Friday, February 22, 2013

The Rape of Public Education

Since 2001, David Brennan and William Lager, both  for-profit charter school operators, have contributed over $4,00,000 to Ohio Republicans. (Plunderbund, January 28, 2013) Looking at Kasich's new proposed funding plan for Ohio, Brennan and Lager have received a nice return for their investment.  The proposal provides an additional $11.9 million, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal's projections, by virtue of allowing an additional $100 per pupil for "facilities."  (Media Matters, February 1, 2013)  In the past twenty years, literally BILLIONS of public school dollars have been funneled into charter schools in Ohio, all in the name of "school choice."

Along with this assault on funding, the Ohio General Assembly, under Kasich's leadership, have passed more and more onerous unfunded mandates that apply to traditional public schools, but not to charter schools.  For example, the new Ohio Teachers Evaluation System requires that administrators evaluate every teacher every year in a mandated process that requires many hours and meetings for each teacher.  With cuts in funding, schools have eliminated administrator positions, and do not have the resources to accomplish this requirement. There are simply not enough hours in the day.  In addition, there is no REASON to evaluate every teacher every year.  Educators don't become much better or much worse suddenly from year to year. In order to comply with the mandates of this law, schools will be forced to hire outside evaluators, emptying an already depleted general fund, and further driving up class sizes.  In contrast, charter schools are exempt from this requirement, which is ironic because, on average, charter schools spend roughly twice the amount per pupil on administration as traditional public schools do.  In fact, White Hat Management, owned by David Brennan, has a per pupil administration cost nearly 4 times that of traditional schools.  (OEA, A Brief Update on Charters)

The long anticipated school funding plan rolled out by Kasich this month adds insult to injury.  No matter the rhetoric, the actual data proves that only 36% of public districts get ANY increase at all, and yet 44% of the schools ranking in the top 10% of median income get an increase. (See my blog, A geek digs the data) Yes, you heard that right.  Of the top 10% most affluent district in the state, 44% get an increase, and many of them sizable increases, leaving the most of the bottom 90% of the schools receiving nothing.  Zero.  Zip.  Nada.

None of this would be quite so alarming, but while 92% of our traditional public schools produce excellent results as measured by performance index on state testing, only 26% of the charter schools reach this level of achievement. (Public record, ODE web site)  Charter school average achievement falls in the bottom 8% of the state and literally every single school in the bottom 5% of the state is a charter school.  The charters just aren't cutting it.  The concept of a "for profit school" is an oxymoron.  Schools either exist to fill the pockets of their CEO/operator OR they exist for the benefit of student learning.

Not only that, but Kasich is boasting of his increase in education funding.  The $1.6 billion additional dollars are temporary - the "guarantee funds" disappear after two yeas - and don't restore our education budget to where it was 2 years ago when Kasich slashed $1.8 billion from the budget.  The intent, to me, seems clear.  Force the property-poor districts to close down and funnel more money into the pockets of David Brennan and William Lager and their ilk who, in turn, send several million back into the pockets of Kasich and other leading Republicans.  Do this while protecting the school districts of the wealthiest among us.  Decrease the property tax of the wealthy and increase it for the poor districts, many of them rural where the owners of property are American farmers.

The net result is that those who have the most need receive the least benefit.  Schools educating children for under $10,000 per pupil, the cost of basic child care, are eliminating art, music, phys ed.  They are working with few administrators, inadequate technology, and large class sizes.  Parents are paying money for school athletics, depriving many of the opportunity to compete. High school students have little choice beyond basic English, math, science, and social studies courses.   Teachers are discouraged and feeling the stress of being blamed for everything from the state's economic woes to national security issues.  All this in stark contrast to wealthy suburban districts where students have access to natoriums, libraries, updated technology, field trips, and courses in computer programming, sculpture, orchestra, the arts, adanced placement, etc, etc, etc.... and more state funding in the new budget.  Something's gotta give. But as long as charters and testing companies are paying millions to politicians to enrich their campaign coffers, I fear that the rape of the American public school will continue.

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