Bond Issues Along Protests on School Takeovers, Privatization, and Charter Expansion

New Orleans  Throughout the country parents, teacher unions, and community groups have been opposing the viral spread of privatization of public school systems and the efforts of charter school operators to expand their footprint in school districts. Perhaps the most controversial maneuvers are the state takeovers of local public school districts by removing duly elected school board members and replacing them with unaccountable managers.

The most famous was certainly the post-Katrina usurpation in New Orleans which has now led to all but four of the more than 100 schools in the district being run by charter operators. School districts have also been taken over in Indianapolis, threatened in Buffalo, in some California districts, and others as well. Despite only a small number of poorly performing schools of the forty-eight in the Little Rock School District, the state of Arkansas asserted control seemingly triggered by outside donors and advocates of charter expansion being opposed by the Superintendent, who was immediately replaced.

These fights have sharp dividing lines, but increasingly the claims of private and charter operators of improved education and test scores has not been proven by the actual results. Advocates of vouchers to accelerate the process of moving students out of public schools have also made progress in more than half of the states in the country and now have a staunch advocate as head of the Department of Education, but recent studies are indicating that students are falling behind in many of these private and parochial facilities. Claims from New Orleans and New York that such programs would decrease racial and ethnic segregation in public school systems are also achieving the opposite outcomes.

In the tug of war over school control, which is often cultural and ideological, the voice of protests have often been simply ignored by state governments and others. Events in the ongoing fight in Little Rock may have found a way to force authorities to hear their opposition using the ballot box to express their anger when presented with a school bond issue. A wide coalition of groups, including Local 100 and Arkansas Community Organizations, the former Arkansas ACORN, opposing the bond issue for new school construction and other programs in the district united under the banner of “Taxation without Representation,” made their protest of the state takeover clear.

Despite a united business community and being outspent by a ratio of ten to one, opponents smashed the bond issue by a margin of almost 2 to 1, 65% to 35%. The district is 70% African-American now and in many African-American precincts the margins against the bond issue ran 90% to 10%. Normally liberal districts in middle-income, hipper Heights area also defeated the bond issue strongly. The turnout was the highest for a bond issue in 17 years. The Governor Asa Hutchinson, whose administration was responsible for the takeover, campaigned for the measure and was embarrassed by the results. The state appointed Superintendent was forced to concede the loss even before balloting ended.

Bond mileage increases on property taxes funding school districts are usually the lifeblood of public schools. Often the district needs the money as much as the taxpayers do in these tough financial times, but even if this is playing with fire, there is no denying the power of the protest when a community unites to oppose privatization, charter expansion, and undemocratic takeovers of local districts. Little Rock protesters and voters may have shown others around the country the path to take to force their voices to be heeded.

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Trump’s Education Pick is All about Free Market Parochial Education

Colin Powell Academy in Detroit, Michigan, one of the many schools abandoned since 2009

New Orleans    Doing a little research and realizing that Betsy DeVos, the Michigan-based Republican fundraiser, who is now in line to head the Department of Education, had never attended a public school but only religiously oriented institutions straight through college, made me raise my eyebrows a bit. Reading that in her push towards the disastrous charter-izing of the public school system in recent years in Detroit that she had never actually bothered to meet with any of the stakeholders in education there or visit a public school and interact with teachers, parents, or students, was even more disconcerting. She is not an educational advocate and activist, as she has been billed, but a stone cold ideologue without an iota of concern or compassion for the consequences of her ideology.

I guess the good news is that the federal budget only contributes 8% of the total education budget with 92% coming from local and state sources, so there is at least some limit to the damage she can do. Sadly, that’s small comfort.

I’m not a fan of charter schools and the privatization of public schools. I see enough of it in New Orleans, which now leads the country in the percentage of charter operated schools and is approaching 100% saturation. No small amount of my alienation has been based on their lack of accountability and transparency. In New Orleans we are gradually moving the schools back under the local control of a school board, though elite interests are attempting to extend their sway by dominating the contributions for candidates friendly to their interests, we at least now have a fighting chance at drawing the line and holding feet to the fire.

All reports indicate that DeVos would have none of that in Detroit, and strong armed the state legislature, controlled by Republicans, to prevent any bill from passage that would create any mechanism that hold charter schools accountable even on basic standards of education and fiscal integrity. She adamantly wanted absolutely no controls on the charters. The commission she opposed was even stacked with equal representation from charter and non-charter school leaders, moderated by an education expert, and backed by the twenty largest and best charter operations in Detroit. Not good enough for her. She wanted nothing. Period. The situation is so bad that most of the big charter operators have avoided opening in Detroit and even the Walton Foundation, the biggest moneybag supporter of school charters and privatization, has withdrawn from Detroit because the situation is indefensible. Her view seems to have been little more than laissez-faire, let the buyer beware, and unhappy parents can walk their children out of the schools with their feet.

New national studies, that were possible only because Common Core required at least some standard, national tests, seem to have established that for lower income schools and children the single thing making the most difference is increasing school expenditures. How does a DeVos, who wants to implement expensive vouchers to allow her favored private and parochial schools to flourish while draining taxpayer support for public schools, implement a program that applies that finding? In fact, for an ideologue whose main program is a free-market education, will she allow any standards for our education system at all in the United States?

Everyone understands that we need better schools. The rich ideologues like DeVos seem more committed to chaos, charters, church schools, and a separate but unequal system rather than education at all. The coming years seem destined to teach hard and tragic lessons to the country while committing countless crimes against the nation’s children.

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