Tag Archives: charter schools

Yeah, Let’s Focus on Our Students!

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

In a recent Scientific American article, a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson for Betsy DeVos said “The secretary believes that when we put the focus on students, and not buildings or artificially constructed boundaries, we will be on the right path to ensuring every child has access to the education that fits their unique needs.” As good as that sounds, it is total bullshit.

Here’s the deal. As much as its proponents try to tell us otherwise, school choice does NOT put the focus on students, because the “choice” is largely that of the commercial school, not the student. We know for example that private schools have total control over what students they accept, irrespective of the students’ funding sources (taxpayer-funded vouchers included.) Charter schools are by law required to accept all, but we also know they enroll much lower percentages of special needs students, those of color, and those in poverty.

As for the secretary’s belief that we should put the “focus on students, and not buildings or artificially constructed boundaries,” puhleeeeeeeaaasssee! This is just a thinly veiled swipe at community district schools. In Arizona, over 80% of our students attend these district schools where facility maintenance and repair is severely underfunded and there are no “artificially constructed boundaries” since we’ve had open enrollment since 1994. Continue reading

Government vs. Commercial

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

During his first inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan said “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Grover Norquist, of the “no new taxes pledge”, doubled down on this line of thinking with his goal to “to get [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” This GOP focus on government as the problem helps explain why those out to kill district schools refer to them as “government” schools. After all, “government” is the problem so how can “government” schools be any kind of solution for America’s students?

Yet the truth is that there are great district schools, great charter schools, great private schools and yes, even top-notch home schools. Of course, there are bad examples of all these options. Each option is just one of the tools in our country’s educational tool kit. The most useful tool in the tool kit by far however, (as proven by the 94.3% of American students who use it), is our system of public district schools. Charter schools have been around for twenty-five years, yet the overwhelming “school choice” for American families is still district schools. There is a place for other school choice options, but it shouldn’t be first place. Not in terms of taxpayer funding and not in terms of our nation’s focus. Continue reading

Just rearranging the deck chairs ain’t gonna cut it

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

Representing the AZSchools Now Coalition, Arizona’s 2016 Teacher of the Year Christine Marsh and I recently attended and spoke at a Classrooms First Initiative Council meeting in Phoenix. The Coalition consists of the Arizona Associations of: Education, Business and Education, School Boards, Superintendents, and Parent and Teachers. Also part of the coalition are the Children’s Action Alliance, Valley Interfaith Project, and Support Our Schools AZ. It was formed post-Prop 123 to provide focus to reinvesting in public schools as a way to boost student achievement.

The Classrooms First Initiative Council was established by Governor Ducey in January 2015 and charged with modernizing the school finance formula to ensure adequate funding is available for teachers and classroom instruction. The first of the two main events of this latest meeting was a presentation by Expect More Arizona on the Education Progress Meter. This meter has been accepted by virtually every education group, numerous community and municipality organizations, and 26 major business entities. It measures Arizona’s progress in eight areas to include teacher pay, preschool enrollment, 3rd grade reading, 8th grade math, high school graduation, opportunity youth, college going, and post-secondary attainment.

The other main discussion was about the proposals submitted by education groups for the Council’s consideration. In speaking for the AZSchools Now proposal, I advocated for additional resources to attract and retain high quality teachers in light of the both the current shortage as well as the some 26,000 eligible for retirement starting in 2018. Not only is the shortage critical, but teacher turnover is disruptive and expensive, costing as much as $50,000 to find and contract a new one. ADE reports we have almost 93,000 certified teachers in Arizona, but only 67,000 of them are working in the profession. Continue reading

“Someone to Shine Our Shoes”

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

In a recent article titled “Chartered Cruise” on knpr.org, the author Hugh Jackson wrote: “Today’s charter industry, much like Nevada’s voucher plan, reflects a chronic civic defeatism. Echoing the perverse social Darwinism of more than a century ago, faith in free-market education is surrender to pessimism. Society really isn’t incapable of providing a fair educational opportunity to every citizen. Some people are doomed to fail, that’s just the way it is, so best to segregate those with promise, the achievers, in separate schools. As for everyone else, well, too bad for them.” Of course, this attitude isn’t confined to only Nevada; I have a real life example of it right here in Arizona. Three or so years ago, an acquaintance of mine asked an Arizona Senator whether or not he supported public education. He replied, “of course I do, we need someone to shine our shoes.”

It’s bad enough the Senator thought this, let alone that he said it out loud to a public education advocate. That says as much about the voter contempt some of our lawmakers hold (especially when the voter is from a different party) as it does what they think of public education. As the primary water carrier for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC), the Arizona Legislature has led the nation in efforts to offer school choice options. Proponents tout school choice as the way to help disadvantaged children, but truth is, they’ve already written these children off. Instead, school choice is really about resegregation (the highest we’ve seen since the mid-1960s) and profiteering.

The school choice and education privatization movement gives me great pause because: Continue reading

What Would Jesus Do? He’d Pay Unemployment Tax for His Workers

by Pamela Powers Hannley

HB2645, which was advanced by the Arizona Senate this week, would allow churches and religious schools to avoid paying unemployment tax for teachers and day care workers. Passed by the Arizona House in March, this bill would deny unemployment benefits to these workers if they were laid off or if the institutions closed.

Republicans, conservative groups, and religious schools are backing the bill. According to ABC Channel 15, "The measure marks the latest Republican-led effort to expand tax subsidies for religious institutions and limit unemployment insurance at a time when the state's jobless benefits fund is millions of dollars in the hole because of the struggling economy." [Emphasis added.] More details after the jump.

Religious schools are backing this? I have just one question for these "religious" schools: What would Jesus do? Obviously, he would take care of his workers. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

I work for a very small business– 3 employees. One of the many hats I wear is handling the payroll and the bills. My boss pays ~$450/year for unemployment tax. If an employer has a track record of laying off workers, their rate goes up.

In the ABC News article, an accountant who has several religious schools as clients said that her clients would have to pay $25,000-100,000 in unemployment tax and would be put out of business if they had to pay that. Let's say they have a stable workforce, and they pay ~$150/person/year (like my boss). At that rate, $25,000/year in unemployment tax = a workforce of 166 people, and $100,000/year = a workforce of 666 people. These are either HUGE religious schools, OR they have lousy working conditions that cause workers to leave or be laid off routinely, OR she's lying.

It is an abomination to allow any employers to mistreat their workers and deny them earned benefits, but it particularly disgusting and extremely hypocritical for religious schools and institutions to short change their workers.

Again, I'll ask the Bible-thumpers in our Legislature and the capitalists who run these "religious" schools: What would Jesus do? He would supply living wage, good working conditions, social safety net programs for the poor and elderly, and unemployment insurance for workers. It is disingenuous to call yourself a Christian and vote with the capitalists, over the workers and their children.

Arizona’s tuition tax credit for private schools debated by US Supreme Court

51st-15-sm72by Pamela Powers Hannley

I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of the constant, absurd, expensive court battles between our boneheaded state government and the feds.

How many MILLIONS of dollars have Governor Jan Brewer and her clown posse in the Arizona Legislature wasted on Quixotic court battles over right-wing ideology?

This week the US Supreme Court will waste more of its valuable time on an obviously flawed and discriminatory Arizona law that gives rich people tax credits when they donate to private schools– to help rich kids and their rich buddies who own the private schools. (Seriously, the Governor and the Legislature won't be satisfied until all of the guv'mint schools are closed and the buildings sold to their business buddies for pennies.)

From the Arizona Republic

WASHINGTON – The legal challenge to Arizona's private-school tax-credit program went before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, and justices confronted attorneys on both sides about whether it violates separation of church and state.

In hourlong arguments in the nationally watched case, justices focused heavily on the structure of the tax-credit program, which allows taxpayers to donate up to $1,000 to non-profit organizations that distribute the money as private-school scholarships. Taxpayers then can take a dollar-for-dollar credit off their state income taxes.

Justices focused on whether donations are, in effect, directly steering government money to religious schools, as the challengers argue, or are a taxpayer charity that goes to private-school students, as supporters contend. [More here.]

Given this recent finding against school vouchers, it will be interesting to see how the Arizona case shakes out.