Survey Shows Weak Support For Charters, Vouchers

If you are an education “junkie” chances are you are familiar with Education Week, one of the top sources for info about all facets of education.

Here is a great example.  Titled U.S. Education in 2017 in 10 Charts, this article uses graphs to get the message across since numbers can sometimes explain an issue better that words.

The topic that grabbed my attention is Many Educators Are Skeptical of School Choice, Including Conservatives.  A national survey by the publication released in December indicated that classroom teachers, principals and superintendents are highly skeptical of vouchers, charter schools and tax-credit scholarships.  These include many who voted for Donald Trump.

Response by 1,007 people to the question: Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools, publicly funded schools that are not managed by the local school board? showed 45 percent opposed.  And 26 percent somewhat opposed.  On the other hand, only 7 percent said they were totally supportive.

Interestingly enough, 65 percent of Trump voters oppose charter schools.  However, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, is a wholehearted charter support.  But then all survey respondents were educators and DeVos is not.

Some 1,002 responded to the question: Do you support or oppose government funding to help pay for students’ tuition at private schools?

Of these, 58 percent are completely opposed and 19 percent are somewhat opposed.  Only 8 percent completely support.  As to Trump voters, 70 percent oppose.

So why do we have private school vouchers through the Alabama Accountability Act and the mayor of Montgomery pushing charters schools?  Because none of those supporting such measures are educators.

Trump/DeVos Push Charters And Vouchers

It is hardly a surprise the President Trump’s first education budget is charter/voucher friendly, while wanting the single largest one-year cut in eduation spending (13.5 percent) since President Reagan tried to whack 35.7 percent in 1983.

Education Week does a good job of detailing the Trump proposal in this artcle.

Highlights include:

“President Donald Trump’s full budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Education, released on Tuesday, includes big shifts in funding priorities and makes cuts to spending for teacher development, after-school enrichment, and career and technical education, while ramping up investments in school choice. 

A $1 billion cash infusion for Title I’s services for needy children would be earmarked as grants designed to promote public school choice, instead of going out by traditional formulas to school districts. These would be called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) grants, according to a summary of the department’s budget, that would provide money to school districts using weighted student funding formulas and open enrollment policies.

And charter school grants, which currently get $342 million in federal aid, would get nearly a 50 percent increase and get $500 million. Finally, a program originally tailored to research innovative school practices would be retooled to research and promote vouchers, and get a funding boost of $270 million, bringing it up to $370 million.

On Monday evening, in a speech at the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group, DeVos said it would be a terrible mistake for states not to participate in Trump’s proposed school choice initiative: “They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it. If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids.”

(Prior to being named Secretary of Education, DeVos was chair of the board of the Amercian Federtion for Children, a group she founded.  This organization has an affiliated organization in Alabama, the Alabama Federation for Children, that has spent out-of-state money in legislative and state school board races.)


Terri Collins Is “Baffled”?

Top-notch politicians are seldom truly surprised at the outcome of any vote.  Certainly not when a “beat down” is about to happen.

And as we reported earlier, that’s exactly what happened last Thursday when HB 245 by Rep. Terri Collins finally made it to the House floor for a vote.  Of the 71 Republicans in the House, Collins got only 31 of them to vote for her bill. which lost 48-32.  Some 22 Republicans voted against the bill, while 18 others did not vote.

(Technically it was not HB 245 that was defeated, but a procedural vote that would have allowed the bill to come up for a vote.  If both budgets have not gone to the governor, legislation must first get by a Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR) to come up for a vote.  This requires a 3/5 vote of members present and voting.  If all 105 House members were present, the BIR would need 63 votes to pass.  There were 80 members present when this BIR came up.  So it needed 48 “yea” votes, but only got 32.)

Yet in reporting by Mary Sell in the Decatur Daily: “State Rep. Terri Collins says she was baffled last week by the lack of support from Republicans and Democrats for her bill to change current charter school laws. Her bill would have left more local funding — thousands of dollars, depending on the system — in local schools if a child decided instead to attend a charter school.”

Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, was one of the GOP members to vote against the bill. He said his opposition wasn’t as much about the legislation, but about charter schools in general. He said his district, which includes part of Morgan County, has good public school systems that are always seeking new revenue. He is concerned charters take money away.

There has been a feeling among public education that they have been under attack,” Shedd said. “I think this is a message that public education is a priority.”

It was Collins’ 2015 legislation that opened the door for charter schools in the state.

Truth is a lot more of Collins’ Republican colleagues may be listening to their local educators than she does.  The Alabama Education Association (AEA) worked hard to defeat this bill.  They encouraged legislators to contact their local school superintendents before making up their minds.  Apparently many of them did.



Charter School Bill Crashes And Burns In House Vote

Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur, chair of the House Education Policy Committee, has been working diligently all session to pass HB 245 which would amend the present charter school bill passed just two years ago.

She was poised to bring up the bill before her own committee several times, but didn’t because she did not have enough votes to pass it out of committee.  She finally got over this hurdle when one “no” vote switched to “yes.”

She was not so fortunate when the bill came before the full house on May 4.  It was not only defeated, but RESOUNDINGLY so.

The Republicans hold a majority of House seats, 71 vs. 34 for the Democrats.  Yet Collins could only round up 31 others, besides herself, to vote in favor of the bill.  And of the 48 “nay” votes, 22 of them were Republicans.  In addition, 18 other Republicans did not vote at all.

The Alabama Education Association was strongly opposed to the bill because they believe it took more power away from local school boards.  They worked the bill very hard and encouraged legislators to check with their local superintendents to see how they felt.

Collins has been a force to be reckoned with since becoming chair of this committee in 2015.  But there is a definite power shift underway since Mac McCutchen became Speaker of the House after Mike Hubbard was convicted of 12 felony counts last year.  The fact that Collins had so much trouble moving this bill from the committee she chairs is evidence that some legislative winds are now blowing in a different direction.

This can only be seen as good news for public education as Collins is not considered a friend of public schools in the least.  She sponsored the A-F school grading bill, even though no educators can figure out how it is supposed to benefit them.  She has also been an outspoken proponent of the Alabama Accountability Act and charter schools.


Facts Can Be A Worrisome Thing

In spite of what we hear out of Washington these days, I still believe there are such things as facts.  You know, honest-to-goodness stuff that can not be refuted.  Like a day is 24 hours long or a foot is 12 inches.

So as I sat in an overflowing room at the Statehouse yesterday listening to the back and forth about the merits–or demerits–of making changes to Alabama’s charter school bill, there were moments when it was obvious real facts were probably in short supply.  One was when House member Rod Scott of Jefferson County stated that most schools in New Orleans today are charter schools that are less than outstanding.

Committee chair and sponsor of the bill in question, member Terri Collins vigorously shook her head in disagreement with Scott’s statement.

So I decided to find out for myself.

You begin by going here to the Louisiana state department of education web site and pulling up 2016 school performance scores.  Scroll down to schools listed in Orleans/Recovery school district  to get letter grades for schools.  You can even go here to dig deeper in each school’s score.

Then check out this list of charters in the New Orleans Recovery School District to cross check info.

Here’s what I found:

There are 45 identified charter schools in the list just above that have letter grade scores on the state department web site.  How are they doing?

Not so well it appears.

There is only one A school, four rated as B, 19 as C, 14 as D, and seven as F.

So only 11 percent are A or B.  And it’s hard to crow from the rooftop about how well charters are doing in New Orleans.  And seems to me that member Collins was shaking her head in the wrong direction.

I am reminded of several years ago when Governor Bentley visited three charters in New Orleans and came back to Alabama proclaiming that Louisiana was 15 years ahead of Alabama in education.  Turns out the three schools were ranked C, D and F.  Which helps make the point I hammer on all the time–when it comes to education, we would be far better served to listen to educators instead of politicians.



Charter Supporters Suffer Huge Loss In Massachusetts Nov. 8th

While the eyes of the world were focused on the Presidential election in the U.S. last week, an election as to whether or not to allow for more charter schools in Massachusetts also drew great interest.

Charters were authorized in the Bay State with the Education Reform Act of 1993.  (This is the legislation new Alabama state superintendent Mike Sentence helped write.)  Right now “Commonwealth” charters are capped at 120.  (Though there are only about 80 in the state.)

And voters were asked to vote “yes” or “no” on Nov. 8th on increasing the cap by 12 per year.  When all votes were counted, the “nos” got 62 percent while charter supporters only got 38 percent.   In south Alabama this is called a “whupping.”

Like most such efforts these days, out-of-state money flowed into Massachusetts on the “yes” side.  As best can be determined, some $26 million funded this campaign.  Wall Street hedge fund managers gave millions.  Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg contributed nearly $500,000. Alice and Jim Walton, Wal-Mart heirs qave about $2 million.  (Both Waltons gave money to the Alabama Federation for Children that supported campaigns in our 2016 state school board elections.)

Republican Governor Charlie Baker backed the measure strongly.  So did Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser.  (Peyser holds the same policy slot Mike Sentence had 20 years ago.)  Peyser’s stance ruffled many feathers.

“He should resign,” says public school advocate Jennifer Berkshire.  “It’s outrageous that an official tasked with overseeing a public system in not only disinterested in it, but spends all of his time conspiring to blow it up.”  (Has she been watching the legislative committee meetings in Alabama where we are trying to sort through the debacle of last summer called a superintendent search?)

Money was a key issue that motivated opposition.  Under the Massachusetts funding formula, charters siphon away millions of dollars from public schools.  It is estimated that this will amount to more than $400 million in the current fiscal year.

The city auditor of Lowell, MA reported to their council that the city’s net cost for charters has more than doubled since 2007 and is projected at $17 million this year.  They have about 1,500 charter school students.

It is interesting to note that in many cases the strongest opposition to charter expansions came from communities that already have them. In Easthampton the “no” vote was 76.2 percent.  There, Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School will cost the community $940,000 this year.  “It comes right off the top,” said Mayor Karen Cadieux.  “Some say charters don’t cost us anything, but they can’t explain why I’m $940,000 short.”

While the “yes” campaign spent $26 million, the “no” campaign was well-funded to the tune of $10-12 million.  But it was apparently a grass-roots effort that won the day.  Some estimate that canvassers reached as many as 1.5 million voters asking them to oppose the measure.  The fact that two-thirds of the school committees (equivalent to our school boards) passed resolutions opposed to raising the cap was significant.

Out of all of this, the REAL message for Alabama is that you can beat city hall when you get motivated.  Will we ever reach such a point?  I would hope so.  Unfortunately, however, at this point I am not optimistic.  We might knock on thousands of doors if someone wanted to stop us from playing football; but to demand equity in the education our children get, that’s a different matter.