From the New York Post, here’s a story to keep an eye on. New York City officials are investigating a for-profit company that tutored more than 9,000 city schoolchildren last year and that has taken in millions in federal dollars via the No Child Left Behind Act. Officials appear tight-lipped as to the nature of the investigation, though the article suggests a probe is underway of the entire for-profit tutoring industry.
School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
Articles from October, 2004
This election season, a Michigan-based pro-voucher group is doing its darnedest to elect pro-voucher candidates to state legislatures in South Carolina, Utah, and Florida. Not only has the Michigan group strayed a bit from its home base—which loudly said NO to vouchers four years ago (more on that in a second)—but the group’s members can’t even bring themselves to mention the word “vouchers.”
The St. Petersburg Times reports that the group, which coyly calls itself “All Children Matter,” has dumped a half million bucks to elect pro-voucher candidates to Florida’s state legislature, but it carefully avoids using the word “voucher” in any of its advertisements and political mailers. The paper’s editorial staff nails the group for its “camouflaged campaign.” One Floridian says she’s had enough with the absurdity of the voucher lobby: “So we get a voucher group that refuses to say the word voucher, and a representative who passes voucher legislation, but says he is not for vouchers. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it.”
Out west, the Michigan-based group is, by far, the top financial contributor to a Utah pro-voucher group trying to elect like-minded candidates to its state legislature. The Utah legislature has rejected efforts to pass a tuition tax credit bill four straight years.
So again, who are these Michigan folks who are trying to tell people who live thousands of miles away whom they should elect to govern their states and spend their hard-earned tax dollars? As we noted in June, the group is led by Dick DeVos, the architect of the failed 2000 ballot initiative to bring vouchers to his own state, Michigan. Although voucher advocates outspent public school advocates by a 2 to 1 margin, 69 percent of Michigan voters rejected the plan. The voucher initiative lost in every county and among every demographic and socioeconomic group.
The apparent lesson? Take the show on the road (preferably far, far from Michigan) and avoid all usage of the word that describes your unpopular idea. And who said honesty and integrity are lacking in politics?
A survey of 2,000 attendees of NSBA’s T+L2 conference reveals their chief concerns are integrating technology into the classroom and ensuring sufficient funding to achieve that goal. Here is NSBA’s report on the survey. Another key point: 45 percent report that suspensions of E-Rate payments resulting from FCC actions have affected their district. Of those, 61 percent of those say they are unable to budget for next year, and 32 percent say they are unable to use their district’s savings to cover other critical education costs.
The state of Washington is the setting for a different variation of the state school funding adequacy litigation we’ve been following. A coalition of eleven school districts is suing the state for failing to fulfill its constitutional duty to fund special education specifically, rather than education generally. Summary of newspaper coverage, with a link to the legal complaint, here. And more info on the suit and the Alliance from its law firm, Preston Gates & Ellis, LLP, here. Firm partner Karen Simmonds, by the way, is a member of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys and chairs the Washington Council of School Attorneys.
In order to make up the special ed funding shortfall, the school districts say they are having to divert funding from their local tax levies that was supposed to be earmarked for enrichment programs. The Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) has announced that its second highest legislative priority for the 2005 legislative session is to require 100% funding of the actual costs of required special education services.
The state department of education says it shares the districts’ frustration but regrets the lawsuit. Interestingly, the Washington State Special Education Coalition, whose broad membership roster lists WSSDA and other state education groups, has issued a statement denouncing the suit and expressing concern that some may interpret the suit as implying that school financial woes are the fault of children with special needs. The statement says the group would prefer to focus on a broader, basic ed lawsuit. WSSDA’s Director of Policy and Legal Service, Marilee Scarbrough, tells BoardBuzz that the statement may not entirely reflect what all of the group’s members believe but that everyone is committed to special education and understands the funding problem is more systemic.
Meanwhile, a sharp Seattle Times editorial highlights some the problems: Congress underfunds special education year after year, increasing the funds overall but coming nowhere near its 40 percent contribution. The state’s formula reduces state funding as federal dollars increase, which again bears no relation to actual school district costs and makes matters worse. State lawmakers refuse to fund a study of the formula. State officials propose stop-gap measures. And local school boards have to keep “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by doing things like choosing between special education and music.
Bottom line, says the Times: “These fixes only stave off the inevitable. Education needs long-term funding solutions. The courts have weighed in before. But the Legislature holds paramount duty of funding education. The Legislature must find the solutions.”
The passions are high and the divisions deep on the local school board governance ballot question Detroit voters will decide Nov. 2. Check out this in-depth look at the issue by Ann Mullen of the Detroit Metro-Times.
This opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press sums up quite nicely the sentiments of many Detroiters who have decided to vote no:
“Proposal E is evil because it creates a super CEO accountable to no one other than the mayor. Only the mayor can appoint the CEO, and only the mayor can fire the CEO. If the school board becomes convinced that the CEO is acting in bad faith or is guilty of malfeasance, they are powerless to act.
“Proposal E would empower the mayor-appointed CEO in ways no other school CEO or superintendent could imagine. In no other school district in the nation, including districts where the city controls the public schools, does the CEO have sole authority over contracts. The Proposal E CEO approves all contracts under $250,000 with no checks and balances whatsoever; contracts over $250,000 may be reviewed—but not approved—by the school board. … The proponents of Proposal E want to make this a referendum on the past as proof that Detroiters can’t elect competent board members. Detroit Public Schools were once virtually a city department with oversight by the mayor and City Council and that governance model failed. That’s why an elected and empowered school was established in 1949.
“When elected officials fail to perform in a responsible and ethical manner, our democracy provides an answer. We can throw them out of office at the next election. Only in Detroit has it been suggested that the solution to problems with elected school boards is to either stop electing a board or to elect a powerless board. Proposal E is evil because it insults Detroiters of all walks of life. The problems of public schools are complex and won’t be fixed overnight. There is absolutely nothing in Proposal E that speaks to student achievement, reduced classroom size or increased parental involvement. … “
Some more good historical perspective relayed by Luther Keith of the Detroit News here. Keith’s tag line: “Detroiters will have to decide what is the better course—to repeat history or learn from it.”
Hats off to this Palm Beach Post editorial pointing out the double standard for public schools and private education ventures when it comes to tutoring and testing.
Three gems from Memphis’ Commercial Appeal newspaper on the roles and responsibilities of and crucial need for school boards. The website requires free registration. Trust us. This is one time it’s actually worth it. No “Cliff’s Notes” version coming from BoardBuzz on these op-eds. Read every word for yourself. David Waters’ column is a great overview that doesn’t shy away from some sobering truths. (He also includes a pullout quote from the “Do School Boards Matter” posted on NSBA’s Center for Public Education website, but that’s not the only reason we like it). Former Memphis school board member and current city councilwoman TaJuan Stout Mitchell says the boards’ “number 1 role is to speak for the kids.” And former Memphis school board member Barbara Prescott on what makes boards effective.
Parents of a Maryland fifth-grader weighed in with their perspective on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in this weekend’s Washington Post. Read their entire op-ed here. They don’t think much of the all-or-nothing AYP approach:
“Piney Branch met the law’s ‘adequate yearly progress’ goals in reading and math for all students and in the following specified categories: white; African American; Asian; Hispanic; low-income (eligible for free or reduced-price meals); and limited English proficiency. This progress is particularly important considering the school’s diversity — it is 43 percent African American, 32 percent white, 20 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian. Forty-two percent of its students receive free or reduced-priced lunches. As a result, Piney Branch is a ‘Title I’ school, meaning that it serves a large proportion of low-income students, they wrote.NSBA and a large group of education and civil rights organizations issued a joint statement last week outlining broad areas of NCLB needing improvement. Go here for that. Good story here on efforts by NSBA’s Reginald Felton to inform education leaders how it may play out. Felton says: Look for hearings after the election.
“But the No Child Left Behind Act treats Piney Branch as a failure because it missed its adequate yearly progress goal in just one sub-category — math for special education students. This category involved 28 students out of a student body of 510, and the same students met their reading goal.”
The flu vaccine shortage has become a school story now. With too few flu shots to go around, federal officials are weighing in with advice for schoolchildren and school employees: wash your hands frequently and stay home if you’re sick. Really insightful, isn’t it? The A.P. reports that a Texas elementary school has its students washing their hands with soap for 10 seconds — telling them to hum “Happy Birthday” to keep time. What’re your school districts doing? Let us know.