Monday, August 15, 2011

Who Pays When Public Schools GO PRIVATE?

Who Pays When Public Schools

When Bobby Jindal preaches budget cutting, and the shrinking of government, he’s reading directly from the American Legislative Exchange Council play book.  He scores well with ALEC when he moves to privatize prisons, or his own Office of Group Benefits; and when it comes to education, his program of tax credits, vouchers, charter uncapping and expansion, and common core standards earn ALEC gold stars for success.

In 2002 ALEC reported on its success in a report entitled “Show Me the Money.”  The most aggressive budget cutting has been in the Midwest, a region particularly hard hit by the economic downturn.

Illinois Governor George Ryan proposed over half a billion dollars in cuts, including closing a medium-security prison, shutting down a mental health center, reducing college scholarships, and paring down state aid to schools.

In neighboring Iowa, Governor Tom Vilsak signed a budget that included furloughs for state workers and eliminated or suspended 27 state programs.

In Michigan, Governor John Engler cut about $1 billion in discretionary items, including bilingual education, parenting skills training, and youth violence prevention programs.

All of this wreckage purportedly would stir great economic advantages to these states.
Let’s take a look at what happened in these three states:

Illinois:  Total employment peaked in June 2007 with 6,057,600 employed.  Since then 379,900 jobs have been lost.  Over the past three years state tax collections have fallen from $29.1 billion, to $26.8 in 2009, and $24.5 billion last year.
Iowa: In 2000 total employment numbered 1,557,100, while in June of 2011 the employment numbered 1,576,100.  Iowa’s tax revenues were shrinking over the past decade, politicians of both parties advanced corporate tax credits that have “severely and increasingly cut into state revenues,” according to a report by the Iowa Fiscal Partnership (IFP). It is forecast that between fiscal years 2009 and 2014 existing corporate tax credits will result in a loss of $600 million in revenue. Additionally, various tax loopholes have allowed large out-of-state corporations to transfer profits from Iowa to their subsidiaries in states without corporate income taxes, amounting to a loss of $60 million to $120 million in corporate tax revenues every year, according to the IFP.
Michigan:  The trend line in labor force steadily declined from nearly 5.2 million in 2000 to just over 4.25 million employed in 2011. Unemployment in 2000 was less than 200,000 and in 2011 stands at 500,000.

ALEC clearly has a business-favorable agenda that is mainlined into those legislators who are attracted by the benefits that ALEC offers.  A significant part of the ALEC agenda is tax reduction.  The argument is that cutting taxes, particularly business taxes or taxes on higher income business leadership, will spur economic activity and create jobs.

The U.S. Census reports that the median income in 2007 was lower than it was in 2000.  The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports employment growth was lower than in any previous post-World War II expansion, with job growth of only nine-tenths of a percent from November 2001 to September 2007.  Real wages for that same period grew at a 1.8 percent average annual rate.  Hardly evidence that tax cutting spurs economic development.

The Laffer, trickle-down, economics appears not to have been effective in growing jobs.

The second round of tax cuts under Bush in 2003 was a bit more faithful to the supply-side cause. The second round involved a reduction in the tax rate on both capital gains and dividends to 15 percent, with the dividend cut being particularly large. But even so, as the statistics above on income and employment growth attest, there wasn’t much evidence that these tax cuts had a large impact on economic growth or job increases.
ALEC’s priorities for the 2011 session included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more. In states across the country they succeeded, with stacks of new laws signed by GOP governors like Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both ALEC alums.
ALEC’s most ambitious and strategic push toward privatizing education came in 2007, through a publication called School Choice and State Constitutions, which proposed a list of programs tailored to each state. That year Georgia passed a version of ALEC’s Special Needs Scholarship Program Act.  Most disability organizations strongly oppose special education vouchers, and decades of evidence suggest that such students are better off receiving additional support in public schools. Nonetheless, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, Utah and Indiana have passed versions of their own. Louisiana also passed a version of ALEC’s Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act (renaming it Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence), along with ALEC’s Family Education Tax Credit Program (renamed Tax Deductions for Tuition), which has also been passed by Arizona and Indiana. ALEC’s so-called Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act has been passed by Arizona, Indiana and Oklahoma.
Julie Underwood, dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, studied the ALEC education agenda and concluded:  A key component consisted of chipping away at local school districts and school boards through its 2009 Innovation Schools and School Districts Act and more. Proposals like the Public School Financial Transparency Act and School Board Freedom to Contract Act would allow school districts to outsource auxiliary services.
ALEC’s real motivation for dismantling the public education system is ideological—creating a system where schools do not provide for everyone—and outcomes are profit-driven. The corporate members on its education task force include the Friedman Foundation, Goldwater Institute, Washington Policy Center, National Association of Charter School Authorizers and corporations providing education services, such as Sylvan Learning and the Connections Academy.
Public schools are not merely schools for the public, but institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity.  What happens to our democracy when we return to an educational system whose access is defined by corporate interests and divided by class, language, ability, race and religion?
Underwood asks, in a push to free-market education, who pays in the end?

Don Whittinghill

Monday, June 6, 2011

All that Glitters is not Gold

Listen UP!
School Performance 2011 is here

All that Glitters is not Gold

Grabbing headlines recently was news that the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) student population at basic or above had jumped more than four times the state average between 2007 and 2011.

The state average for that period was 66, while the RSD-New Orleans rested at 48 (a five point gain over the 2010 scores).  The State gain was 1%, and the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) stood at 82 with just a two point increase.

Not an insignificant gain for the RSD-NO.  But the end of the tale is that there remains a 23% gap between the state average and the RSD-NO; and an even larger gap of 41.5% for OPSB.

 The goal for Louisiana districts is to have all students at Basic or above by 2014.  The 2011 iLEAP for 3rd grade test takers reveals the stark reality that the percent of students, statewide, who are at Approaching Basic (AB) or Unsatisfactory (UNSAT) numbers 25%; for the RSD-NO the number is 52%, more than double the state average of kids still looking to reach Basic.  The OPSB, meanwhile, shows only 22% of its students failing to make Basic or beyond.

When the 2011 test charts of the State Department of Education are evaluated to find the percentage of students meeting promotional standards on the LEAP tests, much the same gap occurs.  The charts show that 64% of RSD-NO students met promotional standards.  The State average was 80% and the OPSB 95%.

The opportunity to introduce more glitter into the RSD-NO performance brought headlines from Leslie Jacobs that New Orleans scores showed "impressive gains and once again improved much more than the state.”

Combining the scores of the OPSB and RSD brings the high performing scores of the OPSB (with 95% of all tested students at Basic or Abovc in ELA, 91% in mathematics, 85% in Science and 92% in Social Science) and those of the RSD-NO that scores 60% ELA, 56% in math, 39% in science and 51% in social studies. 

The disaggregation of the scores seems to tarnish the data presented on behalf of the RSD-NO.  Unfortunately, all boats are not lifted to the same elevation in a rising tide, and the state does not manage OPSB schools that outstrip RSD-NO scores by more than a third.

When reviewing OPSB scores in 4th grade ELA testing charts the 2009 score was 88% at Basic or Above, in 2010 that score improved in 2011 to 95%.  That compares with RSD-NO that started at 52% at Basic or Above in 2009 and rose to 60 in 2011.  Both district scores fell slightly in 2010.

Conventional wisdom admits that it is more difficult to make substantial gains in high performing and in higher graded schools.  That the OPSB increase, in promotional standards met, gained five points while the RSD-NO gained six is a significant accomplishment for the OPSB.  Study the individual RSD-NO School Performance Scores and it is clear that there now exists a two-tier system of poor and better schools.  While RSD-NO scores are rising, they did pre-Katrina as well, there are some indicators that some kids are being dumped into lower performing schools so as to build scores in the originally assigned school.

Laurel and Live Oak are two RSD-NO schools that do sustain all students and they boast 60 and 70% failure rates.

A byproduct of RSD-NO performance is the apparent two-tiered system that perpetuates schools at the bottom of the state rank ordering of School Performance Scores.  An example can also be found in the Algiers charters where Behrman and McDonogh 32 scores, from the same operator, produced 100% pass rates on 4th grade English LEAP, while a few blocks away the other posted an appalling 33% pass rate on the same test.

Almost lost in the glitter of RSD-NO gain reports is the performance of Central with 93%, Zachary 97%, West Feliciana 92%,, Livingston 90%, Plaquemines 94%, Catahoula, Ouachita, St. Charles, St. Tammany, and Vernon all at 89% meeting promotional standards. 

While RSD-NO defenders often combine the high performing OPSB school scores, they object to comparing RSD-NO poverty-stricken student scores to OPSB.  But, comparing RSD-NO to Plaquemines or Catahoula or Ouachita, all heavily at risk student bodies, ought to raise some eyebrows.

When the RSD was being created the promise was that it would take three years to turn around those terrible New Orleans schools.  It is now five years.  A dozen RSD-NO charters have had their contracts extended in spite of not reaching academic goals, and only one meeting its fiscal transparency goals.

Such a record seems hardly the stuff that should be considered a model for Detroit, or Haiti.
It might, for some, be the glitter of fools gold rather than the real thing.

Don Whittinghill

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hear the Echoes No.18

New Federal Data
Shows Importance of Advanced Education
Only five states in the U.S. , during 2009, had greater percentages of the population ages 3 and 4 in school.  Louisiana had 55.9 percent of children in that age group enrolled.  New Jersey had 66.2 percent, Massachusetts enrollment of 3 and 4 year olds amounted to 61.7 percent of all children in that age group, while Connecticut had 60.9 percent, Hawaii had 57.6 percent, New York 57.2 percent.

Only the District of Columbia had a greater proportion of 5 and 6 year olds enrolled than did Louisiana which enrolled 95.6 percent of that age group.  D.C. enrolled 98.2 percent.

          The percentage of 7 to 13 year olds enrolled in schools in Louisiana ranked 18th in the nation at 96.7 percent.

          These data-points reveal that Louisiana’s reform is successfully aimed at starting early to close achievement gaps for at-risk children.

          Projected percent change in public enrollment between 2008-09 and 2020-21 is expected to drop 2.4 percent, with the largest part of the drop in preK-8 where decline is anticipated to be 3.2 percent.  In 2008-09 Louisiana enrollment was reported to be 685,000, dropping to 668,000 in the later year.  By comparison, the enrollment in the U.S. is expected to grow 6.9 percent over that period.

          The economic importance of education is underscored by employment outcomes of young adults contained in the report (table A-18-1).  The percent of adults aged 25 to 34 and employed full time in 2010 has fallen to 60.8 percent down from 61.8 in the prior year and the decade high of 71.7 percent in 2000.  The number of unemployed rose in 2010 from 8.4 to 8.9 percent.

          Those young adults with less than a high school diploma were considerably worse off only 40.6 percent employed full time.  That was the lowest number over the 10 year period, and unemployment rose from 13.6 to 14.0 percent for the year.

          By comparison the segment of young adults with a high school diploma was more likely to be working full time.  While full-time employment for high school graduates fell to 55 percent in 2010 from 55.9 the prior year, the 2010 percentage was 15.4 percent below the ten year high point.  The percent difference between this group and the grouping without a secondary school diploma amounts to almost 15%.

          The value of an associate degree on full time employment was significant reflected in the fact that 65.4 percent were full-time employed, a drop of 3 percent from 2009 but only 8.3 percent below the best year when 73.7 percent were full time employed.   

          A college degree provided full time employment to 74.1 percent of young adult graduates, down 0.8 percent, and 6.5 percent below the high point of 80.6 in 2000.  In 2010 only 4 percent of college graduates were unemployed.

          What this information from the 2011 Digest of Education Statistics reveals should be seen as a strong incentive to students who wonder why they should be forced to remain in school; and why a good education is so important.

          Economic development that aims to diversify requires a better educated work force and Louisiana has been diligent in upgrading public schools to facilitate such an economic strategy.  However, the number of students dropping out of school, or failing to reach beyond a high school diploma remains too large.

          Strategies to promote career advancement through higher levels of education can be expected to have high priority as state and local education leadership unite behind career focused programs.

          Viewing these statistics serve to reinforce the conclusion that the need for a new career diploma option was greatly needed.  Time will provide real insights as to whether the new career diploma backers Sen. Bob Kostelka and Rep. Jim Fannin were true visionaries. 

Don Whittinghill