to find a way to fund and complete these studies in the FY 20-21 biennium.”

MGT Consultants: Profiting from the School Crisis in Gary, Indiana and Taking Over Three Colorado School Districts

This blog will take a late summer break.  Look for a new post on Wednesday, September 11, 2019.

In a blog post on Monday, Diane Ravitch warned: “Colorado be very afraid.”  She is commenting on a decision by the state board of education in Colorado to hire a for-profit education management company to take over three school districts which Colorado’s state board has deemed “troubled.”

Ravitch is writing about an article from Sentinel Colorado, which explains: “As Colorado school districts struggle and fail to raise student test scores in schools with entrenched problems, they’re turning to private companies to fix public schools, for millions of dollars. Some critics question whether at least one of those private companies is qualified for the job based on their track record in another state and their close ties to what some say are anti-public schools alliances.”  The three districts are to be taken over by Florida’s MGT Consulting.

Sentinel Colorado‘s Grant Singer explains: “Leaders of the Florida-based MGT say they specialize in allocating public money more effectively while improving teacher effectiveness in the classroom and school culture. Its management process includes sub-contracting areas of school work to other companies, and it boasts completing over 10,000 projects in many states and abroad over several decades… MGT’s current chief executive officer also co-founded a consulting and lobbying firm tapped into a national network of for-profit education institutions, Republican education reformers, the testing industry and charter schools. That’s part of what draws controversy as public school academia question the motives of a company headed by pro-school voucher officials working to save failing public schools—for profit.”

Colorado state school board members praised MGT’s record in the so-called turnaround of the only whole school district it has managed—for the past two years—in Gary, Indiana.  The fact that MGT Consulting, a for-profit, was praised for work in Gary caught my eye. I have been to Gary, just as I have been to Detroit, whose public schools have shared some problems with Gary’s. Detroit’s school district was assigned a state emergency fiscal manager by former Governor Rick Snyder; in fact Detroit’s school district was assigned an emergency manager named Darnell Earley after he left Flint, where, as municipal emergency fiscal manager, he had permitted the poisoning of the city’s water supply. Fortunately Detroit’s schools have been turned back to the democratically elected local school board, which hired a professional educator, Dr. Nikolai Vitti.  And I have been to the cities in Ohio now in state takeover, and being operated by appointed Academic Distress Commissions. I am thinking of Youngstown, which in four years under an Academic Distress Commission and appointed CEO, has not turned around. I am thinking of Lorain, where outright chaos has ensued under an Academic Distress Commission’s appointed CEO, David Hardy. And I am thinking of East Cleveland, whose schools are just beginning the state takeover process, and ten other Ohio school districts—including Dayton and Toledo—being threatened with state takeover.

All of these Rust Belt cities and their school districts are characterized by economic collapse. They are industrial cities where factories have closed and workers moved away to seek employment elsewhere. When industry collapses, the property tax base—the foundation of the local contribution of school funding—evaporates, and as workers lose jobs or leave, local income tax revenue collapses as well.

The northwest Indiana reporter for WBEZ News in Chicago describes what happened in Gary and how economic collapse has affected the city’s public schools. Writing in February of 2017, WBEZ’s Michael Puente explained: “In December, the school board voted to close Jefferson and two other school district facilities at the end of the academic year to save money.  It’s just the latest cost-cutting effort for a district drowning in red ink. By June, Gary’s accumulated debt is expected to reach $101 million.  In the last two years, Gary has had to close six buildings amid declining enrollment, dwindling tax revenue and competition from public charter schools.  The school system is struggling to make payroll each month. It delayed checks to 700 employees, mostly teachers, in November.  March is also likely to be a problem.” After describing faltering attempts by members of the Indiana Legislature to pass legislation to assist Gary’s schools, Puente adds: “But none will fix two of Steel City’s greatest problems: industry decline and population loss.  Since 1970, some 100,000 residents—almost half the city’s population—have left Gary. Only about 77,000 remain… Gary has been bleeding jobs, especially at the steel mills, for decades. Big employers like U.S. Steel are still around, but its workforce has shrunk over the years. And, the huge steel facility can’t produce fat property tax checks for the local school system because a decade-old state property tax cap limits how much the Gary schools can collect.”

In July 2017, the state took over the school district in Gary and turned the schools over to a private, for-profit management company: MGT Consultants. MGT hired Peggy Hinkley, a retired school superintendent to run the schools, but she resigned a little more than a year later. The Post-Tribune‘s Carole Carlson describes Hinkley’s tenure: “Hinkley served 14 months and ruffled the feathers of some elected officials who criticized her decisions, especially the closing of the Wirt-Emerson School of Visual and Performing Arts. When Wirt-Emerson closed in June (2018), it left the district with just one high school, the West Side Leadership Academy. It stoked fears of a continuing exodus of students who would leave for charter schools or other districts… Under Hinckley, Gary reached a deal resolving $8.4 million in back payroll taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS forgave a large portion of the debt, leaving the district with a $320,000 payment. The freeing up of the liens on buildings allowed Hinckley to list 33 vacant schools and properties for sale.  By November, the district had accepted five offers, amounting to $480,000. More sales are still being weighed. In all, Hinckley erased about $6 million of the district’s $100,000 million in long-term debts and reduced its monthly deficit from about $1.8 million to $1.3 million… Academically, all seven elementary schools received Fs on state report cards this year.”

Clearly, in Gary, Indiana, MGT Consultants has not miraculously achieved the kind of quick school district turnaround Colorado’s state school board bragged about when it contracted with MGT to take over three school districts.

And in the background there is also a troubling possible conflict of interest. You may remember that Tony Bennett was the elected state school superintendent in Indiana back when Mitch Daniels was the far-right Republican Governor. Tony Bennett left Indiana in 2013 to go to Florida, where he became the Florida school commissioner, but he resigned (also) in 2013, when it was discovered that, as Indiana’s state superintendent, he had secretly raised the state’s rating of a charter school whose operator was a mega-donor to Indiana’s Republican campaign coffers.

After he left Florida, Tony Bennett became a private consultant and, according to a second article by Carole Carlson of the Post-Tribune, “a partner in the Strategos Group, a Florida company, which acquired MGT Consulting three years ago.  As a result of the acquisition, Bennett became a member of MGT’s board of directors.”

The relevant issue of Bennett’s serving on MGT’s board when the state of Indiana hired MGT to run the Gary Schools is that Bennett worked assiduously with then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to expand Indiana’s statewide private school tuition voucher program and to enable more charter schools—a vigorous school privatization venture that has further undermined enrollment in and funding for the public schools in Gary.  Carlson explains that back when Tony Bennett was the state school superintendent in Indiana, “then Gov. Mitch Daniels and Bennett led an education reform overhaul that expanded charter schools and launched a vigorous voucher program that gave tax dollars to private schools.  Critics say those policies nudged Gary on its downward spiral.”

Chalkbeat Colorado‘s Yesenia Robles describes the cozy, school-reformer-privatizer connections that may have contributed to the hiring of MGT Consultants to run Gary’s schools.  After all, Colorado is claiming it has chosen MGT Consultants to run three different school districts based on the company’s track record in Gary. Robles doesn’t draw any firm conclusions about the red flags this ought to to have raised among officials in Colorado who hired MGT to manage the three school districts the state has taken over, but she does raise the red flags: “In Gary, the state ordered an emergency manager to come in not only for academic problems, but because the enrollment decline and fiscal management problems landed the district deep in debt. MGT took over the responsibilities of the superintendent and the school board, at the state’s request and reports directly to state officials. The work has been controversial. Some lawmakers called for removing the firm when it was discovered that Tony Bennett, who was state superintendent in Indiana from 2008-2013, is a partner in the Strategos Group, which acquired MGT in 2015. Lawmakers argued that the policies Bennett rolled out in his time as state superintendent contributed to Gary’s financial problems that led the state to require an external manager.”

The Post-Tribune‘s Carlson reports that as of the end of 2018, MGT Consulants’ contract to manage Gary’s school district has reached $10 million.  MGT Consultants stands to make big profits in Colorado as well. Sentinel Colorado‘s Stringer provides details—for example, in MGT’s contract to manage the Adams 14 School District in Commerce City: “MGT’s work in Commerce City will net almost $8.4 million plus up to $1.7 million in incentives for improving the district scores and ratings…. In the first two years of its contract, the group can earn from $300,000 to $400,000 each year for improving test scores at different grade levels and for meeting achievement marks. In the last two years, MGT could make up to $400,000 each year for earning the district and individual schools gains in state ratings, even for bumps to levels below meting standards. The Commerce City district does not have a superintendent nor a chief financial officer and will likely not fill both positions… MGT will manage the more than $150 million in district spending, almost all state and federal dollars.”

My own experience has not familiarized me with the school districts which have been turned over by the state of Colorado to the for-profit MGT Consultants. But when I read about state legislatures and politicians in Rust Belt states taking over school districts and appointing emergency fiscal managers and academic distress commissions and CEOs with unlimited power to make changes without consulting locally elected officials or engaging the local community, I wonder why the democratic process seems always to be abridged in the school districts which serve the poorest children of color. In Gary, I wonder why a for-profit consultant is raking in millions of dollars to cover for the state’s failure to help the school district after the surrounding economy collapsed. The economic tragedy in a place like Youngstown or Lorain or Benton Harbor or Dayton or Gary demands the active engagement of state and local government officials on behalf of the public good and the welfare of the children.

White House Imposes “Public Charge Rule” but 1982 Supreme Court Decision Blocks Efforts to Deny Public Education to Undocumented Children

On the front page of yesterday’s NY Times appeared, How Stephen Miller Seized the Moment to Battle Immigration, and yesterday’s Washington Post featured, The Ghostwriter: The Adviser Who Scripts Trump’s Immigration Policy.  These stories profile one of President Donald Trump’s most influential advisers—a sinister, skilled and influential manipulator of policy, other staff, and the President himself.

Miller is described by the Post‘s Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey as a deeply involved in the “immigration restrictionist movement.” For the NY Times, Jason DeParle describes Miller as “a speechwriter, policy architect, personnel director, legislative aide, spokesman and strategist.  At every step, he has pushed for the hardest line. When Mr. Trump wavered on his pledge to abolish protections for 800,000 so-called Dreamers—people brought illegally to the United States as children—Mr. Miller urged conservative states to threaten lawsuits. Mr. Trump then canceled the protections. When the president later mulled a deal to restore them, Mr. Miller stacked the negotiations with people who opposed the move, leading Mr. Trump to abandon compromise and rail against immigrants from ‘shithole countries.'”

Miller is described as skilled at working behind the scenes to manipulate staff at all levels including the President himself, but he has worked to keep a low profile. This week’s press coverage likely results from a new executive regulation—the “public charge rule”— finalized this week to promote Miller’s obsession: making America white again. The rule will take effect in mid-October.

Neither profile focuses on the effect of Miller’s policies on children—neither on Miller’s willingness to punish children for their parents’ border crossings, nor on Miller’s efforts more broadly to discourage immigration altogether by violating children’s rights or even isolating them in cages in detention centers at the border.  But the Washington, D.C., child advocacy organization, First Focus explains the potentially devastating implications of the new public charge rule on the children in immigrant families. The public charge rule will affect later considerations for citizenship qualification when immigrants eventually seek to acquire a green card or become a U.S. citizen. The new rule applies to legally documented immigrants as well as the undocumented: “The Trump administration has finalized a rule that will expand the definition of a public charge when determining eligibility for individuals applying for admission to the U.S. or for adjustment of status to that of lawful permanent resident (green card).  This expansion will allow for the consideration of an applicant’s use of services such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Federal, State and local cash assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and subsidized housing vouchers… The rule is expected to go into effect on October 15, 2019.”

For Bloomberg News, reporters Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink succinctly summarize the public charge rule: “Any immigrant who has used Medicaid, public housing assistance or food stamps for more than 12 months over a 36-month period can be denied permanent resident status under the new rule.”

First Focus explains how the new rule will possibly affect children’s eventual right to citizenship when, by no choice of their own, their parents use public services: “In the rule, DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) recognizes that children are not making decisions to apply for benefits themselves, yet they (at HHS) make no exemption for those who fall under a head of household. Alarmingly, they go out of their way to argue that there is no need for a child to have the capacity to understand the consequences of these actions.  While children are specifically exempt from Medicaid, other benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or federal, state and local cash assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) will be used against children when seeking adjustment of immigration status… When it comes to housing assistance, there is no way to separate benefits to parents and their children who live in the same home.”  The worry is that parents will fail to seek Medicaid coverage for themselves, and thereby threaten their children’s security, that children will go hungry or lose the right to free and reduced price lunch at school, and that expanding the public charge rule “will have a broad chilling effect and will deter all immigrant households from accessing any essential services out of fear it will negatively impact their immigration status.”

In another respect, however, the rule of law has clearly blocked Stephen Miller’s efforts to discourage immigration by threatening and punishing children.  Miller’s strategy this time was to deny public education to the children of undocumented  immigrants.  Bloomberg‘s Jacobs and Sink reported on Saturday that Miller has pursued a several years’ campaign within the administration to deny K-12 public school education to the children of undocumented immigrants: “Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller had been a driving force behind the effort as early as 2017, pressing cabinet officials and members of the White House Domestic Policy Council repeatedly to devise a way to limit enrollment…. Starting in late 2017, Miller pressed hard to find a way to limit undocumented immigrants’ access to public services, including education…. That effort included consideration last year of a guidance memo issued by the Education Department that would tell states they had the option to refuse students with an undocumented status to attend public schools from kindergarten through high school.  A memo was never issued.. The White House’s push was dropped because members of the administration determined the plan would violate Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court case that prohibited states from denying free public education based on their immigration status.”

Newsweek reporter Matt Keeley describes the 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe: “The Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that this policy was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that states cannot ‘deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'” Keeley quotes from Justice William Brennan’s majority decision in Plyler v. Doe: “The children who are the plaintiffs in these cases are special members of this underclass…. Those who elect to enter our territory by stealth and in violation of our law should be prepared to bear the consequences, including, but not limited to, deportation. But the children of those illegal entrants are not comparably situated… Even if the State found it expedient to control the conduct of adults by acting against their children, legislation directing the onus of a parent’s misconduct against his children does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.”

Justice Brennan’s words perfectly describe why many American’s are so alarmed by the immigration policies emanating from the Trump administration and, apparently, designed by Stephen Miller—separation of young children and their parents at the border—the filthy and crowded detention centers for immigrant children—the failure to ensure protection for Dreamers—and now the public charge rule. Not only are these policies examples of cruelty, but also: “Legislation directing the onus of a parent’s misconduct against his children does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.”

This Summer Betsy DeVos Quietly Repealed the “Gainful Employment Rule” on For-Profit Colleges and Trade Schools

This summer, while we’ve been reading about candidates running for President in 2020, the tragedy of mass shootings, and the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, deregulation has been perking along at the U.S. Department of Education, even though Betsy DeVos has managed to stay out of the spotlight.  Right at the end of June, DeVos and her staff moved along their agenda to deregulate for-profit colleges and trade schools by eliminating an important Obama-era rule. On Friday, June 28, they repealed what has been known as the “gainful employment rule.”

The Associated Press’s Collin Binkley reports: “The agency’s announcement said the rule focused too narrowly on graduate earnings and unfairly targeted for-profit colleges.”

What was the “gainful employment rule”?  Concerned that the federal government was bankrolling—with student grants and loans—shoddy career training programs that left graduates deeply in debt and unqualified to get a job, the Obama Department of Education created a rule to deny federal financial aid to these institutions unless they proved their programs were well enough designed to provide their students the skills that would make them employable upon graduation.

The NY Times’ Erica Green explains: “The so-called gainful employment rule was issued by the Obama administration in 2014 right before huge for-profit chains collapsed, leaving students stranded with debt and worthless degrees. Under the new standards, career and certificate programs, many of which operate in the for-profit sector, would have to prove their graduates could find gainful employment to maintain access to federal financial aid.  It also would have required schools to disclose in advertisements a comparison of the student debt load of their graduates and their career earnings.”

The Washington Post‘s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports that the rule has motivated the for-profit higher education sector to clean up its act: “Shortly after the rule took effect, many colleges eliminated their worst-performing programs, froze tuition, and instituted other reforms to improve graduate outcomes.  Without the threat of sanctions, supporters of the regulation say there will be no accountability.  Accountability, they say, is critical after the implosions of for-profit Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute. The closure of those chains, felled by charges of lying about job placement and graduation rates, resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded loan forgiveness.”

But committed on principle to deregulation, Betsy DeVos and her appointees in the U.S. Department of Education have never enforced the “gainful employment rule” and have done everything they could to get rid of it.  Douglas-Gabriel explains: “DeVos delayed enforcement of key provisions of the regulation, then suspended the rule, then proposed a rewrite, before deciding to rescind it…. She said the delays were necessary in light of a federal lawsuit brought by an association of for-profit cosmetology schools seeking exemption.  But her actions spawned a series of lawsuits, including one filed by a coalition of 18 Democratic state attorneys-general… Although the rule covers vocational education at a variety of institutions, for-profit colleges voiced the loudest objections because a number of their programs were at risk.  When the Obama administration issued the rule in October 2014, it had identified 1,400 programs serving 840,000 students that would not meet its accountability standards; 99 percent of them were at for-profit colleges.”

DeVos and her staff argue that replacing regulation with marketplace transparency will protect prospective students. While the for-profits aggressively market their programs, the Department of Education has launched a website filled with data about various institutions—information for students shopping for a training program. Green explains: “Education Department officials have argued that transparency, not regulation, is the best way to hold all schools—public nonprofits, community colleges and for-profits—accountable for their results. Instead of any accountability measures, it promised to expand an existing database, called the College Scorecard, to provide information on student debt and earning prospects. The database, which provides information, including loan debt information, for 2,100 certificate granting programs was unveiled last month.”

Many for-profit colleges and certificate programs depend for the bulk of their operating expenses on students bringing federal grants or federally guaranteed student loans.  Binkley quotes Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network: “Scrapping these common sense regulations will lead to students racking up debt for worthless degrees, while DeVos props up failing and predatory schools with billions of dollars from taxpayers… There is simply no sound rationale for eliminating these important protections.”

Green quotes the chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Robert Scott, who said DeVos’s move to repeal the regulation will “prop up low-quality, for profit colleges at the expense of students and taxpayers.”

The repeal of the “gainful employment rule” is complete, but because the Department of Education missed a deadline in its repeal process, the regulation will, according to Douglas-Gabriel, “remain on the books until July 2020.”

You might ask for documentation that for-profit colleges soak up the bulk of federal loans and grants and for proof that students at these schools accrue unreasonable debts compared to other college students.   Politico’s Benjamin Wermund reports the U.S. Department of Education’s own numbers: “The number of students graduating from for-profit colleges rose from 4.6 percent of all students in 2008 to 6 percent in 2016.  Nearly 85 percent of them borrowed to attend, compared to 65 percent of students who graduated from public colleges and 69 percent who attended private nonprofits. For-profit graduates borrowed much more than their peers—$43,600 on average, compared to $27,900 borrowed by public school grads and $32,500 by private nonprofit graduates.”

And the for-profits are almost completely dependent on federal grants and loans. In her 2014 book, Degrees of Inequality, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler explains: “Defenders of for-profit universities champion them as belonging to the private sector, but in recent years as in the past, they receive nearly all of their revenues from the U.S. federal government… Notably these institutions, with only one exception, earned between 60.8 and 85.9 percent of their total revenues in 2010 from Title IV of the Higher Education Act, meaning predominantly student loans and Pell grants. The Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, gained between 85 and 88 percent of its income from these sources in each of the past three years. Most received an additional 2 to 5 percent from military educational programs, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  The sum of these federal government funds added up, as a portion of all revenues collected, to a minimum of 65.8 percent for ITT and a maximum of 93.7 percent for Bridgepoint. In short, the for-profit schools are almost entirely subsidized by government.” (Degrees of Inequality, p. 168)