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.


Hard to Win Back Hijacked Schools


New Orleans    One of the ongoing crises of the 21st century thus far has been the struggle to control schools with all sides of this massive political and cultural war pretending and presuming that they are best capable of speaking for children. Schools have been batted about like ping pongs. Some school districts have been taken over by city mayors, Chicago being the best example, and others by the state in Michigan, Arkansas, New Jersey, Louisiana, and elsewhere empowered by the Bush passage of No Child Left Behind. The so-called “charter school” movement has controversially allowed public schools to be run by private companies, some for-profit and some nonprofit, in many districts around the country with various degrees of accountability and a contentious argument over the results. Foundations from Gates to Walmart to Eli Broad and others have put their beaks deeply into the mess funding pilots, lawsuits, and various initiatives to unwind the role of teacher unions. The short conclusion of years of these struggles is undoubtedly that no one has really won, few are happy, and it’s still “god save the child.”

One thing that should be clear though is that two things speak to the foundation blocks of almost everyone’s view of America: free public education and direct election of local officials. The “privatization” of many public schools through the charter “movement” challenges the guarantee of education and the accountability of elections of public officials empowered to hold charters accountable, since they create in often mysterious and opaque ways, a separate governance structure at arms’ length from the voters and taxpayers, more often than not populated by the appointment of friends and family of principals and charter operators. Even more unsettling is the loss of local democratic control of schools when the state takes over a system. Lawsuits are still raging in Little Rock after the state was prodded to take over their system despite the fact that only a couple of schools were failing. Detroit school parents and the district are suing the State of Michigan for mismanaging the system and starving it of resources under its management. The Supreme Court in Kansas has been at loggerheads with the state legislature and governor there for starving the school system of resources.

Then there’s New Orleans, the largest charter pilot in the country in the wake of the state seizure of schools after Katrina from the local school board. Now ten years later with a new Democratic governor in office supported by the teachers’ union, married to a teacher, and not a fan of charter schools and appalled by the poor success rate of the voucher program, there have finally be a flurry of different bills that would return all the schools to the taxpayers and voters of New Orleans. That should be good news, but in these days and times, it’s not so easy to claw back schools once they have been hijacked and pirated away. Close inspection of many of the bills, supposedly returning the schools, finds numerous escape clauses and buried mechanisms seeking to allow many of the charters to ostensibly be part of the school district and under the fiscal and political control of the elected school board, while continuing to be totally unaccountable. The bill being reported as closest to passage trickles the schools back almost on a trial basis with ten the first year and then more over several years until they are all returned to local control.

At the hearing a spokesperson for one of the larger charters, Firstline, wanted to make sure they could go back to state control if somehow “things didn’t work out.” The unbridled arrogance of entitlement and contempt for the democratic process of local school control and the property tax dollars of local citizens that pay the bills won’t be so quickly ended given the fact that the tug of war on even our most basic principles is still raging. Where people simply ought to be ashamed of themselves, they have ridden the high horse so far and long over the last ten years that they have lost sight of any solid ground where they might have stood. Meanwhile politicians, currying contributions and favor, join in the conspiracy to coopt the process without a shed of embarrassment either.


A Better Trigger for Parents on Local Control of Schools

Little Rock  I’m skeptical of many of these so-called public school “reform” efforts because too many seem to really be privatization schemes in disguise or elite stalking horses for charter school operators.  Despite numerous studies finding that teachers are the key that unlocks almost all of the educational doors for children, most of these efforts are also anti-teacher and raging maniacs when it comes to how quickly they foam at the mouth about unions. 

I had some hopes for Stand for Children, but watching the role they played in Louisiana recently and their scandalous mischief in Chicago earlier, lead me to believe that they have increasingly gone over to the dark side.   Conversations with the Parent Revolution people over the last six months made me hopeful with reservations, because despite the fact that they seemed better on unions, unions were still opposing them fiercely, and too many of the wrong people were seizing on their “parent trigger” propositions in various states to subvert local control and parent participation into charter schemes and loss of public control.

Recent conversations in New Orleans a week or so ago and on-the-air at KABF  with Pat DeTemple, senior strategist for the California-based Parent Revolution, are forcing me to re-evaluate the way the parent trigger might work in the right ways to create real local power and voice for parents in forcing all parties to bring their best game to educate their children.   Much of this has to do with an interesting situation in one Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) where parents seemed to have used the trigger masterfully.  51% of the parents must sign a petition demanding that the school be reorganized for better educational performance with various options that might include changing the principal, bringing in charter, and so forth.  In this instance the parents put out a request for proposals to see who would step up to their mark.  More than a half-dozen charters applied, but so did the LA School District.  The parents negotiating committee ended up looking at the two bids outstanding, one from a charter that was already on campus in 5th grade and one that was from the District itself, which wanted to prove that it could make the school work.  The parents told both of them to come back with one joint proposal, and damned if they didn’t, and it was a great one.  The District promised that it would add an early childhood program and both parties agreed to enrich the program so that the higher 5th grade standards would be maintained and achieved by more students.   This new program goes live this coming fall, so it will be worth watching.

Another hopeful sign is a bill moving through the Louisiana legislature that would allow the parent trigger to be used to bring schools seized by the state back under democratic local control.  The bill has made it through the House and is now moving through the Senate without much opposition. 

What all this says to me is that situations like these which allow a real voice and a legitimately locally driven solution could be important and powerful instruments of community control.  When the trigger can only be pulled in one direction, usually to the charters, it is little more than part of a circular firing squad, so why wouldn’t everyone oppose this, but if the legislation can allow full and robust options, real parent power, then maybe a “parent revolution” could make public schools work around the country.

Parents Audio Blog


Economy and Growing Senior Populations Factor into Decreased State Higher Ed Funding

New Orleans   For many of the blamers and “bootstrappers” who like to lay the growing income and inequality divide on the poor themselves rather than federal and state tax and budget policy, the solution is invariably, “why don’t they go to school.”  The answer is increasingly that crippled public schools are leaving lower income students unprepared and rising cost of public universities as well as outlandish costs of private colleges are increasing the divide and making the walls permanent.  All of which made a column in The Advocate by Koran Addo on the “dilemma” in higher education funding in Louisiana send me to the original study by Demos, the well known public policy institute, called “College Funding in Context.”

Nothing they had to say about Louisiana was surprising or encouraging, but as interestingly were some of the findings that emerged looking widely at the way funding is determined.  The common theme that was unavoidable was that the economy itself has strapped funding.  Louisiana has lost more than $25,000,000 over four years, but we’re not alone.  Over and over, states have been driven to raise costs and reduce support to higher education.  If this is the lifeline for low-and-moderate income families, then someone on the mother ship is pulling up the rope before folks can get out of the deep water.

To observations jumped up at me in a more than usually depressing manner because it augured so poorly for the future.   In one case Demos found that aging population in the states is bad news for the young:

“…for every 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of a state’s population that is 65 or older, there is an almost 7 percent reduction in FTE state appropriations for higher education.”

In the other instance Demos found that

“…for every 10 percentage point increase in presidential voter participation over the past 20 years, there is a 1.5 percent decrease in FTE state appropriations.”

            Of course older citizens also vote more than younger, and wealthier citizens vote more than poor citizens, which makes it look like nothing but bad news for anyone who wants to pretend that education is the answer.  It’s not the answer, because it seems that it is answering the wrong question.  In the kindest case indifference and multiple recessions are forcing older citizens to look after themselves.  In a less charitable case the big “me” means to heck with the rest of your neighbors.

Either way, if the question is, “how do we reduce inequality,” education is less and less the answer as it gets pushed farther and farther away from the grasp of the less affluent.

Meritocracy means nothing next to money.


Federal Judge Holds Vouchers are Resegretation in Louisiana with More to Come

New Orleans  A federal judge in Louisiana took a hard shot to the gut to the conservative efforts to provide public money to help some parents pay for their children to escape public schools.  He called it what it was:  an effort to re-segregate the school system.  The basis of the decision was equally clear.  The judge found that the voucher effort to pay for movement to private and parochial schools was in clear violation of the long standing desegregation orders in the Tangipahoa Parish school district across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.

The voucher program has moved money to more than 5500 students since being forced through the Louisiana legislature last year along with other so-called “school reforms,” most of which were meant to privatize the schools, give the state control, and re-segregate.  There are 30 more parishes in Louisiana under desegregation orders, so count on them running into court quickly.  The young gun, New Yorker running the state Department of Education swears the matter will be turned over on appeal, but that’s a long shot bet in my view.

The other artifice behind these rightwing moves has been to pretend that they were not illegally appropriating local school district tax dollars to move people from the district.  They make this argument in the face of the fact that to fund their resegregation efforts, they lower the state contribution by almost exactly the amount of money they are giving the schools as part of the state contribution to public education, thereby in effect forcing the local money to “pay” for the vouchers.  An op-ed columnist in the Baton Rouge Advocate eviscerated the Governor and his cronies several weeks ago for the transparent fraud involved in this maneuver.  Now both teachers unions in Louisiana are about to have their day in court on an identical challenge to this misappropriation.   I’d bet they will win there as well.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t work when it involves taking taxpayer money from citizens supporting the public school system to in fact destroy the very system they are funding.  This is exactly what experts like Professor Diane Ravitch have been arguing eloquently along with many, many others around the country recently as the so-called reform effort is being exposed as simple gentrification via charters, privatization at large, and a return to separate and highly unequal.

Louisiana might finally be leading the effort back to public schools thanks to the courts!



No Real Loan Forgiveness, Re-segregate and Leaving All Children Behind, Arizona Voter Suppression, Weird Germans, and Lincoln Like Politics

uncounted ballots

New Orleans

No Real Loan Forgiveness, Just More Bank Scams

“…the main purpose of the settlement was to keep people in their homes.  Yet the report shows that $13 billion of debt has been written off in 113,500 short sales, versus $2.5 billion in 22,000 principal-reduction loan modifications.  Those numbers raise questions about which types of borrowers are receiving which types of aid.  The average debt write-off in a short sale is about $116,000.  The average in a principal reduction is about $117,000.  That suggests some of the borrowers doing short sales may have been able to qualify for principal reduction instead.  It also suggests that aid is being targeted on large mortgages, presumably for higher-income borrowers.” (NYT)

No surprise that once again a bank “settlement,” comes off as more of a “sell-out!”

Arizona Voter Suppression on Steroids

“Ideas and plenty of criticism have been floating around in meetings, e-mail and letters since the exact number of ballots left to be counted after the polls closed – 631, 274 – came to be known….In Maricopa County [Phoenix], which as roughly 60 percent of all registered voters in the state, 115,000 votes were cast through provisional ballots, a 15 percent increase from 2008, based on state records.  Some 59,000 people who requested early ballots also went to the polls on Nov. 6, accounting for almost half of all provisional ballots cast.  According to complaints logged by grassroots groups working to mobilize Latino voters, many were first-time voters who signed up to get their ballots by mail and claimed to have not received them.”  (NYT)

How predictable was this?  And, if steps are taken now to push back on voter suppression now that huge numbers of states are under one-party control, then forget about increasing voter participation!

No Child Left Behind Re-segregates Public Schools

“…such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic international rankings in science, math and literacy we’ve had for years.”   (Martin Brick NYT)

And, wasn’t this the plan or are you saying this was a surprise?

Politics Does Not Suck

“The challenge of politics lies precisely in the marriage of high vision and low cunning.  Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good.”   (David Brooks NYT)

Is this just in the movies or in the USA, too?

Weird Germans

“It is not that the laws [on lobbying] are stricter here [in Germany]; in many cases, they are looser.  Businesses can give unlimited contributions directly to political parties, as can private individuals.  Donations below 10,000 euros, or about $13,000, are not reported.   The difference is largely cultural.  Germans dislike costly campaigns and rampant fund-raising, and the old parties have seen what happens to those too cozy with donors.”  (NYT)

What’s wrong with them?  Oh, you mean, it’s us?