Education Sneak Peek
by: Ear to the Ground Exclusive Newsletter Posted on: September 26, 2017
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There is arguably no issue more important to keep a vigilant Ear to the Ground to than the integrity and vitality of our education system.
See below for a sampling of education-related stories that we have covered in the first four issues of the newsletter.
State Takeovers of Public Schools: Georgia Moves to Join National Trend
On November 8, 2016, Georgia voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have amended the state constitutional to allow the state to seize control of so-called “chronically failing” schools. Undeterred, the Georgia Legislature passed HB338 to create a state Chief Turnaround Officer (CTO) to intervene in “turnaround eligible schools.” If after three years the school is not in compliance with the CTO’s plan, under the law the school can be privatized; converted to a charter or “special” school; totally reconstituted; handed over to a “successful school system”; along with other measures. This type of legislation is in line with a strong national trend to push privatization by removing democratic control over public education.
Kentucky: Drastic Education Reform
HB 520 makes charter schools eligible to receive tax payer money in Kentucky. Under the law, local school boards will be empowered to authorize an unlimited number of the schools. According to pro-privatization advocates, this law makes Kentucky the 44th state to have a charter school law. Another major education reform bill was passed (SB1), which will create new rules for how students are taught and tested and how teachers are evaluated in Kentucky public schools.
Suspending Local School Districts, Appointing CEOs
Background: In 2015, the Ohio governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education secretly crafted legislation (SB70) to give the state the authority to dissolve the power of local school districts that it deems to have been in academic distress, for four years. The legislation was rushed through the state legislature in 24 hours. This takeover scheme is shrouded in controversy, as large-scale corruption scandals have plagued the private Ohio charter school industry and state government for years.
This summer, Lorain Schools became the second school district to be taken over by a SB70 CEO, after Youngstown. Lorain’s new CEO, according to The Chronicle, attended Atlantic Research Partners’s (ARP) National Superintendents Academy in 2016. ARP was paid $25,000 by the state to conduct the CEO search. The Chronicle (via The Vindicator) reports that ARP is the latest iteration of another charter school company called SUPES, which is infamous for a 2015 kickback scandal that, “sent former owners Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, along with former Chicago Schools CEO and SUPES consultant Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who used to lead the Cleveland Schools, to prison.”
According to The Morning Journal, Lorain School Board President Tony Dimacchia has filed numerous freedom of information requests to shine light on the CEO hiring process, but none of his requests have been returned yet.
Sources: The Chronicle, Ohio; The Morning Journal, Ohio
First Day of School Brings New Era of State Control to Indiana
Increasingly, schools and school districts that are going through financial hardship are being taken over by their state government. Often, the suspension of local control is accompanied by privatization schemes. According to WBEZ, August 17, 2017 marked the first time in Indiana’s modern history that a school system was opened under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. Because of “increased competition from charter and private schools,” reports WBEZ, “many parents [have been] opting to send their children to religious-based schools…and taking advantage of Indiana’s school voucher program.” (The school voucher system allows money for public schools to be transferred to private schools.) But as parents take their children out of underfunded public schools, the funding crisis is exacerbated. WBEZ suggests that if the emergency manager cannot “save the district…some more radical remedy [may be] required.”
Municipalities’ taxing powers are central to the story, it appears. Ten years ago—just as the Great Recession began to hit—a cap was put on local property taxes in Indiana. It resulted in less revenues for municipalities and school districts.
Source: WBEZ, Indiana
Sensitive Student Data in the Crosshairs in Tennessee
“Metro Nashville Public Schools could be violating the federal law governing student records by making health care, demographics, language and other information for its 86,000 students available [to private charter school officials, who use the data to recruit students]”
Will Pinkston, a member of the Nashville school board, has pointed to privacy concerns: “When we’ve got charter operators sharing personal information with phone vendors in Oklahoma and direct-mail vendors in Michigan, it’s clear we haven’t done enough to protect students’ and families’ privacy…We’re living in a time when identities are stolen and hacking is the norm. We owe it to students and families to create the most secure environment for their personal information.”
The controversy over student privacy is also a proxy in a larger fight over education privatization in Tennessee. In August, Shelby County Schools (Memphis) denied private charter schools’ request for student information. But they also had to fend off officials from the state’s Achievement School District (ASD), which “is tasked with taking over and turning around the state’s lowest-performing schools,” according to the Tennessean. The ASD “filed a request [for data]…on behalf of the charter schools it works with in Nashville and Memphis.”
If you have a child, you might consider checking out the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy’s toolkit: https://www.studentprivacymatters.org/toolkit/
Source: Tennessean, Tennessee (part of USA Today Network)
Utah To Privatize State Student Information System?
This Spring, the Utah Legislative Auditor General published a report on privatizing the state’s student information system. The system includes information including student behavior and attendance. After the report however, it appears, the immediate costs of privatizing the system have delayed or nixed the plan.
Sources: KSL, Utah; Utah Legislative Auditor General; Utah State Board of Education
Nation’s Largest Virtual Charter School Headed to Court in Ohio
It turns out Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) has been inflating the number of students “logging into—its school.” According to Education Week, a state investigation was only able to “find proof of 41 percent of ECOT’s 15,000 students attending school full time.” The investigation also showed that on average, students only log 227 hours on the school’s “learning software” per year, well below the 920 hours required by state law. The company argues that state law only requires the school to “offer” 920 hours of learning.
Source: Education Week, National
Questions About South Carolina’s Charter District
As school starts again, The Greenville News raised important issues about South Carolina’s statewide charter school district, a network of charter schools set up by the state in 2008. The district approaches its tenth year of existence but has already diverted $1 billion away from conventional public schools, while disproportionately serving white and wealthier students. It was also plagued by scandal, as one administrator was sent to federal prison for embezzlement.
Source: The Greenville News, South Carolina (print only)
New Plan to Convert Elementary Schools into Charter Schools in North Carolina
In July, North Carolina set a goal of converting five public elementary schools into charter schools run by private companies. In early September a list of 48 elementary schools “eligible” to be handed over to charter companies was released by the state. According to The News & Observer, two schools will be selected for the 2018-19 school year, followed by three the following year.
Source: The News & Observer, North Carolina (1,2)
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