Is the Long Alliance of Betsy DeVos and Cory Booker Really Over?

I am not one for complimenting U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, but you have to give her credit for one virtue: she is not an opportunist.  She remains a dogged school choice fanatic even though for three years now, she has been unable to get Congress to fund her highest priority, her Education Freedom Scholarship neovoucher-tuition tax credit program.

This year she launched her beginning-of-school-year tour at a Lutheran school in Milwaukee, home of the oldest school voucher program in the country. The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss describes the start of DeVos’s September tour: “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos began her 2019 back-to-school tour Monday.  Given that she runs a publicly funded department and that most U.S. students attend schools in traditional public systems, you might think she would go to one in a district working hard to improve its academic performance.  Nope.  She didn’t go to a public school, and she didn’t choose a city because of the achievements of its public schools.  Rather, she went to St. Marcus Lutheran School in Milwaukee and touted that city as the ‘birthplace of modern education freedom.’  That is a reference to a program started under a 1989 law that was the first in the country to give substantial public funding for students to use for private, nonsectarian schools.  It later expanded to include religious schools.  That program was part of what grew to be known as the ‘school choice’ movement, which seeks to find alternatives to traditional public school districts so families can decide for themselves where to send their children and to serve as an escape for children who have poor educational options in their neighborhoods.  For decades, DeVos has played a key role in that movement, pushing against critics who argue that using public funds to support choice schools undermines the traditional public system, and that it aims at privatizing the nation’s most important civic institution.”

This week, for the Washington Post, Michael Kranish profiles a politician who, unlike DeVos, has demonstrated that he is the consummate opportunist, Cory Booker, who is running for president as a Democrat and who is claiming this year that he has abjured his previous alliance with Betsy and Dick DeVos.  Booker served for years and years as a spokesperson for school vouchers. And he doesn’t appear to have given up his support for charter schools—another privately operated and publicly funded school choice scheme. Kranish details the history of Booker’s previous alliance with Betsy DeVos, an alliance that dates back to a pro-voucher speech Booker delivered nearly two decades ago, a speech in which Booker said: “Wealthy people… ‘have vouchers because they have the power to choose schools for those children.’ It was unfair, he said, that the country’s leaders in effect ‘say to the poorest, most vulnerable Americans that they cannot choose.'”

What Booker somehow missed understanding back in 2000—and what DeVos continues to deny— is that both vouchers and charters suck millions of essential tax dollars out of the public schools to follow a few children even as the majority of children in the public schools lose out. The economist, Gordon Lafer explains the fiscal realities very clearly (and while he focuses on charter schools, it is also true that voucher schemes similarly undermine public school districts as students carry away tax dollars in tuition vouchers for private and religious schools): “To the casual observer, it may not be obvious why charter schools should create any net costs at all for their home districts. To grasp why they do, it is necessary to understand the structural differences between the challenge of operating a single school—or even a local chain of schools—and that of a district-wide system operating tens or hundreds of schools and charged with the legal responsibility to serve all students in the community.  When a new charter school opens, it typically fills its classrooms by drawing students away from existing schools in the district…  If, for instance, a given school loses five percent of its student body—and that loss is spread across multiple grade levels, the school may be unable to lay off even a single teacher… Plus, the costs of maintaining school buildings cannot be reduced…. Unless the enrollment falloff is so steep as to force school closures, the expense of heating and cooling schools, running cafeterias, maintaining digital and wireless technologies, and paving parking lots—all of this is unchanged by modest declines in enrollment. In addition, both individual schools and school districts bear significant administrative responsibilities that cannot be cut in response to falling enrollment. These include planning bus routes and operating transportation systems; developing and auditing budgets; managing teacher training and employee benefits; applying for grants and certifying compliance with federal and state regulations; and the everyday work of principals, librarians and guidance counselors.” “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.”

As if to emphasize her determination to support school choice whatever the cost to the public schools her U.S. Department of Education is supposed to protect, DeVos visited Detroit this past week—the city where 80 percent of the charter schools are known to be operated for-profit, even while the city’s public schools have languished.  Michigan Advance‘s Allison Donahue explains that, “Michigan now has the most for-profit-run charter schools in the country.”

DeVos and her husband, Dick, residents of Grand Rapids in western Michigan, once led an unsuccessful campaign to try to bring school vouchers to Michigan, and on her tour this past week, DeVos once again pitted her ideal of marketplace school choice to the systemic provision of public education.  The Detroit News quotes DeVos as she spoke last week at the Detroit Edison Public School Academy—one of 55 charter schools in Detroit.  As usual, DeVos cast the teachers unions as her enemy: “I am focused on doing what is right for students, individual students.  They are focused on protecting their system, protecting ‘what is’ at the expense of ‘what could be’ for kids… Their policies, their approach, has failed way too many kids, and it’s just inexcusable.  And I don’t apologize one bit for continuing to fight for every kid in this country.”

Betsy DeVos is an utterly consistent individualist, even though she seems not to grasp that the purpose of her job as U.S. Secretary of Education is to protect our nation’s system of public schools and to use the tools of her department—the Office for Civil Rights, for example—to ensure that public schools serve the needs and protect the rights of all American students.

Unlike DeVos, Cory Booker, the presidential candidate, cannot brag about consistency in his understanding of education policy.  Kranish examines Booker’s political career: “Cory Booker was a little-known member of the Newark City Council 19 years ago when he received an extraordinary invitation from a Michigan group connected to Betsy DeVos, now the U.S. Secretary of Education. DeVos and her husband, Dick, were leading Republican proponents of a state ballot initiative that would allow taxpayer-financed vouchers to pay for private schools. The DeVos family wanted Booker, an African American Democrat living in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New Jersey, to become the face of their effort in Michigan. ‘We wanted someone who wasn’t from the suburbs,’ Dick DeVos said at the time.  Booker accepted.  Appearing in the state at a Grand Rapids debate called ‘School Vouchers–Yes or No?,’ Booker represented ‘Yes.’  He passionately echoed the DeVos view that parents should be able to use tax dollars to pay for a child’s private school education, according to a video of the event obtained by The Washington Post.”  (You can see a video clip of the debate embedded in Kranish’s article.)

Kranish continues: “The debate was the prelude to an unlikely alliance with Betsy DeVos. Booker served with her on the boards of pro-voucher groups, attended numerous meetings with her across the country, and supported key parts of her agenda.  Like a number of elected officials representing cities with poor education records, Booker sought alternatives to a failing system. He decided to back vouchers and charter schools. Booker’s political career took off as a parade of wealthy philanthropists, hedge fund managers and others who supported DeVos’s ‘school choice’ viewpoint poured money into his campaigns and pet projects. But as Booker runs for president, his relationship with DeVos, his previous support of vouchers and his continuing praise for charter schools present potential roadblocks… In response, Booker has defended his record but also performed a series of reversals and denials. In the most striking instance, Booker said in a recent interview with The Post at his campaign headquarters here that he doesn’t recall his participation in the Michigan debate… Booker now takes a view opposite of his debate stance. He told The Post in a recent candidate survey that ‘the evidence has become clear that vouchers do not help—and in fact, hurt—the cause of educational equity.’  In his interview with The Post, Booker said that while he did initially support vouchers when he was on the City Council, he turned against them by the time he became mayor.”

However, in a stunning 2015 book, The Prize, Dale Russakoff describes Booker, then mayor of Newark, working with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to bring charter schools to Newark.  Booker recruited Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to make a $100 million donation to be used for that specific purpose and helped arrange for the splashy announcement of that gift on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

It is hard to be confident about where Cory Booker stands when it comes to public education.  Does he understand the fiscal realities posed for public schools by the expansion of marketplace school choice? All we can really know for sure about Cory Booker is that he has a history as an opportunist promoting what has been, so far, a successful political career.


After Months-Long Battle, California Finally Enacts Modest Oversight of Charter School Sector

There’s an old cliche that almost perfectly describes the struggle to regulate an out-of-control charter school sector from state to state:  You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

In late August, in a presentation at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, former Ohio Governor Bob Taft named lack of effective regulations in the Ohio laws that enabled charter schools as one of the things he regrets about his tenure as Ohio governor.  Taft, a Republican, served for two terms as governor, from 1999-2007. In his remarks last week Taft explained that during his term, “We were not as observant as we should have been with regard to the early development of charter schools. We didn’t have the quality control we should have had, and as a result, we have a lot of low-quality charter schools. We should have done a better job—making sure operators were good; quality was high.”  (You can listen to Taft’s comments here—at minute 53 in the broadcast.)

This year, the enormous difficulty of regulating charter schools in the public interest has centered in California. California’s original charter school enabling legislation, like the Ohio charter school legislation which Bob Taft now regrets, emphasized innovation and launched a new experiment. But it neglected strict oversight.  Los Angeles Times reporter Taryn Luna explains: “Charter schools in California are publicly funded and independently operated. Originally authorized in 1992 legislation to promote educational innovation, charter schools have evolved from an experiment to a system that enrolls more than 600,000 students across the state.  California ties education funding to enrollment, and charters have often been pitted against traditional neighborhood schools in a competition for students.”

Capital & Main‘s Bill Raden is more blunt.  He sees this year’s battle to regulate California’s out-of-control charter sector as an attempt to correct laws that, “created a California-sized test bed for the never proved, and now largely debunked ‘pure market’ education theories of radical libertarian economist Milton Friedman.”

After months of fierce debate pitting school teachers and public school supporters against the lavishly funded California Charter Schools Association and an even more conservative group, the Charter Schools Development Center, a deal for modestly improved oversight of the charter school sector was reached at the end of August. The deal was formally enacted by California’s state legislature last week. Governor Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond personally brought the two sides together to broker the deal.  The deal won’t rein in some of the most outrageous California charter school authorization practices,  described in the Network for Public Education’s 2017 report, Charters and Consequences, but at least it will provide  local school districts some control over the charters which elect to operate there.

The Los Angeles Times and EdSource report the details of the new regulations. The agreement provides that school boards can reject new charter school petitions based on the fiscal impact the new school will likely have on district public schools. The plan requires all teachers at charter schools to be fully credentialed. Until now California law has required full credentialing only for teachers of core subjects—language arts, math, science and social studies—but districts could hire non-credentialed teachers for the arts and foreign languages.  Under the new agreement, if a proposed charter is refused by the local school district, the charter sponsor may appeal to the county board of education, but appeals may no longer be made for the state to overrule the local school district, except in cases where the local school board is said to have abused its discretion or acted arbitrarily. Charter schools in California will now be evaluated according to the same rating system as the state’s public schools, and the new law makes it at least somewhat easier to shut down academically or financially unsound schools.

There remains concern that the new plan incorporates broad principles, but that it may spawn litigation as it is implemented.

Impetus for the new regulations grew intense this year, especially during teachers’ strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, where teachers exposed the dire conditions in their public schools, conditions created to a significant extent by the fiscal impact of charters on the public schools. In an academic study, political economist Gordon Lafer demonstrated conclusively that the growing charter school sector sucks essential dollars from the public schools—students carrying so much revenue out of the public system that the public districts can no longer maintain core functions required by law without increasing class sizes to unmanageable levels and slashing the number of nurses, counselors, librarians, and enrichment programs.

Demonstrating that in Oakland, charter schools suck $57.3 million from the public system each year, Lafer explains: “To the casual observer, it may not be obvious why charter schools should create any net costs at all for their home districts. To grasp why they do, it is necessary to understand the structural differences between the challenge of operating a single school—or even a local chain of schools—and that of a district-wide system operating tens or hundreds of schools and charged with the legal responsibility to serve all students in the community.  When a new charter school opens, it typically fills its classrooms by drawing students away from existing schools in the district…  If, for instance, a given school loses five percent of its student body—and that loss is spread across multiple grade levels, the school may be unable to lay off even a single teacher… Plus, the costs of maintaining school buildings cannot be reduced…. Unless the enrollment falloff is so steep as to force school closures, the expense of heating and cooling schools, running cafeterias, maintaining digital and wireless technologies, and paving parking lots—all of this is unchanged by modest declines in enrollment. In addition, both individual schools and school districts bear significant administrative responsibilities that cannot be cut in response to falling enrollment. These include planning bus routes and operating transportation systems; developing and auditing budgets; managing teacher training and employee benefits; applying for grants and certifying compliance with federal and state regulations; and the everyday work of principals, librarians and guidance counselors.” “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.”

A new study, State of Denial: California Charter Schools and Special Education Students, also demonstrates that in addition, charter schools in California—just as in other states—educate fewer special education students and far fewer students with severe disabilities.  Diane Ravitch summarizes the conclusions of the study: “The study found that charters enroll fewer students with disabilities than public schools. Charter enrollment (of disabled students) is 11% compared to more than 14% in public schools.  Furthermore, charters enroll fewer students with severe disabilities. They avoid the students who are most expensive to educate…  In some of the charter networks, fewer than 10% of students are entitled to special education services.  One celebrated charter in Oakland… known for its high test scores, has fewer than 3%.  The 12 Rocketship charter schools enroll only 7.34% students with disabilities. The two charters created by former Governor Jerry Brown in Oakland enroll fewer than 10% students with disabilities.”

While California has now taken steps to establish minimal oversight of its charter school sector, nobody believes the fight is over. The Los Angeles Times‘ education reporter Howard Blume predicts that the new regulations will only continue to fuel what has been a long and lavishly funded political battle: “A major agreement aimed at setting stronger standards for charter schools stands to intensify power struggles for seats on the Board of Education in Los Angeles, setting the stage for more contentious and costly election battles between charter advocates and allies of the teachers union, a cross section of education leaders and experts said… In Los Angeles, school board elections already were the most expensive in the country—as the influential teachers union went head-to-head against better funded pro-charter school groups seeking a controlling majority on the seven-member body. A record breaking $17 million was spent on three 2017 board races, including nearly $10 million in District 4, where charter-backed Nick Melvoin defeated union-backed school board president Steve Zimmer… The stakes are especially high in Los Angeles, where close to 20% of public school students attend 224 charters, more than any other school system in the nation.  Currently, the board is closely divided on many issues affecting charters, but leans toward tighter restrictions… The agreement between the teachers unions and charter organizations announced by Newsom…represents the biggest revision to state charter law since it was first enacted in 1992, when charters were widely viewed as a niche experiment to foster innovation. They have since become a central education reform strategy, often with wealthy backers and foundations propelling their growth. In Sacramento, there’s been a decades-long stalemate over charter regulations….”

While I agree with Howard Blume that the battle will continue, I am concerned about his and other reporters’ framing of the fight as a simple political battle between lavish backers of charters and teachers unions. Charter schools were created everywhere without any real understanding of the urgent need for public regulation in a system where millions of tax dollars would be flowing into the coffers of entrepreneurs. There is a lot of money sloshing around in the charter sector, including the for-profit charter management companies making big profits from the non-profit charters they are paid to manage. Across the states, this money has flowed generously into the campaign coffers of the state legislators—the very people responsible for public oversight.  California has also seen huge investments in this battle from neoliberal ideologues—Eli Broad, a California native, and additional out-of-state money from the likes of Michael Bloomberg.

In California and across the states, teachers unions represent the people closest to the students in the public schools. Their members provide the primary source of funding to support and promote public education.  On the unions’ side in this battle are also the researchers like Gordon Lafer in the report described above, and Rutgers University’s Bruce Baker, who has also demonstrated that out-of-control charter school expansion is catastrophically undermining the public schools not only in Los Angeles and Oakland, but also across the United States.

California demonstrates all the reasons why it is impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

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.

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.

Ohio’s New State Budget Is a School Voucher Expansion Bonanza at the Expense of Public Education

Ohio has five voucher programs.  Two of them are for students with autism and other disabilities, and their enrollment depends on the incidence of these conditions and parents’ awareness of the availability of voucher funds to pay for private programs.  A third voucher program—the Cleveland Scholarship Program—one of the oldest in the country—is for students in Cleveland.

This blog post will focus on the last two—EdChoice and EdChoice Expansion.  They are statewide Ohio school voucher programs designed specifically, according to the Republican lawmakers who have designed and promoted these programs, to enable students to escape so-called “failing” schools.  It is important to remember that those same legislators have failed adequately to fund the public schools in Ohio’s poorest school districts, and those same legislators have looked at state takeover as another “solution” (besides expanding vouchers and charter schools) for the students in those districts.  Ohio education policy for school districts serving very poor children is defined by punishment, not support.

EdChoice and EdChoice Expansion vouchers rob the public schools of essential dollars needed to educate the majority of Ohio’s students who remain in public schools.  And the vouchers are used primarily by students enrolled in religious schools. Through EdChoice and EdChoice Expansion vouchers, the state is sending millions of tax dollars out of the state’s public education budget and out of the coffers of local school districts to fund the religious education of students who would likely never have enrolled in public schools in the first place.

The problem just got worse this summer when the Ohio Legislature passed a two year budget which radically expands both programs.  The Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO) recently published an update on its website to inform school treasurers about what just happened.  OASBO reports: “HB 166 (the new state budget) expanded the EdChoice Scholarship program in multiple ways.”

Changes in the EdChoice voucher program:  Although legislators have always said the purpose of vouchers is to provide an “escape” from so-called failing schools, the new budget provides that high school students are no longer required to have been previously enrolled in a public school to qualify for the voucher.  OASBO explains: “Generally, students wishing to claim a voucher under the original EdChoice voucher program must have attended a public school in the previous school year. However, HB 166 codifies in law… (that) students going into grades 9-12 need not first attend a public school. In other words, high school students already attending a private school can obtain a voucher.”

To qualify for an EdChoice voucher, students must reside in the zone of a so-called “failing” school.  The passage of the new budget this summer coincides with a recalculation last winter of the number of qualifying schools.  Last January, the Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reported that in the 2018-19 school year, 218 schools had been identified where students would qualify for the voucher.  O’Donnell explains that beginning in September of 2019, “that list of ineffective schools balloons to more than 475.”  Here is the Ohio Department of Education’s list of the schools which now qualify.

Why will these recent changes—increasing the number of high school students who will qualify and raising the number of schools which will qualify—have such a devastating fiscal effect on Ohio’s public schools?  The simple answer is that the EdChoice voucher program is funded through a school district deduction. A couple of years ago, Policy Matters Ohio published that in 2019, the state foundation basic aid reimbursement to school districts would be $6,020 per pupil. This is the state’s basic per-pupil reimbursement state aid amount—the state’s supposed contribution to every school district for every student enrolled. There is a caveat, however.  Policy Matters explains: “Policymakers increased the formula’s base per-pupil payment amount from $6,000 to $6,010 in 2018 and $6,020 in 2019, but for most districts, that increase was offset by other changes, including changes to the cap, which limits growth in state funding for fast-growing district, and changes to the guarantee, which slows loss for districts that are losing students.”  When a new funding formula, known as the Cupp-Patterson Plan, was proposed for discussion last spring, its promoters explained that due to the state’s gross underfunding of education, 503 of the state’s 610 districts do not currently collect the full formula amount per pupil. (See slide #22)

According to the Ohio Department of Education, every high school student taking an EdChoice voucher to a private school carries away $6,000 from the student’s home school district.  Here is how the school district voucher deduction works for high school students: a student set to receive a voucher is counted in the student’s home district’s Average Daily Membership figures and the home school district is said to receive $6,020 for that student. When the high school student now secures the voucher to pay private school tuition, the student’s school district loses $6,000.  But, because of caps and guarantees and other calculations in the formula, the school district is unlikely to be receiving anywhere near the promised $6,020.  The public school district will lose more state dollars in the voucher deduction than it is receiving for that student in formula basic aid from the state of Ohio.

Additionally, the Legislature found another way to expand the EdChoice vouchers in the new Ohio budget bill.  OASBO reports, “HB 166… requires ODE (the Ohio Department of Education) to increase the cap on the number of EdChoice vouchers available (increase the cap by 5 percent each time 90 percent of available vouchers are claimed).”  Until now the Ohio Department of Education had capped the number of EdChoice vouchers at 60,000, which limits the financial loss to school districts through the school district voucher deduction statewide.  But apparently the legislators who passed the budget are now more worried about protecting the right of an increasing number of students to get the vouchers than in protecting the fiscal viability of the state’s 610 school districts.

Changes in the EdChoice Expansion voucher program:  EdChoice Expansion differs from the original statewide EdChoice vouchers in two significant ways.  First, it is a statewide program for students across all of the state’s school districts, with eligibility based on family income. Second, it is funded by the state as a separate budget line item. The state does not count EdChoice Expansion voucher students as part of the Average Daily Membership in the school district where the voucher student resides. That school district does not collect state aid for that student, but neither does the state deduct money from that school district’s budget when the student gets the voucher.  The voucher comes straight from the state. OASBO reports that since the state established the program in 2013, it has been expanding eligibility every year by adding one grade at a time: “In FY 2019, students in grades K through 5 were eligible.”

However, the new FY 2020-2021 state budget makes all Ohio students in grades K-12 whose family income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for the state-funded EdChoice Expansion vouchers.  Originally the number of EdChoice Expansion vouchers was capped at 2,000; but in this budget, EdChoice Expansion vouchers are folded with EdChoice vouchers under the new 60,000 voucher cap, which can grow by 5 percent each time 90 percent of available vouchers are claimed.

In the new Ohio state budget budget for FY 2020-2021, legislators created a bonanza expansion of vouchers for private and religious schools.  It will come at the expense of the state’s public schools.

When Traditional Public School Educators Set Public Policy and Speak for Public Schools, It Makes a Difference

If you are a proponent of the Jeb Bush-“Chiefs for Change” model of corporate school reform, you conceptualize school governance in terms of tough management overriding the interests of local educators who are said to be unable to handle the inevitable and often competing pressures within a community.  In its formula for state takeover of low-scoring school districts, Chiefs for Change prescribes: “unflinching” appointed leadership; the appointed leader’s absolute autonomy to control staffing, teachers, and school culture; the appointed leader’s capacity to demand and get results or fire staff; and the appointment of an “unbiased” third-party consultant “external to the school system.”

Traditional educators understand the role of public schools very differently. Working with a community and building collaboration are skills practiced by traditional school administrators.  Last Thursday, for example, the PBS NewsHour‘s Jeffrey Brown interviewed Tony McGee, the school superintendent in Mississippi’s Scott County Public Schools when Brown wanted to learn about the how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids had affected families and children in Scott County.  Superintendent McGee told Brown: “We had approximately 154 students across our district, mainly Hispanic and Latino… that were absent from school today.  And so we have started reaching out to those families to find out about boys and girls—where they’re at or how they’re doing—just making sure that they know school is a safe place for them—it can be a safe harbor for boys and girls—and that we’re here to care for those kids… We have a lot of organizations in Scott County that are deeply rooted into the Hispanic community. And so they came to lend support to our school people… and making sure that everybody felt safe… On our end, especially in the community and the school, we had no prior knowledge. And so it was—it was pretty—pretty shocking. It was really a tough day emotionally for our educators and students and families.”

There is an ongoing battle of values and language that shapes the way we think about and talk about education.  The current threats across several states of state takeover of school districts are perhaps the best example of this conflict.  According to the Chiefs for Change model, the school district in Providence has recently been taken over by the state of Rhode Island.  Texas now threatens to take over the public schools in Houston. In Ohio, four years of state takeover has created chaos in Lorain and dissatisfaction in Youngstown.  East Cleveland is now in the process of being taken over, and the Legislature has instituted a one-year moratorium while lawmakers figure out whether to proceed with threatened takeovers of the public school districts in Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Canton, Ashtabula, Lima, Mansfield, Painesville, Euclid, and North College Hill.

Among the most painful situations this summer is the threatened closure of the high school or the state takeover of the school district in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a segregated African American community and one of the poorest in the state.  Michigan has actively expanded school choice with charter schools and an inter-district open enrollment program in which students carry away their school funding. The statewide expansion of charters and inter-district school choice has undermined the most vulnerable school districts and triggered a number of state takeover actions.  Michigan State University’s David Arnsen explains: “In Michigan, all the money moves with the students. So it doesn’t take account of the impact on the districts and students who are not active choosers… When the child leaves, all the state and local funding moves with that student. The revenue moves immediately and that drops faster than the costs… In every case they (districts losing students to Schools of Choice) are districts that are predominantly African American and poor children and they suffered terrific losses of enrollment and revenue….”

Benton Harbor—heavily in debt and struggling academically—has been threatened with state intervention like Inkster, Buena Vista, Highland Park, and Muskegon Heights—whole school districts which were closed, charterized, or put under emergency manager control by former governor Rick Snyder.  Now the new Governor Gretchen Whitmer has threatened to close the high school in Benton Harbor or eventually close the district.

However, the State Board of Education in Michigan, an elected body with the power to choose the state school superintendent, has appointed a public school educator who doesn’t value the corporate, Chiefs for Change model. Michael Rice understands the role of public schools in a community. Rice, who began his tenure as state superintendent last week, was the school superintendent in Kalamazoo until his recent appointment to state office.  Bridge Magazine‘s Ron French explains the significance of Rice’s appointment: “As state superintendent, Rice is independent from the… governor’s office.  Rice was appointed to his position by the State Board of Education, which has eight members who are elected in statewide elections.”  “Having the state’s highest ranking school official come out against the (high school) closure could put more pressure on officials in the governor’s office and the Treasury Department to find a way to keep the high school open… Rice’s stance is also significant because it undercuts one avenue the state could use to dissolve the school district (which Whitmer threatened to do if the Benton Harbor school board didn’t agree to shutter the high school).  The state treasurer and the state superintendent can agree to close a school district if certain metrics are met. If Rice is a firm no on closure, that avenue is closed.”

French describes State Superintendent Rice’s understanding of his role in working out what has become a political crisis in Benton Harbor: “In an interview in his office on his seventh day on the job, Rice minced no words in expressing his position on the controversy.  When asked if the high school should close Rice answered with one word: ‘No.’ ‘We, collectively in the state, need to figure out how to stabilize Benton Harbor’s finances and academics such that (closing) is not necessary.'”  Rice continues: “There’s going to be a conversation around finances, and that’s the province of Treasury… And I’m not trying to force myself into that world.  That being said, there’s an academic component to it and I will be involved in the academic component of it.  As you can see, I have strong feelings about the importance of community, and about the importance of the strength of the community relative to its public schools… A high school is the center of a community.”

The Kalamazoo school superintendent has become the new state superintendent in Michigan.  In Wisconsin, the state superintendent of public instruction was elected last November as the new governor.  Governor Tony Evers calls the new budget he signed “a start” to help Wisconsin’s public schools recover from former Governor Scott Walker’s tax cuts and the budget slashing that followed. Governor Evers has lost no opportunity for sharing his support for the state’s public school districts.  He has showed up and presented keynote addresses at all five Summer Summit gatherings of the Wisconsin Public Education Network. The LaCrosse Tribune‘s Kyle Farris shares Heather DuBois Bourenane’s  assessment of what it means to have a public school educator instead of a tax cutter leading the state.  DuBois Bourenane is the director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network: “Having a budget worth fighting for was such a welcome challenge… Electing a public educator to the office of governor is amazing for kids.  We have somebody who knows how schools work in that office, which is new.”

Once inflation is factored in, the public school budget in Wisconsin is still behind where it was before Scott Walker’s election, but Farris describes how Evers has begun to make a difference: “Evers used his veto pen to allocate $87 million more in K-12 public education spending than Republican legislators had intended. He increased funding for special education, school mental health programs, and per-pupil aid—and vowed to fund two-thirds of schools’ overall costs in the future.” And Evers has been relentlessly talking about the importance—for kids and for communities—of these investments.

When public school educators frame the education conversation around the public good, it is a reminder of the essential role of a democratically governed public system designed to serve the needs and protect the rights of all children.

Teachers and Teachers Unions: Essential to Recovering Equity After Years of Funding Cuts and Privatization

The annual Phi Delta Kappa poll came out earlier this week, and not surprisingly, writes the Washington Post‘s Laura Meckler, “The poll found widespread teacher complaints about low pay and poor funding for their schools, and nearly half said they felt unvalued by their communities.  Most said they would not want one of their own children to follow them into teaching.”  She continues: “The annual survey was conducted by PDK International, an association of teachers, administrators and other professionals, which has measured public attitudes toward schools for 51 years.”

Meckler quotes Joshua Starr, chief executive of PDK international and formerly the Superintendent of Schools in Montgomery County, Maryland: “It’s shocking in some ways, but anybody who’s been following public education in the last 20 years and the demonization of teachers, the continued low pay, the working conditions, the relentless focus on standardized testing as the only measure of success, would naturally conclude we would reap what we sowed.”

In a book published last year, the Rutgers University school finance expert, Bruce Baker presents the stark fiscal realities that partly explain why teachers are so discouraged: “Consider, for example, the trade-off between spending to pay teachers more competitive salaries to improve teacher quality versus spending to provide smaller class sizes.  In many cases, schools and districts serving high-need student populations are faced with both noncompetitive salaries and larger class sizes, as compared to more advantaged surrounding districts. Trading one for the other is not an option, or, in the best case, is a very constrained choice. It is unhelpful at best for public policy and is harmful to the children subjected to those policies to pretend without any compelling evidence that somewhere there exists a far cheaper way to achieve the same or better outcomes…. A common false-choice argument is that good teachers matter more than money.  In this view, we simply need good teachers and recruitment and retention (and dismissal) policies to achieve this goal, regardless of money. This argument falsely assumes that there is no connection whatsoever between the amount of available funding for salaries and benefits and the ability of schools and districts to recruit and retain a high-quality workforce.” (Educational Inequality and School Finance, p. 51)

Baker continues: “The level of teacher wages matters in at least two ways.  First, among schools and districts in any given region, the salary a district can pay to a teacher with specific credentials affects which teachers that district can recruit and retain.  So do working conditions… Schools in high-poverty neighborhoods need not only comparable wages to recruit and retain comparable teachers, but they need substantively higher wages.  And second, the level of teacher salaries more generally compared with other employment options requiring similar education levels affects the quality of entrants into the teacher workforce.” (Educational Inequality and School Finance, pp. 51-52)

For Chicago’s WBEZ, education reporter Sarah Karp presents a case study of exactly how these factors are playing out for teachers, students, and an entire school district in Chicago. The subject is the shortage of teachers, particularly special education teachers, in Chicago’s poorest schools and an accompanying crisis from the lack of substitute teachers willing to serve in these schools.  Karp explains: “This is the stark reality in Chicago Public Schools. Last school year, almost a third of 520 district-run schools—152—had at least one regular education or special education teacher position open all year long… The problem is most acute at schools serving low-income and black students. They are twice as likely as all other schools to have a yearlong teacher vacancy. Chicago’s 28 schools with majority white student populations had no yearlong vacancies. And making matters worse, CPS also has a severe substitute teacher shortage… At 62 schools, half the time a teacher was absent no substitute showed up. Here, again, there is a racial disparity.  When majority black and Latino Chicago public schools request a substitute to cover a class, subs didn’t show up 35% of the time, data from September 2018 through March 2019 shows. That’s compared to 20% at majority-white or racially-mixed schools. Substitute teachers can turn down any school assignment.”

In Chicago, racist stereotypes contribute to the problem: “Principal Jasmine Thurmond said the teacher and substitute shortage hits a school like hers extra hard. ‘The perception is that Englewood is a dangerous place to live and it is a dangerous place to work… And because the media does such a great job at perpetuating that, it ends up becoming an internal bias for some folks so much so sometimes they don’t apply for schools that are in areas like Englewood or Austin or Roseland.'”

The school district and administrators in particular schools are working hard to counter perceptions and to launch programs to confront the unequal distribution of teachers and substitutes. Ms. Thurmond, the principal at King Elementary explains that she has, “built relationships with universities and others that help her fill positions.” Because the district leaves some discretion for principals to allocate the funds for their buildings, “(S)ome schools pay for a full-time teacher who works as a substitute floater. Because the money for this position comes out of the school’s budget, it means they have less for other positions, like an art teacher or a reading specialist.”

The district has also designated 60 “Opportunity Schools” for which: “The school district recruits teachers, vets them hires them and then plays matchmaker between schools and candidates.  It also supports the new teachers once they are in the schools… (A) key is that teacher candidates are brought in to tour Opportunity Schools.”  Matt Lyons, who is the District’s chief talent officer, explains: “Despite what someone might read, assume or hear from a friend, you walk into these schools and they are safe, they are welcoming, students are smiling and happy to be there and happy to learn.”

The issues of under-funding by state governments, school funding inequity, racial and economic segregation, and structural racism are deep and abiding, however.  A new report from Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles (ROSLA) traces the story of strategic organizing over several years to develop community support for the city’s schools and for school teachers: “The case study examines how the teachers union and their partners… built and carried out a two-year campaign that lifted a vision of ‘the schools all our students deserve’ into the public consciousness.”

The project was a strategic initiative of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA): “Internally, UTLA embarked on a complete reorganization of the union…. The union increased face-to-face communications with members, expanded school-based structures, and created a Research and Analytics Department to track member contacts.  For the first time, the union was asking its members what they believed was important in their schools, for their students, and in their communities… Externally, the union forged a coalition with three organizations—the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment… the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy… and Students Deserve….” The United Teachers of Los Angeles had created a strong and deeply rooted community coalition—Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles.”

What followed was the teachers’ strike last January.  Here are merely some of the agreements ROSLA claims were won in the strike, which was widely supported across Los Angeles because teachers sought not only salary increases but reforms deemed essential among parents and others: more nurses, counselors and librarians; smaller class size; nearly $12 million for the development of Community Schools with wraparound medical and social services that help families; a reduction in standardized testing; the end of random searches of students which had been occurring in some schools; district support for immigrant students and more ethnic studies programming; support from the city’s school board for stronger regulation of charter schools which drain money from the public schools; and commitment from the Mayor and the LAUSD School Board to join the fight for a 2020 ballot measure challenging the state’s 1978 tax freeze law, Proposition13.

In Los Angeles strong leadership from the teachers union enabled teachers to take action to relieve the kind of despair the new PDK poll shows teachers are experiencing across the states.  ROSLA reports that during the Los Angeles teachers’ strike last January, UTLA’s efforts among its members and its organizing across the community paid off: “The outpouring of support for the strike from every corner of the district signaled an unambiguous commitment to public schools in LA—a city where there is real fear that the very existence of public education is under threat. For over two decades, the nation’s students and teachers have endured a coordinated assault on public education. Budgets have been slashed. Teachers, students and schools have been relentlessly tested and shamed. Children—particularly children of color—have been criminalized through policies that promote compliance over creativity. Further, cities like LA have been sold the false promise of ‘choice’ instead of the guarantee of quality and equity… The story is still unfolding. But the long-term campaign at the core of this story offers critical lessons.  Whether you come from the perspective of a labor unionist, a classroom teacher, a parent, a student, a community member, or as a philanthropist interested in strengthening the foundations of our public life, the work of Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles provides insight, vision, and hope at a time when all are much needed.”