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November 25, 2021

Arizona Anti-Mask Vouchers Experience Slow Rollout

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s contested $10 million anti-mask school voucher program is off to a slow start, funding less than 100 vouchers despite receiving over 2,000 applications, the Associated Press reported.

The program uses federal aid from the American Rescue Plan to fund $7,000 vouchers for students whose families wish to transfer out of public schools that require masks or vaccinations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and withholds $163 million in aid from schools with restrictions, according to the AP. Though the governor said that his goal was to get students back into classrooms, over a third of the children receiving the new vouchers are enrolled in online schools, the AP reported.

The slow pace of the voucher awards was defended by a Ducey spokesman, according to the AP, and attributed it to the “rigorous” vetting process set up by the Governor’s Office. After touting in early September that the program had attracted 2,600 applicants in its first 13 days with 69 approvals, only 24 additional vouchers were approved in October, and less than $50,000 of the $10 million allocated to the program had been spent.

In October, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo sent a letter to Governor Ducey warning him that he violated “permissible use” of the relief money by creating programs that “undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” and gave him 30 days to remedy the issues with the programs or face further action. Ducey’s office openly defied the Treasury Department’s directive, writing that the funds were serving “disadvantaged communities” who “bear the brunt of overbearing measures.”

According to the AP, parents who applied for vouchers “complained about a lack of communication and being left without the money they were promised,” and said that “the Governor’s Office often just doesn’t respond to their emails.” Ducey, who said he was not aware of any such trouble, told the AP that “there may be a gap we need to close there.”

November 20, 2021

West Virginia Approves First Virtual Charter Schools

The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board approved the state’s first two statewide virtual charter schools in a 3-0 vote, The West Virginia Gazette reported. Starting next year, the West Virginia Virtual Academy will enroll up to 2,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade while the Virtual Preparatory Academy of West Virginia will enroll up to 2,000. The board did not approve a third virtual charter, the West Virginia Connections Academy, which would have enrolled an additional 3,500 students, the Gazette reported.

The West Virginia Virtual Academy will be operated by Stride, Inc.—formerly K12, Inc.—the nation’s largest for-profit educational management organization by total enrollment, according to a report from the National Education Policy Center. The Virtual Preparatory Academy of West Virginia will be operated by Accel Schools, a division of Pansophic Learning, the Gazette reported. According to the same NEPC report, Accel operates 36 other schools in six states other than West Virginia. Both Pansophic Learning and K12, Inc. were founded by Ron Packard.

In March, West Virginia authorized the nation’s broadest voucher program. Beginning in September 2022, this program will provide $4,600 scholarships to all K-12 students whose families choose to send to private schools, even if they already don’t use public schools, according to the Gazette.

According to the West Virginia charter school law, the state is limited to two statewide online charter schools. The board stated that it “regrets” that cap in its official statement on their decision, reported the Gazette. The law allows for 10 additional brick-and-mortar charters, three of which were also approved by the board. Two of those schools will be administered by Accel.

November 19, 2021

Ohio Report Cards Reveal Poorer Performance Among Charters

Scott DiMauro, the president of the Ohio Education Association, penned a commentary published in the Ohio Capital Journal comparing Ohio charter school report card results to those of public schools during the pandemic. DiMauro urged voters to oppose House Bill 290, which would establish universal vouchers in the state.

The state of Ohio releases report cards for school buildings and districts every year in order to track their performance, and the COVID-19 pandemic had an obvious impact on student performance, as reflected in the report cards released this year, DiMauro wrote.

Ohio’s public schools saw a 10 percent drop in Performance Index (PI) scores from the 2018-19 school year to the 2020-21 school year while chronic absenteeism rose from 7.5 percent to 17 percent. Over the same period, however, charter schools saw a 25 percent drop in PI scores while chronic absenteeism rose from 22 percent to 45 percent. The KIPP charter school in Columbus, part of the nation’s leading charter network, saw a 66 percent decrease in its PI scores, DiMauro wrote, more than double the drop of Columbus public schools.

DiMauro also pointed out that there are no data available on “private, mostly religious schools,” since they “are not subject to any of the same accountability standards as public districts.” The report cards that were released “should be seriously alarming to Ohio’s taxpayers,” DiMauro wrote.

The bill is a vague piece of legislation introduced in June which consists of a single paragraph committing the state to revising current laws so as to allow “families to choose the option for all computed funding amounts associated with students’ education to follow them to the schools they attend.”

November 17, 2021

David Banks, Advocate of Internal Reform, Favored to be NYC’s Next Schools Chancellor

Chalkbeat ran a profile on David Banks, the lawyer, longtime school administrator, and advisor to Eric Adams who is favored to be the mayor-elect’s pick for schools chancellor. Banks served as a key advisor to Adams during the campaign, and advised Mayor Bill de Blasio on how to reopen schools for the 2020 school year.

In 2004, Banks helped launch and then led the Eagle Academy for Young Men, which grew into a network of six public schools that are dedicated to educating historically underserved students. These six schools serve middle and high school students in each of the five boroughs and Newark. Banks first served as principal at the first location in the Bronx, and then as the president and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation, according to New York One. The success of the schools is mixed: two of them (located in Brooklyn and Queens) boast graduation rates of 90 percent—13 percent above the city average—while the network’s Bronx school has a low graduation rate of 71 percent, according to Chalkbeat.

The Eagle Academy was opened during the school choice reform era of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Along with Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor from 2002 to 2011, Bloomberg sang the praises of Banks, Chalkbeat reported. None of Eagle Academy’s schools are charters and, according to Chalkbeat, Banks advocates reforming schools in accordance with union contracts rather than outsourcing management to charter operators.

Adams has yet to announce who will lead America’s largest public school district. If tapped, Banks will have to navigate enlivened debates over the gifted program, high school admissions, COVID-19 restrictions, and equity in the city’s schools.

November 15, 2021

De Blasio Walks Back Promise to Remove Geographic Screens for High School Admissions

At a press conference last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that “decisions have not been made” as to whether he will remove geographic screens from high school admissions, Chalkbeat reported. The decision walks back a promise made last winter to eliminate the preferences given in high school admissions to students who live in the same borough or neighborhood as the school, a practice which has exacerbated segregation in th city’s schools.

A spokesperson for the education department told Chalkbeat that the department is “evaluating the policy to remove high school borough and zone priorities this admission cycle based on feedback we’ve received from school communities.”

A press release from the winter cited the “longstanding inequities in our City’s public schools” that were further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and said that removing geographic barriers would “build on existing steps the administration has taken to advance diversity and equity in admissions decisions and expand opportunity for all students.”Priorities given to students living within a school district were removed from 48 schools last year, in what was supposed to kick off a two-year phase out of the practice.

According to Chalkbeat, 235 high schools prioritize students from their borough, 27 high schools give priorities for some seats to students in a certain geographic zone, and one school prioritizes all seats to students within a certain zone.

Eric Adams will be sworn in as mayor this January, and it is unclear how he plans to treat geographic screens for high school admissions.

November 11, 2021

Battle for Vouchers Continues in Kentucky

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based libertarian think tank with a successful record defending school choice programs, have filed appeals challenging an October ruling that struck down Kentucky’s new tax-credit scholarship program, WFPL reported.

The hotly contested Education Opportunity Account program, which provides $25 million in annual tax credits to fund scholarships for families who send their children to private schools, passed in March only after the Republican state legislature overrode a veto from Democratic Governor Andy Beshear. A circuit court judge ruled that the program violates provisions of the state constitution that prevent public funding from going to private schools, as well as anti-favoritism laws, according to WFPL.

Both parties filing appeals are requesting that the case be expedited to the state supreme court, reported WFPL, and the Institute for Justice is asking the court to stay the circuit court order to allow the program to move forward throughout the appeals process.

November 05, 2021

DeVos Celebrates Youngkin Win as Victory for School Choice

Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reflected on Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election on Fox News, crediting his success to “the parent groundswell” and predicting that it will fuel the school choice movement as the country heads toward the 2022 midterm elections.

School choice and public schools were an issue that both candidates relied upon to court suburban voters. In a debate on September 29th, Youngkin’s Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, declared, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” igniting a backlash from Republicans.

Youngkin’s campaign was propelled by appealing to parents’ frustrations with public schools and frequent discussion of parental rights over their child’s education. In an op-ed he penned for Fox News days before the election, Youngkin criticized pandemic-related school closures, crumbling school infrastructure, and low teacher salaries, while adding that “parent empowerment around choice is simply paramount.”

DeVos told Fox that the Virginia election is a sign that “parents are revolting against a system that has been totally self-serving,” citing the lockdowns, mask mandates, and alluding to the conservative belief that students are being indoctrinated with left-wing politics in the classroom. DeVos also cited as groundless and inflammatory a letter from the National School Boards Association that said some protests over COVID-19 policies and critical race theory may be “equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism.”

DeVos told Fox News that after 35 years of advocating for “parental empowerment” and school choice, “this last year and a half, the momentum has built in ways that nobody could have predicted pre-pandemic.”

November 04, 2021

Arizona Governor Defies Treasury Department, Will Continue to Offer Anti-mask Vouchers

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey will defy a Treasury Department directive and continue to use federal COVID-19 relief money to fund two grant programs that disincentivize school mask mandates, the Associated Press reported.

Ducey used federal aid from the American Rescue Plan to create a $10 million program that provides up to $7,000 per student to families who wish to transfer out of a school that requires masks, and a separate $163 million grant program that provides additional per-pupil funding for schools that do not require their students to wear masks, according to Education Week.

In October, Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo penned a letter to the governor warning him that he violated the “permissible use” of relief by creating programs that “undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.” He gave the governor 30 days to remedy the issues with the programs or face further action, including the repayment of funds to the federal government, Education Week reported.

In response, Ducey aide Jason Mistlebauer wrote the Treasury Secretary and said that the funds were being used appropriately, since “disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of overbearing measures and the state wants to ensure that low-income students are not disproportionately affected by mask mandates rules and school closures,” quoted the AP.

As of October, at least $109 million in additional per-pupil funding was already distributed to schools that meet Governor Ducey’s requirements, AZCentral reported, and it is unknown how much of the $10 million set aside for transfer students has been allocated.

November 02, 2021

Michigan Ballot Drive Seeks to Block Governor Whitmer’s Voucher Veto

A ballot drive was launched in Michigan to sidestep Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s planned veto of a proposed tax-credit scholarship voucher program, the Associated Press reported. If the ballot committee, dubbed “Let MI Kids Learn,” collects 340,000 signatures from valid voters, the state Legislature can vote to make the Michigan Opportunity Scholarship Accounts law despite Whitmer’s veto, according to the AP.

The program would provide vouchers to families making up to 200 percent of the free-and-reduced-price lunch program threshold, according to Michigan Live. The vouchers are funded by taxpayer donations, and the legislation allows up to $500 million in tax credits in the program’s first year, reported The Wall Street Journal. The program—outlined in two bills each in the Republican-controlled state House and Senate—was approved by both houses in late October with no votes from Democrats, according to the Journal.

Conservative ballot drives have worked in the past to oppose Michigan’s Democratic governor: Unlock Michigan used the same process in July to repeal the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which Whitmer used at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to extend her emergency orders past their 28-day limit without the state Legislature’s approval, according to Michigan Public Radio.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said that “creating a ballot question committee on this issue would be straight out of the Republican playbook of convincing voters to vote against their own best interests with clever messaging,” quoted The Michigan Advance. The Michigan Republic Party has yet to comment on the ballot drive, but did support all forms of the legislation.

Let MI Kids Learn will begin to circulate petitions after their form and wording receive approval form the Board of State Canvassers, Michigan Live reported.

October 30, 2021

New Hampshire Voucher Program Approves Far More Students than Predicted

New Hampshire’s Department of Education has approved around 1,600 students to receive the state’s new Education Freedom Accounts this fall, reported the New Hampshire Bulletin. Though the number is a “ballpark figure,” Commissioner Frank Edelblut told the state’s Executive Council that it far surpassed estimates of below 30 students presented in the spring, before the program’s approval.

The Education Freedom Accounts, which are set up like other education savings account (ESA) programs in other states, are equivalent to vouchers. They are available to families who make under 300 percent of the federal poverty level and aren’t sending their kids to public schools, and provide an amount ranging from $4,000 to $8,000 to be used on approved education service providers, according to the New Hampshire Bulletin. Once families enroll in the program and are approved, they can remain in the program even if their income rises above the level of eligibility, New Hampshire Public Radio reported.

The state funding for the program is overseen by the Children Scholarship Fund, a private organization that the state contracted with when it set interim rules to launch the program this summer, according to the New Hampshire Bulletin. However, none of the funds have been disbursed to any of the 1,600 approved students, and the Children’s Scholarship Fund has not yet issued the list of eligible educational service providers.

In his comments to the Executive Council, Edelblut attributed the unexpected number of students approved for the program to “uncertainty and dissatisfaction from some families about COVID-19 policies in traditional public schools.”

October 26, 2021

French Candidate for President Endorses Introduction of Charter Schools

In laying out the education platform for her candidacy for the presidency of France in 2022, Valérie Pécresse, founder of the Soyons Libre (Let’s Be Free) party, declared in a speech on October 12 that she wanted to implement in France the kind of school choice introduced in Sweden and Great Britain.

Pécresse said she wanted to follow in the path of Sweden and Great Britain in giving school leaders more freedom in running their schools, in empowering teachers to choose where they work (rather than report where they’re told by central administrators), and in requiring parents and students to sign contracts to abide by specific expectations. Failure to comport with such expectations, Pécresse noted, would result in termination of enrollment. Pécresse announced that she would aim to have 10 percent of schools in France run in this manner by 2027.

Pécresse’s citation of Sweden and Great Britain was nevertheless odd. Sweden has been home to publicly funded schools of choice called free schools (friskolor) since 1992. Great Britain has been home to a mix of publicly funded schools of choice: academies, introduced in 2002, and free schools, introduced in 2010. Yet Pécresse used the U.S. term “charter schools” in her speech. And her conception of these schools comports substantially, in fact, with the “no excuses” model of charter schools quite prevalent in major U.S. cities. Pécresse, however, did not mention school choice in the United States as an inspiration for her proposal.

While Pécresse is not considered a strong candidate for the presidency of France, her ideas for education policy may take hold with other candidates. Pécresse has, after all, been a central figure in French politics for over two decades, serving as an adviser to President Jacques Chiraq from 1998 to 2002, then a member of the National Assembly until 2007, and subsequently Minister of Higher Education and Research until 2011. Since 2015, Pécresse has been president of the regional council of Île-de-France, the country’s most populous region.

October 22, 2021

Republican Legislators Pass Tax-Credit Scholarship Bills in Michigan

The Republican-controlled Michigan House and Senate each passed versions of tax-credit scholarship legislation that Democrats blasted as an attempt to implement an unconstitutional voucher program, Michigan Live reported.

Senate Bill 687 would create Michigan Opportunity Scholarship Accounts, providing vouchers funded by donations by taxpayers to families making up to 200 percent of the free-and-reduced-price lunch program threshold, according to Michigan Live. Senate Bill 688, passed in conjunction with 687, would provide tax credits for donations to Michigan Opportunity Scholarship Accounts and similar programs. House Bill 5405 would create Student Opportunity Scholarships and provide similar tax credits for any donation to them.

Senator Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) cited a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis that estimated the five-year cost of the proposals to the state’s general fund would be as high as $1 billion.

Senate Bills 687 and 688 were approved by a 20-16 vote and House Bill 5405 by a 55-48 vote. If the bills pass in the opposite chamber, they will arrive on Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desk where they are expected to be vetoed.

According to The Detroit News, there is no reason to believe Governor Whitmer will authorize the legislation: “Whitmer's office called the legislation a ‘non-starter’ that violates Michigan's constitutional protections for public school funds.”

In elaborating, Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said: "This legislation undermines that constitutional guarantee, permitting the diversion of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to private institutions. Michiganders are tired of the attempts to force a Betsy DeVos-style voucher program that drain resources from our public schools."

In affirmation of its longstanding Blaine Amendment, barring public money from funding private schools, Michigan’s Constitution was amended in 1970 to spell out that “no payment, credit, tax benefit exemption or deduction, tuition voucher, subsidy grant or loan of public money shall be provided directly or indirectly to support the attendance of any student at any nonpublic school.”

“Legal and petition initiative efforts seeking to undo the amendment in the decades since its passage have been unsuccessful,” reported The Detroit News, “even those that received millions of dollars in support from West Michigan's DeVos family.”

According to The Detroit News, Representative Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Township) “argued the legislation wouldn't violate the Blaine Amendment because the money would go to scholarship-granting organizations and not directly to private schools.”

Much as in states with similar programs, reported The Detroit News, “The funds could be used on tuition or fees for public or nonpublic education or online learning programs, tutoring, extracurricular programs, textbooks or instructional materials, computer hardware, uniforms, standardized test fees, summer school, after-school programs or child care, dual enrollment, transportation, sports fees or career or technical programs.”

In the case of public school students, such funding would be limited to $500 or, in the case of public school students with disabilities, to $1,100.

“For nonpublic school students,” The Detroit News reported, “the funding would be capped at 90% of the minimum foundation allowance spent on public school students, minus three-eights of the percentage that the household income exceeds free or reduced lunch eligibility criteria. For a nonpublic school student with a disability, scholarship amounts would be capped at 90% of the minimum foundation allowance without consideration of household income.”

October 19, 2021

New York Daily News Slams Mayor de Blasio for Neglecting Reform of Yeshivas

In a scathing editorial, The New York Daily News slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio for saying one thing about holding the city’s yeshivas accountable for following state regulations in providing a “substantially equivalent” education and doing little to make that happen.

“In an attempt to close the book on an abdication that’s dogged his eight years in office,” declared the newspaper’s editorial board, “Mayor de Blasio wants New York City to believe he did a mitzvah, getting his Department of Education to investigate claims of educational neglect at dozens of yeshivas and then prompting those schools to fix what was wrong. Is he meshuggeneh?”

The newspaper continued: “For years, graduates of dozens of Hasidic yeshivas in Brooklyn have delivered compelling and consistent reports that they got little or next to no instruction in English, math, science or other secular subjects — in other words, that the schools flout New York State’s clear legal requirement that private and parochial schools deliver a substantially equivalent education.”

In keeping with the so-called Pierce Compromise—derived from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters guaranteeing private schools the right to operate while at the same time mandating that states regulate private schools—the Daily News echoed many parties calling for reform of instruction at the city’s yeshivas.

The U.S. Supreme Court was indeed clear in that 1925 decision: “No question is raised concerning the power of the State reasonably to regulate all schools, to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.”

The Daily News noted that city investigators did not produce a report until 2019. That report was damning, concluding that only two of 28 yeshivas met state standards. Yet Mayor de Blasio, the newspaper charged, offered only “vague assurances” that improvements would be made.

The newspaper attributed the stalled investigation as well as the absence of detailed prescriptions for improvement to political pressures.

The fact that the Hasidic community votes as a bloc does appear to make it hard for elected city and state officials to do the right thing.

When pressed on the issue last week, Mayor de Blasio, the Daily News reported, “patted himself on the back for pursuing ‘a cooperative approach’ and insisted that ‘a variety of schools … really have improved their approach.’”

The newspaper did not buy the mayor’s response: “Show, don’t tell. Stop treating New Yorkers like schnooks.”

October 16, 2021

Eric Adams Vows to Keep Controversial Gifted and Talented Program

Eric Adams, the frontrunner in New York’s upcoming mayoral race, broke with current Mayor Bill de Blasio last week and said that, if elected, he would keep the city’s embattled elementary school gifted and talented program, The New York Times reported.

Mayor de Blasio, who is considering a campaign for governor next year, announced at the beginning of October that he would eliminate the program. Both the gifted program and the standardized test used to place students in it have been criticized by experts for segregating classrooms.

The high-stakes test, which is administered to four-year-olds once a year, has created a cottage industry of test preparation in New York City and fostered a gifted program where 75 percent of the students are white or Asian American in a public school system where 70 percent of the students are Black or Latino, according to Chalkbeat.

In an interview with CNN, Adams said that “there’s a new mayor next year, that mayor must evaluate how he’s going to deal with the gifted and talented program,” adding that de Blasio “can’t get rid of it until next year,” the Times quoted.

Rather than eliminate the program, Adams intends to “expand the opportunities for accelerated learning” into the predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods that were largely excluded from the gifted program when Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced a city-wide test-based threshold for admission, according to the Times. Though there are few details about what Adams has planned, the Times reported that Adams is considering “delaying or altering” next year’s test and then seeking reforms to the program the following year. There is, however, no contract for administering the test in 2022 because the city’s Panel for Educational Policy rejected a proposed extension by a one-vote margin earlier in January of 2021.

Adams's transition team intends to announce more detail after the election, according to the Times. Gifted education experts, however, have told the Times that Adams’s proposal “would do little to diversify the program unless fundamental changes are made to the admissions process.”

In the first mayoral debate, both Adams and his Republican opponent Curtis Sliwa said they would keep the program. Adams said that the city should reexamine the admissions exam, and both candidates said the program should exist in all schools.

October 12, 2021

Kentucky Tax-Credit Scholarship Struck Down

A circuit court judge in Kentucky struck down the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which provided $25 million in annual tax credits for corporations and individuals who donate to a third-party scholarship fund to support families who send their children to private schools, WFPL reported.

The bill was hotly contested, and passed in March only after the Republican State Legislature overrode a veto from Democrat Governor Andy Beshear. In June, the Council for Better Education, a nonprofit representing 168 of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts, filed suit to challenge the law.

Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd agreed with the plaintiffs that the Education Opportunity Account Program, as it was called, violates provisions of the state’s constitution that prevent public funding from going to private schools. He also said that the law—which limits certain provisions to counties with more than 90,000 people—violates the state’s anti-favoritism laws, WFPL reported, and expressed concern that “the funds could be paid to schools that exclude children with learning disabilities” and discriminate against minority children.

The libertarian think-tank Institute for Justice, which defended the law in the courts, plans to appeal the decision.

October 09, 2021

De Blasio to Overhaul New York Gifted Program

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to replace the city’s embattled gifted program with one focused on accelerated learning in school classrooms. De Blasio’s proposal abandons the gifted test traditionally given to kindergarten students, The New York Times reported.

The highly selective program has been widely criticized for exacerbating segregation in the nation’s largest school system. According to the Times, though 70 percent of the roughly 1 million public school students in New York City are Black and Latino, 75 percent of the 16,000 students in gifted elementary school classes are white or Asian American. Just over a quarter of the program’s students come from low-income families, Chalkbeat reported, compared to almost 70 of students citywide.

Under the reforms, instead of having a specific gifted program that pulls those selected out of their general education classrooms, all kindergarten students attending the city’s 800 elementary schools next September will receive accelerated instruction, reported Chalkbeat. The exam typically administered to kindergarteners will be replaced by a comprehensive screening process for third-graders that will determine if students should continue to receive accelerated instruction in specific subjects.

According to Chalkbeat, the new program would require the city to “train roughly 4,000 teachers and hire additional teachers already versed in accelerated learning to work in neighborhoods with historically little to no gifted programming.” The program, dubbed “Brilliant NYC,” would start in the fall of 2022 exclusively in kindergarten classrooms and be phased into first and second grade the following year. It is not yet clear what will happen to the five city schools that exclusively serve gifted students.

With only three months left in office for de Blasio, the fate of the gifted program and de Blasio’s proposed reforms is uncertain. Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor and prohibitive favorite to win November’s election, has rejected calls to get rid of gifted classes and has supported keeping the exam, the Times reported. Instead, he favors an expansion of the program into low-income neighborhoods, a measure that experts have said would do little to integrate the program without changes to admissions, the Times continued.

The Times also added that reversing the proposal could be difficult, “since it would require Mr. Adams to either resume the use of the unpopular admissions exam or come up with a new admissions method within the first few months of his mayoralty to allow students enough time to apply.”

October 07, 2021

Pennsylvania House Passes Voucher Expansion for Economically Disadvantaged Schools

The Pennsylvania State House approved House Bill 1642, lowering the threshold for schools to qualify as “economically disadvantaged” and for their students to thereby receive additional vouchers to fund supplementary or private education, WFMZ reported. Three Democrats joined all of the chamber’s Republicans in voting for the bill.

Currently, students at schools where at least 75 percent of students receive tuition assistance through the state’s Opportunity Tax Credit Scholarship (OTCS) program or Education Improvement Tax Credit scholarship (EITC) program qualify for an additional $1,000 credit. Under the new law, the threshold for the extra credit would drop to 51 percent, WFMZ reported. Credit amounts would also increase to $2,000 for elementary and middle school students and $4,000 for high school students, to better reflect the higher cost of a high school education, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Martina White (R—Philadelphia), wrote in a memo introducing the legislation.

The bill also extends the additional credit to EITC recipients, according to the same memo. Previously, only OTCS recipients at economically disadvantaged schools were eligible for the additional credit.

Currently, there is $5 million in tax credits available in the program, according to Rep. White.  The passage of the bill would require a dramatic increase in state funding.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

October 04, 2021

West Virginia Lawsuit Challenges Charter School Law

Two West Virginia public school teachers and union members are suing to stop charter schools from opening without county voters’ approval, according to a report from The Herald Dispatch.

The lawsuit challenges a recent amendment to the state’s charter school law that placed the final say over whether a charter school opens in the hands of an unelected board rather than the school board of the district in which the charter school will open.

In March of 2021, Republican state lawmakers used their supermajority to significantly amend the 2019 charter school law, creating the West Virginia Charter School Board. Appointed by the governor, this board has the power to approve online charters and brick-and-mortar charters, even in districts where the school board is opposed. All four of the board’s members are yet to be confirmed in the state Senate, but the members have already begun reviewing the applications, the Herald Dispatch reported.

The lawsuit argues that the state constitution requires voter approval for new charter schools to open, citing the state constitution itself: “no independent free school district, or organization shall hereafter be created, except with the consent of the school district or districts out of which the same is to be created, expressed by a majority of the voters voting on the question.”

The plaintiffs are asking a judge to stop any charters from being created until those schools receive the requisite majority.

October 02, 2021

David Rogers in Archived 1968 WNYC Interview Discusses Board of Ed Dysfunctionality

In an archived 1968 interview, rebroadcast by WNYC, with David Rogers about his book 110 Livingston Street: Politics and Bureaucracy in the New York City School System, Irving M. Levine asks Rogers about the numerous problems he discovered in studying the city’s Board of Education.

Rogers, a professor of sociology as well as business management at NYU at the time, concludes that the Board of Education suffered from so much “bureaucratic pathology” that maybe Milton Friedman’s proposal of vouchers should be given a chance.

In this regard, Rogers was far from alone as a progressive in the late 1960s willing to consider free-market remedies. In the same year, the civil rights leader and professor of psychology  Kenneth Clark contended in an article in the Harvard Educational Review, “The rigidity of present patterns of public school organization—and the concomitant stagnation in quality of education and academic performance of children—may not be amenable to any attempts at change working through and within the present system.”

Clark went on to call for “parallel systems of public schools, organized and operated on a quasi-private level, and with quality control and professional accountability maintained and determined by Federal and State educational standards and supervision.”

The sociologist Christopher Jencks likewise wrote in a 1968 article for the New York Times Magazine that inner-city schools constituted “little more than custodial institutions for keeping children off the street” and followed up two years later in an article in The New Republic with a proposal for means-tested vouchers. The education historian Ted Sizer made a similar case in a 1969 article in the Saturday Review.

As a testament to the frustration experienced by progressives of this era, the interview with Rogers places questions about privatization and choice in important historical context.

September 27, 2021

Former D.C. Public Charter School Board Member Condemns No-Excuses Charters

In a post for Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet published by The Washington Post, former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board Steve Bumbaugh condemned no-excuses charter schools and the city’s insufficient oversight of the charter industry. Bumbaugh also called for better representation from the community in decisions on the District’s education policy.

Bumbaugh wrote that he visited many no-excuses charter schools during his six-year tenure on the Board and described those “that combine academic rigor and kindness” as “the exception.” Primarily, Bumbaugh wrote, he visited schools that engage in “humiliating rituals that have little educational value” and where students are taught “that they are congenitally profane” through widespread suspensions of students with disabilities and selective “counseling out” of students who can’t meet steep expectations.

“One-third of D.C. charter schools are in the no-excuses category, enrolling at least half of the charter student population,” Bumbaugh wrote, and there is no evidence that students have gained anything from the system: “As of 2018-19—the latest data available on the website of the charter school board—only 8.5 percent of Black high school students (about 80 percent of the student population) in charter schools were deemed proficient in math and 21 percent in English Language Arts.”

Bumbaugh called for an overhaul of the D.C. charter system, beginning with an outright ban on no-excuses charter schools. Bumbaugh described the strict discipline of no-excuses charter schools as “a relic of Jim Crow.”

Bumbaugh also pointed to the need to integrate the city’s charters. “What we have now,” he wrote, “is a system where highly resourced families crowd into a handful of desirable schools that have impossibly long waiting lists, and students from poor families attend no-excuses schools or charters that struggle to remain open.” He described the system in its current form as a continuation of “separate but equal” in “one of the most liberal cities in the United States.”

The power of oversight must also be distributed more evenly, Bumbaugh argued, citing the lack of socioeconomic diversity on the city’s Public Charter School Board. Referring also to himself, Bumbaugh said that though the board is made up of mostly Black or Latino members, “we are not remotely similar to most of the families with children attending D.C. public charter schools.” While 80 percent of D.C. public charter families qualify for free and reduced lunch, “the charter board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty.” He wrote that, to see any progress, it is imperative to involve “parents in the co-architecture of the [charter] sector.”

September 23, 2021

Charter School Enrollment Boosted by Pandemic

The charter sector experienced a dramatic increase in student enrollment the first full school year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS).

Public charter school enrollment increased by 7 percent during the 2020-21 school year, adding nearly 240,000 students, according to the report. In June, the Department of Education reported that public school enrollment dropped by 3 percent over the same period.

The report from the NAPCS does not differentiate between the number of students who enrolled in virtual and brick-and-mortar charters, but according to Wisconsin Public Radio, which reported in August on enrollment decreases in both public and private schools during the pandemic, the state’s 14 percent increase in charter enrollment was largely due to an 84 percent increase in virtual charter school enrollment.

The Wisconsin data show families turned to virtual charters with years of experience in distance learning when public and private schools were shuttered by the pandemic and forced to adopt a new curriculum. National data showing the increase in virtual charter enrollment specifically have yet to be published.

September 20, 2021

Pennsylvania's Governor Wolf Proposes Sweeping Charter Regulations

Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania last week proposed a sweeping set of new regulations that, according to the official documentation, “clarifies elements of the Charter School Law (CSL) and sets conditions that emphasize accountability, equity, quality, and transparency,” reported.

Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law is widely considered the laxest in the nation. According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, taxpayers spent $2.1 billion on charter schools last year, and 44 cents of every $1 of new property taxes went to charter schools between 2013 and 2019.

The Governor’s proposal:

  • Introduces a standardized application requirement for charter schools that would allow school districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to hold both brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools to high academic, fiscal, and administrative standards, and to ensure that the schools will equitably serve all students.
  • Introduces non-discriminatory enrollment policies that also require charter schools to inform families on admissions preferences in the application.
  • Subjects charter schools’ trustees to the state’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, which addresses conflicts of interest and sets penalties for violations.
  • Requires charter schools to use the same auditing standards as public school districts, ensuring that annual reports and financial records are accessible to school districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
  • Introduces a process for reconciling disputes over school district payments to charter schools for student tuition.
  • Requires that charter schools offer the same health care benefits as the school district that authorizes them, and clarifies that when a charter school serves more than one district, the school district in which the charter school’s administrative office is located is the standard that the charter school must use.

The regulations are paired with measures to cut costs, including streamlining the way that special education in charter schools is funded and establishing a statewide cyber charter school tuition rate, saving an estimated $395 million a year, according to Your Erie. Governor Wolf anticipates the new rules to take effect before 2023.

September 17, 2021

New York City Mandates Vaccines for All Charter School Staff

Staff at every New York City charter school will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and receive at least one shot by September 27th, Chalkbeat reported, drastically expanding the city’s vaccine mandate in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Charter schools educate about 14% of the city’s students, and the majority of these schools were not subject to the mayor’s previous mandate for city employees, which applied to only to charter schools that operate in city buildings. According to Chalkbeat, 143 of the city’s 272 charter schools operate in buildings not owned by the city. Staff in these schools are being held to the same standard—and the same deadline—as city education department employees.

A City Hall spokesperson said that charter school employees who do not comply would be suspended without pay, Chalkbeat reported, and did not answer a question about the city’s authority to enforce the order. Though there has not yet been an official executive order from the Mayor’s office, the announcement comes on the heels of President Biden’s far-reaching vaccine mandate for nearly all federal employees and contractors and for companies with over 100 employees.

Some charter schools issued their own vaccine mandates to their staff before the city required shots to its own employees, Chalkbeat reported, including Success Academy, the city’s largest network. Still, hundreds of charter school classrooms have been forced to close due to outbreaks, including 22% of Success Academy classrooms since they reopened on August 2nd.

September 15, 2021

National Heritage Academies Plans Massive Sale

In a piece for Valerie Strauss’ blog The Answer Sheet published by The Washington Post, Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, criticized the planned sale of by National Heritage Academies (NHA) of most of its charter schools.

NHA, which is the third-largest for-profit education management organization (EMO) in the country, is attempting to sell 69 of its 90 schools to a corporation with ties to its owner, with a total price tag over $850,000,000, according to Burris.

According to documents provided to Michigan’s Wayne County Commission for the approval of the sale of 15 of the schools, the buyer is Campus Partners 1, a corporation whose president is also general counsel to National Heritage Academies CEO J.C. Huizenga and his interests.

Incorporated in November 2020, Campus Partners 1 describes itself as a Michigan nonprofit organization, though it has not filed any requisite records with the Michigan attorney general in order to get nonprofit status and has not yet been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, Burris reported.

Once Campus Partners 1 secures ownership of the schools, it plans to contract with the NHA’s real estate arm, Charter Development Co., for a facility maintenance contract and ground lease. In effect, control of the schools will still be in the hands of NHA, but Charter Development Co. will earn the profit off the sale and secure new contracts allowing it to continue to funnel public dollars into NHA’s coffers.

The $853,600,000 sale is being financed using municipal bonds issued by the Industrial Development Authority of La Paz County, Arizona. NHA has no charter schools in the state, but Arizona is one of three states in the country that allow the sale of municipal bonds to out-of-state entities. According to Burris, La Paz frequently issues municipal bonds to finance for-profit prisons.

NHA’s attempt to transfer over $850 million public dollars into private wealth is running into some resistance in the company’s home state of Michigan, however, where they intend to sell 46 of their schools, Burris reported. Local councilmen and school board members have voiced opposition to the sales.

In the case of local government, NHA told the Wayne County Commission’s standing committee that they would circumvent their authority by asking the localities where the schools are located for approval or by using private bonds that do not need approval, Burris wrote.

In March, Burris co-authored a report that explained NHA’s strategy of using “sweeps contracts”—which give total control over public dollars going to charter schools to private management companies—to reap large profits from its “client” schools. Now, NHA is using the control granted to it by sweeps contracts to stamp out any resistance from its schools’ boards of directors. Burris cited multiple instances where defiant school boards were told to resign, and where those who refused to do so saw their terms of office “summarily reduced.”

Burris’s report highlights the sweeping power granted to for-profit EMOs that give them the authority to dictate the terms of their own contracts, and to coerce and manipulate the boards that hire them to benefit their bottom line. The only remedy that Burris sees to this abuse of the public trust is the proposed Section 314 of the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education 2022 appropriations bill, which, if adopted, would explicitly withhold federal funds from charter schools that contract “with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.”

September 10, 2021

Jeb Bush Defends For-Profit Charters in Op-Ed

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has generated a vigorous debate about for-profit charter school management with an op-ed for The Miami Herald in which he decried a provision in the fiscal year 2022 education budget that explicitly withholds federal funds from charter schools that contract “with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.” The piece was widely circulated by the Tribune News Service and is part of a wider campaign by the nation’s top charter school lobbying groups to block the Democratic proposal, detailed by Jeff Bryant in an article for AlterNet in July.

Democrats in the House argue that the provision is intended to curb the growth of for-profit education management organizations (EMOs), which operate under “sweeps” contracts to turn taxpayer funds for public charter schools into private profits, according to The Hill. Privatization advocates, led by Nina Rees at the National Alliance for Public Charters, have attempted to frame the provision as a blanket attack on underserved populations that utilize charter schools.

Bush blamed the “outdated mentality” of the “teachers’ unions and their allies in Congress” for threatening “education pluralism,” likening public education in the U.S. to an industrial age factory. He further opined that Democratic opposition to for-profit charter schools is motivated by a “fear that choice will lead to fewer students attending schools that fund [teachers’ unions’] private coffers.”

Aside from attacking teachers’ unions as greedy political machines, Bush claimed that the proposed budget will “specifically cut $40 million in education funding” and “undermine the education of millions of students, especially special-needs students who qualify for funding under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and students living in poverty.” Yet as Jan Resseger at the National Education Policy Center pointed out in her response to the Bush’s op-ed, President Biden and the House Appropriations Committee both propose an increase in “funding for wraparound Full-Service Community Schools from $30 million to $443 million, doubling the Title I funding for schools serving concentrations of poor children” and also “funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

Bush’s steadfast support for school privatization and open disdain for teachers’ unions is well established. His attacks served him well politically in his successful second campaign for Governor in 1998, according a 2015 profile of him in The New Yorker. After enacting the first statewide voucher program in the country and removing barriers to for-profit charter development in Florida as governor, Bush continued to advocate school choice by forming the Foundation for Excellence in Education, now called ExcelinEd.

September 07, 2021

New Hampshire Launches Sweeping ESA

New Hampshire’s sweeping new Education Savings Account program is officially underway, after a speedy approval process in Concord this August brought early questions over whether the state could build the necessary administrative infrastructure.

The program is one of the most expansive of its kind in the nation, providing families that make under 300 percent of the federal poverty level and aren’t sending their kids to public schools eligible for an average of $4,600 per student each year, New Hampshire Public Radio reported. Furthermore, once families enroll, they can remain in the program even if their income rises above the level of eligibility, providing for the program’s longevity.

In just over four weeks, state lawmakers and the Board of Education approved the ESA program, giving oversight to the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire –a private organization –and setting interim rules that will last only six months, according to the New Hampshire Bulletin.

August 26, 2021

Arizona Uses Federal Aid to Fund Anti-Mask Vouchers

Arizona became the first state to use federal aid from the American Rescue Plan to fund a school choice program, creating a $10 million school voucher program for families whose children are enrolled in districts that are defying the state ban on mask mandates, US News reported.

Dubbed the “COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit,” the voucher program is available to low-income families whose children are enrolled in public school districts requiring masks or returning to virtual learning due to the highly-contagious Delta variant, according to US News. Families can apply for up to $7,000 per student to cover private school tuition, online tutoring, transportation, or child care.

In its latest fiscal spending bill, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature included language prohibiting school districts from mandating masks and vaccines or closing due to COVID-19 outbreaks, US News reported. Large school systems in majority-Democratic counties have openly defied the law, following a trend seen in other states with mask mandate bans like Florida and Texas.

The new voucher program was announced alongside a plan to also withhold an additional $163 million in federal relief from non-compliant school districts, creating a school grant program that is only available to schools adhering to the state masking ban, US News reported.

Arizona’s is the latest move in an attempt by Republicans to elevate the debate over masks, vaccines, and school closures, reinvigorating the school choice debate and making it a central issue ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

August 25, 2021

Pennsylvania Lawmaker Introduces Sweeping School Choice Legislation

Pennsylvania Republican Representative Andrew Lewis introduced a multi-faceted education bill both to expand the state’s existing tax credit scholarship programs and to establish education savings accounts (ESAs), Penn Live reported.

The Excellent Education for All Act would establish state-funded ESAs—dubbed “Keystone Hope Scholarships,” after West Virginia’s sweeping Hope Scholarship ESA program—and increase funding to the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit and Educational Improvement Tax Credit programs, which reward businesses with tax credits in exchange for funding scholarships for private school students. The legislation also includes a provision that protects learning pods, the small learning groups formed during COVID-19 to help students through virtual learning, from state regulation and monitoring.

The legislation drew immediate opposition from the Pennsylvania State Education Association as a means of depleting public schools of public funds. Under the legislation, according to Penn Live, “the roughly $6,000 per-pupil amount the state pays to a district would be deposited into a student’s scholarship account rather than going to the school district.”

The school choice movement has enjoyed a round of success in legislatures across the country this year, and Pennsylvania is no exception: in July, the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program saw a $40 million infusion that can fund an estimated 13,000 additional scholarships, reported The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rep. Lewis hopes to draw on such support to convince his colleagues and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf to allow the bill to become law, Penn Live reported.

August 23, 2021

Biden Administration Counters State Bans of Universal Masking in Classrooms

President Biden last week directed his education secretary, Miguel Cardona, to take action against states that have issued orders banning universal masking in classrooms, The New York Times reported.

In the last month, governors in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee moved to ban mask mandates or to give parents the authority to decide whether their child wears a mask in school, according to Chalkbeat, threatening to withhold funds from schools that do not comply. Now, Dr. Cardona said that the Education Department’s civil rights enforcement arm would investigate these orders.

“We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children,” President Biden told the press from the East Room when announcing the directive.

Although public schools are subject to mask mandate bans from governors, private schools are not, and some governors appear to be using the opportunity to increase public funding of private schools.

In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey barred districts from accessing $163 million in COVID-19 relief funds and said parents could receive $7,000 per student for private schooling if their district mandates masks, according to The Associated Press. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis threatened to cut funding to districts that impose mask mandates and to even withhold salaries of superintendents—though he lacks the legal authority to do so—while also promoting the state’s private school voucher program as a solution for students feeling “bullied” into wearing masks, the AP reported.

Earlier this summer, the Education Department’s civil rights office released a report that outlined students’ experiences throughout the pandemic, noting that students with disabilities—who rely on in-person education and hands-on assistance for success in the classroom—were particularly affected by the switch to distanced learning. Under federal law, students are entitled to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) and are protected from discrimination. Without universal masking, many parents of immunocompromised students are afraid to send their children for in-person learning, despite the inadequacy of virtual schooling.

While federal civil rights law supersedes any state executive order, investigations and litigation typically take several months. With the school year quickly approaching or already underway, Dr. Cardona also sent letters to officials in Tennessee, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah, the Times and Chalkbeat reported. In them, he said that states and districts received billions of dollars in COVID relief with the stipulation that schools come up with plans to safely return to in-person learning, and that any actions to block mask mandates prevent schools from fulfilling this legal obligation.

August 18, 2021

California Mandates Vaccines for Public and Private School Teachers

Following a similar mandate applied to all state employees, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered that all public and private school staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo mandatory weekly testing, The San Diego Union Tribune reported. California’s is the first mandate of its kind in the nation, and more are expected to follow in other Democratic states as the nation’s largest school districts prepare to return to in-person instruction this fall.

“We believe it will be well-received because it’s the right thing to do to keep our most precious resource healthy and safe –our children here in this state,” Governor Newsom said of the vaccinate mandate in a press conference.

Many local school leaders told the San Diego Union Tribune that they don’t yet know how they will implement the new state health order. Many schools don’t have their own COVID-19 testing programs, and creating one to monitor staff and students would be a costly addition.

Still, several local teachers union leaders told the Union Tribune that the vast majority of their members are already vaccinated. The California Teachers Association estimates that 90 percent of its teachers statewide are vaccinated.

In an effort to limit COVID-19 related disruptions this fall, school staff in California who are vaccinated and don’t show symptoms will not have to quarantine and leave schools if one of their students tests positive for COVID-19. New York has followed suit: vaccinated students and teachers will not be required to quarantine if someone in their class tests positive, Chalkbeat reported.

August 17, 2021

Chinese Government Aims at Private School Takeovers

The Chinese government published a broad set of reforms in late July to transform for-profit education companies into nonprofits in an attempt to drive down competitiveness and educational expenses and reverse negative demographic trends (SOURCES). While the $100 billion private tutoring industry was the hardest hit victim of Beijing’s ire, it is not alone: increasing numbers of private school owners in China have been forced to hand their institutions over to the state in recent weeks, The Financial Times reported.

In the past three months, at least 13 for-profit primary and middle schools and one high school have been taken over by city authorities in China without compensation, according to The Financial Times. Beijing’s goal is to reduce the proportion of non-high-school students that attend for-profit schools from its current level above 10 percent to less than five percent. Government advisers claim that the private for-profit schooling sector has worsened inequality and made it harder for the Communist Party to control curriculum, The Financial Times continued.

“We must make sure public schools are the main compulsory education provider,” said a circular sent by the central government to lower-level authorities, according to The Financial Times.

China has nearly 190,000 private schools—more than 12,000 of which are primary and middle schools—educating one-fifth of all students. In the past two decades, the number of private primary schools grew tenfold, according to The Financial Times. Now, Beijing is attempting to reverse the liberalizing trend as a part of a broader campaign to rein in private educators and tech companies.

August 16, 2021

Texas Mask Mandate Ban Meets Resistance from Public and Private Schools

Resistance to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s May executive order banning mask mandates in schools is growing, with some of the state’s largest school districts issuing mandates in spite of it and advocacy groups filing lawsuits to challenge the order, The Texas Tribune reported.

With the Delta variant raging in Texas, the Dallas Independent School District announced that it will require students and teachers to wear masks this fall, and the Superintendent of the Houston ISD said he wants to issue a mandate, as well. Meanwhile, officials in Bexar County and the Southern Center for Child Advocacy both filed suits against the governor challenging his executive order and seeking the power to impose local mask mandates in schools, the Tribune continued.

Many private schools across the state, including Satori Elementary School in Galveston, will require masks in the fall. Claire Wilkins, executive director at Satori, said that “as we are a private school, we do not have to follow Governor Abbott’s executive order,” reported The Daily News of Galveston.

Abbott’s executive order was signed in the spring, when COVID-19 cases were on the decline across the nation. Now, with cases on the rise and children being hospitalized at an alarming rate, concerned parents and districts are desperate for the authority to mandate masks.

The Southern Center for Child Advocacy’s lawsuit claims that the governor is overstepping his authority in banning mask mandates and politicizing a public health emergency, according to the Tribune. “The threat to the health and safety of Texas public school students and teachers is imminent and real,” the lawsuit states.

Ovidia Molina, the President of the Texas State Teacher Association, urged other school districts to join the Dallas ISD in requiring masks and called on Abbott to rescind his executive order, the Tribune reported. In a statement, the Dallas ISD said that “Governor Abbott’s order does not limit the district’s right as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students.”

In response, a spokeswoman for the governor said last week that only parents have the right to choose whether or not their children wear masks, and that mask mandates are a violation of their rights, the Tribune reported. This sentiment echoes that of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who in July signed the “Parents Bill of Rights” enacting a similar ban on mask mandates and using the language of bodily autonomy to support it.

Governor Abbott’s spokeswoman also pressed that the best way to combat the virus is to get vaccinated, according to the Tribune. Children 12 and under are not eligible for any COVID-19 vaccine.

Entities that defy the order are subject to a $1,000 fine, but, according to the Tribune, it is unclear how this would apply to school districts.

August 14, 2021

Wisconsin Charter School Enrollment Soars, Driven by Online Charters

While many school choice advocates predicted that pandemic closures would drive students out of the public school system to private schools, that was not the case in Wisconsin, where public and private school enrollment dropped 3 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, last school year, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The decline constituted the largest single-year drop in Wisconsin public school enrollment in at least 25 years and brought the total number of students attending private schools in the state to its lowest point in a decade. The largest loss was in pre-K and kindergarten enrollment, likely because attendance in those grades is not mandatory in Wisconsin and because parents concerned about exposure to COVID-19 decided to wait a year before starting school, WPR continued.

The decline in public and private school enrollment was met with a 47 percent year-over-year increase in homeschooling in the state and a 14 percent rise in enrollment at charter schools, fueled by an 84 percent increase in online charter school enrollment, according to WPR. The dramatic increase in online charter school enrollment was likely due to the schools’ record with distance-learning at a time when traditionally in-person institutions were forced to go virtual with little experience in this domain.

It is unclear how enrollment will fluctuate this fall, as schools attempt to reopen while the Delta variant surges nationwide. A national survey conducted in the fall of 2020 found that 82 percent of parents who moved their kids out of their typical school because of the pandemic said they plan to return once things were safe, WPR reported.

For public schools, last year’s enrollment decline and the possibility of low enrollment this coming fall have possibly dire financial implications. According to WPR, Wisconsin school districts’ funding is set, in part, by a three-year rolling average of their enrollment: “One low year has the potential to drop that funding rate for the next three years–and another year of low enrollment exacerbates the issue.”

August 12, 2021

California Online Charters Lose Class-Action Suit for More Money

A California Superior Court judge ruled against a class-action petition representing more than 300 online charter schools that claimed the state wrongfully deprived the schools of funding during the pandemic, The San Diego Union Tribune reported.

California typically funds all public schools–including charters–on a per-student basis, but froze public funding during the height of the pandemic to stabilize school finances. While state officials unfroze the funding and provided increases for K-12 schools that saw enrollment rise, they did not unfreeze the funding for online charter schools, forcing online charters to spread the same amount of state funding across a larger student body.

According to the Union Tribune, online charters added “about 25,000 new students last school year that weren’t paid for by the state,” expenses that they sought to recuperate through the lawsuit. The plaintiffs argued that state school funding is supposed to follow the student, but that under the funding freeze, “students’ education funding remains at the public school that they depart–thus rewarding public school districts for not serving students they have failed to adequately serve.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta justified the funding freeze by writing that “the state determined that (non-classroom based charter schools) raised major concerns for fraud and abuse and inferior education and decided to limit the incentive for expanding that model of education during the pandemic,” the Union Tribune reported. State attorneys argued that the legislature has the authority to decide how much funding public schools receive, and that there is no contract between the state and charters that prevents the state from changing the amount.

Superior Court Judge James Arguelles wrote in his decision that the “petitioners have not established that their (non-classroom based) students actually or effectively have been deprived of an education for any period during the 2020-21 fiscal year.” Judge Arguelles also agreed with state attorneys that there is no contract between the state and charter schools to fund each of their students at a certain level, the Union Tribune added.

August 11, 2021

NYC Ordered to Extend Free Covid Testing to Charter Students

New York City’s Department of Education will expand a program that offers free COVID-19 tests in public schools to students in charter schools, The New York Daily News reported.

The decision follows months of litigation over a lawsuit filed in December by a group of city charter school leaders who argued that the state is required to extend any health services offered to public school students to kids in private and charter schools. The city originally claimed that the testing did not constitute a health service, instead labeling it as a “surveillance” program. In a February ruling, State Supreme Court Justice Frank Nervo called the city’s argument “beyond incredulous” and ordered the Department of Education to “provide and administer COVID-19 screening tests to students and staff of charter schools upon identical terms as testing provided to public schools.”

State education law demands that nonpublic students have access to “any or all of the health and welfare services … to or for children attending the public schools of the district,” according to New York Daily News. Justice Nervo’s decision was upheld by an appeals court in June, but added that the city does not need to include charter school staff and needs only to extend free testing to charter schools listed as plaintiffs in the original suit, the report continued.

Roughly 125 charter school networks representing 70,000 students across 185 schools have asked to join the City’s COVID-19 testing program, according to the New York City Charter Center. In order to avoid further litigation, the Department of Education ultimately agreed to extend the program to all city charter students, reported the Daily News.

While city officials have indicated that there will be some sort of regular testing in place this fall, specifics on who will be subject to tests and how often have yet to be announced.

August 09, 2021

Pandemic-Related Private School Closures Ebb

The Cato Institute –a libertarian think tank and school choice advocate –has published data on permanent private school closures since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic . At its height, Cato recorded 138 closures, with 6 alone in April of 2021. Closures have slowed since then, with eight total closures in the past three months, four of which “were explicitly linked to the pandemic’s effects,” according to the latest report.

The majority of closures came between April and August of 2020, when the “initial shock and uncertainty” of the pandemic forced many financially troubled schools to shut their doors.

The average tuition of schools on the closure list was below the national average, and over half of the closures occurred in areas where the median family income is below the national average, as well, the report continued. Cato noted that just as the economic impact of the pandemic hit low-income families the hardest, it also disproportionately hurt private schools in low-income areas.

The report was optimistic, pointing out that, when it comes to school closures, “no news is good news.” Cato was nevertheless cautious about this upcoming school year and raised concerns about the spread of the Delta variant in the U.S. and the possible confusion arising from state and federal policies. Cato cited the 9th Circuit’s recent ruling in Brach v. Newsom, which concluded that California’s COVID-19 closures infringed upon a constitutional right for parents to choose their children’s schools. The think tank also cited Governor DeSantis’ recent executive order banning mask mandates in schools in illustration of how private schools may navigate around state orders.

August 06, 2021

Florida's Private Schools Exempt from DeSantis's Ban on Mask Mandates

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week signed an executive order banning mask mandates in public schools and threatened to cut funding to school districts that refuse to comply.

Private schools, however, are free to make their own decisions on masks, resulting in a push for school vouchers among concerned parents, according to Florida Today. The CDC’s most recent masking guidance “recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

The executive order cites “parents’ freedom to choose” in regards to masking their children, and compels the Florida Department of Health to work with the Board of Education to adopt rules that bar schools from placing mask mandates and to put procedures in place “for exempting children from immunization requirements.” If schools refuse to comply with the governor’s order, the Board of Education has the authority to withhold state funds.

Florida’s skyrocketing COVID-19 case count, driven by low vaccination rates and the super-contagious Delta variant, has created a desire among many parents of school-age children for options that would protect their kids, Florida Today reported, including mask requirements. Children ages 12 and under are not eligible for the vaccine but are still susceptible to infection.

Republican State Representative Randy Fine suggested that parents dissatisfied with the executive order utilize Florida’s voucher program to send their children to private schools with mask requirements. “I believe in choice and if a parent wants to send their child to a private institution that has a mask mandate and there’s a voucher available they should avail themselves,” Fine told worried constituents on Facebook.

Vouchers alone, however, generally do not cover the full cost of private school tuition, Florida Today noted. Parents are still responsible for extra costs such as transportation, books, uniforms, and extracurricular activities. In addition, admission is by no means guaranteed. Even private schools funded with vouchers in Florida have autonomy over admission decisions.

August 04, 2021

Ohio Voucher Program to be Challenged in Court

A coalition of 75 Ohio public school districts plans to file suit with the state to challenge the EdChoice school voucher program, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The lawsuit is headed by the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which successfully sued the state over an unconstitutional school funding system in 1997.

Bill Phillis, the Coalition’s executive director, told The Ohio Capital Journal that the state’s voucher programs violates the legislature’s constitutional responsibility to provide “for a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.”

In June, Governor Mike DeWine signed a budget that increased the value of the vouchers that students can receive: K-8 students can now receive $5,000 and high school students $7,500, an increase of $350 and $1,500, respectively. The budget was celebrated by The Wall Street Journal editorial board in July as evidence of school choice’s rising momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Phillis, the continuance and expansion of the voucher program in the latest budget makes Ohio’s education system unconstitutional and inaccessible, necessitating a lawsuit, Ohio Capital Journal reported.

Stephen Dyer, the director of government relations, communications, and marketing at the Ohio Education Association, told the Ohio Capital Journal that the case should be of particular interest to courts because of its potential to address “de facto” racial segregation issues that could come up. Data collected by the OEA found that one Catholic school district, Lima Central Catholic, received over $686,000 in EdChoice vouchers from transfer students while data from the Ohio Department of Education show that the school is 71% white. Similarly, St. Charles Catholic school received more than $653,000 in vouchers, while 82% of its student body is white.

The lawsuit is expected to be filed in the next few weeks, and comes as the legislature debates a bill to create a universal school voucher program, the Dispatch reported. If it passes, Ohio would be the second state in the country to have a universal school vouchers program, following in the path of West Virginia, whose new voucher program passed in March and covers all students, according to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

August 02, 2021

Network for Public Education Condemns Lack of Charter School Oversight

In an interview with Jacobin, Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education (NPE), detailed the ways that nonprofit charter schools are used to generate income for for-profit management companies. Burris faulted, in particular, the lack of oversight in the charter sector that allows such chicanery.

The NPE published a report in March about this issue titled Chartered For Profit: The Hidden World of Charter Schools Operated for Financial Gain, which inspired House Democrats to include a provision in next year’s budget that bars charter schools that contract out to for-profit entities from receiving federal funds.

Burris’s interview was published at the same time school choice advocates and the charter school lobby waged a campaign to oppose the provision.

According to Burris, though every state but Arizona mandates that charter schools operate as non-profits, many charter schools in other states generate profits by contracting out to educational management organizations (EMOs) or by simple self-dealing in renting property from real-estate investment trusts owned by the same people operating the charter schools.

“The original charter is secured by the nonprofit,” explained Burris, “which gets federal, local, and state funds—and then the nonprofit turns around and gives those funds to the for-profit company to manage the school.” In states where it is not illegal, board members of the nonprofit school often own the EMO, and “often nonprofit board members will get an allowance from the for-profit company,” allowing parties to double-dip with taxpayer funds.

Burris paid particular attention to what are known as “sweeps” contracts, where the EMO “sweeps every penny of public money that a charter school gets” into its coffers to run the school. The for-profit entity then either provides services directly or contracts out to other for-profit companies to run many of the school’s services. Regardless, Burris continued, “the goal is to run the charter school in such a way that there’s money left over. And the more money they save by doing things like hiring unqualified teachers and refusing to teach students with special needs, the more money is left at the end of the day.”

The owners of EMOs, in turn, often contract out with other companies that they own, Burris said, citing the nation’s largest EMO chain, Academica, “which has fifty-six different corporations registered at one single address, and seventy corporations registered at another.”

Another lucrative way for nonprofit charters to churn a profit is through real estate. According to Burris, EMOs use tax-advantages and low-interest loans to purchase property and lease it to nonprofit charter schools. “Public money goes into the charter nonprofit and goes out to the for-profit real estate company,” she said, “and then after the mortgage is paid off, they’ll sell it to the charter school at an inflated price.”

Money-making loopholes are not the domain alone of brick-and-mortar charter schools, Burris told Jacobin. Many online charter schools function in a similar way: contracting out to for-profit companies for discrete services at inflated prices. In addition, online charter schools have been notorious for billing districts for students who don’t enroll or merely log on and off. Burris cited the A3 and ECOT scandals in California and Ohio as prominent illustrations of this malfeasance.

In mid-July, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed suit against three virtual charter schools that defrauded the stated of over $150 million, according to The Indianapolis Star. Investigators found that two of the schools “funneled more than $85 million to related parties,” including a company whose CFO is the father of the schools’ CFO and another company which was founded by the schools’ founder.

Burris blamed this rampant abuse on the lack of oversight of charter schools. Whereas public schools must follow strict reporting standards and ensure all contracts are transparent through a bidding process, charter schools have been allowed to go their own way.

July 31, 2021

China’s Crackdown on For-Profit Tutoring Sector Critiqued as Shortsighted

Parents and experts expressed skepticism that the Chinese government’s recently announced reforms to curb after-school tutoring will achieve the government’s goals of reducing emotional as well financial stress on families, reported The New York Times. They contend the reforms will only widen the opportunity gap between rich and poor and make education more competitive. The real solution, according to those interviewed by the Times, is to replace China’s “test-score-obsessed culture.”

Last week, as a part of larger efforts to reign in technology giants and avoid a looming demographic crisis by curbing the costs of raising children, the Chinese government published a broad set of reforms to transform for-profit education companies into nonprofits.

This is not the only step that Beijing has taken to tamp down the country’s hyper-competitive education system. According to the Times, the government has banned homework, limited livestreaming hours for online tutors, and created more slots at top universities.

While banning for-profit tutoring services is meant to alleviate the anxiety and financial burden associated with succeeding in the Chinese education system, the rules may actually create new pressures, according to the Times. Families often rely on such after-school programs for child care, and the new policies come with no guarantees of a replacement. Instead, wealthy families will likely flock to private tutors or evade the new rules by shifting to online services and “paying through foreign payment systems,” Kevin Ferrone, the academic dean at Crimson Global Academy, an online school, told the Times. This will leave those families that can’t afford private or illicit services behind.

Parents like Scott Yang, who lives in Wenzhou and has an 8-year-old son, told the Times that the ban only “makes it harder for kids of poor families to succeed.” After-school tutoring may have been expensive, but for many families it was the only way for their children to compete. In cracking down on for-profit education companies without implementing any reforms to the strict standardized-test system, the Chinese government is adding to the burden on poor families, Yang said.

According to Siqi Tu, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Germany who focuses on wealth and education in China, the real solution is to change the criteria by which universities select students, reported the Times.

July 29, 2021

Charter Lobby Fights House Democratic Plan to Defund Commercially Operated Charters

In a piece for the education newsletter Our Schools published by AlterNet, Jeff Bryant critiqued the campaign by the nation’s top charter school lobbying group to block a Democratic proposal that would stop sending federal funds to for-profit charter schools and cut funding for the troubled federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). Bryant called the campaign “misleading to say the least.”

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2022 education budget, which included a provision that explicitly withholds federal funds from charter schools that contract “with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.” The budget also called for a 9 percent cut to the CSP, a federal program authorized under President Clinton in 1994 to help charter schools open, replicate, and expand. While the proposal is clearly aimed at ending federal funding of for-profit charter schools, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) launched what Connecticut Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro called “a well-funded misinformation campaign” in opposition, Bryant reported.

In a petition campaign published on its website, the NACPS claimed that the new legislation would “cut off ALL federal funding” to charter schools that contract with any business, according to Bryant. These claimed were echoed by the Alliance’s president and CEO Nina Rees when she told CNN that the legislation “could impact schools that contract out for cafeteria services, special education services, or back office staff.” Rees later claimed on Twitter that House Democrats were attempting to make charter schools “do without food, plumbing, and books,” Bryant reported.

Bryant called these claims “misleading to say the least,” pointing out that they “conflate school contracts for discrete services, like textbooks and professional development, with business arrangements that lead to a private entity taking over the complete operations of a school.”

Bryant also refuted the NAPCS’s claim that the legislation threatens to cut funding for all charter schools by citing the Alliance’s own analysis finding that only 12 percent of charters qualify as “for-profit.” Bryant wrote that the Alliance’s rhetoric “is certainly an exaggeration.” A Democratic congressional staffer told The Hill that the provision does not bar charters from continuing the longstanding practice of contracting with commercial operators offering discrete services.

According to Bryant, the campaign should be understood in part as one to shield millions of dollars in funding from the CSP that wind up in the NAPCS’s war chest. Bryant cited, for example, the $2,385,960 grant from the CSP awarded to the Alliance by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in 2018. Between 2015 and 2019, the NAPCS spent more than $2.6 million lobbying the federal government for charter schools, meaning, Bryant inferred, that the grant from the CSP nearly covered the cost of the group’s federal lobbying.

July 27, 2021

China Cracks Down on For-Profit Tutoring Companies

The Chinese government published a broad set of reforms last week to transform for-profit education companies into nonprofits. The Ministry of Education declared that education has been “severely hijacked by capital,” according to Bloomberg, with the result being that the high cost of after-school tutoring was discouraging parents from having more than one child.

Education in China is hypercompetitive, in large part because of the gaokao, the Chinese equivalent of the SAT. In major cities, seven in ten students attend after-school tutoring, fueling a $100 billion education technology industry, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The new rules restrict both tutoring services and the profits they generate,” reported EdSurge. “They limit online lessons to 30-minute sessions; impose a tutoring curfew of 9 p.m.; and prohibit instruction during weekends, holidays and school breaks. Companies that offer private instruction in core subjects will have to register as nonprofits and will no longer be able to raise investment capital through IPOs or advertise their programs.”

The regulations echo Beijing’s broader campaign to curb various parts of China’s technology industry, which has rattled tech giants like Alibaba and Didi Global Inc. The new rules circulated widely before being officially published, the Journal reported, and triggered rounds of selling on Friday and Monday in Hong Kong and New York. According to Business Insider, by Friday, shares in Chinese education companies had lost half of their value and continued their slide this week.

The Chinese government officially dropped its notorious one-child policy in October 2015, allowing couples to have two children. In May of this year, the government officially lifted the cap to three children. The low fertility rate in China today, according to the Journal, is viewed as a threat to productivity as well as the country’s pension system, which, like many pension systems, depends on allocations from working citizens to support retired citizens. Earlier in July, China said it would ease financial burdens and social restrictions associated with child-rearing in an effort to boost the country’s declining fertility rate. This set of reforms targeting the for-profit tutoring industry comports with this agenda.

In a series of statements, all the major education companies in China said that they would comply with the new rules and that they support the decisions of the Communist Party, according to Bloomberg.

What remains to be seen is what, if anything, the Chinese government will do to curb the growth of minban schools, described in detail in a 2019 NCSPE working paper by Yiwen Wang. These schools are privately run and charge tuition that is often beyond the budget of most families. These schools emerged in the wake of Deng Xiaoping’s transformation of the Chinese economy in the 1980s from one centrally planned to one driven by market forces. In 1994, there were 2,358 minban schools enrolling 451,000 students. By 2006, there were 16,527 minban schools enrolling 12,568,000 students. By 2019, there were 17,433 minban schools enrolling 22,163,600 students.

What also remains to be seen is what, if anything, the Chinese government will do to curb the growth of for-profit private schools operated by foreign companies such as Nord Anglia Education, with 20 schools across China; Avenues, which is opening its first K-12 school in Shenzhen this fall; and Whittle School and Studios, which operates a K-8 also in Shenzhen. The conventional perils of foreign direct investment pose a particular threat to such companies. The Chinese government could, in effect, regulate them out of existence, much as it has done, or at least aims to do, with for-profit tutoring companies.

July 23, 2021

House Democrats Target For-Profit Charter School Operators

The House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2022 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related funding bill along party lines, which included a provision that withholds federal funds from charters operated by education management organizations (EMOs): “None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be awarded to a charter school that contracts with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.”

While Democrats argued that the provision is intended to curb the growth of EMOs, Republicans pointed to nonprofit charters that contract with for-profit non-management services as possible victims of the legislation.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools –a leading national advocacy group for charter schools –condemned the provision, claiming that it would be detrimental for those charter schools that “contract with businesses to provide students with services and supplies that they need,” such as cafeteria services and special education instruction, reported The Hill.

A Democratic congressional staffer pushed back on the alliance’s characterization, telling The Hill that the provision will not deny funds to the majority of U.S. charter schools–which are nonprofit organizations–but will apply only to the 10 percent of charter schools that are run as for-profit institutions. More specifically, the legislation does not bar charter or district schools from continuing the longstanding practice of contracting with commercially operated bus companies, food service providers, or textbook publishers.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLaura (D-Conn.) said that the language in the provision “is clearly focused on ending the practice of charters accepting federal funds only to have the school run by a low-quality, for-profit company rife with conflicts of interest,” The Hill reported.

Last week, the Indiana Attorney General filed suit with three virtual charter schools that defrauded the state of over $150 million, funneling over $85 million to for-profit companies run by related parties, including the father of the schools’ CFO and a company founded by the schools’ own founder, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The House bill also includes substantial increases in funding for public education, including a 62 percent increase for K-12 education programs, The Hill noted, as well as a $19.5 billion increase in Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies and a $3.1 billion increase in funding for special education. The current House proposal will most likely not be the version eventually approved by Congress, as the final appropriations bill is subject to negotiations and revisions before a final vote, according to The Hill.

July 22, 2021

Covid, School Choice, and the Limits of the American Rescue Plan

The recent trend of linking the pandemic to the growing demand for school choice programs constituted “an extension of older patterns of systemically underfunding public education and then creating a false message about failing and underperforming public schools and using that as a justification to send public funds to private schools,” Jessica Levin, director of Public Funds Public Schools, told Education Week.

Levin maintained that the struggle of districts to deal with the pandemic resulted from years of insufficient funding and highlighted the need for increased support of public schools.

According to Education Week, "District leaders have pointed to inadequate staffing, outdated buildings, and poor ventilation systems as hurdles to in-person learning."

The Biden administration allocated $129 billion in K-12 funding in March as a part of the American Rescue Plan, with $2.75 billion earmarked for private schools enrolling a significant portion of low-income students. The one-time cash infusion is meant to help schools reopen safely and reserves at least 20 percent of the funds for “helping students recover academically from the effects of school closures and remote learning,” according to The New York Times.

However, according to the Times, the money comes with stipulations that make it impossible for schools to address the pressing issues that have arisen from systemic underfunding.

For example, the Department of Education discouraged districts from using the funds for new school construction, and included a short time frame–all funds must be used by January 2025–that makes doing so nearly impossible. Many school districts, like Bristol Virginia Public Schools, “would like to use the new money to replace decrepit buildings,” but are unable to do so because of the federal guidelines, Superintendent Keith Perrigan told the Times.

The time frame in which the money must be spent also makes it difficult for schools to create new programs “that will not burden their budgets later on,” reported the Times. As a result, many public schools that are currently facing cuts in state funding will use the stimulus money to avoid layoffs, make up for budget shortfalls, temporarily decrease class sizes, and expand tutoring programs.

While the stimulus money may help alleviate the burden on public schools in the short term, many district leaders fear that the federal relief could complicate efforts to receive more state support, the Times continued, given that Republicans in state legislatures have criticized the size of the package and doubt the schools’ ability to “use it wisely.”

July 21, 2021

New Hampshire Sets Interim Rules for Sweeping Voucher Program

A month before the program’s launch on August 27, New Hampshire’s State Board of Education has approved an interim set of rules for the state’s new Education Freedom Accounts program, “bringing the Granite State a step closer to implementing one of the most sweeping school voucher-like programs in the United States,” The New Hampshire Bulletin reported.

When the state legislature established the program in a budget passed at the end of June, some questioned whether the state and private schools could build the necessary administrative and instructive infrastructure in time for a presumptive influx of students.

The program will be administered by the N.H. Children’s Scholarship Fund, which is one of two organizations overseeing the state’s existing tax-credit scholarship program. The program allocates at least $3,700, which would normally follow a child to their public school to qualifying parents to use for other educational expenses, including tuition and learning materials. Vouchers are available to families who earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty threshold, New Hampshire Public Radio reported.

The rules, approved by the board in a unanimous vote, “sought to clarify areas the statute left vague, including how the accounts would be run and how they must be held accountable,” according to the Bulletin. They allow the N.H. Children’s Scholarship Fund to choose which educational providers qualify for vouchers. The rules dictate what the fund must report to the DOE as well as what measures it must take to root out abuse of the program, “either from families or education providers,” the Bulletin continued.

Since the rules were passed on an interim basis, they did not necessitate a public hearing and will last only six months. The New Hampshire Department of Education “is finalizing a permanent set of rules that will receive a public hearing in the coming months,” reported the Bulletin.

July 19, 2021

Indiana Virtual Charters Charged with Defrauding State of Over $150 Million

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed suit against three virtual charter schools in an effort to recoup more than $150 million that the state says was wrongly obtained or misspent by the schools, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The State Board of Accounts conducted a special investigation that found that Indiana Virtual School, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, and Indiana Virtual Educational Foundation “had inappropriately received more than $68.7 million,” and that an additional $85 million was “improperly paid to 13 different vendors that were related to the schools through a common employee or family member.”

State investigators revealed that the charter schools “inflated their enrollment to defraud the state” by enrolling students who had merely requested information on the school’s Web site and by re-enrolling students who had left the schools, the paper reported. In one case, a school kept a deceased student officially enrolled for more than a year after the student’s death.

Investigators also found that from the 2016-17 school year to the 2018-19 school year, Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy “received more than $103 million in state funds and funneled more than $85 million to related parties.” Among them, American Pathways Academy – whose CFO, Merle Bright, is the father of the schools’ CFO, Greg Bright –received more than $32 million from the schools for which there are no invoices.

“The state calculated that American Pathways was overpaid by more than $22 million,” the Star reported, because the fees charged by the company were based on inflated enrollment figures. Merle Bright is also a signer on multiple bank accounts for the schools, and “signed more than $3 million worth of checks that the schools paid to American Pathways.”

Two other organizations that Merle Bright is connected with–Eightbit and Cyber Educational Services–were overpaid by more than $14 million and $8 million, respectively. AlphaCom, which was founded by the virtual schools’ founder Thomas Stoughton and for whom Merle Bright served as CEO and Treasurer, was overpaid by nearly $10 million, according to state investigators. More than $2 million in checks to AlphaCom were signed by the company’s founder, Stanton.

Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy operated in Daleville since 2011 and 2017, respectively, until Indiana Virtual Pathways’ charter was revoked over “issues with both academic performance and compliance with the state laws and regulations,” according to the Star.

July 16, 2021

Private School Enrollment in Pennsylvania Dropped Substantially During Pandemic

A recent policy brief from Penn State’s Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis found that “despite claims that students migrated from public to private schools to take advantage of in-person schooling … there was a decline in private school enrollment that was largely consistent with the slow and steady decline in enrollment of private schools across the last decade.”

The report challenges the popular narrative that the pandemic fueled a shift in enrollment from public to private schools.

The Center found that private school enrollment in Pennsylvania, in fact, fell 7.1 percent, more than double the public school enrollment decrease of 3.2 percent, according to the Philadelphia-based NPR and PBS affiliate WHYY. The data for private schools look better only if numbers are included for enrollment at Penn Foster, a for-profit, online private high school. With 13,000 students enrolled at Penn Foster, the decline in private school enrollment amounted to 1.5 percent. But the enrollment figures at Penn Foster could decline significantly once public schools reopen in September for in-person instruction.

According to the brief, “the majority of student enrollment loss was concentrated in the earlier grades,” including pre-kindergarten, for which the Center does not collect any data on private school enrollment. The concentrated drop in kindergarten and pre-K enrollment suggests that “many families opted to hold their children out of school for an extra year rather than navigate the ever-changing menu of in-person and online options,” reported WHYY. It remains to be seen whether families will re-enroll their students in the schools that they left and at which grade levels they will enroll them.

One exception to the across-the-board drop in enrollment was cyber charter schools, which are privately run and publicly funded. The online schools added more than 22,000 students in Pennsylvania during the pandemic, representing a 59 percent year-over-year increase, reported WHYY.

July 15, 2021

State Board of Regents Rejects New Charter High School for New York City

The New York State Board of Regents this week rejected a proposal to build a new joint charter high school in New York City that would serve four K-8 charters, AMNY reported.

The proposal had been approved by the State University of New York trustees, the largest charter school authorizer in the state, but was then rejected by the Board of Regents as “an attempt to circumvent the charter cap in NYC.”

State law caps the number of charter schools in New York City at 290 and across the state at 460. While the proposed high school would exceed the city’s limit, the schools’ four operators hoped that the joint venture would be seen as an expansion of existing charters rather than an additional charter.

Teacher unions at the city and state level applauded the Board’s decision. Michael Mulgrew, the President of the city’s United Federation of Teachers, told AMNY that such attempts to circumvent the charter cap “should not only be rejected, but they should become part of the record about why we need stricter oversight of the charter sector –because charters are always trying to get more than their fair share.”

The editorial board of The New York Post lambasted the city’s charter school cap and the Board of Regents’ recent decision, citing a Post survey that found that “72 percent of New York households with incomes under $60,000 want the cap lifted.”

The decision comes a week after Eric Adams was declared the victor of the Democratic mayoral primary. The presumptive mayor has repeatedly expressed support for charter schools, though he has indicated that he favors keeping the cap, reported Chalkbeat.

July 14, 2021

Missouri Launches ESAs

Missouri Governor Mike Parson today signed HB 349, establishing an education savings account (ESA) program dubbed “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts,” The Kansas City Star reported.

The program uses scholarships funded by private donations that can be used for private school tuition, transportation, extra tutoring, and related educational expenses. According to the Associated Press, “donors to the program would get state tax credits equal to the amount they give, an indirect way to divert state tax dollars to private education.”

While a win for school choice advocates, the program comes with many caveats. Scholarships are only available to K-12 students in cities with a population of at least 30,000, which includes the state’s largest cities and many of their suburbs, according to the AP. This is because school choice legislation has traditionally struggled to gain traction among Republicans in sparsely populated rural areas where “public schools likely would be students’ only option regardless of changes in state law.”

The program is also “limited to students with disabilities on individual education plans and children from low-income families.” Tax credits will be capped at $25 million for the first year, and lawmakers “further restricted the program to kick in only if they budget at least 40% of the minimum public school transportation funding called for by law,” which they have this year, the AP reported.

Missouri students who meet these criteria could have access to scholarships through this ESA as soon as next year. In order to delay “the possible financial hit to districts,” lawmakers added a provision “that will continue to count voucher students in their home districts for funding purposes for five years after the program begins, even if those students switch schools.”

July 12, 2021

New Hampshire Vouchers to Test Private School Capacity

In his column for The New Hampshire Union Leader, reposted by Yahoo News, Mark Hayward questioned whether the Granite State’s private schools have the capacity to accommodate the probable influx of new students that the state’s new voucher program could bring this fall.

New Hampshire’s Republican-majority state legislature passed a budget at the end of June that established “Education Freedom Accounts” (EFAs), equivalent to vouchers, for families who earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty threshold, according to New Hampshire Public Radio. Hayward argued that though the new program “makes a private-school education easier to afford for thousands of New Hampshire families,” the requirement that the program serve students this coming fall means that the state and schools will struggle to build the necessary administrative and instructive infrastructure.

Many private and religious schools in New Hampshire are “nearly brimming with students,” wrote Hayward, as “parents turned to the schools for in-classroom instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Last school year, Manchester Diocese schools “enrolled 500 new students and had 200 on a waiting list,” most of whom “were children whose parents could not be at home” while public schools were closed. As a result, last school year was the first in 15 years that the diocese saw an enrollment increase. The largest Montessori school in the state, North End Montessori School in Manchester, “is adding eight new classrooms and looking to hire as many as 16 new faculty.”

It is unclear for how many families the switch to private schooling was temporary, but schools that saw unprecedented increases in enrollment last year are struggling to expand while “grappling with labor challenges that bedevil most New Hampshire employers.” While private schools look to extend their capacity to instruct a possible influx of students this fall, the state is struggling to build the necessary administrative infrastructure to run the EFA program.

In response to the pandemic-driven momentum for private schooling, the law requires that the EFAs be available for students this coming school year, leaving state education officials scrambling to write rules specifying how the program will work and which private company will administer it. According to Hayward, “Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said education officials must write emergency rules and award a short-term, no-bid contract for the Children’s Scholarship Fund to run the voucher program.” The Children’s Scholarship Fund administers New Hampshire’s Education Tax Credit scholarships established in 2012 by the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

It remains to be seen whether last year’s increase in private school enrollment, which happened in conjunction with the proliferation of school-choice initiatives nationwide, will continue into this school year, or whether New Hampshire’s EFAs will cause a second spike in enrollment. Similar voucher programs, known as education savings accounts (ESAs), exist across the country and are available to 21 million students, Hayward noted, but are only used by 1.3 million.

July 08, 2021

Pennsylvania Boosts Funding to Public Education and Tax-Credit Scholarships

Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf last week signed the state’s annual budget, which provides historic funding increases for public and private education.

The budget provides for a $416 million increase in funding for public education, the largest single-year increase in state history, according to the Governor’s Office. However, the budget also provides an additional $40 million for the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, increasing the program’s cap to $175 million and funding an estimated 13,000 additional scholarships for students seeking a private education, reported The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

State Republicans, however, were not satisfied with the $40 million infusion. Senate Education Committee Chairman Scott Martin, a Republican from Lancaster, drafted a proposal that would elevate the cap for the EITC program from $185 million to $300 million. The bill would also raise the cap of another tax-credit scholarship program, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, from $55 million to $100 million and provide for subsequent increases of up to 25 percent each year for both credits, depending upon demand.

Democrats on the Education Committee joined the state’s largest teacher’s union in expressing opposition to the proposal, noting that the programs “could surpass $8.5 billion over the next 15 years” and that the proposed bill does not provide any transparency measures for charter schools, according to the Post-Gazette. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal praised the expansion of the tax-credit scholarships in an editorial last week summarizing the growth of school choice in four states.

July 07, 2021

Record Number of Students in North Carolina Turn to Home Schools, Private Schools

State figures released last week revealed that North Carolina’s home-school population grew by record numbers last year and that “enrollment in private schools rose by the largest number in 24 years during the coronavirus pandemic,” according to The Raleigh News & Observer.

During the 2020-21 school year, the share of home-school students rose by 20.6 percent and the state’s private schools saw a 3.3 percent increase in enrollment. Meanwhile, public schools saw a 5 percent drop in enrollment.

While North Carolina’s home-school population had been rising steadily before the pandemic, the state saw a 30,727 jump last school year, according the News & Observer. “A record 19,924 home schools opened last school year,” representing “a 103 percent increase over the prior year,” the paper continued. North Carolina’s increase in home-schooled students seems to be following a national trend. The News & Observer cited a report by the AP that showed that “home schooling had doubled between the start of the pandemic and last fall.”

The pandemic also brought on the “largest single-year increase in [private school] enrollment since 1997,” adding 3,282 new students. The record boost in enrollment was paired with a record number opening of private schools in North Carolina, with 32 additional schools bringing the total to 783, according to the News & Observer. Charter schools grew by nearly 9,000 students last school year, as well.

The rise in home-school and private school enrollment reflects the frustration parents experienced when public schools shut down last spring and resorted to remote learning, following COVID-19 precautions. Many private schools opened their doors to students before public schools could do so and attracted parents who were fed up with distance-learning. As a result, the percentage of students attending traditional public schools fell from 81 to 76 percent, representing a 70,000-student drop. The biggest drop in public school enrollment was in kindergarten, reported the News & Observer, “where some families have opted to wait a year before enrolling their children.”

For many families, the switch to private schooling may have been a temporary one that revealed their frustration with COVID-19 protocols. However, North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI), according to the News & Observer, projects that “school districts will recover most of the students they lost during the pandemic.” In fact, the budget recently approved by the state senate prevents the DPI from stripping state funding from public school districts whose enrollment “comes under projections” this fall, and “includes a bigger than normal reserve to give to districts whose enrollment is above projections.”

July 06, 2021

Wall Street Journal Celebrates School Choice Advances

The Wall Street Journal editorial board celebrated “a banner year for school choice” after four state budgets in the last two weeks increased funding to school choice initiatives, including tax-credit scholarships, vouchers, and charter schools. The recent developments build on a year of momentum for school choice advocates as the pandemic challenged public schools across the country.

The paper praised New Hampshire’s new Education Freedom Accounts, a voucher program available to families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line that “could save the state at least $360 million over a decade.” 

Reaching Higher New Hampshire, a non-profit education policy center and advocacy group, estimated that the program will cost the state $70 million in new spending and cause local school districts to lose $15 million in funding in its first three years.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf approved a budget that includes a $40 million expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, bringing its cap to $175 million and providing for 13,000 additional scholarships for K-12 students seeking private education.

Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine signed a budget last week that “packaged several school-choice provisions” together, according to the Journal. The budget increases state funding for “high-performing charter schools” and “higher scholarship values for the state’s voucher program,” and also creates a new K-12 Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which function like debit cards allowing parents to spend funds on a range of educational services.

Arizona’s legislature passed a budget that raises the funding cap for a “special-needs tax-credit scholarship program” and allows “low-income students at struggling public schools to switch to the state’s ESA program without a waiting period,” reported the Journal. However, the editorial board criticized Arizona’s failure to expand the availability of ESAs to 600,000 more low-income students, an initiative they encouraged in a February editorial. The state’s vouchers are “used by fewer than 10,000 students in a set of narrow categories,” the board lamented in February.

In sum, the editorial board noted, the choice movement has achieved significant momentum over the pandemic year: “seven states have created new tax-credit scholarship or ESA programs this year, and more than a dozen have expanded programs.”

July 05, 2021

Supreme Court to Hear Maine Religious School Tuition Case

The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear arguments in Carson v. Makin, which challenges a Maine Department of Education policy that bars families from using public tuition dollars for religious schools while allowing families to use the money for public or nonsectarian private schools, reported U.S. News & World Report.

The policy in question “allows families who live in towns that don’t have public school to receive public tuition dollars to send their children to the public or private school of their choosing,” according to the Associated Press. The program excludes religious schools “because the education they provide is not equivalent to” public education, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey told the AP.

The plaintiffs –a coalition of parents represented by the Institute for Justice, a non-profit libertarian public interest law firm –claim that the policy violates the First Amendment right to freedom of religion by discriminating against religious schools. The appeal was approved by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote after all lower courts had ruled in favor of the state.

Carson v. Makin rides on the coattails of recent Supreme Court decisions related to religious schools in Missouri and Montana that “opened the door for more challenges to rules about religious schools and public funding,” the AP reported. In Montana, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote that “states have to give religious schools the same access to public money that other private schools benefit from,” continued the AP.

The case was added to the court’s docket and will be heard when the Court’s new session begins in October.

July 02, 2021

School Choice Movement Exhibits Momentum Amid Pandemic

School choice legislation gained significant traction across the nation during the pandemic, as public schools were forced to shut down and transition to online learning with little preparation, according to an article published by the Pew Research Center: 14 states have enacted laws making it “easier for parents to transfer their students out of public schools,” and at least 12 state legislatures have debated school choice measures. In March, West Virginia passed the nation’s broadest nonpublic school voucher program, shifting $22 million to $24 million away from public schools annually and requiring an additional $103 million a year in funding, reported The West Virginia Gazette.

Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, and South Dakota all created or expanded tax-credit scholarships this year, which make donations that fund private school scholarships tax-deductible. Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Maryland expanded existing voucher programs this session as well, according to Pew. Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri all created new educational savings account (ESA) programs this year, with Kentucky’s program overriding a veto from Democratic Governor Andy Beshear. In mid-June, a non-profit representing 168 of Kentucky’s 172 public schools filed suit with the state as a last-ditch effort to block the legislation.

School choice measures proliferating in state legislatures this year represent a shift from earlier programs, reported Pew. The center specifically noted the popularity of ESAs nationwide since 2011, which “are broader than vouchers and grant money to parents for a wide range of educational expenses, funded by public dollars or tax-deductible donations.” Previously, state funded vouchers were used to pay for “limited groups of high-needs students to attend private schools on state-funded scholarships.” ESAs allow states to provide vouchers to a broader set of families who can apply them to a broader range of expenses, diverting more funds away from public schools than ever before.

By design, these voucher programs “divert students and money away from public schools and toward private and religious schools,” continued Pew, and “in some cases,” they divert students and funds to “schools that discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation, or that teach alternate views on subjects such as American slavery and evolution.”

To highlight the reality of tax dollars supporting discriminatory private schools, Pew cited a 2020 investigation by The Orlando Sentinel that “found that more than 150 private schools in Florida’s voucher program denied admission to LGBTQ students or the children of LGBTQ parents.”

To date, according to Pew, 29 states—plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.—have one or more voucher, ESA, or tax-credit scholarship program, and voucher-like proposals have passed at least one legislative chamber in Iowa, Montana, and New Hampshire. Last week, New Hampshire’s legislature proposed a two-year budget that includes a sweeping school voucher plan, a reduction in the statewide education property tax, and a $25 million cut in public school funding, according to a report by Reaching Higher New Hampshire (RHNH), a non-profit education policy center and advocacy group. Now, reported Pew, school choice advocates are gearing up to protect this years’ gains and to build upon them in the next legislative session.

June 30, 2021

New Hampshire Legislature Establishes Vouchers, Cuts Public School Funding

New Hampshire’s House and Senate last week passed two budget bills that lay bare the new Republican-majority’s desire to expand private education. Included in the bills are a sweeping school voucher plan, a reduction in the statewide education property tax, and a $25 million cut in public school funding, reported Reaching Higher New Hampshire (RHNH), a non-profit education policy center and advocacy group.

The two-year budget proposal also includes an amendment that prohibits teaching and training on “divisive concepts,” such as systemic racism, sexism, and ableism, according to The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. Such measures mark a shift in education policy in New Hampshire since the Republicans flipped the House and Senate last November after two years in the minority.

The budget includes the hotly contested language of Senate Bill 130, which establishes “Education Freedom Accounts,” or vouchers, for students whose families earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty threshold, or $79,500 for a family of four, reported New Hampshire Public Radio. The program will cost the state $70 million in new spending and local school districts $15 million in lost revenue in its first three years, according to estimates from RHNH. This and other Education Savings Account (ESA) programs introduced across the country were lauded by the Wall Street Journal editorial board in February.

A further $25 million cut to public school funding comes from the legislature’s refusal to renew a targeted aid program for property-poor communities, or those with little property tax revenue. Meanwhile, the budget also includes “a $100 million cut to the statewide education property tax (SWEPT), which disproportionately benefits owners of higher valued properties” while further hurting property-poor towns, according to RHNH. According to the Ledger-Transcript, 63.7 percent of public-school funding in New Hampshire comes from local property taxes.

The budget also includes language from the state Senate’s so-called “divisive concepts” bill, one of 16 anti-critical-race-theory bills nationwide designed to stop teachers from discussing systemic racism, sexism, and ableism in the classroom. The bill resembles former President Trump’s now-defunct executive order prohibiting federally funded institutions from teaching “divisive concepts” about race and gender, which was reversed by President Biden in an executive order on his first day in office.

June 28, 2021

North Carolina Divides Over Charter School Growth

State and local tensions over charter schools came to a head in North Carolina last week when the state attempted to limit municipalities’ ability to resist the proliferation of charter schools, reported The Charlotte Observer.

In response to the Durham City Council’s refusal to extend water and sewer service to a new, state-approved commercially managed charter school, the North Carolina State House “voted 92-14 for a bill that requires municipalities to extend water and/or sewer service, if they have the capacity, when requested by charter schools,” while also adding a provision that says that municipalities must approve annexation requests from charter schools if the property is eligible, according to the Observer.

It has been 25 years since the state law creating charter schools in North Carolina was ratified, and there are now 200 charters serving more than 126,000 students statewide, according to the Observer. Durham has 14 charter schools within its county limits.

The North Oak Academy was set to open in 2021, but met resistance from local leaders in Durham since its approval by the state, delaying its opening until 2022. After both the Durham school system and the Wake County school system unsuccessfully opposed the application for the new charter on the grounds that it would hamper efforts to improve local elementary schools and increase segregation and socioeconomic isolation in the county, the Durham City Council used their authority to reject the school’s applications for incorporation into city limits and for utilities.

In explaining the council’s motives, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel told the public at their November meeting that “it’s no secret that I believe that charter schools have been detrimental to Durham Public Schools in many ways,” and that “[charter schools] have been resegregating, and I think that they have also taken so much of the good parental and professional energy out of our public schools,” quoted the Observer.

The state was not swayed by local leaders’ arguments, and the House’s recent bill–if approved by the Senate–will further limit the ability of municipalities to resist the state’s will on the expansion charter schools.

June 26, 2021

Michigan Launches Inquiry Into Charter School Finances

The Michigan Board of Education launched an inquiry aimed at charter schools that avoid releasing basic information on how they spend public funds, directing state officials to request records related to teacher salaries, management fees, and basic expenditures, reported Chalkbeat.

The inquiry is an effort by the Democrat-controlled board to encourage transparency from Michigan’s charter schools, 80 percent of which are run by for-profit entities or use commercial firms to manage internal operations. Leaders of the board aim to guarantee “that for-profit management companies don’t divert money that was intended for classrooms,” continued Chalkbeat.

Critics say that many of these charter schools “use legal loopholes to hide their finances from the public,” and that there is “no way to know if for-profit charter school operators are diverting money from classrooms that enroll tens of thousands of Michigan students.” Charter school advocates insist that the schools are fully transparent, but journalists and researchers have struggled to access financial information, according to Chalkbeat and Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University who produces a national report on the charter school industry.

The move by the board reignites the debate over accountability at charter schools less than a year after Concept Schools—a charter management organization that operates two schools in Michigan and 24 others in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, and Missouri –consented to pay a $4.5 million fine to close a federal corruption investigation last November.

The public records requests are set to go out by the end of the summer, and the debate will only intensify if decennial redistricting tilts the balance of power toward Democrats in the state house after the 2022 elections.

June 24, 2021

NJ Supreme Court Upholds Newark Charter Expansion

New Jersey’s Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state’s 2016 decision to allow the expansion of seven charter schools in Newark, but criticized the former education commissioner’s consideration of the decision’s impact on segregation as inadequate: “While failing to conduct that analysis rendered the decision deficient, the justices wrote, reversing it would be impractical and could disrupt the education of thousands of students in Newark’s charter schools,” reported the Associated Press.

The lawsuit was filed by the Newark-based Education Law Center (ELC) against seven of Newark’s largest and highest-performing charter schools, including North Star Academy, KIPP, Great Oaks Legacy, and Robert Treat Academy, which collectively enroll an estimated 18,000 students, according to Chalkbeat. Today, more than a quarter of the Newark school district’s state and local funding goes to charter schools.

The controversy began in 2016, when then-Education Commissioner David Hespe approved the seven schools’ request to increase enrollment by 8,500 students. The ELC filed a suit in opposition, arguing that the decision “would harm district students by diverting money to charter schools and intensifying segregation,” reported Chalkbeat. However, in last week’s decision, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling that placed the burden on school districts to show that new or expanded charter schools would negatively impact their budgets and the diversity of their student populations.

The ruling puts the state “on firm and clear notice” that it must analyze and address segregation caused by charter schools, David Sciarra, executive director of the ELC, told Chalkbeat. The center projected in its failed lawsuit that if the expansion were approved, 50 percent of all Newark students would be enrolled in charter schools within five years.

June 16, 2021

Lawsuit Filed Against Kentucky's March Voucher Legislation

The Council for Better Education (CBE), a non-profit representing the 168 of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts, filed suit on June 7th in an attempt to stop House Bill 563, which they claim violates the state constitution in funneling public funds to private schools.

The law, which was vetoed by Democratic Governor Andy Beshear and overridden by the Republican state congress in March, provides $25 million annually for an Education Opportunity Accounts program (EOA) that gives tax credits to individuals and corporations that donate to third-party organizations that, in turn, distribute the funds to families for educational expenses. Donors will receive a 95 percent tax credit on up to $1 million dollars in donations exclusively to “account granting organizations, which typically oversee accounts for multiple schools or education service providers in an area,” according to The Courier-Journal. This arrangement essentially amounts to an indirect voucher program, as Kentucky’s constitution prohibits the direct use of public funds for private education.

Supporters of the measure say that it increases the options available to traditionally disadvantaged groups and provides an escape from “failing” public schools, reported The Courier-Journal.

Opponents of the bill argue that EOAs – like vouchers – funnel public funds to private institutions. In its lawsuit, the CBE argued that “the General Assembly concocted a complicated tax credit scheme to move state revenue through a private grant program” in order to “avoid the plain constitutional prohibition against the public funding of unaccountable private schools through direct expenditures.” Furthermore, the CBE highlighted the legislation’s lack of any anti-discrimination clause or provisions mandating data collection to spot disparities in who benefits from the vouchers. The CBE claimed the vouchers will allow private schools accepting tax-incentivized funds “to discriminate based on race, religion, disability, LGBTQ status, English fluency, and academic ability,” reported Public Funds Public Schools.

The lawsuit claims that HB 563 violates Kentucky’s Constitution in four ways. First, it states that HB 563 ignore the state’s constitutional mandate to administer a “substantially uniform,” well-funded public school system by “establishing and funding a separate, non-uniform, system of schools that is not under state control.” Second, the constitution mandates that public expenditures be spent on public schools, unless private school funding is approved by a majority of voters in a referendum, and HB 563 was never submitted to a voter referendum. Third, the law violates the constitutional requirement that public funds are expended for a public purpose. Finally, the EOA program “unconstitutionally delegates legislative authority over the essential governmental functions of providing education to private entities” without any basic safeguards or measures of accountability. Without any benchmarks, there is no way of telling whether the private education that the program funds is adequate.

Shortly after filing their lawsuit, the plaintiffs filed a motion for temporary injunction, seeking to stop state officials from implementing the voucher program, according to Public Funds Public Schools.

June 10, 2021

Biden Preserves Funding for Federal Charter Schools Program and Provokes Criticism

To the disappointment of both charter advocates and opponents, the Biden administration will continue funding the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) at the same rate as last year, which amounted to $440 million, reported Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post. Charter advocates were lobbying for another $60 million while opponents have been pushing for nullification of the program.

The CSP was authorized under President Clinton in 1994. The aim of the CSP is to help charter schools get off the ground, amplify offerings, and replicate. Since its inception, the program has allocated nearly $4 billion to this end.

To Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group that opposes the privatization of public education, a central problem with the CSP is that it has been funding segregation.

In a guest column published by Strauss, Burris focuses on the distribution of CSP grants in North Carolina, and how charter schools receiving those funds encourage white-flight and implement racial and socioeconomic segregation within their communities by catering to a predominately middle-class White constituency.

Of the 30 CSP grant-receiving schools in North Carolina that have reported demographic data, Burris writes, 11 “have significant overrepresentation of White students or a significant underrepresentation of Black students compared with the population of the public school district in which they are located.”

One troubling path to CSP money, reports Burris, is the conversion of private schools to charter schools. Burris cites Hobgood Academy as a salient example: begun in 1970 as a private school in relatively Black district, the school “served as a haven for White families willing to pay tuition rather than send their children to an integrated public school.” But in 2019, the Hobgood Academy parent community succeeded in transforming the school into a charter school and thereby replacing tuition with government funding. In the process, the school received a $500,000 CSP grant.

Burris provides four similar examples of CSP money going to charter schools largely serving White families. At Community Public Charter, which received a CSP grant of $250,000, 95 percent of the students were White, while White students made up 53 percent of the population of the public school district. At the Community School, which received a CSP grant of $700,000, 84 percent of its students were White, while White students made up 27 percent of the population of the school district.

The report also found that many schools that received CSP grants dramatically underserved low-income students and students with disabilities. Of the 29 CSP awardees for which the North Carolina Department of Education tracks the percentage of free or reduced-price lunch students, 90 percent served at least 10 percent fewer economically disadvantaged students than the public school district while 45 percent served 40 percent fewer economically disadvantaged students. When it came to serving students with disabilities, 20 of the 28 CSP awardees with 2020 data served a lower percentage of students than their public school district.

Burris also cites North Carolina the lack of participation in the National School Lunch Program by CSP grantees as well as their transportation policies as methods of exclusion. While 95 percent of publicly funded schools in the U.S., including charter schools, participate in the National School Lunch Program, 24 of the 35 grantee schools in North Carolina do not. Furthermore, many grantee schools are located in rural counties or in majority-white neighborhoods and do not offer a “robust transportation plan to bring disadvantaged students to the school,” making diversity unlikely.

Another method used to discriminate against low-income families is a requirement for parents to donate time—or money in lieu of time—to the school, which often drives away parents who must work full-time jobs and do not earn enough money to substitute volunteer service.

Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, $26.6 million in CSP funding was allocated to North Carolina. While only for-profit schools are not eligible to receive CSP grants, Burris found that the North Carolina Department of Education made grants to four for-profit charters run by national education management organizations: Torchlight Academy Schools, Charter Schools USA, Charter One, and National Heritage Academies.

June 09, 2021

Ohio School Choice Bill Critiqued

In an op-ed for The Columbus Dispatch, guest columnist Nicholas Pittner criticized a “seemingly innocuous” education bill currently in the House of the Ohio General Assembly for essentially writing a blank check to funnel public school funding to private schools, and warned that such action could “wreak irreparable harm” upon the state’s education system.

The “ghost bill” in question is House Bill 290, which consists of a single paragraph committing the state to revising current laws so as to allow “families to choose the option for all computed funding amounts associated with students’ education to follow them to the schools they attend.” With no funding formula, no provisions for tax levies, and without appropriating any funds, the bill creates a framework for the state to “allocate all school funding on a per-pupil basis to not only public schools but also to an unlimited number of ‘nonpublic’ schools as well,” according to Pittner.

The bill, warned Pittner, writes “a blank check for the legislature to pass whatever the conservative majority decides to bring forward after its passage,” setting the table for “a vast, unlimited, expansion of the plunder of public-school funds” for the benefit of private schools. According to Pittner, current legislation has already funneled over $1.3 billion of public school funds to private schools this year, and such legislation “will likely bankrupt [Ohio’s] public education system.”

June 04, 2021

National Charter Alum Survey Produces Mixed Responses

In a recent article for Chalkbeat on the 30th anniversary of charter schools, Roquel Crutcher highlighted the perspectives of students and alumni at the nation’s charter schools to inform the debate over school privatization. Crutcher, a KIPP Memphis alumna who is now an education policy entrepreneur at the start-up think tank Next100, launched a national public survey “aiming to fill a hole in our public understanding of charters and to gauge alumni priorities for improving charters moving forward.”

The survey received over 300 responses, and two-thirds of respondents called their experience attending their charter school “mostly positive.” Like most families, Crutcher said, the respondents “were most likely to choose the charter they attended because of the perceived differences in quality, discipline, and curriculum from their district option.” From her survey, Crutcher was able to get alumni to point to “key areas where charters were falling short,” and to offer ideas for how charter schools could improve for the next generation of students.

A key concern was discipline, as “less than half of charter alums believe discipline practices at their school were fair.” Discipline in charter schools has been a central topic of conversation since KIPP–Crutcher’s high school alma mater–renounced its “no excuses” approach to discipline last July, retiring its motto, “Work hard. Be nice.” Chicago’s Noble Charter Network joined KIPP in renouncing such a hard-lined approach to discipline in March. This repudiation of the “no excuses” philosophy adopted by many charter schools followed the Black Lives Matter protests provoked by the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Crutcher wrote that she hoped that her findings would “encourage schools to prioritize improving discipline practices so that they are culturally competent, fair, and restorative.”

Another issue raised by alumni was the lack of diversity among the teachers at charter schools. According to Crutcher, alumni “pointed out that charters could do more to recruit educators who reflect the diversity of the students they teach and invest in cultural competence training for all teachers regardless of their race or ethnicity.”

May 27, 2021

Texas Charter Network Fires Leaders Over Misuse of Funds

Texas’s largest charter school network, IDEA Public Schools, ousted its senior leadership after a forensic investigation revealed “substantial evidence” that some administrators had misused funds and staff for personal gain and in a manner to avoid detection, reported The Houston Chronicle.

CEO and superintendent JoAnna Gama, who helped found IDEA in 1998, and COO Irma Munoz were fired by the board in the wake of the investigation. IDEA is now cooperating with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which could appoint a conservator, “who would have the authority to direct actions by IDEA’s board and superintendent,” or a monitor, “who would have lesser powers,” said the Chronicle.

IDEA Public Schools serves around 66,000 students and operates more than 50 K-12 campuses in Texas, with plans to expand further by opening more than a dozen schools in 2023 and 2024, according to The Dallas Morning News. In 2019, IDEA’s finances came under fire “following the board’s quickly-reversed decisions to lease a private jet and the disclosure that the charter network spent money on luxury suites at San Antonio’s AT&T Center,” reported The Houston Chronicle.

In late 2019, former CEO and co-founder Tom Torkelson resigned with a $900,000 settlement buyout approved by the charter’s board. This prompted the passage of HB 189, which would dock charter schools’ state funding for CEO or superintendent severance payments that exceed one year of salary and benefits. This provision already applied to traditional public school districts.

Though state officials had been supportive of IDEA’s rapid expansion over the past decade, they recently began to pull back support over questions about IDEA’s administrative and financial records, according to the Chronicle. In September 2020, the TEA approved less than half of IDEA’s requests to add campuses in the upcoming school district.

Last year, IDEA’s board announced policy changes intended to strengthen accountability within the company, reported the Dallas Morning News, including measures that “prohibited the use of school funds for private air travel and mandated monthly reports to the board’s finance and audit committees.”

According to the Chronicle, “IDEA boasts higher standardized test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment rates than neighboring traditional public schools.” Leaders attribute such success to a “rigorous, regimented approach to education,” similar to that of charter-leader KIPP. However, critics of IDEA argue that “the network attracted higher-performing students and artificially filters out higher-needs children through its college-focused approach” in order to achieve better results than local schools, which must work with students assigned to them, reported the Chronicle.

May 17, 2021

Missouri Passes ESA Bill

In a serpentine legislative twist, the Missouri House voted to cut an education savings account (ESA) program in half less than a week after it was endorsed by the Senate and sent to the governor for approval.

This compromise was part of a “previously negotiated deal that helped the bill win Senate approval in the first place,” according to The Missouri Independent. The program, which was seen as a major victory for school choice advocates, saw the amount of tax credits issued in its first year cut from $50 million down to $25 million, and the $75 million cap on the program’s growth cut to $50 million.

The new amendment also restricts the ESA program to municipalities with more than 30,000 residents, “which would shield it from entering rural areas,” reported the Independent. Further, the ESA program prioritizes scholarships “to students who have special education needs” and establishes a tiered system for prioritization. Priority goes, first, to those who “fall below 100 percent of the income standard used to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches –which is a little over $48,000 for a household of four in Missouri,” and, second, to those “who fall below 200 percent of that standard –nearly $97,000.”

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal lauded the bill along with more than a dozen across the U.S. as evidence momentum in the school choice movement and “parental frustration with school closures” during the pandemic.

Without a deal, the fate of the bill would have been uncertain: when it was originally passed in late March, “it did so with the bare minimum number of votes required,” reported the Independent. In April, “one of the yes votes – Representative Rick Roeber – was expelled from the House.”

Before the amendment, over 7,000 students were expected to obtain scholarships from the program. Republicans are hopeful that “if the smaller program is taken advantage of, then it will be evidence of its demand” and will allow Missouri’s ESA program to grow.

May 11, 2021

Catholic Schools See Enrollment Continue to Shrink

According to the National Catholic Educational Association, about 150 Catholic schools closed over the summer, amounting to approximately 2 percent of the 6,183 schools in operation last year, reported The New York Times in September. That number was up at least 50 percent from recent years, said Kathy Mears, director of the NCEA.

The situation for Catholic schools stands to get worse over this summer, according to The Wall Street Journal. “For many of the lower-income families whom Catholic schools serve, especially in urban areas, the cost became too much once the pandemic hit and the economy cratered,” reported the Journal, particularly as many families were unwilling to pay tuition for virtual learning. In addition, donation revenue that used to bolster schools during economic crises plummeted.

Urban dioceses have been hit the hardest, with the archdioceses of Los Angeles and New York reporting drops in enrollment of 12 and 11 percent, respectively. Last July, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it would be shuttering 20 schools.

Catholic schools generally resumed in-person instruction faster than neighboring public schools, with about 85 percent of schools open in person on any given day this school year, which “helped boost enrollment 1.6 percent since September,” according to the Journal.

The Journal emphasized that the drop in enrollment at Catholic schools is part of a larger trend attributable to loss of confidence in Catholic schools on account of the sex-abuse scandals of the early aughts; the impact of the financial crash in 2008 on philanthropy; and the growing secular opposition to the church’s teachings on abortion and same-sex marriage.

This last development highlights the challenge of making Catholic school desirable to an increasingly secular society. “Enrollment at Catholic schools in the United States peaked at 5.2 million nationwide in the early 1960s,” reported the Times. “But as the percentage of practicing Catholics has declined across the United States, so has the number of children enrolling in Catholic schools. Enrollment for the 2019-20 school year was down to about 1.7 million.”

According to an analysis published in March by Gallup, “Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.”

Conversely, the Journal pointed to a recent development of the “most devout Catholics” choosing to home-school their children “because they don’t believe Catholic schools are focused enough on the faith.”

An additional challenge for Catholic schools over the past twenty years, noted the Journal, has been the steady rise in charter schools. Indeed, many charter schools provide the order and discipline desired by parents sending their children to Catholic schools yet do so for free.

May 07, 2021

North Carolina Legislature Proposes Major Voucher Expansion

The editorial board of The Raleigh News & Observer slammed North Carolina’s proposed expansion of the state’s voucher program, which would increase the maximum payment to families and also raise the of income eligibility cap. The recent bills from the state’s House and Senate, the editorial board posits, betray the true motivation behind Republican support for voucher programs: not to support low-income students at failing public schools but to undermine the public school system and subsidize private education for families already using it.

The first bill challenged by the paper is Senate Bill 671, which “will increase the current $4,200 voucher cap by $1,650” and raise the level of income eligibility for a family of four to as high as $85,794, up from the current cap of $72,000. The second is a voucher bill passed by the House, which would raise the maximum payment but keep the current income cap. When combined, the two are likely to be vetoed by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, though Republicans may “stick it into a bill Democrats can’t afford to oppose,” noted the editorial board.

North Carolina’s voucher program, called the Opportunity Scholarships program, was created in 2013 to “provide low-income families an amount up to $4,200 per year to access the education pathway best suited for their kids,” said Senate leader Phil Berger. The editorial board, however, claimed that this narrative was just a pretext to drain public schools of funding. The real goal, the paper said, was to “break confidence in public schools” and “give parents of all incomes a chance to send their children to private schools at the public’s expense.”

Citing an interview with former lobbyist for voucher bills Charles Siler, the editorial board criticized the way that “voucher advocates start by targeting a sympathetic group”—like children with disabilities or low-income families –in order to then gradually expand the program. According to Siler, privatization advocates “don’t have the political leverage” to completely dismantle public schools “so they have to engage in incrementalism” instead.

The incremental measures in North Carolina come on the heels of sweeping measures in other states aimed at establishing universal voucher programs. West Virginia’s House Bill 2013, authorized in March, will lift all caps on income eligibility and even offer vouchers to families who already don’t use the public school system, making it the broadest program in the nation, according to The West Virginia Gazette. In April, Indiana expanded its voucher program yet again, lifting its income cap so that 90 percent of families in the state will now be eligible for vouchers and eliminating a tiered system whereby families with lower incomes received vouchers worth more money. As Siler puts it, these measures show “that privatizers will abandon elements of incrementalism when they think they have the opportunity.”

The paper argued that “many of the children who receive vouchers are not attending quality private schools.” With typical families unable to afford tuition at established private schools, they instead use vouchers to send their children to “small, usually church-run schools that operate without curriculum standards.”

With Republican motivations laid bare, the editorial board called on Governor Cooper and state Democratic lawmakers to “hold the line” against proposed expansions of existing voucher programs.

April 23, 2021

Indiana Expands Voucher Program

Indiana was late in launching vouchers. The state did not do so until 2011, but the program has grown into one of the nation’s largest, surging from 3,900 students in 2012 to 36,000 students in 2020. With legislation passed on April 22nd, the state’s voucher program stands to soon grow another 33 percent, serving 48,000 students in 2022.

The central component of the legislation permitting this growth reflects a trend across the country in states with vouchers: the income cap for family eligibility has been lifted significantly. In the case of Indiana, this cap was lifted from $96,000 a year for a family of four to $145,000, meaning 90 percent of families in the state will now be eligible for vouchers.

In addition, the legislation will make vouchers worth 90 percent of state per-pupil spending on public schools for all families. Until now, Indiana employed a tiered system whereby families with lower incomes received vouchers worth more money: families qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) received vouchers worth 90 percent of state per-pupil spending on public schools; families with incomes from 100 to 125 percent of the FRL threshold received vouchers worth 70 percent of this amount; and families with incomes from 125 to 150 percent of the FRL threshold received vouchers worth 50 percent of this amount. The new legislation does away with this stratification.

To the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, this news was overdue. The Journal celebrated Indiana’s expansion of its voucher program: “Once again Hoosiers are leading the way in establishing an education system that gives parents and children a choice.”

To teachers unions, this news meant another loss for public schools.

April 05, 2021

New York Times Celebrates Steps to Rein in For-Profit Colleges

The editorial board of The New York Times praised Congress for closing a loophole that invites “predatory for-profit colleges to bleed military veterans of education aid.”

For-profit colleges have been using a loophole in the so-called “90/10 rule,” which stipulates that for-profit colleges must derive at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-federal resources, by characterizing veteran and service member GI Bill funding to count toward that 10 percent. Congressional Democrats closed that loophole when they passed the American Rescue Plan along party lines in March.

With the new rule not taking effect until 2023, the Times called on the Biden administration to hastily reverse the policies of Trump’s Education Department, which “was sued for serving the industry’s interests and attacking student borrowers who were legally entitled to have their loans forgiven because for-profit schools had defrauded them.” Specifically, the paper cited DeVos’s repeal of the Obama-era gainful-employment rule, which required for-profit schools to prove that their students will have access to gainful employment.

Yet the Times applauded the Biden administration’s education secretary, Miguel Cardona, for scrapping “a DeVos rule that severely limited loan forgiveness for defrauded students” and ensured that “tens of thousands of borrowers will have their student loan debt eliminated.” This, the Times contended, frees scores of young people from crippling loans that destroy their credit, as detailed in a March 25th editorial published by the Times.

April 02, 2021

Wall Street Journal Attributes School Choice Advances to Public School Shutdowns

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal lauded an array of new laws passed by Republican state legislatures across the country to expand school choice. The paper cited, in particular, West Virginia’s recent education savings account (ESA) program, set to be the broadest in the nation, according to The West Virginia Gazette. The paper also mentioned Florida’s Senate Bill 48, which, if passed as is, would consolidate two tax-credit scholarship programs, two voucher programs, and one ESA into what Democratic state Senator Perry Thurston called a “death knell” for public schooling, according to a story published in February by The Orlando Weekly.

Nearly 50 school choice bills have been introduced this year in 30 states, a feat the Journal editorial board claimed is “a testament to how school shutdowns have made the advantage of education choice more evident” and challenged “union control of public schools that refuse to reopen.” Echoing an editorial published in February, the paper applauded choice initiatives in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and South Dakota.

The Journal continued to praise choice initiatives endorsed by Republican legislatures bolstered by the frustration of parents with the closure of the nation’s public schools during the pandemic. In this editorial, however, the paper directly faulted teachers’ unions across the nation that were cautious to send their teachers into classrooms before vaccines were readily available to the public.

March 31, 2021

West Virginia Authorizes Nation’s Broadest Voucher Program

On March 27th, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed into law House Bill 2013, which established the Hope Scholarship Program, “an education savings account (ESA) program that gives families taxpayer money earmarked for the public school the student would have attended,” reported Forbes. While similar ESA voucher programs in other states are limited to specific subsets of students or have caps on the number of recipients, West Virginia’s program “will be open to all K-12 students, including by offering money to families who already don’t use the public school system,” making it the broadest program in the nation, according to the West Virginia Gazette.

The bill provides for little oversight over how families spend the money allocated to them, as Hope voucher funds may be spent on an array of services, from a “complete course of study for a particular content area” to “transportation fees, therapy services, and anything else the state board supervising the program okays,” according to Forbes. Essentially, parents are free to cobble together any type of non-public education that meets a minimum set of state requirements, and “there are no provisions in the law for determining if the providers are competent or qualified to provide quality educational services,” Forbes continues. The law also exempts Hope Scholarship recipients from any compulsory school attendance requirements.

“Estimates from two state agencies projected that – aside from the roughly $22 million to $24 million in annual funding the program will shift from public schools to fund vouchers for students who are anticipated to leave public schools – the program’s biggest financial effect will be about $103 million annually in new state funding that will be required to subsidize those who weren’t going to public schools anyway,” says the Gazette. In effect, money allocated to public schools will be diverted to children who are currently outside of the public school system and therefore not factored into the school aid formula. This, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, results in “direct losses of public school funding for the majority of children who remain in public schools.” Furthermore, the total funding provided by the scholarship—$4,600 per student—does not cover West Virginia’s average private school tuition of $6,068, which means parents will have to top up or depend on financial aid.

Republican supermajorities passed House Bill 2013 without a single vote from a Democrat, and after rejecting several amendments that would have kept vouchers from wealthier families and provided protections for LGBTQ students, students of different religions, and disabled and special education students, according to the West Virginia Gazette.

In February, the Wall Street Journal lauded choice initiatives in six states, including Iowa, Florida, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Nevada. However, West Virginia’s new law stands to be the most widely available choice program in the country, with no limits on household income to ensure that the funds are restricted to families who could not otherwise afford private school.  

March 26, 2021

New York Times Highlights Dangers of Loans from For-Profit Colleges

Reporting on the dangers of loans issued by for-profit colleges, The New York Times faulted aggressive marketing strategies and insufficient regulation in a detailed indictment of the commercial tertiary sector. The Times underscored that such loans “almost never come with the safeguards guaranteed by federal loans,” leaving many students with high-interest loans they can’t repay. The result is ruined credit and heavy debt on top of degrees that often amount to little in the job market.

Under federal law enacted in 1992 and revised in 1998, for-profit schools are required to derive at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-federal sources, with the other 90 percent allowed to come from federal financial aid programs. The goal of this “90/10 rule” was accountability, according to the Brookings Institute: “if an institution is providing a valuable education, someone other than the federal government should be willing to pay for students to attend.” However, according to the National Consumer Law Center, for-profit schools “deceptively promise good jobs after graduation but deliver inadequate education to get a job,” leaving students with no ability to repay their loans. The result is a predatory system wherein schools use questionable and opaque techniques to issue loans and reach that 10 percent threshold.

The Times points out that for-profit colleges often issue direct loans in order to remain compliant with the 90/10 rule, not to generate a stream of revenue. The Times cited the International Education Corporation, which expected 40 percent of the $33 million owed in 2018 to go unpaid. Yet, “even if a student pays back only a fraction of the money owed to a school, it helps the institution keep the correct ratio and continue to receive federal aid.” In effect, many for-profit schools issue crippling debt to students in order to keep federal money pouring in.

The 90/10 rule recently came under fire when the American Rescue Plan closed a loophole allowing veteran and service member GI Bill funding to count toward the 10 percent of non-governmental funding, rather than as a form of federal funds, reported Market Watch. The American Rescue Plan passed in both houses along party lines, with no votes from Republicans in either chamber. This loophole to the 90/10 rule was hotly debated, as illustrated by the Wall Street Journal and Inside Higher Ed.

Currently, federal loans have mandatory interest rates of 2.75 percent for undergraduate borrowers, whereas direct loans from for-profit schools range widely. Often, loans directly from schools far exceed that rate: the Times reported interest rates as high as 19 percent at some private schools. Moreover, unlike federal loans, which start accruing interest only after the student leaves school, direct loans from for-profit schools often begin requiring payments and accruing interest while the borrower is still in school, the Times reported.

March 22, 2021

Noble Charter Network Joins KIPP in Renouncing “No Excuses” Philosophy

The Noble Charter Network in Chicago joined KIPP in renouncing its defining embrace of a “no excuses” approach to discipline, reported National Public Radio Chicago affiliate WBEZ.

Noble comprises 17 high schools across Chicago enrolling about 13,000 students, more than 10 percent of the city’s high school students, reported WBEZ. The network is a favorite of city philanthropists, raising $9.4 million last year alone from, among others, Bruce Rauner, former governor of Illinois, and Penny Pritzker, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

The renunciation of “no excuses” came in the form of a letter to alumni, reported WBEZ:

“Chicago’s largest charter school network sent a letter to alumni this week admitting that its past discipline and promotion policies were racist and apologizing for them. The apology is notable not just as an acknowledgment of misguided policies, but as a repudiation of the ‘no-excuses’ philosophy adopted by many charter schools during the 2000s.

“For years, Noble Charter Network had an ultra-strict approach in which students, for example, got demerits for small offenses, such as not wearing a belt, not following a teacher with their eyes and failing to sit up straight or wear black dress shoes. After a certain number of demerits, students had to pay for behavior classes. If they continued to get demerits, they could be forced to repeat a grade, which led many to transfer out.

“The email calls the discipline and promotion policies ‘assimilationist, patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-black,’ according to the email sent to alumni on Monday. ‘We were disguising punishment as accountability and high expectations. We did not fulfill our mission to ALL students,’ the email continues.

“The letter set off a firestorm among former students, some of whom feel vindicated and others who say they think it was disingenuous. Some alumni point out the email did not explain what changes have been made, offer any type of reparations or ask for their feedback. Instead, the email includes a survey about whether they would want to participate in alumni events.”

As reported below on July 7, 2020, Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP, issued a statement on the organization’s Web site on July 1 that the “no excuses” charter network would be retiring its motto, “Work hard. Be nice.”

Barth wrote about the motto, which has defined KIPP since its founding in 1994: “it ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.”

The statement came on the heels of a letter by Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, addressed to KIPP alumni and posted several days earlier on the organization’s Web site.

“This letter is long overdue,” wrote Levin. “Over the years, many of you from all different KIPP schools and regions have talked with me about your reflections on your KIPP experiences. About all the ways KIPP did and did not meet your needs.... It shouldn’t have taken the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and countless others; another wave of violence against Black people; nor the pain of Black and Latinx students, alumni, colleagues and friends for me to write to all of you.”

March 16, 2021

Success Academy Fined $2.4 Million for Discrimination Against Disabled Students

The charter school network Success Academy was ordered by a U.S. District Court judge to pay a fine of $2.4 million to settle a claim of discrimination against five learning-disabled children, reported the law firm Strook & Strook & Lavan.

Stroock & Stroock & Lavan along with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest as well as Advocates for Justice brought the lawsuit on behalf of the families of the five children.

The statement, issued on March 11, by Stroock & Stroock & Lavan reads as follows:

“Charter school network Success Academy, which touts its commitment to children ‘from all backgrounds,’ has been ordered to pay over $2.4 million on a Judgment in a case brought by families of five young Black students with learning and other disabilities who sued after the children were pushed out of a Success Academy school in Brooklyn. Success Academy’s efforts to oust the children even included the creation of a ‘Got to Go’ list, as reported by the New York Times in October 2015, which singled out the students they wanted to push out, including the five child plaintiffs.

“The lawsuit, brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Advocates for Justice, and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, concluded on March 10, 2021 with Senior United States District Judge Frederic Block’s ruling, which included a precedent-setting determination that federal disability discrimination laws authorize reimbursement of expert fees.

“The case charged that Success Academy engaged in practices targeting students with disabilities, in order to force them to withdraw. The practices detailed in the suit included regularly removing the children from the classroom and calling the parents multiple times daily.

“‘This Judgment provides justice to the children and families who suffered so much,’ said Christopher Schuyler, a senior attorney in the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. ‘It also underscores the need for schools to cease doling out harsh punishments for minor infractions that can interrupt children’s academic progress and divert them into the school-to-prison pipeline.’

“‘Success Academy’s harsh, inflexible, one-size-fits-all approach to discipline is at odds with its obligation to reasonably accommodate students’ disabilities,’ noted Kayley McGrath, an associate in Stroock’s Litigation Group. ‘These children and their families were forced to withdraw from the Success Academy network not only because their educational needs were not being met, but also because they were explicitly not welcome there. This Judgment recognizes that children with disabilities deserve access to an accommodating learning environment that approaches their needs not with contempt, but with empathy.’

“‘Success Academy forced these families to withdraw their children by bullying and daily harassment, instead of providing a quality education free from discrimination,’ said Laura D. Barbieri, Special Counsel to Advocates for Justice. ‘New York’s parents and children deserve better, and we are pleased these families achieved justice.’

“The litigation centered on five children, then a mere 4 to 5 years old, with diagnosed or perceived disabilities. Success Academy did not provide appropriate accommodations, and frequently dismissed the students prior to the end of the school day – often for behaviors like fidgeting and pouting.  Success Academy also threatened to call child welfare authorities to investigate the children’s families, and even sent one child to a hospital psychiatric unit. Each family eventually removed their child from the Success Academy network.”

March 12, 2021

Florida Voucher Bill Termed a ‘Death Knell’ for Public Schooling

If Florida’s Senate Bill 48 becomes law, public schooling in Florida will be in deeper trouble than ever, writes Kathleen Oropeza in a detailed article for The Progressive.

“In what state Senator Perry Thurston calls a ‘death knell,’ the 2021 Florida House and Senate are fast-tracking the passage of SB 48,” Oropeza writes. “The bill, modeled after legislation created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, represents the unfinished business of former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the late libertarian economist Milton Friedman, and a host of rightwing philanthropists from the Waltons to the Kochs.”

The bill will create the Family Empowerment Education Savings Account/Debit Card (FES-ESA), rolling two voucher programs, two tuition tax-credit scholarship programs, and one ESA into this FES-ESA.

According to Oropeza, the bill is having an effect across the country, as well. “Florida’s voucher push is also energizing this year’s national expansion of Education Savings Account bills,” she writes, “especially in states where Republicans have achieved a trifecta of single party rule.”

“This program will be disastrous for most families,” Oropeza warns. “Not all students require funding equal to the standard FES-ESA Debit Card amount of approximately $7,592, or 97.5 percent of the full-time equivalent spending per student.”

“Some students require less and some students with greater needs require more. Some students with no extra needs, for example, might need only $4,000 in funding to satisfy their educational requirements. When that parent takes a voucher for $7,592, or $3,592 more than their child generates, it means that another public school student with higher needs, who might generate $12,000, will suffer a significant loss in funding.

“Likewise, parents who take the $7,592 FES-ESA Debit Card probably have no clue that their child requires funding more in the range of $11,000 from their public school, where students have access to a myriad of additional services and supports, such as nurses, counselors, therapists, and social workers. How will these parents be able to replicate their public school’s services on the “E-Commerce” marketplace with such reduced funds?

“What’s even worse, parents who accept the FES-ESA Debit Card give up their child’s right to attend a public school.”

March 05, 2021

Florida Senate to Vote on Transformation of State Funding of Private Education

Senate Bill 48 “sailed through its final Senate committee stop Thursday,” reported The Miami Herald.

The bill would repackage five programs—two voucher programs, two tuition tax-credit scholarship programs, and one education savings account (ESA) program—into one giant ESA serving nearly 200,000 students.

“Most notably, the 158-page bill would change how the state funds school vouchers in the budget,” noted the Herald. “It would create a whole new funding formula for them and would change the way families can use public funds for schooling outside traditional school districts. That includes private tuition, tutoring, laptops and other costs.”

According to Senator Manny Diaz, the bill’s sponsor, the ESAs would provide families about $7,400 per child in flexible spending, reported the Herald.

For more on the implications of the bill, see the February 8th account below of the critical editorial published by The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

February 26, 2021

WSJ Calls Democratic Spending Bill a Poison Pill for For-Profit Colleges

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal declared that the Democratic spending bill now working its way through Congress would mean the end for many for-profit colleges.

Beyond cutting the amount of funding for proprietary institutions from 3 percent to 1 percent of federal relief to colleges and mandating that 100 percent of such funding goes directly to students (while mandating that 50 percent of such funding goes directly to students in the case of nonprofit institutions), the Democratic spending bill calls for redefining the so-called 90/10 rule, a law passed in 1998 stipulating that no more than 90 percent of tuition at for-profit colleges may come in the form of federal grants or loans. One exception was made for GI Bill benefits, which have not been qualified as federal money, meaning veterans could tack on their benefits to other federal grants and loans. The Democratic spending bill will nullify that exception, on the grounds that proprietary institutions have been preying on veterans.

The Journal opined: “Democrats have long complained about a ‘loophole’ in the 90/10 rule, which excludes veterans benefits from the federal revenue calculation. This isn’t a loophole. GI Bill benefits are delayed compensation for military service, not federal handouts or loans. For-profits are popular among veterans because they offer vocational training and flexible schedules.

“The Democratic bill aims to drive more proprietary schools out of business by counting veterans benefits as federal revenue in the rule. An analysis by an American Enterprise Institute fellow this month estimated this would cause 87 for-profit institutions to fall out of compliance, including many that are popular among military students.

“As the report notes, hundreds of public institutions ‘report student outcomes as weak, or weaker, than those of the for-profit colleges failing a 90/10 rule.’ For-profits might be forced to turn away veterans to avoid losing access to all federal aid. Some veterans might end up at community colleges, and others might not avail themselves of their GI benefits.”

February 16, 2021

NYC Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang Vows Hands-Off Approach to Yeshivas

The failure of the majority of New York City’s yeshivas to provide students with adequate preparation in science, math, and English is not an issue, New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang told The Forward.

That yeshivas have failed to provide such adequate preparation is not a matter of debate. “A city Department of Education report in 2019 found that more than half of the yeshivas investigated were not providing the required amount of secular education that is ‘substantially equivalent’ to that of public schools to students as required by state law,” reported The Forward. “The two-year inquiry — launched after Yaffed, a pro-secular education group founded by former yeshiva students and parents filed a complaint — caused some tension between the government and the Orthodox community.”

“As mayor, I will always respect religious freedom including the freedom of parents to do what’s best for their kids educationally,” Yang said. “Thus, we shouldn’t interfere with their religious and parental choice as long as the outcomes are good.”

While private schools have much autonomy in designing curricula, they must comply with basic state standards, which include instruction in math, science, and English. This requirement goes back to the so-called Pierce Compromise, a central element of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters in 1925. In that decision, the Court struck down an Oregon law barring the operation of private schools with the qualification that private schools must nevertheless comport with state standards.

“Yang’s strong support of the yeshivas’ independence is the latest of several statements and other moves that indicate he is actively seeking the support of Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jews, a large and unusually homogenous voting bloc that helped de Blasio avoid a runoff in 2013,” reported The Forward. “It could be pivotal in the crowded June 23 Democratic primary, and Yang is one of a handful of viable contenders who seem to be courting it.”

Among other mayoral candidates, Kathryn Garcia echoed Yang, according to The Forward, while Scott Stringer, Ray McGuire, Eric Adams, and Shaun Donovan spoke in cautious terms about trying to achieve some kind of compromise with yeshivas.

February 12, 2021

WSJ Lauds Choice Initiatives in IA, FL, AZ, NH, MO, and NE

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal lauded initiatives in Iowa, Florida, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Nebraska to expand school choice. The Journal cited the shutdown or limited capacity of public school districts across the country as fundamental to these initiatives.

“Last week,” noted the Journal, “the Iowa Senate passed a bill to provide students assigned to low-performing public schools with education savings accounts (ESAs), which are similar to vouchers but can also be used for textbooks, tutoring and more. Parents can roll over unused funds to future years.

“The legislation would also allow charter schools that are independent of local school districts; today the state has only two charter schools. The bill increases a tuition-and-textbook tax credit from a maximum of $250 to $1,000 per student and extends the credit to home schoolers. ‘If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us about education, it’s that our parents need choice. And it’s not just in-person versus virtual,’ said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“Florida Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz has introduced a bill to consolidate the state’s current scholarship programs into taxpayer-funded ESAs. Nearly 200,000 students participate in the state’s existing programs, only one of which uses ESAs. The ESAs would give parents more flexibility in how they use the money.

“A GOP state Senator in Arizona is proposing to expand eligibility for the state’s ESAs—which are currently used by fewer than 10,000 students in a set of narrow categories—to low-income students across the state. Republicans in New Hampshire and Missouri are also moving ESA bills. Nebraska legislators are debating a new tax-credit scholarship program, and Republicans in Arizona are pushing to expand the aggregate cap for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to $20 million from $5 million over three years.”

The Journal cited a December Associated Press-Chalkbeat analysis concluding that public school districts across 33 states have seen enrollment drop by 500,000 since the previous school year. “Many parents with the financial means have enrolled their children in private schools or formed ‘pods’ with classmates taught by tutors,” noted the Journal. “Some are home-schooling.” For parents without the means for those options, the Journal opined, more latitude is necessary.

February 10, 2021

Tennessee Supreme Court to Hear Appeal for School Vouchers

Tennessee lawmakers in 2015 enacted a statewide education savings account (ESA) program for students with disabilities. The program was launched in 2017 and covers a range of costs, from tuition at private school to tutoring, online education, and therapy.

State lawmakers in 2019 enacted another ESA program specifically focused on providing vouchers to students from low-income families in Memphis and Nashville. This program was scheduled to launch in 2020, but the law was ruled unconstitutional in May by a Nashville judge on the grounds that it violated the constitution’s “home-rule” provision, barring legislators from imposing laws on a specific county without approval from either a majority of the county’s voters or two-thirds of the county’s lawmakers. That ruling was upheld in September by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The State Supreme Court announced on February 3rd that it would hear an appeal from the program’s advocates, Chalkbeat reported.

According to Chalkbeat, “Nashville Law Director Bob Cooper, who argued the case on behalf of the two local governments, said the basis for their case hasn’t changed.”

Chalkbeat quoted Cooper: “The trial court and a unanimous court of appeals panel held that the ESA Act imposes an unconstitutional burden on local sovereignty. We look forward to presenting those same issues to the Supreme Court.”

“In its order,” Chalkbeat added, “the Supreme Court also said it would consider a brief filed in December by a dozen current and former Republican legislators who sponsored or co-sponsored the voucher legislation. They asked the five-judge panel for clarity around interpreting and applying the state Constitution’s so-called “home rule” provision, which was the basis for the legal challenge.”

February 08, 2021

South Florida Sun Sentinel Blasts Senate Republican Bill to Expand Vouchers

In a detailed editorial, The South Florida Sun Sentinel blasted Senate Bill 48, set on radically reshaping the state’s five school choice programs and substantially widening student eligibility for vouchers. In 2014, the Florida legislature lifted the cap on eligibility so that students from families making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level could qualify. Senate Bill 48 lifts the cap to 300 percent.

Florida’s five programs comprise two for students with disabilities: McKay Scholarships, a voucher program initiated in 1999, which now serves nearly 30,000 students at about $8,000 each; and the Gardiner Scholarships, a flexible spending program (termed an Education Savings Account, or ESA for short) initiated in 2014 allowing parents to choose academic instruction, tutoring, and counseling from a range of approved service providers, which now serves nearly 15,000 students at about $11,000 each.

Florida’s three other programs include its Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program, initiated in 2001, which now serves nearly 110,000 students at about $6,500 each; Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, a voucher program initiated in 2019, which now serves about 18,000 students at $7,250 each; and Hope Scholarship Program, funded through individual tax credits and initiated in 2019, which now serves about 300 students.

Senate Bill 48 would merge the two programs for students with disabilities. The editorial board of the Sun Sentinel took no issue with that measure but weighed heavily against the bill’s call for lifting the cap on eligibility for scholarships and blending these programs into one giant ESA.

These programs, the newspaper stated, were introduced to serve children from low-income families who otherwise would not have been able to attend private schools. Lifting the cap on eligibility for these programs to encompass families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level redefines their purpose, the newspaper concluded.

“A family [of four] making about $80,000 a year could qualify,” the Sun Sentinel explained. “According to the Census Bureau, Florida’s median household income — half above, half below — in 2019 was about $56,000.”

The Sun Sentinel elaborated:

“In 2014, the Legislature expanded the voucher program to incomes up to $62,000. In an editorial, the Sun Sentinel warned that the precedent could mean expansion to as much as $82,000. Vouchers supporters dismissed the possibility. But here we are.

In addition, SB 48 would allow parents to use public money for private school tuition, home schooling and college savings funds. The money could go for purchases such as laptops.

“The Republican-led privatization effort revved up in 2006. The Florida Supreme Court — not yet packed with Federalist Society members — had struck down a voucher program that began under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“The court ruled, correctly, that the Florida Constitution does not allow public financing of private schools. So the Legislature got creative by allowing companies to get a tax credit — and earn political goodwill — by financing the program indirectly.

“Two years ago, with Gov. DeSantis in place, the Legislature dropped even that pretense. The Family Empowerment Scholarship Program uses money directly from the state treasury. Now it will be the sole source of school vouchers. Tallahassee began it in 2019 when money for the corporate tax credit program came up short and expanded it last year.

“Critics talked about a lawsuit. But a very different Florida Supreme Court would support the privatization push. Having the courts might be protection enough. But self-interested political influence also boosts the privatization campaign.

Step Up For Students is the non-profit entity that distributes the voucher money, taking a percentage for its services. President Doug Tuthill makes nearly $287,000 in salary, based on the group’s 2019 IRS 990 form.

“John Kirtley is the unpaid chairman of Step Up For Students. He’s also co-chairman of the Florida Federation for Children, a political action committee that donated $1.4 million during the 2020 election cycle.

“Then there’s Diaz himself. During six years in the House and two years in the Senate, he has been part of every charter school and voucher-related bill. In a public-minded, ethical Legislature, Diaz would be his own conflict of interest.

“Diaz is chief operating officer of Doral College. As the Sun Sentinel reported in 2016, ‘Diaz has benefited personally to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars as charter schools owned by the for-profit Academica’ pay Doral College — which also is affiliated with Academica — ‘for college courses that are not transferrable to any other school.’

“Charter schools use public money, but are run by private entities. Every expansion of charters and vouchers could benefit Diaz. But because his bills apply to an entire industry, not just himself, he doesn’t violate Tallahassee’s loose ethics rules.

The Legislature could make helpful changes to the voucher program. Tallahassee could require that they give the same tests that traditional public school students must take. Such a comparison might show whether the schools actually are helping at-risk students.

“But voucher supporters resist such accountability. Indeed, SB 48 would require an audit of Step Up For Students only every three years, not annually, as is the case now.

“Voucher supporters have been politically savvy, making low-income, minority students the face of the program. But the privateers’ real ambitions always have been clear — and never more so than this year.”

February 04, 2021

Home Schooling Gains Popularity in the Time of COVID-19

Frustration with the remote learning imposed by COVID-19 has led tens of thousands of parents across the country to withdraw their children from district schools to do remote learning on their own as home-schoolers, reported Valerie Bauerlein in The Wall Street Journal.

“In North Carolina,” Bauerlein wrote, “the state’s home-school monitoring website crashed on the first day of enrollment, and more than 18,800 families filed to operate a home-school from July 1 to Jan. 22—more than double the school-year before, according to the state Division of Non-Public Education. In Connecticut, the number of students who left public schools to be home-schooled jumped fivefold this school year, to 3,500. In Nebraska, the number of home-schooled students jumped 56%, to 13,426, according to state education officials.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2016, the latest year for which data are available, 82 percent of students attended district schools, 6 percent attended charter schools, 9 percent attended private schools, and 3 percent were home-schooled. With COVID-19 forcing families to adopt new regimens, home-schooling might continue to appeal once the pandemic is behind us.

“It isn’t clear how long new home-schooling families will stick with it once public schools fully reopen,” Bauerlein wrote. “Home-schooling advocates say it is fairly common for some families to quit after the first year or as students get older and parents find they feel underqualified to teach advanced math and science.”

February 01, 2021

Oklahoma Christian School Funded with Taxpayer Money Bars Gay Students and Teachers

Scott Maxwell of The Orlando Sentinel described in a column in October 2020 that voucher-funded private schools in Florida have exhibited a pattern of dismissing teachers on the grounds of LGBTQ status and barring students from enrollment because either they or their parents identify as LGBTQ (see an account below posted on October 26)

Leah Asmelash of CNN now reports in a story for CNN that a Christian school in Owasso, Oklahoma, expelled an 8-year-old female student for having told a female classmate that she had a crush on her. In addition, the mother of this student was told by the school principal that her 5-year-old son would also no longer have a place in the school.

Unreported in the CNN story is that this school in Owasso, Rejoice Christian School, is a beneficiary of the state’s tuition tax-credit scholarship program, called the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships. Rejoice Christian School is listed in the annual report of the program as a participating school.

Asmelash wrote: “The incident occurred last week, when Chloe Shelton, a second grader at Rejoice Christian School in Owasso, Oklahoma, told another female student she had a crush on her, mother Delanie Shelton told CNN.

“Chloe was immediately removed from the playground and spent the next few hours in the principal's office, missing class time as a result, Shelton said.

“‘Before I was even called, the vice principal told Chloe that the Bible says that women can only have children with a man,’ Shelton told CNN. ‘(The vice principal) asked me how I feel about girls liking girls and I told her that I see no issue with it.’

“Shelton took Chloe home that day, and administrators told her to not come back Friday, she said.

“The next day, the superintendent called Shelton, saying that the school was ‘ending their partnership’ with Shelton's family, she told CNN, also expelling her 5-year-old son. When Shelton asked for specifics, he said her beliefs didn't align with theirs, she said."

January 28, 2021

Florida Senate Republicans Push Voucher Expansion

Florida is currently home to the nation’s most robust system of vouchers, tuition tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts.

On top of its voucher program for students with disabilities, initiated in 1999, and its corporate tax-credit scholarship program, initiated in 2001, the state introduced an education savings account program in 2014, an individual tax-credit scholarship program in 2018, and another voucher program in 2019. For fiscal 2021, total spending for these programs will surpass $1.2 billion and serve about 200,000 students.

No state comes close to Florida in funding private school enrollment. And now Florida Republican Senators want to reshape these programs to make them more accessible and pliable, reported The Tampa Bay Times.

The proposal, called Senate Bill 48, “would merge the state’s five key school choice programs and make them all state-funded,” the newspaper reported. “It would also convert the scholarships into more flexible education savings accounts that families could use to pay for children’s private tutoring, therapy, private schooling or even college savings.”

“Under the proposal,” the newspaper reported, “the state would pay for the vouchers that previously have been scholarships funded by private donors who received tax credits. [Doug] Tuthill [CEO of Step Up for Students, Florida’s biggest scholarship administration program] said that change would return about $800 million to state coffers.

“His argument is based on the premise that the state would save money by directly funding the vouchers rather than the current system of doling out tax credits to private donors.

“It would provide donors the chance to contribute to a state education trust fund, he added, so they might continue to receive the same tax benefits.

“Scholarship funding organizations such as Step Up, meanwhile, would transition away from collecting contributions and focus their efforts on managing education savings accounts, Tuthill added.

“They would review applications to determine eligibility for the accounts, he explained, and make sure the expenditures that families make are appropriate. The organizations could claim an administrative fee up to 2.5% of the account total....

“Ron Meyer, a prominent Florida education attorney, said the legislation appears to take Florida further down an unconstitutional path of funding religious education with state taxpayer funds.

“’What SB 48 purports to do in terms of using general revenue to pay for religious education puts the measure in peril,’ said Meyer, who won a landmark lawsuit against the state’s original voucher plan promoted by Jeb Bush.

“The bill sponsors ‘are selling it as streamlining five (programs) into two,’ Meyer said. ‘But it does so much more.’”

January 23, 2021

ACICS Back on the Chopping Block

After being reinstated by the Trump adminisitration, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is facing termination under the Biden administration for the same reason it lost its authority under the Obama administration.

Founded in 1912, ACICS serves as the chief accrediting agency for for-profit colleges and universities. The U.S. Department of Education under Obama nullified the status of ACICS in December 2016 for failing to provide adquate oversight. Attorneys general in as many as 37 states had conducted fraud investigations into for-profit colleges for having enrolled underqualified applicants, inflated passing rates of students, and exaggerated employment data of graduates. Yet the Trump administration gave ACICS new life.

“President Donald J. Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, reinstated the accrediting body in 2018, citing a federal court’s opinion that found the Obama administration had not allowed it to properly defend itself,” writes Erica L. Green in The New York Times. “Ms. DeVos did so over the objections of her own staff, who issued a 244-page report detailing how the body had failed to meet dozens of federal standards.”

“The reinstatement,” continued Green, “allowed ACICS to keep operating as a watchdog for the Education Department and a gatekeeper of billions in federal financial aid dollars. At the time, the group said that it had made drastic improvements to its operations.

“Career staff members at the department who have monitored the group’s compliance since then disagree.

“The department’s announcement on Friday said that the accrediting body had ‘failed to demonstrate that it has competent and knowledgeable individuals’ who were trained in the agency’s own ‘standards, policies and procedures.’”

January 03, 2021

New York Times Flunks DeVos

The editorial board of The New York Times bid farewell to Secretary of Education Besty DeVos with a scathing report card, judging her “perhaps the most disastrous leader in the Education Department’s history.”

The Times took aim, in particular, at DeVos’s record of advocacy for the for-profit tertiary sector:

"The DeVos administration sold out to predatory for-profit colleges and their various abettors within a nanosecond of taking office. To get a jump on reversing this particular set of policies, the new education secretary can begin rule-making processes where necessary and inform the courts that it will no longer defend against lawsuits filed by state attorneys general and others who have dogged the DeVos department in court for buddying up to the for-profit industry and attacking student borrowers who deserve to have their student loans forgiven because they were defrauded by career education programs.

"The department should immediately begin rule-making to reverse Ms. DeVos’s gutting of the 'gainful employment' rule, which was supposed to cut off access to federal student aid for career training programs that buried students in debt while failing to prepare them for the job market.

"Pending in court is a lawsuit filed by 22 states and the District of Columbia charging that Ms. DeVos unlawfully rescinded an Obama-era rule that allowed students who had been defrauded by career colleges to have their federal loans forgiven. The department should stop defending against this lawsuit and revisit loan discharge claims by borrowers who remain saddled with debt even though the schools they attended were shown to be engaged in fraud. The DeVos version of the so-called borrower defense rule was so onerous for defrauded borrowers that Congress passed a bipartisan measure blocking it. That measure, however, was vetoed by the president.

"In yet another sop to the for-profit industry, Ms. DeVos disregarded a scathing indictment by her department’s career staff, reinstating an accrediting body that had been stripped of its authority for exercising lax oversight. The organization was the accreditor for two for-profit institutions that collapsed, leaving tens of thousands of students with debt and useless degrees. The new education secretary would do well to closely scrutinize the department’s methodology for evaluating accreditors.

"Yet another set of lawsuits has shown how the companies that are handsomely paid to collect student loans aggravate the debt crisis by giving advice that costs borrowers money while earning the companies cash."

December 31, 2020

Trump Signs Executive Order Expanding Access to Private Schooling

To assist poor families in covering tuition at private schools, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday permitting state and local authorities to make use of $1.7 billion from the Community Services Block Grant program to “provide emergency learning scholarships to disadvantaged families for use by any child without access to in-person learning.”

“States are supposed to allocate the grant money to groups that help low-income folks with employment, education and housing, among other things,” explained The Wall Street Journal in an editorial endorsing the decision. “Mr. Trump’s order says recipients can also use the grant funds for scholarships to assist families with private-school tuition and other education costs.”

December 21, 2020

Rhode Island Education Council Votes for Charter Expansion in Providence

Despite pushback against the proposed expansion of charter schools in Providence, the state’s education council voted for the initiative. About 3,900 of the city’s 30,000 public school students now attend charter schools. With the education council’s decision, the number of students attending charter schools should climb to 10,000 within a decade.

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal celebrated the decision in an endorsement entitled “Education Rescue in Providence.”

“The teachers union isn’t happy,” noted the Journal. “In a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten complained that the expansion would ‘financially destabilize the Providence school district, because it would drain money from neighborhood public schools.’

The Journal continued: “This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control. Funding for charter schools in Rhode Island follows the student, though local districts retain a portion for fixed costs when students leave for a charter.”

In faulting union leaders for making this argument, the Journal failed to acknowledge significant research substantiating their claims. Robert Bifulco and Randall Reback have documented the significant cost to district schools of student enrollment in charter schools in Albany and Buffalo. Helen Ladd and John Singleton have done the same in studying suburban and rural school districts in North Carolina. And Gordon Lafer has drawn the same conclusion in analyzing school spending in California.

November 18, 2020

Home Schooling Surges with COVID-19: What Next?

In a detailed account of the impact of COVID-19 on home schooling, Arianna Prothero and Christina A. Samuels of Education Week examine the data and assesses what might happen as families become more accustomed to remote learning.

Prothero and Samuels write:

"Concerns over exposure to the coronavirus, excessive screen time, and instability in school schedules have driven an unprecedented number of parents to home school their children this academic year—a shift that could have lasting effects on both public schools and the homeschooling movement.

"Nine percent of parents who weren’t home schooling their children last school year said they planned to home school their children at least some of the time this school year, according to a nationally representative survey of parents by the EdWeek Research Center.

"Typically, a little over 3 percent of the nation’s school-age children are home-schooled in a given year, federal data show.

"Home schooling in response to the pandemic is driving enrollment declines in schools and districts across the country, according to a majority of principals and superintendents surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center. Fifty-eight percent in a mid-October survey listed home schooling as being a major contributor to enrollment declines caused by COVID-19—more than any other single reason, such as losing students to charter schools, private schools, or “pandemic pods” in which families band together to hire instructors who teach their children at home...."

November 13, 2020

Charter Expansion in Providence, RI, Provokes Pushback

A “no excuses” charter network based in Boston called Excel Academy has proposed opening a K-12 school in Providence with the goal of enrolling 2,100 students within a decade, reported The Providence Journal. With Achievement First already running three schools in Providence and aiming to add two more schools with the goal of enrolling 5,700 students within a decade, district school advocates have countered that these expansion plans will bifurcate the city’s student body into those who can abide by strict behavioral and academic standards and those who can’t.

“I want to know why the mayor signed off on more than 6,000 additional charter seats at Achievement First and Excel,” said Representative Rebecca Kislak of Providence. “It’s a quarter of Providence’s public school students. I am incredibly concerned about what happens to the 75% of students left in the district’s schools.”

“As a parent,’ Kislak continued, “it feels to me like the policymakers, the governor, the mayor and the education commissioner, are giving up and saying, ‘We can’t fix your schools. The best we can do is let a quarter of our kids go to these other schools.’”

“Once the public comment period ends at the end of November,” reported the Journal, “Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green will review the charter proposal and is expected to make a recommendation to the Rhode Island Council for Elementary and Secondary Education next month.”

November 07, 2020

Charter Chain Concept Schools Fined $4.5 Million by Feds for Self-Dealing

Concept Schools, a network of charter schools administered by exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, consented to pay a $4.5 million fine to close a federal corruption investigation, announced the Justice Department in a press release on Tuesday.

Concept Schools is based in the Chicago area, where it has four schools. The charter management organization runs another 26 schools across Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri, according to its Web site.

According to the Justice Department, Concept Schools “rigged the bidding for E-Rate contracts between 2009 and 2012 in favor of chosen technology vendors so that its network of charter schools ... selected the chosen vendors without a meaningful, fair and open bidding process.  Additionally, the government alleged that Concept Schools’ chosen vendors provided equipment at higher prices than those approved by the FCC for equipment with the same functionality.  The government also contended that Concept Schools failed to maintain sufficient control over equipment reimbursed by the FCC, some of which was discovered missing.”

E-Rate is an FCC program designed to provide schools and libraries affordable broadband.

WBEZ of Chicago Public Media reported, “The federal corruption probe came into public view in June 2014, when agents raided Concept’s headquarters at the time in Des Plaines and the Chicago Math and Science Academy, in the Rogers Park neighborhood.”

“Court records show authorities launched the raids,” WBEZ continued, “because they suspected a long-running ‘scheme to defraud a federal program.’ The feds said at the time that Concept funneled about $5 million in federal grant funds to insiders and ‘away from the charter schools,’ The Chicago Sun-Times reported.”

According to WBEZ, Concept officials claimed the investigation derived from “unfair allegations of wrongdoing from ‘foreign actors.’ Although the statement from the charter operator did not specify what foreign critics they were referring to, the charter chain run by Turkish immigrants has faced criticism from the government of their homeland for several years.”

Fethulla Gulen and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are indeed sworn enemies. Erdogan has, in fact, pressed the U.S. to turn over Gulen on the grounds that the Turkish cleric was behind the blunted coup against his government in 2016.

October 26, 2020

Another Teacher Fired for Sexual Orientation by a Voucher-Funded School in FL

Opinion writer Scott Maxwell of The Orlando Sentinel documents a pattern in Florida of voucher-funded schools dismissing teachers on the grounds of LGBTQ status and barring students from enrollment because either they or their parents identify as LGBTQ.

Maxwell writes in his column:

"This past week, we learned another teacher was fired from a publicly funded Florida school simply for being gay.

"Sixth-grade history teacher Steven Arauz said administrators at Forest Lake Education Center in Longwood had long praised his work.

"But as soon as the school — which receives more than $1 million in tax dollars and tax credits each year — learned he was gay, administrators sent him an email telling him his 'conduct ... does not comport with the Seventh-day Adventist church’s standards.'

"Arauz said they gave him strict orders: 'Hand over your keys. Hand over your badge. You’re not allowed on Forrest Lake property.'

"Arauz was floored. 'These are people who I have known since I was a child,' he said. 'People whose homes I have visited. They recruited me before I went to college.'

"Arauz isn’t alone.

"Last year, I shared the story of Monica Toro Lisciandro, a theater teacher at Covenant Christian School in Brevard County who said the principal called her into his office to say he’d heard an “allegation” against her. The alleged crime? She had a girlfriend.

"Toro Lisciandro confirmed she did and was immediately fired. Not because of her job performance, but because of whom she loved.

"Covenant Christian received more than $900,000 through the state’s voucher program.

"But discrimination against teachers is just the tip of this intolerance iceberg.

"Dozens of publicly funded voucher schools in Florida have policies that blatantly discriminate against LGBTQ students and families.

"Many schools spelled them out in writing on their websites — until The Orlando Sentinel started reporting on them. Then, some of these faith-based schools started scrubbing their sites. Few came out to say they were no longer discriminating; they just wanted to erase the evidence.

"One Volusia County school that received more than $1 million a year told students that simply uttering the words 'I am gay' was 'basis for dismissal.' A Merritt Island school that received more than $700,000 told students they could be suspended for five days for lying or cheating but expelled for being gay.

"All told, the Sentinel found more than 80 schools with blatant, written policies — against students and their parents.

"An Air Force veteran shared how her partner’s children were welcomed at one voucher school when her partner was married to a man but denied admission to the same school once she fell in love with a woman who had served this country.

"Children are being taught to discriminate. With tax dollars.

"The discrimination is defended by the governor, education commissioner, legislative leaders and even the leading nonprofit that administers the state’s voucher program....

"Defenders of this discrimination claim it comes down to religious freedom — saying church-run schools have a right to refuse service....

"Defenders also stress that parents are the ones who choose where to use the vouchers. (Though the state must approve all the schools eligible to cash them.) And they are quick to note that the LGBTQ families who are banned from some schools are free to go elsewhere....

"Some Democratic legislators have proposed rules that say any school that wants to take public money must also be willing to serve all the public.

"But Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican legislators and some Democratic members of the Black legislative caucus have objected.

"Also obstructing the fight for equality is Step Up for Students, the private nonprofit that makes millions administering the state’s voucher program.

"Even after the Sentinel documented dozens of schools with blatant discrimination policies, Step Up CEO Doug Tuthill penned a guest column for the Sentinel saying he saw no evidence of 'mistreatment.'

"Apparently he doesn’t view discrimination as mistreatment.

"Some people ask why any gay person would want to attend or work at a school that didn’t want them. Segregationists used to ask similar questions about why blacks would want to go places they weren’t wanted. These people are asking the wrong question...."

October 12, 2020

Oklahoma Virtual Charter Censured in State Audit

According to Education Week, “An embattled virtual charter school that has grown to become Oklahoma's largest public school used a ‘remarkably complex’ infrastructure to divert tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into a for-profit business controlled by three men, says state auditor Cindy Byrd.

“A Republican with more than two decades of auditing experience, Byrd said the problems uncovered in the investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools and the company that manages it, Epic Youth Services, were among the worst she has seen.

“She released a scathing 120-page audit of the school's activities and finances from 2015 to 2020 that shows it funneled about $80 million into a ‘learning fund’ managed by the school's founders, Ben Harris and David Chaney, that has never been audited. Another $45.9 million went directly into the for-profit management company controlled by Harris, Chaney, and the school's chief financial officer, Josh Brock. ‘This arrangement presents an inherent conflict of interest,’ she said.

“Among the audit's other findings: The school recently spent $3 million over three months on advertising to attract new students; Epic Youth Services used $203,000 from the student-learning fund to help with startup expenses for expanding its operations into California; Harris and Chaney used Oklahoma school personnel and funds for its California operations; and they pledged credit from Epic bank accounts as collateral to secure loans to run their for-profit venture in California.

“An Epic spokeswoman described Byrd's press conference as 'political theatrics' and said school officials dispute many of the audit's findings.

“The P-12 school has enjoyed explosive growth since it was founded in 2011 and now has an enrollment of about 46,000 students.”

October 05, 2020

DeVos Announces $131 Million in New Funding to Support Charter Schools

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), started under President Clinton in 1994, has a budget of $440 million in 2020 to help charter schools get off the ground, amplify offerings, and replicate. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced on Friday the recipients of $131 million in grants to that end.

“Over 90% of the funds will support projects located in certified Opportunity Zones,” read a press release from the Department of Education. “Currently, more than 70% of Opportunity Zones lack a public charter school option for families. Additionally, nearly $1 million in funding will support the creation and expansion of public charter schools to serve Native American communities, a longstanding priority for Secretary DeVos.”

Among the largest recipients of CSP funding are Building Hope, a charter school facilities fund, based in Washington, DC, which received $19.8 million; the Florida Department of Education, $18.3 million; Kairos Academies, a charter school developer in Missouri, $1.2 million; Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a charter school developer in New Jersey, $1.5 million; the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, $4.4 million; the Texas Public Finance Authority, $10 million; and the Texas Education Agency, $23.2 million.

September 18, 2020

Adtalem Buys Walden from Laureate

After DeVry Education mushroomed into an international education conglomerate and renamed itself Adtalem Global Education in 2017, the company sold off its DeVry division to Cogswell Education in 2018 and its substantial tertiary holdings in Brazil to YDUQS in 2019.

But Adtalem, based in Chicago and listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker ATGE, has returned to buying this month with the acquisition of Walden University, an online school enrolling 48,000 students, from Laureate Education, reported Inside Higher Ed.

While the for-profit tertiary sector in the United States has shrunk significantly over the past decade (because of fraud investigations spearheaded by the Obama administration concerning enrollment of underqualified applicants, inflation of student passing rates, and exaggeration of graduate employment data), Walden has weathered the storm.

Walden has one of the biggest virtual enrollments in the country, reported Inside Higher Ed: “Most of Walden's students are enrolled in graduate programs -- just 7,000 are undergrads. About a third of its students are in nursing programs, with its next biggest enrollments in education, management, and social work.”

According to its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Laureate, based in Baltimore and listed on NASDAQ under the ticker LAUR, agreed to sell Walden to Adtalem for $1.48 billion. The filing, published on September 11, reported $591 million in revenue for the 12-month period ending in June and $147 million in operating income.

Adtalem declared in a statement published by Business Wire that the acquisition of Walden will significantly fortify its presence in healthcare education. The company already comprises American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, Chamberlain University, Ross University School of Medicine, and Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. In sum, the company will have 26 campuses spanning 15 states and four countries with more than 90,000 students.

September 14, 2020

Miami-Dade County Severs $15 Million Contract with K12 Inc.

Following a flood of complaints from teachers, parents, and students about operational problems with My School Online, the virtual platform run by K12 Inc., the Miami-Dade County School Board voted on September 10 to terminate the district’s $15.3 million contract with the company, reported The Miami Herald.

My School Online was supposed to unify virtual education across all levels of schooling in the district, but the platform suffered from curricular deficits as well as numerous recurring glitches and security breaches. District officials recommended teachers and students revert to Microsoft Teams or Zoom, which were used in the spring.

K12 Inc., founded in 2000 and based in Herndon, Virginia, is the nation’s largest for-profit provider of virtual education. The company is listed on NASDAQ under the ticker LRN.

September 09, 2020

Federal Court Rules DeVos Guidance on CARES Act Funding Illegal

Building on the preliminary injunctions issued by one federal judge in Washington State and another in California against implementation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s stipulations for deploying CARES Act funds, Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on September 4 that the stipulations were illegal.

In NAACP v. DeVos, Judge Friedrich validated the conclusions of her fellow judges on the West Coast and gave their injunctions national force in ruling the Education Department’s guidance illegal.

Under Congress’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the federal government allocated $13.5 billion via the Education Stabilization Fund to public school districts based on their portion of Title I students in order to coordinate virtual education, buy necessary technology, and prepare schools for safe reopening. According to Section 1117 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, private schools located in Title I areas may obtain a portion of a district’s Title I funding “based on the number of children from low-income families who attend.”

DeVos called in April for funds to be distributed solely according to enrollment, without regard to economic need. After she was rebuffed by leaders of the House and Senate, she modified her stance with a directive to the states stipulating that money going to schools, public or private, could either be used only for the specific benefit of children from low-income families or be allocated to schools, public or private, according to enrollment.

Public school administrators, parents, and a range of advocacy groups countered in several class action lawsuits that the first option would be impractical, as such targeted funding could not apply in matters concerning public health, and that the second option would mean diversion of funds from public schools to private. On their behalf, attorneys filed Michigan et al. v. DeVos, heard by Judge James Donato of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, State of Washington v. DeVos, heard by Judge Barbara Rothstein of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, and NAACP v. DeVos, heard by Judge Friedrich.

In agreement with the plaintiffs, Judge Donato called the Education Department’s case “interpretive jiggery-pokery in the extreme” and on August 26 issued a preliminary injunction against its rule.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable harm,” wrote Judge Donato. “They submitted substantial declarations detailing, often on a district and school-level basis, the financial and operational harms enforcement of the Rule would inflict. The Court’s task in evaluating this evidence was made considerably easier by the fact that the Department does not meaningfully dispute it. Counsel for the Department forthrightly acknowledged at the hearing that plaintiffs would sustain measurable financial and budgetary hardships under the Rule.”

In illustration of such hardships, Judge Donato wrote, “Wisconsin schools had to choose between diverting over $4 million of CARES Act funding to private schools or abandoning district-wide coronavirus preparation such as sanitizing school buses.”

In NAACP v. DeVos, Judge Friedrich, appointed to the federal bench by President Donald Trump, echoed Judge Donato in blunt terms: “Congress expressed a clear and unambiguous preference for apportioning funding to private schools based on the number of children from low-income families. Contrary to the Department’s interim final rule, that cannot mean the opposite of what it says.”

Joining the NAACP as plaintiffs in the case were families in Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Nevada, Mississippi, Alabama, and Washington, D.C. In addition, the following school districts joined the suit: Broward County, Florida; DeKalb Country, Georgia; Denver County, Colorado; Pasadena United, California; and Stamford, Connecticut.

The plaintiffs were represented by the Education Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the law firm Munger, Tolles and Olson.

September 06, 2020

Number of Catholic Schools Closing Climbs 50 Percent from Recent Years

According to the National Catholic Educational Association, about 150 Catholic schools closed over the summer, amounting to approximately 2 percent of the 6,183 schools in operation last year, reported The New York Times. This number is up at least 50 percent from recent years, said Kathy Mears, director of the NCEA.

“Enrollment at Catholic schools in the United States peaked at 5.2 million nationwide in the early 1960s,” reported the Times. “But as the percentage of practicing Catholics has declined across the United States, so has the number of children enrolling in Catholic schools. Enrollment for the 2019-20 school year was down to about 1.7 million.”

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the financial pressure on Catholic schools, reported the Times. Many parents can no longer afford the tuition. Moreover, philanthropic funding has dried up.

An additional challenge for Catholic schools over the past twenty years unmentioned by the Times has been the steady rise in charter schools, many of which provide the order and discipline desired by parents sending their children to Catholic schools yet do so for free.

Especially hard hit have been the archdioceses of Boston and New York. “In Boston, the archdiocese has had to close nine schools so far,” reported the Times, “and about two dozen others are on a ‘watch list,’ said Thomas Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. In early July, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it would be closing 20 schools.”

September 01, 2020

Private and Charter Schools Received Outsize CARES Act Funding

In response to the COVID-19 emergency, K-12 schools got supplementary money from the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act via two principal sources: the Education Stabilization Fund, which provided $13.5 billion to public school districts based on their portion of Title I students to coordinate virtual education and purchase necessary technology to make it happen happen (private schools in Title I areas, in keeping with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also share this funding “based on the number of children from low-income families who attend"); and the Paycheck Protection Program, which distributed nearly $6 billion to private and charter schools to accomplish the same.

The upshot, reported the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan watchdog organization, was significant imbalance: “Among the money made available for K-12 education, over 70 percent went to public schools and 30 percent went to private or charter schools. By comparison, roughly 85 percent of K-12 students attend public school, compared to 15 percent in private or charter schools.”

August 28, 2020

Federal Judge Blasts DeVos’s Revision of CARES Act Funding

Under Congress’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the federal government allocated $13.5 billion via the Education Stabilization Fund to public school districts based on their portion of Title I students in order to coordinate virtual education, buy necessary technology, and prepare schools for safe reopening. According to Section 1117 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, private schools located in Title I areas may obtain a portion of a district’s Title I funding “based on the number of children from low-income families who attend.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called in April for funds to be distributed solely according to enrollment, without regard to economic need. After she was rebuffed by leaders of the House and Senate, she modified her stance with a directive to the states stipulating that money going to schools, public or private, could either be used only for the specific benefit of children from low-income families or be allocated to schools, public or private, according to enrollment. Public school administrators countered that the first option would be impractical, as such targeted funding could not apply in matters concerning public health, and that the second option would mean diversion of funds from public schools to private. On their behalf, attorneys representing eight states, D.C., and four school districts filed a lawsuit.

In agreement with the plaintiffs, Judge James Donato of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California called the Education Department’s case “interpretive jiggery-pokery in the extreme” and on August 26 issued a preliminary injunction against its rule, reported Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable harm,” wrote Judge Donato. “They submitted substantial declarations detailing, often on a district and school-level basis, the financial and operational harms enforcement of the Rule would inflict. The Court’s task in evaluating this evidence was made considerably easier by the fact that the Department does not meaningfully dispute it. Counsel for the Department forthrightly acknowledged at the hearing that plaintiffs would sustain measurable financial and budgetary hardships under the Rule.”

In illustration of such hardships, Judge Donato wrote, “Wisconsin schools had to choose between diverting over $4 million of CARES Act funding to private schools or abandoning district-wide coronavirus preparation such as sanitizing school buses.”

August 12, 2020

Lines Blurred Between Public Universities and For-Profit Colleges

Enrollment in for-profit colleges has declined significantly over the past decade. On top of reports of substandard instruction, the Obama administration forced this demise by two means: first, with a gainful employment rule, stipulating that the provision of federal funds to tertiary institutions (via federal student loans and grants) required that the burden of loan payments be no more than 20 percent of the discretionary income of graduates; and second, through exposure of duplicitous claims of graduation rates and job placements.

With the closure of Corinthian Colleges in 2015, the sector went into a steep slide. Other national networks such as ITT Educational Services, Argosy University, and The Art Institutes soon after folded. In addition, DeVry University agreed to pay $100 million to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission alleging the company had both inflated the earnings of graduates and the percentage of graduates finding jobs in their fields within six months of finishing their programs.

While this downturn has been profound, the for-profit tertiary sector has found new life in an unlikely form: as a partner with public universities.

The University of Arizona’s acquisition last week of Ashford University, a for-profit online institution, provides a salient illustration.

“Administrators at Arizona said the deal would advance the university’s land-grant mission to serve adult students, with a bold step toward a technology-driven future,” wrote Kevin Carey in an Upshot column for The New York Times. “It would also, they said, yield new revenue in a time when the coronavirus pandemic has severely strained university budgets.

“But the details of the transaction reveal something more complicated. It is less an acquisition than a long-term partnership.

“The current owner of Ashford University is a publicly traded corporation called Zovio. Until its rebranding last year, Zovio was known as Bridgepoint Education. While the company recently acquired a few small start-up firms, Ashford is Zovio’s only major business. They are essentially one and the same.

“Two weeks ago, the market valued Zovio (ZVO on the Nasdaq) at about $120 million. The University of Arizona could have paid Zovio’s shareholders that amount and bought Ashford outright. But that’s not what happened.

“Instead of making Ashford part of the University of Arizona proper, university officials set up a separate nonprofit organization called the University of Arizona Global Campus. Legally, nonprofits are required to be independently managed by a board of trustees. But the University of Arizona will appoint the initial members of the board, as well as the first president of the University of Arizona Global Campus. Essentially, the university will control the nonprofit.

“The nonprofit will take over the academic assets of Ashford, in exchange for $1. Because Ashford is an online college, those assets consist mainly of the intellectual property underlying its degree programs and relationships with several thousand part-time instructors. Tuition revenue will flow in to cover the University of Arizona Global Campus’s academic costs, like instructor salaries. Zovio will also guarantee additional annual payments of $25 million for five years and $10 million for the next 10. It is even giving the new nonprofit the first year and a half up front, in cash: $37.5 million.

“That’s right: Zovio is paying the University of Arizona tens of millions of dollars to buy the academic assets of the only really valuable thing Zovio owns. Why? Because of what comes next.

“Zovio is entering into a 15-year contract with the University of Arizona Global Campus to provide recruiting, marketing, information technology, instructional design and other services. In exchange, once the University of Arizona Global Campus has covered its academic costs and received its guaranteed annual payments of $25 million or $10 million, Zovio will be reimbursed its costs for recruiting, marketing and other services. And then, it will get an additional payment of 19.5 percent of tuition revenues.

“How much money could that be? In 2019, Zovio brought in $418 million in revenue, the large majority of which came from federally financed student grants and loans. It spent $171 million on marketing, recruiting and advertising, not an unusual amount in the highly competitive world of online higher education. That amount in addition to 19.5 percent of revenue equals $253 million.

“In other words, it’s very possible that the majority of all tuition revenue paid by students to attend the University of Arizona Global Campus will go to a private corporation that no longer has any obligation to pay or manage professors. This may be why the stock market reacted favorably to the news. Zovio’s share price increased over 40 percent during the week after the deal was announced.

“The contract also solves Zovio’s biggest problem: a bad reputation.

“In 2017, the California attorney general sued Zovio, then named Bridgepoint Education, accusing Ashford University of employing “salespeople working in toxic boiler-room conditions” who “preyed on veterans and people of modest means” and then “used illegal debt collection practices when students struggled to pay their bills.”

“In 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Bridgepoint $8 million and ordered it to discharge $23.5 million in student loans, citing deceptive practices. Other investigations of Bridgepoint have involved multiple state attorneys general, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

The deal must first gain approval of the Department of Education, noted Carey. But it appears unlikely to face much resistance, particularly as Purdue negotiated a similar arrangement in 2017 with for-profit Kaplan University.

July 16, 2020

States Sue DOE over Denial of Loan Forgiveness

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s nullification in May of an Obama-era provision relieving students of responsibility to pay back federal student loans for tuition at predatory for-profit colleges has run into stiff opposition from attorneys general in 22 states and the District of Columbia, reported Stacy Cowley of The New York Times.

The Obama administration’s measure addressed the malfeasance specifically of for-profit colleges, such as Corinthian Colleges, which folded in 2015, and ITT Technical Institute, which folded in 2016, both under the weight of federal charges of duplicitous advertising.

According to Cowley, the state attorneys general filed a joint complaint in San Francisco federal court on July 15th.

Cowley wrote: “The suit was the latest legal battle over the decades-old program, known as Borrower Defense to Repayment, which allows students to ask that their federal loans be eliminated if their schools seriously misled them or violated state laws. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called Borrower Defense a 'free money' giveaway and repeatedly tried to slash the relief available through the program.

“Last year, her agency finalized a policy revision that significantly raised the bar for new claims. Among other changes, the new rule eliminated a group-discharge process, forcing each borrower to pursue relief individually, and required applicants to prove both that their school had knowingly lied to them and that the deception caused them financial harm.

“Those requirements ‘are so onerous that they make this defense impossible for a student loan borrower to assert successfully,’ the state attorneys general wrote.”

Cowley continued: “State attorneys general have successfully challenged some of Ms. DeVos’s efforts to strip down the borrower-defense system. In 2018, a federal judge ruled in their favor in a lawsuit over a delay implementing a rule created during the Obama administration that made claims easier to pursue. The ruling forced the department to let the delayed rule to take effect, clearing the way for thousands of students enrolled at ITT Technical Institute when it closed to have their loans automatically eliminated.

“Ms. DeVos’s revised rule reversed most of the Obama-era changes and applies to all federal student loans made from this month onward. It survived a rare bipartisan effort in Congress to overturn it: Mr. Trump vetoed the bill, and lawmakers couldn’t override him.

“The states’ lawsuit says the revision violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that guides the federal government’s rule-making process, by imposing ‘arbitrary and capricious’ requirements. The Trump administration has lost dozens of federal court cases on similar grounds.

“A second lawsuit challenging the Education Department’s borrower-defense rule revision is already underway in federal court in Manhattan. That complaint, brought in February by the New York Legal Assistance Group on behalf of student borrowers, said the new rule 'imposed herculean standards' that would block nearly all claims.”

July 12, 2020

KIPP's Dave Levin Responds to The Wall Street Journal

In response to The Wall Street Journal's July 7th editorial deriding KIPP’s decision to drop its motto, “Work Hard. Be Nice.,” as “woke nonsense,” Dave Levin, KIPP’s co-founder, wrote a letter defending the organization’s decision. The Journal published the letter on July 11th.

Levin wrote:

“Regarding your editorial 'KIPP Wokes Up' (July 7): KIPP’s decision to retire our slogan 'Work hard. Be nice.' has nothing to do with abandoning our standards and everything to do with meeting our community’s needs 25 years later. Last year, we gathered 6,000 students, alumni, families, teachers and school leaders to update our mission. In their stories, we heard a common theme: working hard and being nice did not sufficiently reflect the reality of their lives. Simply put, we all want a slogan that does.

“Too many of our students work incredibly hard and get into the college of their dreams—only to face a massive tuition bill, the need to work multiple jobs and a lack of paid internships in most career tracks. And once they enter the workforce, they will still earn significantly less than their white peers, be twice as likely to be killed by police and, now, be disproportionately hospitalized or die from Covid-19. In a world where our students confront anti-blackness and systemic racism at every turn, KIPP’s slogan needs to reflect the importance of identity, excellence and the boldness needed to create a more just world.

“Hard work is essential. Character matters. But neither is enough. We should not be afraid to tell our children that it takes more. It takes community, access and systemic change. And it takes a belief that we must be a part of this change.

“Ideally, working hard and being nice is all any student needs, but our country isn’t there yet. Retiring our slogan is a step toward both recognizing that fact and working to change it.”

July 07, 2020

KIPP Drops Defining Motto

Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP, issued a statement on the organization’s Web site on July 1st that the “no excuses” charter network would be retiring its motto, “Work hard. Be nice.”

Barth wrote about the motto, which has defined KIPP since its founding in 1994: “it ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.”

The statement came on the heels of a letter by Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, addressed to KIPP alumni and posted several days earlier on the organization’s Web site.

“This letter is long overdue,” wrote Levin. “Over the years, many of you from all different KIPP schools and regions have talked with me about your reflections on your KIPP experiences. About all the ways KIPP did and did not meet your needs.... It shouldn’t have taken the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and countless others; another wave of violence against Black people; nor the pain of Black and Latinx students, alumni, colleagues and friends for me to write to all of you.”

Levin went on to apologize for the failure of KIPP to do more to combat racism and vowed to be make KIPP a more inclusive organization going forward.

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal dismissed the decision by KIPP to drop its motto as “woke nonsense” in a critique published on July 7th.

The editorial board elaborated: “We hope KIPP isn’t abandoning its rigorous instruction or standards, though the line about ‘the illusion of meritocracy’ sounds a lot like what George W. Bush called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations.’ The surest way to guarantee failure is to tell students that their effort and behavior don’t matter.”

This decision by the leadership of KIPP marks a significant turning point. Hard work and obedience have been central to the organization’s mission since its founding. In fact, Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews wrote a book celebrating KIPP entitled Work Hard. Be Nice., published in 2009. But the emphasis on diligence and compliance in an era of protests against police brutality and systemic racism is, in the opinion of Levin and Barth, out of step.

June 29, 2020

Florida Vastly Expands Voucher Program

In signing into law House Bill 7067 on Thursday, Governor Ron DeSantis vastly expanded Florida’s voucher program, lifting the annual cap on growth from 7,000 students to 28,000.

“Since taking office, DeSantis has actively supported school choice initiatives,” reported the Miami Herald. “A year ago, he enacted the ‘Family Empowerment Scholarship,’ setting aside $130 million in state funds to help up to 18,000 low-income children pay for private education.”

This voucher program comes on top of the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program (TCSP), initiated in 2001 to give corporations dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for donations to scholarship funds financing tuition at private schools for children from low-income households. The TCSP funded such scholarships for 109,000 students in 2019-20, with an average allocation of $6,195 per student. The budget cap in 2019-20 for the TCSP was $874 million. Each year, the budget cap may rise 25 percent so long as 90 percent of the cap is reached.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship Program was created in 2019 to address an overflow of students seeking tuition tax credit scholarships. The average value of the vouchers from this program is $7,200.

These two programs combined make Florida the nation’s leader by far in funding private school tuition. While the TCSP does so indirectly, the new voucher program draws directly from state coffers. By 2021, Florida stands to be funding tuition at private schools for more than 200,000 students.

By comparison, other states known for significant voucher or tuition tax credit programs send far fewer students to private schools with public money.

Arizona funded tuition at private schools this year for approximately 50,000 students through a combination of individual and corporate income tax credit programs. Indiana accomplished about the same with a combination of vouchers and individual and corporate tax credit scholarships. Louisiana funded tuition at private schools this year for approximately 10,000 students with a combination of vouchers and individual tax credit scholarships. Ohio funded tuition at private schools this year for approximately 45,000 students with a combination of voucher programs serving students statewide and in Cleveland specifically. And Wisconsin likewise funded tuition at private schools this year for approximately 45,000 students with a combination of voucher programs serving students statewide and in Milwaukee and Racine specifically.

Jeb Bush, who championed school choice as Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007, released a statement on Thursday celebrating the expansion of the state’s voucher program, according to the Miami Herald.

“By providing the nation’s largest and most robust array of educational options,” Bush said, “Florida policymakers can be proud of continuing to invest in proven policies that best prepare students for success in school and in their future.”

While the bill gained bipartisan support in both the Florida House and Senate, it nevertheless met with harsh criticism from activists and legislators opposed to the diversion of public money to private schools.

According to the Miami Herald, “Kathleen Oropeza, a Central Florida parent activist who sued the state to demand improved public school funding, called the bill ‘tone deaf’ — especially in today’s economic hard times, when public education needs added support to serve students.”

The newspaper reported that Representative Carol Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, echoed Oropeza: “Expanding Florida’s $1 billion private school voucher program is as bad for our budget as it is for educational standards in our state. Given the major revenue shortfalls we are dealing with, we cannot afford to bleed more money out of our public schools.”

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal meanwhile celebrated the news of Florida’s expansion of its voucher program. In an editorial entitled “Florida’s School Choice Blowout,” the board declared: “Good news from Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed the biggest private school voucher expansion in U.S. history—giving families in Democratic, union-controlled states another reason to move to the Sunshine State.”

June 16, 2020

Should Charter Schools Be Getting Federal Stimulus Funding?

To keep the coronavirus from sinking small businesses, Congress passed a stimulus bill in March allocating $349 billion to be disbursed through banks by the Small Business Administration in an initiative called the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP entitled companies with up to 500 employees loans worth up to $10 million to cover eight weeks of payroll and related expenses, including rent and utility bills, so long as no less than 75 percent of the money went to payroll. The PPP stipulated that loans would be forgiven if companies did not lay off employees or cut wages.

In addition to allocating another $320 billion to the PPP, Congress has since amended the legislation to give small business owners more flexibility. The amended act permitted borrowers another 16 weeks to spend the loaned money and furthermore allowed borrowers greater leeway in their spending, reducing the mandated amount allocated to payroll to 60 percent.

In “Charters Secure Relief as Private Businesses,” Erica L. Green reported in The New York Times that several charter school boards have tapped into the PPP and thus generated a bitter controversy.

Charter critics allege these charter school boards are guilty of two grave wrongs: double-dipping, as charter schools are already receiving taxpayer funds as publicly financed but privately managed schools in public district systems; and diversion of funds meant for small businesses starved of revenue because government regulations forced them to close.

Charter proponents counter that the charter boards have done nothing wrong, as charter schools generally receive less money per pupil than district schools and consequently need the PPP funding to close the gap customarily filled by funding from philanthropists. With the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus, such philanthropic funding stands to decline significantly, making help from the PPP crucial to the survival of many charter schools. Moreover, the economic crisis will also mean a plunge in state and municipal tax revenue, in turn resulting in steep cuts to school budgets across the country.

“Parents, activists and researchers,” reported Green, “have identified at least $50 million in forgivable loans flowing to the schools, which, like all schools, are facing steep budget cuts next year as tax revenue, tuition payments and donations dry up.

“’To me, either you’re a fish or a fowl—you can’t say you’re a public school one day, but now because it’s advantageous, say you’re a business,’ said Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, a group that scrutinizes charter school management, and whose early donors included a teachers’ union.

“The group identified at least $48 million in funds from the Paycheck Protection Program going to 27 charter schools across the country by watching virtual school board meetings and poring over meeting minutes and news reports, which were also reviewed by The New York Times.

“’They’re saying they want this money to protect their fund balance when you have people in soup lines,’ Ms. Burris said.

“To charter school critics like Ms. Burris, the bailout underscores the long-held sense that charter schools do not play by the same rules that apply to their conventional public school counterparts.

“Charter leaders say traditional schools have long benefited from capital that they cannot obtain.

“’Those who are questioning our eligibility for this program are those who question whether we should get money at all,’ said Nina Rees, the president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

“But privately, the charters have been girding for a public-relations nightmare.

“Blake Warner, a board member of Summit Public Schools, a charter chain on the West Coast, said during a virtual board meeting last month that he did not know how taking the Paycheck Protection Program loan would affect the schools’ position in the ‘charter school versus not-charter school war being waged in California.’

“’But I do think that since P.R. is 90 percent of the issue, that is a pretty significant consideration,’ he said.

“Mr. Warner also expressed concern that the schools could face criminal penalties for claiming they faced ‘economic uncertainty.’

“’If there is a risk that we run, it is the cash balances that sit on our balance sheet today, with the benefit of hindsight, somebody coming in and saying, You didn’t need it,’ he said.

“According to Santa Clara County School Board documents obtained by The Times, Summit got at least $6.8 million in relief funds.”

Green reported that the leadership of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, however, exhibited no such qualms.

“The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools,” Green wrote, “lobbied hard to ensure Congress included the schools in the program, in part because charter schools in several states are not guaranteed district-level funding, let alone the $13.5 billion in emergency funds that Congress gave states wide discretion over.

“The alliance said a majority of charters are small and serve predominantly low-income children of color. The Paycheck Protection Program funds rent, utilities and staff — major expenses that charters often shoulder themselves, unlike individual traditional public schools. Charter teachers, who are typically not unionized, have been working overtime during the pandemic and are entitled to full compensation.

“’For some charter schools, it was a lifeline,’ Ms. Rees said.”

June 08, 2020

Oliver E. Williamson, 1932-2020

The economist Oliver E. Williamson died on May 21 at the age of 87. The cause was complications from pneumonia, according to The New York Times.

For his elucidation of how firms decide whether to make goods and services or to outsource their provision, Williamson made groundbreaking contributions to the study of privatization and its limits.

Williamson shared the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 with the political scientist Elinor Ostrom. The Nobel Foundation recognized Williamson “for his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm” and Ostrom “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.”

In building on the work of Ronald Coase, Williamson made clear that the transaction costs involved in outsourcing often made internalization rather than externalization of production more efficient.

Williamson's work has been especially relevant to education policy. With more and more school districts over the past 30 years outsourcing school management to educational management organizations (EMOs) and charter management organizations (CMOs), concerns about transaction costs have necessarily become central to debate. These concerns hold, as well, for decisions made at the state level regarding vouchers, tuition tax credit scholarships, and education savings accounts (ESAs).

“In more numerous respects than are commonly appreciated,” Williamson wrote in a 1971 article on the vertical integration of production published by the American Economic Review, “the substitution of internal organization for market exchange is attractive less on account of technological economies associated with production but because of what may be referred to broadly as ‘transactional failures’ in the operation of markets for intermediate goods.”

Williamson fleshed out his analysis of the advantages of the vertical integration of production in his book The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, published in 1985. Citing concerns about trust, in particular, as a key determinant of a firm’s decision to make rather than buy, Williamson pointed to General Motors’ acquisition of Fisher Body in 1926 as a classic example of a firm deeming the costs of outsourcing to be too high.

In its obituary for Williamson, The Wall Street Journal noted that Williamson made a similar argument in his Nobel acceptance speech with reference to the high costs incurred by Boeing many decades later in outsourcing a significant portion of the production of its 787 Dreamliner.

Williamson wrote in a footnote to that speech: “Applications of transaction cost economics would, however, have avoided the most serious outsourcing error made by Boeing: the decision to outsource the highly specialized fuselage to Vought Aircraft Industries. This transaction required significant investments in specific assets and would pose a series of adaptation problems during contract implementation.... Boeing subsequently rectified this condition by acquiring Vought.”

Williamson was born and raised in Superior, Wisconsin, according to the Times. He earned a bachelor's in management at MIT in 1955, a master's in business administration at Stanford in 1960, and a Ph.D. in economics at Carnegie Mellon in 1963. Williamson then taught at the University of California, Berkeley, till 1965, when he moved to the University of Pennsylvania. From 1983 to 1988, he taught at Yale, before returning to Berkeley, where he taught until 2004.

June 03, 2020

Wall Street Journal Backs Trump's Veto of Bipartisan Vote to Overturn DeVos's Protection of For-Profit Colleges

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal came to the defense of President Trump’s decision to reject a measure endorsed by both the House and Senate to overturn Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s revision of an Obama-era rule forgiving federal loans made to students who attended for-profit colleges found to have distorted job placement data to increase enrollment.

In “Tump’s Good College Try,” the Journal opined: “The DeVos revision would provide more due process by requiring borrowers to show they relied on misrepresentations by colleges that were made ‘with knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature.’ Bad actors could still be held accountable but, as Mr. Trump noted in his veto statement, the DeVos redo provides a ‘fair process’ and ‘needed transparency to both students and schools.’”

The Journal continued in its endorsement of Trump’s veto: “Mr. Trump deserves credit for standing up for students, colleges and due process when it’s not popular. His favor to colleges is unlikely to be politically repaid, but maybe their presidents could secretly slip him a grace note.”

May 30, 2020

Trump Backs DeVos in Vetoing Bipartisan Measure Preserving Loan Forgiveness

President Trump sided with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in rejecting a bipartisan initiative to maintain an Obama-era rule forgiving student loans for tuition at discredited for-profit colleges, reported The Washington Post.

Both the House and Senate had voted to nullify DeVos’s attempt to cancel President Obama’s modification of a 1995 law relieving students of responsibility to pay back federal student loans for tuition at colleges that had misrepresented themselves in order to boost enrollment.

Obama’s revision of the law, called the “borrower defense to repayment,” addressed the malfeasance specifically of for-profit colleges, such as Corinthian Colleges, which folded in 2015, and ITT Technical Institute, which folded in 2016, both under the weight of federal charges of duplicitous advertising and predatory lending.

In vetoing the measure, Trump dismissed it as “a misguided resolution that would increase costs for American students and undermine their ability to make choices about their education in order to best meet their needs.”

“Although the White House had long signaled the move,” reported the Post, “veterans groups that strongly oppose the regulation had implored Trump to stand with members of the military who they say are routinely preyed upon by unscrupulous schools for their lucrative GI Bill education benefits.

“In the lead-up to Memorial Day, veterans groups ran advertisements on Fox News urging Trump to support the congressional resolution. But siding with veterans would have forced Trump to abandon the longest-serving member of his Cabinet: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.”

Democratic Senator Richard J. Durban of Illinois vilified Trump’s decision: “President Trump’s veto … was a victory for DeVos and the fraud merchants at the for-profit colleges. My question to the President: in four days did you forget those flag-waving Memorial Day speeches as you vetoed a bill the veterans were begging for?”

“The Trump administration estimates its new rule,” reported the Post, “will save the federal government $11 billion over 10 years — loan payments that would have gone uncollected under existing rules.”

With Argosy University, The Art Institutes, and several other companies joining Corinthian and ITT as defunct tertiary institutions where students had taken out significant federal loans to cover tuition, the Department of Education has been deluged with claims for loan forgiveness. According to the Post, the Department of Education has so far received more than 300,000 petitions for debt relief.

May 16, 2020

DeVos Channels Coronavirus Relief Money to Private Schools

Of the $13.5 billion designated for K-12 schools by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed into law in March, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has targeted $180 million for the creation of “microgrants” parents can apply to private school tuition, reported The New York Times,

With this allocation and guidance, DeVos has, in practice, instructed school districts to share money with private schools. DeVos has as a result generated pushback from legislators and school district leaders alike, claiming DeVos has at once exploited a crisis to push her long-maintained case for vouchers and in the process diverted funds desperately needed by school districts facing budgets depleted by a plunge in municipal and state tax revenue.

“Educators are pleading with the department to revise or rescind the guidance,” reported the Times. “In Montana, school officials estimate that compliance would shift more than $1.5 million to private and home schools, up from about $206,469 that the schools are due under current law. In Louisiana, private schools would receive at least 267 percent more funding, and at least 77 percent of the relief allocation for Orleans Parish would be redirected, according to a letter that state education chiefs sent to Ms. DeVos. The Newark Public Schools in New Jersey would lose $800,000 in federal relief funds to private schools, David G. Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center, said in a letter to the governor of New Jersey asking him to reject the guidance.”

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York blasted DeVos for “exploiting congressional relief efforts.” Speaking on the Senate floor, Schumer said DeVos was “using a portion of that funding not to help states or localities cope with the crisis, but to augment her push for voucherlike programs, a prior initiative that has nothing to do with Covid-19.”

In defense of DeVos, a spokesperson for Republican members of the House Education Committee said, “While there are likely multiple ways the secretary could have interpreted this broadly written law, the language the appropriators wrote gave her the flexibility to implement it as she has done.”

“The most contentious move,” reported the Times, “is guidance that directs school districts to increase the share of dollars they spend on students in private schools. Under federal education law, school districts are required to use funding they receive for their poorest students to provide ‘equitable services,’ such as tutoring and transportation for low-income students attending private schools in their districts. But the department said districts should use their emergency funding, which was doled out based on student poverty rates, to support all students attending private schools in their districts, regardless of income.”

October 03, 2019

EdisonLearning Terminated in Chicago

EdisonLearning, the for-profit school management company, is a shrinking shadow of its once prominent self. Launched with much fanfare in 1991 as the Edison Project and taken public as a Wall Street darling by Merrill Lynch in 1999 as Edison Schools, the company changed its name a second time to EdisonLearning in 2008. At its height, the company in 2003 managed 133 schools enrolling 80,000 students in cities across the country. The company is now down to running two credit-recovery centers in Ohio and six alternative schools in Florida.

The latest bad news for the company, reported Chalkbeat in September, came in Chicago. After five years of running four credit-recovery centers in the Windy City, the company saw its contract terminated. School district officials concluded that students at the company’s schools “weren’t receiving enough in-person instruction and that its online curriculum offered mostly low-level tasks.”

In addition to faulting EdisonLearning for inadequate instruction, district officials took EdisonLearning to task for charging its own schools significant fees to use the company’s software. One official on this account, according to Chalkbeat, derided the company as a “money factory.”

Such criticism dovetails with censure of the company by district officials as well as former employees in Ohio, as reported by ProPublica in 2015, for aggressive marketing and for overstating attendance to collect per-pupil funding from the state.

Transforming Edison into a profitable operation has been an unending enterprise, as documented in the book Education and the Commercial Mindset (2016). The company, as the Edison Project, was initially slated to run a national network of for-profit private schools. But that plan hinged on the introduction of vouchers. With Bill Clinton’s defeat of George H.W. Bush in 1992, vouchers stood no chance of becoming a national reality in the near future. The company accordingly transmuted into a subcontractor, selling its management services to municipalities as well as charter boards to run schools.

This new model led to substantial growth and much support on Wall Street. When Merrill Lynch took Edison Schools public in 1999, the company was valued at $900 million. But with growth came mounting losses. Upon reaching its peak with 133 schools in 2003, the company shifted gears to focus more on providing school districts with professional development, curriculum guidance, and computer software for assessing student progress. The company moved further in this direction in 2008 when it changed its name for a second time to EdisonLearning.

In 2013, the company was forced to split. Its owner, Liberty Partners, a private equity group based in New York that purchased the company in 2003 for $91 million, was winding down. In what amounted to a fire sale, Liberty managed to sell only EdisonLearning’s supplementary educational services division to Catapult Learning, based in Camden, NJ, for $18 million. The remainder of the company trudged on in managing 11 schools, four online academies, and 13 credit-recovery centers. As Chalkbeat reported, with the nullification of the contract in Chicago, EdisonLearning is now down to two credit-recovery centers and six alternative schools.

September 09, 2019

Robert Pondiscio: Role of Parents Basic to Success of Charter Schools

Parental buy-in and involvement are the key ingredients to the success of high-performing charter schools, Robert Pondiscio writes in his forthcoming book, How the Other Half Learns: Equity, Excellence and the Battle Over School Choice.

In an excerpt published by The Wall Street Journal on September 7th, Pondiscio writes that high-performing networks like Success Academy in New York City succeed because of the parental engagement required.

Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, accordingly concedes what many charter advocates have denied: it is at bottom not the schools themselves that lead to impressive results but, rather, the enrollment only of children of parents willing to follow the rules set by the schools. Moreover, Pondiscio writes that while such sorting may seem unjust, there’s nothing wrong with it, as low-income parents should have the same freedom to choose a path for their children as do middle- and high-income parents.

Pondiscio grounds his analysis in the process at Success Academy. “By law, oversubscribed charter schools must admit students by lottery,” he writes. “Success Academy has roughly six applicants for every seat, which gives the appearance of a randomly selected student body. But it exercises unusual influence over which students end up actually enrolling. In the end, the chances of an applicant being offered a seat appear to be closer to 50/50 than one-in-six.”

Pondiscio elaborates: “Parents who win the lottery, and even those whose children are only on the wait list, must attend a series of mandatory meetings and complete various administrative steps for their applications to remain ‘active’ between the April lottery and the start of school in August. Those who falter fall away.

“At every step, school leaders aggressively preach to prospective parents about their no-nonsense culture and the expectation that parents come with eyes wide open, fully committed to Success Academy’s program and policies, including strict behavior codes, school uniform compliance, supervising homework, reading with children every night and recording what’s read in a log. Parents are warned repeatedly in unsparing language, ‘Success Academy may not be for you.’ Significantly, the schools offer no transportation or after-school programs, a potential deal breaker for working single parents or those without the support network to pick up and drop off their children every day.”

In justifying this approach, Pondiscio writes, “To deny low-income families of color the ability to self-select into safe and well-run schools with high expectations is to impose mediocrity on them, ostensibly for the public good. It is a burden that no affluent family is asked or expected to bear.”

Pondiscio closes in noting that Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of the network, contends she supports lotteries over screening because she doesn’t believe she could identify those families that would be successful. Yet Moskowitz, he writes, “has created a mechanism for those families to identify themselves.”

September 05, 2019

Wall Street Journal Publishes Dueling Op-Eds About School Reform

In the space of a week, The Wall Street Journal published dueling op-eds regarding the impact of the school reform movement.

In “Charter Schools’ Success Is an Illusion,” published August 27th, Glenn Sacks contended that the high test scores posted by charter schools reflect the same phenomenon of student sorting exhibited by district magnet schools.

Sacks, a teacher at a magnet high school in Los Angeles and co-chairman of the United Teachers of LA, explained that his students substantially outperformed students across California on the 2019 Advancement Placement U.S. Government and Politics exam but downplayed his own success as their teacher by noting the selection effect involved in magnet school enrollment. Sacks wrote this same effect is widely evident at charter schools.

“The selection effect that makes me appear more successful than I am,” Sacks wrote, “also makes charter schools appear more successful than they are…. Each spring, pro-charter websites are filled with standardized-test-score and college-acceptance hype, contrasting charters’ ‘success’ with traditional public schools’ scores and rates, as they were competing on a level playing field.”

Sacks wrote the playing field is quite tilted, however, and cited as evidence his own experience as a teacher at a neighborhood public school before moving to a magnet school. “Charter skimming is apparent in the public classroom,” he wrote. “Each year in the residential school, I lost a few students because they had been accepted to charters. Almost all of them were top-tier students.”

Making matters more challenging for neighborhood public schools, Sacks continued, is the charter school practice of shedding underperforming students: “At the same time, we received students midyear who struggled in charters and were bounced back to public schools.”

Seven days later, on September 3rd, the Journal published Karl Zinsmeister’s op-ed defending charter schools as well as the education reform movement in general.

In “Education Reform Will Weather the Left’s Assault,” Zinsmeister, lamented the recent backlash against charter schools and vouchers but declared the school reform movement is not going anywhere.

Resistance has mounted and growth has slipped, wrote Zinsmeister, editor in chief of Philanthropy and former domestic policy adviser to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and President George W. Bush.

As examples of pushback against the reform movement, Zinsmeister cited the rejection of applications for new charter schools in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles as well as the refusal in these cities to lease more space in school buildings to charter organizations; the decision by Houston’s Board of Education in May to discontinue using Teach For America to staff schools; and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s veto in June of a bill to expand the state’s tuition tax credit program funding scholarships at private K-12 schools.

Yet there are reasons for reformers to remain optimistic, Zinsmeister maintained.  “For one thing,” he wrote, “they have built a parallel infrastructure outside the old education establishment for teacher training, curriculum development, building acquisition, classroom management, etc. These institutions are durable enough to survive the current hostility, and they’re producing clear positive results.”

Zinsmeister wrote that another reason for hope is the presence among reformers of “inventive and fearless leaders,” one of whom, Virginia Walden Ford, is the subject of a feature film, Miss Virginia, to be released in October.

Ford, played by Emmy-winning Uzo Aduba, led the campaign for vouchers for low-income students in Washington, DC. The city’s Opportunity Scholarship Program was launched in 2004 and now allows approximately 1,600 students a year to attend private schools with public funding.

Zinsmeister compared Miss Virginia and its potential impact to Waiting for “Superman,” the 2010 documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim.

August 09, 2019

Adtalem, Formerly DeVry, Retreats from Brazil

Adtalem Global Education took another step this week at redefinition by putting its stake in 15 for-profit tertiary institutions in Brazil on the block, reported Reuters. These 15 schools enroll 82,000 students in total. Adtalem, which was DeVry Education until 2017, had sold DeVry itself in 2018, reported MarketWatch. While the for-profit tertiary sector in the United States has shrunk significantly over the past decade (because of fraud investigations spearheaded by the Obama administration concerning enrollment of underqualified applicants, inflation of student passing rates, and exaggeration of graduate employment data), the same sector in Brazil has mushroomed to address growing demand the government has not been able to meet with state-funded institutions. Approximately 30 percent of university students in Brazil, in fact, attended commercially operated schools in 2016, reported Inside Higher Ed. Adtalem itself posted an 18 percent increase in enrollment this year over last. This spike, reported Reuters, was driven significantly by demand for classes at its business school, Ibmec, and for classes online. According to Reuters, Adtalem is expected to sell its Brazilian assets for approximately $505 million.

March 19, 2019

NYC Specialized High Schools Continue to Offer Few Spots to Black and Hispanic Students

The story of admissions at New York City's selective high schools continues, reports The New York Times in a front-page article: of 895 spots at Stuyvesant High School, only 7 went to black students and 33 to Hispanic students; last year, 10 spots went to black students and 27 to Hispanic students.

The numbers were similar at Bronx High School of Science, the city's next most selective high school: of 803 spots, only 12 went to black students and 43 to Hispanic students; last year, 25 spots went to black students and 65 to Hispanic students.

While black and Hispanic students together make up 70 percent of students in New York City's public schools, they constitute only 10 percent of the students admitted to the city's eight so-called specialized high schools, which include, in addition to Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, Brooklyn Latin, Staten Island Tech, The High School for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at City College, Queens High School for the Sciences and York College, and The High School of American Studies at Lehman College. The last five were added to the city's system during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Admission to these eight schools is based on results from one exam. Of the 27,500 students who took the exam for next year's freshman class, 5,500 were black. Of the 4,800 seats, 190 went to black students. Last year, of just over 5,000 seats, 207 went to black students.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to alter the application process in the name of integrating these eight schools. De Blasio needs approval from Albany to do this and has appealed to state lawmakers to replace the exam with a process of admitting the top students from middle schools across the five boroughs.

If de Blasio's proposal went into effect, according to a recent report, noted the Times, the portion of Asian-American students in the eight schools, which now amounts to 60 percent, would drop by half while the portion of black students would increase fivefold.

De Blasio's proposal has so far met fierce resistance from leaders of the city's Asian community. Lawmakers in Albany have yet to get behind de Blasio's plan and do not appear likely to do so. 

February 11, 2019

Puerto Rico Charter Sector to Grow in Second Year

Puerto Rico’s Department of Education held hearings on Friday, February 8, to consider the conversion of 30 traditional public schools into charter schools for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The island’s Education Reform Act, approved in March 2018, introduced charter schools as well as vouchers, with the stipulation that no more than 10 percent of schools could be charter schools and no more than 3 percent of students attend private or non-district public schools with the use of vouchers.

For charter schools, the baseline for determining the 10 percent was the number of schools as of August 15, 2018, which means that if more traditional public schools across the island are closed, the proportion of charter schools could in time exceed 10 percent.

In the first year following the Education Reform Act, there is only one charter school on the island: Vimenti, an elementary school in San Juan operated by the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico.

According to an article published by Noticel, Vimenti started in August 2018 with a kindergarten and first grade, enrolling 58 students in total—31 of whom come from the neighborhood, 27 from other neighborhoods, and 13 classified for special education. The plan is to add one grade per year as students progress through school. 

Supplementary funding for Vimenti, reported Noticel, comes from the Colibri Foundation, which donated $1 million, and the singer Marc Anthony, who gave $500,000.

In the hearings last week, the Department of Education considered proposals for four more charter schools in San Juan, five in Humacao, one in Bayamón, three in Caguas, six in Ponce, two in Arecibo, and nine in Mayaguez. In contrast to Vimenti, these schools would not be new schools built one grade at a time but, rather, conversions from traditional schools to charter schools.

According to one school administrator with direct knowledge of the hearing process, it is expected that at least 13 of the proposed conversions will be approved for the 2019-2020 year while the remaining 17 will be approved for the 2020-2021 year.

September 14, 2017

InfiLaw Corporation Target of Federal Whistle-Blower Suit

A former law professor at the recently shuttered Charlotte School of Law filed a federal whistle-blower suit against the law school’s owner, the InfiLaw Corporation, claiming the company “defrauded taxpayers of $285 million over a five-year period,” reported The New York Times.

According to the professor, Barbara Bernier, who taught constitutional law at the school from 2013 to 2016, the fraud practices included, one, breach of federal requirements that for-profit school operators may book no more than 90 percent of revenue from federal student loans; and two, “providing stipends to at-risk students to delay taking the bar exam” so not to tarnish the school’s reputation with a low passing rate.

Bernier filed the complaint in 2016, but it was only unsealed last month, reported the Times, “when the United States attorney’s office in Orlando, Fla.—where the lawsuit was filed, in InfiLaw’s state—filed a notice that it would not intervene.”

At the same time the complaint was unsealed, Charlotte School of Law closed its doors. In addition to Bernier’s suit, reported the Times, the school “faces several state and federal lawsuits from disgruntled law students who are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. There is also a civil fraud inquiry on behalf of students being conducted by the North Carolina attorney general’s office.”

Regarding InfiLaw, it is based in Naples, Fla., and is owned in large part by Sterling Partners, a private equity firm based in Chicago. The firm’s portfolio also includes Arizona Summit Law School, in Phoenix; and Florida Coastal School of Law, in Jacksonville. Because of low rates of bar passage as well as declining enrollment in law schools in general, these schools  “have been on rocky ground in recent years,” according to the Times.

For more about for-profit law schools and their challenges, see the 2016 NCSPE working paper “Proprietary Law Schools and the Marketization of Access to Justice” by Riaz Tejani, a professor of legal studies at the University of Illinois. Tejani has since published Law Mart: Justice, Access, and For-Profit Law Schools (Stanford University Press, 2017).

September 11, 2017

NYC DOE Faulted for Failing to Monitor Yeshivas

While largely independent, private schools must comply with basic state requirements. In New York, that means private schools provide instruction that is “at least substantially equivalent” to what is provided by public schools. New York City’s ultra-Orthodox yeshivas were found two years ago to fall short of that measure, yet next to nothing has been done since, reported both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

This issue of insufficient compliance has all the more meaning in light of the Trump administration’s campaign to incent states to fund private schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits.

According to the Journal, the New York City Department of Education found in 2015 that 39 yeshivas failed to provide sufficient instruction in secular studies.  The DOE has since visited only six of those schools. And not one of those visits was a surprise inspection. Moreover, officials at the DOE had earlier this year promised a report by September 22nd but then stated more time would be necessary.

According to the Times, approximately 57,000 students attend ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in New York City.  An advocacy group called Young Advocates for Fair Education issued its own report and protested on the steps of City Hall that the DOE was not doing its job to protect these students.

The group contended in its report, recounted the Times, that, on average, “boys in elementary school received roughly 90 minutes of instruction in secular subjects, including reading and writing in English, four days a week. After age 13, the typical boy received no instruction in secular subjects. Since girls cannot become rabbis, they typically receive more secular education than boys.” As a result, the group maintains that “many of the students, particularly the boys, will finish school with poor to nonexistent English and math skills, and little knowledge of history or science.”

September 07, 2017

KIPP and Its Limits

In conjunction with a six-part series on education in the United States, the National Public Radio program With Good Reason published on its Web site an excerpt about the rise of KIPP from Education and the Commercial Mindset (Harvard University Press, 2016), an analysis of the impact of market forces on public schooling by NCSPE's director, Samuel E. Abrams. In this excerpt, Abrams describes the evolution of KIPP and similar charter management organizations (CMOs) as the successful non-profit response to Edison and other struggling for-profit educational management organizations (EMOs).

The growth in KIPP school openings has slowed down since the publication of this book, it should be noted. As Abrams explains in his book, while KIPP has benefited from its non-profit status by winning allegiance from idealistic, tireless young staff and by gaining substantial funding from philanthropists, the organization is necessarily constrained by the finite number of, one, teachers capable of working very long hours and, two, generous philanthropists. In addition, the organization is constrained by the finite number of students capable of abiding by the organization's stiff behavioral and academic expectations.

In 2014, KIPP grew by 15 percent, from 141 schools to 162; in 2015, by 13 percent, to 183 schools; in 2016, by 9 percent, to 200 schools; and in 2017, by 5 percent, to 209 schools. This slowdown comports with an ebb in charter school growth reported by Education Week in March: 640 new charter schools opened in 2012; 501, in 2013; 404, in 2015; and 329, in 2015.

Citing a study by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the newspaper noted that large charter authorizers have seen a marked drop in charter applications, from an average of 18 in the 2011-12 school year to 7 in the 2015-16 school year.  One explanation offered by Education Week for the downturn is that CMOs "may have reached capacity." In addition, it should be pointed out that charter schools have run into mounting resistance, as illustrated by the NAACP's call for a moratorium on charter school growth in October 2016 and by the decisive rejection a month later of a referendum in Massachusetts to lift the cap on charter schools, with 62 percent of voters opposing the measure and 38 percent supporting it.

August 30, 2017

Tuition Tax Credits Come to Chicago

In a deal to shore up the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund and close the gap in school funding between high- and low-income communities across the state, the Illinois Senate voted 38-13 on August 29, reported The Chicago Tribune, to join the House in including a tuition tax-credit program to finance the enrollment of underprivileged children in Chicago private schools.

With this concession to advocates of school choice, the Illinois legislature, which is ruled by Democrats in both houses, has made Chicago another domain for tuition tax credits, which over the past decade have steadily become the preferred vehicle for funding enrollment of underprivileged children in private schools. Nearly 260,000 students across the country in 2016-2017 used scholarships endowed by tuition tax credits to attend private schools. The number using vouchers was just under 180,000. Those using education savings accounts amounted to 11,000.

The editorial board of The Chicago Tribune celebrated the compromise, which Republican Governor Bruce Rauner was expected to sign within days.  According to terms of the deal, Chicago Public Schools will receive $450 million in new money; the Chicago Board of Education will be permitted to raise property taxes by nearly $150 million to support the strained Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund; the state will in addition provide much greater support for the fund, increasing its allocation from $12 million to $221 million; and the state would set aside $75 million in tax credits to individuals and corporations donating money to a scholarship fund allowing underprivileged children to attend private schools, with donors getting a 75-cent tax credit per dollar and $1 million as the ceiling per donor.

If fully funded, Chicago’s tuition tax program will provide $100 million in scholarships.  Eligibility for these scholarships is limited to children from families earning no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, reported The Chicago Sun-Times.  Scholarships will be worth up to $12,280, roughly the per-pupil expenditure for Illinois.

Governor Rauner hailed the compromise, reported The Wall Street Journal. “For too long, too many low-income students in our state have been trapped in underfunded, failing schools,” said the governor. “We have put aside our differences and put our kids first. It’s a historic day for Illinois.”

To Democratic Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss, the compromise set a "dangerous" precedent, setting the stage for the gradual defunding of public schooling, according to the Tribune.  “I can’t help but ask,” said Biss, “what next?”



August 25, 2017

Coding Academies Fold

Since 2012, dozens of coding academies have opened up across the country with the bold promise of training students in a few months to write computer code and thus obtain remunerative jobs in the digital sector. “But the coding boot-camp field now faces a sobering moment,” reported The New York Times, “as two large schools have announced plans to shut down this year—despite backing by major for-profit education companies, Kaplan and the Apollo Education Group, the parent of the University of Phoenix.”

This news calls into question the reigning optimism about this sector. Just one year ago, the Department of Education announced plans to launch a pilot program to permit students to use federal grants and loans to pay for courses at for-profit coding academies like the Flatiron School in New York, reported The Wall Street Journal. Flatiron charges $15,000 for a 12-week course in coding tailored to the demands of companies like Apple, Google, and Ticketmaster. With this pilot, the DOE was sidestepping conventional practice of requiring that institutions first gain accreditation from regional authorities. In addition, seventeen leading coding academies formed a coalition in March, reported the same newspaper, to generate uniform reporting standards to document job-placement rates and other key metrics.

According to the Times, “years of heady growth led to a boot-camp glut.” Moreover, many coding academies have not evolved to meet changing demands of employers.

“One of the casualties, Dev Bootcamp, was a pioneer,” reported the Times. “It started in San Francisco in 2012 and grew to six schools with more than 3,000 graduates. Only three years ago, Kaplan, the biggest supplier of test-preparation courses, bought Dev Bootcamp and pledged bold expansion.”

The other major casualty is The Iron Yard, founded in Greenville, South Carolina, in 2013.  Backed by the Apollo Education Group, this academy had grown to 15 campuses across the country.

Some academies nevertheless continue to flourish, including the Flatiron School, which was founded in 2012. According to Flatiron, reported the Times, more than 95 percent of the school’s 1,000 graduates have found jobs as coders. In addition, Flatiron introduced an online version of its program for a fraction of the price, charging $1,500 a month. 

August 17, 2017

DeVos Digs In

In what the Associated Press called “her first comprehensive sit-down interview with a national media outlet since taking office,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reflected on her experience so far and defined her goals in a 30-minute conversation with the AP’s Maria Danilova.

DeVos confirmed in the interview that the Trump administration is considering a federal tuition tax-credit program as part of its proposal for a tax overhaul.

Several states already have their own tuition tax-credit programs, with Arizona and Florida being the most prominent.  Arizona launched its individual income tax-credit program in 1997 and supplemented it with a corporate tax-credit program in 2006.  Florida introduced a corporate tax-credit program in 2001. Across the country, in sum, 280,000 students make use of state tuition tax-credit scholarships.

Historical precedent, however, does not bode well for the Trump administration on this front. Legislation for federal tuition tax-credits passed in the Senate nine times between 1969 and 1984 yet died on each occasion in the House of Representatives and have not been on the docket since.

DeVos also defended her revision of rules imposed by the Obama administration to harness for-profit tertiary institutions; the most stringent of the Obama administration’s regulations was the imposition of a so-called “gainful employment rule,” whereby annual loan payments of graduates of proprietary institutions benefiting from federal financial aid could not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary income.  An adamant supporter of for-profit school management, DeVos argued that “the last administration really stepped much more heavily into areas that it should not.”

DeVos likewise described the Obama administration’s assertion of authority regarding bathroom access in schools by transgender students as another form of federal overreach. DeVos said to Danilova that the states should decide this matter: “We really believe that states are the best laboratories of democracy on many fronts.”

On the topic of lightening oversight of charter schools, DeVos stood her ground: “I think the first line of accountability is frankly with the parents. When parents are choosing school, they are proactively making that choice.”



August 16, 2017

Backlash in Arizona Against Expansion of School Choice

A group called Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSA) claimed to have collected more than 100,000 signatures of registered voters to keep the expansion of the state’s Educational Savings Account (ESA) program from taking effect and to force a referendum vote in November on the expansion. According to state law, opponents needed 75,321 signatures to send the measure to a referendum vote.

Arizona’s ESA program was initiated in 2011 and capped at 0.5 percent of the state’s K-12 student population in the prior year.  A bill signed into law by the legislature in April would open the program to all 1.1 million of the state’s students.  In 2016-17, 3,500 students participated.

Unlike vouchers, which may be used only at private schools, ESAs function like debit cards, allowing parents to spend money on online educational programs, tutoring services, and community college courses as well as private school fees. In the case of Arizona, the value of ESAs amount to 90 percent of state per-pupil funding, though according to the legislation passed in April, students from low-income families would be entitled to 100 percent.

SOSA claims the expansion “would wreak havoc on public-school budgets,” according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.  Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice, an advocacy organization formerly titled the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, called the grassroots response an affront to parental liberty.

Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee employ similar ESA programs. North Carolina will introduce its own version in 2018-19.

In total, about 12,000 students are enrolled in ESA programs, making this the country’s smallest vehicle for school choice, behind vouchers with 180,000 participants, tuition tax-credit scholarships with 280,000 participants, and charter schools with 2.8 million participants. 

August 16, 2017

NYC Charter Schools Lobby for More Space

In a call with reporters organized by the charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, leaders of Success Academy Charter Schools, Bronx Charter School for the Arts, and International Charter School of New York expressed their frustration in failing to obtain more space from the New York City Department of Education.

According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, “The group said 27 charters in the city have pending requests for space. It analyzed the Department of Education’s ‘blue book,’ detailing school capacity in 2015-16, and concluded that in neighborhoods where charters want to expand, the city has 68 chronically underused buildings, meaning they have more than 300 empty seats for several years.”

The DOE, however, disputed this claim, asserting that the “blue book” doesn’t account for zoning changes or programs in store for buildings.

Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said she had asked the DOE in January for classroom space for 2,100 rising middle-schoolers. Moskowitz said she needed this space for September 2018 but had yet to get an answer.

In characteristically dramatic fashion, Moskowitz said, “These 2,100 kids are going to have their education aborted at fourth grade if we don’t have a solution.”

June 29, 2017

Supreme Court Rules on Public Money for Playground at Religious School

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that public money may be used to fund the renovation of a playground at a Missouri preschool administered by a church, despite the state's prohibition of government support of religiously affiliated educational institutions. In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority that the state decision against assisting the church in this matter "expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character."

Justice Roberts, however, qualified his opinion with a footnote regarding the latitude for such government funding: "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

In his concurrence, Justice Stephen Breyer elaborated on this qualification. Citing Everson v. Board of Education, a 1947 decision concluding that denial of "ordinary police and fire protection" to parochial schools did not comport with the intent of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Justice Breyer wrote that renovation of a playground likewise served the public purpose of improving "the health and safety of children" and nothing more.

While concurring with Justice Roberts, both Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas took exception to this qualification, claiming it unnecessarily constricted the application of state funding to religiously affiliated schools. With Justice Thomas's endorsement, Justice Gorsuch wrote about this qualification, "I worry that some might mistakenly read it to suggest that only 'playground resurfacing' cases, or only those with some association with children’s safety or health, or perhaps some other social good we find sufficiently worthy, are governed by the legal rules recounted in and faithfully applied by the Court’s opinion. Such a reading would be unreasonable for our cases are 'governed by general principles, rather than ad hoc improvisations'.... And the general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise—whether on the playground or anywhere else."

To Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined in her dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the decision constituted a blow to the separation of church and state anchored in the Establishment Clause: "To hear the Court tell it, this is a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground. The stakes are higher. This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil govern- ment—that is, between church and state."

In connection with this decision, reported The New York Times, the Supreme Court returned two cases to state courts for review, one concerning school choice in Colorado and the other, provision of textbooks to private schools from a state lending program in New Mexico. 



May 25, 2017

DeVos Stonewalls House Subcommittee on Choice

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stonewalled members of a House Appropriations subcommittee on matters of school choice, reported The New York Times

In her first testimony before Congress since her stormy confirmation hearing in January, DeVos said that rules for admissions at private schools funded with vouchers from federal money the Trump administration plans to send to states should be decided by the states. Questioned by Massachusetts Democratic Representative Katherine M. Clark about whether private schools receiving federally financed vouchers could reject or expel students on the grounds that they come from homosexual, bisexual, or transgender families, DeVos said this was a matter for the states to decide. DeVos made the same claim about due process rights for children with disabilities attending private schools receiving federally financed vouchers.

"If a parent chooses to go to a school that is not a public school, then that is a decision made and a contract made with the provider," DeVos said. State governments, DeVos said, should be empowered to decide how such schools are regulated.

The issue of students from homosexual, bisexual, or transgender families attending schools financed by vouchers is not a hypothetical one, it should be noted. In a detailed story on state-sponsored vouchers in Indiana aired by National Public Radio on May 12, it was reported that Christian Lighthouse Academy in Bloomington, which received $665,400 in state voucher money this year, specifies in its admissions brochure that students from homes characterized by "homosexual or bisexual activity or any form of sexual immorality" may be barred from attending the school or expelled.

May 23, 2017

Corinthian Students in NJ Eligible for Loan Cancellations

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino announced that state residents who attended schools run by the defunct for-profit tertiary network Corinthian Colleges are eligible for cancellation of federal loans taken out to cover the cost of tuition, reported the Associated Press. Porrino also said residents would be eligible for refunds on payments already made for courses taken at Corinthian.

Corinthian closed its doors in 2015 following imposition of tougher accounability measures for for-profit tertiary operators by the Obama administration. Corinthian was found by federal investigators to have inflated the job-placement record of its graduates from 2010 to 2014.

According to Porrino, 2,200 New Jersey residents are eligible for loan cancellations. Corinthian campuses attended by state residents include Everest Institute, Everest College, Everest University, Heald College, and Wyotech.

May 15, 2017

New York Times Faults NYC High School Choice System

In its lead editorial on May 15, entitled “Segregation in New York Schools,” The New York Times faulted New York City for failing to deliver on its promise a decade ago to diversify high schools with a citywide system of choice. Introduced in 2004 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, this system permitted eighth-graders to apply to schools in any of the five boroughs rather than assigning students to neighborhood schools. Yet the effect, according to the Times, has been at best marginal. With navigation of the application process difficult and with many high schools employing selective criteria for admissions, such choice has been largely illusory, claimed the Times: “By eighth grade ... many low-income black and Hispanic children who have spent their early grades confined to failing schools—and passed through similarly poor middle schools—have already fallen too far behind in the competition for the high schools that could prepare them for college.”

For evidence of the system’s failure, the Times cited an article the newspaper had published a week earlier, entitled “The Broken Promises of Choice in New York City High Schools,” which found that “the racial isolation of black and Hispanic students is just as great in high school as in elementary schools.” For this article, the Times followed eighth-graders at a middle school in the Bronx as they navigated the serpentine process of applying to high schools. Because few of the students at this school, Pelham Gardens Middle School, landed spots at selective high schools, the newspaper concluded the city’s school choice system had not delivered on its promise of opening doors to minority students from disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Times nevertheless reported that this year’s eighth-graders at Pelham Gardens had not posted competitive scores as seventh-graders on the state’s exams in English and math: 29 of 146 passed the English test; 15 passed the math test; and only seven passed both.

While justified in condemning the replication of segregation at the high school level, the Times erred on three counts. The newspaper made no recommendations in its editorial for counteracting the deprivation that leads to the subpar grades and exam scores barring many low-income minority students from admission to top high schools. The newspaper failed to concede that the matching algorithm introduced in 2004 drastically rationalized the high school admissions process. And the newspaper in its article a week ago and another published in March exaggerated the selectivity of high schools. The cited University Heights Secondary School in the Bronx, for example, does not, as claimed, have 20 applicants per seat but rather 20 students per seat who rank the school as one of 12 in which they’re interested. As students can be matched with only one of the schools they rank, schools conversely can admit only a small portion of the students who rank them.





March 28, 2017

New York Times Rebukes DOE's Stance on For-Profit Colleges

In a scathing editorialThe New York Times criticized the new Department of Education for hiring an executive from a for-profit university as a special assistant to Secretary Betsy DeVos and for declaring "it would review and extend compliance deadlines" for the so-called "gainful employment rule" imposed by the Obama administration in 2015. This rule stipulates that the provision of federal funds (in the form of student loans) to for-profit tertiary institutions requires that "the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20 percent of his or her discretionary income ... or 8 percent of his or her total earnings." The Times opined: "The industry is trying to cast this 'gainful employment rule' as onerous and unnecessary. But the abuses that prompted the Obama administration to develop this rule in the first place are well documented." The newspaper went on to cite a study of the for-profit tertiary sector recently published by the Century Foundation tracing predatory practices back to "crooked schools [that] sprang up to swindle World War II veterans out of their G.I. Bill benefits." The new special assistant to DeVos is Robert S. Eitel, formerly a top lawyer for Bridgeport Education Inc., a company, the Times reported in a separate story, "facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending."

March 24, 2017

Charter Growth Ebbs

Charter school growth is slowing down, reported Education Week.  The decline since 2012, when 640 new charters opened, has been steady. In 2013, 501 new charters were launched; in 2014, 404; and in 2015, 329. Citing a study by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the newspaper noted that large charter authorizers have seen a marked drop in charter applications, from an average of 18 in the 2011-12 school year to 7 in the 2015-16 school year.  One explanation offered by Education Week for the slowdown is that national charter management organizations (CMOs) “may have reached capacity.” In addition, it should be pointed out that charter schools have run into mounting resistance, as illustrated by the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter school growth in October 2016 and by the decisive rejection a month later of a referendum in Massachusetts to lift the cap on charter schools, with 62 percent of voters opposing the measure and 38 percent supporting it. Yet while the number of new charter schools has ebbed, total enrollment in charter schools continues to climb, especially in such states as Minnesota, reported The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Although enrollment in traditional district schools grew by 2 percent over the past five years, stated the newspaper, enrollment in charter schools ballooned. More specifically, there were 41,604 students in Minnesota charter schools in 2012-13 and 53,960 in 2016-17. Grade additions in existing charter schools may explain much of this growth. New charter schools would explain the remainder.

March 16, 2017

Kentucky Becomes the 43rd State to Ratify Charter Legislation

Kentucky became the forty-third state to ratify legislation for charter schools on March 15, reported Education Week, with the state Senate approving a charter bill largely along party lines by a vote of 23-15. The Senate vote followed House approval the previous week. Republican Governor Matt Bevin, an ardent charter advocate, was expected to sign the bill. While Kentucky has been late to make room for charter schools, the legislation passed in the House and Senate was loose: specifically, the legislation placed no limit on the number of charter schools and permitted charter operators to outsource management to for-profit firms. Seven states remain without charter legislation: Vermont, West Virginia, Alabama, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana.

March 09, 2017

Cardinal Dolan Endorses Trump's Call for Funding School Choice

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan praised President Trump’s call in his inaugural address to Congress for “an education bill that funds school choice.” In addition, Dolan lauded Trump’s visit soon afterward with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to a Catholic school in Orlando, Florida, and expressed hope that Trump will succeed in getting Congress to approve a tuition tax credit system that replicates Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Florida’s program dates back to 2001 and now provides 98,000 students with scholarships averaging $5,500. Sixteen other states, including Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana, have similar programs. New York, Dolan’s home state, does not. While Dolan did not mention that Catholic schools have been closing across the country for lack of funding, this matter has been well documented. With more lay teachers on staff in place of nuns and priests, Catholic schools have become more expensive. And with many charter schools mandating the same formal attire and strict discipline that have distinguished Catholic schools, parents have opted for the free version. A federal tuition tax credit system stands to have a dramatic impact on the fate of Catholic schools.

March 08, 2017

Coding Schools Pursue Reporting Standards

To control quality and thwart the wave of bad publicity that decimated the for-profit tertiary sector, seventeen leading coding academies, reported The Wall Street Journal, “have formed a coalition and agreed to report results like job-placement rates for graduates so prospective students can compare schools. The metrics will be verified by an outside auditor.” Coding academies represent a new and booming portion of the for-profit educaiton sector. Since the first coding academy opened in 2012, many more have been launched. Tuition for courses that typically run three months averages $15,000. With demand for coders growing, graduates can earn more than $70,000 a year. According to the Labor Department, demand for software developers in general will grow 17 percent over the next decade, twice the rate of demand for people with other skills. While coding academies are not accredited and do not quality for federal student loans, the Department of Education, reported The Wall Street Journal, announced in August 2016 that it would launch a pilot program to provide loans to students attending some highly regarded coding academies, such as the Flatiron School in New York. 

February 25, 2017

For-Profit Schools Rebound Under Trump

The day of the presidential election, many for-profit education companies were trading near historic lows. In the tertiary sector, DeVry (DV) closed November 8th at $23.50, down 36 percent over five years; Strayer (STRA) at $58.68, down 38 percent over the same period; Apollo (APOL) at $8.73, down 92 percent; and American Public Education (APEI) at $14.85, down 61 percent. In addition, in the K-12 sector, K12 (LRN) closed November 8th at $11.19, down 67 percent over five years.

In the fifteen weeks since Trump’s election, all five stocks have climbed considerably: DeVry closed February 24th up 39 percent; Strayer, up 29 percent; Apollo, up 14 percent; American Public Education, up 64 percent; and K12, up 62 percent. Moreover, Laureate (LAUR) returned to the public market at the beginning of February, raising $490 million with an initial public offering of 35 million shares. The Baltimore-based company was publicly traded from 1993 to 2007, when it was taken private in a management-led buyout.

There should be little mystery to this transformation. As The New York Times reported, “Top officials in Washington who spearheaded a relentless crackdown on the multibillion-dollar industry have been replaced by others who have profited from it.” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been an especially ardent advocate of for-profit educational management. And in her confirmation hearing, DeVos refused to commit to perpetuating the Obama administration’s imposition of a gainful employment rule, which stipulated  that the provision of federal funds to tertiary institutions (via student grants and loans) required that “the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20 percent of his or her discretionary income ... or 8 percent of his or her total earnings.”

In accordance with this new regulation, two major tertiary for-profit operators repeatedly investigated for duplicitous advertising shut down: Corinthian Colleges in 2015 and ITT Educational Services in 2016. Soon after ITT announced its closure, the Department of Education nullified the authority of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) on the grounds of inadequate supervision; founded in 1912, ACICS served as the chief accrediting agency for for-profit colleges and universities. And in the final weeks of the Obama Administration, the Federal Trade Commission announced that DeVry had agreed to pay $100 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging the company had both inflated the earnings of graduates and the percentage of graduates finding jobs in their fields within six months of finishing their programs.

To Steven Gunderson, the president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, an advocacy group for for-profit schools, the Trump administration represents redemption for commercial operators. “We’re going to get some regulatory relief, which is desperately needed,” Gunderson said to The New York Times. Gunderson explained that his group now has support in both Congress and the White House and aims to get the gainful employment rule repealed and the authority of ACICS restored.

November 15, 2016

Without Charters, Union City Achieves Academic Success through Robust Bilingual Education and Wrap-Around Services

Union City, New Jersey, continues to achieve academic success through robust bilingual education and wrap-around services, reported The Wall Street Journal. Defying conventional wisdom, Union City education leaders have not outsourced school management to charter operators but rather focused on improving bilingual education and making schools neighborhood hubs. As neighborhood hubs, schools in Union City serve three free meals a day to students, provide medical and counseling services, and host workshops for parents on immigration matters, nutrition, and good parenting. While 95 percent of students are Hispanic and approximately 15 percent are undocumented immigrants, the high-school graduation rate of 87 percent nearly matches the statewide average. In addition, scores on math and reading tests are one-third above the national average. In Improbable Scholars (Oxford University Press, 2013), David Kirp describes in detail the ingredients of this outlier school district.

November 14, 2016

Number of Home-Schooled Students Doubles from 1999 to 2012

The number of home-schooled students in the United States doubled from 1999 to 2012, reported The Washington Post. The data come from a recently released study published by the National Center for Education Statistics. About 1.8 million students aged 5 to 17 were home-schooled in 2012. That number represented 3.4 percent of students across the country. The distribution of home-schooled students by locale is fairly even: about one-third of home-schooled children lived in rural areas, somewhat more than one-third lived in suburbs, and somewhat less than one-third lived in cities.

November 14, 2016

China Bans For-Profit Operation of Primary and Lower-Secondary Schools

The Chinese government imposed a ban on for-profit operation of primary and lower-secondary schools, upending a burgeoning sector, reported The Wall Street Journal. The new law, entitled "Promotion of Private Education," stands to be costly for such commercial ventures as Nord Anglia Education, a company based in Hong Kong that manages six schools across China, and Avenues, a company based in New York that has long planned on opening a school in China. As the name of the law makes clear, private schooling is not the target. To the contrary, the Chinese government wants to promote private education to provide a wider array of academic offerings to students. However, the concept of for-profit management had fallen out of favor. In fact, the new law stipulates that private schools should better align curricula with the goals of the Communist Party. A bulletin from the Education Ministry declared that a central purpose of the law was to "ensure private schools are run from start to finish in a way supportive of socialism." This reversal by the Chinese government, in turn, provides a classic illustration of the political risk involved in foreign direct investment. Nord Anglia Education and similar companies will have to refashion themselves as nonprofits or close their schools. 


September 13, 2016

Battle Over Charters in Massachusetts Heats Up

While there is no doubt in Massachusetts that Hillary Clinton will take the state on November 8, a referendum question on the same ballot to lift the cap on the state's charter schools is hotly contested. The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 limited the number of the state's charter schools to 120. Of the state's 1,860 publicly funded schools today, 78 are charter schools. This portion of 4 percent falls short of the national average of 7 percent. Governor Charlie Baker and charter advocates want this gap closed. After the Senate and House failed to arrive at a solution this summer, their leaders decided to send the issue to the people in the form of a referendum question. As Question 2 on the November ballot, the proposal calls for permitting up to 12 new charter schools per year. According to a September poll by WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio affiliate, 48 percent of likely voters said they would vote against the proposal, 41 percent said they would for it, and the remaining 11 percent said they were unsure. Winning over the undecided has led to an intense battle and the influx of big money from out of state. According to The Boston Globe, $12 million has come from charter advocates to buy ads and commercials. Of that sum, Families for Excellent Schools, a national advocacy group based in New York, sent $5.5 million; Jim Walton, son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, gave $1.1 million; and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $240,000. Opponents have raised $6.8 million. The biggest contributor is the Massachusetts Teachers Association, providing $4.2 million. From out of state, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association gave $700,00 and $1.9 million, respectively. 

September 07, 2016

Wall Street Journal Accuses the Department of Education of Double Standard for For-Profit Colleges

In its lead editorial, The Wall Street Journal accused the Department of Education of employing a double standard in its treatment of for-profit colleges. Coming to the defense of ITT Educational Services--which shut down on September 6, two weeks after the DOE ruled that the company was no longer qualified to receive federal funding because of deceptive advertising, low graduation rates, and poor job placement of graduates--the newspaper contended that the DOE could have likewise gone after Laureate International Universities but did not. The newspaper claimed that because Bill Clinton was the honorary chancellor of Laureate from 2010 to 2015, the company received special treatment, even though graduation rates were similar to those at ITT and average student debt higher. 

September 07, 2016

ITT Shuts Down

The decision by the Department of Education on August 25 to deny ITT Educational Services federal funding foreshadowed an imminent shutdown by the for-profit college operator. ITT executives announced the expected on September 6, reported The New York Times, closing all of the company's 137 campuses but one that operates under a different name, Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire. This means approximately 35,000 students must make new plans for their studies and roughly 8,000 employees must look elsewhere for work. 

August 26, 2016

ITT Educational Services Becomes Another For-Profit College Casualty of Tighter DOE Oversight

The Department of Education dropped the hammer on ITT Educational Services, a for-profit operator of 137 colleges across 39 states, reported The New York Times. The DOE, according to the newspaper, decided on August 25 to bar ITT "from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid" and ordered the company "to pay $153 million to the department within 30 days to cover student refunds if its schools close down." The first measure alone amounts to a death blow, as nearly 70 percent of the company's revenue of $850 million last year came in the form of federal aid. "The company has been under increased scrutiny by the Education Department since 2014," the newspaper noted, "and has been accused by both federal and state regulators of misleading students about the quality of its programs and their employment potential upon graduation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against ITT two years ago, accusing the college chain of predatory student lending." If ITT shuts down, it will join Corinthian Colleges as the second major U.S. for-profit tertiary institution in two years to cave under the pressure of tighter DOE oversight. 

August 12, 2016

DOE Rejects Utah For-Profit Appeal for Nonprofit Status

The Department of Education rejected an appeal from a Utah-based for-profit college operator to gain nonprofit status, reported The Wall Street JournalThe attraction of nonprofit status is patent: for-profit college companies cannot collect more than 90 percent of tuition in the form of federal student grants and loans; in addition, they must abide by new stringent requirements stipulating that graduates find employment in their field. The college in question is the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, with 12,000 students on campuses across four states (Arizona, California, Colorado, and Utah). In a blunt press release, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said, "This should send a clear message to anyone who thinks converting to nonprofit status is a way to avoid oversight while hanging onto the financial benefits: Don’t waste your time.” 

August 12, 2016

Coding Academies Win Federal Backing

The Department of Education is set to launch a pilot program to permit students to use federal grants and loans to pay for courses at for-profit coding academies like the Flatiron School in New York, reported The Wall Street Journal. Flatiron charges $15,000 for a 12-week course in coding tailored to the demands of companies like Apple, Google, and Ticketmaster. With this pilot, the DOE is sidestepping conventional practice of requiring that institutions first gain accreditation from regional authorities.

August 10, 2016

Facebook Collaborates with Charter Network to Develop Self-Paced Online Curriculum

Facebook has teamed up with Summit Public Schools, a charter network with 11 schools in California and Washington, to develop a student-directed online curriculum, reported The New York Times. Called the Summit Personalized Learning Platform, the new approach will be introduced this fall in 120 schools. "The software gives students a full view of their academic responsibilities for the year in each class and breaks them down into customizable lesson modules they can tackle at their own pace," read the story in the Times. "A student working on a science assignment, for example, may choose to create a project using video, text or audio files. Students may also work asynchronously, tackling different sections of the year’s work at the same time." While certainly iconoclastic, this methodology is far from original, something the newspaper failed to acknowledge. Kunskapsskolan, a school management company in Sweden running 36 schools, implemented a similar student-directed online curriculum in 2000. The New York City Department of Education introduced its own variation on this model in 2009 with School of One, now known as Teach to One, which operates six schools across the district.

August 04, 2016

Economists Find Charter Schools in Texas Have Insignificant Effects

Drawing on data from the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Workforce Commission for all students who graduated from public high schools in the state between 2002 and 2006, the economists Will Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer found in a working paper entitled "Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes" that charter schools, on average, had no impact on test performance and a negative influence on income. In the case of “No Excuses” charter schools—such as IDEA College Prep, KIPP, Uplift Education, and YES Prep, all defined by rigid behavioral and academic expectations—Dobbie and Fryer found a positive impact on both test performance and college enrollment but only a small, statistically insignificant effect on income.  Terming the results of their study counterintuitive given the widespread confidence in charter schools, Dobbie and Fryer speculated that it may be the case that “what it takes to increase acheivement among the poor in charter schools deprives them of other skills that are important for labor markets.”  

August 03, 2016

School Choice in England Leads to Significant Segregation

While oversubscribed charter schools in the United States must employ lotteries for admission, their counterparts in England--academies and free schools--have control over whom they admit. The result, according to an analysis summarized by The Guardian, has been significant segregation of students by class as well as academic achievement. The analysis, done by a company called DataDash, found that many academies and free schools enrolled a fraction of the underprivileged children in neighboring schools. Only 2 percent of students at one free school in Blackpool are eligible for free school meals, for example, while 42 percent of students in the district qualify. Similar disparities exist across the country, DataDash found. Legislated into existence in 2000, academies are former state schools funded by the central government and granted significant operational autonomy. There are now 5,302 academies. Free schools, introduced in 2010, are academies by another name, created by teachers, charities, parents, or religious groups. There are now 304 free schools. Prime Minister David Cameron and his education secretary, Michael Gove, pledged to make all schools in England academies in order to give parents more choice and school adminstrators more freedom. Cameron's successor, Theresa May, and her education secretary, Justine Greening, have so far stood behind this pledge.

August 02, 2016

NAACP Convention Delegates Call for Moratorium on Charter School Growth

Delegates at the annual convention of the NAACP last week called for a moratorium on charter school growth, reported Julian Vasquez Heilig on his blog, Cloaking Inequity. Meeting in Cincinnati, delegates declared that charter schools have operated without sufficient transparency; intensified segregation; employed psychologically harmful disciplinary policies; and deprived neighborhood public schools of necessary space and resources through co-location in district buildings. Heilig, education chair of the California/Hawaii branch of the century-old civil rights organization, explained that this resolution merely reflects the opinion of voting delegates, not policy. To become policy, the resolution needs approval of the NAACP National Board, which meets in the fall. Heilig nevertheless called the resolution a momentous event.

August 02, 2016

More than 7 Million Americans in Default on Student Loans

Approximately 16 percent of the 43 million Americans with student debt are in default, reports The Wall Street Journal: "These borrowers have gone at least a year without making a payment--ignoring hundreds of phone calls, emails, text messages and letters from federally hired debt collectors." The federal government has committed to work with debtors by cutting monthly payments and burying a portion of balances. In addition, the government is expanding its program to relinquish debt incurred by borrowers for degrees at schools found gulity of false advertising. Yet in despair, debtors are stonewalling the government. Especially hard hit have been students who attended for-profit institutions, who have defaulted on loans at more than twice the rate as their counterparts at nonprofit public or private schools. Three such students are profiled in this Wall Street Journal article, two of whom earned degrees as medical assistants from a small for-profit college in Oregon but could not find work in the field.

August 01, 2016

Carol Burris Challenges Public Nature of Charter Schools

Charter schools shouldn't be considered public schools, contended Carol Burris in an essay posted by Valerie Strauss on her Answer Sheet blog for The Washington Post, because they don't report directly, if at all, to elected school boards; because many of them enroll significantly fewer English language learners and students with special needs than neighboring district schools; and because many close their doors in upper grades to newcomers. In illustration of the last matter, Burris cited a pyramid effect on class size at one school in the Success Academy network, with 73 students in second grade dropping seven years later to 26 in ninth grade, 79 students in the following year's second grade dropping six years later to 44 in eighth grade. Whereas attrition in district schools is matched by enrollment of new students in upper grades, that does not occur at Success Academy and similar charter networks in the name of preserving a school culture. To Burris, this exclusionary practice necessarily conflicts with the definition of public education.

July 29, 2016

KIPP Fights "Summer Melt"

As many as 30 percent of poor urban high school seniors accepted to college don't attend because of doubts and fears that build over the summer. The national charter network KIPP fights this problem, known as "summer melt," with a three-week "summer bridge" program, reports The Wall Street Journal. With brush-up classes in math and writing as well as discussion sessions on time management, self-advocacy, financial budgeting, and campus social life, students get immersed in college before getting to college. 

July 23, 2016

Brazilian For-Profit Tertiary Sector Undergoes Significant Consolidation

While the for-profit tertiary sector in the United States has shrunk significantly over the past few years because of fraud investigations concerning enrollment of underqualified applicants, inflation of student passing rates, and exaggeration of graduate employment data, the same sector in Brazil has mushroomed to address growing demand the government has not been able to meet with state-funded institutions. Approximately 30 percent of university students in Brazil, in fact, attend schools run by for-profit companies. One company, Kroton, counts more than a million students in undergraduate programs spread across 130 campuses. The economic crisis in Brazil has nevertheless forced companies to consolidate, reports Inside Higher Ed, leading to significant merger-and-acquisition activity. Fear of a resulting oligopoly has led the House of Representatives in Brasilia to call for hearings on this activity.

July 22, 2016

Southern Poverty Law Center Challenges Constitutionality of Publicly Funded Charter Schools in Mississippi

Though Arkansas and Louisiana are both home to many charter schools, neighboring Mississippi passed legislation for charter schools only six years ago and is home to merely two charter schools. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the state should be home to none. In a lawsuit filed in the First Judicial District of the Chancery Court of Hinds County, the SPLC contended that the state constitution stipulates that publicly funded schools must be under the direct supervision of state and local boards of education.

July 22, 2016

California Attorney General Announces $169 Million Settlement with K12 Inc.

In acknowledgment of having overstated student progress and parent satisfaction in advertisements and of having inflated student attendance data, K12 Inc., the Virginia-based for-profit operator of virtual charter schools, agreed to a $169 million settlement with the attorney general of California, reported The San Jose Mercury News. According to the settlement, K12 must also drop any form of incentive pay for staff enrolling students; guarantee the accuracy of claims in advertisements; and ensure teachers properly monitor student attendance. Building on the settlement, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla introduced a bill to ban for-profit virtual charter companies from operating in the state. That proposal, Assembly Bill 1084, will be reviewed when legislators return to work in August.

July 22, 2016

Paul Tough Disavows Focus on Character Education

In a Q&A with Education Week about his new book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, Paul Tough disavows the confidence in character education he espoused in his 2012 book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Tough instead calls for a macrocosmic approach focused on bettering the everyday environment of young children. Citing research in neuroscience, Tough contends that interventions during early childhood to improve parenting, in particular, would lay the foundation for the shift in mindset some educators are trying to cultivate through instruction and assessment. "It's not that I think we shouldn't measure them [non-cognitive skills]," Tough said, "it's that I think we don't know how to measure them.... The most productive direction to try to change students' psychology is to think about what educators and policymakers can do to shape the environment that surrounds kids."

July 22, 2016

New York City to Add 16 More PROSE Schools

A reform initiative launched in 2014 by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) in partnership with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) will get 16 new sites in September, reported Politico. Called PROSE, for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools of Excellence, this program permits affiliated schools to operate outside the boundaries of UFT and CSA contracts. Schools may schedule longer periods and days, for example. As such, PROSE at once comports with the pedagogical philosophy of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, formed in 1997 as a group of 28 high schools with considerable autonomy for curriculum and assessment, and constitues an implicit response by Mayor Bill de Blasio to the growing presence of non-union charter schools in the city, which he has repeatedly termed a solution for too few students. More fundamentally, PROSE comports with the vision of charter schools articulated in the 1980s by Ray Budde and Albert Shanker: alternative schools within districts serving as laboratories for innovation. PROSE started with 63 schools. With these additional sites, PROSE will number 140. The goal for PROSE by 2018 is 200 schools. 

July 22, 2016

Bridgeport Education under Federal Investigation

Bridgeport Education, the for-profit operator of Ashford University and the University of the Rockies, is under investigation by the Justice Department, reported The Washington Post, for having allegedly underreported the amount of tuition money it received from the federal government in the form of grants and loans. According to the 90/10 rule, for-profit universities may not receive more than 90 percent of tuition in this form. Justice Department investigators are studying financial documents from 2011 to 2014. There are nearly 51,000 students enrolled at the company's two universities.

June 30, 2016

Much School Choice in Detroit but Little Quality

The push for educational privatization in Michigan initiated a generation ago by Governor John Engler has resulted in abundant choice in Detroit, reports Kate Zernike in The New York Times, but little quality. With 53 percent of its students attending charter schools, Detroit has the second highest degree of charter enrollment in the county, behind only New Orleans, which transmuted into a largely charter district after Hurricane Katrina. Facilitating growth in Detroit, Zernike writes, is a controversial clause in a 2011 education law permitting for-profit educational managements companies (EMOs), such as J.C. Huizinga's National Heritage Academies, to rent space to schools they operate without having to pay taxes on their real estate earnings.

June 30, 2016

New York Times Blasts Governor Christie's School Funding Recommendation

In a scathing rebuke, the editorial board of The New York Times blasted Governor Chris Christie's recommendation that New Jersey's landmark compensatory school fundng formula be repealed. The editors called Christie's proposal "toxic." Grounded in a 1990 state court decision to allocate more money to poor school districts suffering from inadequate local property tax revenue, New Jersey's formula significantly subsidizes 31 school districts, several of them, such as Newark and Camden, home to many charter schools. 

June 30, 2016

AFT Pulls Pension Investments from Hedge Funds Opposed to Unionized Teachers

Setting aside whether the high fees and uneven performance of hedge funds justify investing retirement money of union members, AFT president Randi Weingarten is pulling money from hedge funds opposed to unionized teachers. Many hedge fund leaders, Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC among them, are heavy backers of non-union charter schools and adamant critics of unionized teachers. Weingarten said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, "Why would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?" Loeb, chairman of the board of Success Academy, is fighting back. At a fundraiser for Success Academy in May, Loeb pledged an extra $1 million to the charter network in Weingarten's name.

June 30, 2016

Walton Family Foundation Donates $250 Million to Help Charter Schools Lease Space

The Walton Family Foundation announced a donation of $250 million to help charter schools lease space. A central impediment to charter school growth has been occupancy costs. Where charter schools obtain free space in school district buildings, their per-pupil allocations approximate per-pupil allocations in district schools. However, where such free space is not obtained, charter schools operate at a significant financial disadvantage. This Walton initiative will focus on established charter school networks with proven records as well as promising new charter schools in 17 cities, Boston, Camden, NJ, and New York among them. This donation comes six months after a $1 billion donation from the same foundation to spur charter school growth. 

June 23, 2016

New York State Senate Appears to Lift Lid on Number of Uncertified Teachers in Charter Schools

In return for conferring one more year of control of New York City’s schools to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Republicans in the State Senate extracted a concession from Democrats that appears to lift the lid on the number of uncertified teachers charter schools may employ. The charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools issued a statement calling the compromise “a massive victory.” State law currently stipulates that charter schools may have no more than 15 uncertified teachers on staff. As several charter school networks, Success Academy chief among, depend heavily on young teachers who’ve yet to earn certification, this modification of the law would significantly diminish pressure on leaders to staff their schools. The Assembly speaker, Carl E. Heastie, a Democrat, as well as spokesmen for Mayor de Blasio, however, disputed the interpretation of the wording of the compromise, claiming state charter law regarding employment of uncertified teachers remained unchanged. Trustees of the State University of New York will have the final word.

June 21, 2016

The Limits of Character Education

In a wide-ranging essay for The New Yorker, David Denby deconstructs the concept of “grit” espoused by Angela Duckworth and embraced by charter school networks employing the “no excuses” philosophy of hard work. Citing research by neuroscientists and pediatricians into early childhood development, Denby argues that “high levels of toxic stress” experienced by youngsters in blighted neighborhoods may put the development of grit “out of reach” for many of the students the focus on character growth is intended to help. 

June 19, 2016

Record Number of Charter Schools in Ohio Set to Close

A record number of charter schools in Ohio are set to close this year, reported The Columbus Dispatch, in response to a new state law mandating tighter standards. According to officials at the Ohio Department of Education, at least 19 of the state's 374 charter schools will not reopen. Last year, the total was 14.

June 16, 2016

Minnesotan Authors of Charter Legislation Reflect on 25 Years of Growth

Twenty-five years after Minnesotan lawmakers introduced the process of chartering schools, Education Week interviewed Ember Reichgott Junge and Ted Kolderie, two authors of the legislation, and documented the divergence of expectations and realities. The legislation itself broke from recommendations made by Albert Shanker in 1988 that charter schools function as experimental academies operated within the boundaries of district and union contracts. That breach, in turn, led to the unexpected operation of charter networks across the country. Minnesota nevertheless remained faithful to Shanker's vision in two critical respects, reports Education Week: first, only in Minnesota has the authority of chartering schools rested with the local teachers' union; and second, only four of the state's 160 charter schools are managed by multitstate charter networks, whereas approximately 40 percent of charter schools across the country are overseen by such networks.

June 16, 2016

Accreditor of For-Profit Colleges Facing Extinction

The U.S. Department of Education recommended on June 15 that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) lose its recognition. The organization, founded in 1912, has been at the center of a storm circling the for-profit colleges it has certified. Attorneys general in as many as 37 states have conducted fraud investigations into for-profit colleges for having enrolled underqualified applicants, inflated passing rates of students, and exaggerated employment data of graduates. The fate of ACICS will go to a vote next week by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), an advisory board serving the Department of Education. Should NACIQI vote ACICS down and should ACICS fail to win a reversal on appeal in court, The Wall Street Journal reported, the for-profit colleges certified by ACICS may face a loss of of "access to nearly $5 billion in federal finanical aid for more than 800,000 students." A sector already in retreat could thus collapse.

June 12, 2016

ITT Educational Services on the Brink of Bankruptcy

Long a Wall Street darling, for-profit college operator ITT Educational Services appears to be on its way to following former competitior Corinthian Colleges Inc. into bankruptcy. Citing financial weakness for the national network of 138 campuses across 39 states, the U.S. Department of Education informed company executives that they must pay the federal government $44 million to cover potential student refunds should the company fold. This money, Gretchen Morgensen explains in The New York Times, would be necessary to fund the forgiveness of federal student loans. According to federal law, students at colleges that collapse qualify for a "false certification discharge." With high student dropout and default rates, for-profit colleges have incurred increasing scrutiny from federal regulators and state attorneys general and, in the process, seen valuations and revenues plummet.

June 10, 2016

Gates Foundation Concedes School Reform a Daunting Challenge

The Gates Foundation conceded in a report that its campaign since 1999 to transform U.S. education has proven far harder than expected. In an editorial in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper's board opined that the foundation's reversals on its considerable investment in small high schools (capped at 500 students), performance-based pay for teachers, and rapid roll-out of the Common Core standards illustrated the daunting challenge of school reform.

June 09, 2016

Growth in Urban Charter Schools Puts Financial Pressure on Host Districts

Considerable growth of charter schools over the past decade in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and many other cities across the country has placed significant financial pressure on host districts. With money following students from district schools to charter schools, funding available for goods and services beyond fixed costs for host districts has necessarily declined, forcing school closures, requiring central office layoffs, and preventing raises for staff.

June 08, 2016

Surge in Montessori Charter Schools

A new study documents a surge in charter schools using the Montessori pedagogical philosophy. According to the study, approximately 82 percent of the 168 public Montessori schools opened since 2000 are operated by charter boards; the remainder are public magnet schools using the distinctive child-centered approach to learning. The study moreover finds that Montessori charters are considerably less economically and racially diverse than Montessori magnet schools.

June 07, 2016

Nevada Judge Upholds Constitutionality of State's School Choice Bill

Nevada District Court Judge Eric Johnson ruled that the state's new school choice bill, passed in 2015 and allowing families to use $5,100 in government money per child toward tuition at a private school, whether religious or independent, comported with the law. Johnson declared Senate Bill 302 "neutral with respect to religion" as parents, not state officials, determine where the money is spent. 

June 07, 2016

Pearson's Bridge International Charged with Intimidation of Canadian Researcher

Education International alleged that Pearson's subsidiary Bridge International, an operator of low-fee private schools in the developing world, orchestrated the arrest of a Canadian researcher studying the company's schools in Uganda. While the researcher, Curtis Riep, a doctoral candidate at the University of Alberta, had an appointment at a Bridge International school in Uganda, he was arrested for trespassing and impersonation and held for two days of questioning.