Senate Deletes Fair School Funding Plan. FY22-23 Ohio Budget Moves to Conference Committee

The Ohio Senate Finance Committee passed its version of the state’s FY 2022-2023 state budget late Tuesday.  On Wednesday the bill moved to the Senate floor where it passed by a vote of 25 to 8, along party lines. Debate will now move to a House-Senate conference committee.

This blog will take a one week early summer break.  Look for a new post on Monday, June 21st.

Gongwer summarizes this week’s Senate’s action: “The Senate Finance Committee voted along party lines Tuesday afternoon to report the two-year spending outline (HB110) after accepting a multi-pronged omnibus amendment… The widely supported House-passed K-12 funding overhaul ditched by the Senate will be a top matter of discussion between the GOP-led chambers….  Before the vote, the committee’s Democrats offered several amendments, including proposals to…  reinstate the House’s school funding plan….”

In a powerful editorial on Wednesday (linked here to a pdf version because the editorial is paywalled), the Cleveland Plain Dealer castigated the Senate’s deletion of the House’s Fair School Funding Plan.  The House plan—now pushed aside—was designed over a period of three years by an expert Ohio House-appointed committee to restore adequate, cost-based state school funding and to remedy what has become the widespread  over-reliance by school districts on local property tax levies to fund even the most basic services.

The Plain Dealer explains: “The Senate version would fail to enact the bi-partisan, educator-backed Fair School Funding Plan first proposed by Rep. Robert Cupp, a Lima Republican, now the House’s speaker, and former Rep. John Patterson, a Jefferson Democrat. The Cupp-Patterson plan would assure school funding equity. The Senate counteroffer doesn’t.  It postpones a nearly inevitable day of reckoning when another school funding lawsuit, like the DeRolph case decided in 1997, determines legislators aren’t doing right by public school pupils. The Senate says it’s just being frugal but the numbers belie that.  Its proposal would add to inequities in school funding while perpetuating divisions over something that should unite Ohioans of all political stripes—the need to invest in our children.”

The Plain Dealer‘s editors add that another problem in the Senate plan is the expansion of school vouchers: “The Ohio House version of the budget, which includes the Cupp-Patterson innovations, passed on a strikingly bipartisan 70-27 House vote. Tellingly… the Senate plan is not likely to achieve the same broad political backing, largely because it discards the balance the House achieved. The Senate plan, for instance, vastly expands eligibility for tax-funded school vouchers.  Vouchers help parents pay for private schools. But the Ohio Constitution, which legislators swear to uphold, requires the General Assembly to ‘secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.’  That is, public schools are the legislature’s first responsibility. Committee testimony by backers of the House’s approach pointed out that the Senate plan raises the ceiling on EdChoice voucher awards for pupils from kindergarten to 8th grade to $5,500 (from the current $4,650) and for pupils in grades 9-12 to $7,500 (from the $6,000 current ceiling).  Legislative analysts estimate the higher ceilings will cost the state $163.5 million over two years.”

The Ohio House’s Fair School Funding Plan was designed to address Ohio’s long-standing and growing school funding inequity. The Fair School Funding Plan would fulfill the very definition by Rutgers University school finance expert Bruce Baker of what a school funding formula should be. “School funding is largely in the hands of states, and the primary job of states’ finance systems should be to account for differences between their districts in the cost of providing that minimal level of educational quality, and then to distribute funds in a manner that compensates for the fact that some districts have less ability than others to pay these costs (e.g. via property taxes).  For instance, districts serving large proportions of high-needs students will tend to have higher costs; if those districts lack the local capacity to pay those costs, state revenue needs to fill the gaps.”

In May 6, 2021 testimony to the Senate Education Committee, Ohio education funding expert, Howard Fleeter describes how the framers of the Cupp-Patterson Fair School Funding Plan designed the plan to address what has been alarming and  long-standing inequity in Ohio school finance:  “Funding for economically disadvantaged students in particular has lagged well behind the growth in the number of such students over the past 20 years (funding has increased 22% while the number of (these) students has increased 61% since FY01)… Studies in other states have indicated that the additional costs of educating low-income students are typically 30% or more… Targeted Assistance and Capacity Aid should be retained as is the case in the HB110 funding formula (the Fair School Funding Plan).  These two formula components supplement formula funding by providing additional funds to low wealth districts that lack the tax base to pursue local educational initiatives in the same manner that wealthier districts can through local levies.”

The Plain Dealer‘s editors additionally question the Senate’s inclusion of a 5% income tax cut in its new budget: “Then there are the Senate’s expanded tax cuts, which could run afoul of requirements in federal COVID-19 stimulus aid not to use the money as an offset for tax cuts. The Senate proposes to expand a 2% House-proposed income tax cut to 5% by the second year, resulting in an estimated $874 million state revenue loss over the next two years… Spending $874 million on schools would be an investment. Dribbling it away on individually puny tax cuts is a stunt. A reckless stunt, given that it could imperil needed COVID relief dollars.  And an irresponsible stunt, in light of the pressing state spending needs made apparent during the pandemic….” “(F)or an Ohioan with an annual income from $41,000 to $64,000, the Senate plan would save an average of $22 a year (43 cents a week).”

Policy Matter’s Ohio’s Wendy Patton amplifies these facts in testimony she presented to the Senate Finance Committee to document who would benefit from the Senate’s proposed 5% tax cut: “Nearly half of the tax reduction would go to those in the top 5%, who are paid more than $221,000 a year. The top 1% percent, who have income of at least $526,000, would average a cut of $1,712 and receive a quarter of the tax reductions. The tax reductions in the Senate bill come on top of huge tax cuts the richest Ohioans have received over the past 16 years. While lower-and middle-income Ohioans on average saw little change or paid more in state and local taxes, the top 1% received more than $40,000 a year in tax cuts.”

The next Ohio budget will be negotiated in a House-Senate conference committee which must create a compromise before July 1. The Plain Dealer‘s editorial board  describes what needs to happen in the next two weeks: “Conferees’ priority should be writing a budget that shelves dubious tax cuts and fairly funds public schools—which, as it now stands, the Senate’s proposal doesn’t do.”

This blog has posted here on the Ohio House’s Cupp-Patterson Fair School Funding Plan.

This blog has posted here and here on the Ohio Senate’s plan which is less adequate and less equitable.

President Biden Proposes to Offer Extra Title I Grants as Incentives to Encourage States to Do Justice

The Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations provided financial incentive grants to states to encourage them to expand charter schools. (The federal Charter Schools Program still exists, and I am hoping the Biden administration gets rid of it!) And the Obama administration provided Race to the Top incentive grants to urge states to adopt common standards paired with standardized tests and to evaluate teachers by their students’ standardized test scores. These were all part of a more than two decades’ scheme of standardized, test-based, corporate-style accountability that provided incentives to reward teachers who produced high test scores and punishments for teachers and schools that couldn’t produce rising scores.  While the assumption was that teachers and schools could, by adopting particular practices, produce jumps in test scores, the reality has proven far more complicated and challenging, and anyway, most of us agree that test scores should not be the sole way of judging the quality of education.

Now the Biden administration is proposing something more constructive and even revolutionary: Biden is proposing to use Title I grants to encourage state legislatures to increase and equalize school funding across school districts. President Biden seeks to press states to abide by the language of their state constitutions, and thereby provide a system of well funded schools to serve every child—rich or poor; Black, Hispanic, white or Native American; English language learner or disabled child.  President Biden is proposing to use federal funds to incentivize the states—which under the 50 state constitutions, have the primary responsibility for fairly funding public education—to do justice.

The president’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal, announced last Friday, now will be considered by Congress, which has to appropriate the money. Congress rarely passes the same budget presented by the President. But the budget President Biden proposed last Friday is a significant statement of his values and priorities.  Many of the ideas from the American Families Plan are included. And, significantly, the new budget proposal would extend the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit until 2025.

Education Week‘s Evie Blad outlines the education section of Biden’s FY 22 budget proposal: “President Joe Biden proposed an ambitious $6 trillion national budget Friday that calls for dramatic increases in spending on K-12 education, including $20 billion in new incentives to states to raise teacher pay and address inequity in school funding. The proposal would increase the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary budget for the coming fiscal year to $102.8 billion, about 41 percent above current levels.” Blad reports that Biden’s proposed budget would:

  • Increase Title I to $36.5 billion from $16 billion;
  • Begin the phase in of $100 billion over t0 years for school infrastructure;
  • Add $3.5 billion for universal preschool in the Department of Health and Human Services and provide two years of free community college;
  • Increase funding to $16 billion for programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—an increase of $2.7 billion;
  • Increase funding for full service, wraparound Community Schools from $30 million to $443 million;
  • Invest $1 billion to double the number of guidance counselors, school psychologists, school nurses, and school social workers; and
  • Spend $25 million to make schools environmentally friendly.

The biggest, the most significant, and very likely the most controversial part of President Biden’s education budget is the increase in Title I, the Education Department’s oldest program—dating to 1965—and designed to provide extra federal funding for schools serving concentrations of children in poverty to help compensate for inequities within and across state school funding systems.

Blad explains: “At the core of Biden’s education budget (are) new ‘equity grants’ that would increase funding for Title I, a grant program for educating disadvantaged students, to $36.5 billion from about $16 billion, the largest increase in the history of the program. That new funding would ‘build on the existing Title I program,’ flowing through a new formula that would address state and local funding models that ‘favor wealthier districts over districts with concentrated poverty.’… Politicians concerned about equity have long pointed to challenges with the nation’s education funding systems as a concern.  Predominantly white districts receive about $23 billion more funding (from state and local sources combined) than districts that predominantly serve students of color….”

Blad further explains the administration’s justification for the new Title I grants: “Some lawmakers have said the existing Title I formula does not adequately address funding gaps between schools. Rather than replace that formula entirely, the Biden plan would break out new Title I funds into a separate grant. To access that funding, states would have to submit plans about how they would track and address gaps in their funding systems, ensure teachers are compensated at levels comparable to other professionals with similar education and experience, ensure students have access to advanced coursework, and increase access to early-childhood programs.”

Living in Ohio, I am acutely aware of the need for somebody to press our state senate to make our state’s school funding formula work for children who live in economically and racially segregated school districts. This month the Ohio Legislature is considering a new Fair School Funding Plan as part of the state budget which must be passed by June 30. Experts have regularly pointed to the collapse of the state’s school funding formula—leaving school districts overly reliant on unequal local property taxes. In a House Finance Committee hearing on December 2, 2020, Ohio school funding expert Howard Fleeter explained: “The FY10-11 school year was the last year in which Ohio had a (working) school funding formula… which was based on objective methodologies for determining the cost of providing an adequate education to Ohio’s 1.6 million public school students.” Policy Matters Ohio’s Wendy Patton adds: “By 2020, the state share of school funding had fallen to its lowest point since 1985.”  Earlier this spring, the Ohio House passed the six-year phase-in of the new Fair School Funding Plan as part of its version of the proposed state budget, but, yesterday the Plain Dealer‘s Laura Hancock reported that the Senate Finance Committee wants to reduce new public school funding over six years to about a third of the House version, increase funding for vouchers, and cut personal income taxes by 5 percent. Senate leaders claim it is dangerous to pass a plan for the upcoming biennium that will constrain future legislatures as the Fair School Funding Plan’s six-year phase-in would need to continue. The House and Senate versions will need to be reconciled by the end of June.

Ohio is part of a much broader pattern. School finance experts Bruce Baker and Mark Weber recently tracked a trend of declining states’ fiscal efforts over the past twenty-five years to fund their public schools. These economists compared each state’s total K-12 education spending to the state’s fiscal capacity as measured by aggregate personal income. State fiscal effort for education, not surprisingly collapsed after the Great Recession: “What happened starting in 2010 was disastrous in two respects.  First, average effort declined rapidly for 3-4 years, bottoming out well below its pre-recession level. Second, it did not recover in subsequent years. In other words, as of now, the decline in fiscal effort appears permanent.”

In a fine book published last autumn, Schoolhouse Burning, Derek Black documents the same trend, still evident a dozen years after the Great Recession: “(I)n retrospect…. the recession offered a convenient excuse for states to redefine their commitment to public education… By 2012, state revenues rebounded to pre-recession levels, and a few years later, the economy was in the midst of its longest winning streak in history. Yet during this period of rising wealth, states refused to give back what they took from education. In 2014, for instance, more than thirty states still funded education at a lower level than they did before the recession—some funded education 20 percent to 30 percent below pre-recession levels.”  (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 31-33)  “(W)hen it comes to districts serving primarily middle-income students, most states provide those districts with the resources they need to achieve average outcomes… But only a couple states provide districts serving predominantly poor students what they need. The average state provides districts serving predominantly poor students $6,239 less per pupil than they need.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 241)

Have the cuts in spending affected students’ experience at school? Last summer,  C. Kirabo Jackson, a social policy professor at Northwestern University and two colleagues released a study of the decade-long effects of the recession on school achievement nationwide despite federal stimulus in the form of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  School districts made the greatest cuts by putting off capital expenses like building maintenance and repairs. “Even so, districts still made substantial cuts to instructional spending. For every dollar in spending cuts, we find districts reduced instructional spending by $0.45, on average. Reductions in payroll costs for instructional employees account for roughly half of that amount… Districts trimmed their spending on payroll across the board, taking particular aim at the guidance office. We look at overall staff counts and find that, on average, a $1,000 decline in spending was associated with hiring 3.7 percent fewer teachers, 5.3 percent fewer instructional aides, 3.3 percent fewer library staff members, and 12 percent fewer guidance counselors. This led to roughly 0.3 more students per teacher and 80 more students per guidance counselor… (T)he spending declines that followed the Great Recession halted a five-decade-long increase in student test scores in reading and math, kicking off what some have called a ‘lost decade’ in terms of student achievement… (T)hose cuts also were associated with slower rates of college-going among students on track to become first-time college freshmen, possibly undermining some students’ momentum during a critical moment of transition from K-12 to higher education…”

President Biden Is Investing to Help Children at School: Secretary Cardona Needs to Provide the Policy Vision

The Education Law Center headlined the press release about its annual Education Justice Lecture: “President Biden’s First 100 Days Set Stage for Overhaul of Federal Education Policy.”

The press release sounded exciting as it described Linda Darling-Hammond, the event’s primary speaker, “underscoring the backdrop of the multiple crises facing the United States and their impact on structural inequities and racism in the nation’s public schools.” It described Dr. Darling-Hammond explaining, “how these profound challenges are behind the President’s call for a comprehensive federal policy to support major investments and reforms in public education, including addressing discrimination and segregation, equitable funding and resources, universal preschool, wholistic student supports, investments in the teacher workforce and access to post-secondary education and college.”

Immediately I opened the link to Darling-Hammond’s presentation, where I found myself disappointed, even though she titled her remarks, “President Biden’s First 100 Days: A Transformation in Action”—and even though I agree that what Darling-Hammond reported is important.  She describes the American Rescue Plan Act which would, according to Darling-Hammond, definitely help children and families by expanding access to affordable health insurance; boosting families’ access to needed nutrition services; supporting and stabilizing child care and Head Start; supporting child mental health; offering stimulus payments, unemployment supplements, and tax credits for family medical leave; and most important of all, expanding the child tax credit and making it fully refundable. As Darling-Hammond stresses, the expansion of the child tax credit, if it becomes permanent, is projected to cut child poverty in the U.S. by half.

Darling-Hammond also summarizes the streams of money in the American Rescue Plan to help schools reopen, to help homeless students, to improve services for disabled students and to expand broadband infrastructure.  And she adds on significant proposals from the Biden administration in the President’s proposed budget—large increases in Title I and IDEA funding and over $400 million to build more full-service, wraparound Community Schools and even more in the Proposed American Families Plan for Pre-K, free community college, teacher training, and additional support for child care.

What I found was a report about the urgently important investments Biden has proposed, but Darling-Hammond’s summary missed what I was looking for, which was also what Darling-Hammond had promised: the plan for an “overhaul of federal education policy.”  The report is long on money and short on what I have been hoping Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona would provide: a major change of plans.

This is not to say that whatever amount of all this money is eventually appropriated by Congress will be unimportant.  Much of this investment is to support America’s poorest families with enough money to more comfortably care for their children. Generations of research demonstrate that poverty itself is the greatest barrier for children in general and for their engagement at school. (See here, here, and here.) Aggregate standardized test scores correlate with family and neighborhood income.  Helping families with food, healthcare and childcare, and enough money to provide for children’s basic needs will inevitably help children at school.

But the problem is that none of this gets at the big problem today in federal education policy and with the state policies that have been spawned by the federal government and are still required to some degree in education policy across the states. Secretary Miguel Cardona has kept in place the vast infrastructure of federally mandated standardized testing.  And even though the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) no longer mandates a cascade of punishments for so-called failing schools, as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) did, ESSA does require states to rate and rank public schools and to submit to the U.S. Department a plan for turning around the lowest scoring five percent of schools.  And so, due to long-running federal policy, we have all kinds of practices based on standardized testing—the state school report cards that brand so-called “failing” school districts, school closures, the idea of charterization or privatization as a turnaround strategy, state takeovers of schools and sometimes entire school districts, evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores, the Third-Grade Guarantee, and high school graduation exams.  The federal government doesn’t require some of this anymore, but states still have to promise school turnarounds and lots of states still have the systems in place that they set up under NCLB.

Today we know that the test-and-punish scheme of NCLB and ESSA didn’t work. Scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress have never risen and achievement gaps measured by standardized tests have not closed. During the presidential campaign, President Biden himself spoke out against the current regime based on standardized testing.  Now we must look to Cardona to set a new and more constructive policy framework to go with the added investment.

Cardona is to be commended for quicker action to reverse Betsy DeVos’s disastrous college loan policies that have left graduates of for-profit trade schools with huge debts and worthless degrees.  But, in the area of education policy, he has hired Roberto Rodriguez as Assistant Secretary of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.  And President Biden has hired Carmel Martin as Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy. These people helped implement Arne Duncan’s test-and-punish policies epitomized by Race to the Top and the Common Core Standards and both of them were involved with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee back in 2001 during the drafting of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Cardona needs to acknowledge the failure of standardized test-based accountability and to define a well-formulated path forward.  At the very least he should begin to re-name educational inequity with the term, “opportunity gap,” which describes children’s lack of access to equal resources instead of the old test-score-based term, “achievement gap.” There are some policies that we know would help the nation’s most vulnerable children at school, many of them the things that schoolteachers taught us in the statewide walkouts and huge strikes of 2018-2019: smaller classes, more counselors and social workers, enriched curricula, and the reopening of school libraries staffed by certified school librarians.

President Biden has proposed to make more money available. Secretary Cardona needs to proclaim a vision for how the investments in K-12 public schools might best be spent.

School Privatizers Attack a Central Institution of American Democracy

Introducing a column by the Network for Public Education’s Carol Burris on the explosion this year of legislation across the 50 state legislatures to expand school privatization, the Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss begins: “While many Americans see 2021 as the year that may bring back something close to normalcy after the coronavirus pandemic, it has instead been declared the ‘Year of School Choice’ by the American Federation for Children, an organization that promotes alternatives to public education and that was once headed by Betsy DeVos. Anyone who twas thinking that the departure of DeVos as U.S. education secretary would stem the movement to privatize public education should think again. In numerous states, legislatures have proposed or are considering legislation to expand alternatives to the public schools that educate most American schoolchildren, often using public funding to pay for private and religious school.”

In the piece that follows, Carol Burris examines the contention by Paul Petersen, the Harvard government professor who Burris reminds us is “a longtime cheerleader for market-based school reforms,” and Jeanne Allen who runs the Center for Education Reform, and who, “has never been shy in her hostility toward unions and traditional public schools,” that the legislatures considering school choice are doing so because parents are angry that public schools shut down during the pandemic.

Burris demonstrates that Petersen and Allen are wrong.  The states most active in promoting privatization are instead places where legislatures have tipped toward Republican majorities and in some cases Republican supermajorities.  And they are states where well-funded ideological lobbies for school privatization are working hard.

Burris describes today’s legislative climate for expansion of vouchers and charter schools: “Legislatures in 35 states have proposed bills to enact or expand voucher programs or charter schools. A few have passed; others have failed. Still others are sitting on governors’ desks or are stalled in the state’s House or Senate. Several are obvious attempts to please right-wing donors with no chance of moving out of committee. So far, eight states have enacted one or more bills.” She adds that despite what Petersen and Allen say, “red states with a high rate of open schools are where bills have been passed.”  So… this is definitely not a swelling of parents’ displeasure with public schools in the midst of a pandemic.

Burris covers several states according to a Burbio.com index which tracks the number of students who have been attending fully-open public schools. She explains that in Arkansas, whose legislature just passed a huge tuition tax credit voucher program, Burbio says that 96.8 percent of students were in school full time.  In Wyoming, where school districts have had the capacity to authorize charter schools but where, this spring the legislature created a new process (not yet signed by the governor) to expand charter school authorization to the state level, Burbio says 100 percent of students have been in full-time in-person schooling.  In West Virginia, where the legislature just expanded the number of charter schools, established state authorization of charter schools, permitted new virtual charter schools, and passed the biggest and most expensive Education Savings Account neovoucher program in the country, Burbio says 78 percent of students have been in full-time, in-person schooling.

If the pressure for expansion of vouchers and charter schools did not come from parents, who did it come from?  Burris lists the movers and shakers in four states:

  • In Arkansas, a group called the Reform Alliance (which operates another state voucher program paid for with state money) paid Trace Strategies $180,000 to lobby for the new voucher program. And the Walton Family Foundation donated $1,644,280 to the Reform Alliance.
  • In Wyoming, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools “bragged about how it lobbied for” passage of the new statewide authority to open charter schools.
  • In West Virginia, lobbyists included ExcelinEd (Jeb Bush’s organization); Stride (the new name of K12Inc.); the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; EdChoice Inc. (formerly the Friedman Foundation for EdChoice); Americans for Prosperity; and ACCEL (a for-profit charter chain run by Ron Packard, who formerly ran K12 Inc).
  • In Kentucky, lobbyists were Stride (formerly K12 Inc); the National Heritage Academies (a for-profit charter school chain); American for Prosperity; ExcelinEd; and Edchoice Kentucky (which Burris describes as a local branch of EdChoice Inc).

Burris concludes: “The movement’s agenda is clear in the minimal accountability and few protections for students included in these bills…. (T)he long-term goal is to undo public education—not only the institution but also the public funding of schools.”

It is a good time to review the ideology underneath the drive for school privatization and to contrast the values articulated by the privatizers with the values that have historically been the foundation of our system of public education since John Adams declared in 1785, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and must be willing to bear the expenses of it.”

Here are four statements of principle that define the parameters of this debate:

In A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, an important book published last autumn, education historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire characterize the belief system of the promoters of marketplace school choice:  “An unquestioned faith in markets is at the very heart of the push to unmake public education. Just as consumers choose from a vast array of products in the marketplace… parents should be able to choose where and how their children are educated… Give consumers the freedom to choose where and how to educate their children and the woes of our public schools will finally be fixed…. ‘Bad’ schools will be forced to close as consumers flee them, while ‘good’ schools will proliferate to meet burgeoning consumer demand… Unlike the public education bureaucracy, the market is seen as a paragon of efficiency.  Rather than being directed by some central power, individuals in the market need only seek their own benefit… In this view, markets are a form of natural democracy—one in which individuals express their preferences and those preferences shape outcomes.  Consumers vote with dollars, and the aggregation of those individual votes produces a collective decision.” (A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, p. 15-17)

What’s wrong with this idea? The late political philosopher Benjamin Barber warns that while individuals may serve the needs of their own children, society loses, and the children of the least powerful parents lose the most: “Through vouchers we are able as individuals, through private choosing, to shape institutions and policies that are useful to our own interests but corrupting to the public goods that give private choosing its meaning. I want a school system where my kid gets the very best; you want a school system where your kid is not slowed down by those less gifted or less adequately prepared; she wants a school system where children whose ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’ (often kids of color) won’t stand in the way of her daughter’s learning; he (a person of color) wants a school system where he has the maximum choice to move his kid out of ‘failing schools’ and into successful ones. What do we get? The incomplete satisfaction of those private wants through a fragmented system in which individuals secede from the public realm, undermining the public system to which we can subscribe in common. Of course no one really wants a country defined by deep educational injustice and the surrender of a public and civic pedagogy whose absence will ultimately impact even our own private choices… Yet aggregating our private choices as educational consumers in fact yields an inegalitarian and highly segmented society in which the least advantaged are further disadvantaged as the wealthy retreat ever further from the public sector. As citizens, we would never consciously select such an outcome, but in practice what is good for ‘me,’ the educational consumer, turns out to be a disaster for ‘us’ as citizens and civic educators—and thus for me the denizen of an American commons (or what’s left of it).” (Consumed, p. 132)

Barber clarifies how the ideology of school privatization compromises the basic values that have historically been our society’s bedrock: “Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck. Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

In Schoolhouse Burning, another important book published last autumn, Derek Black more precisely defines what public education was imagined to accomplish: “Our public education system, since its beginning, has aimed to bring disparate groups together. Public schools were to be the laboratory and proving grounds where society takes its first steps toward a working democracy that will include all… The framework is one where we understand public education as a constitutional right. This means public education is the state’s absolute and foremost duty. This means the state must help students, teachers, and districts overcome obstacles, not blame them when they don’t. This means the state must fully fund schools and reform policies unrelated to money when they impede adequate and equal opportunity. This means the state cannot manipulate educational opportunity by geography, race, poverty… This means the state cannot favor alternatives to public education over public education itself. This means the state must honor the constitution over its own ideologies and bias. This, finally, means that public education must be in service of our overall constitutional democracy. Every education policy we face must be filtered through these principles.” (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 254-255)

Groups like Americans for Prosperity, EdChoice, ExcelinEd, the Walton Family Foundation, the American Federation for Children, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools should not be determining the fate of public education in America.  The 50 state constitutions give citizens the responsibility, through the democratic process, of ensuring that their legislators provide public schools which are adequate, equitable, and accessible for all.

Why Is Cardona’s Department of Education Partnering with an Astroturf Parent Organization?

Parents whose children are enrolled in public schools across in the United States have traditionally joined the PTA—affiliated with the national Parent Teacher Association—or an unaffiliated PTO—a Parent Teacher Organization, but few would have had the opportunity to join the National Parents Union.  PTAs and PTOs embody the principle that parents and teachers are together responsible for the well-being of the school’s students.

On first glance, you might notice how the name of the National Parents Union is different from the names of the more traditional parents’ organizations. First, “teachers” are not named as collaborators. And the National Parents Union is called a “union.” Those two features of the organization’s name might make you suspicious that this is some sort of parents’ group against teachers unions. And, it seems you might be correct.

The National Parents Union is an Astroturf organization founded in 2020. Astroturf organizations pretend to represent the grassroots, but instead they advocate for the interests of their big funders. It is helpful to know who these groups are, so that you can keep straight about what they stand for and who they really represent.

Maurice Cunningham, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, has thoroughly researched and exposed the abuses by Astroturf organizations in the past, most notably the New York dark money group, Families for Excellent Schools Action, which was fined $426,466 by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance for violating Massachusetts’ campaign laws when it invested $15 million in 2016 to try to pass a referendum to raise the cap on the authorization of charter schools in that state. The referendum failed and later Families for Excellent Schools shut down.

More recently Cunningham has turned his sights on a relatively new group, the National Parents Union. In May of last year, when the National Parents Union was only a few months old, Cunningham explained: “One unsurprising characteristic of the Walton family sponsored National Parents Union is that it has so few parent members… Searches on Twitter, organization websites, and IRS Form 990 tax returns suggested various dominant functions I could use to characterize sixty-four of the seventy organizations (affiliated with the NPU).  I found that there are fifteen charter school organizations (like KIPP and Rocketship) and nine charter school trade organizations (like the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools). That makes 24 of the 64 ‘parent organizations.’  There were another fifteen organizations I categorized as education options/choice, groups which present as helping navigate among different schools but which are designed to funnel students to charter schools. That makes 39 organizations tied into the charter schools industry. There are nineteen organizations I identified as ‘civic’ and some I could further identify, for instance civic/Latinx, civic/civil rights, civic/autism, etc. Within the civic groups that could be identified, there were four I identified as civic/parents. The parent groups are Connecticut Parents Union, Minnesota Parents Union, New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative… and Massachusetts Parents United. Of the four parent groups, Massachusetts Parents United is emblematic since its CEO Keri Rodrigues Lorenzo is also the CEO of National Parents Union.  But MPU is not a grassroots parents organization either.  It is a privatization front underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation.”

In another recent post, Cunningham details exactly who is funding this supposed grassroots parents’ organization: “National Parents Union has received funding from the following oligarchs through their own foundations or philanthropies they contribute to and control: the Walton family, Bill and Melinda Gates, Michael Dell, the late Eli Broad, Reed Hoffman, John Arnold, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Charles Koch.”

So, wonders Cunningham in a post he published on Diane Ravitch’s blog, why has U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona brought the National Parents Union—as the representative of the point of view of parents—into the Department’s new School Climate and Discipline Work Group and as an advisor to the Department’s Office of Parent Engagement and Communication?

Cunningham examines uncritical coverage of Cardona’s move by reporter Linda Jacobson in The 74, a news website with some of the very same funders as the National Parents Union. After reading Jacobson’s article, Cunningham wonders whether Secretary Cardona and his staff are naive enough to believe they are inviting collaboration from a real grassroots parents’ group, or whether Education Department staff are knowingly inviting the input of billionaire corporate accountability school reformers: “The pro-privatization education blog, The 74, recently published ‘To Rebuild Trust with Families, Ed. Dept. Seeks Input from Outspoken Parents Group.’ The story purports to be about how Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona ‘seeks’ the advice of parents and thus turns to the National Parents Union. But the National Parents Union isn’t about parents; it’s a front for oligarchs with ‘parents’ in the name. So who got suckered here, Secretary Cardona or readers of The 74?”

Cunningham concludes: “National Parents Union is a sucker’s game.”

What Does Educational Equity Mean?

Monday, May 17, 2021, marked the 67th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which banned racially segregated schools and unequal access to education. Over more than two decades, NAACP attorneys Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall built up a series of court precedents leading to the 1954 decision in Brown, which declared that educational opportunity, “where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” However, two-thirds of a century later in most places in the United States racial separation and inequity remain the conditions of our children at school.

Among advocates for educational equality, there has, for decades, been an ongoing conversation about the definition of equity. Iris Rotberg, a professor of education policy at George Washington University, recently published a column in which she quotes Thurgood Marshall’s definition all those years ago:  “We sit… not to resolve disputes over educational theory but to enforce our Constitution… I believe the question of education quality must be deemed to be an objective one that looks at what the state provides its children, not what the children are able to do with what they receive.”

Rotberg interprets Marshall’s words: “The government’s responsibility, therefore, is to ensure equal opportunity, not to debate its link to student achievement.”  She is interpreting Marshall’s definition of justice to mean equality of educational inputs and not a comparison of test score outcomes.  She is advocating that states be held accountable for equalizing resources and that we reject what has come to be known as outcomes-based school reform which punishes schools and school districts where scores don’t quickly rise.

In its Opportunity to Learn Campaign, the Schott Foundation for Public Education called America’s attention to disparities in educational inputs by demanding that we stop judging schools exclusively by standardized-test-score achievement gaps and instead try to conceptualize and measure opportunity gaps faced by the children across many parts of our country.  This spring, for example President Biden has recently taken the same approach, asking us to recognize opportunity gaps by including a provision in the American Rescue Plan, the recent COVID relief bill, to expand the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under six-years-old), and make it fully refundable for families too poor to pay enough taxes to benefit from this measure.  Biden has been concerned that until now the current Child Tax Credit has left out the poorest children in this country. Their extreme poverty has created an opportunity gap that affects every aspect of their lives.

In education policy itself, equality of school inputs is a matter of school funding. Congress addressed this issue back in 1965 by establishing Title I to provide federal compensatory funding for schools serving concentrations of children living in poverty, but that program has long suffered from underfunding.

And during 2018 and 2019, in huge statewide Red4Ed walkouts in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma and big strikes in Los Angeles, Oakland and Chicago, schoolteachers helped us better grasp opportunity gaps. They protested that their students were suffering from shortages of school social workers, guidance counselors and school nurses; overcrowded classes of 40 students; lack of enriched curriculum and art and music; and shuttered school libraries.

Historically, as Thurgood Marshall recognized, unequal school funding has also accompanied school segregation as a driver of educational inequality.  When Reconstruction collapsed in 1868, legislators in the states of the former Confederacy did everything they could to segregate schools and drive money to the schools serving white children. In Schoolhouse Burning, Derek Black explains how, in post-Reconstruction constitutional conventions across the South, legislators not only segregated schools but also introduced the idea of making school funding reliant on local property taxes: “Make school funding dependent primarily on local tax revenues and give local officials more discretion in operating their schools. This would do two important things.  First, it would make vast inequality possible. Wealthy areas could spend as much on education as they wanted, and poor areas—areas heavily populated by blacks—would remain, well, poor. Second, wealthy white communities would effectively be relieved of the duty of supporting black education.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 145)

In her recent column, Rotberg rejects the other failed education “reform” strategy lawmakers have been trying out for several decades: look at student outcomes as measured by standardized tests and then sanction schools and school districts that can’t quickly raise test scores: “(T)he United States focused on initiatives that had no direct link to equity, but that reformers hoped would raise student test scores and reduce the achievement gap—(in Marshall’s words) ‘what the children are able to do with what they receive.’… The second approach did little overall to make the country more equitable or to strengthen academic attainment.”  She is talking about outcomes-based accountability: ” ‘fixing’ the education system and rewarding or punishing teachers for students’ test scores… Three main reforms have dominated the education system and education policy research: charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools; holding teachers accountable for student performance; and curriculum standards to guide instruction. The results show little evidence that the reforms led to a more equitable society or to national gains in student achievement.”

Ohio provides a perfect case study for Rotberg’s argument for the state’s provision of adequate and equitable public school resources. In recent decades, Ohio education policy has relied heavily on the test-and-punish philosophy that Rotberg bluntly rejects. Ohio ranks schools by their test scores and brands the poorest districts with “F”s and wealthy exurban schools with “A”s on the school report cards the state issues. Ohio has rapidly expanded private school tuition vouchers and the state has expanded charter schools, but Ohio’s mechanism for school privatization reduces fiscal resources in the public school districts serving poor children. The state locates EdChoice voucher qualification only in school districts with Title I schools and deducts the vouchers right out of the local school budgets. And it permits the location of privatized charter schools only in the school districts where standardized test score outcomes are low. The state has seized three of the states poorest school districts and imposed emergency overseers without any observable school improvement.

While all this was going on, Ohio entirely abandoned the state’s constitutional mandate requiring adequate and equitable school funding. This month the Legislature is considering a new Fair School Funding Plan as part of the budget which must be passed by June 30. Experts have regularly pointed out the collapse of the state’s school funding formula—leaving school districts overly reliant on unequal local property taxes.  In a House Finance Committee hearing on December 2, 2020, Ohio school funding expert Howard Fleeter explained: “The FY10-11 school year was the last year in which Ohio had a (working) school funding formula… which was based on objective methodologies for determining the cost of providing an adequate education to Ohio’s 1.6 million public school students.” Policy Matters Ohio’s Wendy Patton adds: “By 2020, the state share of school funding had fallen to its lowest point since 1985.”

In Ohio and across many states, it is a good time to reconsider Justice Thurgood Marshall’s definition of equity: “I believe the question of education quality must be deemed to be an objective one that looks at what the state provides its children, not what the children are able to do with what they receive.”

Biden’s Proposed American Families Plan Would Revolutionize Life for Poor Children

When public policy has been entirely inadequate and misguided for decades, it is difficult to grasp the full implications of the beginning steps for reform. Such is the case with President Joe Biden’s proposal last week to respond to our society’s outrageous level of child poverty. The development of coherent, efficient policy to ameliorate the overwhelming and complicated problems of America’s poorest families will take a long time, even if Democrats continue to occupy the White House and sustain Congressional majorities.

But on April 28, President Biden introduced a plan to begin the journey to remedy fiscal austerity when it comes to our society’s poorest families and children. We can turn to some experts to put the significance of President Biden’s proposed American Families Plan in perspective.

California’s EdSource quotes Deborah Stipek, a professor in the Stanford University Graduate School of Education: “Biden’s proposals, so far, will go further toward supporting children—especially those living in poverty—than anyone in the White House in my lifetime… Right now, children from low-income families are beginning kindergarten substantially behind their middle-class peers. Most of the achievement gap is well in place when children begin school. One reason is lower participation in preschool and lower quality preschool for low-income children. Anything that broadens access and ensures quality is worth doing, and the child care and extension of the tax credit initiatives are very exciting.”

First Focus on Children’s Bruce Leslie also believes Biden’s American Families Plan is revolutionary: “There are moments in time when historic or transformational changes are made by our nation’s leaders to really make a difference for children and families in this country. If President Biden’s just released American Families Plan becomes law, today would be one of those moments.  Unfortunately, the reality we face is that children are often merely an afterthought of election officials, as kids do not vote, do not make campaign contributions or operate a Political Action Committee (PAC), and do not employ a team of lobbyists to demand that lawmakers hear their concerns and address their needs.”

About Biden’s plan, Leslie adds: “His plan fully recognizes the enormous (challenges)… that have plagued our children even before the current (COVID-19) crisis, including child poverty, inadequate early childhood supports, education inequities, substandard and unaffordable child care, health care affordability and access to care, the need for family medical leave, and college affordability. This plan also takes significant strides to address racial and socio-economic inequities among our children.”

Biden’s changes to the Child Tax Credit in the proposed American Families Plan extend changes Congress has already passed as part of Biden’s March relief bill. In the American Rescue plan, the President increased the amount of the child tax credit to $3,000 (and $3,600 per child for children under six years of age). Biden’s relief bill also made the Child Tax Credit fully refundable, which means that the poorest families—those too poor to pay enough income tax to receive the full tax credit in the past—will now qualify.  Biden’s March relief bill extends the changes in the Child Tax Credit only through this year, but the proposed American Families Plan would extend the reforms until 2025.

Leslie further examines the impact of changes in the Child Tax Credit as proposed by the American Families Plan: “The proposal extends the critically important tax provisions in the American Rescue Plan that have the potential to cut child poverty by an estimated 47%, according to an analysis by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, and will benefit an estimated 66 million children—or more than 90% of all the children in this country. The American Family Plan achieves this by: making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable on a permanent basis; … expanding the credit to include 17-year-olds for the first time; increasing the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 for children between the ages of 6-18, (and) to $3,600 for children under the age of 6 through 2025;… (delivering) the Child Tax Credit regularly, meaning that families will not need to wait until tax season to receive a refund … (and) will receive regular payments that allow them to cover household expenses as they rise; (and) making permanent the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) improvements, which will give families a credit for up to half of their spending on qualified child care for children under age 13, up to a total of $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children.”

Expanding children’s access to quality childcare and enriched pre-Kindergarten are other urgently important improvements in Biden’s American Families Plan. But by examining today’s pay levels for child care workers and preschool teachers, one can see how economically untenable our current policies have become and how difficult it will to lift the salaries and the status of the women whose work is to care for young children. For Chalkbeat, Ann Schimke, Cassie Walker Burke, and Koby Levin report: “Nationally, the median hourly wage is $11.56 for child care workers and $14.67 for preschool teachers…. About 40% percent of the early childhood workforce are women of color, and many early childhood workers make so little that they qualify for public assistance.” The Chalkbeat reporters quote Meg Franko of Early Milestones Colorado: “It’s hard to recruit in the field when Target is paying more than you make as an early educator.”

The Chalkbeat reporters add: “In addition to the $15 minimum wage, Biden’s proposal calls for early childhood workers with comparable qualifications to kindergarten teachers—typically at least a bachelor’s degree—to earn commensurate pay.  Places such as New York City already have such pay parity efforts, but many workers struggle to take advantage of them because it’s hard to earn the necessary credentials while working full time for little money.”

The President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priority Priorities, Sharon Parrott emphasizes that together the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan will contribute to closing economic gaps by race: “(C)hild poverty rates are far higher among Black, Indigenous, and Latino children than white children. Prior to the recent one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit (in the March relief bill), almost half of all Black and Latino children—-compared to about 1 in 5 white children got only a partial Child Tax Credit or none at all because their families’ incomes were too low. Ensuring that all families with low or no income get the full Child Tax Credit—an improvement made in the American Rescue Plan that the President wants to extend—will reduce disparities in child poverty rates and improve educational and employment outcomes for low-income children.”

Parrott adds that the President’s plan to pay for his reforms by raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations will itself address inequality: “To build toward an equitable recovery requires a tax system that raises revenues from those who have the most and who benefit greatly from public investments in everything from science and technology to infrastructure and education.  The Biden tax proposals would do this by curtailing the tax code’s tilt toward investments rather than income from labor… The plan would… help ensure that wealthy individuals and businesses pay the taxes they owe, by enabling the IRS to rebuild its depleted audit staff and upgrade its antiquated computer systems so that it can audit the returns of a larger share of high income households and corporations.”

If Biden can push legislation for his American Families Plan through Congress, Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman believes it will be overwhelmingly significant: “Conservatives beware: If the main elements in Joe Biden’s American Families Plan become law, they’ll be very hard to repeal. Why? Because they’ll deliver huge, indeed transformational benefits to millions. I mean, just imagine trying to take away affordable child care, universal pre-K, and paid leave for new parents once they’ve become part of the fabric of our society… The American Families Plan would… provide… free preschool for all 3-and 4-year-olds while limiting child care costs to not more than 7 percent of income for lower and middle-income parents… Just to be clear, making it possible for more women to take paid jobs isn’t the principal point of this plan—and there’s nothing wrong with parents’ choosing to stay at home and care for their kids. Instead, it’s mainly about improving the environment in which children grow up, partly as a matter of social justice, partly so that they eventually become healthier, more productive adults… (I)f these plans improve life for millions of Americans, will anyone besides professional ideologues care if they’re ‘big government’?”

Will Staff Returning from Obama/Duncan Years Compromise Biden’s Public Education Promises?

At the end of his first hundred days, President Joe Biden deserves credit for taking important steps to help public schools serving children living in communities where family poverty is concentrated.

First, the President promised during the campaign to triple funding for Title I schools, and the federal budget he has proposed for FY22 would accomplish two-thirds of that promise by doubling the federal investment in Title I, whose funding has lagged for decades behind what is needed for equity.

Second, in the American Rescue Plan federal stimulus passed in March, the President expanded and made fully refundable the Child Tax Credit. In his new American Family Plan he has proposed to extend these urgently needed changes in the Child Tax Credit until 2025.  The expansion of the Child Tax Credit will make it possible for America’s poorest families with children to qualify for this program for the first time. We know that poverty is an overwhelming impediment for children, and ameliorating child poverty is an important step toward helping America’s poorest children thrive at school.

During the campaign, Biden also promised to move public school policy away from two decades of standardized testing.  That is a promise he has, at least until now, entirely broken.

In a letter, dated February 22, 2021, Acting Assistant Secretary of Education, Ian Rosenblum informed states they must test students this year on the mandated annual high-stakes standardized tests, the centerpiece of the test-and-punish school accountability scheme introduced in 2002 by the No Child Left Behind Act.  Rosenblum said the Department of Education would permit flexibility for states which applied for wavers, but Rosenblum described the flexibility in gobbledegook: “It is urgent to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning. We know, however, that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices… We emphasize the importance of flexibility in the administration of statewide assessments.  A state should use that flexibility to consider: administering a shortened version of its statewide assessments; offering remote administration, where feasible; and/or extending the testing window to the greatest extent practicable. This could include offering multiple testing windows and/or extending the testing window into the summer or even the beginning of the 2021 school year.”  Not surprisingly there has been enormous inconsistency in which some states have been allowed to cut back or delay or pretty much cancel testing, while others were denied their requests.

Rosenblum released the federal guidance on testing before Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was confirmed, and everyone hoped he would rescind the policy.  But instead, Secretary Cardona  justified demanding standardized testing in this COVID-19 year, despite overwhelming problems with the practicality, consistency, reliability, and validity of the tests. The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss quoted Dr. Cardona: “He said student data obtained from the tests was important to help education officials create policy and target resources where they are most needed… Cardona said… that he would be willing to ‘reexamine what role assessments’ play in education—but not immediately. ‘This is not the year for a referendum on assessments, but I am open to conversations on how to make those better.'”

One would have hoped that Dr. Cardona would be familiar with the huge debate that has consumed education experts and also many parents who have been opting out for years now. He assures us that mandated testing during this school year, which has been utterly disrupted by COVID-19, will be used to drive federal investment into the school districts where tests show students are suffering most.  However, standardized tests, as mandated by No Child Left Behind and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act, were not designed to drive a system of test-and-invest. Instead federally mandated standardized tests are now the very foundation of a maze of policies at the federal level—and across the states—to identify so-called “failing schools” and to punish them with policies that rate and rank public schools, punish so-called failing schools by privatizing or closing them, evaluate schoolteachers by their students’ test scores, and require states to remove caps on charter schools.

Now, as the Biden Administration and Cardona’s Department of Education staff up, it is becoming apparent that Education Department and White House staff will include key people returning from President Barack Obama’s administration—people who helped design and implement these test-and-punish policies,

Last week, Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa reported that President Biden will nominate Roberto Rodriguez for the position of Assistant Secretary of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development in the Department of Education. Rodriguez was a special White House assistant to President Obama for education policy. And before that, he helped formulate accountability-based school reform as staff to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee when the No Child Left Behind Act was formulated in 2001.

In 2012, Education Week‘s Alyson Klein quoted Rodriguez bragging about Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top program: “Mr. Rodriguez, the White house adviser, argues that the Race to the Top has spurred big and lasting change, including helping to advance the Common Core State Standards, which 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted. ‘We are going to take credit for helping to accelerate the adoption of these standards throughout the country.  Race to the Top clearly did  that.'” You will remember that in order to be able to apply for a Race to the Top grant, states had to promise to adopt formal standards, and after Bill Gates had funded the development of the Common Core, most states grabbed onto what was available.

After serving in the Obama White House, Rodriguez became CEO of an organization called Teach Plus, whose website claims its mission is “to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity, and student success.”  Progressive educator and writer,  Steve Nelson reads that mission a little differently: “On the surface it is dedicated to developing ‘teacher leaders.’ The clear sub-text is to inculcate the values of anti-union reform in a generation of young teachers. Sort of like Teach for America, graduate school edition. They rail against seniority as job security, asserting with no basis that subpar teachers are retained in times of cost cuts because of union protection. They also claim that unions stifle innovation. Teach Plus has received more than $27 million from the Gates Foundation and has among its donors the Walton Family Foundation and an all-star roster of philanthropic sources dedicated to so-called reform… For several decades public education has been a battlefield between committed educators with little money or power and committed non-educators with lots of money and power.”

Roberto Rodriguez will face Senate confirmation to his new position. But if he is confirmed, he will join an administration that includes a former Obama era colleague now serving in the Biden White House.  Diane Ravitch reports that Carmel Martin holds the the same position—Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy—that Roberto Rodriguez held in the Obama Administration.

The 74‘s Kevin Mahnken provides some background on Carmel Martin: “Carmel Martin is one of the most powerful education experts in Washington, a top Democratic policy adviser…. So why haven’t you heard of her?  ‘Carmel’s a ghost,’ said Andrew Rotherham, a longtime education commentator and founder of the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners. ‘You’re not going to find lots of published stuff by her. She’s that archetype that you can work with on various issues, an inside-game person, but she’s set herself up for this moment because she doesn’t have this crazy-long paper trail.'”  Martin also was staff to Senator Ted Kennedy back in 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act gathered bipartisan steam. Mahnken describes Martin as a defender of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top and the Common Core standards when she served in Obama’s White House and of Arne Duncan’s policy demanding that states evaluate teachers by their students’ scores.

Secretary Cardona’s has kept everyone’s eyes myopically focused on school reopening after COVID-19. But we all need to pay closer attention to the other policy initiatives that will emerge from Cardona’s Department of Education. Diane Ravitch worries: “that Rodriguez and Carmel Martin will make policy, not Secretary Cardona or Deputy Secretary-designate Cindy Marten. Biden is looking to the future with his sweeping domestic policy plans. But in education, he is looking in the rear-view mirror to the architects of Obama’s failed programs.”

New Statewide Campaign Pressures Ohio Senate to Pass School Funding Reform in FY22-23 State Budget

On Wednesday, four key organizations announced ALL in for Ohio Kids, a statewide campaign to demand that the Ohio Senate will pass a major a new school funding formula as part of the FY 2022-23 state budget.

The new coalition brings together four organizations: the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, representing public school teachers; the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, pulling together public school parents and community members; and Policy Matters Ohio, adding the weight of complex policy expertise.

A new school funding plan, developed over several years, was passed on April 21st by the Ohio House of Representatives as part of the FY 2022-2023 state budget and submitted to the Ohio Senate. The Ohio Legislature must, by law, come up with a compromise by June 30.

With Ohio’s Republican supermajority House and Senate, you might suppose that members of the Ohio Senate would simply affirm the proposal forwarded by their colleagues in the House. You would be wrong. While the plan was originally sponsored by and developed under the guidance of House Speaker Bob Cupp and passed by the Ohio House in a stand alone bill in December by a vote of 87-9, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Matt Dolan refused to bring the House bill forward for a vote by the full Senate. Therefore, the bill died at the end of the FY 20-21 legislative session.

The New All In for Ohio Kids Campaign and Policy Matters’ Wendy Patton Release Major Report

Outlining Ohio’s urgent need for the Fair School Funding Plan, Policy Matters’ state fiscal expert Wendy Patton released a position paper as part of the launch of the All in for Ohio Kids Campaign: “For many years Ohio lawmakers have provided neither sufficient nor fair distribution of state support. Even as policymakers have expected public schools to do more, they have cut state aid to public schools over time, by allowing it to be eroded by inflation and diversion of funds to charter schools… and vouchers… As a result, public schools have increasingly relied on local resources, which causes unequal funding…. This is because our state’s school funding system relies heavily on property taxes, which advantages wealthier districts… As corporations eliminated jobs with living wages in Ohio, racial discrimination in employment and government-sanctioned segregation forced Black, Indigenous and other people of color into neighborhoods of concentrated poverty…. Schools in these communities need additional resources, but the declining local tax base cannot generate what’s needed. Many rural and small-town districts have faced economic challenges that make it hard for them to provide local funding.”

Patton outlines what has happened to the state’s level of investment in public schools: “On average, local governments paid for the greater part of school funding in each of the last 40 years but three, 1987-1989. At times, the gap narrowed between state and local share, but the 2006-07 budget halted that progress by eliminating major business taxes and phasing in big state income tax cuts. Gov. Ted. Strickland made positive steps using federal stimulus…. But Gov. John Kasich promptly reversed that effort with a $1.8 billion cut to school funding imposed over the two-year budget of 2012-13. School funding has lagged ever since. By 2020, the state share of school funding had fallen to its lowest point since 1985.  Lawmakers…. also changed the formula for granting state aid four times over the past dozen years. Uncertainty in state aid makes planning and staffing hard for districts.”

Although the Ohio Constitution requires the state to establish a “thorough and efficient system” of public schools, and despite that the 1997 Ohio Supreme Court declared the state’s school funding unconstitutional and overly reliant on local property taxes—a decision whose demands have never been met, Patton describes the state’s funding of public education today as “a system of Band-Aids and patches”: “Today there is little connection between the funding of Ohio’s schools and the cost of educating a student: Formula funding is simply frozen at 2019 levels. Lawmakers provided no increase to cover the effect of inflation and the rising cost of education since then. According to projections used in the governor’s budget, between 2019 and 2023, state formula funding for public education will lose over $600 million in value as a result of inflation.”

Patton castigates the legislature for diverting an ever growing amount of state education dollars to charter schools and private school tuition vouchers at the same time Ohio’s legislators have failed to fund the public schools which serve 1.6 million Ohio students. Funding for charter schools is by school district deduction, which counts the student as though enrolled in the public school district, sends the state’s basic aid school funding amount to the public district, but then deducts from the local school district budget the state’s allocation for each charter school student. In many cases, the state charter school deduction from the school district’s budget is significantly more than the district receives in basic aid for that same student.  Patton provides an example: “Columbus received $4,815 per student in the 2018-19 school year in state formula funding, but the district had to provide an average of $8,305 per student in the 2018-19 school year to students at charter schools. In other words, for every charter student, Columbus must provide $3,489 more than it receives from the state.”

One of the state’s voucher programs, EdChoice, works the same way. The state sends the school district’s basic aid amount but then deducts $4,650 for every K-8 voucher and $6,000 for every high school student voucher. And because EdChoice voucher qualification rules limit the vouchers only to students living in the attendance area of a school designated by the federal government for Title I, school district deduction EdChoice vouchers are concentrated in areas of family poverty. Here is Patton’s explanation: “The use of vouchers is heavily concentrated in a limited number of districts. Fifteen of the 31 districts that transferred 10% or more of their total state aid to vouchers are located in Cuyahoga County.”  Cuyahoga County, an urban county with significant child poverty, includes Cleveland, to which the state has assigned its own voucher program, and several inner-ring suburbs with concentrations of children from poor families who qualify for the EdChoice Program. The irony in the majority of these school districts is that students taking vouchers out of the public system are students who have never been enrolled in public schools. Students already enrolled in private and religious schools are extracting state dollars out of public school districts serving concentrations of poor students, districts where more money is desperately needed for the students who are enrolled.

Patton concludes:  The Fair School Funding Plan is based on the actual cost of education….  When fully funded, it would help nearly all public schools by boosting the average state per-pupil aid from $6,835 to $8,459…. A predictable formula would create stability and certainty in planning and hiring… The funding for economically disadvantaged students would increase from $272 to $422 per student…. This will help students experiencing poverty and give needed resources to schools that serve communities where poverty is concentrated.” She adds: “The Fair School Funding Plan… would separate charter and voucher funding from the state’s formula funding system… Charter and voucher programs would… be funded through a separate line item in the state budget.”

What Is Holding Up Support for the Fair School Funding Plan in the Ohio Senate When Public Schools Are Desperately in Need?

Here is the problem: Senate President Matt Huffman’s website defines him this way: “President Huffman is devoted to quality school choices for all families, lowering taxes and reducing regulations on Ohio’s small business.”  And the Ohio Coalition for Adequacy and Equity of School Funding quotes Senate Finance Committee Chairman Matt Dolan: “Where a child gets educated is not as important to us as: ‘The child gets educated.'” Huffman and Dolan are committed to marketplace school choice at public expense; neither is committed to public education as one of our most essential community institutions and our mutual obligation to our children.

The All In for Ohio Kids Campaign is all about calling members of the Ohio Senate to uphold the state’s constitutional mandate for adequate public school funding, distributed equitably according to need and considering each school district’s capacity to raise local school taxes. The Ohio Constitution does not provide for diverting public dollars to privately operated charter schools or, as tuition vouchers, to pay for private schooling.