High School Graduation—Rahm’s Plan Worse than Ohio’s Terrible Plan, But Arne Loves It

I had imagined it would be pretty hard to come up with worse high school graduation requirements than the new Ohio plan endorsed by Governor John Kasich. Watching the state move toward the implementation of our new graduation requirements a year from now is like watching a train speeding down the wrong track. It is expected that nearly a third of the students in Ohio’s Class of 2018 won’t be able to accrue the required 18 points—based on their cumulative scores on end-of-course exams—to graduate from high school next June. Remember that the cut scores on high stakes exams are not in some way scientific, but can be raised or lowered depending on how many students politicians want to pass or fail.

School superintendents from across Ohio have been holding protest rallies at the statehouse, and this week even the Ohio State Board of Education proposed a one-year emergency exemption to allow students to graduate from high school in June of 2018, as long as they have passed all their classes even though they may not have scored high enough on the tests. The State Board suggests that students could make up for low test scores with, “some career training goals or by doing things like having strong attendance or classroom grades their senior year.” For the members of the State Board to oppose Governor Kasich on this matter is pretty amazing. After all, eight of the 19 members of the Ohio State Board of Education are appointed by the governor and most of the rest of them are members of his party.

But Chicago’s mayor (who also runs the public schools) Rahm Emanuel just came up with a more punitive and less workable plan to toughen up. Here is the Chicago Tribune: “Emanuel’s proposal would add one more big item to the graduation checklist for high school seniors: proof they’ve been accepted into college or the military, or a trade or a ‘gap-year’ program. The requirement would also be satisfied if the student has a job or a job offer… Emanuel and his office said the ‘groundbreaking’ effort would make CPS the nation’s first large urban school district to require students to develop a plan for their lives after high school. He outlined the plan as CPS continues to struggle with financial problems that have led officials to warn the current school year could end three weeks early.”

DNA Info Chicago lists the ways students could meet the demands of Rahm’s new plan:

  • “College acceptance letter,
  • “Military acceptance/enlistment letter,
  • “Acceptance at a job training program, like a coding bootcamp,
  • “Acceptance into a trades apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship program,
  • “Acceptance into a ‘gap-year’ program,
  • “Current job or job offer letter.”

While the Tribune describes Mayor Emanuel defending his plan with the traditional justification—“If you change expectations, it’s not hard for kids to adapt.”—many have questioned the wisdom of Emanuel’s thinking.  Some have even questioned the legality of his plan: “State laws and regulations aren’t clear on exactly how much authority school districts have to expand graduation requirements, said Miranda Johnson, who is the associate director of the Education Law and Policy Institute at Loyola University’s School of Law. “I think that raises questions when the requirements go beyond academic curriculum and extend into the student’s post-secondary choices… I think it also raises questions if those requirements are contingent on a third party’s action that may go beyond the scope of what the student can control.”

Emanuel’s plan hasn’t yet been voted on by the Chicago Board of Education. And some have noted, including Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, that, “A top CPS official also acknowledged… that every Chicago public high school graduate essentially already meets the new standard because graduation guarantees admittance to the City Colleges of Chicago community college system.”

We shouldn’t imagine, however, that all those students will be able to afford community college tuition. And there are also serious questions about the workability of such a requirement in a school district so broke that it may have to close three weeks early. (See here.)  School districts in dire fiscal circumstances are known to burden high school counselors with unworkable case loads of hundreds of students.

Peter Greene, a high school teacher in Pennsylvania, responded to Rahm’s new idea on his personal blog: “Steady job that’s not a trade?  Working musician? Stay-at-home mom? Person who just needs to spend a year or two working at a crappy minimum wage job while they figure out what they want to do next?  Manage the family business?  All of that and more have passed through my classroom and gone on to successful, productive, happy lives. Are you telling me we shouldn’t have given them a diploma because they didn’t do what we wanted them to after graduation.  Nor do I imagine for one Chicago Second that wealthy parents whose children are not ready for or aimed at one of these… choices while they are still high school seniors—those parents are going to say, ‘Oh, well, then.  I guess you don’t get a diploma.  Them’s the breaks.’  No—this is one more numbskulled reformy idea that wealthy parents would not tolerate for a single second… Demanding that an eighteen year old develop a life plan, right now, this minute, or else, is just rank foolishness.  To demand a commitment to that plan, right now, that involves a commitment to give up a year or spend a ton of money or both—also foolishness… But to attach such high stakes is the worst, particularly since three of the four options require someone to accept the student… Well, too bad, because now they have a double strike against them—no plan yet, and no diploma, either.”

But Rahm does have one cheerleader: our former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. It is instructive to read Arne Duncan’s Chicago Tribune op ed just as a reminder of the kind of technocratic nonsense we all lived with for nearly eight years. Arne was always using big city schools and their teachers and their students as the subjects of an experiment with one of his plans—Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, quick two-year school turnarounds like firing the teachers or closing or charterizing schools. We are still living with the collateral damage. Arne’s innovations rarely involved careful consideration of the possible negative externalities.  And he always focused on the program—certainly not the students in any kind of careful developmental or psychological way.

Arne is always motivated by competition—the endeavor to create and win the race to the top. Here is his analysis of Rahm’s new graduation plan: “For much of the last 10 years, America out-educated most other nations in the world, which drove the world’s strongest economy, built the middle class and made the American Dream possible for millions. In recent years, however, many other countries have caught up to us.”

Arne is also a technocrat—prone to focus on the mechanics of a program and the data sets that can be generated to hold it accountable—without considering how it might really affect the lives of particular children or their teachers or their counselors: “Every student needs a plan, whether that’s college, trade school, apprenticeships, the military, a job or even a  gap-year program that can open young eyes to the world and lead graduates in promising new directions. We should be tracking all of these outcomes and holding ourselves accountable for them.”

There is definitely a classist bias to Rahm’s new plan and Arne’s defense of it: “But too many… young people have no real plan for their future. They don’t have those dinner-table conversations about the future. Instead, they feel pressure to earn for themselves and their families and they can’t see a path forward… Middle-class parents expose their own children to work opportunities. They have networks of friends who can offer internships.  Their communities offer entry-level jobs to kids who are still in high school. For low-income kids however, those work experiences don’t just happen naturally.”  Arne expresses a whole lot of assumptions here about how eighteen-year-olds think and about the kind of opportunities that may not be happening so naturally in today’s economy even for middle class eighteen-year-olds.

Finally there is Arne’s love of incentives as primary motivators—the kind of psychology that has driven the past two decades of technocratic school “reform.”  Behaviorist psychology will tell you that if you are going to use incentives, you are far better offering carrots than sticks, but Arne and the school “reformers” have preferred threats and manipulation through fear. Threaten the jobs of teachers if they can’t quickly raise scores. Close or privatize schools that cannot quickly raise scores. Deny high school diplomas for students who don’t score well enough!  And set those cut scores really high; make it so tough it will motivate everybody.  Here is Arne describing Rahm’s plan: “Some people worry that raising graduation standards will cause more young people to drop out, but they’re wrong. Young people don’t drop out because school is too hard. They drop out because it is too easy and they are not engaged. They don’t understand how it’s relevant to their lives.”

So Rahm and Arne now endorse a plan to reduce dropouts with the threat of denying diplomas to students who have passed all their classes and their required tests but lack a life plan. Deny students without a plan their high school diploma, the very document required across our society as the credential for a next step in any plan a young person might eventually come up with.

Beware Temptation: Don’t Pin Your Hopes on John Kasich

Today is the Ohio Primary that will determine whether John Kasich’s presidential campaign has any future at all.  If Kasich loses, don’t grieve.  If Kasich wins today in Ohio, beware the temptation to be lulled by his comparative calm and by his policy ideas that may seem mild in contrast to those of other candidates.

You do have to give Kasich credit for one thing.  He has been honest about his priorities: he is a tax slasher and a charter school supporter.  He is also delusional about his accomplishments as Ohio’s governor since 2010.  He claims the state has turned around economically.  If there has been a turnaround, it hasn’t yet come to Ohio’s Rust Belt citiesHe continues to claim he has turned around the Cleveland schools, but that isn’t true either.  To his credit, he did, against the wishes of those in his own party, expand Medicaid.

He has also slashed the income tax, eliminated the estate tax, and eliminated a reimbursement the state had created for local governments and school districts when a previous administration summarily eliminated a local tax on inventories and equipment.  The Plain Dealer reminded us last Friday that local governments have been busy trying to pass local taxes to make up for enormous losses of state revenue because of Kasich’s “sharp reductions in the state’s Local Government Fund, which was created during the Depression when the sales tax was enacted to share money with the cities and villages.”  Under Kasich, according to Friday’s Plain Dealer, state funding in Cleveland this year is down by $21 million, in Columbus by $27 million, and in Cincinnati by $28 million, and the big cities are not the only losers.  The inner ring suburb where I live is down over $2 million this year.  School districts across the state are struggling to pass levies at the same time they are increasing class size and charging students large fees to play sports.

In a stunning piece published yesterday by Politico, Kimberly Hefling summarizes Kasich’s troubling record of flawed oversight of Ohio’s charter school sector, despite that Kasich has made charter school regulation “a priority.”  She quotes Kasich in 2014 claiming: “We are going to fix the lack of regulation on charter schools.  There is no excuse for people coming in here and taking advantage of anything.”  That was the claim.  And to give the governor credit, Kasich signed a law at the end of 2015 that, Hefling explains, “improves the state’s ability to revoke the rights of the poorly rated charter school sponsors and makes it more difficult for schools to switch sponsors.”  (It has been a practice in Ohio that if an authorizer tries to shut down a charter school for academic or financial reasons, the school could merely “hop” to a new sponsor.)

Here, however, are some realities described by Hefling, that demonstrate the seriousness of Ohio’s problem with charter schools and that undermine Kasich’s claim that he has led the way to better regulation: “Ohio ranks among the top five states in the number of charter schools.  It has more than 370 charters that enroll 132,000 students… but the sector has been plagued with problems including mid-year school closures, allegations of financial improprieties and charter schools ‘sponsor shopping’ to avoid scrutiny.  Ohio has more than 60 charter school sponsors, or authorizers, that open and oversee the schools… A 2014 study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes paid for by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute found students in the state’s charter schools perform worse on average in reading and math than their peers in traditional public schools.

And then there are the notorious online charters.  “A big player among Ohio online charters is the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which enrolled 14,000 students last year and was founded by longtime GOP booster William Lager.  Another longtime Ohio charter school backer is David Brennan, founder of White Hat Management, who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Kasich over the years. Innovation Ohio has estimated that since charter schools first opened in Ohio in the late ’90s, $1.8 billion of the $7.3 billion the state has spent on the sector has gone to schools run by Lager and Brennan—or $1 out of every $4 spent.  Then, there’s the 11,000-student Ohio Virtual Academy, run by K12 Inc., that donated $100,000 in 2014 to the Republican Governors Association.”

Finally, Hefling reports, there was the scandal that began last summer when David Hansen, then head of the charter schools office at the Ohio Department of Education, submitted a federal charter school expansion grant application that painted a rosy picture of the performance of Ohio’s charter schools and mysteriously omitted the horrible ratings of Ohio’s online charter schools.  This whole mess is very much connected to Kasich, because Hansen’s wife was then the governor’s chief of staff and is now the head of Kasich’s presidential campaign. When the U.S. Department of Education responded by awarding what is a $71 million grant to expand charters—and to take over and charterize the Youngstown City Schools—a firestorm broke out.  David Hansen was fired for his flawed rating system, and the federal government has demanded documentation that charter school regulation is being improved.  As Hefling reports, “(T)he state took the embarrassing step in January of updating its application figures to say that instead of having nine charters schools that are poor performing, 57 are in that condition.”  But even in the updated federal application, Ohio’s amended figures rate only brick and mortar schools and omit the politically connected virtual academies.

Meanwhile, at the same time Kasich has been out on the national campaign trail running for President, Ohio’s Republican legislature has been actively working to water down the modest oversight of charter schools that Kasich recently signed into law.  Ohio’s major newspapers have relentlessly pushed for more state monitoring of the state’s notorious online academies, and the Ohio Department of Education has begun checking whether the schools are accurately reporting their enrollment to ensure that the $6,000-per-student the state gives the schools correlates with students actually studying online rather than those who signed up but may not be logging on for the hours they have promised to “attend school.” Attendance records of the notorious Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow were to have been reviewed in February, but the school has rescheduled the review.  Jim Siegel and Catherine Candisky report for the Columbus Dispatch that in addition to delaying the Education Department’s review, “School officials from ECOT reportedly crafted a softened attendance-tracking amendment—floated recently in the Ohio House—which would require online schools only to offer the statewide minimum 920 hours of instruction per school year but not require students to actually participate in these hours.”  William Lager—who reaps all of ECOT’s profits—and his lobbyists are angling to get ECOT’s attendance review delayed until they can get the legislature to change the law so that ECOT can continue collecting $6,000-per-student for all 18,000 (The Dispatch‘s number of 18,000 students differs from Hefling’s number of 14,000 students.) young people  it says are enrolled.

Hefling summarizes her concerns about Kasich and the charter schools he loves: “Ohio Gov. John Kasich is an avid proponent of school choice, but his home state’s notoriously problematic charter school sector is often held up as an example of what can go wrong.”

Here are some of this blog’s posts about John Kasich and Ohio charter schools here, here, here, here and here.

Colleen Grady Questions Evolution, Is New Policy Adviser in Ohio Education Department

According to the website ballotpedia.org, 24 states have all Republican government, with governor, senate and house all dominated by Republican majorities.  Seven states are dominated by the Democratic Party.  In the recent November 3 election, Kentucky moved closer to all-Republican status, with the election of a Republican governor, but its Democrat-dominated state assembly prevents it’s falling into what ballotpedia calls a Republican trifecta state.  These numbers demonstrate that across state governments, more than half the states have lost the checks and balances provided when both political parties are viable.  Ballotpedia adds, “In addition to having a trifecta, it is also worth exploring which states have supermajorities. The supermajority allows a party in power to further exert its influence over the minority party.” Ohio is one of the states with a Republican legislative supermajority.

In Ohio, education policy is one of the areas where the impact of one-party, supermajority political domination is apparent.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized on Sunday about the problems that have arisen in the leadership of state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dick Ross, who has resigned as of the end of 2015 now that a series of problems have been so relentlessly exposed in the press that his leadership has become an embarrassment.  Ross was hired, as state superintendents in Ohio are, by a state board of education that is also dominated by politics: “The 19-member Ohio school board is nominally Ross’ boss, but it’s long been virtually invisible in state education policy.  Further, the governor (John Kasich) can usually call the shots at the board, since he or she gets to appoint eight members (the other 11 are elected)… Kasich holds most cards in the search to replace Ross.”

The Plain Dealer‘s editors summarize some of what has happened under Ross and Kasich’s tenure: “Observers… were stunned to learn that David Hansen, then the director of school choice for the Ohio Department of Education, had illegally omitted the F grades of online charter schools in evaluating charter school school sponsors—who, in Ohio, include some deep-pocketed donors to the GOP and Gov. John Kasich… But the even more curious part of this episode was that Ross claimed to have known nothing about Hansen’s actions.  At the very least, that raises questions about Ross’ attention to detail… In the wake of the charter school grading scandal, the U.S. Department of Education rightly raised questions about the quality of Ohio’s charter-school oversight, potentially putting in jeopardy $71 million in federal grants intended to underwrite the creation of more high quality charter schools in Ohio. In another disturbing recent case, Ross clearly had a hand in the secret state takeover of the Youngstown schools without the knowledge of either the state school board or most of the community—a legislative move that could affect other struggling school districts.”

The Plain Dealer‘s recent editorial declares that with Ross’s recent resignation, Ohio has, “an opportunity to find a superintendent who can do what Ross failed to do: be an independent, transparent and unbiased leader.”  But one recent action by the State Board of Education portends education leadership from the Kasich administration that is neither independent nor less biased.  The State Board, very likely with the approval of Governor John Kasich, just hired controversial former state board member Colleen Grady as its senior policy adviser.

Patrick O’Donnell, a rising star at the Plain Dealer as its education reporter, penned an article that also appeared in Sunday’s paper to describe Colleen Grady and report on her resume: “Grady left her $80,000-per-year post as senior policy adviser of the House Republican Caucus on Friday to take the same position at ODE (Ohio Department of Education) on Monday.  In her new position, she will report directly to the superintendent.”

O’Donnell continues: “Grady has been a major figure in education issues for several years.  Once a member of the Strongsville school board, she served on the state school board representing much of Northeast Ohio from 2005-2008… She has… taken strong positions on several controversial issues involving education…. She is a former lobbyist for the White Hat charter school network and took the lead in pointing out issues with the Senate’s version of House Bill 2, the state’s recently passed charter school reform bill.”  In other words, in her position as senior policy adviser to the House, she likely advised House leaders to try to weaken the senate bill which, thanks to massive press coverage of Ohio’s egregiously weak oversight of charter schools, the legislature was embarrassed into passing. The House did not prevail, and Grady can’t be pleased with the new bill to regulate charters, despite that it focuses on only the most outrageous problems with previously unregulated charters.  For example, the new bill does prevent a charter school from hopping to a new sponsor if the current authorizer tries to put the school out of business due to academic failure or fraud. The new law makes it illegal for a charter management company to suggest board members for a new charter school—board members who will then be responsible for hiring a management company—a practice that White Hat has been known to practice and that is replete with conflicts of interest.  And the new law makes illegal the kind of contract that White Hat had with several charters that eventually closed, a contract that left all the furniture and computers to the management company rather than returning assets of the closed schools to the public whose tax dollars had purchased them.

O’Donnell adds another detail about Grady: “As a member of the state board in 2006, she backed two attempts to have science teachers encourage debate about evolution, instead of teaching it as a fact.”

While I am delighted to see the editors of the Plain Dealer editorialize for a superintendent of public instruction in Ohio who will be “an independent, transparent and unbiased leader,” I don’t imagine we are going to get this kind of education leadership in our Republican dominated, one-party, supermajority state.

Beware These Three Governors, All Republican Presidential Contenders

Campbell Brown is the far-right, former CNN anchor who has become an advocate against teachers’ unions and due process protections for teachers.  She has now founded a so-called news site, The Seventy Four.  Reporters for Politico call it a “news advocacy site.” There are, of course, questions about objectivity in Campbell Brown’s venture, both in possible biases in the opinions expressed and in the selection of topics to cover.  For example, The Seventy Four has begun broadcasting debates on the topic of public education policy among the Republican candidates for president. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have, to my knowledge, not been invited.  The first of these debates, co-sponsored by The Seventy Four and the American Federation for Children—Betsy DeVos’ organization that promotes school vouchers, took place this week.  Not surprisingly, the candidates declared themselves devoted to far-right education doctrine, and the program was set up to affirm the far right opinions of the candidates who appeared.

It is my plan to concentrate more deeply on the race for President in a few months when November 2016 is closer.  In the meantime, however, it is important for those of us who share a concern about the future of public education to be very clear about the candidates who have significant records on public education.  Three of the Republican candidates—whose ideas have been covered in recent weeks in the mainstream media or in reports from organizations that support public education instead of privatization—brag about education “reforms” as the centerpiece of their records as governor.  This post will explore these three governors’ records to provide some balance to what you may have heard in the recent event staged by Campbell Brown and Betsy DeVos.

There is Ohio’s current governor, John Kasich.  In a recent piece at the Education Opportunity Network, Jeff Bryant covers Kasich: “Given the current crop of Republican governors bidding for the presidential nomination, it is difficult to pick which has been worse on education policy… But the effect Governor Kasich has had on public education policy in Ohio is especially atrocious.”  In her Washington Post column, Valerie Strauss summarizes Kasich’s record on education: “Kasich has pushed key tenets of corporate school reform: expanding charter schools… increasing the number of school vouchers… (implementing) performance pay for teachers… evaluating educators by student standardized test scores in math and reading…. Meanwhile, the Ohio Education Department in Kasich’s administration is in turmoil.  David Hansen, his administration’s chief for school choice and charter schools resigned… after admitting that he had unilaterally withheld failing scores of charter schools in state evaluations of the schools’ sponsor organizations so they wouldn’t look so bad… Under his watch, funding for traditional public schools—which enroll 90 percent of Ohio’s students—declined by some half a billion dollars, while funding for charter schools has increased at least 27 percent, with charters now receiving more public funds from the state per student than traditional public schools…. If Kasich’s goal for his reform efforts was to close the achievement gap, it hasn’t worked…. Ohio has the country’s ninth-largest reading gap between its highest-and lowest-performing schools, as well as the second-largest achievement gap in math, and the fourth largest gap in high school graduation rates.” This blog has covered Ohio education policy extensively in regular posts.

Of all the candidates, Jeb Bush has the most extensive and damaging record on public education, as he and his Foundation for Excellence in Education have radically expanded charter schools in Florida, expanded vouchers, promoted A-F rating systems for schools, and promoted privatized on-line academies and the expansion of contracting for school technology.  This blog has summarized Bush’s education record herehere and here.  Recently Business Insider confirmed Bush’s boast at the early August, Republican presidential debate: “As governor of the state of Florida, I created the first statewide voucher program in the country.”  Business Insider reports: “Bush… was not over-selling his accomplishment.  In 1999, under his gubernatorial oversight, Florida became the first state in the nation with a statewide voucher program.”  In an extensive recent report for Alternet, Jeff Bryant traces Bush’s expansion of charter schools across Florida, beginning in 1996 with the launch of Liberty City Charter School in one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods.  Bryant traces charter school growth across Florida, a history replete with closures and the promotion of  charters tied to key legislators. Bryant concludes, “Since introducing Florida’s first charter school to Liberty City, Jeb Bush has come to refer to his education efforts in the state as ‘the Florida Miracle,’ and his education leadership will no doubt be trumpeted as one of his signature achievements during his presidential campaign.”  But, Bryant interviews Dwight Bullard, the current elected state representative of the district that includes Liberty City: “Bullard tags Bush for introducing a ‘plethora of bad ideas’ to Florida’s education system, including instituting a school grading system that perpetually traps schools serving the most struggling students with an ‘F’ label, and opening up communities to unproven charter schools that compete with neighborhood schools for funding. ‘What he started was something that would harm the most struggling schools.  Grading them, robbing them of resources, closing them down.  Doing undue harm to the exact people who need the help the most.'”

Finally there are Scott Walker‘s ties to ALEC.  Brian Murphy’s stunning article for Talking Points Memo not only exposes Walker’s record as governor of Wisconsin, but it is among the clearest exposes I’ve read of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the lobbying organization that the Internal Revenue Service continues to grant not-for-profit educational status, despite a long and courageous effort by Common Cause to get ALEC’s IRS status adjusted.  Murphy reports that Scott Walker has been one of the nation’s leaders importing ALEC’s model laws to his state, Wisconsin: “voter ID laws, so-called ‘right to work’ laws, attacks on private and public sector unions, attacks on clean air standards and sustainable energy, pro-charter school bills, attacks on college accreditation and teacher certification, laws proposing to centralize rule making on energy, pollution, power plants, state pension investments, tort reform… food labeling….”  These laws “seem to pop up in different state capitals seemingly simultaneously, with the identical legalese backed by the same talking points and even the same expert witnesses. ALEC is often the reason.”

Murphy explains just how the American Legislative Exchange Council works: “Commonly known as ALEC, the group is somewhat unique in American politics.  It boasts more than 2,000 members of state legislatures, the vast majority of whom are Republican.  And at its annual meetings and other sponsored retreats and events, it pairs those state lawmakers with lobbyists and executives from its roster of corporate members.  Together lawmakers and private interests jointly collaborate on subcommittees—ALEC calls them ‘task forces’—to set the group’s legislative agenda and draft portable ‘model’ bills that can then be taken… to legislators’ home states to be introduced as their own initiatives.  The private sector members of these task forces have veto power over each committee’s agenda and actions.  ALEC’s agenda, therefore, always prioritizes the interests and voices of its donors over elected lawmakers.  ALEC doesn’t publish a list of either its corporate members or its publicly-elected legislator-members.  It doesn’t allow members of the media to access its conferences.  And it doesn’t disclose its donor list.  Much of what we know about the group comes from periodic voluntary individual disclosures….  Operating as a 501(c)(3), the group claims to be an educational outfit that provides nonpartisan research to lawmakers for their ‘continuing education.’  Because it is allowed charity status under the tax code, ALEC’s donors can write off their membership dues and contributions.  Legislator members pay annual dues of $50, while according to leaked documents, corporate sponsors pay between $7,000 and $25,000 per year…  (I)t’s an organization that facilitates intimate and discreet lobbying opportunities where donors have access to a self-selecting set of willing accomplices drawn from the nation’s fifty state legislatures.”

Murphy’s article does not emphasize public school policy.  Murphy traces Walker’s promotion of ALEC legislation for privatization of prisons—the priorities of the Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut, and most notably his successful legislative initiatives to curtail public sector unions and eliminate “the ability of unionized public employees to bargain for wages or benefits.” “Walker has continued to spring ALEC-inspired legislation on Wisconsin’s citizens and lawmakers alike.  In March, Walker signed a so-called ‘Right to Work’ law that makes union dues voluntary for private sector workers in the state.”  He has also expanded charters and vouchers and, right in the budget, imposed a state takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools.

One-Party Government Undermines Education and the Common Good in Ohio and Wisconsin

First it happened in Ohio.  Earlier this month, Ohio’s governor John Kasich used the power he is given in Ohio law to veto line items in the state budget—which an all-Republican House and Senate had approved.  Kasich’s purpose?  To cut taxes.

In policies that affect public education, Governor Kasich used his line-item veto to cut back the hold-harmless school funding guarantee that has ensured that school districts don’t experience a drop in state funding below what they received last year.  Guarantees are needed when a school funding formula doesn’t work very well.  While many districts protected by the guarantee in Ohio are wealthy suburbs that can replace the lost state funds if the guarantee is cut, others are districts like Cleveland and Warrensville Heights, which have been losing students as the population has been reduced by the foreclosure crisis.  Through the line item veto in the the budget, Kasich also eliminated a state reimbursement Ohio provided for years to school districts to replace a local business tax that the state had eliminated.

Stephen Dyer of Innovation Ohio describes the $90.2 million drop in funding for public schools that Governor Kasich accomplished in one night as he vetoed parts of the state budget: “Cleveland is cut the most at more than $13 million.  There are now 114 out of 612 districts that will receive less money in the 2016-2017 school year than the state sent them last school year… Warrensville Heights—one of the state’s poorest districts—will see a more than $1 million cut.  And it’s worse if you look at how schools have fared since the 2010-2011 budget… If you adjust for inflation, there is now $187 million less money for schools than there was in the 2010-2011 budget and 334 districts receive less.”

As if the Ohio legislature itself hadn’t done enough damage during in its spring 2015 session, when it allowed urgently needed regulations for the charter school industry to go unaddressed, despite that passage of very modest oversight looked promising in early June. The Youngstown Vindicator editorialized: “After all, the charter school industry in Ohio is big business… Yes, there was legislation designed to block poorly performing charters from switching sponsors and poorly performing sponsors from sponsoring other charter locations.  But with the investment of millions of dollars in Ohio’s political process by charter operators and others, only the most naive would believe that any legislation aimed at policing the system would be adopted without a fight.”

And then, just at the end of the Ohio legislative session the lawmakers sneaked in a 66 page amendment to a very positive bill to expand full-service, wraparound community schools.  The bill passed without further debate through the Senate and House, and it was signed by the governor in a matter of hours.  The secret amendment that had been folded into this law established a state appointed emergency manager for the Youngstown Schools and any other district rated “F” for three years.  Ohio’s state appointed emergency managers, like those in Michigan, will have financial control and can even abrogate formally approved union contracts.

Wisconsin’s budget, signed by Governor Scott Walker on Sunday night, does the same sort of damage as Ohio’s.

Governor Walker has the same line-item veto as Ohio’s governor, and he exercised the veto 104 times.  Sadly, in Walker’s case, the Wisconsin governor did not line-item veto several measures the legislature had put in the budget.   The state’s own superintendent of public instruction had recommended that Walker veto a plan to take over the Milwaukee Public Schools with the same kind of emergency manager Ohio just imposed on Youngstown.  And the state superintendent had urged Walker to veto, “a ceiling on special-education funding, a scheme to relax teacher licensure, and plans to expand charter and voucher schools,” according to   Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post. Strauss comments on the measures Tony Evers, the state superintendent, had urged Walker to veto: “A number of the measures had no public debate, and were quietly put into the legislation by Republicans, who perhaps hoped nobody would notice that they were pushing the Milwaukee schools takeover, expanding the state’s voucher program, and adding a new civics test as a high school graduation requirement.”  The state takeover of the Milwaukee Schools became law on Sunday night.

The Progressive reports that Walker signed the expansion of vouchers as part of the budget bill: “The voucher plan that expands statewide with this budget combines tax breaks for private school tuition with budget allocations for vouchers.  It lays the groundwork for two separate and unequal publicly funded education systems in the state: one public school system hamstrung by budget cuts, revenue caps, and increasing demands for accountability and ‘teacher effectiveness,’ and another system comprised of mainly Catholic, Lutheran, and fundamentalist Christian religious schools funded with public money either directly through vouchers or indirectly through massive tax deductions.”

Actually the budget Walker signed cuts neither as much funding as he had hoped from the University of Wisconsin system nor from the public schools. The Associated Press reports that the budget brought forward from Wisconsin’s legislative budget committee increased funding for education above Walker’s original budget proposal last winter, scaling “back a $300 million cut the governor wanted to impose on the (state university) system by $50 million.  The panel also rejected deep funding cuts for K-12 public schools….”  Fortunately Walker signed the budget without cuts as deep for public education or for the state universities as he had preferred.

The legislature, however, had incorporated into the budget Walker’s plan to eliminate tenure for college professors in the state university system. Kimberly Hefling reports for Politico: “Specifically the changes allow the University of Wisconsin system Board of Regents—16 of whose 18 members are appointed by the governor—to set tenure policies instead of having tenure protections spelled out in state law.”  The budget also includes “a measure that modifies state law to specify that regents can fire faculty when they deem it necessary because a program has been discontinued or changed in other ways, not just when a financial emergency exists, as it had been spelled out in state law.”

Yesterday Valerie Strauss re-printed a blog post about the Wisconsin budget from Bob Peterson, editor of Rethinking Schools magazine: “The Wisconsin budget accelerates Walker’s four-year attack on the public sector, in particular the public schools.  Among its measures are an expansion of a voucher program that provides taxpayer funding of private schools and cuts of $250 million to the state’s nationally renowned public university system… There is one common theme to Walker’s budget: underfunding public institutions; expanding the privatization of government functions, restricting environmental protections,and decimating workers’ rights.”

Scott Walker launched his candidacy for President yesterday.  John Kasich plans to announce his candidacy soon.  Beware the policies of tax slashers who eschew regulation of the charter industry, who support vouchers for private and parochial schools, who believe in abrogating democracy with appointed school district emergency managers, and who are willing to cut essential public services instead of finding a way to raise essential revenue.

Walker stands out, however, among all the other Republican candidates for President because of his persistent attack on higher education—his eagerness to slash funding, eliminate due process protections for professors, and even shift the mission of the university from preparing citizens to providing job training.

Help Take Back Ohio State Board of Education from Far Right: Elect Michael Charney

Just over a year ago, I discovered that the young woman sitting at my table at a League of Women Voters event is a member of the Ohio State Board of Education.  She was, I later learned, elected by voters in a huge, gerrymandered state school board district, by a constituency that organized to promote the rights of home-schooling families.  Sarah Fowler (State School Board District 7) has never attended a public school; neither is she college-educated.  A young adult in her early twenties, she was home-schooled. As an adolescent she ran an egg business as part of her family’s farming enterprise.

Ohio’s state board of education is made up of nineteen members—eleven elected and eight appointed by the governor. Earlier this week in anticipation of the 2014 November election, Ohio’s Plunderbund blog described what has been happening on our state board: “Over the past few years, conservative activists have been quietly and diligently working to take control of local and state school boards around the country.  Ohio is no exception.  John Kasich used his position as Governor to pack Ohio’s State Board of Education with social conservatives and pro-charter activists.  Board member Cathye Smith Flory, for example, believes all kids in public schools should be taught about creationism.  Debe Terhar, the outgoing board president, compared Obama to Hitler on her Facebook page.  And Mark Smith, who also serves as president of Ohio Christian University, claimed Ohio-born novelist Toni Morrison should be banned for her ‘socialist-communist agenda’ and went on a rant about the evils of ‘Equality’ and the benefits of ‘traditional marriage’ at Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom coalition conference.”

In Ohio, the eleven districts that elect members of the State Board of Education are so large that it’s likely one doesn’t know much about the candidates running in one’s own district.  District 8, for example, includes all or part of 13 counties all the way along the Ohio River and including Youngstown on the north and Athens, the home of Ohio University, toward the south.  District 1 covers Ohio’s northwest corner—nearly a quarter of the state geographically—including all or part of 23 counties. The way this is all set up makes it easy, when voters are not paying attention, for a relatively small, organized constituency to get its candidate into office.

Domination of Ohio’s State Board of Education changed considerably when, nineteen years ago, the governor was given more control.  An eleven member board was expanded to nineteen, with eight seats to be appointed by the governor.  Doug Livingston of the Akron Beacon Journal explains that, “the independent representative school board created by voters 60 years ago… no longer exists.  In 1995, the legislature added eight more chairs to the 11 elected seats at the table, to be filled by the governor, and for all practical purposes, took the board out of the hands of voters and made Ohio one of only three states to have a hybrid membership.  The reason for the change: The elected 11 had endorsed a lawsuit called Nathan DeRolph vs. State of Ohio alleging that the legislature and governor were not adequately funding public education.”

Here are some facts about the state board that Livingston recounted in his investigation a year ago: eight of nine state board committees are chaired by white men; seven of nine committees are chaired by the governor’s appointees; only one member of the state board now lives in an urban school district, despite that 25 percent of Ohio’s public school students reside in urban areas.  According to Livingston, despite that the state board positions are non-partisan, “Almost all appointees are significant Republican donors, organizers or fundraisers.  About a third of the members attended private schools or send their kids to private schools.”

Livingston continues: “What role does the state board play?  Members write the detailed rules that put laws into action.  They create academic standards and definitions, approve curriculum, establish test benchmarks, outline teacher evaluations and more.”

Despite the growth in the governor’s power to appoint eight members of the state board, the public controls eleven seats, and there is a move this fall to take back some seats from the far right.  Two contested seats are particularly important in the 2014 November election because two retired public school educators are running.  Pat Bruns, a thirty-year retired educator, is a candidate in District 4 (Cincinnati) for the seat state board president, Deb Terhar, will vacate.

Retired Cleveland teacher, Michael Charney, seeks to replace Sarah Fowler, the Ashtabula County advocate for home-schoolers and the young woman I met last year.  I have personally known and admired Michael for years.  For a long time he has been a dedicated advocate for public schools, for adequately funded public schools, for his students, and for school teachers. Here is the platform he endorses: listen to the expertise of classroom and school educators to define classroom life; focus on the literacy life of 3- and 4-year olds; regulate online charter schools so that public school districts do not lose hundreds of millions of dollars; promote public education—not the privatization of public schools; emphasize arts, music, extracurricular activities and physical education, as well as career and college ready preparation; and use the insights of motivated high school students to help their peers who fall behind.

In Ohio, Michael Charney’s basic statement of support for the classic mission of public education is a radical departure from the status quo on our state board of education.  If you live in Ashtabula, Trumbull, Portage, or Geauga County, or the part of Lake or Summit County in State Board District 7, I heartily encourage you to vote for Michael Charney.  If you live somewhere else, but you know people in these counties, I urge you to talk to them about taking back Ohio’s state board of education to protect the rights of the students in Ohio’s public schools and to protect our democracy.

Money Follows Child in Ohio Budget—Cleveland Public Schools Learn They Lose Millions

All spring through the 2014-2015 biennial Ohio budget debate in Columbus, the legislature was provided printouts of the implications of the budget for the state’s 631 school districts.  The only catch is that the printouts counted charter schools as part of their public school districts for budgeting purposes.  Nobody—no legislator, no school superintendent, no school board member, no citizen—could tell how much money the public schools in any school district would receive once money followed some children to charter schools.

Critics questioned whether there might not be school districts that appeared in the printouts to benefit from additional state aid or at least stay even but would actually lose state funding when the money for the charters was broken out.  Computer runs that would reveal the truth did not appear before the budget was passed by the legislature and signed in to law by Ohio’s Governor John Kasich on June 30.

Months later and a couple of weeks into this school year, the Ohio Legislative Services Commission released the data.  The September 6 Plain Dealer shared the news:  “Estimates for how much the state would deduct from districts for students attending charter schools were not available when the budget passed June 29….  The most dramatic case those estimates reveal is the Cleveland school district, which has no aid increase from the 2012-2013 school year to the current school year under the budget, but much higher deductions for charter students.  Depending on how you calculate it, the district will end up with $3 million to $4.5 million less for its students, after the state deducts a greater share for charter schools.”  In other words Cleveland, one of the nation’s poorest big city school districts, had been told its state aid would stay even in the upcoming budget cycle, only to learn this week that it will lose millions of dollars it had counted on.  And this after Cleveland voters passed a 15 mill levy last November to replace the millions cut by the state in the 2012-2013 budget.

There are ample reasons to be concerned about the emergence and growth of Ohio charter schools.  A recent report by the Columbus Dispatch describes Charter Schools’ Failed Promise. Our state is reputed to be among the weakest in its regulatory oversight of charters, with many earning state-issued grades of D or F on the report cards issued by the Ohio Department of Education.  To his credit, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson tried to create a Cleveland Transformation Alliance with the power to authorize only quality charters and to put the rest out of business, but it turned out that the legislative fine print denies the Transformation Alliance any real power to regulate Cleveland’s charters.

Of additional concern, however, is the allegation made by reporter Stephanie Simon in a Reuters investigative report last February, Class Struggle–How Charter Schools Get Students They Want, that one of Cleveland’s top-rated charters is controlling its test scores by selecting its students.  According to Simon,  a boy at the top of the waiting list for the Intergenerational Charter School was required to take a two-hour entrance examination.  The principal  then told the mother the child “wasn’t academically or developmentally ready for third-grade–even though he was enrolled in the third grade at his local public school, where he remains.”  Simon continues: “A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education said charter schools are obligated to admit students into the grade they would attend at their neighborhood school, regardless of skill.”  Simon continues: “The community authorizer that supervises Intergenerational Charter said that it is confident the school’s admissions policy is legal but that it will review the policy.”

Simon’s article describes the many ways charter schools across the United States cream-skim the most promising students and those whose parents bring the most savvy to the application process; she alleges that the sometimes subtle ways charters select students leave behind students with special needs, English language learners, and homeless and other children living in extreme poverty.  These students are the most expensive to educate  In Cleveland this year we see the state budget punishing the public school district which is required to serve all children.

In a fascinating analogy, former middle school life sciences teacher Anthony Cody blogged last winter that charter schools exist as organisms in a symbiotic arrangement.  He warns that parasitism, in which one set of organisms are “helped at the expense of the other,” cannot survive if the parasites kill off their hosts.