Picking School Winners and Losers is Risky Business Part 1 of 3

House Bill 610 (working title; Choices in Education Act) has been introduced into Congress. It has not cleared a committee, there have been no votes taken, and no amendments offered. But, now is the time for the public to learn about what the bill will change if it becomes law. There is still time for us to contact congressional representatives and let our thoughts on this bill ring out. 

House Bill 610 is the beginning of federal action to severely cripple public schools with an eye on eliminating them completely. The Department of Education will become superfluous along the way. Some, including Mr. Trump’s political brain, Steve Bannon, argue that the federal government has no business being involved with education. Reasoning: Education is not mentioned in the Constitution, and we all know that anything not mentioned is the property of the states. True, but many of the issues dealt with in this bill are not strictly education issues, they are equal rights issues that are squarely in the fed’s purview. 

The first action taken by HB-610 is the entire repeal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Gone from schools will be the responsibility to fairly deal with most anyone who is outside the norms of regular education. There will be no requirements that schools provide for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or any other programs for gifted learners. No longer will career and technical instruction need to be offered, equal treatment of women and girls programs can be on the chopping block, school safety and gun related incidents will no longer have to be reported, school lunches will no longer be required to contain healthy food group choices, capturing student data for school accountability will be eliminated, there will be no mention of equal access or opportunity for students with disabilities, and discrimination and harassment (bullying) issues will no longer be necessary to report or monitor. The 1965 act is broad and inclusive. It deals with a wide range of educational needs presented by subgroups in schools. Over the last 50 years the act has served challenged students well and its elimination could bring back a lot of head turning away from nonstandard students.  

None of these programs or organizational systems will have to go away, but as with all laws, they weren’t being properly administered before the 1965 law was enacted. There is no reason for us to believe that they will remain after accountability is lifted. HB-610 cuts a lot of money out of the school budgets and any program difficult to fund will be fodder for extinction.  

The second part of HB-610 will be to make funding for schools reliant on vouchers. Federal money will be allocated to qualifying states that meet the school choice demands of the bill. States will need to apply and be judged acceptable and those that do not qualify or do not comply with the demands of the bill will be cut out of federal monies. Any excesses will be used to pay down the federal deficit–taking even more money away from schools and students.  

The bill makes use of the term “eligible students/children” fully 30 times in the body of the document which is about as long as this column. Eligible students are those who will qualify for a voucher. It defines “eligible students/children” as “a child 5-17 (years-old) inclusive.” 

Okay. But, be aware that at any time the definition of “eligible child” could be easily changed to limit access to education to any given subgroup of kids deemed counterproductive to the end goals of this bill. Why include the adjective “eligible” if all students are supposed to be included? Just call them “children” or “students” to remove all ambiguity. A simple amendment to the bill can change the definition of “eligible children” to something much more restrictive than all students currently included on today’s public and private education rosters. This is an area of the bill that requires acute vigilance by concerned citizens. 

One aspect of public education that isn’t often discussed is the issue of school boards. Citizen school boards, made up of elected officials, run public schools. The public has an avenue to give and get information about how their taxes are spent. Private schools receiving vouchers from public tax dollars and many charter schools have no such boards and the people with the most influence are those with the most money to give for endowments. This creates an oligarchy at best and likely a dictatorship ruling private and some charter schools being publically funded. 

Lastly, there is just no conclusive evidence that any of the facets of educational choice advocated by HB-610; private, charter, home, magnet, or public schooling, renders a superior education over the others to their students. There are individual examples of exemplary schools in each category and examples of failing schools in each as well. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.  

We need to think long and hard before taking on the equality and access challenges presented by moving to a voucher system of paying for our children’s education–spreading already sparse dollars even more thinly. When we pick winners and losers in schools, we are also picking winners and losers among our kids.  

Part II of this column will appear tomorrow with clarifications about what choices we have.

 

 

Comments

  1. Teri Nehrenz says:

    Terry, you stated, “One aspect of public education that isn’t often discussed is the issue of school boards. Citizen school boards, made up of elected officials, run public schools. The public has an avenue to give and get information about how their taxes are spent. Private schools receiving vouchers from public tax dollars and many charter schools have no such boards and the people with the most influence are those with the most money to give for endowments. This creates an oligarchy at best and likely a dictatorship ruling private and some charter schools being publically funded.”

    This isn’t a true statement at all according to the Center for Education Reform. Every charter school in all states except Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia, by law, have to have a governing board of trustees.

    Also your article is quite speculative…you say things MIGHT happen but….
    Waivers & Legal Autonomy: A good charter law is one that automatically exempts charter schools from most of the school district’s laws and regulations. Of course no charter school is exempt from the most fundamental laws concerning civil rights. These waivers allow charter schools to innovate and try new learning strategies that traditional public schools cannot.

    Seems to me that there are many benefits to charter schools, listed above is but one.
    Charter schools have the ability to focus on the student’s needs rather than some federally mandated guidelines. The department of education needs to be eliminated…too much bureaucracy. Funds that go deep into those pockets would better be served reducing the national debt or even better, back into the hands of the actual educators, not those who sit in an office making up these ridiculous rules such as “No child left behind.” No wonder kids graduate with reading and writing levels that borderline or fall into the illiterate category.

    I take it you are not a fan of charter schools?

  2. Terry Donnelly says:

    In fact I am a fan of charter schools. I like a lot of what you write about catering to specific student needs. On the other hand, going to school with a bunch of like-minded kids may not prepare a student for the bigger world, but that is another issue. I like that kids have a choice of different education modes and have supported them through the years. No old hippie teacher worth his salt didn’t pine over starting an alternative or free school in the 60s.

    I didn’t say charters don’t have boards, I said that they aren’t publicly elected.There are companies for hire to administer charters and some are founders of the school. Not exactly people who have an open mind about changes. Plus, as you state a full 14% of our states that don’t require boards at all. There are lots of charters that close every year because they haven’t kept up with the demands of their charter.

    My speculation is about the bill, not what is happening. Part of crux of this series is that we need to watch the fuzzy language and be vigilant that all kids are eligible for vouchers, if this passes. It isn’t etched in stone.

    We can eliminate the Department of Education if there is a spot in the justice department and a specific AAG to monitor schools and the equal access to education and on and on that the 1965 law mandates. I’m not confident the way they handled the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We also need federal oversight of how taxes are distributed, especially if we start giving more federal block grants and incentives. The states will have to apply, be deemed worthy of getting federal monies, and then be monitored according to this bill. Who will do that it there is no Dept. of Ed.?

  3. Jeanne O'Malley says:

    Very sound as usual, Terry. I look forward the next two parts. As a former teacher in both public and private Australian schools, as well as working with home schooled kids, I can see the advantages of choice. But to punish public schools for them does not help at all. Once they start cutting public school funding, parents are convinced they HAVE to send their children to private schools and a” reasonable”school fee for a city private school is A$22,000 a year. A very sobering thought.Americans should think a long time before they open that particular box.

  4. Terry Donnelly says:

    Teri, I just did some checking and the Department of Education has about 4,400 employees. That puts it in the range of mid-size businesses in the private sector. I looked at a long list of companies with about 5,000 employees and didn’t recognize any of them. The companies we know have many more than that. If the Dept. of Ed. were charged with monitoring states, that would be less than 90 people per state. I’m not sure that qualifies as “too much bureaucracy.

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