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.

School Prayer Isn’t in Question, but Wednesday, Supreme Court Will Hear Important Church-State Separation Case

President Donald Trump made a splash last week pretending that students’ right to pray at school has been threatened.  While this subject may appeal to his base, the law is settled on this matter.

Education Week‘s Evie Blad explains: “Courts have held that students may pray at school alone or in groups, but that prayer may not be organized or sanctioned by the school… The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in its current and past versions, requires the U.S. Department of Education to provide guidance on prayer in schools every two years, but that guidance hasn’t been updated since 2003… The new school prayer guidance, published in the Federal Register Thursday morning, reiterates requirements under existing law that school districts must annually certify to their state departments of education that they have ‘no policy prohibiting participation in constitutionally protected prayer’….”

The Washington Post‘s Moriah Balingit and Ariana Eunjung Chah quote Charles Haynes, an expert on this issue at the First Amendment Center’s Freedom Forum: “It’s overdrawn and somewhat political to keep this so-called school prayer fight going… This is in some ways a manufactured crisis because it plays well politically to say, ‘We want God back in schools.'”

Although prayer in school is not really at issue this week, another controversy involving religion and public education will reach the U.S. Supreme Court.  The justices will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in an important case involving the First Amendment’s protection of the separation of church and state. The subject is the long fight over the First Amendment’s prohibition of “establishing” religion, in this case by using public tax dollars to pay for religious schools.  The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, tests the 1972 Montana state constitution’s provision that public funds must be spent on the public schools across the state. Montana renewed its commitment to the principle of separation of church and state when 100 delegates met in 1972 to revise and renew the state’s constitution.

Diane Ravitch summarizes the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s eventual decision in the Montana Espinoza case: “The facts of the case are these: Like many states, Montana’s state constitution forbids the funding of religious schools. The Montana legislature passed a tax credit program that funds vouchers for religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the law violated the state constitution.  Now, the case is before the U.S. Supreme Court… The typical attack on state bans on funding religious schools is that such prohibitions are ‘Blaine amendments,’ adopted in the late 19th century at the height of anti-Catholic bigotry; because they were passed in a spirit of bigotry, the argument goes, they should be struck down. In Montana, the prohibition on funding religious schools is not a Blaine amendment.  It was the product of a Montana state constitutional convention in 1972.”

In an amicus brief, Public Funds for Public Schools— a collaboration of the Education Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Munger, Tolles & Olson—supports Montana’s protection of the use of public funds exclusively for public schools.  Public Funds for Public Schools’ amicus brief describes the debate in 1972 as the delegates revised Montana’s state constitution: “(P)roponents of the majority reiterated their support of public schools and explicitly rejected any notion that bigotry motivated the majority’s proposal to retain the 1889 language,” which affirmed the exclusive expenditure of state education dollars on public schools. A 1972 compromise did permit the pass-through of federal funds to nonpublic schools, but explicitly prohibited the use of state funds for nonpublic educational purposes.

The Public Funds for Public Schools amicus brief explains further the delegates’ commitment to fully funding equity in Article X, the broader education clause of the Montana Constitution as revised in 1972, “Article X, Section 1 obligates the state legislature to provide a system of ‘free quality public elementary and secondary schools,’ guarantees ‘equality of educational opportunity,’ and sets the objective of ‘developing the full educational potential of each person.’ …  The delegates resolved that Montana’s public education system ‘must be directed to the elimination of blatant injustices, which may predetermine a lifelong disadvantage.’  Section 1 also reflects the delegates’ awareness of and concern regarding the legacy of American Indian education and the historical treatment of the native nations within Montana’s borders… In guaranteeing Indian Education for All, Montana’s delegates entrusted their public school system to right the historical wrongs of western education in American Indian communities, and reaffirmed the State’s goal of providing a free quality public education to all Montana’s students—with the accompanying commitment to adequately fund these constitutional mandates.”

The challenge to Montana’s constitutional protection of the separation of church and state is being litigated by the Institute for Justice, the conservative law firm behind a number of similar court challenges in recent decades. In a recent report published by In These Times, Alice Herman explains the significance of the Espinoza case which threatens Montana’s guarantee that public funds will be spent on public schools: “On January 22, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case that could result in the massive expansion of public funding for private religious schools. The petitioners in the case—which will be litigated by the conservative law group, Institute for Justice—are asking that the court rule unconstitutional the denial of ‘public funds’ to religious schools…. In the event that the court rules in favor of the petitioner, the result, argue its detractors, would be tantamount to a mandate for religious voucher programs in every state… The origins of the Espinoza case lie in a December 2018 Montana court ruling that a state tax credit program incentivizing charitable donations to private school scholarship funds could not be applied to scholarships for religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court held that the state-implemented tax credit could only be applied to non-religions private schools… In the event that the Supreme Court rules in the plaintiff’s favor, public funding for private education will increase not only in Montana, but in the 37 states whose constitutions ban the provision of public funds for religious schools.”

Last October, The New Yorker magazine’s Supreme Court reporter, Jeffrey Toobin detailed his concerns about the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the protection of church state separation.  Specifically Toobin described the philosophy of Attorney General William Barr: “(S)peaking at the University of Notre Dame… Bar took ‘religious liberty’ as his subject, and he portrayed his fellow-believers as a beleaguered and oppressed minority.” Toobin continues: “(I)n recent years, a key tenet of the evangelical movement (and its supporters, like Barr) has been an effort to get access to taxpayer dollars.  In a major case before the Supreme Court this year, the Trump Administration is supporting religious parents who want to use a Montana state-tax-credit program to pay for their children’s religious schools. This effort is also a major priority of Betsy DeVos the Secretary of Education, who is pushing for the increased availability of taxpayer vouchers to pay for religious schools.  Barr portrays these efforts as the free exercise of religion when, in fact, they are the establishment of religion; partisanship in the war between the religion clauses (of the First Amendment) is one of the signatures of Trump’s tenure in office. Of course, the necessary corollary to providing government subsidies to religious schools is starving the public schools, which are open to all children, of funds.”

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).

Charter Schools: All the Ways They Are Not In the Public Interest

Donald Cohen is the executive director of In the Public Interest. In a powerful statement about his organization’s mission for 2020, Cohen proclaims:

“So much is under attack: public education, water, transit, public parks, public health, libraries, the postal service, air traffic control, and much more.  Where there’s money to be made, there are corporations positioning to take over… What worries us most is when private interests get too much control and influence over fundamental democratic decisions and our ability to provide public goods… We often hear that government is needed when markets fail. We disagree. There are market things and public things. They’re different things, like apples and oranges.  Here’s what we mean by ‘public’ (or, what’s in the public interest):

  • The things we can only do if we do them together…
  • The things we all benefit from regardless of whether we use the specific service or asset…
  • The things that protect and support us all…
  • The things that make us a better, fairer, more compassionate, and more democratic nation.

“We are pro-government because it is the only institution capable of ensuring that public things remain public.”

During the past quarter century, charter schools have come to threaten the public interest as Cohen defines it.  While their sponsors call them “public charter schools,” they are public only in the funding stream of public tax dollars. Their boards are private, and the management companies that operate many of them are frequently for-profits.

In an article she published last fall in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Duke University public policy expert, Helen Ladd explains how charter schools threaten the public interest: “A fundamental problem with charter schools is that in most cases they undermine the coherence and effectiveness of state and local school systems. If charter schools were limited in number to the fringe of the traditional system, as was originally envisioned by some early supporters such as Ray Budde and Albert Shanker, or if elected policymakers take special precautions to ensure that charters and traditional schools work toward common goals, the adverse systemic effects might be contained. But, in areas with relatively large or growing charter school sectors overseen by weak authorizers, the negative systemic effects undermine the public interest.”

While the overall academic quality of charter schools cannot be assessed because each one or each chain of charter schools is unique, two very significant overall problems with charter schools threaten the public interest.  The first overall problem is that charter schools drain tax dollars out of the public schools. Because legislators never add new taxes when they budget money for charter schools, the state education budget is depleted.

Charter schools also drain funds from the school districts where their students live, and over time, this financial loss is unsustainable for the public schools. In a report published in 2018 by In the Public Interest, political economist Gordon Lafer demonstrates that charter schools drain $57.3 million annually from California’s Oakland Unified School District. Why does this happen? “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.”

The second problem is that charter schools are difficult to regulate. The charter sector is well funded, and the coffers of its advocates are fed by the tax dollars collected by the for-profit operators. The money for lobbying and political contributions to the legislators who would have to pass regulations saturates the system with corruption.

It is encouraging that three times since Christmas states or local school districts have taken steps in the public interest to rein in their out-of-control charter school sectors.

In Newark, New Jersey, the Superintendent of Newark Public Schools worries about what he says is 30 percent of the school district’s revenue redirected to charter schools. For Chalkbeat, Patrick Wall explains: “The head of the Newark school system is calling for the closure of four local charter schools and a ban on most new charter schools…. First, he cited the financial impact of charter schools on the district.  Because school aid follows students in New Jersey, districts must hand over most of the funding attached to each student who enrolls in a charter school.  Wall describes the superintendent’s concerns: “Finally, he questioned whether the schools adequately serve a significant number of students with special needs. He pointed to data in the schools’ renewal applications showing that they serve a smaller share of students with disabilities or those still learning English than the district and argued that the schools’ own descriptions of their programs suggest students are not being properly served.”

The state of New Hampshire just turned down a federal Charter Schools Program grant of $46 million.  The Concord Monitor reports: “The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted 7-3… to reject the funds… Democrats have maintained they rejected the money due to a sense of fiscal responsibility.” The newspaper quotes an op ed column by Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, Senator David Watters, and Reps. Mel Myler, Dave Luneau, and Mary Heath: “There are simply too many unanswered questions about the current landscape of charter schools in New Hampshire, and our state’s capacity to support doubling the number of those schools… It would be fiscally irresponsible for the fiscal committee to move forward with this grant, which would double charter schools outside the legislative process, jeopardize the financial health of New Hampshire’s current traditional and charter public schools, and make an end-run around the state budget that commits the state of New Hampshire to millions of dollars in unbudgeted education aid into the future.”

The final story is from Ohio—a story of sort-of protecting the public interest. In Ohio there are all sorts of authorizers of charter schools, and there have been decades of insufficient oversight of charter schools. Ohio is also where one of today’s players is Ron Packard, who started K-12 Inc.—the notorious national online for-profit school—and whose new for-profit education venture is Accel, which has been taking over the management of schools once run by White Hat Management and the infamous David Brennan.

Keep in mind that Ron Packard and Accel manage all the schools described last week by the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell: “East Academy, Cleveland Preparatory Academy and West Park Academy charter schools each scored an F on their latest state report cards. But school leaders are claiming they are ‘quality’ schools, so they can receive new bonus tax money of up to $1,750 per enrolled student from the state. Officials of the F-rated OhDela online charter school of nearly 2,000 students are making the same claim. And Chapelside Cleveland Academy is seeking the ‘quality’ bonus, even though its authorizer—the non-profit that oversees the school on behalf of the state—has given up on trying to fix the school’s F grade and is yanking its support. The fast growing for-profit Accel charter school chain, which runs all of these schools, has applied for more than $15 million in cash from a new $30 million fund that Gov. Mike DeWine and the state legislature created this summer as a boost for Ohio’s best charter schools.”

Thanks to charter school promoters in Ohio, $30 million to reward charter schools was buried in the fine print of the state budget. The fund is supposedly to support quality charter schools, but a school can also qualify if its management company has received a federal Charter Schools Program grant for a school it operates in another state: “Under a provision in the bill, these F-rated Accel schools may qualify for the bonus because a Colorado Springs charter school run by Accel won a federal grant a few years ago.”

O’Donnell reports this week, however, that the Ohio Department of Education blocked Ron Packard’s  swindle: “The Ohio Department of Education has blocked a ‘loophole’ that would have given millions of tax dollars to charter schools with bad grades…. (T)he department today rejected Accel’s application for those schools, citing details of Accel’s corporate registrations in Ohio that fail to connect Ohio operations with those of Accel in Colorado. Because Accel is not registered as a business that also operates in other states, the department ruled it is not eligible for the money… Accel founder Ron Packard said the ruling is unfair and while schools in different states may have different corporate registration, they are all Accel subsidiaries.”

It is definitely not in the public interest that $30 million was secreted in Ohio’s state budget last summer for charter schools when, in the same budget, basic-aid foundation funding for public schools is frozen over the FY 20-21 biennium.  However, it is very much in the public interest that the Ohio Department of Education has just prohibited a windfall award of $1,750 per-pupil to Ron Packer’s academically inferior, for-profit, Accel charter schools.

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.

Eli Broad Spends $100 Million to Buy a Yale Home and the Yale Name for His Education Leadership Center

This blog will take a two week holiday break. Good wishes to you for Christmas and the New Year.       Look for a new post on Monday, January 6, 2020.

Eli Broad just donated $100 million to Yale University’s School of Management. The gift came with a quid pro quo: Yale University’s School of Management will now house the Broad Superintendents’ Academy and Broad Residency in Urban Education. What this means is that mega philanthropist, Eli Broad is buying a prestigious institutional home for a training program he alone devised.  Eli Broad’s personal philosophy of education management will receive the imprimatur of Yale University even though there is no academic, peer-reviewed research endorsing Eli Broad’s theories of education management.

Who is Eli Broad and what are the Broad Academy and Residency in Urban Education?

In her 2010 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch describes Eli Broad and his background: “Eli and Edythe Broad attended Detroit public schools. He received a degree in accounting from Michigan State University. With his wife’s cousin, Broad entered the home-building business and later bought a life insurance company that eventually became a successful retirement savings business called SunAmerica. That business was sold to AIG in 1999 for $18 billion, and Eli Broad became one of the richest men in the nation. He promptly created the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which invests in education, the arts, and medical research… Having been trained as an accountant and having made his fortune as an entrepreneur, Broad believes in measurement, data, and results. He created training programs for urban superintendents, high level managers, principals, and school board members, so as to change the culture and personnel in the nation’s urban districts…  In 2006, Broad invited me to meet with him…. He explained his philosophy of education management. He believes that school systems should run as efficiently as private sector enterprises. He believes in competition, choice, deregulation, and tight management. He believes that people perform better if incentives and sanctions are tied to their performance. He believes that school leaders need not be educators, and that good managers can manage anything if they are surrounded by smart assistants.” (The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 212-213)

My clipping file of articles on Eli Broad and his Superintendents’ Academy and Broad Residency in Urban Education starts in 2010 with an article on Kansas City Superintendent, John Covington, a Broad Academy graduate who was in the process of shutting down half of Kansas City’s public schools.

Next comes a 2011 press release announcing the Broad Foundation’s $25 million pledge to endow Teach for America, the alternative five week alternative certification program for school teachers who will commit to two year stints as teachers.

In 2011, Education Week‘s Christina Samuels analyzed the role of the Broad Academy: “Billionaire businessman Eli Broad, one of the country’s most active philanthropists, founded the Broad Superintendents Academy in 2002 with an extraordinarily optimistic goal: Find leaders from both inside and outside education, train them, and have them occupying the superintendencies in a third of the 75 largest school districts—all in just two years… But as the program has risen in prominence and prestige—758 people, the largest pool ever, applied for the program this year, and eight were accepted,—it has also drawn impassioned criticism from people who see it as a destructive force in schools and districts. They say Broad-trained superintendents use corporate-management techniques to consolidate power, weaken teachers’ job protections, cut parents out of decision making, and introduce unproven reform measures.”

Between 2002 and 2014, the Broad Foundation awarded an annual $250,000 prize to urban school districts identified by the Broad Foundation as having accomplished successful turnarounds. The program was eliminated when improvement as measured by standardized test scores persistently remained flat across school districts despite No Child Left Behind’s promise that all children would be proficient by 2014. In 2011, Broad also launched a prize for charter school networks that would demonstrate high academic outcomes.

In 2015, the Los Angeles TimesHoward Blume reported on Eli Broad’s “$490 million plan to put half of Los Angeles Unified School District students in charter schools.” “According to a 44-page memo, obtained by The Times, the locally based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates want to create 260 new charter schools enrolling at least 130,000 students.”  The plan was never fully realized, but Broad has supported and invested in the rapid growth of charter schools in Los Angeles.

In a post in August of 2019, California blogger, Tom Ultican located Broad’s position among philanthropists who invest in corporate, accountability-based education reform: “Broad (rhymes with toad) is one of he billionaires driving a neoliberal agenda focused first and foremost on privatizing public education.  Hastings, Arnold, Bloomberg, Walton, Rock, Fisher and Broad are all spending huge money for the cause.  In the last Los Angeles School Board election, just this group spent more than $5,000,000 to capture the Board. They all lavishly support both Teach for America and charter schools… One of the highest profile Broad Fellows is Neerav Kingsland from the Broad Residency Class of 2009-2011.  Last year, Kingsland was named managing partner of The City Fund. This new fund was founded when billionaires Jon Arnold and Reed Hastings each pledged $100 million to promote the portfolio model of public school privatization.  Before going to work at the Arnold Foundation in 2015, Neerav and two other law students formed the Hurricane Katrina Legal Clinic, which assisted in the creation of the privatizing organization, New Schools for New Orleans.  Kingsland became its chief executive officer.  He is joined at The City Fund by Chris Barbic, first (and) failed Superintendent of the Tennessee Achievement School District, founder of YES Prep Charter Schools, and alumni of Broad Superintendents Academy 2011.”

In a recent article for Independent Media Institute, Jeff Bryant describes Broad’s philosophy of education philanthropy: “With a mission to advance entrepreneurship in education and other fields, Broad’s education donations have focused, according to the organization’s 2010 annual report, on ‘two issues Eli Broad knew well from his days in business: governance and management—school board to superintendent.’  Broad’s efforts to transform school governance and management include conducting a training center for school leaders; advocating for school governance models that emphasize business methodologies rather than democratic engagement; circumnavigating traditional teacher preparation programs by funding Teach for America; and supporting charter schools and organizations and political candidates that promote charters.”

The editors of PR Watch at the Center for Media and Democracy explain the curriculum of Broad’s Superintendent’s Academy and Urban Residency Program: “The Broad training curriculum for education minimizes subject areas like core education (10% of curriculum time). Instead it emphasizes ‘reform priorities’ (40%), ‘reform accelerators’ (30%), and systems-level management (nearly 20%). Training includes time with think tanks, businesses, and charter network administrators. Training does not prioritize classroom teachers, public school principals, or people knowledgeable about delivery of public education.”

LA Times education reporter, Howard Blume covered Eli Broad’s recent $100 million gift to Yale and the pending move of the Broad Center from California to New Haven: “The Broad Center, which has attracted praise and suspicion for its training of school district leaders, will move from Los Angeles to Yale University, along with a $100-million gift provided by founder Eli Broad… The donation is the largest ever for the Yale School of Management (SOM) and will help fund a master’s program for public education leaders and advanced leadership training for top school system executives—efforts that had been undertaken by the center in Los Angeles…. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has been the primary funder of the Broad Center, and in most years is the only one according to the center. The foundation has contributed $143.5 million to the center since 2001. The Broad Center’s budget for 2019 is $15 million.”

A new Dean at the Yale School of Management is responsible for bringing the Broad Center and Eli Broad’s huge gift to Yale. The Yale press release reported that Dean Kerwin K. Charles announced the gift on December 5: “Charles began discussions with The Broad Foundation shortly after starting his term as the Indra K. Nooyi Dean and Frederic D. Wolfe Professor of Economics, Policy and Management on July 1… ‘We are simply awed by the generosity of The Eli and Edythe Broad foundation and by the commitment to improving the lives of all in America that is reflected in their philanthropy,’ said Charles.'”

The Yale School of Management’s press release explains: “The new Yale SOM center will offer a one-year master’s degree in education management for early-career leaders who want to have an impact on large school districts.  It will also offer an advanced executive training program for senior district leaders, such as superintendents and CFOs. Together the two programs will train approximately 50 leaders each year.  Both will be tuition-free, to ensure that the cost doesn’t deter promising education leaders from participating.”

My simple clipping file provides a cautionary tale about the corporate reform narrative Eli Broad is now paying Yale University to promote.  Corporate-style school managers—many of them trained at the Broad Academy—have been charterizing public schools, helping states impose radical takeovers on the poorest school districts in Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Ohio, and imposing waves of school closures like the one Jon Covington launched in Kansas City a decade ago.

School closures have become a bigger issue in the years since, and they have produced some of the strongest evidence of the weaknesses of the sort of school reform preached by Eli Broad. The 2013 school closures in Chicago are the best example.  More profoundly than any writer I know, the University of Chicago sociologist Eve Ewing examines the enormous disruption and community grieving that ensued in Chicago after Rahm Emanuel (not a Broad graduate but nevertheless a corporate reformer) closed 50 schools in June of 2013.  In her 2018 book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, Ewing quotes the Chicago Public Schools technocratic portfolio planner, Brittany Meadows, justifying (at a formal 2013 hearing) the reason for closing Mayo Elementary School: “(T)he enrollment efficiency range of the Mayo facility is between 552 and 828 students. As I stated, the enrollment of Mayo as of the 20th day of attendance for the 2012-2013 school year is 408. The number is below the enrollment efficiency range, and thus the school is underutilized.”

Ewing then examines Meadows’ corporate-style, technocratic thinking: “Meadows closes with the language of logic: ‘This number is below the enrollment efficiency range, and thus the school is underutilized.’ Meadows presents this data using an ‘if… then’ statement, explaining the calculation of the metrics without explaining the validity of the constructs involved.  In this manner the school closure proposal appears natural and inevitable. Well, of course, since this number is below the enrollment efficiency range, this is what happens next… The logic implied in Meadows’s statement reflects a certain view of reality: the idea that the most important aspects of the educational enterprise can easily be captured in no-nonsense, non-debatable numeric facts. These numbers are taken to be unbiased and a truer representation of what happens in a school building than more qualitative measures… which are seen as overly subjective or unreliable.” (Emphasis is in the original.) (Ghosts in the Schoolyard, pp. 100-101)

Ewing’s research instead demonstrates that schools are community institutions which cannot be managed as businesses.  She summarizes what her research as a sociologist in Chicago has taught her about the kind of human connection that must always be at the center of how school leaders work with their families and communities: “The people of Bronzeville understand that a school is more than a school.  A school is the site of a history and a pillar of black pride in a racist city.  A school is a safe place to be.  A school is a place where you find family.  A school is a home. So when they come for your schools, they’re coming for you. And after you’re gone they’d prefer you be forgotten.”  Ewing continues: “It’s worth stating explicitly: my purpose in this book is not to say that school closure should never happen. Rather, in expanding the frame within which we see school closure as a policy decision, we find ourselves with a new series of questions…. These questions, I contend, need to be asked about Chicago’s school closures, about school closures anywhere. In fact, they are worth asking when considering virtually any educational policy decision:  What is the history that has brought us to this moment?  How can we learn more about that history from those who have lived it?  What does this institution represent for the community closest to it?  Who gets to make the decisions here, and how do power, race, and identity inform the answer to that question?” (Ghosts in the Schoolyard, pp. 155-159)

A Broad-style school management program at Yale University is unlikely to provide school leaders with the motivation to ask Ewing’s questions.

Finally, Broad’s purchase of a Yale University home for his Broad Superintendents’ Academy and the Broad Residency in Urban Education represents a disturbing trend by which billionaires can dictate curriculum and even faculty hires at supposedly independent research universities.  Other examples are the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, Bothell, whose biggest funder is the Gates Foundation; the Walton Family Foundation-funded Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Paul Peterson’s Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School, whose sponsors and contributors include the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation; and Koch Brothers-funded Departments of Economics at George Mason University (a public university in Virginia), and Florida State University.