Graph of the week

We hear a lot from the Governor and his legislature about the need for students to be "college ready", which is laudable. But there's the rhetoric of "being ready" and the reality of a legislature that is making college harder, especially for students from poor families.

Exhibit A is this graph sent to us by a reader, regarding the states disinvestment in the Ohio College Opportunity Grant

Is an $81 a year tax cut really worth it?

What's in your portfolio?

A reader pointed out this exchange and segment on CNBC, a business channel. There can be no doubt that the financiers that brought us the great recession see education as the next area ripe for looting

Anchor: Charter schools have become very popular... But are charter schools a wise addition to your investment portfolio? Well let’s ask David Brain, President and CEO of Entertainment Properties Trust. David, why would I want to add charter schools into my portfolio?

DB: Well I think it’s a very stable business, very recession-resistant. It’s a high-demand product. There’s 400,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools, the industry’s growing about 12-14% a year. So it’s a high-growth, very stable, recession-resistant business. It’s a public payer, the state is the payer on this category, and if you do business with states with solid treasuries then it’s a very solid business.

Anchor: Well let me ask you about potential risks, here, to your charter school portfolio, because I understand that three of your nine “Imagine” schools are scheduled to actually lose their charters for the next school year. Does this pose a risk to investors?

DB: Well, occasionally—our Imagine arrangement’s on a master lease, so there’s no loss of rents to the company, although occasionally there are losses of charters...In this case it’s a combination of relationship with the supervisory authorities and educational quality; sometimes the educational quality is very difficult to change in one, two, or three years. It’s a long-term proposition, so there are some of these that occur, but we’ve structured our affairs so this is not going to impact our rent-roll and in fact you see this is maybe even a good experience as the industry thins out some of the less-performing schools...

I don’t—there’s not a lost of risk...the fact is this has bipartisan support. It’s part of the Republican platform and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration, has been very high on it throughout their work in public education. So we have both political parties are solidly behind it, you have high demand, high growth, you have performance across the board...it’s our highest growth and most appealing sector right now of the portfolio. It’s the most high in demand, it’s the most recession-resistant. And a great opportunity set with 500 schools starting every year. It’s a two and a half billion dollar opportunity set annually.

Opportunity Knocks

Here's a new one for the ol' Reformy Thesaurus: the "Opportunity Culture" in education.

Sure sounds good, doesn't it? Who doesn't want our American kids to have more opportunities in life? Except--oops--this campaign, rolled out by Public Impact, is actually about opportunities for "teacherpreneurs" to make more money by teaching oversized classes--and of course, for school districts to seize that same opportunity to save money through "innovative" staffing models.

How did this exciting window of opportunity emerge? Public Impact explains:

Only 25 percent of classes are taught by excellent teachers. With an excellent teacher versus an average teacher, students make about an extra half-year of progress every year--closing achievement gaps fast, leaping ahead to become honors students, and surging forward like top international peers.

That's a whole lot of leaping and surging. Unfortunately, it's based on a faux statistic, sitting triumphantly on a pyramid of dubious research, prettied up with some post-modern infographics. Like other overhyped blah-blah of "reform"--the "three great teachers in a row" myth, for example, or nearly every "fact" in Waiting for Superman--it's a triumph of slick media slogans over substance. A quick look at the Opportunity Culture Advisory Team tells you what the real purpose of the OC is: cutting teachers, privatizing services, plugging charters and cultivating a little astroturf to cover the scars.

The Opportunity Culture's bold plan begins with a policy recommendation: Schools should be required by law to identify the top 25% of their teachers. Then, once that simple task is completed, OC suggests ten exciting new models for staffing schools, beginning with giving these excellent teachers a lot more students (plus a merit pay carrot) and ending with enlisting "accountable remote teachers down the street or across the nation" who would "provide live, but not in-person instruction while on-site teammates manage administrative duties and develop the whole child."

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Following the Dollars

Who benefits financially from the pro-market charter school movement?

The charter school reform emerged in part out of a progressive effort to promote innovation that could be used to improve all public schools, and to open up discus­sion on the relationship between school and community, particularly in urban areas. It was a movement initiated by Ray Budde, a professor at the University of Massachusetts and envisioned as a school that would gain freedom to try different methods of teaching that could be transferred to all public schools.

However, a funny thing happened along the way. Free-market zealots (with riches) realized that over $600 billion is spent in the U.S. on public schools. A whole new frontier leading to stable profits was recognized. Everyone knows "it takes money to make money,” and the faces behind the voucher/charter "reform” movement are not bashful in stepping up to the bar.

The economic and political consequences of abandoning public education in the US are grave. Education has always been the gateway of opportunity for working people in America, and that gate is slamming shut. With market-based schools, children from wealthy families are being educated, while those from poorer families are being denied the opportunity. While affluent customers may be satisfied with the outcome for their children, rebuilding the economy in post-imperial America will depend on a large, well-educated labor force that can only be supplied by a free and universal public education system.

But in basing schooling on consumerism the free-market zealots overlook the cultural role of schools in communities. Essential services such as the military, police protection, and schooling have been accepted for many generations of Americans as too essential to be subject to the whims of corporate interests distant from the community.

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Citizens can lobby too!

We know that David Brennan and Michele Rhee hired lobbyists to get their agenda in front of the Republican controlled legislture, and inserted in SB5 and the budget bill. We also know that lawmakers hearing from teachers, and other concerned citizens, got many of the most eggregious provisions removed. But now there's pressure to perform a double-back-flip-U-turn and put these terrible measure back in the budget.

There's still time and opportunity for citizens to lobby their represenatives. If you are a member of OEA, tomorrow is a scheduled lobby day. (Link - bottom, left). If you want to attend, meet at Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel at 50 N. 3rd St., Columbus, Ohio – The briefing will start at 9:00 a.m.** (map).

JTF will be coming along, we hope to see you there. Together we'll change some minds!

**If you have a distance to travel, check with your local or regional association. Busing is being provided, along with parking and lunch if needed. Also, vallet parking at the hotel is available and a voucher for it will be given to you when you sign in.

The Reckless Budget

The Budget Facts, so far

  • The budget leaves school districts with $3.1 billion less overall funding over the next two years. That means school districts will have 11.5% less total funding next year, and a 4.5% further decrease in the budget’s second year, forcing drastic cuts and property tax increases.
  • There are no strategies to make up for an estimated $800 million in annual lost federal funding.
  • The budget reneges on “hold harmless” payments to schools during the phase-out period for Tangible Personal Property Taxes, costing school districts $678 million over two years.
  • The budget provides nearly $400 million less over the biennium to higher education, including a 5% cut to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant next year.
  • The cuts extend to nearly every area of education – early childhood, special education, prison education and instruction for incarcerated youths.

More information is available and will be added, at the menu on the right.