Author: RiShawn Biddle

The Integration Mirage

If the Century Foundation and other advocates for socioeconomic integration are believed, Cambridge Public School in Massachusetts is supposedly the model for harmonious, high-quality educating of all children regardless of…

If the Century Foundation and other advocates for socioeconomic integration are believed, Cambridge Public School in Massachusetts is supposedly the model for harmonious, high-quality educating of all children regardless of background. This is because “73 percent of schools were balanced by race in the 2011–2012 school year” and 64 percent of them were “balanced” by socioeconomic status (including percentage of kids on free- and reduced-priced lunch plans). Declares Century in its lullaby to the school: “Cambridge remains a leader in school integration”.

Yet a Dropout Nation analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education offers a much different story than what Century and others want to promote. If anything, the rationing of opportunity for high-quality education is as much a problem in Cambridge and other districts considered successes of integration as they are in the nation’s most-highly segregated traditional districts.

Just 8.5 percent of Cambridge’s 577 Black high school students — 49 of them, to be exact — took Advanced Placement courses in 2013-2014. This is four times lower than the 34. 5 percent of White peers (226) taking the college preparatory coursework. [Sixteen-point-four percent of Latino high schoolers took AP that year.]

It gets only slightly better when it comes to access to calculus, trigonometry and other forms of advanced mathematics. Twenty eight-point-four percent of Black high schoolers took college-preparatory math in 2013-2014. But that still trailed the 48.4 percent of White peers who took those course. [Some 35.2 percent of Latino high school students took calculus and advanced math.]

The numbers got slightly better when it came to physics, a critical gateway course for science, technology, engineering and math careers. Thirty three-point-four percent of Black high schoolers took the course compared to 35.9 percent of White peers. But only 28.7 percent of Latino high schoolers took the course.

Meanwhile there is another form of denying opportunity that is pernicious within Cambridge — in the form of who gets put into its special ed ghettos. One out of every four Black children in Cambridge’s district — 25.9 percent of Black children in its care — are labeled special ed cases, as are 25.4 percent of Latino peers. This is almost double the (also far too high) 14.2 percent of White children placed into special ed. Based on those numbers, a Black or Latino child in Cambridge has a one-in-four chance of being denied the high-quality teaching and curricula they need for lifelong success.

Districts such as Stamford Public Schools are touted as examples of success in integration. But the data proves that illusory.

Even worse, the Black kids condemned to special ed are more-likely to be subjected to out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline that ensure that they have a one-in-six chance of graduating from high school. Cambridge meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 9.7 percent of Black children and 8.9 percent of Latino peers in Cambridge’s special ed ghettos; this is three times higher than the 3.5 percent out-of-school suspension rate for White peers.

For all of Century’s talk about Cambridge representing the success of socioeconomic integration, the data on equality of opportunity doesn’t support it. But this should be no surprise — especially to otherwise-sensible outfits such as the Center for American Progress (which released its own call for integration this week). Because integration has never proven to be the solution for the nation’s education crisis and its damage to the futures of poor and minority children that its proponents claim it to be.

Take the Jefferson County district in Louisville, Ky., another district that has been touted by Century and others for efforts on integration. Back in October, the foundation bemoaned an effort by the state legislature to end its “controlled choice” effort and allow families to send their kids to neighborhood schools. Just 11 percent of the district’s Black high schoolers and 18 percent of Latino peers accessed AP courses in 2013-2104, versus 28.5 percent of White high school students. Only 12 percent of Black high school students and 14.2 percent of Latino peers took calculus and advanced mathematics; this is lower than the 21.5 percent of White peers who accessed those courses.

Meanwhile the denial of high-quality education in the form of sending kids to special ed ghettos remains a problem. Fourteen-point. six percent of Black children are put into special ed, slightly higher than the 12.3 percent of White peers. [Only 6.4 percent of Latino children are condemned to special ed.] Yet Black children in special ed will suffer even worse than White peers when it comes to out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. Jefferson County meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 17.7 of Black children, compared to just 7.1 percent of White peers (and 10.2 percent of Latino students). Even when Black and White children are equally condemned to educational failure, they are not harmed in equal ways.

Another ‘model’ for integration is the Stamford district in Connecticut, which has been credited by Century for “remarkable success maintaining racially and socioeconomically desegregated schools”. Yet only 14 percent of Black high school students and 17 percent of their Latino peers took AP courses in 2013-2014, compared to 40.5 percent of White peers. Just 15.1 percent of Black high schoolers and 14.3 percent of Latino counterparts took calculus and other advanced math, two times lower than the 32.2 percent participation rate for White peers.

Meanwhile 19.1 percent of Black children and 12.6 percent of Latino peers were condemned to Stamford’s special ed ghettos. Only 9.2 percent of White children were denied high-quality education. Within those ghettos, Stamford meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 13.3 percent of Black students and 6.6 percent of Latino peers. Just 3.3 percent of White students — 16 in all — were suspended one or more times that year.

Your editor can go on and on with each of the nine examples Century touts as models of success in socioeconomic integration — as well as point out other examples such as Clinton Separate School District in Mississippi. But that would be piling on. What the data points out is that for all the claims advocates make, socioeconomic integration doesn’t address the underlying issues that keep poor and minority children from receiving the high-quality teaching, curricula, and cultures they need for lifelong success.

Socioeconomic integration doesn’t deal with the reality that mixing Black and Latino faces into White spaces doesn’t address the myriad ways traditional districts deny opportunities to them. This includes the gatekeeping by school leaders, teachers and guidance counselors of gifted-and-talented programs that are the first steps towards kids attending AP and other college-preparatory courses, the low-quality instruction and curricula in regular classrooms that keep Black and Brown kids off the paths to success, and even selective high schools such as those of New York City, which Contributing Editor Michael Holzman has shown to be forms of “segregation by another name”.

Oddly enough, the magnet schools and other “controlled choice” models integration-as-school reform advocates often tout are among the worst offenders. One reason? Because they are as much used by districts as tools for luring and keeping White families at the expense of poor and minority children as they are mandated by courts for integration. [By the way: The power to use choice and high-quality education as a political tool is one reason why traditional districts oppose the expansion of charter schools in the first place.] Basically, magnets and controlled choice deny our most-vulnerable children access to high-quality education in the name of socioeconomic balance. Even worse, the approaches are no different in practice than the kinds of “curated segregation” that take place in many cities today.

There is a reason why charters have become the choice of so many Black families: Because of the opportunities for children to have their cultures and lives affirmed.

Integration also doesn’t address the failure to provide poor and minority children with teachers who are subject-matter competent and also care for them regardless of their background. As Dropout Nation noted last month, far too many Black and Brown children are taught by teachers who subject them to the not-so-soft-bigotry of low expectations, harming their chances for high school graduation and college completion. Nor does integration address the need to overhaul how we recruit, train, and compensate teachers, deal with the need to bring more talented Black people (including midcareer professionals ready to work with kids) into classrooms, or even the near-lifetime employment rules (in the form of tenure) and teacher dismissal policies that keep so many low-quality teachers in classrooms often filled with the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Addressing those underlying issues requires undertaking the kinds of teacher quality overhauls reformers have been pushing for the past two decades, ones that integration-as-school reform advocates often oppose. Put bluntly, it is difficult for your editor to take integration advocates seriously when they refuse to deal honestly with the consequences of policies and practices that allow educationally-abusive teaching to fester.

Meanwhile integration fails to address the restrictions on opportunity for poor and minority children that result from the traditional district model as well as the zoning policies and property tax-based finance systems on which it is sustained. Integration does absolutely nothing to address how districts use their dependence on property tax dollars to oppose the ability of poor and minority families in other communities (who finance those schools through state and federal dollars). Nor does it stop districts from using school zones and magnet schools as tools for denying opportunity to the Black and Brown families who live within them. And it definitely doesn’t stop White communities seeking to secede from integrated districts from doing so.

It’s long past time to break the ties between educational opportunity, property taxes and housing policy. This means moving away from a model of public education built upon districts and school boundaries (which integration merely overlays) to one in which states finance high-quality opportunities from which all children and families of all backgrounds can choose.

Finally, what integration advocates fail to admit is that their approach is patronizing to the very Black and Brown families for which they proclaim concern. This is because throughout American history, integration (along with its kissing cousin, assimilation, about which American Indians know all too well) has always been based on the racialist idea that Whiteness is superior, that White people are better, and that if it isn’t close to White or attended by White, then it is inferior, and by implication, should be destroyed.

Anyone who has gone to a Historically Black College and University, or been to a rural White school knows this isn’t true. Even worse, it is unconscionable and immoral for anyone to believe it or embrace it or perpetuate it. But the fiction remains as pernicious and destructive now as it was during the heyday of integration in the 1960s and 1970s when schools in Black communities were shut down instead of being provided with the resources they needed to serve children properly. If allowed to re-emerge, that thinking will damage the new efforts Black and Latino people are doing now to help their children succeed on their own terms.

For Black and Latino families who just want and deserve high-quality schools in the communities in which they live that also affirm their cultures, where their kids also go to schools with kids who look like them, where they know that they can succeed (even when they are told otherwise), integration remains what Charles Ogletree once called a false promise. Based on the data, their feelings are justified. They are also tired of having their children being forced to teach White people’s children how to treat them with respect, and exhausted with negotiating with White people for the resources their children are supposed to get by law. Those feelings are also well-deserved. Integration does nothing to affirm the people it is supposed to help.

If we want to build brighter futures for all children, especially those Black, Brown, and poor, we have to get to continue to overhaul the policies and practices that keep them from getting the knowledge they deserve. Focusing on integration as the solution merely papers over the hard work that must be done.

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NYSUT’s $544 Million Financial Problem

Over the past few months, New York State United Teachers got a lot of flack over the fact that its now-former Secretary-Treasurer, Martin Messner, was still teaching in the classroom…

Over the past few months, New York State United Teachers got a lot of flack over the fact that its now-former Secretary-Treasurer, Martin Messner, was still teaching in the classroom even as he also oversaw its woeful finances. Of course in reality, Messner had spent most of his three-year tenure as the union’s financial overlord at its headquarters in the Albany suburbs, and only began teaching again this past September after his leave-of-absence expired. [There’s also the presence of an actual staff of finance people who do the day-to-day work of balancing books.] But that brief period of double duty made for some laughs at the union’s expense.

The reality of the union’s financial condition, however, is not a laughing matter. As a Dropout Nation analysis of its latest filing with the U.S. Department of Labor shows, the union’s pension and retiree healthcare woes continue to keep it in virtual insolvency.

NYSUT reported that it accrued $544 million in pension and retiree health liabilities in 2016-2017, a 7.9 percent increase over levels in the previous year. While the union reported that pension liabilities decreased by 13.4 percent (from $288 million in 2015-2016 to $249 million in 2016-2017), retiree healthcare costs increased by 36.5 percent, from $215 million to $294 million within the same period.

As you would expect, NYSUT doesn’t have enough assets to cover those insolvencies. The union’s pension had $285 million in assets as of 2016, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. If you took that number, that still leaves $259 million in retiree pension and healthcare costs (along with other liabilities on the books), none of which would be fully covered by NYSUT’s $142 million in assets.

As with defined-benefit pensions run by states, districts, and the National Education Association (to which NYSUT is affiliated along with its status as the largest state unit of the American Federation of Teachers), NYSUT’s pension assumes an overly optimistic annual investment rate of return of 6.5 percent. Even in years in which those numbers can be made, NYSUT’s generous retirement age levels, under which an employee can head into retirement as young as age 55 with 10 years of service, adds additional strain onto finances.

The good news for NYSUT is that it is having greater success than other AFT and NEA affiliates in increasing rank-and-filers paying into its coffers. It added 35,381 rank-and-filers in 2016-2017, increasing its ranks by 5.4 percent to 686,975. This included a 7.2 percent increase in the number of classroom teachers and other school employees as well as a 2.6 percent increase in the number of retirees paying dues.

Former NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner got laughed at for both running the union’s finances while briefly teaching school. But the AFT affiliate’s woes are no laughing matter.

As a result of those increases, NYSUT generated $138 million in dues in 2016-2017, a 3.8 percent increase over the previous year. Overall revenue was $260 million, barely budging from last year. As you would expect, national AFT made sure to subsidize the affiliate; the $10.4 million it paid to NYSUT in 2016-2017 was 11.9 percent less than in the previous period. NEA provided $2.1 million last fiscal year, slightly less than in 2015-2016. NYSUT collected $1.8 million from its Teaching & Learning Trust, slightly more than in 2015-2016, while it garnered $6.6 million from its Member Benefits affiliate (which peddles annuities to the rank-and-file), a 5.7 percent decline.

The union did manage to hold the line on expenses. General overhead expenses of $6.4 million in 2016-2017 were three percent lower than in the previous period, while benefits costs of $43 million were just 1.4 percent higher than a year ago. As a result, NYSUT generated a surplus of $13 million, 8.5 percent lower than in 2015-2016.

Of course, NYSUT’s top honchos did fine for themselves. Andrew Pallotta, the ally of United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew who now runs NYSUT, collected $273,153 in 2016-2017, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous period. His predecessor (or, to be more-appropriate, former puppet) Karen Magee walked away with $346,080 in compensation, a 17.4 percent increase over 2015-2016. The aforementioned Messner was paid $285,684 in 2016-2017, an 11 percent increase over his compensation in the previous period. As for Executive Director Thomas Anapolis? He was paid $180,004, a 27 percent decrease over 2015-2016.

NYSUT has no interest in paying down its pension and retiree health liabilities. But it does have plenty of desire to buy influence. The union spent $97.4 million in 2016-2017 on on lobbying, contributions to like-minded groups and spending on almost-always political “representational activities”. That’s lower than the $99.6 it spent in the previous year.

The union gave $30,000 to Alliance for Quality Education, one of its longstanding vassals, in 2016-2017. That’s less than half what NYSUT doled out to the group in the previous year. NYSUT gave another of its dependents, Citizen Action of New York, even less; the $28,500 it gave to the group is 53.1 percent less than what was given in 2015-2016. The union doubled its giving to Education Law Center, handing over $100,000 in 2016-2017, while giving $250,000 to Strong Economy for All Coalition, unchanged from the previous period. NYSUT also made sure to give Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State $111,000 last fiscal year, an 11 percent increase over 2015-2016.

Advertising and messaging were the big spends for NYSUT. The union spent $296,315 with Visuality on social media efforts, dropped $21,950 on ads with Facebook, bought $5,152 worth of ads on Twitter, and put down $19,800 on ad space with Politico‘s Pro magazine to reach politicians and other players. The union spent another $84,565 on outdoor ads and public relations. Another $146,732 was spent on commercials with five outlets — public radio stations WAMC, WYNC and WXXI, as well as television stations WNYT and WWNY, which are dominate players in Upstate New York. NYSUT spent $39,150 with NGP Van, and dropped another $23,975 with Catalist, both key to the efforts of Democratic Party players.

Meanwhile NYSUT made sure to subsidize the UFT, the New York City local of AFT which effectively controls the state affiliate. NYSUT financed UFT to the tune of $14.5 million in 2016-2017, a 6.5 percent decrease from the previous period. UFT also owes NYSUT $10.8 million in accounts receivable, of which $4 million has been due for the past 90-t0-180 days. Too bad NYSUT isn’t doing much for the local in East Ramapo, whose district has been beset by a regime focused on damaging the futures of the kind of poor and minority children the union and its national parents claim to proclaim concern. The local there only received $17,240 in 2016-2017, less than the meager $17,732 it got in the previous period.

You can check out the data yourself by perusing the HTML version of the New York State AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site.

Featured photo: Andrew Pallotta (left, with United Federation of Teachers player Shelvy Young-Abraham and AFT President Randi Weingarten), now runs NYSUT all on his own.

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NEA Loses Money

As Dropout Nation readers already know, losing money and financial woes has tended to be the norm for a good number of National Education Association’s affiliates. The Big Two teachers’…

As Dropout Nation readers already know, losing money and financial woes has tended to be the norm for a good number of National Education Association’s affiliates. The Big Two teachers’ union’s affiliates in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, along with the affiliate it controls with American Federation of Teachers in New York, have been virtually-insolvent for years thanks to unfunded defined-benefit pension liabilities, underfunded employee healthcare costs, and loss of rank-and-filers who pay the bills.

But NEA has managed to stave off such losses — until now. An analysis of its latest financial report reveals that the nation’s largest teachers’ union lost money in its last fiscal year. This can be blamed on several proverbial paper cuts that may get worse is a Supreme Court ruling hits its finances and ability to preserve influence.

NEA  lost $662,383 in 2016-2017, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. This is versus a $1.4 million surplus in 2015-2016, and a whopping $27 million surplus in 2014-2015. The loss is small compared to that of many of its affiliates (including the $4.7 million loss suffered by its Michigan unit and a $1.5 million loss for its Ohio division). But it may be a harbinger of problems to come for the national union.

One reason for the loss: A 15.6 percent increase in benefits costs (from $54 million in 2015-2016 to $63 million in 2016-2017). Contributions to NEA’s retiree healthcare trust, which covers health benefits, doubled from $7.5 million in 2015-2016 to $15.8 million in 2016-2017. The healthcare trust’s liabilities increased by 25.8 percent over the past year (from $193 million in 2014 to $243 million in 2015), according to its most-recent form 5500 filing; it only has $117 million in assets available to cover those costs if it had to close shop today.

A 6.7 percent increase in pension payments (from $20.7 million to $21.1 million) has also added to the union’s fiscal burdens. These cost increases offset a 4.3 percent decline in general overhead and 5.8 percent decrease in union administration costs. Considering that the pension expects benefit payouts to increase by 16.5 percent (from $58 million to $68 million) between 2018 and 2025, NEA’s own pension costs will increase dramatically. Especially since the pension itself is in bad shape. It doesn’t have enough assets to cover $140 million in unfunded liabilities — and it has at least $21 million in unfunded commitments to hedge funds and other private-equity investments, according to the plan’s filing with the Department of Labor. The $140 million in unfunded liabilities, by the way, is a 54 percent increase over insolvency levels in 2014.

None of this is surprising to NEA’s own staffers. Last year, the National Staff Organization, which represents the union’s workers, announced that a memorandum of understanding with NEA over fully funding the pension was suspended because “troubling challenges have developed that are making it more difficult to reach full funding by December 31, 2021”. The challenges that plague defined-benefit pensions run by states and districts that NEA wants to keep in place and keep effective control over — including overly optimistic rates of return on investments and the decline in current workers paying into the plan compared to retirees — are also a problem for the union itself.

Of course, as with AFT, NEA now offers its own defined-contribution plan, which has some $172 million in assets. But the defined-benefit pension’s woes will loom over the union’s finances for decades to come.

Meanwhile NEA isn’t growing its rank-and-file numbers enough to offset these costs. The union added 18,985 rank-and-filers and agency fee payers to its ranks in 2016-2017, according to its disclosure to the U.S. Department of Education. That equates to an anemic six-tenths of one percent increase over levels during the previous year. Anemic as those numbers are, at least NEA can say that it has increased its ranks for a second consecutive year.

Much of that growth can be credited to NEA’s joint affiliate with AFT in Florida, the Florida Education Association. Rank-and-file numbers increased by 2.8 percent (from 128,485 in 2015-2016 to 132,055 in 2016-2017). Another growing affiliate: The Ohio Education Association, which increased its rank-and-file by 1.4 percent (from 121,782 to 123,453). Growth for both affiliates offset nonexistent increases for other affiliates as well as the continued woes of NEA’s Wisconsin unit and the Michigan Education Association (whose rank-and-file numbers declined by 2.8 percent over the same period). Thanks in part to the growth, NEA collected $370 million in dues last fiscal year. That’s a nine-tenths of one percent increase over 2015-2016.

But trouble looms over the horizon. If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down compulsory dues laws (and the ability of NEA and other public sector unions to force employees to pay into its coffers even if they don’t want to) as expected in Janus v. AFSCME, the union and its affiliates will lose big. Based on earlier analysis, Dropout Nation determines that NEA could lose at least 25 percent of rank-and-filers, or 768,710 teachers and other school employees. That would equate to a $92.5 million decline in dues payments, which would cripple the union’s ability to finance its influence-buying.

This reality is one reason why NEA is already advising affiliates and locals to come up with new schemes to keep the dues flowing even if compulsory dues laws are struck down. This includes forcing rank-and-filers to sign membership renewal documents that will allow affiliates to automatically deduct from payrolls for years to come unless they opt out in writing; this is being done by the union’s Education Minnesota affiliate. Other affiliates may try to write similar agreements into collective bargaining agreements, a tactic tried by the Michigan affiliate that was struck down by state courts a few years ago.

Of course, none of these steps have anything to do with actually providing services that teachers need in order to do their jobs, something that NEA and its affiliates should be doing in the first place. The fact that teachers mostly contact their locals for help when necessary means that in many cases, the locals could simply cut out NEA national (along with the state affiliates) and operate on their own. The NEA affiliate in Clark County, Nevada, which has had woes related to its busted voluntary employee benefits association, may end up being one of the first of many locals that leave the NEA fold; the union’s former Memphis local did so earlier this year.

As for overall revenues: NEA generated $385 million in 2016-2017, a slight drop over revenue levels in same period last year. One reason for the decline: A 33 percent decline in dividends it collected from its investment portfolio (from $1.5 million in 2015-2016 to a $970,223 last fiscal year). Mike Antonucci goes into detail about NEA’s investments in Corporate America. But it suffices to say that it could do better on that front.

Another factor in NEA’s revenue decline: NEA Member Benefits, the financial scheme the union runs to peddle annuities to its rank-and-file and get kickbacks from Wall Street. NEA collected just $2.3 million from Member Benefits in 2016-2017, a 72 percent decline from the previous year. [As for NEA Member Benefits?It generated $97 million in 2016, a 1.4 percent decrease over revenue in the previous year, according to its tax filing with the Internal Revenue Service; while it continued to sell annuities at a brisk pace, the decline can be attributed to a 19.6 percent decline in investment income.]

The good news for NEA’s staffers is that the leaders took pay cuts. The union’s president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, collected $348,732 in 2016-2017, a 47 percent decrease over compensation levels in the previous year. Garcia’s second-in-command, Becky Pringle, took home just $331,022, a 24 percent decline in pay. Princess Moss, who oversees NEA’s finances, was paid $310,841, a 29 percent decline over last year. Altogether, the union’s top three leaders took home $990,595, considerably less than the top three leaders at the rival AFT.

The union also had 384 staffers earning six-figure sums, a decrease from the 403 top-paid staffers on board in 2015-2016. Executive Director John Stocks collected $375,942, a 20 percent decline from 2015-2016, while Alice O’Brien, the union’s general counsel, picked up $257,266 in 2016-2017, slightly more than in the previous period. Michael McPherson, NEA’s Chief Financial Officer, was paid $285,360, a 1.3 percent decrease over 2015-2016, while Jim Testerman, who is in charge of organizing and increasing rank-and-file for the union, was paid $257,948, a slight decline over last year.

But not everyone took a hit to their wallets. Marcus Egan, NEA’s chief lobbyist, got a raise; he was paid $208,702 in 2016-2017, a 7.9 percent increase over the previous year. Rocio Inclan-Rodgriguez, the senior director in charge of the union’s efforts to portray itself as a social justice group (and co-opt progressive and old-school civil rights groups), also got a raise. She was compensated to the tune of $259,250 last fiscal year, an 11 percent increase over the previous period.

You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on NEA and AFT spending.

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Doug Jones’ Lesson for School Reformers

Your editor could have spent this morning focusing on news from yesterday’s news from Bellwether Education Partners that the state plans proposed as part of implementation of the Every Student…

Your editor could have spent this morning focusing on news from yesterday’s news from Bellwether Education Partners that the state plans proposed as part of implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act show that districts are going to be allowed to perpetuate harm to poor and minority children. But that point was made earlier this month. There’s also the dueling studies from Thomas B. Fordham Institute and University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium on Policy, Research and Education on Philadelphia’s efforts to overhaul school discipline. Being ill for the past few days, I’ll be tackling them in the next week.

What is on my mind has less to do with the details of policy. Instead, it is about an important lesson reformers should be learning today from Doug Jones’ victory yesterday over the notorious Roy Moore in yesterday’s Alabama U.S. Senate special election: The need to rally poor and minority communities in advancing systemic reform to help all children.

As many of you know by now, Jones, a former U.S. Attorney and scion of a political family that includes famed judge and U.S. Senator Howell Heflin, won what was previously considered an unlikely victory over Moore, a jurist who was twice removed from his role as chief justice of the Iron State’s supreme court for willfully ignoring failing to enforce federal rulings. A Democrat will now hold a U.S. Senate seat for Alabama for the first time in 20 years despite the state having a strong Republican majority and the efforts of President Donald Trump in the last few weeks to help Moore into office.

Certainly Jones was helped by Moore’s own problems. This included revelations over the past two months that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with at least six women under age 18 back when he was a district attorney during the 1970s and 1980s. That news, along with the threat Moore posed to the tenure of Mitch McConnell as senate majority leader, gave Congressional Republicans a convenient excuse to withdraw financial and political support for his campaign, and even led outgoing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake to publicly support Jones’ run. Even without backing from those who could have been his colleagues in the senate, Moore still managed to garner 48.9 percent of voters.

What really mattered for Jones had little to do with Moore, but with the strong turnout among Black and other minority communities in Alabama. Exit polling conducted by the Washington Post shows that Black voters made up 28 percent of the electorate yesterday, a higher level of turnout than their overall numbers among all registered voters. More importantly, Black voters turned out at levels just a quarter or so below those of last year’s general election. In Jefferson County, home to Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city, turnout was at 72 percent of levels last year, according to an analysis of data by Daily Kos.

Given that special elections in general attract significantly lower levels of voter turnout, the high levels are astounding. Especially when you consider that Alabama Republicans in control of state government have worked for the past decade to disenfranchise minority voters through efforts such as closing motor vehicle branches in Black communities, a key way of frustrating voter registration. Add in the fact that Jones attracted 60 percent of Alabama voters age18-29 and 61 percent of those in the 29-to-44 demographic — especially in a state in which Mitt Romney won the majority of them five years ago — and the results stand out.

Without Black votes as well as those of young people, Doug Jones would have never beaten Roy Moore in yesterday’s U.S. Senate race.

How did Jones manage to get more minority voters (as well as young voters) to support his bid? That credit goes to grassroots advocates, including Black churches and branches of the NAACP, who, with the help of national outfits, conducted strong get-out-the-vote campaigns on behalf of Jones and, more-importantly, against Moore. Activists reminded Black communities that a Moore victory would ultimately help the Trump Administration in its war on their communities and their children. They also noted that Jones’ victory takes away a seat from Senate Republicans, who now hold just a one-seat majority, making it even harder for them to pass measures such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that have little support even within the caucus.

Put simply, contrary to the arguments of many White Democrats (as well as pundits such as Jonathan Chait of New York, Frank Bruni of the New York Times and academic Mark Lilla), focusing on the efforts of Black, Latino, immigrant, and low-income communities for economic, social and political equality (which has often been derisively called “identity politics”), is critical to Democrat success in winning elections as well as in winning support from younger voters who are also concerned about these matters. Based on yesterday’s vote, as well as last month’s general election victories (in which Black, Latino, and immigrant votes played prominent roles), White Democrats should stop ignoring minority communities and put money into registering more of them (as well as fighting voter suppression efforts in states).

But it isn’t just important for the Democratic National Committee. The school reform movement must also embrace explicit and constant advocacy for poor and minority children and their communities as a critical component in advancing the transformation of American public education.

Reformers shouldn’t be divided over this at all. After all, as recent studies of the now-abolished No Child Left Behind Act has shown, focusing on socioeconomic achievement gaps improves outcomes for minority and White children (as well as struggling and high-achieving children of all backgrounds). More importantly, the most-successful efforts to expand school choice (including Virginia Walden Ford’s work in Washington, D.C., Steve Barr’s work with Latino communities in Los Angeles, and Parent Revolution’s Parent Trigger efforts), have been ones led by poor and minority communities who explicitly made the case for helping their own children escape failure mills that damaged their families for generations.

Yet this is is a point over which the movement has become divided. Conservative reformers balk over this because they still embrace a perspective, driven by their ideological conservatism, that chooses to ignore the legacies of state-sanctioned bigotry (from slavery to Jim Crow to the drug war) that are still reflected in American public education. Centrist Democrat reformers, on the other hand, prize political bipartisanship and getting “the politics” right over doing good, often at the cost of the vulnerable, failing to realize that bipartisanship and politics are only valuable if driven by the most-important goal nonnegotiable goal of helping those who are in need.

What has become clear is that explicitly focusing on the educational concerns of poor and minority children regardless of where they live, and expanding that to the criminal justice reform and other the social issues that end up touching (and are touched by) American public education, is critical, both in helping all children succeed as well as rallying long-terms support for the movement from the parents and communities that care for them. For those families, school reform must be invested in bettering the communities in which they live and in empowering their children to be leaders in adulthood. Anything less is unacceptable.

This starts by embracing the lessons learned by Barr, Ford and others in advancing reform. It means listening to communities as well as addressing the issues outside of education policy and practice that are of immediate concern to those communities. It also includes working with the churches and community organizations connected to the people who live in them, as well as working with national groups focused on issues that tie to education, including criminal justice reform. It even means philanthropists working outside of their comfort zones and supporting reform groups led by minority communities who have a better sense of the people they serve.

Reformers must also focus as much on the nuts-and-bolts of retail and wholesale politics as they do on working statehouses and policymakers. Recruiting men and women from Black, Latino, and other minority communities to run in school board races and other political campaigns is one critical step. Another lies in holding voter registration drives, which will help bring new voters to the polls and even help reformers prove their value to the politicians they need to help pass legislation. This includes targeting high school seniors who will soon leave school and become voters (as well

Finally, reformers have to go back to embracing the approach of addressing and stemming socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps, a strategy that was at the heart of No Child and a driving force in expanding charter schools and other forms of school choice. Contrary to the arguments of some conservative reformers, focusing on achievement gaps even helps White middle class children by improving the quality of teaching, curricula and school environments all students experience.

As Jones learned last night, and other Democrats have realized over the past month, boosting support from poor and minority communities is critical to winning the day. The lessons also apply to school reformers working to build better lives for our children.

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529 Ways to Harm School Choice

The Weekend is usually reserved for less-topical discussions about American public education and American society in general. But this morning’s move by the U.S. Senate to pass a tax cut…

The Weekend is usually reserved for less-topical discussions about American public education and American society in general. But this morning’s move by the U.S. Senate to pass a tax cut plan brings up one of the least-sensible approaches to expanding school choice touted by the most-hardcore of advocates: Expanding the use of 529 higher education savings plans for financing private school tuition.

Dropout Nation already discussed the House Republican version of the plan, which managed to gain approval as part of the lower house’s tax cut proposal. But Senate Republicans had managed to avoid offering a similar plan. But last night, just hours after Senate Republicans hastily crafted its tax plan without a single hearing or deliberation (and often with illegibly handwritten notes redlining what little was in print), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz successfully amended the bill to include a proposed 529 expansion that is little different from the House proposal.

As you would expect, hardcore school choice activists are pleased as punch with the move. Invest in Education Foundation, whose vice president wrote an op-ed in The Hill earlier this week calling for the Senate to enact the proposal, tweeted the news proudly. Expect more to come from Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke, who has been the lead player in getting Congressional Republicans to put the idea into law.

Certainly the expansion of 529s may superficially expand opportunities for children to attain high-quality education. But the key word is “superficially”. As your editor explained last month, the effort does little for families regardless of income or background.

For poor families, especially those from Black and Latino backgrounds, the 529 expansion is of no benefit to them because they don’t earn enough income to either open up and maintain a 529 account. This is especially problematic when you consider that neither Congressional Republicans nor the Trump Administration offered up an Earned Income Tax Credit-style program that would help these families gain money that they could then put into 529 plans to pay for private school tuition payments and tutoring (as well as even save for college).

Because of the nature of 529 plans, as well as the lack of a education tax credit, the Senate and House proposals raise concerns school choice advocates such as Howard Fuller have had about Education Savings Accounts: That poor families lose out at the expense of families that already have resources and can take advantage of various vehicles that allow them to save and reduce tax burdens all at once.

Yet the 529 expansion plans also don’t help middle class and affluent families. This is because the more money siphoned off from contributions to elementary and secondary education expenses, the less money will go towards college savings. Even if a family contributed the full maximum of $14,000 a year (which is almost never done), the nation’s average private school tuition of $7,700 (which is often higher in states such as California, Maryland, and New York), results in families forfeiting both the immediate contributions as well as the future investment gains and interest compounding in the process. Given the high costs of higher education, this means more middle class families lose out on the ability to help their children gain the postsecondary knowledge they need for success in adulthood.

What makes the House and Senate plans especially bad policy is tat they could have easily expanded school choice for all families by using another existing vehicle: Flexible Spending Accounts. Those are already used by families to pay for preschool and child care expenses as well as medical costs, and could have been expanded for use in financing private-school tuition and other K-12 expenditures. That move would have been even better for families who already use those plans, as well as for poor and minority households, because those are funded through paycheck withholding and would be supported by the 20 percent federal child care tax credit already in place. But this wasn’t considered.

Put simply: The 529 expansion plans are bad policy. Contrary to what hardcore choice activists want to argue, the proposals will do nothing to help the most-vulnerable children gain opportunities for high quality education. More importantly, as I noted last month, the lack of a companion plan to expand choice for poor and minority children and their families (and the uselessness of the proposal for families who are merely middle class or affluent) means that 529 expansion is merely a tax subsidy for the wealthiest families who can already pay for private school tuition out of their own pockets (and would stick to using 529 plans for paying for college savings).

When you consider that the 529 proposals are part of tax cut proposals that eliminate the Individual Mandate, a key tool for helping poor families gain healthcare coverage they need to keep their children healthy, and September’s elimination of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (which covers 8.9 million children from low-income households), it becomes even clearer that the 529 expansion plans are callous acts of policymaking by men and women who care nothing about helping all children survive and thrive from conception to adulthood.

Meanwhile any discussion about the 529 expansion proposal cannot be divorced from the Trump Administration’s White Supremacist war against Black, Latino, and immigrant children from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This is because the administration’s failure to push for an education tax credit that would benefit those children is another example of how it has no great interest in helping anyone who isn’t White or the descendant of European immigrants. The fact that there are so-called reformers working for the administration in the U.S. Department of Education — and that Betsy DeVos is Secretary of Education — means nothing. Because they, too, are part of the administration’s concerted disdain towards poor and minority communities.

Meanwhile the 529 expansion proposals will do damage to efforts by reformers to expand choice, especially vouchers and charter that have proven to help poor and minority children escape failure mills. Progressive and centrist Democrat reformers who have just begun warming up to the idea of moving beyond charters as a vehicle for school choice, now find themselves on the defensive as ideological fellow-travelers, angered by this tax subsidy for wealthy families, will oppose nearly every form of choice. Congressional Republicans basically weaponized a key approach to transforming American public education, playing into the hands of traditionalists such as the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and suburban districts, the most-fervent opponents of helping poor kids escape failing schools.

There is no way anyone who calls his or herself a champion for all children and a school reformer can be pleased with the passage of this proposal. Not one way. At all.

 

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NEA’s $151 Million Influence Spree

The National Education Association just filed its 2016-2017 financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor — and it is clear that the nation’s largest teachers’ union is spending even…

The National Education Association just filed its 2016-2017 financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor — and it is clear that the nation’s largest teachers’ union is spending even more to maintain its influence in education policy. Whether or not it benefits the teachers who are often forced to pay into its coffers is a different story.

The Big Two union spent $151 million on lobbying and contributions to supposedly likeminded organizations during its last fiscal year. That’s a 9.4 increase over influence-buying levels in 2015-2016. This, by the way, doesn’t include another $43.7 million in spending on so-called representational activities in 2016-2017, which almost always tend to be political in nature; that’s six percent less than in the previous period.

As you would expect, NEA put a lot of cash into its Advocacy Fund, the Super-PAC that is part of the union’s effort to back Congressional Democrats. It put $7 million into Advocacy Fund in 2016-2017, a 35.8 percent decrease over the previous year. Given that this an election year, the lower levels of funding isn’t shocking. But you can expect NEA to pour even more money into the Super-PAC next fiscal year — if the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME doesn’t short-circuit those plans first.

The union also spent big on last year’s Democratic National Convention, lobbying delegates and others as they formalized Hillary Clinton’s since-unsuccessful campaign for the presidency. It spent $525,004 in 2016-2017. This included handing $50,000 to the Atlantic Monthly (which was criticized by reformers back in September for receiving money from the American Federation of Teachers), as well as spending $46,000 with pollster Anzalone Liszt Grove Research.

Meanwhile NEA gave $100,000 to Majority Forward, a 501(c)4 affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC, the Super-PAC controlled by J.B. Poesch, a former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and ally of Minority Leader Charles Schumer. It also dropped$100,000 into the coffers of Patriot Majority, another Super-PAC that backs Democratic candidates for the House and Senate. Both donations were made in September 2016, two months before the general election.

Given how poorly Clinton and the Democrats fared last year, the spending didn’t yield any immediate results. But NEA will continue to give. This includes pouring $500,000 into Main Street Advocacy Fund, the affiliate of Republican Main Street Partnership that has been one of its most-important vassals.

While NEA failed miserably at the national level, it spent $11.1 million on ballot initiatives with some success.

The union gave $4.9 million in 2016-2017 to Save Our Public Schools, the Massachusetts coalition run by its Bay State affiliate and its longtime vassal, Citizens for Public Schools, that defeated Question 2, the ballot measure that would have expanded the number of public charter schools in the state. This came on top of the $500,000 NEA gave the committee in the previous year. As Dropout Nation detailed last year, the defeat of Question 2 was a solid victory for the union and its fellow traditionalists while reformers reeled from the loss. NEA also gave $4.2 million in 2016-2017 to Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, a coalition featuring NEA’s Georgia Association of Educators that defeated Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to allow the Peach State to take over 127 failure mills and put them into a statewide district. That was on top of the $500,000 the union gave in the previous fiscal year.

In Maine, NEA gave $1.3 million to Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools, a coalition including the union’s state affiliate; this was on top of the $1 million the union gave to the group in 2015-2016. The group would go on to successfully push for the passage of Question 2, a ballot measure to levy a three percent tax on incomes of greater than $200,000 ostensibly to provide $320 million in new funding to the state’s traditional public schools. But that victory was short lived. Last July, after a three-day shutdown of the state government Gov. Paul LePage convinced legislators to repeal Question 2 and replace it with a plan to provide just $160 million a year in new funding.

Meanwhile NEA gave $225,000 to Educators for Washoe Schools, a group led by its local there that successfully won a ballot measure to levy a half-penny sales tax for new school buildings. The union also burnished its efforts to co-opt progressive groups by giving $350,000 to Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families, a coalition that featured its Copper State affiliate; it successfully pushed for the passage of Proposition 206, which increased the state’s minimum wage from $8.05 an hour to $12 by 2020, as well as provide mandatory sick leave for all employees.

But the union’s efforts didn’t succeed everywhere. In Oregon, it poured $2 million into Yes on 97, which failed to pass a ballot measure that would have levied a gross sales tax on businesses selling more than $25 million in products annually, as well as allowed the state to collect gross sales taxes on business producing more than $100,000 in revenue a year. AFT, whose teachers’ and nursing affiliates are also big players in the state, also put $1 million into the unsuccessful effort. NEA also failed in Oklahoma, where the $750,000 it gave to Oklahoma’s Children Our Future, which unsuccessfully pushed Question 779, which would have levied a one percent sales tax for additional school funding.

Back on the national level, NEA still spent plenty to co-opt progressive groups. Whether it will work in the long haul — or even if the union can keep up the donations — is an open question.

A big recipient of the NEA’s largesse is the Center for Popular Democracy, a reliable ally in the efforts of the union and the rival American Federation of Teachers in opposing the expansion of public charter schools. It collected $1.1 million from NEA in 2016-2017, double the levels the union gave it in the previous year. This increase isn’t a surprise; besides doing the bidding of traditionalists, Center for Popular Democracy is also a favored recipient of the ever-secretive Democracy Alliance, the outfit chaired by NEA Executive Director John Stocks.

NEA also gave $1.1 million to America Votes, another outfit in the Democracy Alliance network that was cofounded by former Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern. That’s 177 percent more than what the union gave to the outfit in 2015-2016. Of course, it helps to be part of Democracy Alliance as well as count on “partners” such as AFT and the aforementioned Center for Popular Democracy.

NEA made sure to give Democracy Alliance some coin. The union gave it $185,772 while handing another $25,000 to its Committee on States, and $300,000 to the State Engagement Fund. Altogether, NEA gave $510,772 to Democracy Alliance, one-third less than in 2015-2016. Apparently, the union isn’t exactly enthused by the outfit’s lack of results.

As for the rest of the Democracy Alliance network? NEA gave $200,000 to David Brock’s Media Matters for America, unchanged from levels in 2015-2016; $150,000 to the Advancement Project (which helped NEA and AFT in its effort to eviscerate the No Child Left Behind Act) in 2016-2017, slightly less than in the previous year; $150,000 to Progress Now (a 33 percent decrease over 2015-2016); $50,000 to State Innovation Exchange; and $25,000 to Netroots Nation, unchanged from last year. NEA also spent $572,282 with Catalist, LLC, the data-mining outfit for the Democratic National Committee that is a lynchpin in Democracy Alliance’s campaign efforts; that’s 8.8 percent less than in 2015-2016.

On the progressive media front, NEA gave $50,000 to Independent Media Institute, the parent of Alternet; and $50,000 to Center for Media and Democracy, the outfit behind PR Watch and ALEC Watch. The biggest recipient: Race Forward, the parent of Colorlines, which has garnered criticism from reformers for its rather unfavorable commentary on the movement. NEA gave it $155,780. It is also a new recipient of the union’s largesse.

NEA Executive Director John Stocks is learning the hard way that the union’s pay-to-play efforts are yielding few (and scattershot) results.

As for other progressive groups? NEA gave $1.3 million in 2016-2017 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, a endowment developed by former Clinton Administration mandarin Eric Kessler’s Arabella Advisors; that’s more than double the amount it ladled out to the outfit in the previous year. It also gave $300,000 to State Engagement Fund, an outfit run by Anne Bartley, another former Clinton Administration staffer and stepdaughter of one of Bill Clinton’s predecessors as Arkansas governor, Winthrop Rockefeller. It also gave $250,000 to Center for American Progress, which is a reform-oriented outfit, but has been helping traditionalists oppose the expansion of vouchers, a key tool of expanding school choice. The union gave $50,000 to Proteus Action League, an affiliate of Proteus Fund which has played small roles in ballot measures in California, Nebraska and Maine; $50,000 to Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund; and $10,000 to State Voices, a coalition of 20 organizations dedicated to voter registration drives and other mobilization activities.

It gave $150,000 to Progressive Leaders State Committee; $50,000 to Good Jobs First (also an AFT vassal); $50,000 to the Chicago-based Community Justice for Youth Institute; $25,000 to  economist Dean Baker’s Center for Economic and Policy Research; and $5,000 to Cornell University’s Center for Transformative Action. It also gave $250,000 to Corporate Action Network, a division of the Action Network Fund that aims to “address the imbalance of power between corporations and people” by allying itself with outfits such as NEA, which are just as powerful.

Meanwhile NEA gave plenty to old-school civil rights groups and self-styled outfits willing to do its bidding.

The biggest recipient among that group was Schott Foundation for Public Education’s Opportunity to Learn Action Fund. NEA gave it $125,000 in 2016-2017; it received nothing from the union in the previous year. The union also gave $50,300 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, gaining access to top congressional leaders as well as other influencers at its annual conference. Meanwhile NEA gave $75,000 to NAACP; the better for the once-respectable civil rights outfit to continue opposing the expansion of charters and other school choice options Black families desire. It also gave $25,000 to National Urban League, which is far less reliable.

NEA also gave $25,000 to the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, $20,000 to National Council on Black Civic Participation, $10,000 to National Center for Transgender Equality, $10,000 to Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and $25,800 to Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Reaching out to immigration reform groups opposing the Trump Administration’s efforts to deport undocumented emigres, NEA gave $50,000 to National Immigration Law Center. It also handed out $35,000 to United We Dream, which works on behalf of the 760,000 undocumented immigrant children, youth, and adults (including 20,000 teachers) who may be deported thanks to the administration’s move in September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

As for the usual suspects?: NEA gave $50,000 to FairTest (also known as National Center for Fair and Open Testing), the leading outfit in opposing the use of standardized tests, the data from which can be used in evaluating the teachers in NEA’s rank-and-file. The union gave FairTest the same amount in 2015-2016. NEA made sure to pay off Kevin Welner’s National Education Policy Center, sending $250,000 to the outfit in 2016-2017 through the University of Colorado-Boulder’s foundation; that’s also unchanged from last year.

NEA also handed $408,659 to Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the group that represents the nation’s woeful university schools of education; provided $124,300 to National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; gave $527,542 to Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality; and handed out $225,000 to the ever-dependable Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. NEA gave $68,400 to Learning First Alliance, and $100,000 to Education Law Center.

Again, it’s good to be NEA. For now. For the teachers who pay into it, often thanks to the compulsory dues laws the union defends, it may not be so good.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the NEA’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on NEA and AFT spending.

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