Public School Funding: In Too Many States, It’s All about Subtracting and More Subtracting

Let’s review the importance of school finance. It you think this topic is too arcane to think about, consider who has been teaching us about the importance of school funding for two years now, and you’ll realize it’s not abstract or complicated at all. Really it is just an elementary school story problem: If you have a public school budget made up of local, state, and federal tax revenue, and you take away some money by cutting taxes after a recession, and then you take away some more money for charter schools, and then you take away some more money for vouchers, how much will you have left?

For two years now, striking schoolteachers have forced us all to examine what little funding will remain.  They have shown us in the most concrete way the implications of school policy emphasizing test-and-punish school accountability and increased school privatization—all overlaid upon an institution whose revenue base has fallen.  Public school teachers on strike in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Oakland, and most recently Chicago have demonstrated the untenable conditions in their schools created by collapsing revenue—children struggling in classes of 40 students, teachers pushed out of the profession when their salaries fall so low they cannot afford to rent an apartment, and schools lacking counselors, social workers, librarians, and school nurses. From state to state, teachers have repeated and reinforced the primary causes of this problem in a way that ought to help us remember: States have failed to raise enough revenue to support the public schools and then state legislatures have driven a lot of taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into privatized charter schools and vouchers for students to pay private school tuition.

In the ways they have persistently underfunded public schools and the degree to which they have created policies to drain public funds out of the public schools and into privatized charter schools and vouchers, state legislators have demonstrated their lack of commitment to the principles of adequate school funding and its equitable distribution. Most of the state constitutions enshrine a commitment to adequacy and equity of funding, but only a few states have demonstrated a commitment to these principles in 2020.

First, there is the matter of whether state legislatures have been raising enough money in general to pay for K-12 education. After tax revenues collapsed in the 2008 recession, many states made the problem worse by continuing to cut taxes. Last March, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that in 24 of the 50 states, combined state-local, basic-aid school funding (adjusted for inflation) had not, by 2016, risen back to pre-2008 levels.

We need to celebrate one state: In late November, Massachusetts enacted a plan to address this problem. For Bloomberg News, Andrea Gabor reports: “School wars are over in Massachusetts. Everybody won… Governor Charlie Baker signed a school-funding bill that is almost as historic as the 1993 law that made the state the gold standard for public education for at least a decade. The rest of the country should pay attention. The law will add $1.5 billion in state financing of K-12 education over seven years, most of it for poor districts and for children with the greatest needs. The 2019 law, which passed both houses of the Democrat-controlled state legislature unanimously and was signed by a Republican governor, doesn’t just increase school aid; it fixes the school-funding formula that saw poor districts like Brockton spending just $14,491 per pupil in 2018, while affluent towns like Weston spent $25,367 per pupil.  It also makes it easier to count undocumented-immigrant children who were often excluded under the old funding formula… Indeed, while the testing requirements remain, the new law signals a backlash against additional carrot-and-stick measures that are seen as coming at the expense of the poorest children and districts.”

The carrot and stick measures Gabor describes are the test-based accountability policies that sanction districts whose scores are low.  And the most damaging of the punishments for low scoring districts are the privatized education schemes which only further undermine adequate and equitable public school funding.  Legislators say they are providing escapes for kids trapped in so-called “failing” schools, but that isn’t really how it works.

The first of these privatization schemes involves uncontrolled expansion of charter schools. Larry Scott is an at-large member of the board of education in Buffalo, New York. In a commentary last week for the Buffalo News, Scott details the drain on the Buffalo public schools’ budget which has resulted from test-and-punish accountability imposed by the legislature in Albany: “It is unconscionable that the Buffalo School Board doesn’t have a meaningful say or veto power over the decision to add new charter schools to this oversaturated market, where more than 20% of Buffalo students attend charter schools.” “The State’s established process for funding charters is problematic. Using the District as a pass-through, the state mandates a formula to determine charter tuition using the District’s approved operating expenses. This method penalizes the District for its more costly services, such as those incurred by special education and English Language Learners….”  “Charter schools should no longer be funded at the expense of Buffalo Public Schools’ students and their needs… With 90% of our Buffalo students exhibiting extraordinary needs, they encounter incredible inequities in programming, opportunities and supports compared to our suburban students. They deserve equitable access to art, music, librarians, advanced placement and accelerated courses, mental health professionals, and specialists in reading and math. Making the above changes and reforming how charters are authorized, funded and governed will allow the Buffalo Board of Education to advance its commitment to improve access, equity, opportunity and quality for all of our students.”

Scott describes a widespread problem.  Across the nation in California, political economist Gordon Lafer explains that state law permits charter schools in Oakland to suck $57.3 million annually out of the Oakland Unified School District: “If a school district anywhere in the country—in the absence of charter schools—announced that it wanted to create a second system-within-a-system, with a new set of schools whose number, size, specialization, budget, and geographic locations would not be coordinated with the existing school system, we would regard this as the poster child of government inefficiency and a waste of tax dollars. But this is indeed how the charter school system functions.”

In the same way, expansion of vouchers to pay for private school education at public expense threatens the funding of public education. The growing cost to public schools of vouchers is causing alarm in Wisconsin. Earlier this month, Eau Claire’s Up North News reporter, Julian Emerson quotes Heather Dubois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network: “The expansion of voucher schools across Wisconsin is definitely becoming a bigger topic of concern… It impacts all of us.” Emerson explains: “(T)he cost of private voucher schools to taxpayers does not show up as a separate item on property tax bills in most communities because legislators lumped it into the levy for public school districts, making it appear that the public school district alone is responsible for tax dollars, even the money that the public school district never receives…  According to the Department of Public Instruction, 82 percent of students receiving voucher payments this year attended private schools last year.” Bourenane explains: “In much of the state, parents are not choosing to opt from public to private schools… Most of this money is going to kids who can already afford to go to private schools.”

In a column in last week’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, Susie Kaeser exposes the disastrous consequences in Ohio of the vast expansion—secretly added by the state budget conference committee last summer—of the EdChoice voucher program.  EdChoice works much like Wisconsin’s statewide vouchers—deducting private school vouchers from the budgets of local school districts without any public accounting of the amount being deducted and sent to private schools. In one school district, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, an Ohio public school funding expert, the Ohio Education Policy Institute’s Howard Fleeter did calculate the rate of growth of voucher usage just this year: 478 percent.  This blog recently covered (herehere, here, and here) the crisis caused by the radical expansion of Ohio’s EdChoice vouchers.

Kaeser explains what this means for the future fiscal health of Ohio’s public school districts: “The legislature, the guardian of the public school system, has forsaken its responsibility for the common good. Vouchers are funded by the deduction method, which means part of the cost is picked up by local school districts. Until voucher costs show up on the expense column of a school district’s budget, it may be hard to see that they threaten education quality and the viability of a community.  But that is what is at stake. Voucher access is now on a scale that, if not reined in, will permanently damage public education as a resource for the children of our state. Ohio’s school funding system is broken. It is underfunded, allows for vast differences in opportunity from district to district, and relies much too heavily on local property taxes. Vouchers exacerbate every weakness of the current system. Diverting public funds from more public school students to pay for private school education will make it nearly impossible to create an affordable funding policy for Ohio’s public schools. It will cost too much to fill the growing holes in local budgets… Districts everywhere operate on tight budgets.  Every dollar counts. Now that EdChoice will undermine public school budgets statewide, will the legislature stand up for public schools?”

Although the financial mechanisms may operate somewhat differently from state to state, here is how simple arithmetic explains what is happening in New York, California, Wisconsin, and Ohio: If you don’t add enough money into the education system, and you subtract lots of the money you do put in and divert it to private charter schools and vouchers for private school tuition, you will surely  undermine the public schools. You will also very likely exacerbate inequity, because the poorest school districts, whose aggregate test scores are likely to be lower, are punished the most by privatization which is central to sanctions-based accountability schemes.

Massachusetts just defined itself as a model, if only everyone would pay attention.

Ohio’s Budget Bill Multiplies School Vouchers, Leaves Local School Districts in Crisis

On Tuesday afternoon, I went to a meeting of my monthly book discussion group—all of us retired and over 70.  But as we sat down with our coffee and before we discussed the book we had all been reading for the month, we found ourselves distracted by the topic that is tearing our community apart: the changes the Ohio Legislature made last summer in the fine print of the FY 20-21 state budget—changes that exploded the size of the state’s EdChoice school voucher program.

I wonder whether legislators have any real understanding of the collateral damage for particular communities from policies enacted without debate. Maybe, because our community has worked for fifty years to be a stable, racially and economically diverse community with emphasis on fair housing enforcement and integrated schools, legislators just write us off as another failed urban school district. After all, Ohio’s education policy emphasizes state takeover and privatization instead of equitable school funding. The state punishes instead of helping all but its most affluent, outer ring, exurban, “A”-rated school districts, where property values are high enough that state funding is not a worry.

What this year’s EdChoice voucher expansion means for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district where the members of my book discussion group all live is that—just to pay for the new vouchers—our school district has been forced to put a property tax levy on the March 17 primary election ballot. Ohio’s school finance expert, Howard Fleeter explains that in our school district, EdChoice voucher use has grown by 478 percent in a single year.  Fleeter continues: “Cleveland Heights isn’t losing any students…. They are just losing money.’” “If this doesn’t get unwound, I think it is significant enough in terms of the impact on the money schools get to undermine any new funding formula.”

Ohio deducts the price of the vouchers students carry to private and religious schools from the local school district budget even though, in the case of Cleveland Heights-University Heights this year, 94 percent of those students have never attended the public schools in our district. The state counts the voucher students who live in our community as though they are enrolled in our school district and then deducts the voucher from the local school budget, but the cost of each voucher is more than the state allocates per pupil.  In fact, in the current Ohio biennial FY20-21 state budget, state public education basic aid funding is frozen, which means our district actually gets no new state funding for each voucher student, but one hundred percent the cost of each voucher is deducted anyway.

Why are the people in my book group so upset about the voucher explosion and another levy on the ballot in March?  We are not a bunch of old ladies grousing about the burden of our taxes.  Two of us co-chaired a successful school levy campaign back in 1993; one person served on the board of education; and the rest were teachers in our school district. As we read the conversation threads on Next Door, where people are accusing our district of mismanaging funds, or paying teachers too much, or hiring too many school psychologists, we worry about all the undocumented misinformation floating around. Members of our group are anxious about our grandchildren and our neighbors’ children who depend on the public schools we have spent our lives supporting and protecting.  But it is difficult to explain what happened in the budget, our plight this winter set in motion last June and July in the budget conference committee, when amendments were added to the state budget without debate. It was done so quietly at the time that people across the state only began to grasp the impact later in August when the Ohio Association of School Business Officials alerted school treasurers about the potential impact.

Fortunately the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District sponsored a special public meeting on January 9, 2020, to explain the changes in the EdChoice Voucher Program and begin quelling the anxiety that is tearing our community apart. The school district has posted the powerpoint presentation from the meeting, and at the meeting,  the school district distributed a clear, factual brochure about the legislature’s changes in the EdChoice Vouchers.  The brochure explains: “(T)he program was expanded to the point of unsustainability. Ohio had fewer than 300 buildings deemed eligible for vouchers in 2018-2019; that number has exploded to 1,200 for 2020-2021. When the Ohio General Assembly passed its biennial budget in July 2019, it froze receipts at 2018-2019 levels. This means that for every new voucher used, none of the cost would be offset by state aid. Legislators also removed the provision that required students to attend a public school prior to using the voucher. Unable to prepare financially for the change, the District was forced the following month to negotiate one-year contracts with the teachers union, as opposed to multi-year contracts. In CH-UH, approximately 1,400 students, 94% of whom have never attended our K-12 public schools, are taking scholarships to attend private schools. This has amounted to an actual loss of $4.2 million for us last fiscal year and an estimated loss of $6.8 million this fiscal year.” Each time a student secures an EdChoice Voucher, that student can keep the voucher, paid for by the school district deduction, every year until the student graduates from high school.

The school district’s information handout continues: “The CH-UH City School District will ask the community for a new 7.9 mill operating levy in March. The current funding issues with EdChoice are the major reason for this millage. In fact, the District would not need to ask for a levy until 2023 if it weren’t for the way EdChoice was funded, and the millage would be significantly less.”

School districts across Ohio are demanding that the Legislature do something about what has become a crisis for many school districts. It is important that the Legislature act quickly, before the February EdChoice Voucher enrollment period for next school year. The Heights Coalition for Public Education, a community organization, has prepared a list of short-term voucher fixes which the Legislature should consider:

  1. “Remove budget language from House Bill 166 (the current state budget) expanding vouchers in grades 7-8 and for high schools.  Restore voucher language to pre-budget language.”
  2. Limit state report card ratings on which EdChoice schools are designated to 2017-18 and 2018-19.  Currently districts are held accountable all the way back to 2013-14, and considerable changes in school programming have occurred in the seven ensuing years.
  3. “Restore funding for school districts that have lost funds to voucher students who were not part of their 2019 Average Daily Enrollment.”
  4. “Cut the loss of funds for high poverty (50% economically disadvantage) districts at 5% and other school districts at 10%.”
  5. Adopt the funding methodology for EdChoice Expansion (another Ohio voucher program) which awards vouchers to needy students and pays for the vouchers fully with state funds (not the school district deduction).

State Senator Matt Huffman has long been among the Ohio Legislature’s strongest proponents of school vouchers.  Earlier this week, the Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reported that Senator Huffman himself supports the fifth voucher fix listed above: “State Sen. Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, wants a bigger change. He is resurrecting his 2017 proposal to offer vouchers to any family in Ohio whose income falls under certain limits… His proposal would have the state, not districts, pay for the vouchers of $4,650 for grades K-8 and the $6,000 a year for high school. That would eliminate many district complaints that voucher costs are killing their budgets.  He said the state can control costs by limiting how many students can use vouchers in a given year. Some extra money is already available in the budget, he said. ‘That seems to be the only way, really, to do this in a fair way,’ he added.”

There is reason for caution here, even though Huffman’s assessment is correct that eliminating the school district deduction method for funding vouchers is the only fair way to address what has become an urgent crisis for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools and for many other Ohio school districts. We all remember Naomi Klein’s 2007 warning about the danger of adopting “shock doctrine,” privatization policies in a hurry in the midst of a crisis. We need to be sure that any so-called fix isn’t just an opportunity for the Legislature to grow the state’s voucher programs in some other way.  After all, in the case of Ohio’s current voucher mess, the Ohio Legislature itself created the crisis by expanding school privatization with explosive growth in the EdChoice school district deduction.

This blog has emphatically and consistently opposed private school tuition vouchers paid for with public funds, because vouchers undermine public funding for public education. Education privatization is never in the public interest.

However, currently in Ohio, an existential crisis for local school districts demands an immediate solution. The Legislature has saddled school districts with a school privatization program whose size the Legislature has no incentive to control because the money quietly washes out of local school district budgets. Neither can school districts control what is happening to their local budgets when the Legislature has set up an uncontrollable flow of dollars into the vouchers.

Huffman’s proposed solution would not solve the bigger problem of Ohio school vouchers. On the other hand, Huffman’s plan would pay for the vouchers out of the state budget, and as he points out, if it were to be so inclined, the Legislature could control costs by limiting how many students can use vouchers in a given year. Huffman’s idea would address the immediate school district financial crisis. It would then be up to all of us to pressure the Legislature to control the size and number of Ohio school vouchers awarded each year. Perhaps we can motivate a future legislature to eliminate vouchers entirely and return to a system where public dollars serve the mass of our children in the public schools.

If you are looking for the facts about Ohio’s EdChoice Vouchers, here are some resources:

You can watch the video of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District’s recent meeting (January 9, 2020) to explain the alarming, rising cost of EdChoice Vouchers for the school district due to changes in the FY 20-21 state budget passed last summer.

The Heights Coalition for Public Education has  created materials to explain the impact of EdChoice on the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School district. You can access them in a number of formats:  Slideshow (PDF); Slideshow (Powerpoint); Narration only for slideshow (PDF); Slides and narration (PDF); Video of slideshow with commentary (Youtube); and Handout for slideshow (PDF).

Educational Redlining: GreatSchools Ratings Drive Housing Segregation

Back in 2015, Heights Community Congress (HCC) in Cleveland Heights, Ohio raised serious concerns (here and here) about the impact of online GreatSchools ratings of public schools. The GreatSchools ratings were, in 2015, being used in online real estate advertising by listing services like Zillow.  The practice continues.

HCC, founded in 1972, is Greater Cleveland, Ohio’s oldest fair housing enforcement organization. For over four decades HCC has been conducting audits of the real estate industry to expose and discourage racial steering and disparate treatment of African American and white home seekers. During 2015 and 2016, the fair housing committee of HCC held community meetings to demonstrate that such ads and ratings of public schools are steering home buyers to whiter and wealthier communities and redlining racially and economically diverse and majority black and Hispanic communities.

Last month, Chalkbeat published an in-depth examination of similar concerns on a national scale: “Arguably the most visible and influential school rating system in America comes from the nonprofit GreatSchools, whose 1-10 ratings appear in home listings on national real estate websites Zillow, Realtor.com, and Redfin.  Forty-three million people visited GreatSchools’ site in 2018…. Zillow and its affiliated sites count more than 150 million unique visitors per month.”

Chalkbeat reports that GreatSchools has calculated its ratings for schools using the annual standardized test scores mandated by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a requirement maintained in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced NCLB in 2015.  Because the ratings were criticized for relying too much on one standardized test score, in 2017, GreatSchools revised its algorithm for rating schools by including a factor to reflect the rate of growth in each school’s student test scores over time.

But Chalkbeat reports that the overall bias still condemns schools in the poorest communities: “When the organization overhauled its ratings in 2017, it included a host of new metrics. A GreatSchools representative said at the time that the new ratings would ‘more accurately reflect what’s going on in a school besides just its demographics.’  It was a striking acknowledgement of the flaws in the prior system… Two years into this new system, Chalkbeat took a closer look.  We examined the ratings of elementary and middle schools in Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, New York City, Phoenix, and San Francisco, combined with several of each city’s suburbs.  The results are striking. On average, the more black and Hispanic students a school enrolled, and the more low-income students it served, the lower its rating. The average 1-10 GreatSchools rating for schools with the most low-income and most black and Hispanic students is 4 to 6 points lower than the average score for schools with the fewest black and Hispanic students and fewest low-income students. In most places, only a tiny fraction of schools with the most low-income and most black and Hispanic students score a 7 or better, the number that earns an ‘above average’ label from GreatSchools.”

In December, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) reported on a Newsday report from Long Island: “The newspaper found that realtors repeatedly steered White buyers away from school districts enrolling higher percentages of minority residents, typically using veiled language. For example, they told white buyers that one community was an area to avoid ‘school district-wise’ or ‘based on statistics.'” And the housing values increased more rapidly in school districts with high GreatSchools ratings.

NEPC explains that Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University followed up on the NewsDay report.  Wells and her colleagues discovered that a one percent increase in Black/Hispanic enrollment corresponded with a 0.3 percent decrease in home values. In other words, a home worth $415,000 at the time of the study in 2010 would cost $50,000 more in a 30 percent Hispanic/Black district as compared to a 70 percent Hispanic/Black district.”  Wells and her colleagues examined and compared the schools themselves: “There didn’t seem to be a huge difference at all in the curriculum and the quality of the teachers… So they (real estate agents) do play an important role in steering people away from certain districts that are becoming more racially, ethnically diverse and less White, in particular.”

For over half a century, research has confirmed that standardized test scores are a poor measure of the quality of a public school. Instead aggregate standardized test scores are highly correlated with family and neighborhood income. Children educated in pockets of privilege regularly post high scores, while children in schools where poverty is concentrated post the lowest scores. Here are three examples of this research, two by academic experts and the third a recent correlation study by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

For a decade now, Stanford University’s Sean Reardon has been studying the correlation of achievement gaps measured by standardized tests with economic and racial segregation. He has documented that standardized tests measure all of the inside- and outside-of-school factors in a child’s life. Children who live in pockets of wealth bring their privilege with them when they take standardized tests.  In a massive new study published last fall, Is Separate Still Unequal, Reardon explains: “The association of racial segregation with achievement gaps is completely accounted for by racial differences in school poverty.” “We examine racial test score gaps because they reflect racial differences in access to educational opportunities. By ‘educational opportunities,’ we mean all experiences in a child’s life, from birth onward, that provide opportunities for her to learn, including experiences in children’s homes, child care settings, neighborhoods, peer groups, and their schools. This implies that test score gaps may result from unequal opportunities either in or out of school; they are not necessarily the result of differences in school quality, resources, or experience. Moreover, in saying that test score gaps reflect differences in opportunities, we also mean that they are not the result of innate group differences in cognitive skills or other genetic endowments… Differences in average scores should be understood as reflecting opportunity gaps….”

Harvard University’s testing expert, Daniel Koretz, emphasizes that while children living in concentrated poverty take longer to catch up to their more privileged peers, our testing regime fails to consider the needs of children who start school farther behind: “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.” (The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, pp. 129-130)

And finally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s data wonk, Rich Exner created a series of bar graphs when the Ohio state school district report cards were released last September. Exner demonstrates the correlation of the letter grades awarded to school districts by the state’s school rating system (letter grades based primarily on aggregate student’ standardized test scores) with the family income of the children in each school district.  School districts earning “A” ratings boasted median family income of $95,432, while the school districts rated “F” serve families whose median family income is $32,658.  The state of Ohio itself in its annual school report cards seems to be joining GreatSchools and Zillow to steer families to the affluent, white, exurbs surrounding our cities. These are the districts which regularly earn “A” grades on the state report card and the highest ratings from GreatSchools and Zillow.

It is alarming to see our society stepping back so completely from concerns about steering, disparate treatment, and redlining in the real estate market. These are the very issues the 1968 Fair Housing Act was intended to address.  The National Education Policy Center declares: “Realtors and real estate websites alike share assessments that downgrade schools that serve higher percentages of low-income and minority students, while also serving to maintain segregated housing patterns by steering Whites away from districts that serve students of color.”

Dem. Candidates Call for Equitable Public School Investment. Can the New Narrative Be Sustained?

Is our society beginning to realize that we must invest in helping instead of punishing the school districts which serve our poorest children?

Clearly the conversation about public education among the Democratic candidates for President has turned away from what has been a quarter century of bipartisan test-and-punish, pro-privatization education policy.  No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law 18 years ago, formalized the strategy.  But in a remarkable commentary on Wednesday in USA Today, Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders declared a very different agenda: “Under NCLB, standardized tests were utilized to hold public schools and teachers ‘accountable’ for student outcomes. As a result, some schools that underperformed were closed and their teachers and unions blamed.  The long-term effects of this approach have been disastrous.  NCLB perpetuated the myth of public schools and teachers as failing, which opened the door for the spread of school voucher programs and charter schools that we have today.  Some of these charter schools are operated by for-profits, many of them are nonunion and are not publicly accountable… The most serious flaw of high-stakes testing, however, is that it ignores the real problems facing our teachers and students: social inequality and underinvestment in our schools.”

And all the leading Democratic candidates have also taken notice. In Pittsburgh on December 14, at a Public Education Forum 2020, the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for President all endorsed tripling or quadrupling the federal investment in Title I.  They spoke for helping instead of punishing the schools in our nation’s poorest communities.

The Devastation Wrought by Accountability-Based, Test-and-Punish, Pro-Privatization School Reform

Federal and state governments have imposed school closures, state takeovers, and the transformation of low-scoring public schools into charter schools, but I don’t know of any school district serving mostly poor children with enough money to do the things wealthy school districts are able to accomplish by investing local property tax dollars they can collect on high-end real estate.  Money enables wealthy school districts to develop high school symphony orchestras; make English classes small enough that teachers can assign in-depth writing about students’ research or reading or experience; rehire professional librarians and turn elementary schools into places where excitement about reading dominates the school culture; and accelerate and enrich math classes so that every child is on a path to take advanced math in high school.

A primary problem has been a chronic shortage of state and federal investment in public education.  After tax revenues collapsed in the 2008 recession, many states made the problem worse by continuing to cut taxes. Last March, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that in 24 of the 50 states, combined state-local, basic-aid school funding (adjusted for inflation) had not, by 2016, risen back to pre-2008 levels. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has also documented that federal Title I formula funding, which supports school districts where student poverty is concentrated, dropped by 6.2 percent between 2008 and 2017.

In a short, profound analysis last fall, the Education Law Center’s Wendy Lecker summarized what teachers and administrators had reported to Education Week are their greatest challenges: “A new Education Week national survey of school districts reveals disturbing gaps between state and federal policy and the reality in American public schools… The most serious funding problem districts report is convincing elected officials to sufficiently fund public schools.  They give both state and federal officials poor marks for their ability to understand school spending, and cite state legislators as the biggest obstacle to making spending decisions that best address student needs.”

Lecker continues: “Recent research highlights the failure of federal and state leaders to grasp the reality facing public schools. The most pernicious failure is the refusal to recognize the connection between poverty, funding and educational opportunity… Rather than recognize that high-poverty schools need more tools, and thus more funding, to best serve their students, federal and state leaders mandate intervention strategies that are proven failures: school turnaround, school closures, and state takeovers of school districts… Federal and state policies repeat a toxic cycle of disinvestment, punishment, then further disinvestment.”

Are Public Attitudes Shifting?

For two years now, striking teachers have forced us all to examine the implications of school policy that emphasizes test-and-punish school accountability overlaid upon an institution whose revenue base has fallen.  Public school teachers on strike in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Oakland, and most recently Chicago have demonstrated the untenable conditions in their schools created by collapsing revenue—children struggling in classes of 40 students, teachers pushed out of the profession when their salaries fall so low they cannot afford to rent an apartment, and schools lacking counselors, social workers, librarians, and school nurses.

On December 14 when candidates were asked about their education policies—after months when moderators in televised candidates’ debates failed to ask even a single question about public education—the candidates went on record to declare that underinvestment in our public schools has become the education imperative of our times. We owe enormous thanks to the sponsors of the December 14,  Public Education Forum 2020, which brought leading Democratic candidates face to face with teachers, parents, public school students, and community advocates who pressed candidates publicly to commit to increasing federal funding to ensure opportunity for our nation’s poorest children in their public schools. The event was a collaboration of the Alliance for Educational Justice; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the American Federation of Teachers; the Center for Popular Democracy Action; the Journey for Justice Alliance; the NAACP; the National Education Association; the Network for Public Education Action; the Schott Foundation for Public Education—Opportunity to Learn Action Fund; the Service Employees International Union; and Voto Latino.

Professor of education finance and policy at the University of Washington, David Knight explains the significance of the Democratic candidates’ new consensus on significantly expanding Title I: “Funding increases of this scale would transform the federal role in education policy, making it easier for school districts to pay teachers higher wages while reducing class sizes. This focus on funding would mark a departure from previous administrations which instead emphasized policies intended to increase accountability and strengthen teacher evaluation.”

Derek Black, the school funding expert at the University of South Carolina School of Law, attended the December Democratic candidates’ forum in Pittsburgh. Black concurs with Knight on the importance of the shift among leading Democrats away from accountability and toward equalizing the opportunity to learn: “With few exceptions, the various Democratic plans for public education share a common theme: more funding, less privatizing… The way taxpayers do or do not fund public schools goes to the core question of the role of government in democracy.  Public schools have long consumed the lion’s share of the state and local tax dollars. No other single program comes close. Many of the earliest statewide tax systems came into existence for the express purpose of funding schools. And later major expansions of state taxes, like the state income tax in New Jersey, were solutions to unequal funding across school districts. Education holds this special status because state constitutions specifically require legislatures to fund uniform and adequate systems of public schools…. Public education has suffered steep funding declines over the past decade. Even once the Recession passed and tax revenues fully rebounded, states failed to replace those funds… The longstanding research consensus shows that fairly funding public schools is key to boosting student achievement for low-income students—and the precise connection between funding and student outcomes rows stronger and more detailed with each passing year… (T)hese new Democratic proposals try to do something that the nation has never before attempted, much less achieved: fully funding the educational needs of every poor, disabled, and English language learner student in the nation.”

Two Additional Encouraging Developments

The first involves efforts by state governments to address the school funding challenge. Two days before Thanksgiving, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill to increase school funding across the state by $1.5 billion annually. And Maryland is set to consider a new plan developed over three years by a 25-member Kirwan Commission. The commission’s chair, William Kirwan declares: “Kids growing up in poverty need more resources, and so a major portion of our recommendations are aimed at putting the resources into the schools where there are lots of low-income kids and providing them support.”

A second development is at least mildly encouraging. In the federal budget President Trump signed just before Christmas, Congress did not cut funding for public education as President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had proposed. The new federal budget does not, of course, move toward the transformational changes being suggested by the leading Democrats running for President, but it does at least protect Title I and funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) from deep cuts.  And Congress neglected once again to enact DeVos’s annual proposal for federal tuition tax credit vouchers.

Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa explains: “The fiscal 2020 spending bill Trump just signed provides $72.8 billion in discretionary funding to the Education Department, a $1.3 billion increase that stands in stark contrast to the 10 percent cut Trump proposed in his blueprint from March. The spending bill he signed includes a $450 million increase for Title I spending on disadvantaged students, a $410 million increase for state special education grants, and more money for programs covering enrichment and educator training.” Increasing Title I by $450 million and funding for mandated IDEA programming by $410 million—once these dollars are spread across 50 states—is a tiny and relatively meaningless investment. But it is a statement of continuing Congressional rejection of Trump’s policies.

A change is emerging, but if we want to transform every public elementary school, middle school and high school into a model school, and, on top of enriching the academics, to transform the schools serving the poorest families into full-service wraparound Community Schools with medical and social services located in the school building, there is still a long way to go.  It is time to keep on keeping on.

Slaying Goliath: Diane Ravitch’s New Book Traces a Quarter Century of Public Education Disruption

In her new book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools, Diane Ravitch summarizes, defines, and humanizes the widespread attack that has threatened public education across the United States in the past quarter century. And she tracks an encouraging backlash, a growing resistance led by dogged individuals, community organizations, and organized schoolteachers.

What’s been called corporate-accountability-based, test-and-punish school reform is something we’ve all watched over the years—nationally in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top—statewide as school budgets have been stretched to pay for privatized charters or vouchers—and locally as our children began taking too many standardized tests, our local schools began receiving letter grades on state report cards, or students left the local public school for a nearby charter school.

With only scanty newspaper coverage to guide us, however, we may have struggled grasp the ideology behind this war on public education or see how all the lines of attack were converging to discredit public schools and the work of local teachers.  Diane Ravitch, the education historian, has done us all an enormous favor with this new book.

Ravitch defines the ideology of the war being waged on public education by a giant army. Ravitch names the so-called “school reform” movement a Goliath-sized experiment in disruption.  Goliath’s work can be seen in “the wreckage that the so-called ‘reform’ movement had created by demonizing teachers as if they were adversaries of their students and treating them as malingerers who required constant evaluation lest they fail to do their duty…. (in) the damage inflicted on public schools, their students and teachers, by heedless billionaires who had decided to disrupt, reinvent, and redesign the nation’s public schools…. (in) the work of some of the richest people in this nation: the Walton family, Bill Gates, Betsy DeVos, the Koch brothers, Michael Bloomberg, Laurene Powell Jobs, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, and a bevy of other billionaires, most of whom had made their fortunes on Wall Street, Silicon Valley, or the tech industry.” These people and their organizations “often say their goal is to ‘disrupt’ public education, and I think in this instance they have accurately named themselves. They are Disrupters…. (T)he current disruption movement… is in fact a calculated, insidious, and munificently funded campaign to privatize America’s public schools, to break teachers’ unions, to tear apart communities, and to attack teacher professionalism… Disrupters are proponents of privatization… Disrupters view education as an entrepreneurial activity that should be ‘scalable’ and should produce ‘return on investment.'”

The Disrupters have brought us a dangerous narrative about “failing” public schools even though most of us appreciate our local public schools and the professional teachers who nurture our children. And the Disrupters have redefined the purpose of education: “In the new era of disruption, it seems quaint, antique actually, to speak of ‘love of learning’ as a goal of education, to speak of education as personal development and preparation for citizenship in a democratic society.  Where is the profit in such fuzzy goals? How could… (the profit) be measured?”

Who is Goliath and who is funding the war on public education? The funders are the giant philanthropies like Gates, Broad, Walton, and a host of others including Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, the Koch brothers, and the Bezos family. The movement is also funded by corporate donors, wealthy individuals, and hedge fund managers.  It is being promoted by advocacy groups like ALEC; the member state foundations of the State Policy Network—groups like the Goldwater Institute in Arizona and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan; national advocacy groups like Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children and EdChoice—formerly the Friedman Foundation. There are lavishly funded think tanks paid to produce the so-called “research” on which the movement is based. And finally the movement has permeated states and local school boards through the work of ideologically aligned politicians. Ravitch names names in every category, but perhaps the most arresting is the list of Disrupter-aligned Republican state governors: Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Florida’s Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis; Michigan’s Rick Snyder; Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal; Indiana’s Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence; Ohio’s John Kasich; Arizona’s Doug Ducey; Illinois’s Bruce Rauner; Georgia’s Nathan Deal; Kentucky’s Matt Bevin; and Tennessee’s Bill Haslam and Bill Lee.

Who makes up the Resistance? Ravitch calls our attention to the imbalance in this battle, beginning with the level of philanthropic support: “The number of foundations which support the Resistance is in the single digits, led by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. This is truly a David vs. Goliath matchup.”  Scholars and academic researchers have supported the Resistance with information: Harvard’s Daniel Koretz and his book The Testing Charade, David Berliner and Gene Glass and their book 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten American Public Schools, Christopher and Sarah Lubienski and their book The Public School Advantage, the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein, Duke’s Helen Ladd, Rutgers’ Bruce Baker, Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond, Finnish scholar Pasi Sahlberg, U. of Chicago sociologist Eve Ewing and her book Ghosts in the Schoolyard, political economist Gordon Lafer and his In the Public Interest study of the cost of charters for the Oakland Unified School District, and the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado—to name just a few of Ravitch’s examples.  School teachers have organized Save Our Schools rallies and working together, the Badass Teachers Association and parents produced United Opt Out.  The Network for Public Education has pulled together education columnists, bloggers and community groups.  The Journey for Justice Alliance, led by Chicago’s Jitu Brown—one of the 2015 Dyett Hunger Strikers who fought to save the public Dyett High School from closure—has organized an army of parents, high school students, and local community activists from city to city.

Where were the major battlefields in the war on public education? Ravitch devotes short, readable chapters to some of the biggest fights. One chapter explores the damage wrought by high-stakes standardized testing; another presents the research on how a strategy based on incentives for raising scores and punishments for low-scoring school districts, schools, and teachers has undermined the morale of teachers and ruined kids’ enjoyment of school.  A chapter on school choice, deregulation and corruption begins: “Any organization that receives millions of dollars in public funds should be subject to public oversight and accountability.  Lobbyists for the charter industry have fought against accountability and oversight, claiming that any regulation would hinder innovation.”  We learn about disruptive reforms which faultered when they didn’t work out as promised: the Gates-funded Common Core Standards; Value Added Measure (VAM) evaluation of teachers by their students’ standardized test scores; and the Parent Trigger school takeover initiative. One chapter describes the philanthropy-funded takeover of the New Orleans school district after Hurricane Katrina, and the profusion of vouchers and charter schools foisted on Florida by Jeb Bush, his foundation, ExcelinEd.

Despite all the money and ideology invested to disrupt the public schools, Ravitch demonstrates that the Resistance is ultimately winning this battle. Test-and-punish didn’t work. No Child Left Behind declared that all children would be proficient before 2014 or their schools and teachers would be punished. But test scores didn’t budge. The NAACP released a major resolution demanding a moratorium on new charter schools until they are regulated in the public interest. The ACLU released studies on how charters secretly and illegally select the most promising students. Barbara Madeloni became president of the Massachusetts Education Association and in November of 2016, successfully organized the state’s teachers and citizens to defeat Question 2—a ballot initiative that would have lifted a rigid cap on the startup of new charter schools.  After the election, Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, dug through the records of funders of the pro-Question 2 campaign and discovered the bundling of illegal gifts from out of state donors.  Cunningham’s work put New York’s hedge-fund backed Families for Excellent Schools out of business when Massachusetts imposed huge fines.

Ravitch ultimately credits the RedforEd wave of teachers’ strikes in 2018-2019 for forcing the public to question Goliath’s narrative: “The teachers taught the nation a lesson… They united, they demanded to be heard, and they got respect.  That was something that the Disrupters had denied them for almost twenty years… The politicians thought that they could silence teachers by breaking their unions. They were wrong. Teachers learned that together they had power. And they won’t forget that lesson.”

Even though Goliath has not died, the giant’s energy is flagging.  Ravitch believes, the Resistance has taught us to keep on keeping on with all the skill and energy we can muster.  Ravitch’s new book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools, will be on bookstore shelves on January 21.  It is now available for pre-order.  I urge you to get a copy and read it carefully.

Vouchers: Should States Be Subsidizing Private Education at a Steep Cost to Public Schools?

Wisconsin and Ohio were the pioneers, the states which launched school vouchers—public tax dollars covering private school tuition.  Wisconsin launched Milwaukee vouchers in 1990, and Ohio followed suit in 1996 with a Cleveland voucher program.

What are the problems with the idea of vouchers?

Vouchers have always been endorsed by their proponents as providing an escape for promising students from so-called “failing” public schools—as measured by test scores.  But research demonstrates (see here and here) that test scores correlate not with school quality but instead with the aggregate income of the neighborhoods where public schools are located and the families who live there.  Research demonstrates that ameliorating student poverty would more directly address students’ needs.

The idea that vouchers help students academically hasn’t held up either.  A study by the pro-voucher Thomas Fordham Institute demonstrates that in Ohio, voucher students regularly fall behind their public school counterparts.  But proponents of school privatization (including the Thomas Fordham Institute itself) regularly ignore the evidence.

In a recent summary published in The Nation, Jennifer Berkshire explains that while there is a lack of empirical evidence justifying vouchers, their proponents support them ideologically: “But the GOP’s true policy aim these days is much more ambitious: private school vouchers for all. In Ohio, students in two-thirds of the state’s school districts are now eligible for vouchers, a ballooning program that is on track to cost taxpayers $350 million by the end of the school year. And in Florida, school vouchers are now being offered to middle-class students, the latest gambit by conservatives in their effort to redefine public education as anything parents want to spend taxpayer money on. ‘For me, if the taxpayer is paying for the education, it’s public education,’ Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis proclaimed earlier this year.”

In Ohio, based on state report card grades which legislators from both parties seem to agree are deeply flawed, vouchers are now to be awarded to students in so-called ‘under-performing’ schools in 400 of the state’s 610 school districts. The Columbus Dispatch‘s Anna Staver explains, “(T)he legislature has widened the definition of a low-performing school to the point of absurdity, expanding the list of districts with ‘under-performing’ schools from 40 in the fall of 2018, to 139 in 2019, and around 400—nearly two-thirds of all districts in the state—by 2020.”

And EdChoice, one of the Ohio’s four statewide voucher programs, takes the money through the deduction method, counting the voucher student as enrolled in the local school and then extracting $4,650 for each elementary school voucher and $6,000 for each high school voucher right out of the public school district’s budget. But a serious problem arises because in Ohio, state funding is allocated at different rates from school district to school district, and in many cases the vouchers extract more dollars per pupil from the local school budget than the state awards to that district in per pupil state aid.

This year’s state budget brought a new threat to public schools via an amendment quietly added and never debated. Until this year, to qualify for a voucher, an Ohio student must have been enrolled in the public school in the year previous to applying for the voucher.  But, secreted into the state budget last summer was an amendment providing that high school students may now receive a voucher even if they have never been enrolled in a public school.

Finally there is the problem that, due to years of tax cuts, school funding for a mass of Ohio school districts is capped.  Even though these districts are subsidizing an increasing number of vouchers for students who have never been enrolled in public schools, the school districts are not receiving annual increases in state aid to cover those students’ vouchers.

Staver interviews Howard Fleeter, the state’s school finance policy expert: “What’s happened, Fleeter said, is that parents who have always sent their kids to private school applied for these vouchers, which are funded by the public schools. ‘They never would send their kids to a public school, and now they are getting a voucher… You’re just giving them a handout.’  In the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district where Fleeter grew up, the number of applications for high school vouchers increased by 478% in a single year…. And its total voucher bill went up by about $3 million. ‘Cleveland Heights isn’t losing any students…. They are just losing money.'”  Fleeter continues: “If this doesn’t get unwound, I think it is significant enough in terms of the impact on the money schools get to undermine any new funding formula.”

The battle about vouchers in Wisconsin has significant elements in common with Ohio’s voucher fight. But Ohio is an all-Republican state—House, Senate, Governor—while Wisconsin now has a  Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who, as the former Superintendent of Public Instruction, deeply understands the funding crisis in the state’s public schools. Despite the Republican Wisconsin Legislature’s antagonism to Evers’ proposals, he promises to present the public with the fiscal realities for public schools posed by his state’s ever expanding school vouchers.

In a recent interview with the Wisconsin Examiner, Evers explains how he plans to reframe the voucher issue to present the fiscal impact of privatized vouchers on Wisconsin’s public schools: “Asked about the problem of draining funds from already-strapped public schools, he starts with a no-brainer—the effort to inform taxpayers exactly how much they are paying for the voucher expansion, just as public-school funding and other services are broken out on property-tax bills. ‘I certainly support any legislation to make it more transparent… I mean, people should know where their tax dollars are going.'” “For the last several years, he points out, a lot of the kids who are getting school vouchers are those who were already in private school. ‘So it’s less of a choice and more about subsidizing a separate system… Now we need to have a discussion about that…. whether the public at large agrees that we should be subsidizing parochial education…  That’s never been asked… It’s always been asked, ‘Should people have the opportunity to have the same choice that wealthier people do?’ That’s a reasonable thing to discuss.  But if the discussion is, should we subsidize private education? Is that right? That’s never been discussed. Never. We should talk about that.'”

What is rarely mentioned in the voucher debates is that no state legislature creating a voucher program has added a new tax to pay for it.  Instead the money always comes out of the coffers of the state education budget and, as in Ohio today, out of local school district budgets.

At U.S. House Education Committee Hearing, DeVos Defends Cheating Some Defrauded Students by Only Partially Forgiving Loans

There was a lot going on last week—Judiciary Committee hearings on articles of impeachment, for example. Did you miss learning about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s miserable performance before the U.S. House Education Committee?  As she defended her new “borrower defense to repayment” plan, DeVos didn’t seem to worry very much about the hundreds of thousands of students who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges, but she did seem to want to protect the reputation of the for-profit college sector.

DeVos was called before the committee to explain her department’s inexplicable failure to provide loan forgiveness for what DeVos herself said are “nearly 300,000 claims” by students who said they had been defrauded by their for-profit colleges. Many of the claims demanding loan forgiveness under what is called the “borrower defense to repayment” rule were filed by students at the now shut-down Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.  Both were shut down because they had lured students to enroll (and take on enormous debt) with fraudulent promises about what would turn out to be shoddy career prep programs.

The Associated Press‘s Colin Binkley explains: “The program, known as borrower defense to repayment, is meant to forgive federal loans for students whose colleges misrepresent the quality of their education or otherwise commit fraud. It was expanded under the Obama administration to help clear loans for thousands of students who attended Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit college chain that collapsed in 2015 amid allegations that it lied about the success of its graduates in order to get students to enroll.  Soon after, thousands of additional claims were coming from students who attended other for-profit colleges, including defunct chains such as ITT Technical College. But after the Trump administration took office, the process ground to a halt. Loans were no longer being discharged, and a pool of 60,000 pending claims ballooned to more than 200,000.”

Not only have Betsy DeVos and her staff slowed loan processing on thousands of claims, but DeVos has devised a new plan to save the government money by denying full repayment to some students whose colleges closed—students who have become employed despite the shoddy programs that trained them and even though their college loans left them deeply in debt. Binkley explains: “Some Democrats believe DeVos intentionally stalled the program for more than a year while she rewrote the rules and made it more difficult for students to get loan relief… Earlier this week, DeVos unveiled a new method for judging claims that she says will help clear the backlog.  It’s meant to provide varying levels of loan forgiveness based on the degree of financial harm a student suffers.  Full forgiveness will be granted only to students from programs that produce graduates with median incomes far below their peers in other similar programs.  Other defrauded students can get 25% to 75% of their debt erased, depending on the median income of the program they attended.”

The NY TimesErica Green explains why DeVos opposes full debt forgiveness: “Ms. DeVos said her department’s overhaul of the debt-relief rule marked a ‘course correction’ from the previous administration, which she claimed ‘weaponized’ it to target for-profit colleges and award ‘blanket’ relief to borrowers who may not have deserved it. ‘I understand that some of you here just want to have blanket forgiveness for anyone who raises their hand and files a claim, but that simply is not right,’ Ms. DeVos told lawmakers… Ms. DeVos maintained that it was ‘probably the case’ that Corinthian Colleges deceived students, but she also said she believed that the ‘prior administration basically forced schools like Corinthian out of business’ with onerous financial restrictions.”

A bit of background is helpful here. The reason the Obama Department of Education began toughening enforcement of rules on for-profit colleges is that, according to Cornell University professor Suzanne Mettler, “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.” (Degrees of Inequality, p. 168)  While these colleges claim to be private, for-profit institutions, they depend for most of their revenue on our tax dollars. Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute were shut down in an effort to eliminate massive federal tax investment in shoddy programs.

The Washington Post‘s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel provides some of the tangled three year history of DeVos’s delay in processing loans: “The secretary’s appearance (before the House Education Committee last week) came days after the Education Department updated its formula for processing debt relief claims made under a statute known as borrower defense to repayment.  One major change involves using a sliding scale based on a borrower’s wages to determine loan forgiveness.  Higher education experts say that will result in substantially less loan cancellation than previously… A federal judge in 2018 blocked DeVos’s first attempt to cancel only a portion of the debt amassed by former Corinthian Colleges students, ruling the department violated privacy laws in its use of earnings data from the Social Security Administration. The case resulted in DeVos being held in contempt Oct. 24 for violating a court order to stop collecting loan payments from former students of the defunct for-profit chain. DeVos said the Corinthian case has prevented the department from issuing decisions on nearly 300,000 claims filed by borrowers—most of whom attended for-profit colleges.”

Douglas-Gabriel explains that the Department of Education’s inspector general and key staff in the Obama administration had recommended prompt and full cancellation of the loans of defrauded students when Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute shut down: “Obama…. department staff had recommended that former Corinthian and ITT Tech students receive full relief because the schools provided no value, according to memos reported by NPR this week.  DeVos said Thursday she was unaware of the memos and said, ‘There were many students who received valuable education from Corinthian… The previous administration weaponized the regulation against schools it simply didn’t like.'”

The AP‘s Colin Binkley quotes House Education Committee Chair, Rep. Robert (Bobby) Scott responding to DeVos at last week’s hearing: “Those defrauded borrowers have been left with mountains of debt, worthless degrees and none of the job opportunities they were promised… Defrauded borrowers have been cheated twice: First by their college, and then by a Department of Education that refuses to make them whole.”