Public education in America is not failing. What is failing is our inability or unwillingness to relieve poverty. Children who live in poverty have lower achievement. This isn’t new information. Jonathan Kozol has been sounding the alarm since 1967. We should be ashamed that so many American children live in poverty.
It’s time for politicians to focus on reducing poverty and let the teachers who work with actual students help decide what is best for their students.
We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis.
Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it.
We must not go further down this rabbit hole. The future of our educational system, and the future of our children, is at stake. No one who has not worked in the sector of public education should be making decisions about our school system without careful consideration of the insights of those who will be directly impacted by those decisions.
Somehow we have forgotten that children who come to school from high poverty homes need more resources to help them learn, not fewer. They need counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists. They need well trained teachers, and support staff trained in remediation techniques. They need health care and an environment free from toxins like lead. They need pre-schools and summer programs.
It’s time we stop providing more for wealthy students than poor students. All our children need a fully funded, well staffed, and well resourced school.
Recent changes to Indiana’s school funding formula increased per-pupil funding across the state. At the same time it slashed special funding formerly given to students deemed at-risk, including students living in poverty, English-language learners and those who qualified for textbook assistance.
So, in certain districts with low populations of at-risk students, Sugimoto found, that although enrollment declined, the districts received an overall bump in funding per student. He says, in some cases, districts with fewer students saw their overall still increase.
“Those would have been districts that had very modest enrollment declines,” says Suigimoto, in an interview. “The increase in funding would have certainly made up for that.
Yet, overall funding across the state still lags behind pre-2009 rates, when adjusted for inflation.
Voucher programs currently in force in the U.S. have not helped children’s achievement, but they have reduced funds for an already cash strapped (not “flush with cash”) public schools. The “status quo” in 2117 America is the reduction of funds for public schools, increased test and punish policies, and a growing trend towards charter schools and vouchers for religious and private schools.
Instead of letting “the money follow the child” we ought to be “following the money” to see who is benefiting from the expansion of privatization schemes.
Research led by an Indiana University professor confirms what school voucher critics have long argued: Voucher programs receive public funding yet discriminate on the basis of religion, disability status, sexual orientation and possibly other factors.
The finding is especially timely as President Donald Trump and his designee to serve as secretary of education, Michigan school-choice activist Betsy DeVos, have indicated they will use federal clout and money to push states to expand voucher programs.
[Voucher programs] arguably run afoul of the establishment clause – what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the wall of separation between church and state. If not that, the widespread religious discrimination should raise concerns about the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. And some voucher schools appear to discriminate against special-needs students, which could raise issues with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Indiana General Assembly, not satisfied with one of the largest voucher programs in the nation, continues to come up with new ways to divert funds from public education to private pockets.
Note that Indiana’s voucher plan has not helped Indiana’s school achievement. Competition hasn’t resulted in better education for everyone…just inadequately funded public schools which still seem to out-perform privatized education options.
Broad and costly expansions of the so-called Choice Scholarship program are found in multiple bills, including Senate Bill 534, which will be heard by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee this afternoon.
SB 534 carries a price tag of as much as $206 million a year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Repackaged from last year’s unsuccessful “Educational Savings Accounts” to “Special Education Scholarship Accounts,” the intent is the same: Give parents an allotment of tax dollars to spend however they might choose. A companion bill in the House, HB 1591, carries an even more audacious price tag of as much as $366 million a year.
Give Indiana Republican legislators points for resourcefulness. They keep finding new ways to undermine public schools by expanding the state’s school voucher program. The latest, and arguably the most egregious, is the creation of Education Savings Accounts, state-funded accounts to pay for private schooling and other expenses.
Senate Bill 534, scheduled to be considered today by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, would create ESAs for the families of special-needs students who choose not to attend public school and don’t receive a private-school voucher.
The state would fund the ESAs with money that would otherwise go to the public schools where the students would be eligible to enroll — typically about $6,000 per student but potentially quite a bit more for some special-needs students. Then the students’ families could decide where to spend the money: private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, and other services from providers approved by the State Board of Education.
Here is Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, in a recent column commenting on what vouchers do to public school funding. This time the example is Mike Pence’s home state, Indiana: “Vouchers drain state tax dollars, creating deficits, or the need for tax increases. When Indiana started its voucher program, it claimed it would save taxpayers money. Not only did that not happen, the state’s education budget is now in deficit, and the millions shelled out for vouchers grows each year. Last year, vouchers cost the taxpayers of Indiana $131.5 million as caps and income levels were raised. Indiana now gives vouchers to families with incomes as high as $90,000 and to students who never attended a public school.” Burris adds that while the program was passed, “promising that it would help poor and lower-middle class families find schools they like for their children… as it turned out, five years after it began, more than half of the state’s voucher recipients have never attended Indiana public schools and many vouchers are going to wealthier families, those earning up to $90,000 for a household of four.”
PUBLIC EDUCATION 101 FOR BETSY DEVOS
Betsy DeVos, the newly confirmed Secretary of Education for the United States, has assumed control over the office charged with overseeing America’s system of public education. She has no experience in public schools: not as a teacher or educator, parent, or even a student. She is arguably the least qualified person to ever hold the office, with the possible exception of Bill Bennett (who also had minimal encounters with public education, but he at least earned his Ph.D. in political philosophy from a public university).
As a public service, here are a couple of things which could serve to educate Secretary DeVos about public schools…including an excerpt from the Michigan Constitution about public education.
Betsy DeVos does not understand what it is like to teach in any school let alone poor public schools. She does not understand what the lives of real teachers and students are like…
Here’s what’s hard. I have added a few new points:
- Watching your school district throw money at unproven technology when basic needs are your students not met.
- Being dismissed as a teacher, when you are the only professional in the room who understands children and how they learn.
- Being dismissed as a parent, when you understand your child best.
- Being an over tested kindergartner, not getting any recess, and being made to feel you are a failure before you get started in your schooling.
- Coming to school hungry and/or sick, or having an untreated toothache.
- Sending your child to a school that has no school nurse.
- Working on a day-to-day basis with students who come from abject poverty, who face all the terrible problems that come with that.
- Not having a home.
- Being a child with disabilities and being afraid of a high-stakes test (or several) you don’t understand and feeling like a failure!
- Having such a large class with so many diverse students you know it will be difficult to teach.
- Not having enough resources and materials to teach effectively.
We still need public schools…
The mission of public education is sixfold.
1. To provide universal access to free education
2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children
3. To unify a diverse population
4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient
6. To improve social conditions
That mission has been accepted by the states and most have provisions for public schools in their constitutions. The constitution of Michigan, for example, provides for free, universal, public education.
§ 2 Free public elementary and secondary schools; discrimination.
Sec. 2. The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.
The constitution also provides for universities, public libraries, and a popularly elected state board of education. In 1970 the state decided to prohibit private schools and private school students from using public tax money.
No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students.